Lew Rockwell Doesn’t Get Anarcho-Capitalism

Lew Rockwell, a major libertarian thinker, was recently featured in discussion with Tom Woods, another major figure in the movement, on the Tom Woods show.

The audio can be found here.

Throughout the interview, Rockwell defines anarcho-capitalism in his own way, someone who:

  1. Makes the Rothbardian moral argument that coercive violence is never justified.
  2. Believes that the free market can do everything the government can do, so we “don’t need government.”

Not only is this a small subsection of real anarcho-capitalism, it is among the least justified and powerful arguments for ancaps. The moral argument only has power if the listener accepts the moral precepts – what a weak basis! If we already agreed on these moral precepts we wouldn’t be in disagreement at the outset.

Real anarcho-capitalism is simply defined. An anarcho-capitalist is someone who:

  1. Is a capitalist.
  2. Is an anarchist.

Where a capitalist is someone who favors free market economics, and a strict capitalist always favors the free market. Where an anarchist is someone who opposes the state, and a strict anarchist always does so. If you “sometimes” favor free markets or oppose the state, I don’t think you are really an ancap. I think you are at best a moderate conservative and at worst a socialist.

The non-violent approach to anarcho-capitalism fails, because people are violent.

Fortunately, this does not at all damage real anarcho-capitalism, which Rockwell fails to discuss. It merely damages Rothbardianism, or Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalism, which is among the weakest forms.

David Friedman, the son of Milton, has a MUCH more robust view of anarcho-capitalism. Where Rockwell says that we should adopt anarcho-capitalism, Friedman claims that the principals of the system are already in operation, and their effect will be felt in the long run, regardless of whether we chose to adopt them or not. Friedman’s view does not require any moral stance.

It also does not need to exempt violence. Milton Friedman famously asked, “Where in the world do you find these angels who are going to organize society for us?” Moreover, Milton asked if there is any society which does not run on greed. Answering his own question, he said, “The record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, in improving the lot of the ordinary people, that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”

True to the best of his father, and even improving in my view, David Friedman’s Anarcho-Capitalism is:

  1. Free from an unsound and naive moral underpinning which Rothbardianism requires.
  2. Historically validated beyond Rothbardianism, which is a yet untested innovative system.
  3. Quantitatively useful and reconcilable with classical and neoclassical quantitative models, unlike Rothbardianism.
  4. As qualitatively useful as Rothbardianism.
  5. Robust and even flourishing in the face of the greedy, violent, evil nature of people.

However, because the long run and inevitable effects of markets are expected by David as generally optimal (not perfect, but better than alternatives), he prefers to catalyze those effects. Yet this preference of his is considered as fundamentally separate from the economic science of anarcho-capitalism itself. In this way, David preserves the science of economics, while Rothbard and the Austrian line intentionally confuse the two.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Austrians and the Rothbardians! Even the Hayekians. But if there’s a better view, why settle for a more flawed view? And please, don’t pretend that Rothbardianism is the only form of Anarcho-Capitalism. It’s not like Rothbard had a monopoly!

As a departing gift, here’s the old Bob Murphy vs David Friedman debate:


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