Anarcho-capitalism is a radical version of classical liberalism (see libertarianism), that considers all forms of government unnecessary and harmful, including (or especially) in matters of justice and protection.
In economic matters, it advocates capitalism as the most efficient organization, and rejects any kind of government control, taxation or regulation. It considers that protection and justice are services like others, that are much better provided by competing private businesses than by monopolist governments.
Anarcho-capitalism is thus a form of anarchism, but it is radically different from the form of anarchism which may be known as libertarian socialism. Anarcho-capitalists and libertarian socialists think that each other are seriously misled as to the nature of power, and thus as to the nature of anarchism. Neither the former nor the latter have anything to do with 'anarchy', in the sense of chaos and disorder, which is better called anomy.
Anarcho-capitalism as part of the classical liberal tradition
Anarcho-capitalism is a variety of classical liberalism (see libertarianism), and anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as an anarchist flavor of classical liberalism rather than as a capitalist flavor of anarchism: they consider non-anarchist libertarians as friends who make the relatively minor (but nonetheless significant) mistake of accepting some form of government, but they consider left-anarchists as dangerous collectivists with which they share little in common.
As part of classical liberalism, anarcho-capitalism is based on the notions of individual liberty and natural law. Libertarian scholars have been, since the inception, studied society from the dynamic point of view of emerging order, which in recent times has been explicitly associated to cybernetics. Their tradition can be traced back to John Locke and the seventeenth century english Levellers, as well as to early french and british economists and philosophers; some even count Lao Tse and Aristotle as early classical liberals (though not anarchists).
Anti-statism is an essential part of the classical liberal tradition - maybe its characteristic part -, but either by pessimism with respect to the inevitability of government, or by lack of the proper theoretical economic background, or by fear of governmental repression and censorship, the question of full anarcho-capitalism has not been explicitly and openly discussed until the nineteenth century. All classical liberals believe in 'as little government as possible'; anarchists among them believe governments can and must be done without completely, whereas minarchists believe or accept that some government is necessary or desirable for e.g. enforcing laws. Some classical liberal thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, have vehemently opposed anarcho-capitalism. Probably most classical liberals haven't considered the question of government at all, considering governments as something inevitable, if not in theory, at least in practice, for the foreseeable future - to them, anarchism, good or bad, is but an irrelevant dream.
The earliest classical liberal thinker who has developed a complete theory of anarchism is Gustave de Molinari in 1849, although some classical liberal english and american revolutionaries have claimed anarchy without theorizing it, and some french economists had begun theorizing it without claiming it. There was an anarchist liberal tradition in France and in the US after Molinari, but it would never attract a large audience as such - still can be named Herbert Spencer, Auberon Herbert, Emile Faguet. It was not until the 1950s that anarcho-capitalism flourished, notably with Murray Rothbard, when classical liberal thinkers from Austria, having fled Nazism, found themselves teaching in the USA, and a new generation of classical liberal thinkers was born from the meeting of the European and American traditions.
Prominent anarcho-capitalists include Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, David Friedman, Anthony de Jasay, James Buchanan, Gary Greenberg, Walter Block, Hans-Herman Hoppe. Authors whose works notably influenced anarcho-capitalists include Frederic Bastiat, Albert Jay Nock, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.
Anarcho-capitalism as part of the Individualist Anarchist tradition
Anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as part of the individualist anarchist tradition. From a moral and natural law point of view, they are convinced that government is inherently evil, and that individuals should be free from any form of collective coercion. However, from an economic point of view, they disagree with some individualist anarchists about whether capitalism being the economic system that would naturally arise or not in a free society. In any case, they agree that in a free society, people should be free to organize in any economic way they like, whether in capitalist businesses or in collectivist cooperatives - they merely defend capitalism as a morally acceptable choice among these organizations, which choice they believe is the most efficient. Many socialist anarchists consider the economic views of individualist anarchist essential to individualist anarchism, and reject anarcho-capitalist claims to belong to the individualist anarchist tradition.
Utilitarian vs. Natural Law Approaches
Libertarians in general, and Anarcho-capitalists in particular, have developed two different approaches to their theories, from a utilitarian point of view, or from a point of view of natural law. Some of them defend one approach and dismiss the other, some of them, like Bastiat, claim an inherent harmony or correspondance between the two complementary approaches.
The Natural Law approach (see for instance Robert Nozick and his book Anarchy, the State and Utopia) argues that the existence of the state is immoral, and that unlimited capitalism is the only ethical political system, or rather anti-political system. The Utilitarian approach (see for instance David Friedman) argues that abolition of the state in favour of private businesses is economically more efficent. The Harmonic approach argues both as equivalent statements.
The notion of property rights is a fundamental element of anarcho-capitalism. The Natural Law approach argues for the natural right of humans to own their body and the result of their work, that they can use or refuse to use as they like, as long as they do not attempt to the property of someone else. The Utilitarian approach argues that defining property rights in this manner is the most efficient way to prevent destructive conflicts between individuals and to foster productive efforts. Actually, ownership of one's body together with the respect of earlier claims naturally entails ownership of the results of one's marginal work, since someone who own's one's own body could withhold work if refused the ownership of its results.
Anarcho-capitalism rejects every and all kind of "positive right" (such as the "right to be protected by others", the "right to be fed by others", the "right to receive a minimum salary from others"), and defends every and all kinds of "negative rights" (such as the "right not to be attacked by anyone else", the "right to not have stolen one's food by anyone else", and the "right not to have confiscated any part of one's salary by anyone else"). It differs from minarchist libertarianism only in that it considers that being protected is also a positive right that must be rejected, and that one can't claim protection by government, but must take personal steps or organize with others, so as to enforce the respect of one's property.
Anarcho-Capitalism, Corporations, and Contracts
While anarcho-capitalists believe that private businesses, born out of voluntary contracts, are the best (most moral and most efficient) way to conduct human affairs, they do not support corporations as currently are supported by governments. Most notably, they consider that limited liability for corporations is a great harm done to all those people who are denied the right to sue them for damage or debt. Other undue privilege include various subsidies and regulations for official 'workers' and 'employers', particular protection given to official work contracts as opposed to other private contracts, etc.
To anarcho-capitalists, contracts in general, and employment contracts in particular, are but a particular case of voluntary exchange of property (property of one's time and work, of one's goods and capitals, etc.), that individuals may freely get involved in. Individuals may take any legitimate steps within their property, to protect whatever they gained from such contracts; but they do not deserve particular protection: just because two (or more) individuals agreed something together at some time does not mean everyone else suddenly owes them protection from each other, from third parties, or from the accidents of life.
More generally, anarcho-capitalists refuse to acknowledge to anyone the monopolist authority to declare anything 'official' as opposed to other 'unofficial' things - anyone can declare anything 'official' as far as he's concerned, and is free to choose whether to give value or not to the 'official' status declared by other individuals. Thus 'official' marriage, contracts, employment, etc., deserve no particular legal status for anarcho-capitalists - although of course more common forms of them may have more extensive jurisprudence than less common forms.
Arguments for and against Anarcho-Capitalism
Anarcho-capitalism being a radical version of libertarianism, the same general arguments for and against libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism and capitalism usually apply, except as regards the justice system, in which anarcho-capitalism is more specific and different from the usual kind of classical liberal ideologies.
A common misunderstanding about libertarianism in general, and anarcho-capitalism in particular, is to consider them as economic or political theories. They are not. They are theories of Law - of what is or isn't legitimate to do. This in particular defeats the gross affirmations according to which today's society or any society is already libertarian, since everyone is ultimately free to obey or disobey and chooses to abide by the rules of the system: indeed, libertarians have a theory of natural law, and as long as positive law doesn't match natural law, the society is not libertarian. In particular, the right of anyone to secede from a government he considers unfit should be respected.
Thus, for instance, considering either moral or utilitarian arguments, libertarians are not opposed to de facto monopolies (companies that happen to currently be the only provider of some service), only to de jure monopolies (companies whose monopoly is guaranteed by law and whose competitors will be prevented and chased by public force). To libertarians, de facto monopolies or quasi-monopolies can exist but transiently, due to some recent technical or organizational innovation that hasn't been copied by competitors yet; they have no power to abuse, because their customers can always stop buying from them and be supplied by a competitor, that will raise from poverty to affluence they day the monopolist starts having 'excessive' claims. "Voting with one's feet and one's dollars" rather than "voting with one's voice and everyone else's dollars" - individual choice rather than collective choice - is the motto of libertarians in general, and of anarcho-capitalists in particular. Applying this reasoning to the protection of individual property rights, anarcho-capitalists do not fear local monopolies or oligopolies in the justice market, as long as the individual right to secede and choose one's own defense agency or start a new one is respected.
Also, misunderstanding about the nature of private (or public) protection and justice systems is often the source of ridiculous claims by opponents to anarcho-capitalisms. For instance, left-anarchists consider all property as government-enforced privilege, but fail to even consider the possibility of armed individuals defending their own property, either alone or cooperating in groups. More generally, when talking about governments, justice systems, etc., they often think in collectivist terms, and are unable to even understand the individualistic stance of anarcho-capitalists and individualist anarchists, who consider any kind of collectivist decision as oppression of the political minority by the political majority.
- Bryan Caplan's Anarchism Theory FAQ
- David Hart's Gustave De Molinari And The Anti-Statist Liberal Tradition
- Liberalia, an anarcho-capitalist site
- Bertrand Lemennicier, a great french anarcho-capitalist economist and his links (english and french)
- Anarcho-Capitalism links
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe interview
Libertarian Socialism vs Anarcho-Capitalism: