On Facebook, I saw an ancom ask to have someone explain how capitalism and anarchism can go together. This was my response.

An ancap thinks that capitalism and anarchism fit together like time and space. They are orthogonal, independent. No, that’s not quite right, the state influences the market, so influences capitalism.

My problem is, I don’t know how to define capitalism, and other people seem to use it inconsistently. Did millers own windmills under feudalism? Weren’t there shoe makers? Artisans and traders? Seems like the capitalism Marx complained about is all about factories, not private ownership of the means of production.

How do capitalism and anarchism fit together for an ancap? Start with the status quo (capitalism). Take each thing that the state does, one by one, and decide, is this something that people actually want? If yes, find some voluntary organization to take it over (maybe a business, a club, a charity, whatever). If no, then stop doing it. When you’re done, you have no state. Do you still have capitalism? The ancaps say yes, though maybe no corporations. I don’t know, and if the state is really gone and the few beneficial functions it monopolized are being fulfilled by voluntary organizations, I don’t care. But presumably, one of the things you handed off to a voluntary organization was the task of protecting each other from murderers, rapists and thieves. If there’s something the capitalists want to do to you that is not voluntary, there’s supposed to be someone willing and able to help you, maybe your neighbors or maybe one of a number of organizations. There is some hand waving here (or rampant speculation, see David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, the Tannehills). Clearly it can’t happen in reality the way it did in my little fairy tale, but conceptually I hope it helped.

I think both sides of the debate think that capitalism (as we experience it) and the state are related, that one is the root and the other is the branch. Each wants to strike the root and ignore the branch, but they disagree about which is which. If the ancaps are right, you can still have private ownership of capital and a complex economy mediated by exchange but without the war and monopoly underwritten by the state. Everyone’s lives have been warped by the state, but that doesn’t mean we all need to be killed, just give us a better alternative.

I’m not sure what label I want to stick on myself. I think it is utopian to think too hard about some ideal endpoint of history. I am more interested in trying to find a social tipping point or low-level life strategy that moves us in the right direction, the direction of giving people more control over their own lives, becoming less vulnerable to domination and threats and more likely to interact on a basis of persuasion and inspiration. Clearly, conventional politics offers little chance of making a difference, it has become (always was?) self-preserving, static, reactionary. I understand where the ancaps and voluntaryists are coming from, but I don’t see them actually accomplishing much (maybe Bitcoin, but that is in danger of getting assimilated). I don’t really understand the ancoms and libertarian socialists, and while they seem more likely to actually do something, they don’t seem poised to accomplish much either. (And they worry so much about capitalism I feel nervous that it has become a bugaboo, possibly the basis for oppression or self-destruction.) Chiapas and Rojava are interesting, but can the model be applied in other places?