Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bionic Mosquito: Anarcho-Capitalism Could Never Survive In Practice

By Robert Wenzel

Bionic Mosquito didn't use the exact words I have put above in the title. In a response to my post, The Current State of Anarcho-Capitalist Theory (Part 1), hewrote a post with the title Wenzel Develops Theory That Could Never Survive Practice.

But my theory is nothing than my understanding of anarcho-capitalism. That is a society without government but a respect for private property, My preferred name for such a society is the Private Property Society.

It is based on the non-aggression principle.

As Rick Miller points out:
Here is the NAP as defined by Walter Block:
"The non-aggression [principle] the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another."
It appears that Bionic wants to ignore part of this principle but still hang on to the idea that he is an anrcho-capiatslist. He writes:
To set the stage, general descriptions regarding my earlier comments, as offered by Robert:
…[bionic] has left the world of anarcho-capitalism and entered the world of limited government.
…you are, at least, a limited government advocate.
These because I suggest culture would have a role in society.
But Bionic just doesn't mean a general culture could be recognized by almost all. He means a society where the rules of aculture could not be ignored by anyone who chooses not to go along on his own private property. He clarifies in a comment to my post on such culture
 I will go one step further: if a community decides that the penalty for a child stealing an apple is death, so be it. But if it is imposed by one individual without agreement by the others – no matter how great the theory sounds – further and escalating conflict will ensue.
But this is my point: if the community accepts the death of the child as payment…it is their culture – it has nothing to do with the NAP. 
It is here where he has left the anracho-capitalist camp and entered the world of government. Not because he argues a culture could develop that most would  recognize, but because "the community" in his view can  overrule an individual, who chooses, on his own property, to ignore the rules of a culture.

Culture does not equal government. But culture that is forced by a "community" on those who are on their own property and who don't want to live by such culture is government.

As for Bionic claiming my anarcho-capitalist position "has nothing to do with the NAP,"
 it is the exact opposite. NAP is, significantly, about non-aggression on private property. If we have a "community" that imposes its culture on individuals, on their own property, who don't want anything to do with that culture, it is aggression. It is an attempt to demand acting in the manner approved by the culture on a given individual's private property---that's aggression.

Bionoic goes on to reveal that he buys into the myth that "governance" is needed in a society:
I have written often about the difference of “government” and “governance.”  There will always be governance – else there is no civil society.  It is to governance that I introduce and discuss culture.
But this is  a myth. People generally take measures to protect their own property. It is a myth that they rely on governance. If Bionic really believes governance  protects people, then I suggest a test. Bionoic should pull $10,000 out of the bank--cash. He should put it on a park bench in San Francisco's Tenderloin with the note, "This belongs to Bionioc Mosquito. Please do not touch. I will be back for it in  a few days"

Does he seriously think that "governance" will protect his money?

As a further test, I urge him to leave his DOB, SS#, bank account number along with online passwords in the comment section below. Since he believes in "governance" and there are now laws against identity theft, he should have no problem with this test.

If he does not act out either of these easy tests to prove his point, it means he rejetcs the idea that governance as opposed to individual protection, is the root of private property protection. I repeat, governance as a protector is largely a myth. The idea should be destroyed along with the notion that the government protects us against terrorists.

Bionic asks in his post:
So why write a post entitled “Additional Comments on Penalties for Violators of the Non-Aggression Principle”?  If “people mind their own business and respect private property,” why speak of penalties?  Why speak of violators?
The answer is, of course, because people do violate private property on occasion. We are not discussing a world of angels. We are discussing methods by which a society could function where there is a general respect for private property, but still recognize the way the world is and that there will be those who become aggressors.

If the decision of penalties for a private property violations is left up to the owners of a properties, then we have no need for governance and no  penalties which may not satisfy victims. And here again, we come to the point that there is no objective measure of appropriate punishment. Only victims can determine satisfaction for an aggression becasue they are the ones aggressed against and satisfaction is always subjective.

Bionic then goes on and makes some odd points:
Does a common, unifying culture increase or decrease the likelihood for the demand of the service of a monopoly fixer of all things?  I say decrease...Is it “government” when neighbors voluntarily agree to abide by a certain code of conduct despite not being pleased with every single clause?  No – it is called life.

Bionic can call a  "common, unifying culture," life, but it is government when such a unifying culture is forced upon those who are on their own property and who are not interested in such culture as necessary for "life." Bionic is playing word games here, "a common, unifying culture," is government, that is some kind og monopoly fixer. This is not quite anarchy.

Bionic than takes another great leap away from fundamental NAP theory:
Is it possible for a penalty to cross the line into the initiation of aggression?  Again, yes. (This isn’t self-evident to Robert, but perhaps one or two others might read it and say “duh, how stupid does bionic think we are?”)
Wenzel suggests shooting a child for stealing an apple is not initiating aggression.  In any civil society – meaning any society that has some reasonable chance of putting libertarian theory into practice – he would be wrong.
Bionic may not like it, but fundamental private property recognition means that  the owner of the property should not be aggressed against and only he can set the rules, on his property, for aggression penalties. It is impossible for anyone other than a victim to know what is a satisfactory penalty for an aggression. (A victim by being on the property of another siginifies acceptance of aggression penalties as allowed by that property owner)

But let us look further into why Bionic objects to penalties determined by private property owners.. He tells us in his next paragraph:
Picture the scene: the child, dead in a pool of blood; the parents, neighbors, and other community members show up.  Wenzel says “that dumb kid stole my apple, so I shot him.  You have to respect my property rights.”  Everyone says “you know, that Wenzel guy is right.  Let’s buy him a beer.”  And the child’s father picks up the tab.\ 
On what planet?
First, I would not shoot a kid who stole an apple from a tree on my property, neither  would almost all the rest of us.

But more important, the questions that must be asked that are not presented by Bionic are: Is it a dangerous world for children? Of course, it is. They could burn their hands on a stove, set fire to a house while  playing with matches etc. That is why there are people called baby sitters. Children who potentially can harm themselves are not left alone. It is not because governance laws ban stoves, matches etc. It is because everyone recognizes that children must be watched after.

What planet does Bionic buzz around in that he does not understand this?

It would be the same way with a killer of children who trespass. Who would allow their children to go near such a property?  Who would allow children to go near a property that doesn't disclose its rules and penalties? It wouldn't happen any more than parents allowing children to play on top of a hot stove or allowing them to go out and play in traffic?

This necessity of governance is a great myth. Life mainly goes on with people protecting their own property without the help of governance.

Bionic may not think this kind of society could survive, but it is the kind of society we live in, with a mythical, supposed all-powerful veil called governance over us that in reality does nearly nothing to protect us.

It is the great myth that must be exposed before we can move onto a Private Proprty Society, I suspect that many who call themselves anarcho-capitalists do not truly understand the logical road such a view leads to and I am sure that many recoil, as Bionic has done, to the punch in the gut as to the true nature of PPS. But the punch in the gut is felt because they don't truly understand the way the world really works now and that governance as a great protector doesn't exist.

But in time, perhaps, many will come to the view that in many ways we are already living a PPS life with government a leach that has no real value for us.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher at and at Target Liberty. He is also author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics


  1. You need authority to make private property the law and overwhelming force to back it up. I don't know what's so hard to understand about this. A private court has no authority over anyone.

  2. I believe that RW and Bionic are actually very impressive thinkers and I appreciate reading both views (although I haven't read Bionics full version yet).
    Just me as a layman, untrained 'thinker', I'm more attracted to Bionics 'Utopia'. Really I do think that before an actual "Libertarian" culture could be developed, significant numbers of like minded individuals...
    Entire communities, perhaps followed by counties, cities, regions would all need to agree upon precisely the hypothesized versions offered by either RW or Bionic.
    I do believe that many, if not most human beings would be far more happy, far more closely in tune with a richer and more authentic life experience were the dominant social energy one deeply and unconditionally aligned with respect for individual life.
    Anyone (virtually) can live precisely as they choose.
    So long as they are unencumbered by the very nature of others.

  3. I had a debate with Adam Kokesh on the feasibility of an anarcho-capitalist society in the real world:
    Mu argument is that it is part of human nature to want to aggress and coerce others, therefor some form of government is inevitable. That being said I believe that the non-aggression principle is righteous and a free society is an ideal worth striving for, even if it is practically unattainable.

    1. Since you brought it up . . . Kokesh dominated you in that debate.

      Many minarchists say a society without a State is impossible or infeasible. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But you know what else is impossible or infeasible? Small government minarchy.

      Count me as one libertarian who will always and forever advocate for the elimination of the enemy of every individual on earth: The State. Will it happen in my lifetime? Maybe not. But I will oppose it and preach its demise until my last breath.

  4. I kinda saw this coming. An assault on Bionic Mosquito, who had become a bit of an anarcho-capitalist darling, being referenced regularly by Lew Rockwell and such, who has now committed heresy. What I want to say to Bionic Mosquito is that, as Ron Paul has proved, many, many more folks are interested in a return to peace, liberty, and sound money, than are interested in some mythical, doctrinaire, LARPing Rothbardian "anarcho-capitalism." Let it go, let it flow, let it GROW! You are in the right. Even if they call you a minarchist....

    1. First of all. I have made a number of posts on the nature of anarcho capitalism, never mentioning Bionic. In fact, I did not even know Bionic's position until he added a couple of comments to my post. I responded to one of the comments to which Bionic then devoted a full essay in response. It was only following his essay that I devoted a full post to Bionic. And you saw all this back and forth as an assault on Bionic coming?

      I happen to hold Bionic in high regard. This is one of the few topics we disagree on, in fact I can't think of any other topic that we disagree on.

    2. All in good fun and solely in reference to the topic at hand. I did not mean to suggest or imply otherwise.

  5. I hate all this "we need a common culture" or governance to have a free society. All u need is people who can mind their own business. I like the last paragraph of the post, reminds me of lessons learned from "how I found freedom in an unfree world".

    1. "Mind your own business" is a key assumption of a culture. It is part of the assumptions that must become common culture. I think you are missing what BM means by culture and governance.

      It's core assumptions about the sanctity of property rights, and that they precede the state. About minding your own business. Live and let live. These are old American ideas that are not held by most of the rest of the world. You have to have them BEFORE you can have a PPS, otherwise no one will create a PPS.

  6. I think a helpful point that Bionic (and respectfully, RW as well) may be missing is that in RW's Private Property Society, while there would be no big-G "Government" to forcibly regulate the farmer's behavior and prevent him from exacting a ghastly penalty on the apple thief, there would still be a form of "governance" over his behavior: To wit, any farmer deciding that child-murder was a just penalty would know that his neighbors and the family of the apple thief would very likely see his penalty as unjust and egregious, and would quickly toss aside the NAP and lynch him. He would spend the rest of his life barricaded in fear and unable to leave his private property. The threat of revenge would, in most real-world circumstances, act as "governance" over his behavior.

    Just as RW points out that we don't let our kids waltz around "bad" neighborhoods at night today - and not due to the Government, but because we have common sense - many people do not exact justice from trespassers because of the ramifications it would have on their ability to go about life and get along with their neighbors. Again, not due to any sort of "Government" but out of self-interest and self-preservation.

    In today's reality, if a neighborhood child steals an apple from my yard, I might even refrain from harshly scolding the child and instead just address the matter to his parents in a spirit of neighborliness. The desire to not incur the (undeserved) ugly looks of my neighbors is enough to act as "governance" over my behavior - self-governance, perhaps, but governance nonetheless. This type of self-governance would not disappear in a Private Property Society, but would actually become more prevalent as there would be more demand for it in the absence of an external "authority" to invoke.

    1. This is completely correct. BM understands it and it is what he means by governance.

      I'm don't believe RW understands what BM means by governance.

      BM's point, generally, is that people have to change culturally and adopt certain attitudes culturally before you will ever have a PPS. And they will create legitimate governance structures, based on consent and cultural understanding, to facilitate commerce and trade in life.

      That's all it means. Gary North has written a ton on the unique cultural attitudes that arose in the US, and in capitalist countries generally, that distinguish them from the rest of the world. These attitudes precede a PPS. They are essential.

      You have to get a core of the right people with the right attitudes together, who can then create a Hoppean PPS, and judiciously let people in or out much like Hoppe has written about in Democracy: The God that Failed.

      Once you get past this lengthy digression by RW, the only real substantive kernel is the disagreement on whether the victim in all circumstances can choose whatever punishment for trespass to his property.

      That's it. The post should instead really focus on this substantive disagreement. RW has jumped off the Rothbardian train in assuming, by implication, that objective proportionality is not a part of libertarian justice.

      It is not, in my view, a necessary implication from the NAP that the victim decides on all punishments or consequences for trespass. Why? That is a very significant claim that requires justification beyond "it's all subjective."

      It's not all subjective in my view. Otherwise, one could argue that the boundaries of property, based on original acquisition and first use, are also subjective. And therefore, the original claimant gets to decide the scope of his ownership, no matter no irrational. So Marvin the Martian really can claim all of Mars.

  7. "Liberalism is not anarchism, nor has it anything whatsoever to do with anarchism. The liberal understands quite clearly that without resort to compulsion, the existence of society would be endangered and that behind the rules of conduct whose observance is necessary to assure peaceful human cooperation must stand the threat of force if the whole edifice of society is not to be continually at the mercy of any one of its members. One must be in a position to compel the person who will not respect the lives, health, personal freedom, or private property of others to acquiesce in the rules of life in society. This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace."
    -Ludwig von Mises (Liberalism p.37)

    Rothbard is WRONG.

    1. How is Rothbard wrong? When did he ever equate anarchism with liberalism?

  8. Well, wait a minute.

    According to the citation of Walter Block, the very essence of the NAP is to not initiate against another person's property. An individual owns the right to his person, essentially making it his property. For the scenario in question, this is the only thing that's clear. As it stands, this Farmer, embodying the essence of AnCap, sounds more like Judge Dredd than he does the paragon libertarian. It's entirely in the realm of possibility that the retribution in this case has crossed into initiating aggression. If exploring proper application of the NAP is waved off as being a minarchist, I'm not sure why any professed libertarian wants to wax philosophic in general.

    Recognizing that the farmer has a good chance of facing retaliation (Blowback, if we prefer) whether he's right or wrong isn't drifting away from AnCap - it's a recognition of the capacity for people in general, as is recognizing the likelihood of escalation into, for want of a better term, gang warfare. Not to mention, a case for meddling folks with Statist mindsets. Government or no, people of this worldview won't just disappear, unless we're talking about some sort of science fiction setting where everyone that has a stake in the community, even on the periphery. reveres liberty. It would be likely to use such an event to organize a governing body to prevent it. Again, Trayvon Martin.

    I can't help but believe your conclusion would dissolve said AnCap society, and create a government in it's place. Much more so than a commonly agreed to set of cultural norms would.

  9. "This necessity of governance is a great myth. Life mainly goes on with people protecting their own property without the help of governance."

    This statement is just wrong and shows an unfamiliarity with culture and informal governance. Do people refrain from stealing and trespassing solely because property is 'protected' by the owner? No. Most people believe in the morality of property and the immorality of stealing.

    Do people refrain from killing others solely because the victim may engage in self-defense or because they may end up in jail? No. Otherwise a lot of defenseless old people may be stuffed in the bushes on a daily basis.

    So people behave according to their moral compasses and cultural norms. That is what BM means by "governance".

    BM's blog is excellent precisely because, like Hoppe, he recognizes that cultural precepts must precede any PPS. This includes assumptions about freedom, private property, and objective justice. The old English common law system is an interesting and imperfect historical facsimile of this.

    Culture and informal governance are the guiding bedrock of all societies. Societies disintegrate when those two things disintegrate. It's not as simple as saying, each is an absolute king on his private property.

    You still first have to use objective norms to determine the scope of homesteading and first use. This will involve some qualitative and subjective decision making. By RW's logic, this means it is not part of the NAP, because he argues proportionality is not part of the NAP for the same reason.

    1. Scope of homesteading and first use, standards for justice, and proportionality are all subject to negotiation across individuals with the ultimate threat of warfare and immediate blessings of peaceful trade serving to incentivize all necessary compromises. Just how modern nations successfully co-exist under anarchy without a one world government imposing a monolithic definition of private property or justice on all.

      The best standards rise to the top and get increasingly broadly adopted because they are the most effective. The same way gold came into use as money not because someone said there must be an objective standard for money and a government to impose it, but because mass consensus among free and independent men rapidly converged on gold as the best.

  10. Struggling to understand the essence of the conflict between RW and BM.

    RW's respect for private property apparently only means land. RW apparently thinks any persons or things crossing the border of private land without previous agreement can be killed or destroyed by the land owner at will.

    My view is private property includes our bodies and possessions regardless of what land we occupy. Nothing in the NAP addresses remedies for aggression. A trespasser violating the border of a land owner with his body has indeed aggressed upon the land owner, but if the trespasser can’t or won't compensate the land owner to an extent that satisfies him, then the matter falls back to force as necessary, including all the associated consequences, without blame befalling one or the other. Same eventuality as if the trespasser were a statist that didn’t believe in the NAP or private property.

    This approach resolves the conflict between RW and BM over the stolen apple. Anarcho-capitalist principle only lays out the basis for determining right-and-wrong, private property and respect for agreements. It does not proscribe remedies absent agreements, nor demand either victim or aggressor be sacrificed wholesale to the other. Allowing matters to fall back to force is also highly realistic, as force is what people tend to resort to anyway when punishments not fitting crimes in their eyes are imposed upon them without their consent.

  11. What about the situation where members of the society do not uniformly agree upon the definition of "private property"?

    An obvious example disagreement regards intellectual property. We're surrounded by intelligent, principled, and well-meaning libertarians yet there isn't a consensus on the property rights associated with intellectual property.

    The NAP is not effective when both parties sincerely believe the other is the aggressor. Additionally, if the rest of the society is also divided on the private property claims at the root of the argument, then it's going to be bad.

    This observation comes from my own rhetorical experience; often when I debate with smart, well-meaning, but politically misguided individuals, I find that agreeing upon a definition of private property is exactly where the breakdown occurs. No one ever disagrees with the NAP; it's always the details when it does or does not apply.

  12. Why would this situation not be dealt with by a system of competing arbitrators ? We would have common law and a growing body of case law to deal with situations like this. Private property does not allow you to ignore the laws of decency.
    Unjustified homicide cannot be allowed to turn into a blood-feud.