We're all private-property anarchists now

From a talk given by libertarian philosopher, Jan Lester, in London to mark the publication of his book 'Escape from Leviathan'
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The Independent Online

In my late teens I abandoned Marxism as mumbo-jumbo without ever understanding that the main problem is that, contra Marx, markets are necessary in an advanced industrial society. I evolved into some kind of politically correct authoritarian even regarding single-sex toilets as "irrationally sexist". But once I met serious libertarians at university my criticisms were soon refuted and they left me, to my surprise, a 24-carat libertarian believer.

In my late teens I abandoned Marxism as mumbo-jumbo without ever understanding that the main problem is that, contra Marx, markets are necessary in an advanced industrial society. I evolved into some kind of politically correct authoritarian even regarding single-sex toilets as "irrationally sexist". But once I met serious libertarians at university my criticisms were soon refuted and they left me, to my surprise, a 24-carat libertarian believer.

If politics is the only thing that is seriously morally wrong with the world, as I now believed, then if I were to write any philosophy it could only be about that. All else was trivial by comparison. I had no choice but to become an itinerant philosopher and purveyor of unfashionable anti-statist ideas. In particular, I came to see that the biggest general objections to libertarian anarchy are from people who believe that rationality, liberty, welfare and private-property anarchy generally clash. I doubted this for conceptual and practical, rather than moral, reasons, and so I have often written on the objective compatibility of these four things. Escape from Leviathan is my most sustained defence of this compatibility. Here are the positions I take on rationality, liberty, welfare and anarchy.

As for rationality, we are bound to do what we think is for the best under the circumstances, as we perceive them at the time. This is an important sense of rationality. Because this is true, more approximate senses can be linked with real human liberty and welfare. Confessions of weakness of will or lack of free will are more often than not mere excuses or confusions about what we really want. The drug addict might not like his desire for drugs, but he does in fact want them. Those who find the desires of others "irrational", are really expressing their own preferences about the behaviour of others.

Libertarianism is about interpersonal or social liberty, not bodily liberty. A problem with social liberty has always been how to define it to give definite and acceptable answers about what it requires. My own definition is "the absence of imposed costs" or "the absence of proactive impositions". If proactive impositions are not allowed, then it is not difficult to show how self-ownership, private property and contracts are libertarian. In all manner of difficult cases we can determine which is the lesser imposition and so must be tolerated if liberty is to be preferred.

We individually regard ourselves as having increased welfare the more we get of what we want. We are sometimes less sure that this is true of other people. But if we have to agree about what welfare is, then this want-satisfaction definition is the most plausible, least controversial and clearest.

Interestingly, even if we allow approximate comparisons between people of such welfare, there does not seem to be any sound reason to believe that this clashes with libertarian liberty. For instance, there are convincing economic and theoretical reasons for thinking that all moves towards enforced equality are likely to lessen welfare. And all freely chosen private discrimination, though not political discrimination, is likely to increase welfare.

Finally, people are hopelessly confused about anarchy, partly thanks to the violent anti-capitalists who claim to be anarchists. Anarchy means not being ruled or controlled. As such, laws that merely protect people and their property do not rule them. Thus anarchic law is not a contradiction in terms. In fact, state law is a corruption of anarchic law and politicians become "criminals".

Moreover, there is more tolerance and pluralism in the anarchy of the market than there can ever be with so-called liberal democracy, despite its defenders' claims for it.

As all this is increasingly seen to be true, we can expect the world to continue slowly to move towards private-property anarchy. We simply need to keep depoliticising until there is no politics left.

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