Socialism, anarcho-capitalism, and the state of nature

Recently there’s been a resurgence in at least the theoretical “popularity” (especially among indoctrinated millennials) of socialism, with the rise of Bernie Sanders making socialism “cool,” Hollywood leftists like Steven Colbert mischaracterizing the whole misguided system as “sharing,” and the falsehoods and hysterics over the Republican tax bill leading to some of these oh-so-precious snowflakes dreaming of getting “full communism” for Christmas.  It’s no surprise that these dimwits grew up when the Cold War was a rapidly fading memory and haven’t been taught a thing about just how “wonderful” socialism and communism really are, like how the Berlin Wall wasn’t built to keep people out, and for all the Cuban boats that made their way to Florida or died in the attempt there was never one boat that set off from Miami for Havana.  To really understand just how faulty and flawed and outright barbaric socialism is, though, first you have to have a basic understanding of the reason why we have societies and government in the first place, the concept of the social contract.

Political thinkers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes did recognize that rights were inherent in man and not the creations of the state, for the simple reason that in purely chicken-vs.-egg terms man had to pre-date the state.  The condition of mankind prior to the establishment of any sort of government was called “the state of nature” by Hobbes, which essentially boiled down to pure and total anarchy.  No laws, no rules, no foundation to build civilization upon, sure you had all your inherent rights and freedoms but so did the guy down the beach a ways who was bigger than you, dumber than you, and who decided he wanted your cave, your woman, and that antelope you just brought in last night.  If you couldn’t stop him from taking them and killing you in the process, well, sucks to be you.  This is why Hobbes described the life of man in the state of nature as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  Your best options were to stay under the radar, to not have anything worth stealing or that you couldn’t pick up and run away with, and to be ready and able to fight for your life at a moment’s notice from the time you got kicked out of your own father’s home and protection (or killed him yourself) until the day you died.  The strong ruled, the weak died and/or served.

Hobbes and Locke both conceived of the end of the state of nature as being when men banded together and ceded a degree of their freedom to a government of some kind, whether that was a simple code of rules or the modern bureaucratic leviathan.  Both philosophers saw this as a necessary and desirable end despite Hobbes’ pessimistic (and also largely accurate) assessment that once born, the state will continue to pursue power and devour individual freedoms indefinitely.  But both men (Locke in particular) recognized that at least a bare minimum of rules and laws were necessary in order for humanity to progress, because of the fact that rights are meaningless if you have no way to enforce them other than your own two fists.  Locke’s political theories dovetailed with his economic theories in which he believed that the foundation of property rights was the labor you put in.  To give an example, if an apple tree grew wild in the public commons and no one tended to it, and it produced a handful of scraggy, worm-eaten apples each season, and then someone came along and tended to the tree by pruning and weeding and watering and caring for it, then the yield from that tree ought to belong to him.  You put your labor into working and improving the property, therefore you have a right to it.  This is even still reflected in American property law under the doctrine of adverse possession, even though that applies to privately held real property and often specifically exempts government-owned land, but I’m getting off topic.

This is also why the land of the United States was not “stolen” from anybody, but again, off topic.

If we start from the premise that Locke’s theory is valid and labor creates rights in the fruits of that labor, we have to ask what sounds like a stupid question: who owns your labor in the first place?  Of course in the medieval system of lords and fiefdoms and peasant serfs the people and by extension their labor belonged to their feudal lords, in practice if not in name.  A slave’s labor is not his own, and thanks to Western Civilization chattel slavery is almost universally recognized as the abhorrent barbarism that it is.  To most anyone living in the West today the simple answer to the question of who owns your labor is (or ought to be) you.  This is the foundation of all property rights and incidentally the fatal flaw in any socialistic form of government.

You see, in order for you to have these rights in any meaningful sense, and not be vulnerable to roving hordes of bandits or lone thieves making off with the stuff you spent years breaking your back to produce in just a few minutes of bloody violence, then there has to be some sort of society set up to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong.  This is the core and legitimate function of government.  And no, it does not mean protecting them from “discrimination” or “economic exploitation” or “bad workplace conditions” or “climate change” or any other such nonsense.  It means straight-up no-hyperbole zero-symbolism good-old-fashioned physical violence being inflicted.  It means laws against murder and theft and the means to enforce them.  Without such protections you can have neither a society or an economy.  Capitalism is a zero state to which all civilized economies return, even in black market form, but without civilization there can be no capitalism.  Sure, you could hire your own personal army of mercenaries to protect your business and farm and lands and production facilities, but not only is that an astronomical expense that doesn’t go into producing and growing wealth, it’s also no guarantee that someone won’t come along with a bigger army.  Or won’t offer your guys more money.  Or that one of your guys won’t sneak into your bedroom one night and snuff you in your sleep just to take over your operation in the morning like nothing happened.  Laws and society impose consequences and protections so not only do you not have to hire your own muscle, but if someone does off you in hopes of taking your position, there’ll be someone (at least in theory) coming along to hold your killer accountable, and knowing this deters many such opportunists from making such a move in the first place.  Yes, I know it does not always work that way, but civilized society puts a high opportunity cost and imposes massive risk on what would otherwise be the quick way to get rich.  Without that it’s not a question of if you will ever get taken out by someone who wants what you have, but when.

What does this have to do with socialism?  As I stated earlier, Hobbes wrote that once born, the state will continue to grow in power and dominance indefinitely.  It is never sated and never stops on its own, hence why he called it the “leviathan.”  As for the state of nature, it’s always just past the gates.  It never goes away.  It intrudes wherever civilized society steps back or recoils for fear of touching it.  With these two forces at work, a limited state created to safeguard the most basic of human rights and a condition of barbarism and absolute lawlessness endlessly banging on the door of civilized society, it is inevitable that at some point of growth the state will reach the ability to turn from the protector into the thief.  If it is allowed to grow past the constraints put upon it by the authors of the social contract, eventually the state becomes the strong and the citizens become the weak, and the state of nature reasserts itself.  Your life, your labor and your property are no longer your own, but subject to the will of the government.  It doesn’t matter if the strong consists of the big oaf huddling in a lean-to, eating grass and eyeing your wife, or if it consists of an electorate inflated with single mothers on welfare and idealistic twits who don’t understand what corporations are.

This, in brief, is socialism.  You can pretty it up with all the nice kid-friendly “sharing” language you want, but under socialism your property is not your own and neither is your labor, and it is enforced by the strength of the selfsame government that was put into place to prevent such thievery.  This is why the inevitable end result of socialism is slavery, deprivation, and death, with police states that invest ungodly amounts of resources into surveilling the people for possible unrest and locking them down behind walls and fences to prevent their escape.  People will either be forced to work, in which case they’re slaves, or they will have no incentive to work if their “fair share” of the government’s chest will be no greater for getting up at 6 AM in the freezing cold to go work until dusk than it would be for sleeping in and ignoring the phone when it rings.  Socialism is not some “enlightened” and “progressive” system but is instead a reversion to abject savagery.

I mentioned anarcho-capitalism in the title because it shares a very important philosophical flaw with socialism that helps to drive the point home.  AnCapism, to my understanding, pretty much means what it sounds like–you have no government but you still have a capitalist free market.  Proponents of such a system will go on and on about what they call the “non-aggression principle,” which otherwise intelligent folks like Stefan Molyneux hold out as what seems to be their highest value of all.  This principle basically means that the initiation of force is always wrong.  Doesn’t matter what your purpose is, doesn’t matter the kind of force, if you strike first, you’re wrong, and their essential problem with government in general is that government has a monopoly on the legal use of force.  This is, frankly, asinine.  The fundamental flaw it shares with socialism is the same foundational piece of utter fantasy that amounts to this: at some point in the system, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) will just be nice and stay that way.  No one is ever going to take more than his share, no one is ever going to shirk his responsibilities, people will continue to work and labor and produce and innovate and take risks they can’t profit from, no one is ever going to threaten or intimidate or be unreasonable or angry or selfish.

In other words, because of human nature (which capitalism expressly recognizes and takes advantage of), neither socialism nor anarcho-capitalism can work.  Both are predicated on a return to the state of nature and just justify it in different ways.  Socialists will tell you “yeah, the government owns everything but that’s just to make sure everyone gets their fair share!”  You’re still obliging the people who produce to give up what they produce by threat or use of force, and if you think everyone will get their “fair share” even then you’re delusional.  That’s the strong taking advantage of the weak without a higher power to appeal to.  That’s the state of nature.  That’s barbarism.  AnCaps will tell you “as long as people abide by the non-aggression principle…” and whatever comes after that is more or less irrelevant, because that’s not going to happen.  Ever.  The second it is not true and someone tries to get his way with guns or muscle even once the entire plan falls apart.  I’m honestly not sure which is worse, the socialists who claim (whether they realize it or not) that mass theft is okay just by virtue of the numbers making the socialists the strong, or the AnCaps who blithely want to rescind the social contract, return to the state of nature, and pretend it won’t slit their throats the first chance it gets.

Capitalism requires civilization, and civilization requires capitalism.  The most bitter irony of all is that capitalism is the engine of the progress that will one day get us to the Star Trek-esque world of technological wonders and endless resources where want will be a thing of the past, but socialists who think they can have all that right now just keep pushing that tomorrow off.  Nobody’s going to build a replicator if he can’t make a few bucks off it, folks.


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