Francisco Capella wrote recently an article entitled “Más problemas del anarcocapitalismo” (More problems of anarcho-capitalism) after attending a debate between Juán Ramón Rallo and Miguel Anxo Bastos.
The article of Capella suffers from a certain vagueness about the object of its analysis since it does not emphasize the distinction between anarcho-capitalism as a political theory or tradition of thought and anarcho-capitalism as a movement with followers. Thus, the first eleven paragraphs of his article constitute an accumulation of adjectives that, according to Capella, describe a high percentage of anarcho-capitalists. Therefore, according to this author, many of them are fanatical, naive, fundamentalists, do not listen to reason, do not pay attention to another kind of arguments, etc.
From an intellectual point of view, these eleven paragraphs are completely irrelevant in what refers to anarcho-capitalism as a political theory. At best, such a description represents an attempt at a sociological analysis of the libertarian movement (which is what we considered to be the author’s real intention). In this article, we will pose some thoughts about the sociological analysis made by Francisco Capella.
In the first place, we think that these kind of sociological analysis of the libertarian movement are necessary and can be very valuable. For example, they may contribute to the clarification of ideas, the identification of problems and the correction of attitudes. In fact, in this aspect, Capella is following the lead of anarcho-capitalist scholars that conducted similar exercises long before him (see, for example, Murray Rothbard’s The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult, or Hoppe’s A Realistic Libertarianism).
But we also have to point out that, no doubt due to the limitations imposed by the extension of the article, the sociological analysis of Capella seems to be more an array of subjective and emotional perceptions based on his personal experiences than a sophisticated study with proof and solid arguments. For instance, Capella affirms that “a high percentage” of anarcho-capitalists are fanatical and naive, but he never clarifies to which specific group he is referring. Is he talking about the anarcho-capitalists he knows personally or is he talking about the whole group? Is his description limited to his personal experience in his own city or does it include anarcho-capitalists all over the world? Did he really calculate the percentage of fanatical anarcho-capitalists or is it just a figure of speech?
Furthermore, Capella incurs into some strange contradictions when it comes to the explanation of his subjective perceptions. At the beginning of his article, Capella states the following:
Independently of the correction or validity of its ideas, anarcho-capitalism is an extreme and minority political theory (or anti-political theory) with a high percentage of fanatical and naive supporters.
But the reasons he offers to demonstrate the naive and fanatical nature of its supporters are the following:
Besides enthusiastic fanatics, many anarcho-capitalists look to me naive because they do not see the problems associated with their ideas and they do not realize the weakness of their arguments.
In other words, according to Capella and independently of the validity of their ideas, anarcho-capitalism has naive and fanatical supporters. But these supporters are fanatical and naive because they do not realize the lack of validity of their ideas. It seems difficult to indict the supporters of anarcho-capitalism with the charges of fanaticism and naivety, independently of the validity of their ideas when he states that their fanaticism and naivety comes from the lack of validity of their ideas. We could say that, independently of the validity of Capella’s ideas about the fanaticism of anarcho-capitalists, his skill in the elaboration of solid logical arguments presents serious deficiencies.
His arguments are equally confusing when it comes to the identification of the exact problems attributed to anarcho-capitalism; for instance, when he states the following:
The total elimination of the State as a solution to social problems is clearly a radical proposal, maximalist, not precisely moderate: it is an idea for nonconformist rebels or for those seeking attention and it is not apt for the great majority of the population which may prefer to retreat to more moderate, normal and popular positions.
This paragraph raises several questions. Does the author consider the anarcho-capitalist radical proposal as a problem because of the fact that most people prefer more moderate and popular positions? If what he means is that it is harder to persuade people employing minority ideas, he is right undoubtedly. But, if this is the case, then his comment is a triviality of little importance. Everybody knows that it is easier (and more comfortable) to defend generally accepted ideas than it is to defend less generally accepted ideas. When slavery was a concept generally accepted it was harder to persuade people of the convenience of its total eradication. The complete abolition of slavery was a radical and maximalist proposal rejected by the great majority of the population. On the other hand, the idea of slavery as a legitimate concept was considered as a moderate, normal and popular position. However, being a minority does not constitute a problem for any trend of thought or intellectual current. In any case, an intellectual current could only have a problem if it wanted to remain in the minority. However, many of the anarcho-capitalist scholars and supporters do not share Capella’s defeatist mentality; they do not think that their ideas are “not apt for the great majority of the population” ineluctably but, on the contrary, they believe it necessary to research, analyze, debate, explain and persuade, in order to achieve in the future a general change of opinion so that an increasing amount of people share their ideas.
Does the author believe that anarcho-capitalism minority and radical nature is something exclusive and not shared by other political theories? We guess he does not. For instance, we guess he is perfectly aware that Rallo’s 5% State proposal is, currently, a minority and radical proposal that it does not count with the support of “the great majority of the population” and can hardly be considered as a “moderate, normal and popular” position. And proposals for the liberalization of the health, education, and pension systems are still considered too radical by a large part of the population that prefers “to retreat to more moderate, normal and popular positions”, like those of social democracy.
Is Capella defending the need to adopt more moderate proposals that can easily achieve the support of a large part of the population? We hope he is not because if he establishes as a strategic criterium the adoption of proposals easily accepted by a large part of the population and, if we bear in mind that the vast majority of the free-market advocates’ proposals represent still a minority position in public opinion, then the easier option with the best odds of triumph, would be the proposal of supporting the status quo. That would constitute a proposal for abandoning any kind of liberalism in the hope of achieving some immediate success in public opinion. This could be good advice for those who seek some kind of social recognition but can hardly be of help for those who defend a set of ideas with the goal of achieving a more just and prosperous society. We think that Capella would agree with the proposition that is much more reasonable to study first the validity of one’s ideas and the coherence of one’s proposals and to defend them later with conviction and vigor so that, one day, they can become the majority position.
Similarly, Capella’s thoughts on humor are peculiar:
The mention of the “tiny state” of minarchism is an object of humor, which can be very healthy (especially in the gestures, voice, and Galician accent of a brilliant and kind person like Bastos), but it is also dangerous because this is a very serious matter and jokes and laughter might be used to avoid thinking and responding to criticisms: one of the evolutive functions of humor is to bring together the members of a group against enemies that do not deserve respect or fear.
In the first place, we find curious the strange ability to defend contradictory positions at the same time: according to Capella, humor can be very healthy but is also very dangerous. What does Capella mean? If humor is very healthy in the case of Bastos (which is the only example cited by Capella), Why does he point out its dangers? And if humor is dangerous in the case of Bastos and is used to avoid critical thinking, How can it be healthy?
Secondly, we find this paragraph to be very innovative. This could be the first time in history that someone includes in the description of a certain group the characteristics of fanaticism, dogmatism, fundamentalism,…and a great sense of humor. One would think that a sense of humor is not present in fanatics but rather than fanatics usually consider humor and laughter as something dangerous. For instance, jokes, satires and other forms of humor were banned both in the nazi and soviet regimes, since they represented a danger for their respective causes. Curiously, the suspicions of Capella against humor bring him closer to the most dogmatic objectivists. Thus, Rothbard, whom also had a great sense of humor, made this remark about them:
Wit and humor […] were verboten in the Randian movement. The philosophical rationale was that humor demonstrates that one “is not serious about one’s values.” The actual reason, of course, is that no cult can withstand the piercing and sobering effect, the sane perspective, provided by humor.
Capella not only makes a peculiar sociological analysis on humor, he also makes some disturbing remarks about the attitude of thinkers:
It is normal for outside thinkers to see anarcho-capitalism and objectivism as juvenile diseases characteristic of immature teenagers (that can be overcome with age and thought) given that many of their supporters behave as such.
From my point of view is extremely distressing that such attitude can be considered as normal. A “thinker” should establish his opinion about a specific set of ideas through systematic study and critical reflection of those ideas. I would risk stating that the function of a “thinker” is to think. And the best way to think about a specific set of ideas is to resort to the original works of the scholars that developed those ideas. Even if Capella is right about the behavior of some anarcho-capitalists, he can hardly appeal to the use of reflection as the tool to overcome such problems when he considers normal to discard a set of ideas not trough reason and critical thinking, but relying instead on the behavior of some of their supporters.
In any case, I feel saddened by the bad fortune experienced by the author, mainly because my personal and subjective experience has been radically different. I had the fortune of attending professor Bastos classes in the University of Santiago de Compostela and, from the first day, I discovered a brilliant, passionate and funny professor that really care for his students and that constantly encouraged them to study, research, debate and argue. A professor that always recommended the reading of authors from all currents and traditions and the systematic reasoning about their thought. A professor that persuaded his pupils (many of them supporters of different ideologies) with the force of his arguments and his wide and profound wisdom. In my personal experience, the group of pupils formed around his teaching tries, as far as possible and taking into account all their limitations, to follow his example, discussing, analyzing and continually debating the principles of anarcho-capitalism, considering the force of ideas and arguments. That is why I found so strange those general reflections about the fanaticism of anarcho-capitalists. There may be dogmatics and fanatics forming part of anarcho-capitalism (in the same way that they may form part of any other current of thought) but it is also true that there are many others that defend that set of ideas with humility, diligence, and study. I am sure that Capella will meet them in the future.