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Chartier says that since most uses of the word are of the objectionable sort, anarchists have good reason to avoid it, the negative connotations far outstripping the positive. He argues that the language of “anti-capitalism” makes it more clear that anarchists are not advocating the status quo, in which many individuals and large corporations have acquired vast wealth through special privilege and the intervention of the state. Furthermore, he claims that this usage helps emphasize “solidarity with the workers.”
I am agnostic as to whether an anarchist society would be one without bosses and large corporations, but Chartier’s larger point is a valid one: If “capitalism” chiefly denotes special privilege and political manipulation of the market, embracing the word would be a poor sales tactic.
Lastly, Chartier claims that his view is socialist. Here too, it’s all about the definitions, although in this case, I wonder whether the same reasoning that leads him to eschew the c-word should also recommend against the s-word. Yes, markets are a social phenomenon, and the free society is marked by voluntary cooperation, and the evolved common law is the product of experiments in social living, and the human good is profoundly social. But the prevailing denotation of “socialism” is not a voluntary society, it is a society in which individual freedom is curtailed for the good of society. Surely anarchists should be against that?
Chartier notes that Benjamin Tucker defended a conception of socialism in which state-secured privilege was abolished and voluntary cooperation could therefore flourish. That is consistent with anarchism, but it’s not how Marx uses the word. So Chartier seems to be saying, with regard to “capitalism,” that although there’s one meaning which is consistent with anarchism, in most usages it’s not, so we should avoid it; but regarding “socialism,” since there’s one meaning which is consistent with anarchism, we should use it. This argument is unpersuasive.
Differences such as these notwithstanding, Anarchy and Legal Order is an impressive contribution to libertarian thought generally, and in particular to the ongoing debates on anarchism versus minarchism and on libertarianism’s place vis-a-vis the left/right dichotomy. It’s a must-read for those interested in political philosophy, and it may well challenge readers’ long-held beliefs about the nature of government.
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