Succession's Logan Roy: Not Actually an Anarcho-Capitalist
For perhaps the first time in television history, one character describes another as a "paleolibertarian" and "practically an anarcho-capitalist." But the terms don't fit.
Spoiler alert: This post contains plot spoilers for the fourth season of Succession. Proceed at your own risk.
Last night's episode of Succession on HBO featured what might be the first ever use of the term "anarcho-capitalist" on a fictional TV show.
For those who don't watch, Succession follows the feuds between Logan Roy, a sort of Rupert Murdoch stand-in, and his children and corporate cronies as they battle for control of the family's media empire.
This most recent episode features a memorial for the recently deceased Logan, where former clients and sycophants have gathered to put the appropriate shine on his awful legacy. As a Republican flunky delivers a speech declaring Logan "a great lion of freedom," the patriarch's eldest son, Connor, mutters an objection.
"Can you believe this shit?" he says. "He's trying to make Pop into a neoconservative. He wasn't a neocon. He was a paleolibertarian. He was practically an anarcho-capitalist."
Even for a show known for being very online, those are some pretty niche ideological references.
So: Was Logan Roy an ancap who believed even bedrock functions of the state—including justice, defense, and environmental protection—could be provided by private, profit-making parties? Was he a paleolibertarian who supported a marriage of libertarian free markets with socially conservative values?
With apologies to Connor, the family's most failed failson, it doesn't seem like it.
We can safely say Logan is a capitalist in the most literal sense of the word. He owns lots of capital. The left-leaning, satirical show certainly wants us to view his character as having the soul of the stereotypical capitalist too.
Logan is a bottomless pit of greed and acquisitiveness exclusively dedicated to growing his own wealth and power. Every relationship in his life, including those with his own children, is transactional. Concerns about morality and social propriety always take a backseat to his business interests. The only times he's not profit-maximizing is when his desire to dominate or humiliate those closest to him briefly surpasses his need to earn a buck.
Of course, this is hardly a libertarian, or anarcho-capitalist, vision of how a capitalist should behave. The radical free market idea is that an economic system built on consensual exchange and mutually beneficial transactions would discipline even the greediest among us to behave semi-respectfully. It's good for business.
Logan's amorality and vindictiveness prove nearly disastrous for his business in seasons two and three. The weight of accumulated scandals and the defections from family members he's betrayed nearly bring his whole empire down. The only thing that staves off total ruin is his deliberately cultivated political influence: His allies in the White House turn a prison sentence into an easily payable fine.
The arc reinforces Logan Roy as a practitioner of what economist Randall Holcombe might call political capitalism, summarized by Reason's Veronique de Rugy as "cooperation between political and economic elites for their mutual benefit at the expense of the masses."
That's a far cry from stateless anarcho-capitalism, paleolibertarianism, or even plain old free markets. Indeed, there's nothing in Succession to indicate Logan Roy has any sincere political beliefs at all.
It's true he built his business empire off the back of a conservative cable news channel. But his interests there have nothing to do with spreading conservative (or paleolibertarian) policies or values. It's all about accumulating money and political influence.
People want to watch right-wing infotainment, and Logan Roy supplies it to them. Because people watch his influential news channel, politicians have to placate him.
But he's not backing Connor's hopeless presidential campaign to zero out the federal income tax. Instead, he's supporting a right-wing politician whose political views are somewhere between Catholic integralism and full-blown fascism.
Logan Roy might have been a capitalist who loved chaos, but that doesn't make him an anarcho-capitalist. As the youngest son, Roman Roy, responds to Connor: "If you like Benny Hill and Sinatra, does that make you one of those things?"