Private Property and the Weberian State

“But, isn’t private property a monopoly on the legitimate use of force” whinges the socialist, “since, after all, the proprietor is allowed to keep people off his land?”.

Let’s figure out what a monopoly on the legitimate use of force actually means, first. Everyone who’s brought up the Weberian definition of the state in conversation has inevitably been presented with the proposition, from uneducated people, that, because there is a (limited) legally valid recourse to self-defense, there is no monopoly. These uneducated people are seldom well-read enough to know that Weber himself acknowledged this and accounted for it in his definition. Weber says that the monopoly is not simply that only one group of people can use violence – although as a simplification of the theory it is not wholly wrong – but that all legitimate use of force, like any legal or moral right in a stated society, can only be granted by that state.

So, for this to apply to private property (which we will here define more stringently as real property, meaning land and any immovable improvements to it), it must be the case that only the proprietor is allowed to use force on his property, and anyone else who is allowed to use force had that right deferred to him by that proprietor. Therefore, the moment someone steps on his lawn, they are de facto enslaved to the proprietor. The proprietor may inflict any number of atrocious Saw-esque experiments on his guests. This is the ab absurdum upper limit to which anti-capitalists comprehend Lockean-Rothbardian natural rights theory. This theoretical society where stepping on someone else’s lawn is an implicit forfeiture of one’s rights would not only be a living Hell to exist in, and therefore has no logical reason to spring up organically in a stateless community, it’s also completely unjustifiable on NAP grounds.

If we presume, as Rothbard does, that a person naturally “owns” himself, in the sense that he has a morally uncontested right to control himself, to the extent that it does not interfere with this same right in other persons, then an unprovoked attack on this person, even if he happens to be over at his friend’s house, is still an aggressive act, and force is justifiable in preventing it. It does not matter if the attacker is the friend whose house it is, or a security guard on his payroll. This is the important distinction to made between how an anarchy legitimizes force and how a stated society does it: the use of force in anarcho-capitalism is not contingent on a certain class of people, but on the conditions met by a given situation. In other words, the right of others to defend themselves does not come from the proprietor’s favor, but from their autonomy as an adult human being and right to preserve their life per Rothbardian deontology.

Another point to be made is that property owners do not have incentive to act like inhuman monsters who murder, cut up and eat people for trespassing. This is because someone trespassing without clear malicious intent is not all that concerning a thing. Rarely does a group of children playing in their neighbors’ yard solicit so much as the brandishing of a shotgun, let alone a bloodbath, and I would hope that even the staunchest of Marxists believe that home invasion is a valid reason to use deadly force.

The idea that anarcho-capitalism represents a “privatization of the state” rests in a rusty notion the state as a guarantor of property rights. When presented with evidence that the state is in fact the most virulent expropriator of property, outdoing all private robbery combined, the goalpost to which anti-capitalists shift is that the property rights being guaranteed are those of the monied interests. That John Q. Public is a homeowner, like ~60% of Americans, and that their property rights are frequently vitiated for the benefit of those elites is either alien or inconsequential to the anti-capitalist.

Let’s take, for instance, the idea of private security and the image of it that exists in the minds of Marxoids. When you’re online arguing that security guards will take care of contract enforcement, the Marxoid, because private is a word associated with nastiness and antisocial behavior, thinks of this:


Scary, right?

Now, for reference, here is the mainstream’s cultural caricature of the average security guard:




Are you seeing the disconnect here?

The issue facing people who need desperately to promote the security guard as a fascist thug is the lack of any exclusive rights or privileges inherent in the job description. Those who think for-profit institutions can feasibly amass an army of enough freebooters to claim a personal “corporate fiefdom” – or that they would even have incentive to do this – greatly overestimate the attractiveness of money alone to a standing army. A massive enough military apparatus requires a sense of national identity and righteousness of cause. In essence, the security guard is not a romantic, or at the very least, not an easily romanticized vocation.

Imagine a mall with a sign outside that says, in big red obnoxious letters, We Reserve the Exclusive Right to Murder, Assault and Generally Terrorize Shoppers At Any Time, For No Reason. Again, this is not merely unsupported by the ethical sphere of anarcho-capitalist discourse, it isn’t kosher on pragmatic, profit-seeking grounds either. If Paul Blart, Gestapo Enforcer can bust both my kneecaps and go about his business, he is not exercising his property rights; he is simply an unemployable sociopath.

The world in which allodial ownership of real property constitutes a Weberian monopoly is not the logical conclusion of property rights, but one in which the property rights of some take precedent over the property rights of others. The anarchical society does not recognize legitimacy as being vested in a specific class of übermenschen, but in each person equally in the event that they are attacked or their homes and property are threatened. In The State, Jasay criticizes the Weberian definition for “the circularity of its idea of legitimacy”:

A definition which might resist counter-examples rather better would lay down that the state is the organization in society which can inflict sanctions without risk of disavowal and can disavow sanctions by others. There are sanctions which, due to their inappropriateness or gravity, risk provoking appeal or need backing up by a more powerful organization. Only the state’s sanctions, for lack of a more powerful dispenser of sanctions, are certain not to be appealed.

As we’ve covered, Weber accounted for instances of private violence in stated societies, but Jasay’s definition is valid insofar as it is a restatement of Weber’s from a different perspective. Part of being a state is that there is no authority above you. There are other parts, but this one’s quite important. We’ve already established that the relationship between property owner and those on his property, be they guests or tenants, is more heterarchical. If a socialist considers it hierarchical it is only by the circumstance that one of them is not as wealthy as the other. No one laments that McDonald’s rents out a stall at mall food courts because the dynamic is obviously not one of the mall lording over a poor, underdog McDonald’s. A landowner does not fit Jasay’s “no risk of disavowal” criterion because, as was mentioned, the tenant or guest does not give up his moral capacity for self-defense. The landowner can truly only use force, or threat of force, to kick people out of his property, and this is only ever a necessity in emergency situations. The idea that a property owner “makes rules” for his land is, depending on the context, either an exaggeration or a flat-out lie. The owner can make people leave with force, yet, except for the hardest-boiled of crybaby socialists, this does not logically lead to an unfettered license to enslave or torture. In short: No, I will not chop your head off if you come over to my house. That is fucking dumb.