The non-aggression principle (NAP), while not trivially defined, is the belief that violence or the threat of violence should not be initiated against peaceful people. Anarcho-Capitalists, henceforth referred to as ancaps, are a group of individuals primarily united by their belief that the NAP should be the guiding light for how individuals conduct their lives and organize themselves into societies. Typically, ancaps see property as an extension of the individual and thus view aggression towards an individual’s property as a violation of the NAP.
While anarcho-capitalism is a form of anarchism, ancaps don’t promote a lawless society along the lines of how most people imagine anarchy. Ancaps do see the current methods of most governments as an immoral violation of the NAP. However, most ancaps expect that societies which organized themselves around the NAP would generate superior, but recognizable versions of many of the services government provides.
For example, while ancaps are typically eager to point out the failures of our police and our justice system, they generally promote a society with private security and courts rather than a lawless society where individuals take justice into their own hands. In fact, most ancaps expect that an anarchist society would be much more secure and more just. Ancaps have very little doubt that the forces of competition, when applied to fields like security and justice, would result in superior services offered in greater abundance at a lower price. We see this trend in most industries that resist government overreach, and ancaps typically view logic for the status quo as mythology created in favor of entrenched powers.
If you ask an ancap what a voluntary society would look like, you may get an answer along the lines of “I don’t know because the market would come up with solutions that aren’t possible to forecast”. I personally think this is an excellent answer, although it is often worth speculating how these systems could work. This process of speculation is useful both in refining the ancap vision of society and also evaluating which aspects of the status quo are just and desirable, and which are pure corruption.
I am an ancap. I find each of the moral, logical, and utilitarian defenses of anarcho-capitalism to be extremely convincing. I feel compelled to use my energy to help move the world in the direction of anarcho-capitalism.
I say this all first in order to gain your allegiance before also disclosing that I am a holder of Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision (BSV) and a supporter of Craig Wright. Craig Wright and the BSV community have taken an outwardly anti-anarchist (ancaps included) stance. When I first started investigating BSV, I found most aspects of their technology and worldview to be compelling and to be the best path forward. However, I found the sentiment towards anarchism to be off-putting, and I found the association of anarchists and lawlessness to be an uneducated view of anarcho-capitalism at the very least.
Craig Wright profiles somewhat like a minarchist. He’s been known to request that the fed be ended. He is a scholar and supporter of the early American federalist system. He is a law and order type, but more along the lines of common-law rather than endorsing some form of legal positivism. He likely has a lot more in common with ancaps politically than with an establishment Republican, for example, and he certainly hates communism.
So why is Craig so opposed to anarchism? For a while, this answer to this question eluded me. My best guess was that Craig wanted to publicly distance himself from anarchism to give confidence to businesses looking to build on BSV who might fear association with a strongly anti-government community. I still think this plays a part, but I’ve come to realize that Craig and the BSV community have picked up on a flaw in the typical ancap message.
Ideology isn’t the end of the road. I think ancaps have the best ideology, the best guiding light, of any political movement. However, the transition from our current state to an ancap utopia is full of potential pitfalls. Further, being correct on first principles doesn’t guarantee that every position one takes is correct, or even in line with those principles.
I think that ancaps hatred of our current government has created a blind spot that has led to the promotion of lawlessness. Further, a conflation of the current legislation with Law generally has led ancaps to miss the purpose of specific laws or at least fail to imagine how similar laws might play a part in a voluntary society. I think these blind spots have led to a state of mind that sees many of BSV’s qualities and Craig’s actions as being in opposition to ancap values and progress. Combine this with the fact that many ancaps hold BTC or BCH, and we see a clear recipe for folks getting triggered.
Since I find both the BSV and ancap worldviews to be well worth promoting, I want to argue here that the growing divide is unnecessary. These worldviews are highly compatible and Craig’s actions and design goals are likely to lead to a world with more liberty. These communities would be better together in their efforts to spread capitalism, liberty, and non-aggression. Since this article is targeted towards ancaps, I’ll proceed by highlighting specific features of the BSV worldview and actions of Craig Wright that trigger ancaps and then showing that these features and actions are compatible with ancap ideology.
Disclaimers: I do not speak for all (any?) ancaps, BSV supporters, or Craig Wright. Also, “the state” and “the government” are used loosely throughout to refer to first world governments and their common practices.
Pseudonymous, not Anonymous
When Craig released the BitCoin white paper, among the first complaints was the fact that BitCoin transactions were not anonymous. This feature would make operating outside of the law much more difficult. Since many of the cypherpunks were interested in operating outside of laws which they felt were unjust, anonymity was viewed as preferable.
There are currently many unjust laws, and ancaps could point out more than most. Many peaceful people are forced into black market criminal activity for immoral reasons. Government initiatives such as the war on drugs have been extremely counterproductive. Therefore, it is easy to view projects that allow people to operate outside of these unjust laws such as the drug laws as favorable.
What is necessary to recognize is that a truly anonymous system allows all crime to flourish. It is conceivable that current laws, the drug laws for example, may be so corrupt that a world with truly anonymous cash would be superior to the status quo. However, it is hard to argue that a world with unjust laws and anonymous cash is preferable to a world with just laws and pseudonymous cash. If we were already in an ancap world, would we prefer anonymous cash? I think likely not, since anonymity makes criminal activity easier. Pseudonymity gives space for some privacy, but the permanent paper trail of BitCoin would make its use in criminal activity inconvenient to say the least.
Alas, we are not in an ancap world. Pseudonymity means that the government will be able to track payments easily. Tax evasion, purchase of illegal substances, and all other operations outside of the current set of legislations becomes more difficult. To many ancaps, this is a non-starter. While this is a clear downside, ancaps should know to view these things as a tradeoff. While BitCoin is bad for the crime we like, it is also bad for the crime we don’t like. This ranges from the incentive for people to hack into your computer to the ability for people to purchase child pornography.
Perhaps more importantly, if governments must also transact pseudonymously, their ability to go unaudited is greatly decreased. In fact, I think most ancaps would agree to be totally transparent with their finances if the government was forced to be totally transparent with theirs. It is easy to imagine a world where most ordinary people transacted pseudonymously and the only anonymous transactions came from criminals and governments, but then at least more people would get a sense of the nature of the state as its currently constructed.
This is all before considering the practical case for pseudonymity. BitCoin adoption means dollar rejection. As the dollar loses value, the fed influence in the economy and our government’s ability to tax through inflation is diminished. Clearly there are government contingencies invested against BitCoin adoption.
Is the government more likely to accept a decrease in its financial stranglehold from a currency that facilitates taxation and surveillance, or an anonymous currency? If the answer is neither, then perhaps an anonymous currency is best. However, most BSV supporters think the pseudonymous currency is more likely to be accepted, in part because it is compatible with the current set of laws (see the next section). If this is true, then ancaps are forced to decide whether accepting greater surveillance is worth having an economy that functions on sound money. Both choices are defensible, but simply rejecting greater surveillance without recognizing the tradeoff is not, particularly considering that the government already surveils most of our finances anyways.
My personal stance is that pseudonymity is the best option. However, I understand the view that governments may force our hands and that anonymity could become necessary. In the present, I think most ancaps would do well to support both types of crypto-currencies with the understanding that the pseudonymous implementation is more likely to be successful.
BSV seeks to be legally compliant. Many ancaps have a strong negative association with legal compliance. This is understandable, but it isn’t a practical route for building solutions at scale. I support agorism, but we have to recognize that gray market operations can only scale to a certain point before governments must make a decision on whether to crack down or not.
We are already seeing projects face legal action from entities such as the SEC. These projects did not seek to be compatible with the current set of laws. These laws may be impractical or even unjust, but defying them is a gamble. If a project wants to scale to millions or billions of users, it will encounter the law at some point.
Ancaps are not naive enough to think that the law is static and that people in power are above changing the laws to rig the game in their favor. However, it takes a lot more political will to change the laws to oppose cryptocurrencies than to enforce existing laws which are already enforced onto existing industries. Of course, operating within the law is not necessarily a means to avoid legal trouble, but I think operating within the current set of laws gives one the best chance at success. In the case of BitCoin, success means a world run on sound money and transparency where people control their own money, a world worth pursuing in my opinion.
Prefers Courts to Signatures
This isn’t an article about whether or not Craig Wright is Satoshi. That article has come and continues to come from enough people in the crypto space. However, it is worth bringing up the fact that most people see the fact that Craig has not publicly produced a signature using Satoshi’s private key, specifically the key used in the genesis block, as the most damning evidence against Craig’s assertion that he is Satoshi.
Why hasn’t Craig signed as Satoshi? In his defense, he did not come out as Satoshi voluntarily and he has not asked for special privileges, donations, or investment from people who denounce him. Many people think the impetus is on Craig to produce proof that he is Satoshi, but Craig, not one to kowtow to the mob in the first place, fairly points out that he doesn’t owe anyone proof. Many of his significant employees and investors have publicly stated that they were given proof individually. Craig argues that there is nothing advantageous to him about revealing his finances to the public, and therefore has refused to sign thus far.
Perhaps more important in Craig’s decision not to sign is his view that a signature should not constitute legal proof in the first place. Craig has been known to say things along the lines of “Code is not law. Law is law.” This resonates poorly with some ancaps who view our courts as bad and BitCoin’s independent system of verification as good. Craig argues, however, that if possession or knowledge of a key is akin to legal ownership of the funds within, that sets up a dangerous precedent. For one, it makes theft a very desirable activity. If cryptographic possession were the same as legal ownership, then the ability to transact in a trusted way would be greatly diminished. Craig has made reference to a possible signing as evidence in court cases that depend upon Craig proving his identity as Satoshi. In this context, the signing would be one piece of evidence in a legal argument, not proof in itself.
Craig argues that many of the current laws about legal possession should apply to BitCoin. Among these is the obligation to prove the origin of funds in one’s possession with the inability to do so resulting in the authorities gaining legal ability to confiscate those funds. While I don’t necessarily endorse that law, I think it is worth speculating on what kinds of laws would exist in an ancap society, or at least an ancap society that I’d like to live in. It isn’t inconceivable that I’d prefer laws which necessitated the ability to prove the origin of funds in one’s position as a component of legal possession. This would serve as a tool for law enforcers to make sure that funds were not acquired illegally. Given that I’d voluntarily consented to these laws and chosen a community where all residents had consented to these laws, it’s likely I’d want to see these laws enforced. This law and order vision of liberty doesn’t immediately register to some ancaps, but an aversion to the current executors of the law is not proof that the laws being executed are bad.
Craig has written copious amounts on the subject of code not being law. I’ll leave the subject with the assertion that Craig’s reasoning for not signing on the grounds that the signature itself would not constitute proof is not incoherent with the ancap worldview, even if Craig endorses some laws which ancaps would not likely implement in their society.
There is a lot of diversity of opinion among ancaps in regards to IP. However, using the state to gain a competitive advantage tends to rub ancaps the wrong way no matter the justification. Craig is very much using the state’s willingness to enforce IP laws as a tool to benefit his business interests. This is undeniable, but is it undesirable?
When it comes to enforcing IP laws, the state is the only game in town. Many critics of IP have described significant downsides of the current set of IP laws. In some cases, claims have been made that enforcing IP law is a violation of the NAP in a way that enforcing laws related to physical property is not.
While it is undeniable that the current enforcement of IP law is a violation of the NAP, this doesn’t mean that IP law is bad. It also doesn’t mean that IP law is good. Ancaps want to see competition in the legal space. Different individuals may have different preferences for the IP laws they want to have enforced in their communities. Some may prefer a strict IP system that gives huge privileges to IP holders. Others may prefer no IP laws where no idea can be owned.
Whether IP falls under the dominion of natural law is not important. In a voluntary contractual society, unnatural law can be created if there is a demand for these laws. Consider a simple example of an author trying to retain ownership of his recent novel. He creates a single access point to that novel which necessitates the signing of a contract before purchase of that novel. In signing that contract, in all the proper legalese, one agrees not to resell, copy, or distribute that novel in any way. Perhaps this contract is standard in the community such that anyone who receives a contraband copy is required to dispose of it after hearing notice from some agreed upon agency. If one violates the terms of the contract, they must pay a fine or they will be removed from the community. It’s a bit bureaucratic, but this might be a necessary protection for authors to want to publish novels in the first place.
Without having law subjected to the forces of competition, it isn’t possible to know if there is true demand for IP law and what demand exists. Further, there is no need for every community to live under the same laws. Different people will want different levels of ownership and openness. If some societies use IP laws which are incompatible with other societies, there may not be the ability for trade to occur. That is okay. Of course, this may compel societies to adopt stricter IP laws to access more trading opportunities. That compulsion, however, is an economic one, not one of violence, so it is NAP approved.
I think there is a perfectly legitimate case to be made that Craig’s use of current IP laws is unjust. However, if he does not use these laws, he has no option to enforce his IP. These snafus are endemic to our system. When given a more charitable view, it is easy to view Craig’s use of IP as likely to lead to a society with greater liberty. Most people fixate on the likely use of this IP against other small liberty-minded crypto projects. While I don’t doubt that Craig’s IP will be enforced in these cases, it is likely more important a tool against large players like Facebook. If everyone is using Libra to transact, it becomes much harder to attract people to BitCoin. Since BitCoin is a much better tool for achieving liberty than Libra, if Craig can force Libra to build on BitCoin or pay a large licensing fee to nChain, Craig’s company which owns the patent, that is good.
Beyond this specific case, there is a compelling argument that the ability to own IP is necessary for individuals to retain autonomy. Ancaps are familiar with systems that don’t allow for individual ownership of the means of production. In a world where IP is increasingly valuable relative to physical property, fully public ownership may begin to resemble a new form of communism in an eerie way, a communism that benefits the state and large organizations who can now freely access any human innovation. This isn’t meant to be prophetic. It is, however, meant to alert ancaps to the fact that a silicon valley push for looser IP legislation may not be a push in the direction of liberty.
Ancaps and BSV supporters fully uniting ideologically is both unlikely and undesirable. However, many of the current disagreements may have more to do with a lack of understanding rather than some insurmountable difference. Since these communities share so many of the same goals, working together to build a better future is a much better use of time than arguing on twitter. If we can continue to communicate and refine our ideas, our projects and movements will both be better for it.