15 Mar 2000


Congo, Anarcho-Capitalism, and Federalism

I was working on a political risk assessment of the Democratic Republic of Congo (which is nominally a republic and hardly democratic) today when the title of the current journal entry suggested itself.  DROC and that part of Africa are interesting in that they possess a wealth of natural resources, yet are constantly at war and have never developed their economies.  DROC in particular is an interesting case, as it (sort of) is ruled by Laurent Kabila, a strongman who led a rebel insurgency against the autocratic government of then-Zaire three years ago.  Kabila was backed by Rwanda as well as native Tutsis.  Today, Congo is the center of an African world war that has gone virtually unreported, in which Kabila has joined forces now with the same Hutus who massacred Rwandan Tutsis in 1994 and fled to then-Zaire -- angering, of course, Rwanda, which has joined the fray against Kabila.   And for good measure, so has Uganda -- as well as various Congolese ethnic groups.   But Kabila has rallied several African nations to his side as well as various ethnic militias.  The country is essentially split in two, with Kabila controlling about half of it.

All of this is background for the following thought, which is:  This is Anarcho-Capitalism in action!  No, its proponents will argue, this is NOT capitalism at all.  Granted.  It's not.  But it IS the competing governments that anarcho-capitalists do seem to advocate.  And it's a mess.  Now, I don't mean to suggest that this blows down the anarcho-capitalist argument (it clearly doesn't -- these are just thoughts in my journal).  But it does suggest that some common ethics is necessary for anarcho-capitalism to function as well as its proponents would have it function.  Clearly, where that is missing, we have the anarcho-thuggery we are witnessing in DROC.

How is such a common ethics acquired?  In recent history, it occurs with the conscious founding of a people via constitutionalism.  The Declaration of Independence is just such an example of the founding of a people -- it is a founding compact (and a rather beautiful one at that) that lays out the hopes, aspirations, and values of a people, who are therefore defined.  In essence, it is the preamble to the Articles of Confederation, and later, the Constitution -- documents that establish monopolistic government (sort of.  I want to address the role of federalism below).   The Declaration/Articles/Constitution combination constitute documents that do more than define a people and set up government; over time they establish a political/ethical ethos inextricably (or not?) tied to the institutional arrangements they spell out.   The question for anarcho-capitalists is this:  is such a common ethical ethos possible in the absence of such a conscious founding that establishes monopolistic government?  It doesn't seem to be possible in DROC, if the current experiment is any indication.  Is it possible elsewhere?

A final thought is this:  isn't some form of federalism a possible answer to the question I've raised?  That is to say, would the anarcho-capitalistic goal of maximizing liberty and economic efficiency come close to being realized with a highly limited national government, consciously founded with the notion of preserving liberty and with specified powers to that end -- with other, specifically limited (but monopolistic) powers reserved to smaller local governing units?  And wouldn't the ability to move freely about that nation to different areas based upon one's assessment of their governments (among other things) also move towards the anarcho-capitalistic goal of competing governments, without those governments ever possibly forcibly competing with each other?  Because isn't the use of force -- individual or governmental -- precisely what the anarcho-capitalists sometimes argue interferes with economic liberty (and efficiency?).  And didn't we once have just such a government before federalism was basically junked so that the Progressives could bring us progress?

Just some random thoughts that made the Democratic Republic of Congo a whole lot more interesting today!

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  Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited