First, a disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an anarcho-capitalist, but I have a fair number of friends who do. I’m fairly well-versed in ancap theory as well as theories from which it sprung forth (traditional anarchism and classical liberalism) as well. I’m approaching this subject from an anarcho-capitalist perspective in order to critique some common statements made by self-professed anarcho-capitalists, and address what I see as one of the core problems of ancap theory and one of the most common ways in which ancaps tend to contradict themselves, as I value intellectual consistency in general.
So first, let’s talk a little bit about some legitimate and illegitimate actions when a tenant with whom you’ve contracted to pay you rent in exchange for use of a structure you built fails or even passively refuses to do so.
Legitimate actions when someone ceases to pay you “rent”:
- Cease to provide services which you provided such as maintenance/repairs.
- Cease to provide third-party services which you had provided prior, such as utilities or trash removal.
Illegitimate responses to someone failing to pay you “rent”:
- Use force to kick them from their home because you claim “ownership” over it.
- Contract with the state or some other entity capable of greater force than you are personally capable of to do so.
- Initiate force or coercion in any other manner.
See, initiating force and coercion are, by my libertarian standards, a bad thing. I often refer to myself as a libertarian anarchist because I value the core belief of libertarianism: the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle clearly states that one should not initiate force or coercion. Pretty simple, straight-forward stuff there. By any sane definition of libertarianism, the act of eviction; that is, of using force to remove someone from their home because they have failed to pay you for use of their home, is absolutely unlibertarian. The notion that such a failure (or even passive refusal) to pay constitutes an initiation of force is an absurd notion, with no basis in reality.
Given the standard anarcho-capitalist rhetoric regarding property rights and self-ownership, it strikes me that ownership of one’s own self (inclusive of body, mind, etc) is by far the most critical property right and the one from which all others spring forth. This makes a great deal of sense, as an inability to hold ownership over yourself – your own free will, that is – essentially invalidates any other rights you may have, including any property rights.
Thus I am unable to escape the conclusion that even by their own logic, anarcho-capitalists are unable to support the notion of forcible eviction of tenants who fail or even passively refuse to pay rent. Since the bodily autonomy of the tenant is related to their self-ownership, while the absentee ownership claims made by the landlord over the rental property are far removed from the landlord’s own bodily autonomy and self, clearly the bodily autonomy of the tenant must receive a higher priority in terms of what rights must be respected by others and hence take precedence in such a case. This seems pretty cut and dry to me, but maybe it isn’t to everyone. Maybe some folks who believe in property rights actually value absentee ownership claims over bodily autonomy in such a case. Fair enough.
So let’s look at this from another critical perspective, as well. Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty states that responses to violations of one’s rights must be proportional. If I snag a cheap spoon from your house, you can’t cut off my hand; you can simply demand recompense in the value of the spoon or something else effectively proportional to the value of the spoon which I wrongfully took from you. If I slap you across the face, leaving only very temporary harm, you can’t permanently maim me in response (such as to crush my skull), you can simply take action proportional to a face slapping. Seems fair and reasonable, right? Rothbard’s statement obviously applies to property rights, as well, however. Thus when someone violates a rental contract by failing to pay, certain measures are, by Rothbard’s own assertions, absolutely justified. As above, one may cease providing maintenance or other services that were specified in the rental contract. That said, the initiation of physical force in order to remove the tenant from the property is clearly not proportional to a simple failure to pay rent in accordance with a contract. Claiming that physical force is an appropriate and proportional retaliation to failure to uphold a business agreement would quickly lead to usurers with scimitars chopping off hands – and human history does speak of such people, justified by societies which felt violence was an appropriate response to failure to meet contractual obligations monetarily.
Therefore, based on one or both of these arguments, I don’t see how any anarcho-capitalist can feel justified in claiming that evictions for passive non-payment of a contractual obligation are a legitimate response.
Finally, let me leave you all with this gem: Hooker Visits the Rich Capitalist