There is common problem amongst those who proselytize the ideas of ‘freedom’ and more specifically those who support ‘anarcho-capitalism’ that has to do with the conception of ‘the market’ as an absolute and its reification in much of the discourse. There are two aspects to this issue:
Firstly, when presented with issues that might arise in a hypothetical situation under conditions of ‘anarcho-capitalism’, many seem content to answer that ‘the market’ will ‘sort it out’, if allowed to be ‘free’. This tendency is not only a sign of intellectual laziness, but also conflicts with a key element of anarcho-capitalist theory – that of ‘methodological individualism’. When in use, methodological individualism denotes an approach that considers the actions of individuals, and their desires and motivations in relation to others. This places the methodology in contrast to – for example – structuralist economics, which focuses on the investigation of economic ‘structures’. Methodological individualism is thus a theory committed to the investigation of referent individuals, rather than abstractions. By using what I call the ‘market absolutist’ argument therefore, the people who otherwise claim adherence to methodological individualism are actually missing out on one of the key elements of the theory; they are dropping context completely, and are no longer referring to referent individuals but instead an abstraction.
Secondly, it is naive to think that the introduction of mass voluntary association is enough to establish a freedom-supporting paradigm. Questions such as ‘what are they trading?’ and even more importantly, ‘why?’ are vitally important in such an investigation. Of course, I do not advocate forced monitoring of trades nor forcing anyone to stop trading particular commodities (other than slaves/murderous services etc.). Indeed, such things are none of my concern since they lay outside of my own sphere of activity. I do not, however, think that a society that endorses cultural heteronomy – even in a voluntary paradigm – may necessarily be the kind of society that those of us who value not only their freedom but also their autonomy, would wish to live in. Think of how many people in the world buy things, not because they need them or really want them for themselves, but obtain them because others have them. They are ultimately concerned with what others think of them, becoming slaves to the thoughts and values of other people. A culture that awards copying and conformity has just as much potential to exist in a voluntary paradigm as it does in the coerced associations we currently find ourselves in. Thus, beyond voluntary association, it is important to understand and investigate culture. It is absolutely essential to have not only the free ability to act and make decisions for ourselves, but also a free, autonomous mind that operates outside of the chains of cultural heteronomy.
It would be a wonderful thing to freely choose how to live one’s life, but if one’s mind is filled with all manner of spooks and psychoses that derived from other sub-rational people, then what use is freedom? Freedom alone cannot ensure real autonomy.