Anarcho-capitalists promote individual property rights and free markets, as a way to organize all services, including all those that governments claim as their natural monopoly, such as police, justice and the army. They see the definition of property rights through contracts and common law as a universal mechanism to solve conflicts. They consider capitalist corporations based on voluntary contracts as a legitimate and efficient way for people to organize; and they see freedom to choose a competitor or to enter competition as the universal way to preserve and promote quality in services. They reject any kind of government control, taxation or regulation.
Anarcho-capitalism is thus a form of anarchism, but it is radically different from the form of anarchism which may be known as libertarian socialism. Anarcho-capitalists and libertarian socialists think that each other are seriously misled as to the nature of power, and thus as to the nature of anarchism. Neither the former nor the latter have anything to do with anarchy in the sense of chaos and disorder.
Anarcho-capitalism is a variety of classical liberalism, and anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as an anarchist flavor of classical liberalism rather than as a capitalist flavor of anarchism: they consider non-anarchist libertarians as friends who make the relatively minor (but nonetheless significant) mistake of accepting some form of government, but they consider left-anarchists as dangerous collectivists with whom they have little in common.
As part of classical liberalism, anarcho-capitalism is based on the notions of individual liberty and natural law. Libertarian scholars have, since the inception, studied society from the dynamic point of view of emerging order, which in recent times has been explicitly associated to cybernetics. Their tradition can be traced back to John Locke and the seventeenth century English Levellers, as well as to earlier French and British economists and philosophers; some even count Lao Tse and Aristotle as early classical liberals, and some even interpret Lao Tse as an anarchist.
Anti-statism is an essential part of the classical liberal tradition -- maybe its characteristic part -- but either by pessimism with respect to the inevitability of government, or by lack of the proper theoretical economic background, or by fear of governmental repression and censorship, the question of full anarcho-capitalism has not been explicitly and openly discussed until the nineteenth century. All classical liberals believe in 'as little government as possible'; anarchists among them believe governments can and must be done without completely, whereas minarchists believe or accept that some government is necessary or desirable for e.g. enforcing laws. Some classical liberal thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, have vehemently opposed anarcho-capitalism. Probably most classical liberals haven't considered the question of government at all, considering governments as something inevitable, if not in theory, at least in practice, for the foreseeable future -- to them, anarchism, good or bad, is but an irrelevant dream.
The earliest classical liberal thinker who has developed a complete theory of anarchism is Gustave de Molinari in 1849, although some classical liberal English and American revolutionaries have claimed anarchy without theorizing it, and some French economists had begun theorizing it without claiming it. There was an anarchist liberal tradition in Europe and in the US after Molinari, but it would never attract a large audience as such - still can be named Paul Emile de Puydt, Henry David Thoreau, Auberon Herbert[?], Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker and Albert Jay Nock[?].
It was not until the 1950s that anarcho-capitalism flourished, notably with Murray Rothbard, when classical liberal thinkers from Austria, having fled Nazism, found themselves teaching in the USA, and a new generation of thinkers was born from the meeting of the European and American traditions. Beside Rothbard, other prominent anarcho-capitalists include David Friedman, Jan Narveson, Anthony de Jasay[?], Gary Greenberg[?], Walter Block and Hans-Herman Hoppe[?].
Anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as part of the individualist anarchist tradition. From a moral and natural law point of view, they are convinced that government is evil, and that individuals should be free from any form of collective coercion. However, from an economic point of view, they disagree with some individualist anarchists about whether capitalism being the economic system that would arise naturally or not in a free society. In any case, they agree that in a free society, people should be free to organize in any economic way they like, whether in capitalist businesses or in collectivist cooperatives - they merely defend capitalism as a legitimate choice among these organizations, which choice they personally believe is the most efficient (but won't impose upon others). Many socialist anarchists consider the socialist views of some individualist anarchist as essential to individualist anarchism, and reject anarcho-capitalist claims to belong to the individualist anarchist tradition. But individualist anarchists don't care for authorities who decide who has the right to declare oneself an anarchist.
Libertarians in general, and Anarcho-capitalists in particular, have developed two different approaches to their theories, from a utilitarian point of view, or from a point of view of natural law. Some of them defend one approach and dismiss the other, whereas some of them, like Bastiat, claim an inherent harmony or correspondence between the two complementary approaches.
The Natural Law approach (see for instance Murray Rothbard and his book Power and Market) argues that the existence of the state is immoral, and that unlimited capitalism is the only ethical political system, or rather anti-political system. The Utilitarian approach (see for instance David Friedman) argues that abolition of the state in favour of private businesses is economically more efficient. The Harmonic approach argues both as equivalent statements.
The notion of property rights is a fundamental element of anarcho-capitalism. The Natural Law approach argues for the natural right of humans to own their body and the result of their work, that they can use or refuse to use as they like, as long as they do not attempt to use the property of someone else. The Utilitarian approach argues that defining property rights in this manner is the most efficient way to prevent destructive conflicts between individuals and to foster productive efforts. Actually, ownership of one's body together with the respect of earlier claims naturally entails ownership of the results of one's marginal work, since someone who own's one's own body could withhold work if refused the ownership of its results.
Anarcho-capitalism rejects every and all kind of "positive right" (such as the "right to be protected by others", the "right to be fed by others", the "right to receive a minimum salary from others"), and defends every and all kinds of "negative rights" (such as the "right not to be attacked by anyone else", the "right to not have one's food stolen by anyone else", and the "right not to have any part of one's salary confiscated by anyone else"). It differs from minarchist libertarianism only in that it considers that "being protected by others" is also a positive service that must be rejected as a right, and that one can't claim protection by government, but must take personal steps or organize with others, so as to enforce the respect of one's property.
While anarcho-capitalists believe that private businesses, born out of voluntary contracts, are the best (most moral and most efficient) way to conduct human affairs, they do not support corporations as currently are supported by governments. Most notably, they consider that limited liability for corporations is a great harm done to all those people who are denied the right to sue them for damage or debt. Other undue privileges include various subsidies and regulations for official 'workers' and 'employers', particular protection given to official work contracts as opposed to other private contracts, etc.
To anarcho-capitalists, contracts in general, and employment contracts in particular, are but a particular case of voluntary exchange of property (property of one's time and work, of one's goods and capitals, etc.), that individuals may freely get involved in. Individuals may take any legitimate steps within their property, to protect whatever they gained from such contracts; but they do not deserve particular protection: just because two (or more) individuals agreed something together at some time does not mean everyone else suddenly owes them protection from each other, from third parties, or from the accidents of life.
More generally, anarcho-capitalists refuse to acknowledge to anyone the monopolist authority to declare anything 'official' as opposed to other 'unofficial' things - anyone can declare anything 'official' as far as he's concerned, and is free to choose whether to give value or not to the 'official' status declared by other individuals. Thus 'official' marriage, contracts, employment, etc., deserve no particular legal status for anarcho-capitalists - although of course more common forms of them may have more extensive jurisprudence than less common forms, and thus lower enforcement costs that make them attractive.
Anarcho-capitalists, like classical liberals in general, think that violence should be reserved purely for self-defense. They tend to loathe violent action and revolutions as a "normal" way to promote or impose their views, even against the governments they hate. Indeed, most anarcho-capitalists think that education and modification of the public opinion is the only possible way to promote anarcho-capitalism; a few believe in establishing a libertarian society in some territory uncontrolled by statists.
A few anarcho-capitalists are outright pacifists, though most of them defend the necessity of violent action against criminal acts, and that sometimes war itself against dangerous imperialist or terrorist foreign states. However, even though they might approve of violence as necessary in certain cases; even though they may concede that governments, having monopolized the means of violence, are the ones who currently are to enact this violence; they believe that governments should yield this monopoly of violence, and let individuals organize freely to better handle such situations.
There is no history of violence, terrorist or otherwise, perpetrated by anarcho-capitalists to impose their system upon others. However, many anarcho-capitalists display appreciation for the American Revolution, that precisely consisted of individuals sharing common views fighting together against people trying to impose their views upon them; though they have reserves as to some of the means used (taxes, conscription, inflationary money), and as to the result achieved (a government that slowly became the biggest government in the world).
Anarcho-capitalism being a radical version of libertarianism, the same general arguments for and against libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism and capitalism usually apply, except as regards the justice system, in which anarcho-capitalism is more specific and different from the usual kind of classical liberal ideologies.
A common misunderstanding about libertarianism in general, and anarcho-capitalism in particular, is to consider them as economic or political theories. They are not. They are theories of Law - of what is or isn't legitimate to do. This in particular defeats the gross affirmations according to which today's society or any society is already libertarian, since everyone is ultimately free to obey or disobey and chooses to abide by the rules of the system: indeed, libertarians have a theory of "natural law", i.e. law as it should be; and as long as positive law (law as it is acknowledged) doesn't match natural law, the society is not libertarian. In particular, the right of anyone to secede from a government he considers unfit should be respected (see secession and urban secession). If not, then non-cooperation[?] is morally justified (see civil disobedience).
Parallel arguments are made by other movements with a similar belief in the existence of natural law, but a different conception of what that law implies for human behavior. For instance, the green movement contains a strong strain of so-called green anarchism with a concept of natural law based on the science of ecology, and more minimalist advocates of eco-anarchism. The convergence between these movements and tenets of syndicalism and anarcho-capitalism leads some to observe that green politics is often libertarian, and many political positions, e.g. the green tax shift, resemble measures advised by libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. Such measures, very broadly stated, tend to degrade special status of debt (which takes a strong state to guarantee and collect it) but sees profit as the basis of prosperity[?].
This common strength of movements with different concepts of natural law is one of the key arguments for anarcho-capitalism: it accomodates much diversity.
However they see diversity or biodiversity as a value, there is some role accepted by most anarcho-capitalists for strong centralization of some powers, particularly if those are achieved by persuasion and good service[?], and restricting centralized power would put restrictions on property rights.
Libertarians are not opposed to de facto monopolies (companies that happen to currently be the only provider of some service), only to de jure monopolies (companies whose monopoly is guaranteed by law and whose competitors will be prevented and chased by public force). To libertarians, de facto monopolies or quasi-monopolies can exist but transiently, due to some recent technical or organizational innovation that hasn't been copied by competitors yet; they have no power to abuse, because their customers can always stop buying from them and be supplied by a competitor, that will raise from poverty to affluence the day the monopolist starts having 'excessive' claims. "Voting with one's feet and one's dollars" (i.e. moral purchasing) rather than "voting with one's voice and everyone else's dollars" - individual choice rather than collective choice - is the motto of libertarians in general, and of anarcho-capitalists in particular. Applying this reasoning to the protection of individual property rights, anarcho-capitalists do not fear local monopolies or oligopolies in the justice market, as long as the individual right to secede and choose one's own defense agency or start a new one is respected.
Also, misunderstanding about the nature of private (or public) protection and justice systems is often the source of ridiculous claims by opponents to anarcho-capitalisms. For instance, left-anarchists consider all property as government-enforced privilege, but fail to even consider the possibility or inevitability of armed individuals defending what they consider to be "their own" property, either alone or cooperating in groups. More generally, when talking about governments, justice systems[?], etc., they often think in collectivist terms, and are unable to even understand the individualistic stance of anarcho-capitalists and individualist anarchists, who consider any kind of collectivist decision as oppression of the political minority by the political majority. These debates are seen in turn as ridiculous in themselves by those who view the "left-right spectrum" as an irreconcilable and artificial abstraction that simply institutionalizes debate about an existing property rhts system, as opposed to examining the life-purposes fulfilled by such entities.
In "Greens and Libertarians: the Yin and Yang of our political future", Dan Sullivan[?], a US Libertarian, explored the common attitudes about monopoly and drew a new bottom-to-top spectrum, claiming that these two political movements disagreed on the appropriate scale of solutions, but that they in general saw many of the same problems, and disdained left-right arguments. The common belief in natural law made it at least possible to debate differences amiably, in a way that the traditional worker-manager divide did not permit.
The development of the internet and cryptographic methods raises a new possibility for achieving some aspects of anarcho-capitalism on the internet (or 'in cyberspace'). Pseudonymous communication allows services, especially information services (e.g. consulting, translation, programming, etc.), to be provided without revealing the physical identity of the person providing a service in exchange for anonymous electronic money. As laws can not be enforced without knowing the identity of people, the relevant laws become irrelevant. (As even the location (country) of the individuals are unknown, it is not even clear which country's laws will be ignored. In a sense, 'cyberspace' can be regarded as an independent territory.)
Anarcho-capitalist criticism of other views:
Individualist Anarchist view on Anarcho-capitalism:
Criticism of anarcho-capitalism from other views: