I have mixed attitudes towards the videos by Stefan Molyneux. On the one hand I think he is an intelligent, articulate person with an interesting stage presence, and what he says, for the most part, seems reasonable and acceptable. But, on the other hand, he comes off as being arrogantly cock-sure of himself and full of himself, and in this regard, he is not at all appealing. But enough of praise — all this is ad hominem, and, therefore, irrelevant.
What is relevant is the examination of what he claims. He claims to be an anarchist and a capitalist, which makes him an anarcho-capitalist. By this he means that he wishes that society be run on the basis of free exchange without government interference. Now the model of such a society would be any primitve tribe. But a primitive tribe is not a capitalist society, even though it has free trade. Free trade is not a sufficient condition for capitalism. The necessary condition for the existence of a capitalist society is the existence of a proletariat.
Max Weber, in the 22nd chapter: “The Meaning and Presuppositions of Modern Capitalism” of General Economic History (Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1923), translated by Frank H. Knight, 1927, lists six necessary conditions for modern or “rational” capitalism. What interests me, and on which I want to focus attention, is the 5th necessary condition, which is:
“The fifth feature is free labor. Persons must be present who are not only legally in the position, but are also economically compelled, to sell their labor on the market without restriction. It is in contradiction to the essence of capitalism, and the development of capitalism is impossible, if such a propertyless stratum is absent, a class compelled to sell its labor services to live; and it is likewise impossible if only unfree labor is at hand. Rational capitalistic calculation is possible only on the basis of free labor; only where in consequence of the existence of workers who in the formal sense voluntarily, but actually under the compulsion of the whip of hunger, offer themselves, the costs of products may be unambiguously determined by agreement in advance.”
Proletarians are people who do not possess land nor have free access to land for subsistence, and they are neither slaves nor serfs. The question arise: How is it that portions of the earth became the property of some individuals? And the answer to this is given, among others, by Karl Marx in his various writings, particularly in Das Kapital.
I thought I could get an insight into Marxism from a video by Stefan Molyneux. But, no. Instead of examining the reasoning of Karl Marx about this topic in Das Kapital or in any other of his writings, Molyneux attacks the character of the author — the person Karl Marx. He launches a full-scale ad hominem attack.
My reaction. What he says about the life and character of Karl Marx may all be true, but irrelevant.
To make his ad hominem seem plausible, he argues by the following analogy. Suppose you were in a bookstore and picked-up a copy of a diet book. On the cover is a picture of the overly obese author. Immediately you wonder.
“If the diet works, why didn’t the author use it on himself? Ah, maybe he did use it, but it doesn’t work. Well, I am not going to waste my time on this diet, which obviously does not work. Or, wait, maybe the author thinks obesity is OK; so he doesn’t apply it to himself. Hmmm, he either sees no value in dieting, or the diet does not work. Obviously, this book is worthless.”
The reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy, specifically an ad hominem fallacy. The above reasoning for the dismissal of the book is ultimately unreasonable. Suppose the author has a congenital condition that leads to obesity which no diet can cure. So, the fact that the author is obese does not imply either that the author sees no value in dieting, nor that the diet which he recommends does not work.
Using this fallacious reasoning for the dismissal of a book on dieting by an obese author, he tries to apply a similar line of reasoning about Karl Marx’s writings on the basis of Marx’s life and character. Thus, by a moral condemnation of Marx, he refuses to read or discuss what Marx wrote. Incredible!
Most articles and books which I read, I have no idea about the identity of the author. And it doesn’t matter. I am able to judge the merit of their writing independently of any knowledge of the traits of the author.