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July 4, 2010

Anarchism and Patriotism

Filed under: Anarchy,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 1:03 pm
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Last night I did what I suppose what millions of Americans do for fourth of July: I watched a fireworks show at a local park. I was the designated driver for the evening, and I suppose not being drunk for the occasion had a certain detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the proceedings. I like hot summer evenings, outdoor grilling, and fireworks as much as the next guy, but I do not know what they have to do with America, or freedom, or anything other than a good time and a day off from work. I suppose fireworks are meant to remind us of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” and other such warlike imagery which, we are taught from a young age, are central to our national sentiment. One thing I don’t like is the flyovers by fighter jets and bombers which accompany the show. These remind me that the military is everywhere. They give me a tight feeling in my chest, an anxiety that is the opposite of a feeling of freedom.

Patriotism, even the kind which recognizes a difference between State and Nation, is usually anathema to anarchists (Emma Goldman, for instance), but I don’t think this need be the case. I’d like to quote extensively from an essay by the great English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A Defense of Patriotism.” He considered himself a true patriot and was indignant that patriotism was becoming identified in his country with the warlike spirit, or what he calls a “deaf and raucous jingoism.” His words can be neatly transposed to our own country’s situation as well:

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

. . .

We have to ask, then, Why is it that this recent movement in England, which has honestly appeared to many a renascence of patriotism, seems to us to have none of the marks of patriotism–at least, of patriotism in its highest form? . . . We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers. There is no harm in the box of tin soldiers; we do not expect children to be equally delighted with a beautiful box of tin philanthropists. But there is great harm in the fact that the subtler and more civilized honour of England is not presented so as to keep pace with the expanding mind. A French boy is taught the glory of Moliere as well as that of Turenne; a German boy is taught his own great national philosophy before he learns the philosophy of antiquity. The result is that, though French patriotism is often crazy and boastful, though German patriotism is often isolated and pedantic, they are neither of them merely dull, common, and brutal, as is so often the strange fate of the nation of Bacon and Locke. It is natural enough, and even righteous enough, under the circumstances. An Englishman must love England for something; consequently, he tends to exalt commerce or prize-fighting, just as a German might tend to exalt music, or a Flamand to exalt painting, because he really believes it is the chief merit of his fatherland. It would not be in the least extraordinary if a claim of eating up provinces and pulling down princes were the chief boast of a Zulu. The extraordinary thing is, that it is the chief boast of a people who have Shakespeare, Newton, Burke, and Darwin to boast of.

America cannot look back on a long and deep tradition of high culture and intellectual distinction (though we have recently produced some of the finest world literature, from Whitman and Dickinson to Faulkner and Stevens), as England and the European nations can. But it has a far more glorious tradition of libertarianism, and it is this tradition which is forgotten, largely by the design of our education.  It is therefore a shame that the nation of Jefferson and Paine, of the Whiskey Rebellion and the spirit of ’76, of a long long train of religious dissidents and individualist anarchists, has as its best avatar of the soul Dick Cheney.

I recommend as devotional readings for the anarchist patriot the following: “Anarchism and American Traditions” by Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America,” and “Was the American Revolution Radical?” (an audio excerpt from the multi-volume history Conceived in Liberty) by Murray N. Rothbard.

P.S.- I was looking for some American flag pictures to accompany this post, but I found it too stomach-turning. Enough with the damn flag already. The less American citizens care about actual freedom or any of the worthwhile traditions of this country (like say, the Bill of Rights), the more they care about worthless symbols like the flag. I am reminded of a witty aside by literary critic Harold Bloom in one of his best books, The American Religion: “Creationism, I am now convinced, is only secondarily directed against the ghost of Charles Darwin. It is directed instead against all those who might deny that the Bible is a vast solid object, like a cliff or a First Baptist Church in a Texas city.” Similarly, American patriotism, 99 times out of a hundred, is only secondarily directed against those who hate America. It is instead a fierce defense of the American flag as a concrete object as it waves in arrogant victory over the cowed foreigner and the awestruck citizen, its stripes licking the sky like tongues of flame, its stars seeming like an explosion of sparks, the kind often seen when one has been punched squarely in the nose.

June 23, 2010

The Freedom of Machinery

Filed under: Anarchy,Economics — rmangum @ 2:37 pm

I’ve been reading David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to Radical Capitalism. The book is somewhat dated, and flawed in a number of ways, not the least of which is the title, which summarizes his whole economistic approach to liberty. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile, and I would recommend it to non-capitalist libertarians, just as I would recommend Proudhon and Kropotkin to capitalist ones, and I believe I shall do so now, since checking Friedman’s blog I see that it has just been made available as a pdf. (My own copy comes courtesy of the University of Utah library.)

June 10, 2010

Follow-Up on Property Rights and Racism

Filed under: Anarchy,State,Utopia — rmangum @ 8:28 pm
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This article by Sheldon Richman, inspired by Rand Paul’s infamous appearance on Rachel Maddow, is almost two weeks old now, which is like two months in blog time, but since it covers (more articulately) many of the same points I made in my last post, plus one important elaboration, I ought to mention it. Previously, I had mentioned that the bulk of what was accomplished by the civil rights movement had nothing to do with government legislation, but I failed to mention one notorious feature which almost certainly conflicts with the libertarian theory of property rights: the sit-in, which is a property-violation almost by definition. Richman admirably addresses this point:

Isn’t a sit-in at a private lunch counter a trespass? It is — and the students who staged the sit-ins did not resist when they were removed by police. (Sometimes they were beaten by thugs who themselves were not subjected to police action.) The students never forced their way into any establishment. They simply entered, sat well-behaved at the counter, and waited to be served. When told they would not be served, they said through their actions, “You can remove me, but I will not help you.”

So without resisting forcible removal and without damaging any property, the violation is minimal enough that owners would not even be due recompense (and if the force used to remove the protesters exceeds what is necessary, they might be liable for damages themselves). So with the costs of such action being so low, we might expect more of this type of demonstration in a libertarian society, not less. A comment by Brad Spangler elaborates:

It’s also important to understand that the libertarian theory of justice is that violation of the non-aggression principle justifies compulsory restitution for damages. In some cases, it will make sense to voluntarily assume those costs and approach it as a matter of calculation — rather than holding a pseudo-religious view in which one is either in state of grace or held to have fallen from same.

For example, in a stateless society of private law and security, there would be no such thing as a “search warrant”. No private arbitrator would be empowered to license burglary or home invasion. Searches for evidence would still happen, though. Investigators would have to do enough of the serious, hard work of a conscientious investigation first in order to make a rational gamble that they could commit a crime to search for evidence and wind up owing less restitution than the subject of the investigation would.

Lunch counter sit-ins were trespassing — but so what, if the restitution owed was trivial in comparison to the larger issue?

Indeed, and the logic applies to any other form of civil disobedience directed at private property, such as the sit-down strike. Spangler is right to bring up the example of police investigations, since it emphasizes that in a free society, the law applies to the cops just as well as to the rest of us, whereas in our society they are “the law.” Police violate the property rights of the poor pretty much every day and are never required to pay restitution, even if it turns out that they harmed innocent people. (And of course it is no accident that state police are the primary aggressors against peaceful protests throughout the history of civil disobedience as a political tactic.) Murray Rothbard addresses the issue in a different context in The Ethics of Liberty:

Take, for example, the police practice of beating and torturing suspects—or, at least, of tapping their wires. People who object to these practices are invariably accused by conservatives of “coddling criminals.” But the whole point is that we don’t know if these are criminals or not, and until convicted, they must be presumed not to be criminals and to enjoy all the rights of the innocent: in the words of the famous phrase, “they are innocent until proven guilty.” (The only exception would be a victim exerting self-defense on the spot against an aggressor, for he knows that the criminal is invading his home.) “Coddling criminals” then becomes, in actuality, making sure that police do not criminally invade the rights of self-ownership of presumptive innocents whom they suspect of crime. In that case, the “coddler,” and the restrainer of the police, proves to be far more of a genuine defender of property rights than is the conservative.

We may qualify this discussion in one important sense: police may use such coercive methods provided that the suspect turns out to be guilty, and provided that the police are treated as themselves criminal if the suspect is not proven guilty. For, in that case, the rule of no force against non-criminals would still apply. Suppose, for example, that police beat and torture a suspected murderer to find information (not to wring a confession, since obviously a coerced confession could never be considered valid). If the suspect turns out to be guilty, then the police should be exonerated, for then they have only ladled out to the murderer a parcel of what he deserves in return; his rights had already been forfeited by more than that extent. But if the suspect is not convicted, then that means that the police have beaten and tortured an innocent man, and that they in turn must be put into the dock for criminal assault. In short, in all cases, police must be treated in precisely the same way as anyone else; in a libertarian world, every man has equal liberty, equal rights under the libertarian law. There can be no special immunities, special licenses to commit crime. That means that police, in a libertarian society, must take their chances like anyone else; if they commit an act of invasion against someone, that someone had better turn out to deserve it, otherwise they are the criminals.

As a corollary, police can never be allowed to commit an invasion that is worse than, or that is more than proportionate to, the crime under investigation. Thus, the police can never be allowed to beat and torture someone charged with petty theft, since the beating is far more proportionate a violation of a man’s rights than the theft, even if the man is indeed the thief.

The upshot of all this is that in situations which may involve rights violations for which restitution would have to be paid, such as searching a home for evidence or interrogating the suspect, the libertarian police would tend to be far less violent than the state police. Doubly so, for there is not only no sovereign immunity for their actions, but they would be either a for-profit firm disinclined to pay out reparations and lose business to competitors, or they operate are at the behest and under the watchful eye of some kind of autonomous community who may deny their legitimacy at any moment.

But while what we are now obliged to call “the authorities” have the incentive to mind their manners or pay the price, the calculation might be quite different for the oppressed and marginalized.

May 19, 2010

Glenn Beck and the Anarchists

Filed under: Anarchy,Glenn Beck is not a Libertarian — rmangum @ 2:16 pm

Anarchy for the USA: It's coming sometime . . .

It’s been a bit too long since I’ve written about Glenn Beck, dontcha think? Last time he came to my attention, he was saying that when Christian churches preached “social justice,” is was just a code word for Communism and Nazism. Of course, if Beck had just said, “nine out of ten times, in or out of religious contexts, when someone says ‘social justice’ they just mean ‘socialism, of the statist variety, meaning government intervention to regulate the economy and redistribute goods,’ though there’s no logical reason for that ideology to have a monopoly on the words ‘social’ or ‘justice’,” then he’d be absolutely right, and furthermore would have given his viewers something to thing about. But no, he’s got to go right to the reductio ad Hitler, peddling the view that everyone who disagrees with you politically is secretly an evil totalitarian out to get you.

Beck’s problem is that he is incapable of perceiving often rather large, to say nothing of fine, distinctions in political and social thought. Everything must be reduced to a duality of us and them, good and evil, freedom and slavery, god and the devil. And the reason for this is that his thinking is rooted in Mormon eschatology, especially as interpreted by the author, and former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police Chief, Cleon Skousen. I should know, because I come from a family of ardent Skousenites. Without going into all the paranoid details, it’s plain that this paranoid and fundamentally anti-intellectual view causes Beck to collapse and confuse categories, and link things together in often bizarre ways. Even when Beck is right (it happens), he’s right for the wrong reasons, and expresses himself wrongheadedly. As I’ve written about before, for all his supposed sympathy with libertarianism, he has a rather dim view of what it means philosophically, and if you add “anarchism” to the mix, well then Beck’s circuits just short out.

I bring all this up because he recently aired a segment which tried to link together the riots in the wake of Greece’s economic collapse with protests against Arizona’s immigration law. The common thread seemed to be that both featured large numbers of people in the street. (“How did they all get together so fast?” he wonders aloud-I’m not saying it must be a conspiracy, but it must be a conspiracy!) Never mind that the Arizona protesters, as can be seen in the footage he shows, are entirely non-violent. He concludes, or rather insinuates, that it represents an incipient communist uprising, and holds up as proof a book (which he does not quote from, and barely bothers to summarize) called We are an Image from the Future: the Greek Revolt of 2008. He says, “They are not anarchists,” which must seem like a non-sequitir to most of his viewers, unless they get curious and google the book, and discover that, hey, they are anarchists! In fact, the well-known anarchist publishing house AK Press put out the book, and in response they have published “An Open Letter to Glenn Beck.” The letter address an intriguing reason why Beck has such trouble with anarchism:

So we asked ourselves: What could account for this guy waving around a book written and published by anarchists, while never quoting a single word from it, and then going on to associate the book with political groups—like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Workers World Party—that no one in the book, or associated with the book, would endorse? How could he miss something so obvious?

Then it dawned on us: you’re afraid of anarchists. You’re not afraid of the fake media portrayal of anarchists as bomb-throwing maniacs: that’s your bread and butter. You’re afraid of real anarchists, the actual ideas they espouse, the real work they do.

We don’t blame you, Glenn. When we sift through your rants, we realize that there’s a lot of overlap between you and anarchists. The difference is that anarchists are more honest, aren’t part of the same elites they criticize, and they make a lot more sense. They see you, and raise you one.

The admission that “there’s a lot of overlap” between Beck and anarchism is a startling one, though perhaps correct. An average establishment progressive or neocon intellectual, for instance, probably cannot see much difference between Beck’s views and genuine libertarianism.

I have not read We are an Image from the Future (which of course deals with the 2008 revolts, which had an explicitly anarchist bent, and not the recent riots which are a reaction to the collapse of social services that has accompanied Greece’s financial fiasco), but I doubt Beck has either. At any rate, the more profitable comparison could be made (in spirit if not ideas) between revolts like the one in Greece our own recent tea party phenomenon.

February 4, 2010

Belated Terrible Blogging

Filed under: Anarchy,Literature,Personal,Philosophy,Uncategorized — rmangum @ 6:54 am

It’s been a rough year for me so far: starting school, looking for a new car, ignoring collection notices, battling my post-college football season depression, losing in chess to my brother, not drinking enough (I write best between two and four beers). And not wanting my dear dear opinions to dissipate into the blogospheric aether, I’ve set for myself a goal of two posts per week (one Song for Sunday and at least one other post during the week), but its been hard to stick to even that. So with that self-exculpatory preface noted, my apologies to anyone who cares. Now for a few brief updates:

Way overdue update on my bowl picks: I was just over 50 percent, with 17 right and 16 wrong. Good enough to try it again next year. I should note that some of my most confident picks (TCU, most notoriously) were the most wrong.

On two recent famous deaths: I read The Catcher in the Rye I think three times between ninth and tenth grade, and have not read it since. For some reason I was never impelled to read Salinger’s other published work, but my feeling is that he was really a one-hit wonder, like Ken Kesey, Chuck Palahniuk, and so many other American novelists. I’m not sure whether the book would hold up to a re-reading as an adult, either. A People’s History of the United States has long been on the top of my reading list, and since my live-in girlfriend (terrible phrase- sounds more like a job description rather than a relationship- but what am I going to call it since we have no state-sanctioned certificate?) owns a copy I have little excuse for not having read it. It always seems to happen that I discover an artist’s work right after they die, which has happened to me with John Fahey (2001) and William S. Burroughs (1997).

A few words on a book recently read: Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State has two main flaws as I that I can see. Its subtitle is An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory, which might lead one to think that it contains summaries and analysis of actual historical anarchist ideas, thinkers, schools, and controversies. Syndcalism, egoism, Christian pacifism; individualism versus social anarchism; whether anarcho-capitalism is genuine anarchism; how Proudhon was a sexist and Stirner was crazy- that sort of stuff. Instead Sartwell devotes the bulk of his book to a refutation of philosophic claims for state legitimacy, and a short section in the end giving an adumbration of the kind of anarchism he would like to see in the future (promising development of his ideas in a future book). Now this is a very minor flaw, since there are certainly other books devoted to historical and contemporary anarchism, but few that engage in academic political discourse in the way that this one does. This is a step toward anarchy being taken seriously. This leads to more serious flaw, which is that Sartwell admirably takes on the titans of political philosophy: Locke, Hume, Bentham,  Hegel, Rousseau, Hobbes, Nozick, and Rawls, just for starters. Yet he devotes less than 100 pages to this task. Mystics and idolators of state power Rousseau and Hegel are dismissed as presenting no real argument for legitimacy, and rightly so, but surely as lasting and widespread a theory as Hobbes’ deserves to be refuted in greater detail. Perhaps Sartwell is just that efficient. It’s hard for me to tell, since I happen to agree with every word, but I think a skeptic would want more.

Some ideas for upcoming posts: Since I’m taking all English classes, I have more literature than politics on the brain right now. But I have some notions of exploring the overlap, including Argentinian writer Jorge-Luis Borges as a conservative anarchist, and Jonathan Swift as both a proto-anarchist and a proto-totalitarian (so he was accused by George Orwell, referring specifically to book IV of Gulliver’s Travels). Expect possibly also some thoughts on Beowulf, William Blake, the Enlightenment and/versus Romanticism, Jane Austen, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Thomas More’s Utopia, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Coetzee, and so on.

Or maybe you won’t hear from me again until after finals.

January 22, 2010

Mid-January Miscellany

Filed under: Anarchy,Literature,Personal — rmangum @ 2:04 am
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The latest episode of Battleship Pretension is about Shakespeare movies. The unnamed listener who suggested the topic is none other than yours truly. I came away with some good recommendations (I still have not seen the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet, and Prospero’s Books certainly seems intriguing), but was a bit disappointed that there was little mention of Kurosawa’s many films transposing Shakespeare into feudal Japan, and none of the greatest version of Macbeth on film, directed by Roman Polanski. And as an English major, I couldn’t help writhing in my seat as David tried to remember the name of the poet who wrote “things fall apart”, and the name of the poem it comes from. It’s William Butler Yeats, from “The Second Coming”, which is like, the most famous poem of the 20th century, after all that dreary stuff T.S. Eliot wrote.

The latest edition of the Entitled Opinions podcast is also about Shakespeare, though I have not listened to it yet.

And in local news, the latest episode of PRI’s Selected Shorts is a tribute to Wallace Stegner, who grew up in Salt Lake City and graduated from the University of Utah. Not only that, but it was performed live at our fine City Library. I’m not that familiar with Stegner’s work, but I wish I would have been able to catch that one, since the library is only a few blocks from my home.

Speaking of libraries and the U of U, one of the perks of being a college student again is having access to the University Library. I’ve been spending a lot of time there lately, reading Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (it’s about poop) and the beautiful Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf (the most awesome action movie of the middle ages). I happened to notice that they have a modest collection of books on anarchism (dwarfed, of course, by the collection devoted to Marxism, but quite ample compared to what the City Library has), and some modern libertarian books as well, including De Jasay and all three volumes of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Dialectics and Liberty trilogy. In my ambition, I have vowed to read the whole lot during my time at the University, and I have already begun with Crispin Sartwell‘s recent Against the State: an Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory.

December 16, 2009

The Monkey Speaks His Mind*

Filed under: Anarchy,Contra Keynes,Economics — rmangum @ 7:24 pm
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I’ve been revisiting Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s 1975 paranoid phantasmagorical comedy (I refuse to call it “science fiction”), Illuminatus! and had to share this hilarious bit. The novel features a number of talking animals, including a tribe of anarchist gorillas, one of which explains their reticence in dealing with humans because of their politics:

If it got out that we can talk, the conservatives would exterminate most of us and make the rest pay rent to live on our own land; and the liberals would try to train us to be engine-lathe operators. Who the fuck wants to operate an engine lathe?

No doubt some Ivy League Keynesian would be appalled at the low employment numbers among the gorillas and the deflated price of bananas.

*Yeah, I know gorillas aren’t monkeys, but who wants to let a good title go to waste?

September 25, 2009

Zerzan on Anarcho-Syndicalism and Liberalism

Filed under: Anarchy,Philosophy — rmangum @ 6:05 pm

goya_sleep_of_reasonSometimes I get my best insights from people I don’t agree with. For instance, I’ve always found the anarcho-primitivist writer John Zerzan fascinating, even though I disagree with nearly 100% of what he writes. For those in the dark about primitivism, it rejects not only modern industrial capitalism, but all technology and division of labor in even the most basic form, in an attempt to recover a primal wildness and harmony with nature without such mediating systems as language and culture.

I had been reading up on anarcho-syndicalism when I came across this short essay by Zerzan on “The Bourgeois Roots of Anarcho-Syndicalism“. He writes:

The values upheld by anarcho-syndicalists do not significantly differ from those of the more radical of the bourgeois liberal theorists, and their project, upon examination, proves to be merely the extension of the liberal project.

Like the bourgeoisie – and maybe even more than the bourgeoisie – the anarcho-syndicalists embrace the values essential to capitalism.

What are these values. First of all, technological and economic progress, obviously a no-no for primitivists as it constitutes man’s continuing “mastery” and “domination” over nature. And the values which support this end include the work ethic, conformity, “social peace”, and “a rational, ethical society”.

Both bourgeois liberal theorists and anarcho-syndicalists want a rational, ethical society based on freedom, equality and justice, guaranteeing human rights. Both want a smoothly running economy with high levels of production guaranteeing scientific and technological progress. Both require social peace and conformity to realize their projects. It is difficult not to think that their projects are the same. I see only two significant differences. The bourgeoisie sees the economy as an apolitical force that can progress efficiently and ethically in the form of private enterprise. The anarcho-syndicalists recognize the economy as a political force which must, therefor, be run democratically. The bourgeois liberals believe that representational democracy can create their ideal. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that democracy must be direct – though they never seem to ask us if we want to spend time directly voting on every social issue that comes up. The project of the anarcho-syndicalists is really just an extension of the project of the project of bourgeois liberalism – an attempt to push that project toward its logical conclusion.

On the values Zerzan lists, I find that some (peace and rationality) are entirely good while others (conformity and work) rather mixed blessings. None can have any value for the primitivist. Zerzan’s critique leads me to two conclusions. The first is that the disparate economic ideas of anarchists aren’t entirely incommensurable. As Mises wrote in Human Action:

What divides those parties one calls today world view parties, i.e., parties committed to basic philosophical decisions about ultimate ends, is only seeming disagreement with regard to ultimate ends. Their antagonisms refer either to religious creeds or to problems of international relations or to the problem of the ownership of the means of production or to problems of political organization. It can be shown that all these controversies concern means and not ultimate ends.

. . . for all parties committed to pursuit of the people’s earthly welfare and thus approving social cooperation, questions of social organization and the conduct of social action are not problems of ultimate principles and of world views, but are ideological issues. They are technical problems with regard to which some arrangement is always possible.

Note that Mises distinguishes between “world views”, which interpret all phenomena, including physics, metaphysics, ethics, and so on, and narrower “ideologies”, which “have in view only human action and social cooperation”. Anarcho-syndicalism and liberalism, according to Zerzan, share a bourgeois world view while differing in ideology. Primitivism, on the other hand, is another world view entirely (actually, according to Mises’ full definition, it might even fail at that). The world view shared by liberalism and anarchism, as well as most schools of socialism, has a name never mentioned by Zerzan: Enlightenment.

This is my second conclusion: If syndicalism as Zerzan describes it is the logical conclusion of bourgeois liberalism, i.e. the Enlightenment, then primitivism is the logical conclusion of the reaction against the Enlightenment, i.e. Romanticism or Counter-Enlightenment. This is a strain of thought which is an undercurrent in socialism as well as many varieties of conservative and right-wing thought. It’s most famous figure is Rousseau, but also includes such tempestuous reactionaries as Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried Herder, William Blake, the writers associated with the Frankfurt School, and postmodernists too numerous to mention.

I am not completely opposed to Romanticism. Indeed, I love romantic art and find many Romantic critiques of reason and modernity to have some validity. But reading the primitivists such as Zerzan (and even more ridiculous figures like Hakim Bey) as they reject culture and scoff at the notions of “social peace” and “ethical society” even as they praise such people as Ted Kaczynski, is enough to give one pause, to say the least.

I think an excellent book could be written on this subject, interpreting modern political history not in terms of Left vs. Right, or Capitalism vs. Socialism, but Enlightenment vs. Romanticism, and tracing the threads of counter-enlightenment though on the left and right.

For a critique of primitivism and related subcultural movements from a perspective that is anarchist, anti-capitalist, and environmentalist, see Murray Bookchin’s classic essay Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. His essay means to implicate liberal individualism along with what he calls “lifestyle anarchism”, but I think fails, for the main reason that the first is an Enlightenment individualism stressing social harmony, and the latter a Romantic individualism stressing rebellion for its own sake. But that’s a subject for another time.

September 9, 2009

Chartier on Left Libertarianism and Socialism

Filed under: Anarchy,Philosophy — rmangum @ 9:59 pm
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Law professor Gary Chartier, who writes the LiberaLaw blog, recently had a pamphlet posted on Center for a Stateless Society entitled “Socialist Ends, Market Means”. Written for Left Libertarians, it addresses the issue of how to frame an ideology that is seen as combining a radical left-wing social agenda with a radical right-wing economic program, as well as a concise statement of what Chartier sees as the particular values that justify the “Left” in Left Libertarianism. He attacks the suspicion of LL as “an exercise in spin” by showing how it is authentically libertarian and left-wing.

“LL is authentically libertarian because it is anti-statist . . . and because it affirms the values of markets and property rights. At the same time LL is authentically leftist because it seeks to challenge privilege, hierarchy, exclusion, deprivation, and domination– both ideologically and practically- and because it can exhibit a genuine commitment to inclusion, empowerment, and mutual respect.”

I do want to give one critique, however. Chartier offers up the possibility of libertarians claiming, or rather re-claiming, the word “socialism”. At a time when our slightly-to-the-left president is being denounced as a socialist, this would be decidedly audacious announcement of sympathy with the left over the right. Chartier argues that “there’s a meaningful opportunity for education- to highlight existence of a credible tradition advancing a different meaning of ‘socialism’.” There have been those in the past who have argued for a free market and yet embraced the label “socialist”. (In fact, I would argue that anyone who is consistently anarchist is de facto positing some form of free market.) Chartier wants to challenge those who wear the label today “to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer.” I would recommend a particularly useful essay on this point, Professor Long’s “Immanent Liberalism: the Politics of Mutual Consent”, where he borrows terminology from Marx to distinguish between “Vicarious Liberalism”, where relations of mutual consent is mediated through a state apparatus, and “Immanent Liberalism”, in which mutual consent is immediately realized in day-to-day life. Chartier wants LL to spur socialists to decide whether their socialism is of an immanent or vicarious variety. At the same time that LL makes socialists rethink their means, it ought to make libertarians rethink their ends*. What are the ends of socialism? For this I turn to another essay, “The Soviet Union vs. Socialism” by Noam Chomsky:

[T]he socialist ideal [is] to convert the means of production into the property of freely associated producers and thus the social property of people who have liberated themselves from exploitation by their master, as a fundamental step towards a broader realm of human freedom.

We shouldn’t think that the ends/means contradiction of state socialism was thought of by us first- it’s an old debate on the left. (Ironically, Chomsky in practice is something of a vicarious anarchist, or a sort of left-wing minarchist like Bertrand Russell.) But so far, so good. What’s my problem with his suggestion? It’s that insofar as we revision socialism as one branch of the libertarian tree we gain a better understanding of our own intellectual and cultural heritage, but insofar as we say to the world “we are socialists, of a sort” we make a confusion of the most unprofitable kind. The reason is that at this point in the modern history of ideas, the word “socialism”, as well as the word “capitalism”, carries too much baggage to be useful to an up-to-date analysis of our political economy, much less an unorthodox view as Left Libertarianism. Each term is tainted by its association with its “vicarious” as opposed to its “immanent” variety. I prefer terms which create confusion of a positive kind, which seem paradoxical enough to generate curiosity without preconceived attitudes, yet admit of concise definitions and do not deceive. I prefer “liberal anarchist” for myself. But, since at this point “libertarian” is somewhat tainted as well, “left libertarian” fits the bill quite well, and LLs have every reason to be content with it. (I don’t mean to indicate that Chartier wants to abandon that label, or even fully embrace the socialist one.) But perhaps, since even after being an ever-present view over the last 200 or so years, at least as and probably more coherent over time than liberalism or conservatism, it still generates shock and confusion, the simple term “anarchist” works best.

*This latter strikes me as the basic project pursued by Kevin Carson, as he attempts to drive a wedge between the free market and “actually existing capitalism”. He challenges libertarians to decide whether they are defending the former or the latter. His writings have led at least one anarcho-capitalist, myself, in a leftward direction. If I have the right-libertarian’s learned aversion to the word “socialism”, I have certainly also reevaluated my stance toward historical “capitalism”, and generally no longer prefer to self-apply the latter term.

September 5, 2009

The Secret Link Between Emma Goldman and Ayn Rand

Filed under: Anarchy — rmangum @ 8:02 pm
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In the documentary Anarchism in America The wonderful Karl Hess describes his transition from Barry Goldwater speechwriter to anarchist. I can only imagine how orthodox liberals and conservatives would blow their sprockets when they hear Hess compare Emma Goldman to Ayn Rand and explain that he found in anarchism what he had hoped for from the Republican party!

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