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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.

March 15, 2010

Libertarian Literary Kicks

Filed under: Literature — rmangum @ 2:53 pm
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To be conscious of the social context of art seems automatically to entail a leftist orientation. But a theory is possible that is both avant-garde and capitalist.
-Camille Paglia

I forget who said that though libertarians defend the right to bear arms, the average libertarian is far more likely to pick up a book than a gun. At the core of the libertarian world there is an intense book culture, which is one of its glories. In short, we are nerds. But when we think about the literature of liberty, who do we have in mind? Depending on your particular bent, you might think of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard; or Robert Nozick and Milton Friedman; or maybe Benjamin Tucker, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Lysander Spooner; perhaps someone more outré like Max Stirner, or a newcomer like Kevin Carson. But what about Shakespeare? Dostoevsky? Cervantes? Percy Shelly? Joseph Conrad? Probably not. Those named in the former group, for all their differences, are political and economic thinkers who took up the issue of human freedom as their primary concern. The latter are all entertainers. Brilliant ones, sublime ones perhaps, but what can they as artists contribute to the conversation about liberty?

Marxism long ago took a cultural turn, and hence there is a voluminous supply of books on art and culture from a Marxist perspective, but from a libertarian one its just slim pickings. True, many libertarians are converted first through novels, by Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlen, but its time to get out of the sci-fi ghetto and take up the Canon. (Not that I’m putting down sci-fi as such. I’m a big fan myself, though not really of those particular authors.) Pioneering work here has been done by Professor Paul Cantor, and I am greatly excited to learn from the recent Austrian Scholars Conference that he has co-edited a book with Isabel Paterson biographer Stephen Cox, Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture, which is available online. Some of Cantor’s essays have been around in different forms for a while, but its nice to have them all collected in one place, along with some intriguing new works by other writers on Whitman, Willa Cather, Cervantes, and especially Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. And Cantor’s ideas on the arts and the market have been presented in a great lecture series from some years back at the Mises Institute.

As a libertarian and an English student, I’m always interested on hearing libertarian perspectives on art and culture, but also I have some additional concerns to add. My literary taste was formed before my politics, and I’ve always enjoyed literature that is apolitical, such as Wallace Stevens’ poetry, the stories of Jorge-Luis Borges, and the plays of Oscar Wilde. But I know Cantor’s work well enough to know that he isn’t creating anything like a libertarian version of culture-studies, which politicizes everything. He respects the autonomy of art. And yet I do happen to agree with the cultural-Marxist rallying cry that “art is not created in a vacuum”. When I inspect the politics of the authors already mentioned, I find they have sympathies with my own. Stevens by many accounts was an Old-Right Taft Republican who opposed the income tax, and Borges often called himself a “Spencerian anarchist” in a Latin American milieu whose politics were mostly divided between Nazis and Communists. As for Wilde, while he espouses some misguided social-democratic views in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” he was an admirer of Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, and once said “The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all.” So what does this mean? That we cannot escape ideology, that there is no autonomous aesthetics? George Orwell took up this issue in an essay on Swift, appropriately titled “Politics vs. Literature”:

For a great deal of his waking life, even the most cultivated person has no aesthetic feelings whatever, and the power to have aesthetic feelings is very easily destroyed. When you are frightened, or hungry, or are suffering from toothache or sea-sickness, King Lear is no better from your point of view than Peter Pan. You may know in an intellectual sense that it is better, but that is simply a fact which you remember: you will not feel the merit of King Lear until you are normal again. And aesthetic judgement can be upset just as disastrously—more disastrously, because the cause is less readily recognized—by political or moral disagreement. If a book angers, wounds or alarms you, then you will not enjoy it, whatever its merits may be. If it seems to you a really pernicious book, likely to influence other people in some undesirable way, then you will probably construct an aesthetic theory to show that it has no merits. Current literary criticism consists quite largely of this kind of dodging to and fro between two sets of standards. And yet the opposite process can also happen: enjoyment can overwhelm disapproval, even though one clearly recognizes that one is enjoying something inimical.

It is often argued, at least by people who admit the importance of subject-matter, that a book cannot be “good” if it expresses a palpably false view of life. We are told that in our own age, for instance, any book that has genuine literary merit will also be more or less “progressive” in tendency. This ignores the fact that throughout history a similar struggle between progress and reaction has been raging, and that the best books of any one age have always been written from several different viewpoints, some of them palpably more false than others. In so far as a writer is a propagandist, the most one can ask of him is that he shall genuinely believe in what he is saying, and that it shall not be something blazingly silly. To-day, for example, one can imagine a good book being written by a Catholic, a Communist, a Fascist, pacifist, an anarchist, perhaps by an old-style Liberal or an ordinary Conservative: one cannot imagine a good book being written by a spiritualist, a Buchmanite or a member of the Ku-Klux-Klan. The views that a writer holds must be compatible with sanity, in the medical sense, and with the power of continuous thought: beyond that what we ask of him is talent, which is probably another name for conviction.

So a book need not be libertarian to be good, which is a relief since few of the great authors of history have been, but Cantor’s work show that there is more libertarianism in great literature than has previously been imagined. Also, when Orwell writes about the “false view of life” I can’t help but be reminded of Ayn Rand’s “sense of life” critical approach. A more expansive perspective that remains libertarian is possible.

Another concern for me is my own affiliation with a specifically Left-libertarian perspective. (One question which occurs to me as a left-libertarian that the basically Mises/Hayek approach of Cantor & Co. does not undertake is why, if the seeming panoply of economic approaches to culture are all on “The Left”, they are all a variant of Marxism rather than some other form of anti-market stance, such as anarcho-socialism or Keynesianism.) I take the Paglia quote above as a truism, but I now view the word “capitalism” is dubious, more likely to describe the corporate fascism we are used to rather than a genuine free market, and do not self-apply it. I do consider my orientation to be leftist, though not the politically correct quasi-Marxist one that predominates academe. My own work, proceeding from here will be founded on the notion that not only is a theory possible that is both avant-garde and left-libertarian, but that a left-libertarian theory can only be avant-garde.

December 9, 2009

Know Your Limits

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 8:29 pm
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I have just finished The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, an excellent critique of American foreign policy, specifically the ideology of “National Security” as rooted in our political culture. I believe the book’s flaws have been adequately pointed out by David Gordon in his review back in the Spring, so I’ll avoid the temptation to criticize and highlight what is most valuable about this short but potent book.

First, while Bacevich is by no means any sort of political radical, his critique is stringent and quite amenable to radicalism. Consider this assessment of our recent middle-eastern adventurism in the broader context of American history:

We’ve been down this path before. After liberating Cuba in 1898 and converting it into a protectorate, the United States set out to transform the entire Caribbean into an “American lake.” Just as, a century ago, senior U.S. officials proclaimed their concern for the well-being of Hatians, Dominicans, and Nucaraguans, so do Senior U.S. officials now insist on their commitment to “economic reform, democratic reform, and human rights” for all Central Asians.

But this is mere camouflage. The truth is that the United States is engaged in an effort to encorporate Central Asia into the Pax Americana.

The striking thing about this passage, as with so many in the book, is that it can apply equally to this administration as well as the previous one. Bacevich understands that the ideology of National Security is a bipartisan faith, even if American voters don’t. And he understands the nature of that ideology, which has little to do with the actual safety of the American people.

The ideology of national security does not serve as an operational checklist. It imposes no specific obligations. It functions the way ideology so often does- not to divine truth or even make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rationale for action. In the American context, it serves principally to legitimate the exercise of executive power. It removes constraints, conferring on presidents and their immediate circle of advisers wide prerogatives for deciding when and how to employ that power.

Speaking of the executive, Bacevich is particularly scathing about how the focus of mass politics has been reduced down to that office, indeed it seems to be solely about our emotions regarding the man in power:

Beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, the occupant of the White House has become a combinaiton of demigod, father figure, and, inevitably, the betrayer of hopes. Pope, pop star, scold, scapegoat, crisis manager, commander in chief, agenda setter, moral philosopher, interpreter of the nation’s charisma, object of veneration, and the butt of jokes- regardless of personal attributes and qualifications, the president is perforce all these rolled into one.

The president also serves as an important cultural shibboleth. How you feel about Obama or Bush will determine who your friends are, what social circles you can participate in. But in practice they all serve the same function. In a recent Young American Revolution article on the antifederalists, Bill Kauffman quotes the pseudonymous Philadelphiensis’ objection to the executive proposed by the recently proposed constitution: “Who can deny the president general will be . . . a king elected to command a standing army?” Our revolutionary forbears were as suspicious of standing armies as we are enamored of- and dependent upon- them.

Bacevich follows his thorough critique of the national security state’s failures with a question that points in the right direction:

When considering the national security state as it has evolved and grown over the past six decades, what exactly has been the value added? And if the answer is none- if, indeed the return on the investment has been essentially negative- then perhaps the time has come to consider dismantling an apparatus that demonstrably serves no useful purpose.

“Dismantling the apparatus” is the starting point, though it will mean different things to different groups. But I think that everyone outside of the hegemonic center of American politics, from left-libertarians to post-paleos, social anarchists to anarcho-capitalists, even disaffected liberals and conservatives, has a common interest in dismantling it. For a somewhat centrist conservative like Bacevich, the purpose is to insure a more cautious and moderate foreign policy that attaches a different, more humble, meaning to American freedom and prosperity. This is worth considering, too. Though I don’t think the word “hubris” ever comes up in the book, it’s clearly what Bacevich identify’s as the country’s greatest sin. And it’s not just that our use of military might is immoral, or that it has been incompetantly exercised: there are actually objective limits on what force as such can accomplish.

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!

September 1, 2009

The Right and Wrong way to be Politically Incorrect

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 3:47 am
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I have a good deal of admiration for Paul Gottfried as a scholar. I not only thoroughly enjoyed his book After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State– which tells the story of how modern liberalism emerged as a horse of a completely different color than its ostensible predecessor, classical liberalism, and how the idols (‘scuze me, ideals) of “democracy” and “pluralism” served as a cover for the ascent to power of an essentially elitist managerial ideology- but felt like I emerged as a more educated person after reading it. And listening to his speeches at Mises.org reveals that he is an engaging personality with an active and lucid intelligence. Of course he is an unapologetic man of the Right and I am a nascent Left-Libertarian, but that is really neither here nor there.

I agree generally with the assessment of conservative critics like Gottfried that the egalitarian sentimentality that has come to be known as “political correctness” has become a totalitarian ideology in late-imperialist America. However, the whole “the animals have taken over the zoo- even the Republicans!” theme that is obsessively sounded in Gottfried’s column at Taki’s Mag is beginning to tire me. And even more . . .

It shouldn’t be hard to guess that a libertarian and a conservative would have different reasons to oppose political correctness. The conservative bemoans the loss of a stable order in a formerly great civilization. Gottfried offers us a bit of that, even if he is too smart to go in whole-hog in the misty-eyed romanticism of 1950’s-worship of lesser Rightists. My own main beef is that, in the rush to usher in the millennium of equality, the evangelists have created a hostile environment for free thought, and for the honest pursuit of truth for its own sake. The started out with good ends, but adopted the most bullying and stupid means to achieve them. All intellectual life is degraded in this atmosphere. A recent Gottfried article illustrates what I’m talking about:

talking about politics and history is rarely “scientific” and less so in our frenetically progressive and anti-traditional age than in the older bourgeois age that preceded it. It was once possible for the devoutly Lutheran German historian Leopold von Ranke to write about the Renaissance Papacy with detachment and even sympathy, because historians in 19th-century Europe were expected to write that way. (Of course in practice not all historians met such a demanding standard, but at least they knew what the standard was.) In our age, by contrast, any failure to dwell on sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia in one’s account of the past will likely result in the kind of career that I and other academic mavericks of my acquaintance have had to endure.

This sort of threat to objective inquiry has led many intelligent people to oppose politically correct ideas. But this becomes a problem if the bigots become to look like freethinkers. Totalitarian liberalism has led many libertarians into the arms of the Right, where in my opinion they have no business whatsoever. The end of that same Gottfried article gives a good example of the kind of callousness that can result from the wrong kind of anti-PC attitude:

I once listened to an Ashanti cab driver in Washington boasting about how his tribe had sold the black slaves who would be used to construct the U.S. capital. Whether it was true or not, I found this boast to be refreshing. The African cab driver did not suffer from the choking sense of guilt I encounter in American WASPs.

I also oppose “the politics of guilt” as Gottfried keeps calling it. In the first place, it doesn’t erase any past wrongs, in the second, as an individualist I disbelieve in collective guilt, and finally, it’s just no way to live your life. But come on, dude. There’s nothing refreshing about actually being proud of slavery. That doesn’t mean I want to put the cab driver in prison or force him into a sensitivity training course, as the most zealous “anti-racists” would. But sometimes you have to call a racist idiot a racist idiot. Some things aren’t politically correct, they’re just correct.

June 11, 2009

Bureau crack-up

I’ve only been a member of the libertarian activist and social networking site Bureaucrash for a few months, but it has been nice to have discussions about liberty on-line, make some like-minded friends, and promote this blog a little. I haven’t actually been on Bureaucrash for a couple of weeks because I’ve been swamped with writing for my other job. Suddenly, I hear that all the radicals are fleeing from Bureaucrash. It seems that the new “Crasher in Chief” is a conservative named Lee Doren who voted for McCain, favors continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and is hostile to the “utopian” notion of anarchy. This unfortunately echoes the Bob Barr/Wayne Allyn Root takeover of the LP last year, the rise of “libratarian” talking head Glenn Beck on Fox News, and the whole Tea Party/Teabagging fiasco. With the Obama victory conservatives, after eight years of heedlessly pursuing fascism in America and imperialism abroad, are suddenly discovering their inner-libertarians, or else using libertarianism as a cover because the GOP is so obviously in shambles. Folks, I don’t mind making alliances with anti-state conservatives and non-anarchists, but they must be intelligent, serious, and the genuine article (Young Americans for Liberty, for instance), not shills for the Republican party. When I go onto Bureaucrash now I see not a principled anti-statism and positive vision of a just and free society but reactionary anti-liberalism and an unhealthy fixation on Barack Obama. Enough is enough. I don’t agree with everything everybody that I put on my blogroll says, but I put a link to them here because I feel there is more worthwhile there than not. But Bureaucrash is coming down, because all the intelligent and passionate people are getting out, and that is surely a sign of things to come, and because we don’t need any more statist and conservative takeovers of our movement. A lot of folks are gathering at Anarch.Me, and Brad Spangler is putting together something specifically for Market Anarchists called Black Vanguard (ought to be better by some orders of magnitude than BCS’s Furries for Milton Friedman, or whatever).

So that’s it. I’ll part with some words from libertarian historian Ralph Raico:

It’s an unfortunate fact that we Libertarians are still sometimes viewed by the press and the public as a “right-wing” party. The Washington Post, for instance, recently referred to us as an “extreme right-wing” organization. This is a pity, and it can do us nothing but harm. Among perceptive people, conservatives are known for their blind nationalism, their readiness to engage in military adventure throughout the world, their envious Puritanism. This is why I have said that one of our most pressing tasks is to draw the line between us and the conservatives, and to etch that line into the public consciousness. One good way to do this would be to emphasize our principled concern for the people the conservatives habitually treat with neglect or with contempt: women, blacks and other racial minorities, gay people. The conservative movement is intellectually bankrupt and morally moribund. Any identification with it would be the kiss of death.
-“Conservatism on the Run”, Libertarian Review, January 1980

June 4, 2009

Zoning: this aint no roadside picnic*

Santelia01Kevin Carson has an excellent new Center For a Stateless Society commentary about the problem of urban sprawl, which is usually assumed to be an unwanted market byproduct in need of government planning, but is in fact an unwanted byproduct of government in need of a freed market. The new urban planning philosophy meant to limit sprawl is only made necessary because the old urban planning helped to create it.

suburbanization and the car culture were central to urban planning in the decades after World War II, and were in fact mandated by the planners.

Now a friend of mine involved in urban planning in Salt Lake City gives me the expected retort: “What about Houston?” Houston, Texas, would indeed seem to be the embarrassing example of anarchy in urban design and spontaneous disorder. I briefly lived outside of Houston and worked at its Natural Science Museum downtown. The striking thing about the area is that how confusing and irrational it is. But certainly zoning is not the only tool of government interference, as this article illustrates. Its municipal land-use laws were seemingly designed to create a hell for pedestrians and heaven for car-dealers (not car drivers; it sucks to drive around that city) by mandating large lots and blocks, wide streets, and huge parking spaces, with the result that “Houston’s municipal code creates auto dependency by artificially spreading out the population.” In other words: sprawl. (Oh, and by the way, Houston is infamous for being one of America’s fattest cities as well- more fodder for social planners.) Of course we should not forget the role of construction companies and other commercial interests lobbying for Roads Roads Roads! But once the new urbanism takes over in Houston, which it is bound to since their problems are so obvious even if their causes aren’t, planners will artificially contract the population, duking it out with the commercial interests in a political process that will be anything but rational.

But if Carson is right, we can fight sprawl by rolling back the state. The question is how to get both liberals and libertarians on board with it. Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias suggests the type of argument to be used.

One thing we could do as a country that could help reduce carbon emissions in a relatively pain-free way would be to ease regulations around what you’re allowed to build where. This would reduce emissions because people living in high-density areas tend to drive less and have lower home energy usage. It would be relatively pain free because we wouldn’t be talking about taking people’s cars away or forcing anyone to live in densely built cities who doesn’t want to. Instead, we’d be talking about letting people build denser structures if they can find people who want to live inside them.

Yglesias is an ally on this issue at least, though there are some problems with his attitude about planning in general. It appears to be an area like so many others where liberals simply cannot let go of their stance of benevolent authoritarianism. But this is not the worst obstacle yet, which is suggested by the final paragraph of Kevin Carson’s article:

Fighting sprawl isn’t a matter of imposing new government mandates.  It’s a matter of scaling back existing restrictions on mixed use development, and prying the mouths of the real estate industry and the automobile-highway complex off the taxpayer teat. It’s not clear that can be done without abolishing government completely.

The most obvious problem with this is that Carson suggests that fighting sprawl commits one to anarchism, and I don’t see many not already favorably inclined to it giving us much heed in this regard. The second problem is more about general strategy. Those of us who are full-blown anarchists usually find our political allies with various kinds of decentralists and secessionists of the left and right. The idea is to reduce the political unit to the local level, the organic community or Polis. But this will do nothing about planning problems, since this takes place at the local level anyway (although urban planning philosophy is a national, if not international, phenomenon, which makes it suspect). Certainly it leaves room for all kinds of local tyrannies, even in with mostly libertarian movements. Take for example Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin’s secessionist mayoral campaign of 1969 (enthusiastically supported by Murray Rothbard, who failed to get his fellow conservatives on board), which proposed the decriminalization of drugs, including heroin, but would ban private cars in Manhattan and (less plausibly) mandate a shutdown of all electricity except for emergency services once a month. Paul Goodman had already suggested getting rid of cars in Dissent (a publication Mailer was a regular contributor to) in 1961, suggesting that

The problem and our solution to it are probably unique to Manhattan Island, though the experiment would provide valuable lessons elsewhere. Manhattan is a world center of business, buying, style, entertainment, publishing, politics, and light manufacture. It is daily visited in throngs by commuters to work, seekers of pleasure, shoppers, tourists, and visitors on business. We have, and need, a dense population; and the area is small and strictly limited. Manhattan does not sprawl. It can easily be a place as leisurely as Venice, a lovely pedestrian city. But the cars must then go.


Due to its physical geography, “Manhattan does not sprawl”. Furthermore, why anyone would want to drive there without being paid to I don’t know. Goodman and Mailer probably ignored some free market solutions to the problem of congestion. Nevertheless, Goodman displays an admirable awareness that planning solutions are fitted for the place where he lives, and not a scheme for a utopian world-city. I wonder if today’s deracinated urban planners can say the same. But Goodman goes even one step further. “Every street and avenue should be studied as an individual artistic problem.” He sought “variation and experimentation.” Unfortunately  he lamented in the same article that “there is no agency in our city to attend to the multi-purpose problems of community.” I think a community in need of an agency to attend to it is hardly a community at all. The formation of a bureaucracy is the end of natural, active community and the beginning of a passive, administered condition.

But I am getting far afield of my topic (which turns out to be not so much zoning after all) and a bit out of my depth. I am sure that others have dealt with these problems elsewhere. I think in the meantime we should do what we can to educate for freedom and fight the state on the national and local level.

* Forgive me, a geeky reference to a 1979 Tarkovsky film called Stalker, adapted from a Russian science-fiction novel called Roadside Picnic, about an expedition to an area called “the Zone” which has been declared off-limits by the government, and where normal rules of physics do not apply.

May 29, 2009

Roll Over Walter Benjamin

I first posted this over at GaragePunk.com, so I figured why not put it here too:

It is typical of Marxism to view art and culture as a epiphenomena (“superstructure” I believe is the correct jargon) of economics. The first Marxist art critic was Marx himself, writing in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”:

Intonarumori-veduta. . . is Achilles possible side by side with powder and lead? Or is the Iliad at all compatible with the printing press and the steam press? Does not singing and reciting and the muses necessarily go out of existence with the appearance of the printer’s bar, and do not, therefore, disappear the prerequisites of epic poetry?

I find it somewhat strange that the Iliad should not be compatible with the invention that made it available to millions for the first time, but the Homeric epic was originally the creature of an oral culture, so something is inevitably lost in translation. At any rate, though I reject economic determinism as a species of scientism, there is something to be said for looking at economic relations vis-a-vis the art forms associated with them, or looking at the medium as well as the message.

So what does this have to do with Rock and Roll. Well, Camille Paglia has written about it, connecting Rock with Romanticism, yet without that movement’s typically reactionary take on technology. She sees it (as a subspecies of pop music generally) as having a kind of therapeutic function in industrial capitalism:

Nature’s clock ticks behind technology’s facade. Try as we will to perfect society’s gleaming latticework of metal and microfiber, we are hostage to our stubborn bodies, which still pulse to primeval rhythms.

Modern culture has been obsessed with speed since the invention of the steam-powered locomotive in the early 19th century. Our sense of space has progressively contracted and collapsed because of our ability to cross huge distances with magical effortlessness. Many chronic stress-related medical complaints are certainly aggravated by this headlong pace, which has disrupted our physical perception of time.

My theory is that the massive rise of rhythmically intense pop music over the past 70 years is partly due to our urgent need to reset our inner clocks to match this new world. Similarly, the modern pornography industry serves an important function in reorienting our high tech consciousness toward our baseline identity in the fleshly and the organic. Love poets in the lascivious carpe diem tradition have always known time is transient, written in the human body, which blooms only to decay.
-Camille Paglia, “Rock Around the Clock”, Forbes 11/30/98

Paglia celebrates Rock and other pop-culture phenomena. But where she sees “an important function” a Marxist would likely see Lester Bangsincorporation into an insidious system (“the rhythm of the iron system” in Adorno’s words) and a conservative, it almost goes without saying, sees decadence and degeneration. Rock and Roll is both primitive and capitalistic (by this I mean a market phenomenon, which is not necessarily the same thing as what we often mean by “Capitalism”), which is why old-school (pre-1960’s) Marxists and conservatives have united in abhorring it. Defenders of State Capitalism (to say nothing of the creators of the music themselves) have not necessarily seen it that way. Roger Kimball, co-founder of the Neoconservative cultural magazine The New Criterion , updating the late Allan Bloom’s critique, writes ““rock music is a potent weapon in the arsenal of emotional anarchy.” As an anarchist, and a despiser of neoconservative politics more generally, I can think of no higher praise. And economist Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture looks at the anti-authoritarianism that inherently makes it suspect in the eyes of the state (not that we really need any intellectuals to point this out for us):

Just as Savonarola was one of the most perceptive viewers of Florentine art, so were the Soviet apparatchiks among the most perceptive analysts of rock. They understood that rock was pro-capitalist, pro-individualist, consumerist, and opposed to socialism and state control.

Of course anybody is free to like whatever music they happen to like, but I think that Rock and Roll is the most natural aesthetic corollary to libertarianism and anarchism.

May 20, 2009

History as written by the losers

Filed under: Notes Toward a Supreme Conspiracy Theory,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 11:08 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve always had a problem with the History channel. At first, it was basically the World War II channel, but now we mainly get alterations of shows on UFOs and shows designed to take advantage of the release of any big movie release even tangentially related to history. Apparently though, the History channel is way better in other countries, as Americans undoubtedly can’t handle the truth.

Speaking of which, Jeff Riggenbach has a new book out on American revisionist history, which will be appearing on Anti-War.com.

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