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Posts from 1 December 2007

Benjamin Tucker on Anarcho-Capitalism

Benjamin R. Tucker

Well, kind of.

Obviously Benjamin Tucker had no direct opinions about anarcho-capitalism, because the term was not even coined until many years after his death, and several decades after his retirement from radical politics. But Tucker did have quite a bit to say about the relationships among anarchism, socialism, and capitalism, and it may be worth having a look at it.

The question’s interesting partly as a matter of historical curiosity, but partly also because it may help shed some light on an old argument which has mostly produced heat. There are certain groups of anti-capitalist anarchists — most of them communist or collectivist anarchists — who tend to start spitting fire when pro-capitalist anti-statists like Murray Rothbard or David Friedman describe themselves as anarcho-capitalists, or identify their position as a form of anarchism simpliciter, or identify anarcho-capitalism as a close relation of the free-market individualist anarchism of Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Victor Yarros, et al. The locus classicus of the fire-spitting on the web is of course Section F and Section G of the social anarchist Anarchist FAQ; if that’s not where you’re encountering the debate, you’re almost certain to hear it get cited repeatedly anyway. At this point a heated debate soon follows over whether anarcho-capitalism is a genuine form of anarchism, or an unrelated form of right-wing anti-statism being fraudulently passed off as anarchism. The debate often focuses in on the notion of an anarchist tradition, and the argument turns to the question of (1) whether a pro-capitalist position is or is not incompatible with essential and continuous elements of that tradition; and (2) whether anarcho-capitalism is a legitimate part of that tradition or an independent and basically alien ideology that has just nicked some terminology and a couple slogans from traditional anarchism. And this is where the individualist anarchists get dragged into the fight.

Social anarchists and anarcho-capitalists spend quite a bit of time fighting with each other over who gets to claim the individualist anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century. The anarcho-capitalists point out the Liberty circle’s relentless emphasis on free markets, free competition, individually-held property, and opposition to communism. The social anarchists point out Tucker et al.’s self-identification as socialists, their relentless explicit attacks on the capitalist and landlord classes, their identification with nonviolent forms of labor militancy, and their analysis of interest on loans, rent on land, profits from the hiring out of capital, etc. as the creatures of state-fabricated privileges to the propertied classes. I don’t want to get too deep into these exegetical arguments right now; I’ve already discussed some of the semantic difficulties involved elsewhere (1, 2, 3, etc.), and Roderick has a couple of excellent posts on the topic at Austro-Athenian Empire (2007-04-01): Against Anarchist Apartheid and more recently Austro-Athenian Empire (2007-11-11): Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarcho-capitalist? For now, suffice it to say that both sides of the argument are substantially right, and substantially wrong; many anarcho-capitalists have been maddeningly selective, and substantially distorted the individualists in order to obscure or neglect the socialistic bite of the individualist understanding of class, privilege, and exploitation. But the social anarchists have also cut a lot of corners in explaining the individualists’ positions, which mostly serve to make Tucker, Spooner, Yarros, de Cleyre, etc. seem much more monolithic than they actually were, and to make them seem significantly less propertarian, and more friendly towards collectivistic and communistic socialism, than they actually were. Meanwhile the social anarchists’ reconstruction of anarcho-capitalist theory is so ferociously uncharitable, and so far out of touch with the versions of anarcho-capitalism espoused by central figures such as Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard in the period of Left and Right and Libertarian Forum, that frankly they ought to be embarrassed to show it in public.

In any case, since I am myself an individualist anarchist, and not an anarcho-capitalist or a social anarchist, I don’t have much of a dog in the fight, except insofar as it gets a bit tiresome watching the two bicker over the individualist tendency within the movement as if they were arguing over the contents of their dead grandmother’s will. We are still about and hardly need a bunch of anarcho-capitalists and social anarchists to do the talking for us. But setting aside most of the exegetical argument, there are a couple of claims that social anarchists routinely make about the anarchist tradition that need some closer scrutiny.

First, social anarchists claim that a no-government position is necessary but not sufficient for genuine anarchism; second, they claim that traditionally anarchists have understood anarchism to demand not only the abolition of the State as such, but also opposition to capitalism, in some fairly robust sense, and that the anti-capitalist position is as essential to all genuine traditional anarchism as the anti-statist position. Hence the amount of ink spilled in order to demonstrate that Benjamin Tucker did, indeed, call himself an anarchistic socialist, that the individualists did indeed believe that wage workers were systemically exploited by employers, that they did support squatters over absentee landlords, and that the economic predominance of capitalists, landlords, and money barons in the marketplace was a creature of government privilege, which would collapse on a genuinely free market. (It’s actually not at all clear to me how this position is supposed to be radically different from Karl Hess’s position, or Rothbard’s position in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle. But whatever.) It is certainly true that Tucker and his comrades considered themselves socialists as well as individualists, and that they considered their socialism very important to their position. But did these traditional anarchists actually agree with contemporary social anarchists’ interpretive claims about the meaning of the term anarchism, or the essential features of the anarchist tradition?

Roderick recently put up a good post about the attitude of Voltairine de Cleyre, during her earlier individualist anarchist phase. (De Cleyre later changed her position in a way that she understood as a rejection of individualist anarchism, and which social anarchists often claim was a conversion to anarcho-communism. But in fact her later position was more of an economic panarchy in which individualist and communist communities could coexist.) Now, here’s Tucker, in an column that he first penned for Liberty in 1890, and then reprinted in Instead of a Book. Tucker was responding to an explicit attempt to give definitions of socialism and anarchism in Hugh Pentecost’s radical paper, the Twentieth Century. The boldface is mine.

Take now another Twentieth Century definition,??that of Anarchism. I have not the number of the paper in which it was given, and cannot quote it exactly. But it certainly made belief in co-operation an essential of Anarchism. This is as erroneous as the definition of Socialism. Co-operation is no more an essential of Anarchism than force is of Socialism. The fact that the majority of Anarchists believe in co-operation is not what makes them Anarchists, just as the fact that the majority of Socialists believe in force is not what makes them Socialists. Socialism is neither for nor against liberty; Anarchism is for liberty, and neither for nor against anything else. Anarchy is the mother of co-operation,??yes, just as liberty is the mother of order; but, as a matter of definition, liberty is not order nor is Anarchism co-operation.

I define Anarchism as the belief in the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty; or, in other words, as the belief in every liberty except the liberty to invade.

It will be observed that, according to the Twentieth Century definitions, Socialism excludes Anarchists, while, according to Liberty??s definitions, a Socialist may or may not be an Anarchist, and an Anarchist may or may not be a Socialist. Relaxing scientific exactness, it may be said, briefly and broadly, that Socialism is a battle with usury and that Anarchism is a battle with authority. The two armies??Socialism and Anarchism??are neither coextensive nor exclusive; but they overlap. The right wing of one is the left wing of the other. The virtue and superiority of the Anarchistic Socialist??or Socialistic Anarchist, as he may prefer to call himself??lies in the fact that he fights in the wing that is common to both. Of course there is a sense in which every Anarchist may be said to be a Socialist virtually, inasmuch as usury rests on authority, and to destroy the latter is to destroy the former. But it scarcely seems proper to give the name Socialist to one who is such unconsciously, neither desiring, intending, nor knowing it.

— Benjamin Tucker, Armies that Overlap, Instead of a Book. ¶¶ 10–12.

Tucker was famously strict in applying the term anarchist — he argued that professedly anti-statist communists such as Johann Most or the Haymarket martyrs were not in fact anarchists, but only governmentalists of a different stripe who had illegitimately appropriated the term from the proponents of individual property and free markets. So it’s interesting to note that here, while Tucker places himself in the socialist camp, he is explicitly willing to grant the name anarchist to those who oppose the state even if they reject socialism and accept or support capitalistic usury; it would seem that Tucker would have accepted anarcho-capitalism, but not many forms of social anarchism, as legitimately anarchistic. If it were the 19th century individualists who were separating the sheep from the goats, instead of having a bunch of latter-day social anarchists swoop in putatively to do it on their behalf and save them from the evil schemes of the an-caps, then you’d get a very different line-up for the anarchist tradition; of the two Murrays, Rothbard would probably be in, and Bookchin would probably be out.

Now, that’s an interesting result. Not because of the fact that Tucker must be right about this; just because Tucker used the word one way doesn’t mean that everyone did then, or that everyone has to now. After all, I certainly don’t have any problem with referring to Most or Albert Parsons or Kropotkin as an anarchist, even though I think that there are key points on which Tucker is right and they are wrong. But I do think that it’s important, if you’re going to go appeal to the anarchist tradition, to make sure that the claims you’re making about continuity and essential features are supported by how those traditional anarchists saw themselves, and not just a projection of your own priorities and your own ideas about what’s essential onto your predecessors. Given what Tucker, for one, actually said about what he understood anarchism to mean, and who he would or would not recognize as a fellow anarchist, I don’t think that the the social anarchist polemics have done a very good job of that, as far as the Liberty individualists are concerned.

What a shock.

Let’s review.

The nearly 10-minute video clip, which has drawn nothing but negative comments toward the trooper on YouTube, shows Gardner approaching Massey’s SUV and asking for his driver’s license and registration. Massey asks how fast he was going, which prompts Gardner to repeat his request.

I need your driver’s license and registration ?? right now, the trooper says.

Massey continues to question Gardner about the posted speed limit and how fast he was going but hands over his papers. The trooper walks back to his car.

Gardner returns to the SUV and tells Massey he’s being cited for speeding. On the video, Massey can be heard refusing to sign the ticket and demanding that the trooper take him back and show him the 40 mph speed limit sign.

What you’re going to do ?? if you’re giving me a ticket ?? in the first place, you’re going to tell me why … Massey says.

For speeding, the trooper interjects.

… and second of all we’re going to go look for that 40 mph sign, Massey says.

Well you’re going to sign this first, Gardner says.

No I am not. I’m not signing anything. Massey says.

Gardner tells Massey to hop out of the car, then walks back to the hood of his patrol car, setting down his ticket book. Massey is close behind the trooper pointing toward the 40 mph speed limit sign he’d passed just before being pulled over.

Turn around. Put your hands behind your back, Gardner says. He repeats the command a second time as he draws his Taser and takes a step back.

The trooper points the Taser at Massey who stares incredulously at him.

What the hell is wrong with you? Massey asks.

Gardner repeats the command to turn around two more times as Massey, with part of his right hand in his pants pocket, starts to walk back toward his SUV.

What the heck’s wrong with you? Massey can be heard asking as Gardner fires his Taser into Massey’s back. Immobilized by the weapon’s 50,000 volts, Massey falls backward, striking his head on the highway. The impact caused a cut on Massey’s scalp.

Massey’s wife Lauren, who was seven months pregnant at the time, gets out of the SUV screaming and is ordered to get back in the vehicle or risk being arrested. Gardner handcuffs Massey and leaves him on the side of the highway while he goes to talk to Massey’s wife.

He’s fine. I Tasered him because he did not follow my instructions, Gardner explains to the audibly upset woman.

You had no right to do that! she responds. You had no right to do that!

While Gardner is still talking to Lauren Massey, her husband gets to his feet and approaches the trooper from behind. Gardner takes the handcuffed man back toward his patrol car and again orders Lauren Massey to stay in her vehicle or risk being arrested.

Officer you’re a little bit excited. You need to calm yourself down, Jared Massey tells Gardner before being put into the trooper’s patrol car where he continues to demand an explanation for his arrest.

— Geoff Liesik, Deseret Morning News (2007-11-21): Trooper’s Taser use pops up on YouTube

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely force their way into situations they have no business being in, use violence first and ask questions later, and pass off even the most egregious forms of violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal. In order to stay in control of the situation, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to pepper spray lawyers for asking inconvenient questions and to beat up teenaged girls for not cleaning up enough birthday cake or being out too late at night. It hardly matters if you are an 82 year old woman supposedly benefiting from a care check, or if you are sound asleep in your own home, or if you are unable to move due to a medical condition, or if the cops attack you within 25 seconds of entering the room, while you are standing quietly against the wall with your arms at your sides. It hardly even matters if you die. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how senselessly he escalates the use of violence and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless his victims are, he can count on his buddies to clap him on the back and he can count on his bosses to repeat any lie and make any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK ….

Note that Gardner never, at any point in the video, claimed that anything that Massey did in the encounter was threatening or that he felt he had to defend himself. He explicitly stated, over and over again, to Jared Massey, to his wife, and to a fellow cop, not that the reason for his actions was self-defense, but that it was to coerce compliance. Gardner also never told Massey that he was under arrest until after knocking Massey to the ground with his taser. However, cop enablers are not about to let the mere evidence of their senses get in the way of fabricating excuses for police violence …

— GT 2007-11-27: Law and Orders #3: John Gardner of the Utah Highway Patrol tasers Jared Massey in front of his family for questioning why he was pulled over

Some days, I really hate being right.

Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) ?? A Utah trooper who used a Taser to subdue a stubborn motorist who was walking away from him during a traffic stop felt threatened and acted reasonably, state officials said Friday.

Trooper Jon Gardner remains on leave, primarily for his safety, after numerous anonymous threats were made against him, said Supt. Lance Davenport of the Utah Highway Patrol.

Gardner twice zapped [sic] Jared Massey with a Taser when the driver walked away and refused to sign a speeding ticket on Sept. 14. The incident was recorded on Gardner’s dashboard camera. Massey filed a public-records request and posted the video on YouTube, which said it has been viewed more than 1 million times.

We found that Trooper Gardner’s actions were lawful and reasonable under the circumstances, Davenport said at a news conference, joined by Scott Duncan, commissioner of the UHP’s parent agency, the Utah Department of Public Safety.

The investigation was conducted by officials in the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the highway patrol. The officials have asked the Utah attorney general’s office to also review the case to determine if laws were broken.

Massey was not at the news conference and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The video showed Massey arguing about whether he was exceeding the speed limit on U.S. 40 in eastern Utah. Massey got out and walked to the rear of his vehicle. The trooper pulled out his Taser when the driver tried to return to his seat.

Massey shrieked, fell and said: Officer, I really don’t know what you’re doing.

Face down! Face down! Put your hands behind your back, Gardner said.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

This seems to be more or less how most cops seem to think that all their conversations with the public that they serve and protect should go.

When Massey’s wife emerged from the passenger side, the trooper ordered her to get back in ?? or you’re going to jail, too. Moments later, when another officer arrived, one of them said, Oh, he took a ride with the Taser.

Davenport said that comment was inappropriate.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

Well, that’s mighty white of him.

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

The investigation found use of the Taser was justified because Massey had turned his back and put a hand near his pocket, Davenport said.

For a law-enforcement officer, that is a very, very scary situation, he said.

Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

Remember that at no point in the encounter did Gardner ever claim that he used the taser because he felt threatened or because he believed that Massey was reaching for a piece. In fact, he explained several times why he used the taser, to Massey, to Massey’s wife, and to another cop, and every time he said the reason was that Massey didn’t follow instructions. I’m sure he just forgot to mention that he feared for his life, too. It’s wonderful how a gang of cops investigating possible after-the-fact excuses for another cop’s use of violence can jog the memory.

However, once we strip out the self-serving lies, note that we are left with the following:

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

… Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

Let’s review.

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

… Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

And there you have it. In the view of the Utah Highway Patrol, it is lawful and reasonable to torture you with 50,000-volts of electricity in order to force you to comply with their orders, even when those orders are completely unnecessary and even when other options are available.

What a shock.

(Story via Strike the Root and no authority 2007-12-01.)

Further reading:

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