We put the “Arch” in “Anarchy” #2

David Gordon — a Rothbardian anarchist and frequent contributor to anti-state, anti-war, pro-market LewRockwell.com — wrote an Open Letter To Libertarians on Ron Paul in which he denounces the running-dog radical libertarians who oppose Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. Here’s what he has to say about opposition to Chairman Ron’s position on abortion:

No power to regulate abortion is granted to the federal government. Some of course claim that the Fourteenth Amendment changes matters, but it requires very strained interpretation to conjure a right to abortion out of the text of this Amendment. One critic of Ron Paul has admitted that Roe v. Wade is bad law but thinks we should somehow get to the correct pro-abortion view. Is this not to surrender the possibility of constitutional limits on the federal government?

Yes. So what?

Anarchists don’t believe in constitutional government.

On Ron Paul’s support for an even more aggressive police state to enforce international apartheid:

Some object to Ron Paul because he does not support an open borders immigration policy. But why should one take this position to be essential to libertarianism? Hans Hoppe has raised strong objections to open borders; and Murray Rothbard, in his last years, abandoned the view. Free immigration combined with a welfare state is a dangerous brew: does it make sense to reject Ron Paul because he cannot accept it?

Yes.

Anarchists don’t believe in national borders and they don’t believe in a federal police state to enforce them.

It may be true that when you combine something fundamentally moral — free immigration — with something completely immoral — a coercive welfare state funded by expropriated tax funds — you’ll get bad consequences from the combination. But that’s a good reason to try to limit or eliminate the immoral part of the combination, by undermining or dismantling the apparatus of taxation and government welfare. It’s certainly not a good reason to try to limit or eliminate the moral part of the combination by escalating the federal government’s surveillance, recording, searching, beating, jailing, and exiling innocent people. Anarchists have no reason to accept the latter, either as a policy position, or even as a matter about which reasonable libertarians can agree to disagree.

Oddly, some of the same people who condemn Ron Paul for apostasy are themselves so devoted to left libertarianism that they subordinate libertarian principles to certain cultural values. They favor gender equality and are concerned lest we think ill of certain preferred minority groups. Libertarianism, they think, will best promote these values, and this fact is for them a chief reason to support libertarianism.

Since Gordon refuses to identify any individuals whose specific positions he is criticizing, it’s hard to tell whether he’s referring to the essay on libertarian feminism that Roderick Long and I co-authored, or whether he means to refer to somebody else. (If so, whom?) So it’s hard to know whom he expects to answer him when he asks:

Does not the question then arise, should libertarianism be subordinated to these values?

If he does intend to refer to my position, then he’s made two serious mistakes.

First, I don’t think that libertarianism should be subordinated to certain cultural values such as radical feminism. I believe that libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism, rightly understood. (For a more detailed explanation of the different kinds of links that there may be between libertarianism and radical feminism, see my reply to Jan Narveson on thick libertarianism.) The independent merit of radical feminism is one reason to support libertarianism as a political project (because opposing the patriarchal State is of value on feminist grounds), but that’s never been the sole reason or the primary reason I have suggested for being a libertarian. The primary reason to be a libertarian is that the libertarian theory of individual rights is true. From the standpoint of justice, the benefits that a stateless society offers for radical feminism are gravy. If there were some kind of proposal on the table to advance radical feminist goals by statist means, then I would reject the proposal, in favor of proposals that advance radical feminist goals by anti-statist means.

Second, libertarianism is not conceptually equivalent to actively supporting the most libertarian candidate in a government election. Libertarianism is a theory of political justice, not a particular political party or candidate. If one invokes feminist, anti-racist, or any other reasons not to actively support Ron Paul’s candidacy, those reasons may be good reasons or they may be bad reasons. But they are reasons for subordinating one particular strategy for libertarian outreach and activism — a strategy which, by the way, has basically zero empirical evidence whatever in favor of its effectiveness — to other concerns. But so what? There’s no reason for libertarians, and especially not for anarchists, to treat government elections as the be-all and end-all of libertarian principle.

Further reading:

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  1. Jeremy

    As a Ron Paul advocate - and an anarchist - I fully support and understand your reasons against supporting Ron Paul. I have no wish to convince you to support him - you’ve made what you feel is the best decision in a messy situation, and I’ve made mine. Neither of us believe Ron Paul will fix everything (and I hope your suggestion that Paul’s supporters worship him unthinkingly is confined to those particular individuals you are attacking), both of us have problems with the nature of some of his support, both of us abhor many of his stances. In the end, it comes down to a fuzzy up or down decision, and nobody can really say which way is right or wrong. In fact, the most important way to take advantage of the Ron Paul candidacy is to do precisely what you are doing - use it to engage in conversations about libertarianism.

    What do you think about the spontaneous movement that has sprung up around his candidacy? Even if we don’t think Paul is the right choice for one’s vote, this is clearly (to me, at least) an exceptional moment of popular libertarian consciousness unrivaled in recent history. Do you see any utility in at least using the candidacy as a way to promote libertarian ideas - even if you choose not to vote for the man?

  2. Rad Geek

    Jeremy,

    My issue here isn’t so much with Ron Paul personally, but rather with the kind of arguments that are being directed against libertarian critics of Ron Paul. When otherwise intelligent anarchists go around throwing out appeals to constitutionally limited government or straightforwardly identify not voting for quasi-libertarian candidates in government elections as doing nothing or subordinating libertarianism to some other set of concerns, something is rotten in the Misoid Free State.

    I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who plans to support or vote for Ron Paul is engaged in the same kind of sloppy argument and personality cult that the targets of my criticism are engaged in. If I gave that impression, I apologize.

    As for rising libertarian consciousness, or openness to libertarian ideas, I’d like to believe that it’s true, but I’m not especially convinced. If it is true, though, I would suggest that absolutely the most urgent thing to do is to start those conversations and unhitch them as quickly and as thoroughly as possible from the Ron Paul train, because we have a very short window of time — somewhere in the vicinity of 1-3 months, depending on the breaks — before Ron Paul’s prospects in the primaries are completely decided. If nothing significant happens in that direction between now and then, then I think that a lot of money and a lot of organizational energy will disappear right into the same dark, lonely station where the Clark train, the Buchanan train, the Perot train, the Nader train, and the Dean train are sitting idle after all these election cycles. That’d be a shame, because, as much as I dislike some of what they’re producing, they are certainly showing a lot of genuine organizational intelligence.

    There are a few different ways to try to do the unhitching. One is to sympathetically engage current Ron Paul supporters in conversation, to try to lead them to see the higher principles they are fighting for, and not just the man. Another is to try to body check current Ron Paul supporters on sloppy arguments or significant problems of consistency on Ron Paul’s part, in order to try to more forcefully knock out some of the blinders that may be preventing them from seeing the higher principles. Another is to try to sympathetically address (for example) lefty-statist critics of Ron Paul, in order to help them see some of the genuine merits of the libertarian parts of his platform, and to convince them that the anti-libertarian parts are a problem with Ron Paul, not a problem with libertarianism. All of these things are valuable, but unfortunately most of the stuff coming out of, for example, LewRockwell.com is just more mindless partisan cheerleading that does none of these things, and instead throws out some gross distortions of genuine libertarian criticism on Ron Paul’s positions or on electoral methods broadly.

  3. Francois Tremblay

    As an Anarchist and pro-RP-campaign, I agree that we should not try to defend RP’s positions when they go against Anarchy. Lew Rockwell is totally wrong on that point.

  4. vapatriot2

    it seems to me that the terms libertarian and anarchist are being used here as if they are synonyms, this is not the case, as those who post here I suspect know well. Since Mr. Gordon’s letter was not to anarchist’s (what would be the point?), but to libertarians in general, why bring anarchism up as an argument against Ron Paul’s policies? It makes no sense to quibble about why you wouldn’t vote for a candidate because of his positions on certain issues when you have no intention on supporting any government, or even the act of voting itself, as a matter of principle. Is this the beginning of a new joke? Q. “Who would the anarchist vote for?” A. “Nobody, anarchist don’t vote…”

  5. Libertarian Girl

    “It’s certainly not a good reason to try to limit or eliminate the moral part of the combination by escalating the federal government’s surveillance, recording, searching, beating, jailing, and exiling innocent people.”

    When did Ron Paul ever say he wanted to do that? He has said that he has no problem with immigrants at all, other than that they are encouraged to come over by the welfare benefits the federal government and states give to them and decimate many hospitals which can’t afford care for them. By getting rid of welfare, immigrants would naturally flow back to their home countries as life in America became less lucrative for them. Ron Paul is not for jailing and beating illegal immigrants, and in fact is one of the few politicians who has stood up for civil liberties for every person, including no surveillance and no searches without warrants— so why haven’t you just spent a few minutes actually listening to Ron Paul’s positions?

    The argument for an anarchist not voting for Ron Paul is simple: Ron Paul believes in America and is not an anarchist. I don’t see a good reason for taking it beyond that because you don’t seem to even know Ron Paul’s stances on issues. I also assume you’ve never voted for any candidate for office, being an anarchist and all.

  6. JBob

    I just found this site linked from the LRC blog where Gordon stated his (nonsensical?) case. I too am an anarchist giving much thought to what support Ron Paul deserves. I have the bumper sticker, and I help the Meetup group, but I am quick to state that I disagree with his abortion and immigration positions, and that I’d rather have no government than a Ron Paul presidency.

    It is only Ron Paul’s unique personal character that allows me to support him, since I trust he actually would (try to) drastically reduce the power of government. That’s a good thing, right?

    I’ve been a longtime fan of LRC, but I find Gordon’s recent “gross distortion of genuine libertarian criticism” to be quite troubling.

  7. Rad Geek

    vapatriot,

    Gordon is himself an anarchist (of the Rothbardian variety), as is a significant fraction of his prospective libertarian audience at LewRockwell.com, so it is relevant whether or not anarchists can accept the arguments he offers.

    For what it’s worth, not all anarchists oppose the act of voting on principle. In fact, I don’t. (I don’t think that voting or supporting electoral campaigns is especially useful as libertarian strategy, but I don’t think that it’s a violation of anarchist principle, either.) What anarchists don’t accept is the legitimacy of elected governments. But that’s a different issue from whether or not you, personally, should vote.

    Libertarian Girl,

    When did Ron Paul ever say he wanted to do that? … Ron Paul is not for jailing and beating illegal immigrants, … so why haven’t you just spent a few minutes actually listening to Ron Paul’s positions?

    I already have. Here are some of Ron Paul’s positions on immigration, as stated on his website:

    • Physically secure our borders and coastlines. We must do whatever it takes to control entry into our country before we undertake complicated immigration reform proposals.
    • Enforce visa rules. Immigration officials must track visa holders and deport anyone who overstays their visa or otherwise violates U.S. law. This is especially important when we recall that a number of 9/11 terrorists had expired visas.
    • No amnesty. Estimates suggest that 10 to 20 million people are in our country illegally. That’s a lot of people to reward for breaking our laws.

    There is no way to enforce these proposals without the threat or the use of physical violence against peaceful immigrants. All of them require the government to use the only tool that governments have at their disposal — physical force — in order to lock down the borders, limit travel to a handful of government controlled chokepoints, and impose arbitrary limits on the time or manner peaceful immigrants’ right to work for a willing employer or live on private property onto which they have been invited. That physical force takes the form of armed paramilitary organizations — in particular the Border Patrol and the internal ICE police forces — that patrol, raid, stop, search, demand papers, detain, imprison, and/or exile people based on their immigration status, and who have the weapons and the training and the permission of the government to restrain or beat or shoot people as necessary to enforce their orders.

    As Ludwig von Mises put it:

    It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action… . Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

    Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, ch. XXVII, p. 719

    If you think, as Ron Paul does, that the government is justified in using this kind of violence against people for trying to move, live, and work freely, without a signed permission slip from the federal government, go ahead and try to defend it. But you’ve got to defend the actual policy on the table, not some imaginary immigration policy that doesn’t involve hurting, jailing, or deporting peaceful people.

    The argument for an anarchist not voting for Ron Paul is simple: Ron Paul believes in America and is not an anarchist. … I also assume you’ve never voted for any candidate for office, being an anarchist and all.

    Since I’m responding to an argument made by another anarchist, this seems like an odd response to make. But in any case, see above in the response to vapatriot on voting.

    As for believing in America, I have no problem with the country. I have a problem with the United States government, which is something different from, and often antagonistic to, the ordinary, mostly peaceful people and their ways of life.

  8. Jim Davidson

    Dr. Paul is not an anarchist, he’s not anarcho-capitalistic enough to suit me, and his positions on abortion and immigration are not agreeable to me. But, look, there are a lot of trains going east this year. The Democrat nationalist socialists and most of the Republic nationalist socialists are all headed the same way.

    There are a few trains circling the station, not really going anywhere. I like a lot of the Libertarian candidates for president, and I admire their courage, individual decency, and hard work.

    There is one train moving West, and I’m on that train. I know that the Ron Paul campaign won’t take me where I’m going. It is going to stop far short of where I want to be. But, it is going closer to the direction that I’m headed than anything else, and it is moving.

    I’m not going to do anything unethical, like voting. Really, I won’t. But, I am willing to contribute money to his campaign, and some time. I’m also eager to meet others on the train, because I suspect many of them are going to keep heading toward freedom, even when his train stops moving.

    It is very exciting to see that there are over 75,000 Ron Paul donors, over 75,000 active volunteers for his campaign in Meetup groups, over 60,000 videos following his campaign. There’s an opportunity here to see some real change. Whether he wins his party’s nomination or not, I think it is well to be gracious about his followers and enthusiasts.

  9. labyrus

    Free immigration combined with a welfare state sounds like an excellent way for a state to both attract people to live there and then support them in becoming far more productive citizens than those living in closed-bordered-corporate states. I’m not really sure what’s so dangerous about it.

    Although that’s neither here nor there because the USA has no Welfare system to speak of if you compare it with successful welfare systems (by which I mean ones that accomplish the goals of welfare system: To help people out of poverty and to stabilize the economy).

    This isn’t to say that I in any way endorse welfare statism, but I do think it’s a system that has a far better track record than the corporatism that would continue to proliferate the policies Ron Paul advocates (and I was just struck by how laughable the idea that America has anything that could be called a welfare state is). In a genuine welfare state, nobody starves or freezes to death and nobody goes without a roof over their head outside of grave emergencies. That’s much more than you can say for America right now.

  10. Meic Palmer

    To top off his positions on abortion and immigration, Ron Paul is a vulgar libertarian on economic issues. He supports intellectual property, and he supports the preservation of all property titles regarless of how non-libertarian they are.

  11. Steven Horwitz

    Charles,

    I suspect Gordon is referring to my post at Liberty and Power here:

    http://hnn.us/blogs/comments/45044.html

    And he has certainly misread me if he thinks I’m arguing for subordinating libertarianism to something else. I think you got it just right here:

    “I believe that libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism, rightly understood. (For a more detailed explanation of the different kinds of links that there may be between libertarianism and radical feminism, see my reply to Jan Narveson on thick libertarianism.) The independent merit of radical feminism is one reason to support libertarianism as a political project (because opposing the patriarchal State is of value on feminist grounds), but that’s never been the sole reason or the primary reason I have suggested for being a libertarian. The primary reason to be a libertarian is that the libertarian theory of individual rights is true. From the standpoint of justice, the benefits that a stateless society offers for radical feminism are gravy. If there were some kind of proposal on the table to advance radical feminist goals by statist means, then I would reject the proposal, in favor of proposals that advance radical feminist goals by anti-statist means.”

    I probably wasn’t as clear as I should have been in the original post, but so be it.

  12. Sergio Méndez

    Libertarian Girl:

    I actually doubt that most immigrants come to the US for its welfare state. Most of them come to the US cause they get paid far more than in their countries and they can send money back or try to build a new life in the US, not cause they are interested in living on US welfare state (which is not very extended compared with the welfare state of many other first world countries).

  13. Nobody

    I came across your site via mises/lew, and after looking around I’m not sure what would lead them to mistake you for a “member of their camp”, to think you would have any affinity for Ron Paul, and to bother you with their letter.

  14. Rad Geek

    Nobody,

    Well, Gordon’s letter wasn’t directed to me personally. It was directed to libertarians in general, on the topic of libertarian critics of Ron Paul. The closest it came to any direct reference was to mention left libertarianism, a position of which I’ve been a moderately vocal advocate — although it is not clear to me that when people at Planet Lew use the term, they mean by it quite the same thing that I mean when I use the term.

    I thought that Gordon might have been referring to my work on libertarian feminism when he mentioned subordinating libertarianism to concern for gender equality in connection with left libertarianism. But he makes clear in his reply that he was referring to someone else.

    For what it’s worth, in spite of some sharp differences on a few issues that I consider very important, I agree with the anarchist writers at LewRockwell.com and the Mises Institute more often than I disagree with them, and that includes agreeing with them on some other issues — the war in Iraq, U.S. imperialism, militarization of the police, the virtues of secessionism, the vices of Beltway policy wonkery-wankery, etc. — that I also consider very important.

  15. Joe

    My contribution to the debate is here: An Open Letter to Individual Freedom Advocates

  16. Libertarian Girl

    Sergio Mendez: Let me clarify. Yes, immigrants can make more in one hour in the US than they may make in a day in Mexico, even without welfare, which is a powerful attraction.

    However, when you add in free healthcare, free schooling in pretty good schools, and other free services in America, along with automatic citizenship for those born in the country, it can become more irresistible.

    Building a wall and maintaining certain entrances to a country does not require more force than, for instance, a highway system in the United States (only certain places to enter and exit), a public school building in many cities (designated entrances, exits, up and down stairways, times when you’re forced to be there, etc.), a festival in a town, I could give a million other things that are regulated by police in today’s society (I don’t think it’s right, but it’s true). It could be said that by moving across the border when that is against the country’s laws, you are committing a forceful act yourself.

    Of course open borders would be the absolute perfect endpoint. But, you can’t have that unless EVERY country gives you and other immigrants equal rights. Everyone has to do it for it to work. When I go into Mexico, I have to get a visa and carry my papers and pay a fee, or I’m there illegally and could be arrested by their police. I have to cross at a certain point. I even get stopped by the Mexican Army on some deserted mountain roads (the Mexican Army stops people and searches, presumably for drugs). People in Mexico are used to that sort of thing. They are stopped by the Army just driving down a road minding their own business. It is not as if Mexico would not take similar measures against a person trying to enter their country without paying for a visa.

  17. Sergio Méndez

    Libertarian Girl:

    However, when you add in free healthcare, free schooling in pretty good schools, and other free services in America, along with automatic citizenship for those born in the country, it can become more irresistible.

    Well, lets make clear, the US has not a socialized healthcare system like you have in Europe. But it is still not true that it is “free”. First, cause welfare is not free…we all pay it with our taxes. Second, cause immigrants certainly pay taxes.

    Anyways, the point is that the welfare system the US is not the main incentive for immigrants to come to the US. And if it was, we should be fighting the welfare state, not immigration.

    Now, citizenship for those born in the country is no different for citizenship for already american people for their own sons and daughters. I do not see it as part of the “weflare package”.

    Building a wall and maintaining certain entrances to a country does not require more force than, for instance, a highway system in the United States […] It could be said that by moving across the border when that is against the country’s laws, you are committing a forceful act yourself.

    I think this claim require to be examined closely. Building a a wall reuires force cause

    a) It implies that it is going to be paid by taxes, and you know that taxes are colected by the use or the treat of force

    b) It implies the use of force since the wall is destinated to physically impede that immigrants cross the border. So it requires a vigilante state force, you know, to stop any immigrant that tries to clim it or cave a tunnel UNDER it.

    Concerning the idea that moving across the border is the same than commiting a forcefull act cause it violates the law of a country, I don´t see how you can sustain that on libertarian grounds. The immigrants are not forcing anybody when they move from one place to another, the same way you don´t when you move from one state to another or when you move from one house to another. Violating a law that is clearly unjust and untenable , from an authority that we don´t even recognize on anarchist grouns, is not to force anything on anybody.

    When I go into Mexico, I have to get a visa and carry my papers and pay a fee, or I’m there illegally and could be arrested by their police. I have to cross at a certain point. I even get stopped by the Mexican Army on some deserted mountain roads (the Mexican Army stops people and searches, presumably for drugs). People in Mexico are used to that sort of thing. They are stopped by the Army just driving down a road minding their own business. It is not as if Mexico would not take similar measures against a person trying to enter their country without paying for a visa.

    I fail to see why the arbitrary immigration laws of one country justify the arbitrary immigration laws of another. Why not just unite and fight ALL forms of state control on immigration, no matter if where it comes from?

  18. Laura J.

    If it is indeed customary for Mexican military thugs to routinely stop people driving along and minding their own business just to rummage around in their trunks and see if there’s anything interesting inside, all the more reason to assist any and all Mexicans who wish to cross the border to get away from such things. (Not to say that the American situation is more than slightly better on that count…)

  19. Rad Geek

    Libertarian Girl:

    Building a wall and maintaining certain entrances to a country does not require more force than, for instance, a highway system in the United States […]

    Oh, really? Try climbing over the wall and see what happens to you.

    It could be said that by moving across the border when that is against the country’s laws, you are committing a forceful act yourself.

    A forceful act against whom? The government? They haven’t got any legitimate claim in the matter. The United States of America is not the collective property of the federal government. As long as immigrants are staying on land onto which they have been invited by the landlord, or which they have bought for themselves, I don’t see what business the government has in overriding the private property rights of the landowner and dictating whom she can or cannot welcome onto her land.

    (If an immigrant is trying to stay on land where she has not been welcomed by the owner, of course, that’s a forceful act. But we already have a law against that; it’s called trespassing. There’s no need for federal immigration laws to supplement it.)

    Of course open borders would be the absolute perfect endpoint. But, you can’t have that unless EVERY country gives you and other immigrants equal rights.

    Of course you can. Here’s how you do it: drop the existing immigration laws and stop arresting peaceful immigrants. Simple as pie.

    If other governments continue to assault innocent people, that’s their problem to deal with. Peaceful immigrants shouldn’t be held hostage to the idiotic acts of foreign governments.

  20. labyrus

    Again I can’t believe people can be so woefully ignorant as to believe that the united states has anything that could reasonably be called welfare.

    Libertarian Girl, have you ever tried to live on welfare? If not, then how on earth do you know that it’s a “powerful attraction”? You seem to think that in the US, welfare actually pays for everything people need. In real life, people actually die because they can’t afford medical bills, or end up homeless.

  21. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-18 – Radical feminism, libertarianism, and the terrifying feminist menace to men’s wing-wangs:

    […] couple of weeks ago, I criticized an article by David Gordon that criticized left libertarians who criticized Ron Paul. (David Gordon later criticized my criticism of the criticism of the criticism; I posted a […]

  22. Discussed at david.opishposh.com

    Embrace the Status Quo? | the view from below:

    […] People who identify themselves with the political tags “libertarian” and “anarchis… Should libertarians and anarchists support Paul or not? […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-09-11 – Ihre Papiere, bitte:

    […] GT 2007-12-04: We put the Arch in Anarchy #2 […]

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