Posts tagged Thomas Jefferson

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

It’s March 2010. It has now been two years since my essay Liberty, Equality, Solidarity appeared in Roderick and Tibor’s Anarchism/Minarchism anthology. Which means that those of you who recently ordered now have a shipment in the mail, which should arrive within the next few days. And it also means I can now do this. Enjoy!

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

Charles Johnson (2006/2008)

Reprinted with permission of the Publishers from Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism in Anarchism/Minarchism, ed. Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan (Ashgate, 2008). pp. 155-188. If you reprint this article, please retain this attribution.

The purpose of this essay is political revolution. And I don’t mean a “revolution” in libertarian political theory, or a revolutionary new political strategy, or the kind of “revolution” that consists in electing a cadre of new and better politicians to the existing seats of power. When I say a “revolution,” I mean the real thing: I hope that this essay will contribute to the overthrow of the United States government, and indeed all governments everywhere in the world. You might think that the argument of an academic essay is a pretty slender reed to lean on; but then, every revolution has to start somewhere, and in any case what I have in mind may be somewhat different from what you imagine. For now, it will be enough to say that I intend to give you some reasons to become an individualist anarchist,[1] and undermine some of the arguments for preferring minimalist government to anarchy. In the process, I will argue that the form of anarchism I defend is best understood from what Chris Sciabarra has described as a dialectical orientation in social theory,[2] as part of a larger effort to understand and to challenge interlocking, mutually reinforcing systems of oppression, of which statism is an integral part—but only one part among others. Not only is libertarianism part of a radical politics of human liberation, it is in fact the natural companion of revolutionary Leftism and radical feminism.

My argument will take a whole theory of justice—libertarian rights theory[3]—more or less for granted: that is, some version of the “non-aggression principle” and the conception of “negative” rights that it entails. Also that a particular method for moral inquiry—ethical individualism—is the correct method, and that common claims of collective obligations or collective entitlements are therefore unfounded. Although I will discuss some of the intuitive grounds for these views, I don’t intend to give a comprehensive justification for them, and those who object to the views may just as easily object to the grounds I offer for them. If you have a fundamentally different conception of rights, or of ethical relations, this essay will probably not convince you to become an anarchist. On the other hand, it may help explain how principled commitment to a libertarian theory of rights—including a robust defense of private property rights—is compatible with struggles for equality, mutual aid, and social justice. It may also help show that libertarian individualism does not depend on an atomized picture of human social life, does not require indifference to oppression or exploitation other than government coercion, and invites neither nostalgia for big business nor conservatism towards social change. Thus, while my argument may not directly convince those who are not already libertarians of some sort, it may help to remove some of the obstacles that stop well-meaning Leftists from accepting libertarian principles. In any case, it should show non-libertarians that they need another line of argument: libertarianism has no necessary connection with the “vulgar political economy” or “bourgeois liberalism” that their criticism targets.

The threefold structure of my argument draws from the three demands made by the original revolutionary Left in France: Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity.[4] I will argue that, rightly understood, these demands are more intertwined than many contemporary libertarians realize: each contributes an essential element to a radical challenge to any form of coercive authority. Taken together, they undermine the legitimacy of any form of government authority, including the “limited government” imagined by minarchists. Minarchism eventually requires abandoning your commitment to liberty; but the dilemma is obscured when minarchists fracture the revolutionary triad, and seek “liberty” abstracted from equality and solidarity, the intertwined values that give the demand for freedom its life, its meaning, and its radicalism. Liberty, understood in light of equality and solidarity, is a revolutionary doctrine demanding anarchy, with no room for authoritarian mysticism and no excuse for arbitrary dominion, no matter how “limited” or benign.

Liberty

Individual liberty is essential to political justice for both minarchist and anarchist libertarians. Both understand political liberty as freedom from organized coercion: force, under libertarian theory, can only be legitimate in defense of an individual person’s liberty, never when initiated against those who have not trespassed against any identifiable victim. Libertarians often draw boundaries between liberty and invasion through the principle of self-ownership: you are rightly your own master, and nobody else, individually or collectively, is entitled to claim you as their property.[5] That includes governments: self-ownership is held to be unconditional and “prepolitical,” in that it does not depend on the guarantees of political constitutions or legislation, but rather logically precedes them and constrains the constitutions and legislation that can legitimately be established. Thus anarchists and minarchists agree that political power should be subordinated to the principle of self-ownership, and everyone left alone to do as she pleases with her own person and property provided she respects the same freedom for others. But they disagree over what these principles entail. Minarchists argue that the rights of liberty and self-defense, delegated and institutionalized, establish the legitimacy of a “night-watchman” State,[6] limited by a written constitution and devoted to the rule of law. For anarchists, the rights of liberty and self-defense expose even the “night-watchman” State as professionalized usurpation, and reveal all government laws and written constitutions as mere paper without authority. Such a conflict demands explanation, and clarification of the terms of the dispute.

I won’t hazard a definition of either “government” or “state” here, but some essential features can be described. States have governments, and governments, as such, claim authority over a defined range of territory and citizens. Governments claim the right to issue legitimate orders to anyone subject to them, and to use force to compel obedience.[7] But governments claim more than that: after all, I have the right to order you out of my house, and to shove you out if you won’t go quietly. Governments claim supreme authority over legally enforceable claims within their territory; while I have a right to order you off my property, a government claims the right to make and enforce decisive, final, and exclusive orders on questions of legal right[8]—for example, whether it is my property, if there is a dispute, or whether you have a right to stay there. That means the right to review, and possibly to overturn or punish, my demands on you—to decisively settle the dispute, to enforce the settlement over anyone’s objections, and deny to anyone outside the government the right to supersede their final say on it. Some governments—the totalitarian ones—assert supreme authority over every aspect of life within their borders; but a “limited government” asserts authority only over a defined range of issues, often enumerated in a written constitution. Minarchists argue not only that governments should be limited in their authority, but specifically that the supreme authority of governments should be limited to the adjudication of disputes over individual rights, and the organized enforcement of those rights. But even the most minimal minarchy, at some point, must claim its citizens’ exclusive allegiance—they must love, honor and obey, forsaking all others, or else they deny the government the prerogative of sovereignty. And a “government” without sovereign legal authority is no government at all.

Authority, in the political sense, is correlative with deference. Insofar as Twain is subject to Norton’s authority, Twain is obliged to defer to Norton’s decisions, and Norton can compel him to obey. But the sort of deference must be carefully distinguished. Robert Paul Wolff notes that

An authoritative command must … be distinguished from a persuasive argument. When I am commanded to do something, I may choose to comply even though I am not being threatened, because I am brought to believe that it is something which I ought to do. If that is the case, then I am not, strictly speaking, obeying a command, but rather acknowledging the force or rightness of a prescription. … But the person himself [sic] has no authority—or, to be more precise, my complying with his command does not constitute an acknowledgment on my part of any such authority. (1970, 6)

Reason is no respecter of persons, but authority is personal: if Norton has legitimate authority over Twain, then Twain’s obligation to defer doesn’t come from the nature of what Norton decided, but from the fact that Norton decided it.[9] Wolff’s point could be sharpened by further distinguishing epistemic authority from imperative authority. There are cases where you should defer to an authority because she possesses some special expertise on the issue at hand.[10] But this is more scientific authority than political authority, and not really what Wolff seems to have in mind. The reason that lawyers bring their cases before the Supreme Court is not just that the Nine have some special expertise on the requirements of the law. Maybe they do, but the reason that others are supposed to defer to their judgment has to do with the offices they personally hold; their status is constitutive of the binding force of the judgment. However expert a mere lawyer may be, her opinion still amounts only to a brief, not a ruling, unless and until the judge personally authorizes it. It’s not that the issue lies within the court’s expertise, but that it (supposedly) lies within their prerogative.

It is not enough, then, for a minarchist just to postulate an ideal government that makes some rulings worth enforcing on their own merits. If a judgment is worth enforcing on its own merits, then it surely is perfectly legitimate to enforce it, but then the legitimacy comes from the content of the judgment, not from its source.[11] That justifies enforcing the judge’s ruling, but it does not establish that the judge’s authorization confers any special legitimacy on the enforcement, above or beyond what private citizens could confer, either individually or cooperatively in private “defense associations,” given enough wisdom, study, and application. Minarchists need a theory that legitimates exclusive government authority through the special positions that government agents occupy, and the sovereign status of the government they represent. Without one, they have no justification for the special prerogatives claimed by even the most scrupulously limited of governments.

I claim that minarchists cannot consistently offer the kind of theory that they need to offer, because no possible theory can connect sovereign authority to legitimacy, without breaking the connection between legal right and individual liberty. My case for this claim consists of three challenges, each developed in the anarchist literature, which demonstrate a conflict between individual liberty and one of the forms of special authority that minarchists have traditionally wanted governments to exercise.[12] Since the clearest expression of the first, and most basic, challenge is in Roy Childs’s “Open Letter to Ayn Rand,” we might call it the Childs challenge. Rand argues that a government must be strictly limited to the defensive use of force in order to be morally distinguishable from a robber gang.[13] She holds that even the legitimate functions of a properly limited government must be funded voluntarily by the governed, condemning taxation in any form.[14] However, she insists on the legitimacy of sovereignty and explicitly rejects individualist anarchism.[15] Childs, accepting Rand’s description of a government as “an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area,”[16] argues that no institution can claim that authority and remain limited to the defensive use of force at the same time:

Suppose that I were distraught with the service of a government in an Objectivist society. Suppose that I judged, being as rational as I possibly could, that I could secure the protection of my contracts and the retrieval of stolen goods at a cheaper price and with more efficiency. Suppose I either decide to set up an institution to attain these ends, or patronize one which a friend or a business colleague has established. Now, if he [sic] succeeds in setting up the agency, which provides all the services of the Objectivist government, and restricts his more efficient activities to the use of retaliation against aggressors, there are only two alternatives as far as the “government” is concerned: (a) It can use force or the threat of it against the new institution, in order to keep its monopoly status in the given territory, thus initiating the use or threat of physical force against one who has not himself initiated force. Obviously, then, if it should choose this alternative, it would have initiated force. Q.E.D. Or: (b) It can refrain from initiating force, and allow the new institution to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this, then the Objectivist “government” would become a truly marketplace institution, and not a “government” at all. There would be competing agencies of protection, defense and retaliation—in short, free market anarchism. (Childs 1969, ¶ 8)

Rand’s theory of limited government posits an institution with sovereign authority over the use of force, but her theory of individual rights only allows for the use of force in defense against invasions of rights. As long as private defense agencies limit themselves to the defense of their clients’ rights, Rand cannot justify using force to suppress them. But if citizens are free to cut their ties to the “government” and turn to private agencies for the protection of their rights, then the so-called “government” no longer holds sovereign authority to enforce its citizens’ rights; it becomes only one defense agency among many.[17] Childs formulated his argument as an internal critique of Ayn Rand’s political theory, but his dilemma challenges any theory combining libertarian rights with government sovereignty. Any “limited government” must either be ready to forcibly suppress private defense agencies—in which case it ceases to be limited, by initiating violence against peaceful people—or else it must be ready to coexist with them—abdicating its claim to sovereignty and ceasing to be a government. Since maintaining sovereignty requires an act of aggression, any government, in order to remain a government, must be ready to trample the liberty of its citizens, in order to establish and enforce a coercive monopoly over the protection of rights.[18]

At this point, some minarchists—most famously Robert Nozickaccept that a properly limited government cannot simply suppress competition from rights-respecting defense agencies (without ceasing to be properly limited), but reply that it can rightfully constrain competing defense agencies to obey certain norms, and in particular to respect certain procedural immunities for the accused. A lynch mob has no right to demand that they be allowed to “compete” with courts; a properly limited government has the right to prohibit procedures that impose unacceptable risks of punishment on the innocent.[19] If it can prohibit unreliable procedures, then it can force defense associations either to adopt permitted procedures or disband. But then government sovereignty reasserts itself, as the government becomes “the only generally effective enforcer of a prohibition on others’ using unreliable enforcement procedures … and … oversees these procedures” (Nozick 1974, 113–114). If a properly limited government reserves the right to authorize enforcement by approved defense agencies, and prohibit enforcement by rogue defense agencies, then it remains the sovereign authorizer of enforcement, even if it becomes one of many direct providers.

Governments probably are entitled to forbid enforcement procedures that violate the procedural immunities due to the accused. But unless the minarchist introduces some further reason to reserve this prerogative for the government, the Childs challenge applies as much to the protection of procedural immunities as to the ordinary protection of rights. If the government has a right to suppress rogue agencies, then so does anyone, as a matter of individual self-defense.[20] The universality of the right draws out a second point. Nozick makes the transition from dominant protective agency to minimal State by using language that suggests deputizing private citizens: the government makes a list of who can be trusted to enforce the law, and if you’re not on the list, then the government will stop you from taking the law into your own hands. What matters is whether or not the government has given you permission to act as a law-enforcer. The picture depends on a blurring of the distinction amongst argument, authoritative testimony, and prerogative. Defense associations may have the right to stop other enforcers from using unreliable procedures, but whether a procedure is unacceptably risky or not is a matter of fact, which can be characterized and discovered independently of the say-so of the government. The government’s seal of approval plays no constitutive role in the right of an agency to use procedures that are demonstrably legitimate, and the government’s own procedures must be subject to objective criticism as much as any private enforcer’s. A right to suppress unacceptably risky efforts at enforcement establishes no right to demand direct oversight of agencies’ procedures,[21] or to suppress “unauthorized” enforcers simply for not having the official approval of the government.

The language of “permission,” “prohibition,” and “oversight” obscures the distinction; but in fact the protection of procedural immunities is not properly understood in terms of giving permission at all, but rather respecting a general right.[22] The more generally and impersonally a defense agency specifies its procedural protections, the less they will resemble anything that could intelligibly be described as “oversight,” “giving permission,” or , broadly, the exercise of political authority. The more they resemble interventionist “oversight,” “giving permission,” or political authority, the more they will tread on the freedom of innocent people to enforce their own rights using reliable but unofficial procedures. The government in Nozick’s “minimal State” must either adopt general policies allowing for free competition without requiring grants of official permission—and once again ceases to exercise sovereignty—or else it must enforce its demands of oversight and official approval, even on agencies that are following reliable procedures—and once again ceases to be limited to defensive uses of force.

There is another possible reply I find more promising—indeed, convincing. Strictly speaking, Childs’s dilemma applies to only one branch of the government: he demonstrates that governments cannot claim a monopoly on enforcing the rights of citizens, i.e., on the executive functions of government. It establishes that anyone, not just the government and its official deputies, can enforce citizens’ rightful claims to person and property. But how is it determined which claims are rightful, and which claims are baseless? Robert Bidinotto has objected that anarchism demands not only “’competition’ in the protection of rights,” but also “’competition’ in defining what ‘rights’ are” (1994, ¶ 20); without a government established as the “final arbiter on the use of force in society” (1994, ¶ 25), there is no way to fix objective rules for the assertion of rights, and no possibility of meaningful settlement of disputes over rights-claims. So even if a minimal government cannot claim a monopoly on the executive functions, perhaps a “microscopic” government could claim a monopoly on legislation.[23]

Provided that the government legislature and government courts do not try to interfere with protection of rights by private citizens or defense associations, I cannot see how the Childs challenge could undermine sovereignty over legislation. But a second challenge, vigorously expressed in the later works of Lysander Spooner, can. In the “Letter to Grover Cleveland,” Spooner argues that all legislation is either criminal, tyrannical, or idle:[24]

Let me then remind you that justice is an immutable, natural principle; and not anything that can be made, unmade, or altered by any human power. … Lawmakers, as they call themselves, can add nothing to it, nor take anything from it. Therefore all their laws, as they call them, – that is, all the laws of their own making, – have no color of authority or obligation. It is a falsehood to call them laws; for there is nothing in them that either creates men’s [sic] duties or rights, or enlightens them as to their duties or rights. … If they command men to do justice, they add nothing to men’s obligation to do it, or to any man’s right to enforce it. They are therefore mere idle wind, such as would be commands to consider the day as day, and the night as night. If they command or license any man to do injustice, they are criminal on their face. If they command any man to do anything which justice does not require him to do, they are simple, naked usurpations and tyrannies. If they forbid any man to do anything, which justice could permit him to do, they are criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty. In whatever light, therefore, they are viewed, they are utterly destitute of everything like authority or obligation. (1886, ¶¶ 4–7)

Minarchists usually agree that governments have no legitimate authority to command violations of individual rights, or to forbid acts permitted by individual liberty—the motive for limiting government was the idea that legitimate political authority only exists within the boundaries drawn by individual rights. But Spooner’s point about laws that command justice or forbid injustice—prohibiting murder, theft, rape, etc.—may be harder to grasp. It is, after all, true that governments and defense associations are perfectly justified in enforcing those laws. But what must be appreciated here is that the obligation to follow those laws, and the right to enforce them, derives entirely from the content of the laws and not their source. The government is justified in enforcing those laws only because anybody would be justified in enforcing justice, whether or not self-styled legislators have signed off on a document stating “Murder is a crime most foul.” The document itself is idle; it neither obliges nor authorizes anyone to do anything they were not already obliged or free to do. The government is not so much making new laws that impose obligations, but (at best!) making declarations that recognize preexisting obligations—which could be objectively specified by anyone, with or without official approval from anyone.[25] Any right to override another’s assessment would derive from objective and impersonal considerations of justice, demonstrated through argument or attested on the basis of expertise,[26] not from political prerogatives invested in the so-called legislature. Anyone, regardless of status, has the right to make correct declarations about justice, and override or ignore incorrect declarations. With no special prerogative to establish rights, and no special prerogative to enforce them (as per the Childs challenge), the claim of “sovereignty” for a “properly limited government” must involve either usurpation or idle pretense.

That said, I do think that there is one final straw for the minarchist to grasp, even after the Childs challenge and the Spooner challenge have been taken into account, relating to a lacuna in Spooner’s account of the possible relationship between a piece of legislation and the background principles of justice. Spooner discussed three possible cases: (1) the legislation may demand something that contradicts what individual rights require—making it criminal; (2) it may demand something that exceeds what individual rights require—making it tyrannical; (3) it may demand something identical to what individual rights require—making it nugatory. Spooner’s argument presumes that the “prepolitical” framework of individual rights determines every question of enforceable obligations, leaving no room for legislators to exercise legitimate prerogative. But while these options cover the bulk of both the criminal and the civil law, Spooner has overlooked one important possibility: there may be cases where the principle of self-ownership does not fully specify how to apply individual rights in the case at hand.

It may be that respect for individual rights requires that cars going opposite directions on a highway should drive on opposite sides—so that drivers will not needlessly endanger each other’s lives. But self-ownership alone surely has nothing to say about whether motorists should drive on the left or the right. It requires that some rule be adopted, and that once adopted, each motorist obey it. But which rule to adopt is a question that needs to be settled by considerations other than individual rights. Medieval legal writers described similar cases as reducing the natural law (in the sense of making it more specific); the idea is to spell out the details for cases where the principles of natural justice underdetermine the correct application of individual rights. It may seem, then, that this ekes out a place for positive law-making in spite of the Spooner challenge: since there has to be some specification of how to apply rights in these cases, but more than one specification is compatible with the requirements of individual rights, a minarchist might think that you need a government to take on the prerogative of specifying which one to adopt.[27]

If the Childs challenge undermined the executive authority of the government, and the Spooner challenge undermined its legislative authority, you might think of this move as preserving judicial authority for a sovereign government. Sovereignty here means the right to serve as the final authority on setting out auxiliary principles for applying individual rights to specific cases where the requirements of self-ownership are vague or contingent. To be sure, the limits put on the scope of its authority by the Childs challenge and the Spooner challenge would be severe. The government would have no executive and no general legislature; it would have no special privileges to enforce and the scope of its law-making would be limited to ironing out minor details within a system of obligations almost entirely predetermined by the non-aggression principle. It would be a sort of “ultramicroscopic government,” so small that its influence on the specification and protection of rights could barely be detected at all.

Although I think that the problem of reducing the natural law is one of the hardest problems for anarchist theory to resolve, I do not think that the minarchist is actually in a stronger position than the anarchist. The difficulty for the minarchist solution can be brought out with a final challenge, also from the works of Lysander Spooner. This second Spooner challenge is expressed most clearly in No Treason no. 1:

The question still remains, how comes such a thing as “a nation” to exist? How do millions of men [sic], scattered over an extensive territory – each gifted by nature with individual freedom; required by the law of nature to call no man, or body of men, his masters; authorized by that law to seek his own happiness in his own way, to do what he will with himself and his property, so long as he does not trespass upon the equal liberty of others; authorized also, by that law, to defend his own rights, and redress his own wrongs; and to go to the assistance and defence of any of his fellow men who may be suffering any kind of injustice – how do millions of such men come to be a nation, in the first place? How is it that each of them comes to be stripped of his natural, God-given rights, and to be incorporated, compressed, compacted, and consolidated into a mass with other men, whom he never saw; with whom he has no contract; and towards many of whom he has no sentiments but fear, hatred, or contempt? How does he become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him; but who command him to do this, and forbid him to do that, as if they were his sovereigns, and he their subject; and as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights; and who compel him to submission under peril of confiscation, imprisonment, and death?

Clearly all this is the work of force, or fraud, or both.

…. We are, therefore, driven to the acknowledgment that nations and governments, if they can rightfully exist at all, can exist only by consent. (Section III, ¶¶ 1–6)

Spooner’s aim in No Treason is, famously, to demonstrate that citizens are only obliged to recognize the sovereign authority when, and only for as long as, they genuinely, individually consent to recognize its authority. What I want to draw attention to are the reasons that Spooner suggests for the requirement. Here, Spooner questions the notion of a political jurisdiction, asking what by what right some gang calling itself “the government,” however strictly limited, gains authority over otherwise unrelated people who never had anything to do with them? If there is some question of different ways in which rights could be applied, then what sort of process and what sorts of relationship justify the special claim that even an ultramicroscopic government would make to establish their judgment in preference to all the others?

Spooner suggests that genuine, individual consent can explain their authority over a jurisdiction. Suppose that Twain and Kearney have a dispute over how long land must be left unused before it can be reclaimed as abandoned property. If they both agree to turn the question over to Norton and defer to his judgment, then it’s clear how Norton got jurisdiction over the case: Twain and Kearney agreed to bind themselves to his judgment. But suppose that Twain and Kearney never agreed to turn the question over to Norton, perhaps never even had anything to do with Norton at all. If Norton should insist that they should still defer to his judgment, because he is the Emperor, then Norton has the burden of explaining what binds Twain and Kearney to him in such a way that his judgment is more authoritative than anybody’s arbitrary fiat. Even if the vague boundary between between Kearney’s and Twain’s claims needs to be made more precise, where does Norton, specifically, get the right to enforce his specification, except by consent of the disputing parties?

If consent is the standard, then the consent must be genuine. In particular, it must be possible to refuse consent, or to withdraw it later once given.[28] That means that consent cannot justify any government body claiming permanent and irrevocable sovereignty. If a court’s jurisdiction depends on the consent of those who have put themselves under it, then each of those people must be individually free to take herself out of the jurisdiction and create or align herself with another jurisdiction. But without consent, it’s hard to see what distinguishes the government’s assertion of special authority from arbitrary fiat. If a community has settled on the rule of one year rather than two for abandonment, the government has no authority to arbitrarily override the settled conventions. If folks are divided over the right rule to follow, but have agreed to submit the dispute to some third party whom they trust more than the government, the government has no authority to butt in to enforce its own decision over the agreed terms. If folks are divided over the right rule to follow, and have not made any steps toward resolving the dispute, then the government has no authority to arbitrarily force itself on them as the arbiter.[29]

Liberty cannot coexist with government sovereignty, however “limited.” The claim of sovereignty must be backed up by coercion at some point, given up or reduced to a vacuous arrangement of words, whether sovereignty is claimed over the enforcement of rights, the definition of rights, or the application of rights. Any way you slice it, government sovereignty means an invasion of individual freedom, and individual freedom means, ultimately, freedom from the State.

Equality

The standard against which I have been measuring minarchist governments in each of these three challenges is based on an intuitive notion of Liberty that I have taken more or less for granted. That might expose me to allegations that I’ve made my case by misapplying or inflating the concept of “liberty” beyond the conceptual or material context that gives it meaning. In my defense, I want to offer some remarks on the conceptual context within which I think the principles of self-ownership and individual liberty arise, and to consider two possible objections to the argument of the previous section. First, it might be held that I have demonstrated a genuine conflict between individual liberty and government authority, but that coercion is justified in the limited case of establishing government sovereignty, either because some other important value is at stake, or else because a little coercion is a necessary evil to avoid much greater or much worse coercion. Or, it might be held that I have only seemingly demonstrated a conflict between individual liberty and government authority by applying the concepts of liberty and coercion outside of the context within which they are meaningful: in this case, government authority could not be properly characterized as either “coercive” or “non-coercive,” perhaps because (for example) notions such as coercion and freedom are only meaningful within a system of rights, and a system of rights is only meaningful in the context of a functioning legal system. I think that either charge reflects a failure to appreciate the conceptual relationship between the revolutionary demands for Liberty and Equality.

Attaching my controversial understanding of liberty to the standard of equality might seem less than prudent, if my interlocutor is a minarchist libertarian. Modern libertarians make demands for individual liberty with passion and urgency; their reaction to demands for social equality is more often tepid if not openly hostile. Criticism of social inequality is much more likely to be heard from the mouths of unreconstructed statists, and “egalitarianism” is hardly a term of praise in most libertarian intellectual circles. But I shall argue that equality, rightly understood, is the best grounds for principled libertarianism. When the conception of individual liberty is uprooted from the demand for social equality, the radicalism of libertarianism withers; it also leaves the libertarian open to a family of conceptual confusions which prop up many of the common minarchist arguments against anarchism.

My task, then, is to explain what I mean by “equality, rightly understood.” I certainly do not intend to suggest that liberty is conceptually dependent on economic equality (of either opportunity or outcome), or on equality of socio-cultural status.[30] But the equality I have in mind is also much more substantive than the formal “equality before the law” or “equality of rights” suggested by some libertarians and classical liberals, and rightly criticized by Leftists as an awfully thin glove over a very heavy fist. Formal equality within a statist political system, pervaded with pillage and petty tyranny, is hardly worth fighting for; the point is to challenge the system, not to be equally shoved around by it. The conception of equality that I have in mind has a history on the Left older and no less revolutionary than the redistributionist conception of socioeconomic equality. It is the equality that the French revolutionaries had in mind when they demanded egalité, and which the American revolutionaries had in mind when they stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Jefferson 1776a ¶ 2)

Jefferson is making revolutionary use of concepts drawn from the English liberal tradition. Equality, for Jefferson, is the basis for independence, and the grounds from which individual rights derive.[31] Locke elucidates the concept when he characterizes a “state of Perfect freedom”—the state to which everyone is naturally entitled—as

A State also of Equality, wherein all the Power and Jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident, than that Creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should be equal one amongst another without Subordination or Subjection …. (1690, II. 4. ¶ 2)

The Lockean conception of equality that underwrites Jefferson’s revolutionary doctrine of individual liberty is, as Roderick Long (2001a) has argued, equality of political authority. Jefferson and Locke denied, as arbitrary, the Old Regime’s claim of a natural entitlement to lordship over their fellow creatures. Ranks of superior and inferior political authority were not established by natural differences in station or ordained by the will of God Almighty. Political coercion is the material expression of a claim of unequal authority: one person is entitled to dictate terms over another’s person and property, and the other can be forced to obey. Declaring universal equality thus means denying all such claims of lordship, and, thus, asserting that everyone has authority over herself, and over herself alone. Equality is the context within which the principle of self-ownership, and thus the demand for individual freedom, takes root. This connection can be seen most explicitly in the second Spooner challenge above. Spooner’s demand to know how free and independent people are “compacted” together into a State against their will is intimately connected with the protest against arbitrary assertions of a right to dominate the affairs of others. Long points out that neither socioeconomic equality nor formal legal equality “calls into question the authority of those who administer the legal system; such administrators are merely required to ensure equality, of the relevant sort, among those administered. … Lockean equality involves not merely equality before legislators, judges, and police, but, far more crucially, equality with legislators, judges, and police” (¶¶ 22–25). Whether or not Jefferson was right to treat the equality of authority as self-evident, a minarchist should hardly want to deny that it is true. The idea that legitimate governments must be constrained by the non-aggression principle no less than private citizens, and the individualist conception of rights, seem clearly rooted in the notion of equal authority.[32]

But whenever a minarchist brandishes equality of authority against statism, she also undermines her case for any form of State sovereignty. Considering liberty in light of equality systematically undermines both of the objections considered above, and justifies the unlimited demand for Liberty that I have employed. Insofar as the first objection depends on consequentialist calculation—holding that liberty can be sacrificed either in the name of other goods, or in the name of maximizing the total amount of liberty going around—it necessarily conflicts with a demand for equal authority. The objection presupposes someone to do the consequentialist calculations, supposedly entitled to treat all goods, no matter whom they belong to, as common booty to be distributed. By claiming the right to volunteer not only her own liberty, but also other people’s liberty for sacrificial duty, the consequentialist exempts herself from the standard of equality, pretending that she is entitled to stand over everyone and pass judgment on their liberty, taking some from Peter and rendering some to Paul in the name of the cause. Equality means that other people’s lives and livelihoods are not hers to give, no matter the results she might get from it.[33]

The second sort of objection conflicts with equality in a different way. It suggests, not that someone can legitimately violate one person’s liberty in order to secure benefits for others, but that the force involved in establishing sovereignty cannot be assessed under standards of liberty at all, because the categorization of force as either aggressive or defensive is only meaningful within the context of a functioning government legal order. Thus, Bidinotto’s argument (1994) that the demand for liberty, when applied unconditionally outside the background context of a limited sovereign government, divorces rights-claims from the “final standard” to settle them, and degrades into a programme for unrestrained tyranny and civil war.

But it is Bidinotto, not the anarchist, who strips the concept of liberty out of its proper context. The objection depends on a particular picture of the State and its laws, which is as metaphysically illusive as it is captivating. The State is imagined as a sort of titan standing over civil society, binding it to its will and acting on it from without. The constraints that a particular government imposes under the mantle of State authority may be tyrannical or just, but whether used properly or abused, the peculiar standpoint and the constraining force of the State seem necessary for any stable social order, and sufficient to decisively settle disputes just by being asserted. Since anarchy dispenses with the external constraints of the State, the minarchist feels that all rights-claims will be left, as it were, hanging in the air, with no final authority to ground them. It is this mystique of the State that Randolph Bourne set out to expose by distinguishing amongst the Nation, the State, and the Government:

The State is the country acting as a political unit, it is the group acting as a repository of force, determiner of law, arbiter of justice. … Government on the other hand is synonymous with neither State nor Nation. It is the machinery by which the nation, organized as a State, carries out its State functions. Government is a framework of the administration of laws, and the carrying out of the public force. Government is the idea of the State put into practical operation in the hands of definite, concrete, fallible men. It is the visible sign of the invisible grace. It is the word made flesh. And it has necessarily the limitations inherent in all practicality. Government is the only form in which we can envisage the State, but it is by no means identical with it. That the State is a mystical conception is something that must never be forgotten. Its glamor and its significance linger behind the framework of Government and direct its activities. (Bourne 1919, § 1 ¶¶ 8-9)

Equality of authority dulls the mystical glamor of State authority. The law is a human institution, and the legitimate authority of individual rights-claims does not need to be grounded in the dominance of a sovereign, or proclaimed from a standpoint beyond the fragile social relationships among fallible, mortal human beings. A good thing, too, since there is no Olympian standpoint for the State to occupy; governments are made of people with no more special authority than you or I—even when they are speaking ex cathedra in the name of the State. Rights are grounded in the claims that each of us, as ordinary human beings, are entitled to hold each other to, and are implemented not by paper laws but by the concrete social and cultural relationships we participate in. Roderick Long (2008) shows that if the “final standard” demanded by Bidinotto is the realistic finality that comes from a broad consensus that an issue has been settled and should not be revisited, then it can be achieved through anarchist institutions no less than through a government; if the “finality” demanded is some sort of self-applying, self-grounding finality immune to even the possibility of further dispute, then that is not available even under a government, the mystique of State authority notwithstanding.[34] The choice is not between a system where disputes are never meaningfully settled and one where they are, but between one in which they are settled through a decentralized network of institutions holding each other in check, or through a centralized hierarchy forcing others to defer to it. And, as Long argues, anarchy actually provides a better hope for disputes to be settled justly than minarchy—especially when an arbitrator is herself a party to the dispute—because under anarchy the watchers are themselves watched, and are less able to force through unjust rulings simply in virtue of their dominant position.

The context of a concept is often conceived as a constraint on the concept, and context-dropping as a matter of applying the concept more widely than it should be applied. But dropping the context of a concept could make you go wrong in either of two ways: improper abstraction might inflate the application of the concept beyond its domain of significance; or it might conceal the concept’s significance in cases where it should be applied. Understood in the context of Equality, the principle of Liberty becomes more radical, not less, challenging all forms of State mysticism with the standard of individual sovereignty. Dispelling the mystical conception of the State also reveals the need for concrete attitudes, practices and relationships to sustain a free society, not just paper laws to “limit” tyranny. Which brings me to Solidarity.

Solidarity

I have chosen the word “Solidarity” to stand for a family of cultural and political commitments usually associated with the radical Left, among them labor radicalism, populism, internationalism, anti-racism, gay liberation, and radical feminism. These commitments share a common concern with the class dynamics of power and a sensitivity to expressions of non-governmental forms of oppression. They demand fundamental change in the cultural and material conditions faced by oppressed people, and propose that the oppressed organize themselves into autonomous movements to struggle for those changes. They also emphasize strikes, boycotts, mutual aid, worker cooperatives, and other forms of collective action, both as a means to social transformation and also as foundational institutions of the transformed society once achieved. These shared concerns and demands have often been summed up in the call for “social justice”—a slogan assailed by Hayek (1978) and reflexively associated, by libertarians and state Leftists alike, with expansion of the anti-discrimination and welfare bureaucracies.

But solidaritarian ends can be separated from authoritarian means, and the relationship between Liberty and Solidarity has not always been so chilly. 19th century libertarians, particularly the individualist anarchists associated with Benjamin Tucker’s magazine Liberty, identified with the cultural radicalism of their day – including the labor movement, abolitionism, First Wave feminism, freethought, and “free love.” Indeed, while Tucker described his position as “Absolute Free Trade; … laissez faire the universal rule” (1888, ¶ 21), he and his circle routinely identified themselves as socialists—not to set themselves against the ideal of the free market, but against actually existing big business. They argued that plutocratic control over finance and capital was the creature of, and the driving force behind, government economic regimentation and government-granted monopolies.[35] The Tuckerite individualists saw the invasive powers of the State as intimately connected and mutually reinforcing with the exploitation of labor, racism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, with governments acting to enforce social privilege, and drawing ideological and material support from existing power dynamics.[36] From their point of view, attacking statism alone, without addressing the broader social context, would be narrow and ultimately self-frustrating.

Today the leading intellectual force in the effort to connect libertarianism with a comprehensive vision of human liberation is Chris Sciabarra,[37] who has advanced the argument in a series of books and articles over the past two decades, most extensively in his “Dialectics and Liberty” trilogy (1995b, 1995a, 2000). Sciabarra persuasively advocates a dialectical orientation in libertarian social thought, which attends not only to the structural dynamics of statism but also to the extragovernmental context of statism in cultural, psychological, and philosophical dimensions. But unlike the 19th century individualists, Sciabarra argues that dialectics pose a substantial challenge to libertarian anarchism. In Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, he sympathetically interprets Rand’s polemical defense of minarchism as a dialectical effort to transcend a false dualism between statism and anarchism (1995a, 278-283). In Total Freedom he devotes four chapters to a charitable but systematic critique of Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism, and the underlying conception of liberty as “universally applicable, regardless of the context within which it is embedded or applied” (2000, 218). Sciabarra argues that, at crucial junctures, Rothbard idealizes the market and the State into dualistic, opposed spheres, related only through “the external, mutually antagonistic relationship between voluntarism and coercion” (2000, 355). This dualism leads Rothbard to romanticize market processes, proposing “the monistic, utopian resolution of anarcho-capitalism, in which the state’s functions were fully absorbed by the market” (360). Thus Rothbard limits libertarianism to a narrow focus on structural and political questions, and exhibits a “lack of attention to the vast context within which [libertarian principles] might exist, evolve, and thrive” (355).[38]

Whether or not Rothbard himself is actually guilty of the “unanchored utopianism” Sciabarra attributes to him (2000, 202), Sciabarra’s criticism identifies real strands of thought within the individualist anarchist tradition.[39] But in light of the discussion of Equality above, it seems that minarchists are actually far more prone to synoptic delusions and narrowly political reform than anarchists: the mystique of State authority depends on a picture of the State as an external constraint on civil society, whereas egalitarian anarchism highlights the fact that freedom is a matter of concrete relations within society. In any case, the best response to Sciabarra’s challenge is to exhibit a dialectical anarchism, which connects anarchism with a systematic understanding and critique of the dynamics of social power, both inside and outside of the State apparatus. To aid in doing so, I’d like to set out some of the different possible relationships between libertarianism and “thicker” bundles of socio-cultural commitments, which would recommend integrating the two:

  1. Entailment thickness: the commitments might just be applications of libertarian principle to some special case, following from non-aggression simply in light of non-contradiction.[40]

  2. Application thickness: it might be that you could reject commitments without formally contradicting the non-aggression principle, but not without in fact interfering with its proper application. Principles beyond libertarianism alone may be necessary for determining where my rights end and yours begin, or stripping away conceptual blinders that prevent certain violations of liberty from being recognized as such.

  3. Strategic thickness: certain ideas, practices, or projects may be causal preconditions for a flourishing free society, giving libertarians strategic reasons to endorse them. Although rejecting them would be logically compatible with libertarianism, it might make it harder for libertarian ideas to get much purchase, or might lead a free society towards poverty, statism or civil war.

  4. Grounds thickness: some commitments might be consistent with the non-aggression principle, but might undermine or contradict the deeper reasons that justify libertarian principles. Although you could consistently accept libertarianism without the bundle, you could not do so reasonably: rejecting the bundle means rejecting the grounds for libertarianism.

  5. Conjunction thickness: commitments might be worth adopting for their own sakes, independent of libertarian considerations. All that is asserted is that you ought to be a libertarian (for whatever reason), and, as it happens, you also ought to accept some further commitments (for independent reasons).

The two extreme cases, entailment thickness and conjunction thickness, can largely be set aside, since the “relationship” between libertarianism and the further commitment is either so tight (identity) or so loose (mere conjunction) as to make the point vacuous. But the three intermediate cases of application thickness, strategic thickness, and grounds thickness make deeper connections between libertarianism and a rich set of further commitments that naturally complement libertarianism.

Consider the conceptual and strategic reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. If libertarianism is rooted in the principle of equality of authority, then there are good reasons to think that not only political structures of coercion, but also the whole system of status and unequal authority deserves libertarian criticism. And it is important to realize that that system includes not only exercises of coercive power, but also a knot of ideas, practices, and institutions based on deference to traditionally constituted authorities. In the political realm, these patterns of deference show up most clearly in the honorary titles, submissive etiquette, and unquestioning obedience extended to heads of state, judges, police, and other visible representatives of government “law and order.” Although these rituals and habits of obedience exist against the backdrop of statist coercion and intimidation, they are also often practiced voluntarily. Similar expectations of deference show up, to greater or lesser degrees, in cultural attitudes towards bosses in the workplace, and parents in the family. Submission to traditionally constituted authorities is reinforced not only through violence and threats, but also through art, humor, sermons, historiography, journalism, childrearing, etc. Although political coercion is the most distinctive expression of inequality of authority, you could—in principle—have an authoritarian social order without the exercise of coercion. Even in an anarchist society, everyone might voluntarily agree to bow and scrape when speaking before the (mutually agreed-on) town Chief. So long as the expectation of deference was backed up only by means of verbal harangues, social ostracism of “unruly” dissenters, culturally glorifying the authorities, etc., it would violate no-one’s individual liberty and could not justifiably be resisted with force.

But while there’s nothing logically inconsistent about envisioning these sorts of societies, it is certainly weird. If the underlying reason for committing to libertarian politics is rooted in the equality of political authority, then even strictly voluntary expressions of inequality are hard to reasonably reconcile with libertarianism. Yes, the meek could voluntarily agree to bow and scrape, and the proud could angrily but nonviolently demand obsequious forms of address and immediate obedience to their fiat. But why should they? Libertarian equality delegitimizes the notion of a natural right to rule or dominate other people’s affairs; the vision of human beings as rational, independent agents of their own destiny renders deference and unquestioning obedience ridiculous at best, and probably dangerous to liberty in the long run. While no-one should be forced to treat her fellows with the respect due to equals, or cultivate independent self-reliance and contempt for the arrogance of power, libertarians certainly can—and should—criticize those who do not, and exhort our fellows not to rely on authoritarian social institutions, for reasons of both grounds and strategic thickness.

General commitments to anti-authoritarianism, if applied to specific forms of social power, have far-reaching implications for the relationship between libertarianism and anti-racism, gay liberation, and other movements for social transformation. I have written elsewhere on the strategic and conceptual importance of radical feminist insights to libertarianism, and vice versa.[41] The causal and conceptual interconnections between patriarchal authority, the cult of violent masculinity, and the militaristic State have been discussed by radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Robin Morgan, as well as radical libertarians such as Herbert Spencer and, more recently, Carol Moore.[42] Moreover, the insights of feminists such as Susan Brownmiller into the pervasiveness of rape, battery, and other forms of male violence against women, present both a crisis and an opportunity for the application of libertarian principles.

Libertarianism professes to be a comprehensive theory of human freedom; what supposedly distinguishes the libertarian theory of justice is that we concern ourselves with violent coercion no matter who is practicing it. But what feminists have forced into the public eye in the last 30 years is that we live in a society where one out of every four women faces rape or battery by an intimate partner,[43] and where women are threatened or attacked by men who profess to love them, because the men coercing them believe they have a right to control “their” women. Male violence against women is nominally illegal but nevertheless systematic, motivated by the desire for control, culturally excused, and hideously ordinary. For libertarians, this should sound eerily familiar; confronting the reality of male violence means nothing less than recognizing the existence of a violent political order working alongside, and independently of, the violent political order of statism.[44] Male supremacy has its own ideological rationalizations, its own propaganda, its own expropriation, and its own violent enforcement; although often in league with the male-dominated State, male violence is older, more invasive, closer to home, and harder to escape than most forms of statism. To seriously oppose all political violence, libertarians need to fight, at least, a two-front war, against both statism and male supremacy. It is, then, important to note how the ideological dichotomy between “personal” and “political” problems, so often criticized by feminists,[45] has tended to blank out systemic male violence from libertarian analysis. And also how the writings of some libertarians on the family—especially those identified with the “paleolibertarian” political-cultural project—have amounted to little more than outright denial of male violence. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, for example, goes so far as to indulge in the conservative fantasy that the traditional “internal layers and ranks of authority” in the family are actually bulwarks of “resistance vis-a-vis the state” (Hoppe 2001 § IV). Those “ranks of authority” in the family mean the pater familias; but whether father-right is, at a given historical moment, in league with or at odds with State prerogatives, the fact that it is so widely enforced by the threat or practice of male violence makes enlisting it in the struggle against statism look much like enlisting Stalin to fight Hitler—no matter who wins, we all lose.

Considerations of grounds and strategy also suggest important connections between anarchism and the virtue of voluntary mutual aid between workers, in the form of community organizations, charitable projects, and labor unions. Once again, the underlying reasons for valuing Liberty also give good reasons for committing to voluntary solidarity with your fellow people. One could in principle believe that everyone ought to be free to pursue her own ends while also holding that nobody’s ends actually matter except her own.[46] But again, while the position is possible, it is weird; one of the best reasons for being concerned about the freedom of others to pursue their own ends is a certain generalized respect for the importance of other people’s lives and the integrity of their choices, which is intimately connected with the libertarian conception of Equality. That says nothing in favor of forcing you to participate in welfare schemes,[47] or robbing Peter to pay Paul; but it does say something for working with your neighbors in voluntary cooperative efforts to improve your own lives or the lives of others. It’s likely also that networks of voluntary aid organizations would be strategically important to individual flourishing in a free society, in which there would be no expropriative welfare bureaucracy for people living with poverty or precarity to fall back on. Projects reviving the bottom-up, solidaritarian spirit of the independent unions and mutual aid societies that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the rise of the welfare bureaucracy, may be essential for a flourishing free society, and one of the primary means by which workers could take control of their own lives, without depending on either bosses or bureaucrats.[48]

If 20th century libertarians have mostly failed to emphasize the potential for cooperative mutual aid, the failure can be traced to two related confusions, born of undialectical analysis and the failure to integrate Liberty with Solidarity. The first conflates the principles of mutual aid with government coercion in the name of “social welfare”—most dramatically in the visceral hostility most 20th century libertarians expressed towards labor unionism. Libertarian critics have often condemned unions as “bands of thugs,”[49] the government-privileged foot soldiers of a stagnant, interventionist political economy. Currently existing labor unions do use coercive means to organize—in the United States, employers are forced to enter into collective bargaining with unions that gain National Labor Relations Board recognition, and non-violent means of opposing unionization drives, such as retaliatory firing, are legally prohibited. The official, government-privileged union establishment also has for decades sought more government planning and economic intervention. But treating the existing union establishment as representative of the essential features of organized labor disregards the historical process by which unions were co-opted, captured, and domesticated by the expanding State bureaucracy during the 1920s-1950s. The process was achieved with the collaboration of one conservative faction within the labor movement, represented most visibly by the “business unionism” of the AFL, which gained leverage over its many competitors and seats in the back-rooms of power through the new system of patronage.[50] It would be hard to discover from the writings of anti-union libertarians that labor unions existed before the Wagner Act of 1935, or that around the turn of the century one of the most vibrant wings of organized labor were the radical, anarchist-led unions, most famously the I.W.W., which rejected all attempts to influence or capture State power.[51] They argued that putting economic power into the government’s hands deprived workers of control over their own fate, and wasted unions’ resources on bureaucracy and partisan maneuvering. Although they worked for incremental improvements in wages and conditions, they ultimately hoped to win not reforms of the existing capitalist system, but workers’ ownership of the “means of production”—the land, factories, and tools they labored with—not through the political means of expropriation (as the Marxists suggested), but through the economic means of free association, agitation, direct action, voluntary strikes, union solidarity, and mutual aid between workers, which would “build a new society within the shell of the old.” The emerging new society, far from the central planning boards of state socialism, would be a world of independent contractors and worker-owned co-ops, organized from the bottom up by the workers themselves.

It was only through the political collaboration of the establishmentarian union bosses and the “Progressive” business class—in the form of violent persecution of the radicals, such as the Palmer raids, and government patronage to establishment unions through the NLRB—that the centralized, statist unionism of the AFL-CIO rose to dominance within the labor movement.[52] Union methods are legally regulated and union demands effectively constrained to modest (and easily revoked) improvements in wages and conditions—with issues such as workers’ voice in the workplace, let alone control of the means of production, dropped entirely. The only real power remaining to effect more substantial changes comes through their power as organized blocs for lobbying and electioneering. If unionism is today mostly statist, then it is because unions are largely what the State has made them, through the usual carrots and sticks of government interventionism.

General Motors has benefited at least as much from government patronage as the UAW, yet libertarian criticism of the magnates of state capitalism is hardly extended to business as such in the way that criticism of existing unions is routinely extended to any form of organized labor. The difference in treatment is no doubt closely connected with the emphasis many 20th century libertarians placed on defending capitalism against the attacks of state socialists. While they were right to see that existing modes of production should not be further distorted by even greater government regimentation, this insight was often perverted into the delusion that existing modes of production would be the natural outcome of an undistorted market. The confusion has been encouraged by systematic ambiguity in the term “capitalism,” which has been used to name at least three different economic systems:

  1. The free market: any economic order that emerges from voluntary exchanges of property and labor, free of government intervention and other forms of systemic coercion.

  2. The corporate State: government intervention favoring cartelized big business, through subsidies, tax-funded infrastructure, central banking, production boards, eminent domain seizures, government union-busting, etc.

  3. Alienation of labor: a specific form of labor market, in which the dominant economic activity is production in workplaces strictly divided by class, where most workers work for a boss, in return for a wage, surviving by renting out their labor to someone else. The shop, and the tools and facilities that make it run, are owned by the boss or by absentee owners to whom the boss reports, not by the workers themselves.

Since government intervention always ends with the barrel of a gun, free market “capitalism” and corporate state “capitalism” cannot coexist at the same time and in the same respect. “Capitalism” in the third sense—the alienation of labor—is a category independent of “capitalism” in either of the first two senses. There are many ways that a labor market might turn out; it could be organized into traditional employer-employee relationships, worker co-ops, community workers’ councils, or a diffuse network of shopkeeps and independent contractors. Unflinching free marketeers might advocate any of these, or might be indifferent as to which prevails; interventionist statists might also favor traditional employer-employee relationships (as under fascism) or any number of different arrangements (as under state communism). Once these three senses are disentangled, it is important to see how 20th century libertarian defenses of “capitalism” against interventionist critique have fallen into a second conflation, between economic defenses of (1) the free market, and (2, 3) the way that big business operates in the unfree market that actually exists today. This confused approach, aptly dubbed “vulgar libertarianism” by Kevin Carson,[53] obscures the ways in which actually existing businesses benefit from pervasive government intervention, and blinds “capitalist” libertarians to the affinity between anti-statist models of labor organizing and libertarian defenses of free markets.

Disentangling free market economics from the particular market structure of alienated labor reveals some good reasons to think that there are serious economic problems with bureaucratic, centralized corporate commerce that rose to dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries under the auspices of “Nationalist” and “Progressive” interventionism.[54] Central planners face the knowledge problems identified by Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard whether those planners are government or corporate bureaucrats.[55] If workers are often deeply unhappy with the regimented, authoritarian structure of corporate workplaces, then there is also reason to believe that many would happily dump the bosses off their backs in favor of more autonomous forms of work, as those become widespread, successful, and economically reliable. Thus there is reason to think that in a free market less hierarchical, less centralized, more worker-focused forms of production would multiply and bureaucratic big business would wither under the pressure of competition.[56] Since the cooperative, bottom-up model of labor unionism offers one of the best existing models for practically asserting workers’ self-interest, and ultimately replacing boss-centric industry with decentralized, worker-centric production, there are good reasons for libertarians to integrate wildcat unionism into their understanding of social power.

Solidaritarian considerations may also shed some light on the standing debate amongst libertarians over secession and constitutional centralism. Liberty in the abstract demands a universal right of secession; to keep any one person or any group of people under a government that they wish to exit requires you to violate their individual liberty in at least one of the three ways challenged above. But voluntarily organized protection agencies, arbiters, etc. could still claim wide or narrow jurisdictions, and could organize their administrative and juridical functions into rigid hierarchies or take a more “horizontal,” decentralized approach. Affirming a right of secession does not answer the constitutional question of which free arrangement libertarians ought to prefer. But the same solidaritarian considerations that tell against centralization and hierarchy in making widgets should tell even more strongly against centralization and hierarchy in political power. The pretensions of the powerful threaten a free society when it is hard to defend yourself physically against abuses of the power entrusted to defense associations, or intellectually against the allure of State mysticism. And there are good prima facie reasons to suppose that people will be better able to resist both threats by devolving power from centralized seats of power down to the local level, with arbitration and enforcement handled face-to-face through diffuse networks of local associations, rather than mediated through powerful, bureaucratized hegemons.

Centralists may object that the historical record is more complex, and less favorable to decentralism, than prima facie considerations would suggest. While a centralized political power has more resources and a wider scope to enforce coercive demands, local powers are often more subject to parochial prejudices, and can often enforce them with force that is less diffuse, closer to home, and therefore more intense than anything a mighty but remote central government could muster. American history seems to illustrate this point dramatically with the case of the Confederacy, in which the opponents of federal power urged secession in order to strengthen and perpetuate the absolute tyranny of chattel slavery.[57] But what is needed here is a more radical decentralism, dissociated from the humbug of “states’ rights.” Decentralist libertarians are perfectly justified in supporting the white Southerners’ right to secede, and condemning the bayonet-point Unionism of the Civil War—provided that they also support black slaves’ rights to secede from the Southern states, and condemn the bayonet-point paternalism of the Southern slave-lords. The approach here is to condemn the federal war against secession, while also supporting the efforts of black Southerners to free themselves, through escape or open rebellion.[58] The problem with the Confederacy was not the defiance of federal authority, but the elevation of state authority over the objections of poor whites and black slaves: too much, not too little, centralized power. Nothing other than pure mysticism limits secession to states or provinces: provincial governments enjoy no more sovereign authority over their citizens than the federal government does, and the same principles that justify the withdrawal of states from the federal union also justify counties or cities withdrawing from state governments, and neighborhoods or individual citizens withdrawing from local governments, or from any government anywhere.

Liberty, understood in the context of Equality and Solidarity, calls for political revolution against all forms of government, no matter how “limited,” and overweening centralization of power even in non-coercive institutions. But “revolution” itself takes on a different character when the obscuring haze of State mysticism has been dispelled. If “revolution” means the process of dissolving the legal authority of a government, then revolution is quite easy to achieve. You have no obligation to obey any government longer than you choose to remain under it; once you have declared your intent to withdraw from the State, no government on earth has the authority to force you to recognize its authority over you—let alone to force you to pay taxes or regiment your behavior. If a government’s orders invade your rights—and all governments’ orders eventually do—then you have every right to withdraw from, ignore, defy, or resist it however seems best to you. Earlier, I stated that this essay’s purpose was political revolution; then I stated that it was merely to convince you to become an anarchist. But it should now be clear that I was not moving the goalposts. If you become an anarchist, then you have already completed the revolution: no government on earth has any legitimate authority to bind you to any obligation that you did not already have on your own. It’s a mistake to think of the State as holding you under its authority while you struggle to escape; at the most, it has power, not authority over you. As far as your former government is concerned, you have the moral standing not of a subject, but of the head of a revolutionary state of one.

Of course, that leaves the question of how best to defend your revolutionary state from counter-revolutionary invasion. Declaring yourself independent really is enough to release you from any obligation to your former government—but try telling that to the judge. Still, the first task is to recognize your situation for what it is. Minarchism, by leaving the myth of legal authority unchallenged, concedes moral dignity to the statists that they have not earned. The point is to challenge not only the abuses of government authority, but the normal uses of that authority—to see the taxmen, policemen, hangmen, and Congressmen who invade your liberties not as unruly representatives of a State with authority over you, but a sanctimonious gang of robbers, swindlers, and usurpers bringing war upon you. Once you have recognized that, you can begin to think intelligently about the best cultural and material arrangements for defending against them. I have already discussed a few of the particulars above; the rest is another discussion for another essay.[59]

Charles Johnson (2008)

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References

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  3. Bidinotto, Robert J. (1994). “The Contradiction in Anarchism.”
  4. Block, Walter (2006). “Libertarianism is unique; it belongs neither to the right nor the left: a critique of the views of Long, Holcombe, and Baden on the left, Hoppe, Feser and Paul on the right.” Mises Institute Working Paper.
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[1] For the purposes of this essay, I will mostly be using the term “anarchism” as shorthand for “individualist anarchism;” since the defense of anarchism I will offer rests on individualist principles, it will not provide a cogent basis for communist, primitivist, or other non-individualist forms of anarchism. And I will use the term “individualist anarchism” in a broad sense, to describe any position that (1) denies the legitimacy of any form of (monopoly) government authority, (2) on individualist ethical grounds. As I will use it, the term picks out a family of similar doctrines, not a particular self-description or historical tradition. Thus it includes, but is not limited to, the specific 19th and early 20th century socialist movement known as “individualist anarchism,” whose members included Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, and Voltairine de Cleyre. It also includes the views of 20th and 21st century“anarcho-capitalists” such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman; contemporary self-described “individualist anarchists” and “mutualists” such as Wendy McElroy, Joe Peacott, and Kevin Carson; and of others, such as Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner, or Robert LeFevre, who rejected the State on individualist grounds but declined (for whatever reasons) to refer to themselves as “anarchists.” Many self-described “socialist” anarchists deny that “anarcho-capitalism” should be counted as a form of anarchism at all, or associated with individualist anarchism in particular; many self-described “anarcho-capitalists” deny that “socialist” anarchism should be counted as a form of genuine individualism, or genuine anarchism. With all due respect to my comrades on the Left and on the Right, I will use the term in an ecumenical sense, for reasons of style, and also because the relationship between anarchism, “capitalism,” and “socialism” is one of the substantive issues to be discussed in the course of this essay.

[3] “Libertarianism” as discussed in this essay is a theory of political justice, not a position on the Nolan Chart. “Small government” types who speak kindly of economic freedom or civil liberties may or may not qualify as “libertarians” for the purpose of my discussion. Those who treat liberty as one political good that must be balanced against other goods such as social stability, economic prosperity, democratic rule, or socioeconomic equality, and should sometimes be sacrificed for their sake, are unlikely to count. Since they are not committed to the ideal of liberty as a principled constraint on all political power, they are no more likely to be directly convinced by my arguments than progressives, traditionalists, communists, etc.

[4] Of course, the male Left of the day actually demanded fraternité, “brotherhood.” I’ll speak of “solidarity” instead of “brotherhood” for the obvious anti-sexist reasons, and also for its association with the history of the labor movement. There are few causes in America that most 20th century libertarians were less sympathetic to than organized labor, but I have chosen to speak of “the value of solidarity,” in spite of all that, for the same reasons that Ayn Rand chose to speak of “the virtue of selfishness:” in order to prove a point. The common criticisms of organized labor from the 20th century libertarian movement, and the relationship between liberty and organized labor, are one of the topics I will discuss below.

[5] Thus the libertarian emphasis on both personal freedom and private property rights. One way to treat someone as if she were your slave is to force her to serve your ends rather than her own: by forcing her to apply her own labor and property to some end that she would not have freely agreed to support, or by forcing her to withhold her own labor and property from some end that she would have freely agreed to support. Another way to treat someone as if she were your slave is to force her to labor for your profit. Even if you do not force her to work on one job rather than another, you are still effectively enslaving her by taking the fruits of her labor for your own purposes.

[6] Thus Jefferson 1776a: “… That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [sic], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (¶ 2).

[7] It should be clear that this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for counting as the government of a given State. Anybody might claim the right to issue enforceable legal orders, but only some of the claimants are part of the government. (I gather that there are still Bourbon pretenders who claim the right to rule France; but whatever their aspirations, they are not currently the government of France.) But for any institution to count as the government, it must at least make the claim, or act in a way that manifests the claim: an institution that did not even claim the right to make enforceable legal orders might very well issue political position papers; it might give advice on how to live; but it would not be making laws.

[8] This is a deliberate revision to the Weberian conception of the State as a monopoly on the use of legally accepted force. While most modern governments claim such sweeping authority over enforcement, it is sheer anachronism to try to build a claim of territorial monopoly into the definition of the State. Historically many constitutions have taken it for granted that certain forms of force (e.g. by parents against children, by husbands against wives, by masters against slaves) are simply outside of the purview of the law. It’s true that under most States throughout history, parents have been able to beat their children without legal repercussions. But it would be a serious mistake to infer from this that the government (as sole arbiter of legal enforcement in the territory within which the family lives) has authorized or deputized parents to beat their children. Rather, the enforceable authority of parents over children was thought simply to be a “private” matter, beyond the “public” realm of questions that the State claims to address. The enforceability of parental authority is quite arguably treated as a political given that the State recognizes, more akin to one State’s recognition of the sovereignty of other States than to the State’s authorization of the use of force by deputies, posses, or militias. Some implications of this idea are teased out below in the discussion of “application thickness.”

[9] By using “legitimate” as a modifier on “authority,” I’ve illustrated an important point, but also run a serious risk. If I speak of “legitimate authority,” that might seem to suggest that I’m not distinguishing authority from mere power, but rather distinguishing two different kinds of authority—the legitimate kind and the illegitimate kind. Then it would seem that the issue between minarchists and anarchists is not whether governments have the authority they claim, but rather whether the authority they have is legitimate authority or illegitimate authority. But this is a serious mistake, which I think leads to other mistakes. For now, it will be enough to note that, as I am using the terms “legitimacy” and “authority,” all genuine authority is legitimate authority. “Illegitimate authority” is not a special kind of authority which is illegitimate, any more than “counterfeit money” is a special kind of money which is counterfeit. Illegitimate authority is, rather, mere power, fraudulently portrayed as rightful authority.

[10] Suppose, for example, that Norton is an avid birder, and Twain cannot tell a jackdaw from a magpie. Then when Norton points out a bird and says, “That is a jackdaw,” Twain ought to consider it a jackdaw, because Norton said so—even if Twain has no other reason for considering it a jackdaw besides Norton’s say-so. Why? Because Norton said so, and Norton knows something about jackdaws whereas Twain knows nothing about them, so Twain ought to defer to Norton’s judgment.

[11] Similarly, it is not enough for a minarchist to show that if you organize government officials into such-and-such a constitutional order, the institution you’ve organized will systematically tend towards making correct rulings on matters of legal right. While the source of the ruling may justify a (defeasible) presumption that it can legitimately be enforced, the way that it justifies has nothing to do with government authority.

[12] Taken severally, each challenge poses a problem for one of forms of special authority that minarchists have traditionally wanted governments to exercise. I think the import of each individual challenge is actually less than anarchists have historically thought: minarchists could respond to any individual challenge by revising their theory, and promoting an even more minimalist government that abdicates the function that each challenge called into question. But taken together, the three challenges jointly whittle a “properly limited government” down to no government at all: any institution that minarchists could make consistent with liberty, in light of all three challenges, would have abandoned all claims of sovereign authority, and thus abdicated the throne.

[13] See, for example, “The Nature of Government,” in Rand 1964, 113.

[14] See “Government Financing in a Free Society,” in Rand 1964, 116-120.

[16] Ibid.<, 107; emphasis on “exclusive” added.

[17] It could go on calling itself a “government,” of course—just as Emperor Norton went on calling himself Emperor of North America even though he had no subjects except those who voluntarily played along with his game. But it would no longer be a “government” in any sense that’s incompatible with individualist anarchism. (Specifically, whatever it fancied itself, it would no longer be claiming the sovereign authority of the State; see the section on Equality below.)

[18] Classical liberals and minarchist libertarians have sometimes tried to sidestep anarchist objections by appealing to the consent of the governed. Even if government sovereignty entails limitations on private citizens’ freedom to defend themselves directly, not all limitations on liberty violate libertarian principles: free people can bind themselves to new obligations by agreeing to contracts. Liberal theorists draw up the analogy of a “social contract,” and claim that private citizens can be bound to recognize the government’s sovereignty by explicit, or tacit, or hypothetical consent to the terms of the political system. This sort of reply could be made to any of the three challenges that I pose, and so deserves a response. Unfortunately, constraints of space prevent me from giving an adequate response. Fortunately, excellent systematic critiques of the claim already exist in Spooner 1867-1870 and the first chapter of Barnett 2004. In any case minarchists should be very hesitant to draw on appeals to tacit consent: exactly the same argument could just as easily be used to justify all forms of taxation (on the theory that citizens consented to pay for government expenses when they consented to the contract), many forms of invasive laws (on the theory that citizens consented to abide by the government’s standards of conduct or hygiene), etc. Most serious defenders of minarchism in the 20th century have seen this difficulty and have tried to develop theories which provide for the legitimacy of government without the need for unanimous consent, whether tacit or explicit.

[19] Cf. Nozick 1974, 105-108.

[20] Nozick, unlike some who advance the procedural argument, takes this point in stride: his argument is not that the government enjoys a special right over and above what private citizens enjoy, but rather that a locally dominant defense association, in the course of carrying out its daily business, will be put in the special position of either permitting or forbidding any efforts at private enforcement within its sphere of influence, due to its special position as the local hegemon. Nozick argues that this gives the agency a de facto monopoly on the authorization of force, without the exercise of special prerogatives and without treading on the liberty of the defense associations and private citizens constrained by the procedural protections. If this argument worked, then Nozick would have established a legitimate path for a locally dominant defense agency to assert sovereignty, without treading on the liberty of others. He also would have made the argument in precisely the way that I suggested a minarchist would need to: his argument would have demonstrated the connection between sovereignty and the special position of the government within society—specifically the special position conferred by being the sole dominant protective agency in a given locality. But as I shall argue presently, Nozick’s transition from procedural protection to ex ante procedural “oversight” will not bear scrutiny.

[21] A defense association (A) may very well be entitled to suppress a would-be enforcer (B) who refuses to disclose the procedures that she used to determine guilt. If A cannot discover whether a procedure is reliable or completely arbitrary, then they may be entitled to treat the claim as arbitrary pending further investigation. But it is up to A to do the leg-work of finding out what B’s procedures are before they declare that they cannot discover them. A can try to find out about B’s procedures by directly asking B, or by sending someone to sit in on B’s proceedings, or by asking former participants in B’s proceedings, or by finding out whether B has informed anyone else of her procedures, or in any number of other ways. A cannot simply sit back and demand that B submit to “oversight” as defined by A, or suppress B simply for failing to fill out the right forms. If A fails to make serious efforts at discovery, then it is they, not B, who are guilty of arbitrary and unreliable enforcement procedures.

[22] Suppose I announce, “I will stop anyone who tries to stab me with a knife. But I will not stop anyone who is only using a knife to slice a loaf of bread.” Have I claimed the right to oversee the use of knives? Have I permitted you to slice bread with a knife?

[23] Although this reply would indeed preserve a form of sovereignty against the Childs challenge, it is worth noting how radical a reduction in the size and scope of the “minimal State” is required to meet the challenge. A government that maintained only a monopoly on legislating and adjudicating rights, but left enforcing them up to private efforts, would be a very limited government indeed; it might very well have no police, no executive bureaucracy, no intelligence agencies, no border guards, and no armies. The microscopic State that resulted would be far more limited than Rand’s “limited government,” even more minimal than Nozick’s “ultraminimal state.” Sovereignty would be asserted by a properly limited government only insofar as general laws and rulings on specific legal disputes would be made under the authority of a single government. The microscopic State would have no authority to override or exclude private citizens from just efforts to protect their own rights, or the rights of others; its sovereignty would rest in its authority to act as a “final standard” on the definition and application of rights. In fact the closest historical analogue would be the constitution of medieval Iceland—a society most often discussed in libertarian literature for illustrations of what a functioning anarchy might look like. The Icelandic Free State was not an anarchy: there was a sovereign legislature (the Althing), which also served as a court of final appeal; but it remains interesting to anarchists because the legal order in Iceland functioned with no central executive. (For a detailed discussion of the constitution of medieval Iceland, see Byock 2001. Long 2002a sets out the both the continuities and departures from anarchist principles in the constitution of the Free State, and explains the eventual collapse of the Free State as the growth of the microscopic germs of government into bases of power for warlordism and civil war.)

[24] See also Spooner’s “Letter to Thomas F. Bayard” (1882a) and “Natural Law; or, the Science of Justice” (1882b) for close variations on the same challenge. Childs himself also anticipates something like this line of argument, and makes arguments that Rand’s epistemological and ethical positions demand a similar conclusion. I’ve picked out Spooner’s version of the challenge in the letter to Cleveland because it provides the most systematic exposition of the point.

[25] If the government passed a resolution stating that the square of the hypotenuse in a right triangle is always equal to the square of the other two sides, then the resolution would say something true, and something that everyone is obliged to believe. But it would hardly justify the claim that we need a properly geometrical government to serve as the “final arbiter” of the properties of right triangles.

[26] Spooner 1882b argues that the principles of justice are “usually a very plain and simple matter, easily understood by common minds” (Section IV ¶ 1), and that “Men [sic] living in contact with each other, and having intercourse together, cannot avoid learning natural law, to a very great extent” (Section IV ¶ 2). If so, then the “commands” of natural justice could all be understood as conclusions of arguments, without the need to appeal to the authority of experts. While I think that this is true of most if not all cases, nothing turns on it for the purposes of the challenge to legislative authority. If there are cases where understanding or applying the principles of justice requires expertise, then all those hard cases should be turned over to some expert for judgment. But it would be fallacious to infer from that that there must be some expert to whom all hard cases are turned over. In any case, the basis for the authority of the judgment would be acknowledged wisdom and judgment, not personal political position.

[27] It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it…

[28] That does not mean that Twain can later renege and ignore Norton’s decision, if he consented to let Norton decide the case. It does mean that Twain can later decline to let Norton decide any more cases for him. See note 10 on the failure of historical liberal theories to meet the criteria for genuine consent, including those that rely on claims of “tacit consent.”

[29] Perhaps under dire enough circumstances – if, for example, the dispute is not only unresolved but careening towards a violent feud – the parties to the dispute could rightfully be forced to the bargaining table by an impartial third party. I am not confident that this is true, but I am not confident that it is false, either. What I am confident of is that, if third parties ever have the right to force arbitration, then the right is possessed by everyone, and has nothing to do with the special prerogatives of a government to arbitrate. For the government to claim an exclusive or superior authority to intervene within an arbitrarily asserted jurisdiction might not usurp the natural liberty of the disputants. But if it did not, then it would usurp the natural liberty of other potential arbiters, who would have just as much of a right to intervene as the self-styled “government.”

[30] I do, actually, think that the relationship between libertarianism and these forms of egalitarianism is more complex than many 20th century libertarians have suggested; but that’s an issue for later discussion.

[31] Jefferson makes this point even more explicitly, if less elegantly, in his original draft of the Declaration, where the same passage reads: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable: that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (1776b ¶ 2, emphasis added).

[32] The original conception of Equality from the revolutionary Left appreciates human plurality and supports an uncompromising individualism in politics—not the anonymizing mass politics of the statist Left, in both its “progressive” and “radical” incarnations. Nozick expresses the point admirably: “Side constraints express the inviolability of other persons. But why may not one violate persons for the greater social good? …. But there is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him [sic] and benefits the others. Nothing more. What happens is that something is done to him for the sake of others. Talk of an overall social good covers this up. (Intentionally?) To use a person in this way does not sufficiently respect and take account of the fact that he is a separate person, that his is the only life he has. He does not get some overbalancing good from his sacrifice, and no one is entitled to force this upon him—least of all a state or government” (1974, 32-33).

[33] The point here is not that deliberation about consequences is completely irrelevant to questions of justice. Like Roderick Long (2002b), I hold that, while deliberation about consequences cannot trump deliberation about rights, our understanding of the content of rights can be revised in light of consequences. (Thus, for example, consequentialist considerations can be important to determining the proper judgment in a case of reducing the natural law.) But if our judgments about the requirements of justice can be revised in light of reflection on the consequences, the revision can (indeed must) go the other way, too. What counts as a “good consequence” also partly depends on what justice demands; in particular, if bringing about a situation S involves you in initiating force against an innocent person, then S is not a good consequence: being unjust is a defeater for an end counting as something worth pursuing. It is in this sense that rights act as “side constraints” (Nozick 1974, 28-33) on moral deliberation.

[34] Government edicts have no more magical power to enforce themselves than decisions by anarchistic arbitrators. If someone is unhappy with the way a case was decided on final appeal, she can lobby Congress to change the law, or try to convince the President to appoint more congenial justices, or simply defy the ruling and try to find followers to stage a coup or a revolution…. See also Long 2006, which connects the mystical political conception behind the minarchist quest for legal finality with the mystical logical conception behind the metaphysical quest for a self-applying rule, as exposed by Wittgenstein’s writing on rule-following.

[35] See Tucker 1888 for an overview of the “four monopolies” that he believed to be at the root of both statism and the exploitation of labor: the land monopoly, the money monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly. Chapter Five of Carson 2004 offers an excellent systematic overview of the views of Tucker and his fellow 19th century individualists on the four monopolies.

[37] This holistic picture of social power has been endangered and marginalized, but never completely eradicated, from libertarian theory in the 20th century. During the late 1960s and 1970s it was partially and fitfully revived by the efforts of libertarians such as Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, and Sam Konkin to make common cause with anti-imperialist and anti-authoritarian elements in the New Left. For the locus classicus of this approach in the late 20th century libertarian movement, see Rothbard 1965.

[38] Sciabarra is at pains to make clear that his critique does not aim at a refutation of anarchism as such; his emphasis is methodological, and for his critique “The essential issue is not whether anarchism or minarchism is preferable—to some extent, the jury is still out on many of the important questions raised by either side” (341). But he suggests that dialectics call for substantial revision to existing defenses of anarchism, stating in reply to a review that “I remain profoundly suspicious of anarchism and the non-dialectical premises that seem to inspire it” (2002, 394).

[39] See Long 2001b for a detailed defense of Rothbard against Sciabarra’s criticism. But if the anti-dialectical Rothbard did not exist, Walter Block has invented him.

[40] An Aztec libertarian might urge, “Of course libertarianism has upshots for religious beliefs! It means you have to give up human sacrifice to Huitzilopochtli.”

[42] Cf. Dworkin 1983/1993, 165-166; Morgan 1989; Spencer 1851, Chapter XVI § 4; Moore 2006.

[43] See Tjaden and Thoennes 2000 on the findings of the NIJ/CDC National Violence Against Women Survey in 1995-1996. Statistics on violence against women have been hotly contested, and some of these disputes have been taken up by libertarian authors such as Wendy McElroy. But most of the discussion has focused on the findings of a single study, Mary Koss’s 1985 study of sexual assault amongst college women (which found that one in four college-aged women had suffered at least one act of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime). I think the criticisms of Koss are largely unfounded, but in any case Tjaden and Thoennes surveyed a broader sample, using more detailed questions, and definitions substantially more conservative than Koss; see pp. 3-12 for a discussion of the survey methodology. Detailed explanation and defense of the NVAWS figures, and of related feminist research into the prevalence and nature of gender violence is, as they say, beyond the scope of this essay, but for an excellent discussion of Koss’s findings that raises many salient general points, see Warshaw 1994, which includes both an analysis of the findings and a concluding methodological discussion by Koss.

[44] Thus Susan Brownmiller writes that “Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (1975, 15). Libertarian critics often dismiss Brownmiller’s and similar analyses on the grounds that not all men are rapists and not all women are raped, but this badly misunderstands Brownmiller’s point. Brownmiller is concerned with the systemic role of rape, considered as a social fact that affects all men and all women, whether or not the particular man commits rape or the particular woman suffers it. The fact that rape is so prevalent—even more prevalent than Brownmiller realized in 1975—and the constraints that the threat of rape imposes on all women in ordinary life systematically structures the social relationships between men and women, as Brownmiller details throughout her book. Similar remarks could be made about other pervasive forms of violence against women, such as wife beating. The systemic violence of male dominance ought to be recognizable to libertarians as a politically coercive order, even though it is usually carried out in “society,” independently of the State apparatus; as Catharine MacKinnon writes, “Unlike the ways in which men systematically enslave, violate, dehumanize, and exterminate other men, expressing political inequalities among men, men’s forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of the law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (1989, 161).

[45] See Hanisch 1969/1978 for the original formulation of the idea that “the personal is political:” “So the reason I participate in these meetings is not to solve any personal problem. One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.” It must be stressed that for Hanisch and other radical feminists, “collective action” and “political action” do not necessarily entail State action. The point is to recognize the conditions faced by individual women as expressions of an overarching system of social power, rather than sweeping it under the rug of the “private.” Cf. Johnson and Long 2005, §2.

[46] Perhaps that’s what Max Stirner believed.

[47] Quite the contrary; respect for your fellow human beings entails that you must respect each person’s perfect right to refuse or to withdraw her support, and vice versa—and that anyone who tries to force the unwilling to participate in their collective project is nothing more than a sanctimonious highwayman.

[48] During the late 19th and early 20th century, before the rise of the modern welfare State, there was in fact a vast and growing network of mutual aid societies in which low-income workers pooled their resources to gain affordable healthcare, small-scale credit, lifelong education, information about wages and conditions in workplaces, worker-run hiring halls, labor bargaining, strike relief, personal and cultural connections, old-age pensions, life insurance, and many other important services which were later co-opted and colonized by the emerging welfare bureaucracy. Sometimes the independent, government-free societies withered due to obsolescence; in other cases—particularly radical labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World—they were destroyed by violent government persecution. See Beito 2000 for an excellent discussion in the context of the rise and fall of voluntary “fraternal society” or “friendly society” lodges. Reconnecting with this history would have direct strategic benefits for libertarians, insofar as similar voluntary associations are likely to be an important part of any healthy free market. Besides those direct benefits, it may also be worth considering the likelihood that mutual aid projects based on free association and self-help could help divorce well-meaning Leftists from the mystique of the welfare State. (Even if it does not cure their souls, it may at least give them something less destructive to do with their time and resources.)

[49] Most recently by Walter Block (2006), in his working paper criticizing “thick libertarianism,” whether allied with Left-wing or Right-wing cultural politics.

[50] See Buhle 1999, especially Chapter 1 and pp. 119-136, on the consolidation of establishmentarian unionism and the “tripartite” system of managerial planning between the government, the captains of industry, and the labor bosses of the official unions.

[51] Cf. Ibid., 65-70.

[52] Under the smothering patronage of the Wagner/Taft-Hartley labor bureaucracy, official unions gained new political privileges that made them the most effective vehicles for workers’ short-term goals, allowing them to out-compete the unsubsidized unions. But the price of government privileges were government controls: the NLRB system constrained union goals to mediated settlements with management, and in 1947 the Taft-Hartley Act pulled official union tactics firmly into the regulatory grip of the managerial State. Union methods are legally restricted to collective bargaining and limited strikes. Strikes cannot legally be expanded to secondary or general strikes, and any strike can be—as many strikes have been—broken by the arbitrary fiat of the President of the United States. Obvious violations of the freedom of contract—such as the ban on union hiring halls and “closed shop” contracts—strip officially-recognized unions of effective tactics and sap their resources. The emphasis on collective bargaining and bureaucratic mediation favors centralized union bureaucracies over more decentralized, democratic forms of organization. Thus both the internal culture of the post-Wagner union establishment and the external controls of federal and state regulations have conspired to enrich a select class of professional unionists while hamstringing the labor movement as a whole and limiting progress for rank-and-file workers.

[53] “Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term ‘free market’ in an equivocal sense; they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article in The Freeman [on sweatshop labor] arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because ‘that’s not how the free market works’—implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of ‘free market principles’” (Carson 2004, 142).

[54] For an extensive discussion of the nature of the corporate State and the role of government patronage in the formation of actually existing capitalism, see especially part two of Carson 2004 and Kolko 1963.

[55] It is important to remember that the calculation problem, as variously formulated, has to do either with the lack of market pricing or with the dispersal of idiosyncratic knowledge, not essentially with the use of coercive means. Political coercion is one of the most effective ways to stifle negotiation and shove people with idiosyncratic knowledge out of the way. But it is not the only way; voluntary structures can block the flow of knowledge no less than coercive ones. Cf. Rothbard 1962, Chapter 10, Section F on the calculation problems that would be faced by One Big Cartel, even without government intervention.

[56] See Long 2005 for an economic analysis of the trade-offs involved in increasing the size of firms and the economic factors that would tend towards greater decentralization in a free market.

[57] Whether or not Southern secessionism was closely linked with slavery is – God help us all – still a matter of considerable controversy in libertarian intellectual circles. But see Hummel 1996 for a persuasive argument that while the Federal government’s motives in pursuing the Civil War had little to do with freeing slaves, the Confederate states’ motives for seceding were dominated by the desire to perpetuate and expand race slavery.

[58] The most dramatic historical example of this line of argument can be found in the work of Lysander Spooner, who penned No Treason (1867-1870) as a defense of the moral right of the Southern states to secede from the Union, but also published a “Plan for the Abolition of Slavery” (1858) which called on slaves and non-slaveholding whites to launch a guerrilla war against Southern slaveholders, with aid and comfort provided by Northern abolitionists. Thus in No Treason, Spooner stated that “The result – and a natural one – has been that we have had governments, State and national, devoted to nearly every grade and species of crime that governments have ever practised upon their victims; and these crimes have culminated in a war that has cost a million of lives; a war carried on, upon one side, for chattel slavery, and on the other for political slavery; upon neither for liberty, justice, or truth” (No. II, § X ¶ 2). Hummel 1996 offers an excellent historical defense of a similar view of the secession crisis and the Civil War.

[59] A project like this one cannot be undertaken without accumulating debts. My own are too numerous to give an accounting of them all; but in particular I would like to thank Laura Breitenbeck and Roderick Long for patience, inspiration, collaboration, encouragement, and detailed and very helpful comments.

Wednesday Lazy Linking

  • Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson Were Anti-Slavery. Chuck Baldwin (2010-01-11). This article has perhaps the highest ratio of simple falsehoods to true statements in any article I have ever read. The man barely even pauses for a half-truth. But I look for the best in people, so let me just say that Baldwin says one thing I absolutely agree with: "Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson ... were the spiritual soul mates of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson." Well, yeah. (If you haven't read my stuff on Lee before, cf. 1, 2, etc.) (Linked Monday 2010-01-11.)

Revolution Day

Other than setting off explosions and taking strong drink, indulging in nationalist nostalgia is probably the most popular way to celebrate July 4th in the U.S. of A. It is, we are told, a day to sing national hymns, pledge our allegiance, have a parade, say a few words about the glory of this old Union, and fly the military colors from every available flagpole. We are told that it is, above all, a day sanctified for celebrating the birth of a new nation.

No it isn’t.

July 4th is not the anniversary of the birth of a new government; it is the anniversary of the ignominious death of a tyranny. On July 4th, 1776, there was no such thing as the United States of America, and the events of that day did nothing to create it. The regime under which we live today was not proclaimed until almost a decade later, on September 17, 1787. What was proclaimed on July 4th was not the establishment of a new government, but the dissolution of all political allegiance to the old one. All for the best: in this secessionist republic of one, we see no reason to celebrate the birth and rise of a foreign power; and in any case a transfer of power from London to Washington, from King George III to President George I, is no more worthy of celebration than any other coup d’etat. What is worth celebrating is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …. [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

That is, the revolutionary doctrine that we all, each of us, are the equal of every puffed-up prince and President—that as such you, personally, have every right to refuse the arbitrary orders of tyrants—to ignore their sanctimonious claims of sovereignty—to sever all political connections if you want—and to defend yourself from any usurper who would try to rule you without your consent. There is no man or woman on this earth who has the natural right to rule over you, and you have every right, whenever and wherever you will to do so, to oppose, withdraw, resist, and thus stand aright as a free and sovereign human being.

The logical conclusion of the radical equality proclaimed by the Declaration is not, however, what Jefferson or any of the other quasi-revolutionists thought it was. It is not home rule, and it is not republican government. It is not majoritarian democracy or the elective kingship that passes for the Presidency today. It is not democratic government or limited government; it is not any kind of government at all. If you, personally, are equal in rightful authority to your would-be rulers, and so have every right to tell them where they can go promulgate their law; if you, personally, have every right to refuse their demands and nullify their authority over you, at your discretion; if you have every right to withdraw your allegiance, and every right to defend yourself if they should come after you; then the logical conclusion is not popular sovereignty, but individual sovereignty, for each of us, which is to say, anarchy. So when a self-styled Progressive Patriot like Russ Feingold, arbitrary Senator over the state of Wisconsin, utters something like this, in opposing the efforts of the efforts of the arbitrary Congress over the United States to implement an unapologetically tyrannical regime of government eavesdropping and surveillance:

I teased some of my colleagues and said we can celebrate the Constitution on July 4th and maybe when we come back you’ll decide not to tear it up.

… We should applaud the political cause, but recognize the reasons given for the counter-historical bunk that they are. July 4th had nothing to do with begging the existing government to abide by the promises supposedly made in its own Constitution, or with trying to get the powers that be to exercise their better natures. The throne of the Constitution, or of the Law, or of the Majority, is no more dignified or sacred than the old thrones of the Czars and Sultans. Let’s not bow and scrape before them. William Lloyd Garrison, for one, knew what this Revolutionary anniversary was all about, and 154 years ago today, in Framingham, Massachusetts, he showed how you ought to celebrate the Constitution on July 4th:

The rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit? he asked, with what purpose? to what end? The Declaration of Independence had declared that all men are created equal … It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS—not of one race, but of all races.

Massachussets Historical Society, July 2005

We have proved recreant to our own faith, false to our own standard, treacherous to the trust committed to our hands; so that, instead of helping to extend the blessings of freedom, we have mightily served the cause of tyranny throughout the world. Garrison then spoke about the prospects for the success of the revolutionary spirit within the nation, prospects he regarded as dismal because of the insatiable greed, boundless rapacity, and profligate disregard of justice prevalent at the time. He concluded his speech by asserting, Such is our condition, such are our prospects, as a people, on the 4th of July, 1854! Setting aside his manuscript, he told the assembly that he should now proceed to perform an action which would be the testimony of his own soul to all present, of the estimation in which he held the pro-slavery laws and deeds of the nation

— from Thoreau: Lecture 43, 4 July, 1854

Producing a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, he set fire to it, and it burst to ashes. Using an old and well-known phrase, he said, And let all the people say, Amen; and a unanimous cheer and shout of Amen burst from the vast audience. In like manner, Mr. Garrison burned the decision of Edward G. Loring in the case of Anthony Burns, and the late charge of Judge Benjamin R. Curtis to the United States Grand Jury in reference to the treasonable assault upon the Court House for the rescue of the fugitive—the multitude ratifying the fiery immolation with shouts of applause. Then holding up the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as the source and parent of all the other atrocities,—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell,—and consumed it to ashes on the spot, exclaiming, So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen! A tremendous shout of Amen! went up to heaven in ratification of the deed, mingled with a few hisses and wrathful exclamations from some who were evidently in a rowdyish state of mind, but who were at once cowed by the popular feeling.

— from The Liberator, 7 July 1854 (boldface added)

Today is not a day for nationalist bromides; least of all is it a day for government or its laws or its foot-soldiers. It’s a day for radicals and revolutionaries. A day to proclaim independence, and a day to remember that the American Revolution, if it was worth anything, is far from over. Here is how Frederick Douglass, a refugee from Southern slavery who became one of the United States’ most celebrated orators, put it back in July of 1852:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

And let the people say, Amen.

Happy Revolution Day. Let’s shut off the Lee Greenwood, and take down that damned flag. It’s time to celebrate the day under a new banner. One which reads:

All power to the people!

And:

No truce with Kings!

And:

Anarchy is the radical notion that other people are not your property.

Other orations:

The Passive-Aggressive Freedom-Lover’s Distributed Book Club #1: bringing women from the margins to the center in political theory. From Susan Moller Okin’s Women in Western Political Thought (1979, Princeton University Press). pp. 3-12.

As I was just saying earlier today, I’ve been thinking that my readers might be interested in some of the topics that Susan Moller Okin touches on in her masterpiece, Women in Western Political Thought. The book is published by Princeton University Press. I thought you might enjoy thinking about some material which I’ve quoted here for educational purposes under principles of fair use. Especially stuff like the programmatic material on pages 3-12, where Okin explains how Western political thought has so far been shaped, in part, by the fact that women’s status and women’s concerns have been confined to the margins of political thought. Thus, she writes:

Introduction

The current feminist movement has inspired a considerable amount of scholarship in areas previously unexplored. The recent focus on women in the fields of history, legal studies, anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism has resulted in a number of innovative and important works, such that it is no exaggeration to say that these fields will never look the same again. No one, however, has yet examined systematically the treatment of women in the classic works of political philosophy—those works in which great thinkers throughout history have revealed to us their thoughts about the political and social life of the human race. This book is an attempt to reduce the consequent gap in our knowledge.

It is important to realize from the outset that the analysis and criticism of the thoughts of political theorists of the past is not an arcane academic pursuit, but an important means of comprehending and laying bare the assumptions behind deeply rooted modes of thought that continue to affect people’s lives in major ways. Women, in the course of the present century, have officially become citizens in virtually every country of the Western world and in much of the rest of the world as well. From being totally relegated to th private sphere of the household, they have become enfranchised members of the political realm. However, women are increasingly recognizing that the limited, formal, political gains of the earlier feminist movement have in no way ensured the attainment of real equalities in the economic and social aspects of their lives. Though women are now citizens, it is undeniable that they have remained second-class citizens. Measured in terms of characteristics traditionally valued in citizens, such as education, economic independence, or occupational status, they are still far behind men. Likewise, measured in terms of political participation—especially at higher levels—and political power, they are nowhere near the equals of men. In the past decade, moreover, women have been demanding these more substantial equalities, and an end to their relegation to second-class citizenship. They have been claiming the right to be members of society and citizens of the state on an equal level with men, and, in principle at least, their claims have been getting recognition.

The fact that women have gained formal citizenship, but have in no other respect achieved equality with men, has impelled me to turn to the great works of political philosophy, with two major questions in mind. I have asked, first, whether the existing tradition of political philosophy can sustain the inclusion of women in its subject matter, and if not, why not? For if the works which form the basis of our political and philosophical heritage are to continue to be relevant in a world in which the unequal position of women is being radically challenged, we must be able to recognize which of their assumptions and conclusions are inherently connected with the idea that the sexes are, and should be, fundamentally unequal.

Second, and clearly related to the first inquiry, I have aimed to discover whether the philosophers’ arguments about the nature of women and their proper place in the social and political order, viewed in the context of the complete political theories of the philosophers, will help us to understand why the formal, political enfranchisement of women has not led to substantial equality between the sexes. It is not my purpose to argue any causal connection between the arguments and ideas of the great philosophers, on the one hand, and modern ideas or practices, on the other. However, I do argue that modes of thought about women that closely parallel those of some of the philosophers discussed here are still prevalent, in the writings of modern thinkers, and in the ideologies of modern political actors and institutions. This claim is substantiated in Part V, where we turn to analysis of some crucial contemporary views on women—those of influential social scientists and of the highest courts in the U.S.—and discover striking similarities between them and the ideas of the political theorists analyzed in the preceding chapters. By critical study of the arguments about women conceived by some of the finest minds in the history of Western thought, I hope to add to our comprehension of modern arguments which parallel them in important ways, and which constitute a continuing attempt to justify the unequal treatment of women.

It must be recognized at once that the great tradition of political philosophy consists, generally speaking, of writings by men, for men, and about men. While the use of supposedly generic terms like man and mankind, and of the allegedly inclusive pronoun he, might lead one to think that philosophers have intended to refer to the human race as a whole, we do not need to look far into their writings to realize that such an assumption is unfounded. Rousseau, for example, tells his reader at the beginning of the Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men that It is of man that I am to speak. It subsequently becomes very clear that it is only the inequality between males that is the subject of his investigation, and the inequality between the sexes is assumed in passing.1 Past and present feminists, only too aware of such practices, have pointed out the dangerous ambiguity of such linguistic usage in a patriarchal culture.2 For it enables philosophers to enunciate principles as if they were universally applicable, and then to proceed to exclude all women from their scope.

Even when philosophers have used words which in their respective languages refer unambiguously to any human being, they have felt in no way deterred from excluding women from the conclusions reached. Aristotle, for example, discusses at length what is the highest good for a human being (anthropos). He then proceeds to characterize all women as not only conventionally deprived of, but constitutionally unfitted for, this highest good. Again, Kant uses the most inclusive terms of all for the subjects of his ethical and political theory; he even says that he is not confining his discussion to humans, but that it is applicable to all rational beings. Subsequently, however, he proceeds to justify a double standard of sexual morality, to the extent that a woman is to be condoned for killing her illegitimate child because of her duty to uphold, at all costs, her sexual honor. He also reaches the conclusion that the only characteristic that permanently disqualifies any person from citizenship in the state, and therefore from the obligation to obey only those laws to which consent has been given, is that of being born female.3 Thus, even words such as person, human, and rational being, apparently, do not necessarily include women.

This phenomenon, made possible by the ambiguity of our language, is not confined to political philosophy. The grand statements of our political culture, too, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are phrased in universal terms, but, as the chapter on women and the law will make clear, they have frequently been interpreted in such a way as to exclude women. Thus when the Founding Fathers declared it to be a self-evident truth that all men are created equal, not only did they intend the substantial slave population to be excluded from the scope of their statement, but they would have been amused and skeptical (as indeed John Adams was to his wife’s appeal that they not forget the ladies) at the suggestion that women were, and should be considered, equal too.4 Similarly, though the Constitution is phrased in terms of persons, there was clearly no idea in its framers’ minds that this word might be interpreted so as to include women on the same terms as men.5

Human nature, we realize, as described and discovered by philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and many others, is intended to refer only to male human nature. Consequently all the rights and needs that they have considered humanness to entail have not been perceived as applicable to the female half of the human race. Thus there has been, and continues to be, within the traditions of political philosophy and political culture, a pervasive tendency to make allegedly general statements as if the human race were not divided into two sexes, and then either to ignore the female sex altogether, or to proceed to discuss it in terms not at all consistent with the assertions that have been made about man and humanity.

In spite of this general neglect of women, however, several of the most important and most interesting of political philosophers have had a considerable amount to say about them. The first four parts of this book comprise an analysis of the arguments of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, and Mill, on the subject of women, their nature, their socialization and education, and their proper role and station in society. It would be fruitless, if not impossible, to treat such a subject in a vacuum. What I have done, therefore, is to analyze these philosophers’ ideas about women in the context of their entire theories of politics and society, and with particular reference to each philosopher’s conception of the role of the family. Throughout the study, I have examined the various ideas about women and the arguments which sustain them, with a concern both for their internal logic and for their consistency with each philosopher’s argument and conclusions about men, and about politics and society as a whole.

Clearly, in choosing four philosophers I do not pretend to have covered the treatment of women within the entire tradition of political philosophy. Apart from the omission of the socialists, which requires explanation, however, I have chosen those four who of all political theorists have made the most substantial, most interesting, and most thought-provoking contributions on the subject.

The problem regarding Marx, the Marxists, and other socialists, is that, taken together, they had so much to say, and such insight to offer, on the subject of women in society, that their ideas warrant a separate study. It was the utopian, Charles Fourier, who first both used the status of women in a society as the fundamental measuring stick of its advancement, and considered the progress of women toward liberty to be a fundamental cause of general social progress. Other events influence these political changes; he asserts, but there is no cause which produces social progress or decline as rapidly as a change in the condition of women…. The extension of the privileges of women is the fundamental cause of all social progress.6 Fourier’s initiatives were not ignored by subsequent feminists and/or socialists, including Flora Tristan, Marx and John Stuart Mill. Marx developed the idea of the relationship between the equality of women and general social progress, in the 1844 Manuscripts:

The relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It indicates, therefore, how far man’s natural behavior has become human, and how far his human essence has become a natural essence for him, how far his human nature has become nature for him…. From this relationship man’s whole level of development can be assessed.7

Though Marx himself did not develop this as a major theme in his works, Engels, Bebel, and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School have developed further the socialist criticism of woman’s position in society, and of the traditional family.

Socialist writings on women require separate study because of two features which are characteristic of, though not unique to, socialist modes of thought. First, socialist theorists have been far less inclined than most other political theorists to regard the family as a necessary and fixed human institution, and have been very much aware of the relationship between various forms of family organization and different forms of economic structure, particularly property relations. This has meant that most, though not all, socialists who have written about women have taken a critical and questioning view of woman’s role within the family, rather than accepting it as a given. Second, socialist thought is noticeably lacking in the tendency to idealize nature and the natural, and is inclined to replace these criteria for social excellence by the specifically human and cultural. It is largely because of the importance of both these modes of thought for the subject of women, that the contribution of the socialists to the subject is so considerable. The study of that contribution is a task I hope to undertake, and for which the present work constitutes an essential foundation.

From my analysis of the arguments and conclusions of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau and Mill, concerning women and their proper social and political role, two interconnected themes emerge. First, the most important factor influencing the philosophers’ conceptions of, and arguments about, women has been the view that each of them held concerning the family. Those who have regarded the family as a natural and necessary institution have defined women by their sexual, procreative, and child-rearing functions within it. This has lead to the prescription of a code of morality and conception of rights for women distinctly different from those that have been prescribed for men. The assumption of the necessity of the family leads the theorists to then regard the biological differences between the sexes as entailing all the other, conventional and institutional differences in sex role which the family, especially in its most patriarchal forms, has required.

Second, as a consequence of the above, the constricted role in which woman has been placed has been regarded as dictated by her very nature. Thus, where philosophers have explicitly discussed women, they have frequently not extended to them their various conceptions of human nature. They have not only assigned women a distinct role, but have defined them separately, and often contrastingly, to men. They have sought for the nature of women not, as for the nature of men, by attempting to separate out nature from the effects of nurture, and to discover what innate potential exists beneath the overlay which results from socialization and other environmental factors. The nature of women, instead, has been seen to be dictated by whatever social and economic structure the philosophers favor and to be defined as whatever best suits their prescribed functions in that society. Philosophers who, in laying the foundation for their political theories, have asked What are men like? What is man’s potential? have frequently, in turning to the female sex, asked What are women for? There is, then, an undeniable connection between assigned female nature and social structure, and a functionalist attitude to women pervades the history of political thought.

The conclusions drawn here are, first, that women cannot simply be added to the subject matter of existing political theory, for the works of our philosophical heritage are to a very great extent built on the assumption of the inequality of the sexes. In the case of theorists for whom equality, in some form or other, is an important value, the unequal treatment of women tends to be concealed by the adoption of the male-headed family, rather than the individual adult, as the primary unit of political analysis. Indeed, the thoroughly equal treatment of women, involving far more than the right to vote, requires the rethinking of some of the most basic assumptions of political philosophy—having to do with the family and woman’s traditionally dependent and subordinate role within it.

Second, as we examine some twentieth-century perceptions of women and analyze legal discrimination against women, it becomes clear that these findings should be of interest not only to historians or students of political theory. The functionalist treatment of women—the prescriptive view of woman’s nature and proper mode of life based on her role and functions in a patriarchal family structure—is still alive and influential today. Giant figures in modern sociology and psychology present arguments about women that parallel those of Aristotle and Rousseau. Moreover, when we examine the opinions handed down by the highest courts of the land in cases involving sex discrimination, we find, here too, that judges have used functionalist reasoning of a strikingly Aristotelian character in order to justify their treatment of women as a class apart. Thus, there is no doubt that a thorough understanding of this mode of argument can help us to see why women, in spite of their political enfranchisement, are still second-class citizens.

The chapters that follow require one more word of explanation. Obviously, there are many types of inequality both in the real world and in political theory. Only one type of inequality is dealt with here—the unequal treatment of women. As will become evident, the positions taken by political theorists about other types of equality and inequality are by no means necessarily parallel to, or even consistent with, their views about the equal or unequal treatment of the sexes. Those who have argued that there should be complete or virtual equality between the sexes have sometimes been distinctly inegalitarian in other respects; on the other hand, some philosophers who have made strong arguments for equality amongst women have been just as strongly opposed to equality for women. I have not undertaken to discuss this except insofar as a philosopher’s more general egalitarianism or inegalitarianism affects his arguments about distinctions betwen the sexes, or clarifies the presentation of these arguments. This is not because I consider other types of inequality unimportant. It is, rather, because the unequal treatment of women has remained for too long shamefully neglected by students of political thought. Other types of inequality—class inequality in particular, but also inequalities based on race, religion, caste, or ethnicity, have not been so consistently ignored.

In one sense, this book might be compared with the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In that play, building on the foundation of Hamlet, Tom Stoppard emphasizes this originally elusive pair, and makes them, instead of the traditional hero, into the principal focus of the drama. As a result, the play, all its characters, and their relations to each other take on an entirely new perspective. Similarly, when women, who have always been minor characters in the social and political theory of a patriarchal world, are transformed into major ones, the entire cast and the play in which it is acting look very different.

1 The First and Second Discourses, p. 101.

2 One of the earliest feminsits to point out this anomaly was Mary Wollstonecraft, whose A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a pioneer work in the correction of the language and orientation of liberalism, exemplified in her time by Thomas Paine and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. For two recent discussions of the sexism inherent in our language, see Elizabeth Lane Beardsley, Referential Genderization, and Sheila Rowbotham, Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, pp. 34–38.

3 Kant’s Political Writings, trans. H. B. Nisbet, ed. Hans Reiss. Cambridge, 1970, pp. 43–47, 78, 158–159.

4 Excerpts from the Adams Family Correspondence, in Alice Rossi, The Feminist Papers, New York, 1973, pp. 9–11.

5 See for example the beginning of Chapter 11 below, for Jefferson’s views on this issue.

6 The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, pp. 195–196.

7 Karl Marx, Early Writings, p. 154.

— Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 1979). 3–12.

Update 2008-12-04: If you were interested by the topics raised in Okin’s programmatic introduction, you may be interested to know that text from the first chapter of her book, Plato and the Greek Tradition of Misogyny, has been posted over at the Fair Use Blog ….

Have women been shoved to the margins of political philosophy? Have male political philosophers reduced women’s nature and status to their perceived functions within the family? Are political philosophers stances on social equality between men and women so often inconsistent with, or simply determined independently of, their express views on egalitarianism as a general principle? What else from Okin’s work might help illuminate the points she touches on here? Discuss.

Sprachkritik (im Sinne Krauses) #2

That’s all fine and good and I make no excuses whatsoever for Jefferson’s slavery issue. NONE. But what I didn’t see in that entire article was something about Jefferson’s general views on governance and commerce. I was hoping to see laws or views he supported/held that showed an anti-libertarian POV.

There, slavery aside, I see very little to nothing.

— John V., comment to Will Wilkinson at The Fly Bottle (2008-04-18)