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Limits of acceptable Dissent

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

(Via Jesse Walker @ Hit and Run 2008-06-05.)

Here’s a quick pull-quote from an interesting, if largely unremarkable — in the literal sense that I don’t find much of anything else to remark about in it — Leftist reappraisal of Hayek, in the Old Left warhorse Dissent:

Of course, a classical liberal would argue that single-payer health care funding would amount to controlling inputs and outputs by other means. But it is possible to imagine market forces at work under a social insurance plan, and the market distortions could not be greater than those produced by the health maintenance organizations we have now. In any case, no one argues that a government monopoly in a specific sector vital to the national interest—the military, say—must lead to totalitarianism.

— Jesse Larner, Dissent (Winter 2008): Who's Afraid of Friedrich Hayek? The Obvious Truths and Mystical Fallacies of a Hero of the Right

No one argues that? Really?

Hell, I’ll argue it. Why shouldn’t I?

If government-planned monopolies in vital commodities like oil, steel, corn, cotton, etc. tend naturally towards invasive politics and, ultimately, totalitarian command-and-control, then why not also a government-planned monopoly in such an essential function as self-defense? Just because it’s somehow vital to the national interest [sic]? If we’re working from facts and not just from wishcraft, there’s no reason to believe something’s being universally desirable, or necessary for the general run of the populace, or whatever else that phrase might mean, offers any firm guarantee that it won’t be politically dangerous to provide, that its provision could not be used as leverage for regimenting and coercing individual people. Which is Hayek’s point about the danger of government monopoly.

The idea that the essence of the State rests in its monopoly on the means of physical force, especially military and police force, and in the corresponding disarmament of the populace, and that therefore the State as such naturally and ineluctably tends towards an ideal of totalitarian control over terrorized subjects kept in a state of absolute dependence on it, unless, and until, and only to the extent that its ambitions and usurpations are checked by external constraints from civil society, from rival powers, or from economic and technological limitations–that idea, I say, is bread-and-butter anarchist analysis. Maybe that analysis is right, and maybe it is wrong, but it is there, and if wrong it will certainly have to be addressed by argument, not blinked out of existence with a self-assured No one argues….

At Dissent, Hayekian limited-governmentalism is apparently considered a position which can be acknowledged as real, and grappled with, and treated as if it has something to teach us. But apparently the basic anarchistic position on government military and government policing is so far beyond the pale that it need not even be considered; nobody seriously believes that. But why not? What justifies the self-assurance? What places anarchism so far beyond the limits of acceptable dissent at Dissent that it need not even be mentioned?

4 replies to Limits of acceptable Dissent Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Natasha

    What I find bizarre about this article’s origins is that a left-wing magazine like Dissent should understand the dynamics of the military and police domination.

    Look at the role that the military establishment plays in America today. I’d say it provides fertile ground for studying the truth of Hayek’s ideas.

  2. Bob Kaercher

    “What I find bizarre about this article’s origins is that a left-wing magazine like Dissent should understand the dynamics of the military and police domination.”

    According to the Wikipedia entry)on Dissent, its writers were divided on the invasion of Iraq, so perhaps in the context of the publication’s history it’s not as bizarre as you might at first think.

· July 2008 ·

  1. Black Bloke

    Incidentally, the late Sudha Shenoy tells us that Hayek said he would be a libertarian anarchist if were younger (and alive too I’m guessing).


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