Rad Geek’s Reader Questions: How did you become an Anarchist?
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 13 years ago, in 2010, on the World Wide Web.
So, hey, reader question. (Not the kind you ask me so I can show off my expertise on my blog. The kind of question I ask you, gentle reader. Why? Well, I’m not a big fan of open threads, but I am a fan of y’all, and I’ve been kind of inspired by the conversations we’ve been having by riffing on a simple, open-ended question down at Vegas Anarchist Cafe; makes me curious about how some of these things go in other communities I’m part of).
Anyway, what I’m wondering right now, is–If you think of yourself as an Anarchist, how did you become an Anarchist? (Take that as you will — how you came to accept the ideas, or how you came to call yourself an
Anarchist, or ….)
Or, if you don’t think of yourself as an Anarchist, what do you think of yourself as? And how did you get to be that?
What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments.
I was always inclined toward some form of anti-authoritarianism, if not for the present, than for the future. However, I went through a long detour in Marxism before coming to anarchism. Much of this change came through introspection, but some of it came from discussions with a then-anarchocapitalist and some of it came from engaging Marxist and anarchist theory. There was no single cause for my switch from Marxism, not one single moment. An idea which came up in conversation in the mid-90s might be relevant to some problem in the mid-00s.
I previously discussed this on FLL and LL2:
Dylan Nissley /#
Came from a anabaptist background with a heavy focus on helping the economically vulnerable. Was a democrat and a statist liberal throughout my teens. I was always frustrated with the crappy results of government reform. Introduced to anarchism through my younger cousins. But I’ve always been an intellectual and they’ve always been more activist types. I did some activism with them but was still frustrated by the crappy results of those actions. Started to really delve into theory more and came across Kevin Carson through William Gillis after a bad spat with primitivism. The theory clicked and really resonated with me. I’m proud to call myself a mutualist at present.
Gary Chartier /#
I’ve tried to tell the story here, though I realize that I still can’t quite pinpoint the moment at which the transition occurred, or the precise reasons (or causes).
Kyle Bush /#
I’ve only been self-describing as an anarchist for about two years at the outside. I’ve been liberty oriented in my thinking for a lot longer, but it was a long process for me to tease out what the entailments of this were. I went from being a paleo-conservative libertarian, to a minarchist libertarian, to an anarchocapitalist. I think this blog and Roderick Long’s were the biggest influences in my choice to abandon minarchism, and also helped guide me towards left libertarianism. Right now I am working to become more knowledgeable about anarchism, since there is still so much I haven’t read.
My first political opinions, as an adolescent, were run-of-the-mill conservatism. There was little or no overt teaching going on at home that I recall, but I was sent to Catholic schools which taught the hard line on abortion, and the rightwingery ubiquitous in Alabama on most everything else. I thought of myself as favoring economic freedom to a great extent, but didn’t understand that what the Republicans practiced wasn’t actually it. I recall a discussion in history class my freshman year of high school where the teacher brought out the “conservatives want the government to be neutral umpires, liberals want them to decide the outcomes” framing, and laid it on so thick that by the end a student was asking “So why would anyone want to be a liberal?”
Then toward the end of high school a classmate introduced me to (“vulgar”, “Republicans who smoke pot”, LP-style) libertarianism; I looked up the basics on the internet and had a road-to-Damascus moment. I remember thinking, “I had no idea you were allowed to hold this set of positions together.” I spent a week arguing for libertarianism over email with a friend, who at the end confessed he’d been converted after a day or two but kept arguing for the hell of it. Many of my friends followed. We’d occasionally hang around at some local LP functions, partly out of sincere interest, partly to gawk at the eccentrics who glom on to any fringe movement regardless of its content.
Then I went to Auburn — around the same time you were there, Charles, we did meet once that I recall but I wouldn’t say we knew each other. Took some philosophy classes before admitting that I lacked the ambition to complete the major, but met Dr. Long, who introduced me to the idea that anarchism and leftist thought in general could be taken seriously. At the same time, Catholicism stopped making sense pretty much the second I stopped being surrounded by Catholics, so there went my “pro-life” beliefs and residual social conservatism.
I was probably still a minarchist by the time I left Auburn, but I’d gained a lot of awareness about the issues that right-libertarians gloss over, like feminism, anti-racism and anti-militarism. Following Dr. Long’s and this blog, among others, that process continued until I abandoned statism entirely. I’m still not certain if I’d call myself an agorist or a mutualist or what, but I’m not so much concerned with labeling myself as I am with promoting the kind of society where communities can consensually organize themselves under such principles as they choose. You, personally, have played a huge part in my political education, and I can’t thank you enough.
Roderick T. Long /#
I’ve described my overall political evolution from semi-Randian through left-leaning minarchist to increasingly left-leaning Rothbardian (up to 2003, when I was still calling myself an anarcho-capitalist) <a href=”http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/long2.html”>here.
During my decade-plus as a minarchist, I’d read Rothbard, Tannehill, Friedman, and Barnett without being convinced — but I guess I’d been slowly grinding over them in my mind.
Although I can date my conscious conversion to a specific date (May 12th, 1991), the transition to anarchism must have been gradual since, as I mention in the linked piece, when I first announced I was now an anarchist, both my ex-girlfriend and my mother said “I thought you already were one.”
One specific event I don’t mention there: during the first Gulf War there were news reports about how in Kuwait, between the fall of the Iraqi occupation and the reestablishment of the Emirate, there was no effective government, and ordinary people were spontaneously organising to provide the needed services. When I first heard this, my immediate thought was “Great! If only they could keep doing that and refuse to accept the reestablishment of their government!” And then I thought “why am I wishing that? I’m not an anarchist.” But I must have been on the verge at that point.
During the mid-to-late 1990s I was nudged farther left — positively, by reading 1960s Rothbard and through conversations with Phil Jacobson in FNF/LNF, and negatively, by the week I spent at the Heritage Foundation.
Post-2003, interaction with you (Charles), Kevin, and others pushed me still farther left.
I became an anarchist(or at least one with such tendencies) when I got my first paycheck, driver’s license, had to file a tax return, etc., etc. Too much government makes for a poor life,,literally as well as figuratively. I just want to left alone; I have no desire to infringe on anyone, so why do they keep infringing on me?
I kind of took the Ayn Rand-to-Murray Rothbard-to-Proudhon-to-Anarchy route myself. To be honest it’s pretty similar to a lot of what you’ve already heard (Rand seems to have been a doorway in late 20th century America to radical thinking for many). I remember not having much in the way of political opinions when I was younger, until one day when I heard somebody complaining about federal tax money, and I asked an older relative “But why is he so upset, don’t people get to choose where their tax money goes?”. As you might imagine my attitude toward electoral politics went downhill from there. :)
I guess the best place to start is as far back as I can remember. I grew up in a Catholic family, and spent my first 8 years of legally recognized education in a specifically Catholic school. Despite that, I came from a fairly left-centrist family. My parents were both Democrats, pro-choice, pro-contraception, supported the idea of public schools despite the fact they were sending me to a private school, pro-union, etc.
We moved to Alaska right at the end of 7th grade for me, and the next year I started attending public school for the first time. This meant being exposed to people who weren’t Catholic for pretty much the first time in my life. My belief in Christianity didn’t survive long. Midway through high school I considered myself an atheist, but it would take me quite a while to admit this to anybody. I was afraid of the rejection it might engender, sue me.
Also by about that time, I’d become part of a very small group of leftists at school. We fancied ourselves Communists, though few of us had any real idea of what it entailed. Once I’d actually read up a bit on the Soviet Union, I pretty much decided that authoritarian communism was infeasible, but I hadn’t rejected the state. I joined the Green Party of Alaska after High School, and actually served as the party’s webmaster for a little over a year before resigning because my politics had changed. I’d discovered Noam Chomsky and thought he was absolutely brilliant. I knew he called himself an anarchist, but he (and Howard Zinn) had made me an ardent socialist. I flirted with Michael Albert’s “Participatory Economics” for a while, but never completely bought in.
Strangely enough, it was YouTube that made me finally start calling myself an anarchist. I became quite a fan of the “Anarcho-Syndicalist’s” on YouTube, and finally decided that I too was an anarcho-syndicalist. In reality, those guys are really left-wing marxists, but it was the best thing I’d heard at the time.
As some people here may be aware, these youtube “anarcho-syndicalists” frequently liked to argue with anarcho-capitalists. At first I wouldn’t watch the Anarcho-capitalist videos, just the rebuttals, and I though “we” were winning. Then I actually watched the “oppositions” videos and realized that my closet-marxist comrades were getting schooled by agorists and mutualists, namely Brainpolice and Thorsmitersaw. One day I read a blog post by Brad Spangler about the relevance of wage slavery to agorism, and this made me at least sympathetic to market anarchism, and for the first time in my life a “real” anarchist. I’d finally become convinced of the idea of individual sovereignty. A few days later I read Kevin Carson’s “The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand” and it all just clicked. From that point on, I was a mutualist.
That’s pretty much where I am now. A little while later I read Benjamin Tucker’s translation of “The Ego and It’s Own” and became an egoist, but that didn’t really change any of my positions, it just clarified them a little in my head. I’m still an egoist, still consider myself a mutualist (though I’m on the fence on Lockean vs. Usufruct property rights) and still very much consider myself a socialist.
Longwinded, I know. Thanks for your time.
Sergio Méndez /#
During most time in school, I was what could be considered a libertarian, at least on economic issues and fairly on social issues. At the end of high school I turned to be more a social democrat, western European welfare state kind, after reading Marx and starting to pay attention to feminism (I felt he made good points, but never felt attracted to communism since I read a lot of history since then and I felt communism was a complete failure in practice).
But I always felt uncomfortable being a social democrat for two reasons: one, I felt government solutions were always unsatisfactory and turned into a chance for politicians only to grab more power at the expense of the people naivete and money, and second, cause I felt I couldn´t coherently advocate to restrict economic liberties and at the same time defend other forms of liberty. But I was scared that if I turned down the state and advocated for a true free society, without the state large parts of society (workers, the poor, women, minorities) will be defenseless and at mercy of capitalists, wealthy etc….
I guess that changed when I started reading Charles Blog, back then in 2004, and then Roderick and Kevin Carson. They showed me not only that the state is no warranty for the accomplishment of my left wing ideals, but an obstacle for them. They reconciled me with some beliefs and intuitions I had when I was at highschool about the value of freedom, and showed me freedom, equality and fraternity are not at odds, and rather, they are complementary values properly understood. I do not consider myself fully as an anarchist, I still have some doubts on how to replace the state in certain areas of life, since society has an addiction on it (and like all addictions, it must be dealt gradually). Today I see anarchism as an ideal (probably not totally achievable), a guiding light towards the kind of society we should have, so that is why I prefer to describe myself as “left libertarian with anarchist inclinations”.
I had been hanging out at a dutch political interwebs forum for a while, generally agreeing with a Hayek fan without having much read into it. I also regularly read a column by Bart Croughs in a rather mainstream political magazine (HP/De Tijd). In it he made fun of statist, leftist politicians and intellectuals. Very funny. He never really made positive statements about his own views, so I was a bit surprised when i heard he wanted to abolish the state. How could such a smart guy have such silly beliefs?
I searched the internet for an answer and came across the site of the “Libertarische Partij” (the dutch libertarian party). The site argued the criminality of democracy and taxes and such. I was blown away by the simplicity of the argument and couldn’t really find any holes in it, so I felt obliged to reject democracy. It then took me about a week to figure out what to replace the state with and I found it in the work of David Friedman. That is basically how I made those silly beliefs my own. It all went very quickly.
Nathan Miller /#
I was a libertarian on social issues since at least my mid teens. I distinguished between those things that hurt oneself and those things that hurt others. Now I’d call them vices and crimes. Then I called them simply ‘stupid’ and ‘evil’. I recognized that laws weren’t the appropriate way to deal with vices, and didn’t seem to promote virtue. However, I hadn’t formalized my thinking. In college I read Rothbard, and was convinced by his writings. The universality of morality was something I already believed in. Neither I, nor anyone I knew, could satisfactorily explain why taxation was different than extortion. So I had to either condemn government or accept private extortion as legal. It was an easy choice, and although my beliefs have evolved and stabilized since then, I haven’t gone back from anarchy.
I don’t think I could give a precise account of what I was when; I was never too much into saying things like, ‘Alright, from now on, I am a …’ From the fact I was born in a republican-communist household, I always had a left-oriented mindset, but at the same time, I was shy, humble, and I always felt I had to be fair to everyone. (That is something to say with regards to statism- when it is not pathological, as Arthur Silber would say; we know that it cannot be fair in practice, yet it must appeal to fairness for it to find acceptance among its subjects, that appeal is probably the most common opening to libertarianism that all statists share. Roderick was saying something very similar somewhere in “Inside and Outside Spooner’s Jurisprudence.”)
I believe the turning point was probably the war in Iraq in 2003, because that’s when I got exposed to libertarian criticisms of state action, in particular Sheldon’s. I was also attracted to progressive blogs, but found that libertarians clearly had the upper hand in terms of coherence and principle. Still, economically speaking I would not turn away from communism yet. I felt uneasy reading libertarian talking points about the economy; they were precisely what us leftists denounced so much all of the time. Still, I was a sympathizer, and I kept reading out of interest, and finding out more and more all the time.
The next influence was probably Arthur Silber himself, and from there I was more or less libertarian, with still that tint of unease. I do not know how and when I came to reject the State, but I couldn’t accept market anarchism as I would read it. Carson’s work helped me in that regard. I also had a period of being extremely passionate from reading Spooner’s work. My inclination towards with mathematics and logic probably played a part in this passion. It is gone now; I feel like I’ve had a vulgar libertarian period without realizing it. I’d say I’m an anarchist without adjective.
In addition to my own experience, I once had a chat with an anarcho-communist friend, who was saying that she used to be a state-communist, and from there became an anarchist, adding, and being very insistent that, communism was for her the basis of everything. I’m guessing this is the egalitarianism=>libertarianism path.
Fascist Nation /#
I started out a limited government Republican inherited from the parents. Ran into the AZLP after the 1994 CONtract on America and John McCain’s BS finally had me leaving the GOP to try and find real limited government.
I became a limited government libertarian.
At some point I played a mind game — influenced by members of the AZLP — “If I were King, which programs of the government would I completely eliminate?”
At some point the elimination became so extensive that I became a minarchist. For me, the one area of government I could not see a way around was tort court. How could one live without the ability to bring people in front of a judge for violating a contract or trespass? Whn members of the AZLP answered that to my satisfaction I was an anarchist.
Hi Dylan, we’re from the same church. Who knew. Small world.
My father was an outspoken Reagan Republican, so I grew up with a healthy distaste for government and authority in general. Upon leaving high school I would have described myself as a conservative with libertarian tendencies. I fell into a group of friends at university who were leftists, anarchists, vegans, etc. and found that I substantially agreed with a lot of their positions. I thus became more of a leftist libertarian, but didn’t really have any desire for activism and was basically apolitical; I rarely had to deal with the state apparatus as a student, so it was of little concern to me – the only exception being the war in Iraq. I did become profoundly anti-consumerist and began eating food from dumpsters and wearing clothes from thrift stores.
Upon graduation and working for a largish manufacturing company as an engineer, I began to further question the legitimacy and effectiveness of the corporate structure. It appeared to me to be everything that I disliked about the government, only writ small. The corporate-government partnership thus became a concrete reality for me. With this dissatisfaction, I began reading “progressive” blogs such as Dailykos and began to buy into their (at the time) apparently anti-state, anti-war rhetoric. I mustered up enough courage to vote for Obama (having preferred either Kucinich or Paul during the primaries), but was soon disappointed by his basically Bushite policies. Feeling bamboozled, I began to reread Chomsky and learned that he considered himself a sort of syndicalist or libertarian socialist and began researching anarchism. I soon stumbled upon ALL-left.net and began to read every essay linked on that page. This lead me in turn to Roderick T. Long, Kevin Carson, Crispin Sartwell, and of course this here blog.
I’m not bold enough to claim that one form of anarchism is better than any other. My feeling is that different societies will form to the preferences of the people involved, so it is only a cosmetic difference between mutualists, anarcho-capitalists, libertarian socialists, anarcho-communists, etc. My biggest concern is to return freedom and responsibility to the people at a personal and local level. The most profound problem with hierarchies that I see is that it creates a disconnect between people and their life. There is always someone above you who is responsible for what you do, who tells you what to do, and your scope of involvement is reduced to the level of a single gear in a large machine. Nobody feels fully responsible for the wrongs they do, or completely fulfilled by the good things they do when they are forced to do it. Thus when soldiers murder hundreds of innocents in some far-off desert land, they do not feel responsible; that is the responsibility of their commander, of the general, and congress, the president – anybody but the people who actually performed those heinous acts. That life is not worth living (and a good reason not to be a Christian. Christ’s death could never absolve you of your “sins”). Responsibility is non-transferable.
Back in high school I considered myself vaguely Democrat, mostly because at that time Republican and/or conservative seemed to mean little more than “pro-life, religious right,” and social liberalism was most important to me politically (especially the right to abortion). But I was always extremely anti-authoritarian and libertarian-leaning, and as soon as I found out libertarianism was a “thing” I realized that’s what I was.
Throughout college I considered myself more and more libertarian, but still the default was to prefer Democrats to Republicans (this was during the Bush 43 years).
By the time I graduated and had spent several years living in Quebec, I was significantly more anti-state, and that feeling continued to grow after I returned to the US. For most of that time I was a sort of minarchist-by-default, but reflection eventually caused me to count myself an anarchist. This blog was a big part of getting me to actually articulate that to myself. I sometimes describe myself now, mentally, as an anarcho-capitalist or individualist anarchist, but to others I’m more likely to just say “anarchist” or even, still, “libertarian,” depending on the conversation and my relationship with the person.
Jesse Walker /#
I don’t have the time or energy right now to recount the gripping saga of my intellectual evolution. But I will say that in the Cub Scouts, long before I considered myself any sort of libertarian, I rebelled against a requirement that we write an essay on “why we need laws.” So evidently the seed was planted early.
Growing up I was more sympathetic to Republicans, because the things they seemed scary on (religious kookery and such) didn’t seem to have any real chance of being inflicted on me. One night while driving around (which is what you do when you’re sixteen and can’t sleep) it struck me that there was no justification for any type of authority that one didn’t voluntarily submit to, but at the same time I recognized a need to assert one’s rights. I didn’t have a real comprehensive view of politics (I guess I could have been called a libertarian, but I’d never read anything associated with it.) When I was 20 I read Atlas Shrugged and really liked it. After that I read all the Rand I could get my hands on, but I found myself disappointed with some of her positions (particularly in her nonfiction work.) I noticed references to Mises in her works and this led me to the LvMI website. From there it kind of all just came together. I have evolved (hopefully for the better) after becoming better read (I am interested in the libertarian undercurrents in Foucault’s work, even his earlier stuff.) I don’t have a strong position on the sorts of economic arguments among libertarians, I am probably more sympathetic to corporations than most readers here, though I do recognize that they often wield malign power and I accept that none of them exist the same way they would in a truly free market. The primary justification for my anarchism is that the state can not be reconciled with a dignified human existence; that to live with dignity is to resist, perhaps quietly, but in a very real way those who would assert their arbitrary power over you.
Joshua Bush /#
Despite being mostly apolitical for many years, I feel like I’ve had libertarian impulses for basically all of my life. Even in elementary school, I think I had a vague conception of the non-aggression principle, but on the rare occasions that discussions turned to politics, I mostly just parroted the things my Democrat mother had said. As the years went by, I accumulated more libertarian ideas from conversations with my Dad and older brother, and by the time I was in 8th grade, I think, I began to call myself an anarchist, though I probably wasn’t nearly educated enough to be able to justify my beliefs. For several years I was a vulgar libertarian, apologizing for various injustices because I felt that whatever situation a free market resulted in must be just, not realizing how very far we were from a free market. I became much more serious and excited about anarchy after my brother and a friend of his invited me to tag along to a philosophy conference that Roderick Long and you, Charles, were set to speak at. Ever since I have considered myself a left-libertarian market anarchist, and tried to follow this and several other blogs, but there is always more to read!
Michael Wiebe /#
Austrian and public choice economics + natural rights libertarianism = anarchist.
Rad Geek /#
Do you mean that the the economics and the natural rights only add up to Anarchism when taken jointly? Or do you think that either side of the + be enough to have led you to Anarchism on its own?
Michael Wiebe /#
I suppose one could have a purely consequentialist and a purely rights-based anarchism, but as a fan of virtue ethics, I like the idea that justice and consequences are partly determined by each other. So I think a good theory of anarchism requires both economics and rights.
In my own case, it was the combination of consequentialist and rights arguments that led me to embrace anarchism.
I came from a family with a rather centrist-liberal (in the European sense) background – that is, supporters of the more classically liberal undercurrent in the Solidarity movement in Poland. Thus the dislike of anything leftist and statist came quite naturally to me early on, as left-wing politicians in Poland are mostly sleazy repulsive former communists. I didnt’t think about social issues much at the time, but I do remember that at one point in elementary school I though up something like the NAP and decided it would be a great idea – and I never liked the idea of coercing anyone. With elementary school also came my conversion from catholicism to protestantism – and from then on I would harbour a dislike for the kind of close-mindedness, social authoritarianism and clerical privilege that I associated with catholicism (and a conviction that the world is a cruel and unjust place filled with struggle with evil :p). Anyway, by high school, I started exploring centre-right liberal parties, then turned atheist and went through an odd period of experimentation with satanism, social darwinism and a kind of totalitarian meritocracy (ah, the vagaries of puberty…). Then at one point I encountered a book by Mises on the internet and devoured it. The rest was predictable – libertarian websites, mises.org, the LP; took me a year or so to become convinced of the moral and practical necessity of anarchy. By the end of high school I’d chucked whatever social conservatism was left from my religious days and and begun reading stuff from classical anarchists and left-libertarians. Having imbibed both Rothbardian conspiracy theorising and Carsonian arguments about the govt-corporate nexus, I drifted increasingly leftwards to something of a mutualistic market socialism. Also, took me embarrassingly long to discover feminism, but once I did, I was sold immediately (besides, feminism in Poland has sadly very little currency, even among the upper classes).
Discussed at aaeblog.com /#
Anarchy Begins | Austro-Athenian Empire:
I was raised in a family of ardent conservative Calvinist Southern Baptists. My dad’s interest in politics spurned my interest in it even from a young age, even though he was a Reaganite religious conservative. So from the first election I can remember understanding the issues (2000 in the 4th grade) to sometime after the 2004 election, I spewed all sorts of conservative propaganda. I listed to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, FOX News, the whole nine yards. If I had begun to be able to form my own opinion, it was just mirroring what I had heard. The zenith of my political philosophy might have been when I remarked to my grandfather while listening to Limbaugh that we ought to bomb the UN (I was only semi-joking).
For some time I didn’t really follow politics closely. However, as the 2008 election began to draw near, I began to think about my opinions on the matter. Concurrent to this is when I began to question the religion I grew up under. My background was obviously very heaven-or-hell oriented – I can remember hate going to church to feel panged by voluminous sermons on hellfire and damnation, but due to the Calvinist background, it was stressed that my salvation be authentic. I say this to say that for all this time, I never felt an authentic salvation – I thought I knew I was going to hell, basically. So I always sort of doubted the church. Eventually through reflection I realized that I should stop battling my conscience and my upbringing and get on with being an atheist, which I basically am to this day, quabbles with some of New Atheism/strong atheism aside.
My conversion to libertarianism was in the same vein of applying principles. I think my first taste of libertarianism was hearing about Ron Paul because some people in our church liked him (they were very conservatarian, pardon my portmanteau). Looking up his positions made me have to argue against them, but I basically kept agreeing as time went on. Slowly but surely I became a libertarian; once I was, I read Cato and Reason daily. FWIW, I did not and have yet to read Rand, which is kind of an anomaly for a teenage libertarian. Then somewhere along the way I discovered Roderick Long and various other anarcho-capitalist arguments, and with mainly his influence I converted to anarcho-capitalism (unlike libertarianism, I remember the moment this happened – another dull day at work reflecting upon Roderick’s piece criticizing Noam Chomsky in The Art of the Possible). Upon continuing to read Roderick along with Charles and Kevin Carson I discovered my inner left-libertarian, as I began to reject my knee-jerk love of capitalism. Upon going to college I sort of felt like I was in political limbo as I began to doubt anarchism itself, but now I feel like I am one for sure, except somewhat more left. I plan on writing my own views in detail sometime soon on a blog, but for now I’d say I’m in the range of libertarian socialist and mutualist and left-libertarian. We’ll see how the labels shake out once I have my views in order, as they aren’t really that important.
My parents met at a communist party dance, but by the time I was old enough to ask questions, they’d moderated into center-left politics. My older siblings were pretty political and lefty, and I was a funny kid who liked adopting contrary views to see how they’d fit.
Read Robert Anton Wilson at too formative an age, went to a college that had a vein of contrarian-but-conservative (Nozick, etc) thinking at it, which I enjoyed but was too conscious of its barely hidden class biases to really adopt.
Finally moved out to the west coast, where there was a critical mass of socially-conscious but freedom-oriented thinkers, all pretty consistently arguing for and applying the ideals that I liked, without too many hideous side-effects. Read David Friedman. Struggled to articulate my growing and general anti-authoritarianism. Read Carson’s Organizational Theory, very excitedly.
Still a little agnostic; still a part of me that remembers that convictions make convicts. Bits of the culture of Right-libertarians freak me out as colleagues; left-anarchism too. Have to keep asking questions until nobody gets hurt.
I wrote about it on my own blog a while ago
Larry Ruane /#
I grew up in a very red-white-and-blue love-it-or-leave-it patriotic environment (Chicago suburbs, Catholic), although my dad had a quiet libertarian streak. My parents and their friends sent us kids door to door for Barry Goldwater in 1963 when I was six (I still remember loving the small semi-holographic AuH2O pins).
When I was 7 or 8 years old, as my mom dragged me around on a shopping trip, she took an item of clothing off the rack, looked at it, said, “that’s ugly,” and put it back. I still remember feeling very sorry for the company that had gone to all the trouble to make that item, only for my mom to call it ugly. (I wasn’t yet aware of the concept of subjective value!)
Freshman year of college, I found a copy of Bastiat’s The Law, among my dad’s books, which began my conversion from a (very inactive) conservative to a libertarian. A few years later, Rothbard’s For a New Liberty finished it. I became an avid fan of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report and Liberty magazine.
I’m not sure exactly when I became a self-aware anarchist, but it was probably 5 or 6 years ago. Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman and Bob Higgs have had the greatest influence on me. One observation by Stephan Kinsella probably pushed me all the way to anarchism. He pointed out (paraphrasing) that to be an anarchist, you must believe only two things: (1) aggression against innocent people cannot be justified, and (2) the state necessarily engages in aggression against innocent people.
Thanks for this thread, Charles! I have really enjoyed reading all the replies.
I was apolitical up into college. I knew we had a government, I had studied it in high school, and I assumed it ran the way it ran. It wasn’t my business. If a war was started, then it had to be so. If taxes were raised, I wasn’t really even aware of it.
I was raised in a conservative Christian household. My parents were card-carrying Republicans who, I think, hadn’t noticed the party’s shift from Goldwater-esque libertarianism to war-mongering neo-cons. My paternal grandfather was an Ike man and my father is very proud of his father’s service in World War II. So I suppose when Bush II declared a war on terror and drove tanks into Iraq, we all accepted it as protecting freedom; a 21st century crusade similar to our liberation of France in the 40s.
Then in December of 2007 (I was a senior at the University of Florida), my older brother introduced me to Ron Paul’s campaign. I think just as Ayn Rand was a springboard for many of the older generation anarchists, Ron Paul was a springboard for people my age. I dove headfirst into his ideas. We needed a small government that followed the constitution, you know, that sacred piece of paper that causes government pigs and fat-cat wall street tycoons to cower in horror. We needed to withdraw our army from foreign soil, especially Iraq, etc.
It was a really exciting time for me. I cared about the world around me. I went to see Bob Barr speak at my college’s outside auditorium. And I voted for him when Paul lost in the primaries.
Around the time Obama won the election, I continued to read about libertarianism. Lewrockwell.com was the site I visited most often. Well, I don’t know what the first anarchist article I read was, but I remember being shocked and interested. I read a slew of anarchist articles in the late months of 2008 (primarily Murray Rothbard) and by Christmas of that year, I had read the article that tipped the scales, Roderick Long’s “Ten Common Objections to Libertarian Anarchism.” I couldn’t argue with the concept anymore. I started 2009 as an anarchist.
So I guess I had to be convinced practically. But after that I began to read about the morality of it all. That just reinforced my position. My brother, encouraged by my transformation and being smart enough to read on his own, became an anarchist too. We considered ourselves Anarcho-capitalists, prepared to defend any company from the monopolistic state and vote to shrink the leviathan down into oblivion.
My brother soon sent me Wendy McElroy’s “Why I would not vote against Hitler” and after digesting that piece, I couldn’t vote anymore. Direct action and education were the only moral tools to destroy the state. (The Voluntaryist web site, Carl Watner’s essays in particular, have been an amazing source of inspiration for me.)
Finally, we both concurrently found left-libertarian market anarchism. I’m not sure what turned me from a late Rothbardian corporate apologist to an agitating worker’s comrade, but I if I had to guess it was an amalgamation of Long’s “POOTMOP Redux!,” Gary Chartier’s writing, C4SS.org, Kevin Carson’s “The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand,” Tucker’s “The Two Socialisms,” and this blog right here.
I’m sorry this is so long, but it was a tectonic shift in my life. I see things differently now and I just wanted to thank all of you that lead me down this path to where I am now. Thanks again!
Ah, I see we have two anarchists produced by the University of Florida! I just finished my freshman year there. We don’t have as good a track record as Auburn, it seems.
Aeon J. Skoble /#
In the 90s, writing my doctoral dissertation. No, really: the self-imposed project was to explore minarchist responses to the challenge posed by anarchos, and to see whether there was a compelling reason to stick with a minimal state, or if there was not. In the course of working it all out, I realzied the answer was no, no justification for the state; given even remotely classical liberal premises, we get anarchism. The longer version of this is in my book, Deleting the State: An Argument about Government, which came out a couple years ago.
I came across George Woodcock’s Anarchism while shelving books in my university library shortly after the Battle of Seattle. I was intrigued by the ideas and the historical tradition, which I’d never heard of before (anarchism has a very romantic history, and that was appealing). Over the next few years I did some more casual reading on the subject, poking at stuff like the Anarchist FAQ without ever being convinced by any of it. Meanwhile I was closely following the copyright wars, paying attention to issues like privacy and surveillance, and developing a pretty strong interest in civil liberties; it became obvious that the state was consistently putting control and the corporate agenda ahead of the interests of ordinary people. Eventually I read Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism and realized I didn’t have a good counterargument to anarchism as an ethical position (as opposed to a “political” one — a distinction I don’t believe in any more). I still wasn’t completely convinced, but it was only a matter of time. I found I was incorporating an anarchist perspective into my worldview: more and more, without intending to, I was making sense of the world in a basically anarchist way. I got to know a few anarchists and socialists through volunteer work I was doing, and talking to them pushed me to take my half-formed convictions more seriously. And then one day I realized, “Hey, I guess I’m an anarchist.”
Discussed at radgeek.com /#
Rad Geek People’s Daily 2010-05-30 – Shameless Self-promotion Sunday:
I grew up in a fairly conservative household and didn’t think too much about politics during highschool, although I did have a bizarre authoritarian streak in my mid teens. (I can actually remember reading some story involving a police state, and being confused as to why this was supposed to be a bad thing – the police are the good guys, right!?) When I reached university I started getting into debates with other students and quickly realised I had no good defence for the socially conservative positions (drugs, gay marriage, etc) I was instinctively holding. After getting owned in debates a few times I went searching online for answers and discovered libertarianism, and decided that was for me. So I became an LP-style libertarian, but I didn’t bother to look into libertarian theory all that much.
In 2007 I started following the Ron Paul campaign. In the beginning I could never understand why he kept talking about sound money, gold, etc as I’d never heard those ideas espoused before. At the time I agreed with what he was saying on pretty much every other issue though so I felt I had to educate myself. This led me to the Mises Institute, LewRockwell.com, and Austrian economics. Reading through the LewRockwell blog and various articles on the site I noticed many of the writers were anarchists. I didn’t take the anarchist position seriously, but this made me aware at least that such a position existed (I was still struggling with the usual stereotype of anarchy as chaos and bomb-throwing).
One day in late 2008 I was browsing through the LewRockwell.com article archives and I stumbled across Roderick Long’s articles; the first one I read was the first on the list, about the Icelandic Free State. This article was the one that first made me seriously consider the idea of market anarchy. I also really appreciated Roderick’s writing style, in particular the way he could explain concepts so clearly. I started reading more articles about marked anarchy, and more of Roderick’s articles. His ‘Ten Objections’ article finally sealed the deal for me, and I began 2009 as an anarchist.
My conversion to left-libertarianism came in early 2009. The catalyst was the article on libertarian feminism by Roderick and Charles, which also introduced me to this website. The main idea I took from it was something that seems totally obvious now, but was something I was implicitly struggling with at the time: the idea that not all social problems arise from the state, but that it’s perfectly consistent for a libertarian to hold this viewpoint, because political action does not need to be violent action, i.e. admitting the existence of problems not caused by the state does not commit one to statism as a solution to those problems. This led me to other articles on thick libertarianism and so forth, and it wasn’t too long before I was sold on the left-libertarian viewpoint.
I’m still not very well-read on anarchism on libertarianism, but I hope to rectify that. When I get the chance I plan to read some more of Rothbard’s works, as well as some of Kevin Carson’s.
Emotionally, it was Rage Against the Machine that opened my mind to the possibility. Intellectually, Professor Long’s critique of Objectivist Epistemology compelled me to anarchism. Then I re-evaluated what ‘anarchy’ means. I wanted to say that in some senses I was an anarchist, in other senses I wasn’t. The C4SS test shows me as 41% anarchist. I think anarchy — properly understood — just means aversion to epistemic closure. The 59% non-anarchist in me thinks that representative democracy could transform into pure democracy if we measure candidates based on their degree of epistemic openness. Those who won’t take the test should be considered closed. I wonder how Rand Paul would score on the C4SS test…
I’m not familiar with the debates over epistemic closure.
Apparently most people consider it self-evident that if we know A, and A implies B, then we know B. I guess I have always considered it about as self-evident as the claim that the sky is neon green (true somewhere, but obviously false here). A counterexample we are probably all familiar with comes from the arguments regarding socialism and capitalism. Any terms are vulnerable to unconscious equivocation, and socialism, capitalism, zaxlebax, etc. are especially vulnerable.
Rad Geek /#
The closure debates in epistemology are usually about cases where it’s not only the case that A implies B, but where the epistemic agent knows that A implies B — the claim is not that K(s, A) / (A @@e2;2020;2019; B) / @@e2;2c6;b4; K(s, B) is valid; it’s that K(s, A) / K(s, (A @@e2;2020;2019; B)) / @@e2;2c6;b4; K(s, B) is valid. So at least common examples of equivocation, fallacious reasoning, or simple laziness in tracing lines of argument, wouldn’t count as counterexamples — because in those cases the agent generally doesn’t (yet) realize that her knowledge entails the conclusions that she rejects. Anyway, most epistemologists accept epistemic closure as a valid rule of inference, although some (e.g. Nozick) want to object on the grounds that it seems to make the refutation of skepticism too easy. (I.e.,, on the grounds that they don’t want to accept Moore-stylearguments as adequate refutations of skepticism.) Contextualists generally do their song and dance about how epistemic closure is valid as long as the epistemic standards are held fixed; etc.
However, I think what MBH was referring to was not the debate over rules of inference in epistemic logic, but rather a overblown argument that a lot of professional blowhards shouted across the Beltway a couple of months back — originally touched off by a couple of blog posts by Julian Sanchez, later joined by — about, first, whether or not their silly little social scene in D.C. has too many echo chambers and too much party discipline; and, second, whether movement conservatism back here in flyover country has too many nuts and cranks in it. A lot of Right-wing and ex-Right-wing shouting heads (David Frum, Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, most of National Review, etc.) exercised themselves for about a week over whether or not their fellow Rightists were too closed-minded, whether or not the Left was worse, and whether the problem was with the Beltway social scene or with news commentary shock jocks or with the Tea Party rabble; a few Atlantic Monthly progressives chimed in; Sanchez demurred that the problem was not individual closed-mindedness but some sort of systemic failure in discovery and discussion (too much conservative media doing too much of the wrong thing for too many credulous partisans with too little consideration of doubts or dissent, etc. etc.). The New York Times ended up covering the tiff about a week after Julian’s initial blog posts.
Joel Davis /#
too late to join the party?
Started out as vague liberal in middle school, became absolutely convinced that the answer was eventually going to be in social democracy somewhere around highschool. A little after high school I started reading more and more about anarchism (which I had considered either poorly thought out or political opportunism up until that point. I started out being heavily syndicalist, had a brief bout with mutualism on the side closer to anarcho-capitalism but then gradually drifted back farther and farther left and now am situated as close to syndicalism as one can go while still being somewhat mutualist.
I hesitate to call myself an anarchist, as I have no direct action cred. I am at least an anarchist sympathizer. Although I’m a little late jumping on this thread, I feel a need to do so, if nothing else, to be the token anti-market (agoraphobic?) anarchist sympathizer on the board. The school-to-work transition (1987) galvanized me as an anticapitalist. Batting .000 in interviews for ‘real’ jobs, ‘settling’ for the temp agency game, and most importantly, repeatedly signing my privacy and other rights away as a job applicant led me to absolutely reject the simplistic and self-serving (to the Type A types) assertion that the state is the only institution with illegitimate authority. Anti-authoritarianism in general came to me in childhood, in my case the institutionalization experience, based on a mental health labeling (diagnosis, if you prefer) probably related to autism. This of course also contributes to my anti-market bias, as marketing is not my strong suit. I see the market economy as a meritocracy more of salescrittership than of customer satisfaction. A theoretical ‘perfect’ market economy, if anything, would be even more so. Combine this with the tendency of some right-‘libertarian’ and ‘anarcho’-capitalist types to look with contempt on the non-self-employed as people who deserve to be somebody’s peon, and I’m anti-capitalist first and anti-state second. But definitely for the total abolition of both business and government, i.e. the original meaning of libertarian before it was perverted by the laissez-faire crowd.
Was brought up in a somewhat Christian conservative home. As an adolescent, I thought Rush Limbaugh was great (which is only fitting, I suppose). If there’s an event that got me started towards anarchism, intellectually, it was probably reading a book called The Generation that Knew Not Josef: A Critique of Marxism and the Religious Left, by someone named Lloyd Billingsley. After reading that book I started actually thinking about government and politics and stuff in terms of general standards justice, and not just as a series of talk radio talking points. After a few years of not knowing what to call myself, I encountered libertarian (followed very swiftly by anarcho-capitalist) literature. I never really went through a dedicated minarchist phase; I pretty much jumped straight for anarchism.
Two points of difference I notice with the typical journey to libertarianism/anarchism: I never read anything by Ayn Rand until well after I was an anarchist and when I did I recall wondering why everyone seemed to think she was so important (for good or ill). I recall finding her arguments against anarchism to be particularly bad – I mean that literally; her arguments against anarchism are among the worst I’ve ever seen. I later realized that this was merely her exercising a general habit of making amazingly bad arguments. I also remained a Christian for a year or so after I became an anarchist, and see the two changes as totally intellectually independent (i.e. I didn’t make either shift out of a general policy of “questioning what I’ve been told”; I grew up partly on conspiratorial Fundie paranoia and if anything I saw remaining a Christian as rebellious and cool).
Kevin Carson /#
It’s hard for me to reconstruct my steps into anarchism, in retrospect, because I was introduced to the classical anarchist tradition and Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism at around the same time, and my thinking at the time is something of a blur.
I was originally attracted to something like Clyde Wilson’s (agrarian, decentralist) “Jeffersonian conservative tradition” (I started out in that direction ca. 1990 after reading Ortega y Gasset and Burke). I became heavily influenced by the distributists and Nashville agrarians. In this period I became more aware of civil liberties and law enforcement/due process issues, and was influenced pretty strongly by the militia/constitutionalist movement.
From there I went on to Kirkpatrick Sale’s Human Scale (around 1998), which seems a mixed bag at best but at the time had a heavy impact on my thinking and got me moving in the same direction I’ve been going ever since. His material on the comparative efficiencies of large- and small-scale production, on the extent of subsidies to economic centralization, and the sheer amount of subsidized waste entailed in the present system, got me started on a course of reading that had a revolutionary effect on me. I began a heavy program of reading over the next couple of years on economies of scale, gov’t corporate collusion, and so forth. Around the same time, ca. 1999, I got my hands on an anthology called American Radical Thought: Libertarianism, edited by Henry Silverman, which simultaneously introduced me to the classical left-wing anarchist tradition and to Rothbard and Hess. The extent to which I perceived a distinction between them at the time is now a blur in my mind. I read Woodcock’s Anarchism and moved on to Tucker’s Instead of a Book, which affected me profoundly.
In 1999 I got hold (of all things) of Rev. Ivan Stang’s High Weirdness by Mail, which informed me that the Wobblies were still around. And the Loompanics catalog also opened a lot of interesting stuff to me.
More or less around the same time, 2000 or so, I began reading Chomsky’s work on U.S. foreign policy and on propaganda, and followed the footnote trail to a lot of other writers like William Blum.
And in this process I found myself also moving leftward culturally on issues like gay rights and abortion.
Roderick T. Long /#
We should have a thread for mainstream folks on “How I became a statist.” :-)
Little Alex /#
Psychologically, the anti-authoritarian, skeptical streak has always stood out — a lot of it rooted in being an only child. Couple that with parents who pretty apolitical, yet of high consciousness, my mother’s side of the family very active in resisting the British in India — and those grandparents playing a large role in my upbringing — and never living outside of the urban setting. The conclusion just flowed naturally, though I fought it, denied it for a very long time.
My ears were always open to the wealth of politically related conversations held by the elders around me, but I was more into the arts — theatre and music — and sports. I found the analysis on ESPN, Moliere’s dysfunctional families, David Ives’ timing, Tchaikovsky’s range, Rancid’s lyrics, Mingus’ improv ensembles, Slayer riffs much more intricate than the political discussions, which always came off as shallow to me. Then, during my sophomore year of high school, a schoolmate of mine exposed me to the Progressive Labor Party, Marxism, how it all related what was going on in Latin America and suddenly, it didn’t seem shallow to me anymore.
I read Walden that year in school and was recreationally reading Rand at the time. Becoming more radical in rebelling against the International Church of Christ, of which my mom was a very active member, I began reading a lot of LaVey and Nietzsche. I didn’t go far with involvement in the PLP, but it broke the left-right paradigm. I was still more interested in the stage, music, individualist philosophers, getting laid, getting drunk and getting high than politics. The 2000 election was my senior year of high school and I didn’t give a shit because I was two months shy of being able to vote and outwardly mocked the extreme level of passion that ran rampant among my schoolmates. It was then I began referring to myself as a “libertarian”.
My first year of college, 9/11 happened and, sadly, I was parrot of Leonard Peikoff. The PLP roots that made me hate the US involvement in Balkans and Iraq disappeared and the anti-Muslim seeds planted by my Indian grandfather and watered by Ayn Rand sprouted in full force. Less than a couple of years studying at DePaul’s theatre conservatory, I attended a Norman Finkelstein lecture. I wasn’t losing passion for theatre, but something felt lacking and he touched the nerves I wanted to be sparked in my education. I switched to journalism, but took his “Political Ideals and Ideology” course. I switched my major to political science before the next quarter and studied under him for the duration of my undergraduate career. He changed my life.
Exposing me to Chomsky re-opened the third eye that I closed when I knee-jerked on 9/11. I grew dispassionate with Rand and actually decided to look into the ‘soi disant’ libertarians. This led me straight to Rothbard’s “Ethics”. I still didn’t give a shit about electoral politics and hated the Libertarian Party. I didn’t really give much to which ‘box’ I was in. I wanted to understand the who, what, where, why, when and how about institutional power. I never gave straight yes or no answers, like Finkelstein, about whether I was or wasn’t an anarchist. If anything, I took offense to the ‘confrontation’, seeing it as a red herring.
Now I know the truth, though. My interests in philosophy and people and justice were leading me to law school and I didn’t know how to reconcile the anarchist inside of me with the reality of the political world around me.
I had never heard of Ron Paul until late 2007 and I was turned on, so I got involved, as I was looking somewhere active to channel my rage after Finkelstein was denied tenure and eventually resigned. From there, I was recruited to be a political consultant for a Beltway firm and the kabukiness of the 2008 election made me feel dirty. When Lehman crashed and TARP passed, I was done. I finished out my contract through November 6th, but considered myself an anarchist. I took the semester off and was recruited by the Council. I was still an anarchist on the inside that was prepared to continue performing as a minarchist, professionally, though I had decided I had no will to practice, but to pursue a teaching/research career after getting my J.D.
Then, Gaza happened. The anarchists Finkelstein exposed to me and the trails those led me down on the internet planted those seeds. It just took something to disgust me at a certain moment in time past a boiling point for it all to make sense and connect to the point where I can’t make sense of the statist elements of left-Marxism and Objectivism anymore.
tl;dr cliff notes: 1983: I was born free and immediately monopolized the household brainwashing as the only child; 1998: Commies made sense of the ‘Dems/GOP are two sides of the same coin’, hated political parties; 1999: Ayn Rand and other militant atheist individualists led me to call myself a libertarian if I HAD to answer, but I had that serious commie-syndicalist form of pragmatism; 2003: Norman Finkelstein taught me how the world really works and exposed me to Noam Chomsky, I got into Rothbard and what money is, I became a political science wonk; 2008: Gaza dissolved any questions as to whether or not I was an anarchist.
Little Alex /#
2010: I have a couple beers too many and write a book in Charles Johnson’s comment section.
Difficult to pinpoint really.
Having been vaguely anti-authoritarian, drawn into european liberalism by the invasion of Iraq and ID cards here in the UK. Started pushing boundaries a bit – becoming more and more libertarian. That then brought me into contact with people like Kevin Carson and ALL. A little while of reading lots of blogs, plus thinking led me towards anarchism.