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Posts tagged Jeremy Weiland

As Harsh as Truth and as Uncompromising as Justice

The Rally to Elevate Tone of Voice Over Substance. On ALLiance (2010-11-16):

So Jon Stewart had his rally the other day. From what I can tell, it was a great promotional event for his TV show and a great party for a lot of college-educated people. Don't get me wrong; I love Jon Stewart, love the Daily Show, and I love the…

As Jeremy puts it: “I suppose only a loudmouth boor would point out that these policies kill, maim, imprison, plunder, and deceive people everyday – but really, we should keep our voices down! For the country!”

The problem with the National Discourse is not extremism or severity, but thoughtlessness, and the Discourse is thoughtless because it has been Nationalized — i.e., corralled by the limits of state policy and electoral politics, and subordinated to the ends of a thoughtless power-play between entrenched political parties. Thoughtlessness can take the form of blowhard shouting; or it can take the form of blowhard mealy-mouthed “moderation” and compromise for the sake of political comity. The last is, right now, the primary rhetorical function of liberal discourse — to portentiously utter conventional wisdom, half-hearted excuses, and Beltway political nostrums, in Sensible, modulated tones, so as to establish a perimeter of acceptable opinion which falls roughly within the range of opinions among Barack Obama’s political advisors, with Sarah Palin or John Boehner as the only recognized outliers.

Fuck that noise. Real thoughtfulness means principled thoughts, and having principled thoughts means being willing to accept, and insist on, radical thoughts when they are called for. Hopelessly confused moderation is simply the political etiquette of the status quo, and a dare-I-say immensely privileged refusal to seriously confront the problem of the entrenched power and daily violence of the endlessly self-excusing corporate liberal state. Radical thoughtfulness has no special reason to accept those excuses or defer to the conventional idiocy that limns the boundaries of political liberal and political conservative discourse alike. The only way out is a discourse that is not nationalized, but humanized; and human discourse requires some real talk about what the imperial state — its armies, its wars, its laws, its police, its checkpoints, its borders, its political lies — is doing to real people every single day in their real lives, while bellowing blowhards argue about Reviews of Strategy, Comprehensive Reform, Border Security, Economic Recovery, National Security, National Priorities, and the rest of the utterly dehumanized talking-point discourse that characterizes politics in all of its nationalized forms. Sometimes that will look like rudeness. Sometimes it will involve calling a politician a liar — and a killer to boot. And all for the better: who are these assholes, that they would deserve anything more polite? Radical thoughtfulness requires, above all else, a will to honesty. And honestly, the truth right now isn’t very pretty.

Open thread on: localism, decentralism, anarchism, thick conceptions of libertarianism, and the U.S. Constitution

There have been several lengthy threads of conversation going on in the comments of some of this week’s posts. The purpose of this post is to disentangle one of those threads to make the conversation more easily found and more easily followed.

Speaking as the editor, I will mention that I’ve done a bit to prune off some diverging conversations — e.g. some interesting discussion about group rights and individual rights — that began in some of the comments I’m posting, and have excerpted (with editorial marks) accordingly; you can follow those discussions on the original thread. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s just that the purpose of this post is to try and extract a kind-of straightforward thread of conversation, leaving things that go off at a 45 degree angle to be discussed in spaces of their own. Also, I’ve tended to mash together comments that were made by the same person when one was made right after the other.

Anyway. Branching off from a conversation, in the comments on GT 2009-04-22: Direct action gets the goods, about Greens and Reds and cliques and tendencies within the existing Anarchist scene, and how it all relates to market anarchism, William Gillis mentioned:

... Of course the major MA influences in the Twin Cities were all pro-tech, pie-in-the-sky post-scarcity futurists and inclined to gloss over the more localist, Carson / Hess sort of interpretations.

— William Gillis (2009-04-23 9:09pm)

Soviet Onion:

I didn't feel a strong inclination either way from Kyle or Sarah.

If that is the case, then thank Prometheus for that. As wishful as it sounds, it's a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit's also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun. Hence the enabling attitude toward things like National Anarchism coming from Keith Preston and Jeremy Weiland that almost makes ANTIFA-style gang beatdowns seem like a more intelligent response to the phenomenon.

. . .

Oh, and speaking of Sarah, I hear she's going to be living on a farm in South Dakota. Not exactly futurist utopia.

–[Soviet Onion (2009-04-24, 1:39am / 2:20am)][2]



All of this is well put. As wishful as it sounds, it's a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit's also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun. Hence the enabling attitude toward things like National Anarchism coming from Keith Preston and Jeremy Weiland that almoAst makes ANTIFA-style gang beatdowns seem like a more intelligent response to the phenomenon.

It is hard for me to express how much I appreciate your speaking out against the national anarchist Trojan horse. Thank you.

And that's precisely it- replacing rights with decentralism completely throws out the principle of liberty. I want the implementation of a specific social system which guarantees individual rights and supports individual autonomy. I'm not interested in a politics which switches this for the goal of acceptance of existing social systems. whether individualist or not. Liberty requires a conscious and rational set of values and institutions which are incompatible with traditional organic society.

I'm a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model. I'm at the moment inclined to say yes to decentralisation in economic matters, no in educational matters, and to favour a mixed system in politics. I think we do need broad regional social organisation in a form which maintains an easy flow of goods, people, and ideas- I think this aspect of the Roman, British, and American empires was a good thing (have you read Isabel Paterson's God of the Machine?).

— Aster (2009-04-24), 5:54am

William Gillis (in reply to Soviet Onion):

As wishful as it sounds, it's a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit's also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun.

Whaddaya expect from me aside from twinkles. We agree, of course. I'd write more on the issue but you're particularly eloquent on this and I've never entirely felt it was my place to start shit in the ALL. Left-Libertarianism is someone else's parlor. I'm a post-leftie transhumanist utilitarian who wants to slaughter the rich, turn their mansions into coops and then enact full blooded Anarcho-Capitalism as a door prop on the long road to actual Anarchism. I've never fully belonged to the Carson/Long project. If you want to start something, either calling shit out or strengthening the foundations of an alternative Left-Libertarianism then, by all means I urge you to.

— William (2009-04-24, 5:58am)


Soviet Onion,

As wishful as it sounds, it's a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit's also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun.

I agree that localism and decentralism ought not to be fetishized at the expense of other goals (either respect for rights or other cultural goals that my thick conception of libertarianism is entangled with), and that the value of localism and decentralism ought mainly to be treated as a strategic value, not as something that is desirable in itself. (When it ends up being something I'd consider desirable in itself, and not merely strategically, it's because certain forms of centralism and antilocalism are themselves expressions of classism, racism, or other forms of elite bigotry, all of which I do consider objectionable in themselves, apart from any strategic considerations.)

For reference, when you refer to a left-libertarian tendency to fetishize localism and decentralism, do you have anyone particular in mind, other than Jeremy Weiland? (There's also Keith Preston, presumably, but he doesn't consistently identify as a left-libertarian, and in any case I'm not willing to grant him the description.) If so, whom?


I'm a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model.

Huh? Why?

It doesn't seem to have worked out very well so far.

— Rad Geek (2009-04-24), 11:02am

Jeremy Weiland:

. . . And, for the record, I'm not a supporter of National Anarchism. I disagree with them (mostly in the sense that I refuse to take a positive position on what a free society looks like, nor will I work towards that vision in lieu of actually freeing humans. But I would consider working with them on a case by case basis if it served my interests). I don't know what you mean about "enabling" them, though, so I can't say whether or not I do that. I'm aware of the fact that many groups exist whose ideologies I disagree with, and I see no reason to elevate their existence over the existence of more concentrated, institutionalized power structures as a motivating issue for me.

— Jeremy (2009-04-24, 11:22am)

Marja Erwin:

As for decentralism ...

I think it is a powerful tool, but not an end in itself.

It is harder to criminalize acts, let alone criminalize people, when people can walk across the border and out of reach of the criminalizers.

I think intentional communities can be important.

That said, there is an incredible difference between asserting the right of the individual to seek better communities, and claiming a right of a community to condemn certain individuals.

In my admittedly incomplete understanding, collectivist anarchism has historically involved either or both of two kinds of community control. The first being near-monopolistic but temporary; a transitional confederation instead of Marx's transitional state. I think this was Bakunin's pragmatic proposal. The second being community control of specific institutions, but neither requiring participation nor forbidding competition.

I think Parecon has sowed the seeds of Prestonism, because it imagines a permanent system which subjects individual choices to community decision, and forbids independent exchange. ... And the primitivists like that!

— Marja Erwin (2009-04-24, 11:41am)

Jeremy Weiland:

My name is being mentioned far too often in this thread. Color me uncomfortable.

I don't fetishize localism or decentralism – I simply see it as a means to an end. I may place a higher importance on those means, but so what? I don't see anybody else demonstrating a better strategy (it is just a strategy – if you want to talk about what that more fundamental desire is, we can do that).

What is the end, the core desire? For me, it's the standard R.A. Wilson line: achieving an honest society where people can tell the truth, or more technically, a society where individuals can maximally express themselves within the collective. For me, the end is authentic, sustainable society. Breaking up concentrations of power is just a means to this end.

Just so we're clear about where I stand, I part ways with you all mostly on your insistence on a universal morality against which one can judge affairs (thick libertarianism as a motivating ideology). I don't claim that there's a right way to live, and so I don't take, for instance, my opposition to fascist societies in some panarchist future as a directive for which I must find justification in morality or natural law or whatever. I'm quite comfortable opposing it because, well, that's just how I feel about the matter. I have my reasons, but ultimately they are grounded in something either arbitrary (and inaccessable) or intrinsic to reality (and therefore accessible without needing codification and legalisms).

The truth or significance of that feeling is something we can talk about, but it has more to do with my own journey than some ideology. That is where I feel I diverge from thick libertarianism. I support most thick libertarian values because I support them, not because they're right.

Prestonism is a reference, I must assume, to his core position that human beings are inherently tribal, and that therefore the most we can work towards is a cross-ideological alliance against the state rather than the everlasting victory of left libertarian ideology? Whether or not I like that view of humans, I must say it seems to map well to human history and experience. Most people don't give a damn about liberty, in fact. That does [not] preclude a left libertarian agenda in any way, I would think.

As far as I know, his critique of thick libertarianism has never been responded to, which is unfortunate; we could all benefit from a informed debate involving Johnson, Long, et al.

— Jeremy (2009-04-24, 11:43am)

Marja Erwin:

Well, I for one have indirectly criticized his essay:

Grounds Above All

I was more interested, however, in explaining my own views than in confronting his.

— Marja Erwin (2009-04-24, 12:12pm)



. . .

But I would consider working with them on a case by case basis if it served my interests).

Just out of curiosity, what do you imagine as a case in which it would serve your interests to work with National Anarchists?

Just so we're clear about where I stand, I part ways with you all mostly on your insistence on a universal morality against which one can judge affairs (thick libertarianism as a motivating ideology).

The thick-thin debate is not a debate about moral universalism. It's a debate about something else. Most people with a thin conception of libertarianism are moral universalists; they just have a different view of what kind of further commitments the moral virtue of justice might recommend. And it's perfectly possible (although I wouldn't recommend it; but that's because I'm a moral universalist) to be an anti-universalistic thick libertarian; indeed, it's quite possible to advance a view on which some form of anti-universalism or anti-moralism is one of the further commitments that libertarianism recommends. (That seems to be what some Stirnerite and Nietzschean anarchists believe. It also seems to be what you've spent the past several months arguing, while claiming that you're critiquing thick conceptions of libertarianism. The fact that you lay a lot of stress on a very broad-ranging form of social tolerance does not mean that you're opposing the bundling of further social commitments together with libertarianism. It means that you may disagree with those of us who have a more activist stance in the culture wars about what sort of social commitments ought to be bundled.)

As far as I know, his [Keith Preston's] critique of thick libertarianism has never been responded to, which is unfortunate; we could all benefit from a informed debate involving Johnson, Long, et al.

There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t yet published a response to Preston’s article. If I do it is likely to be a series of responses to short points rather than an attempt at extended dialogue in a single essay. I will say here that part of the problem with Preston’s essay is that it is an extended attack on something other than what he starts off claiming to be attacking; it’s not a critique of thick conceptions of libertarianism at all, but rather a critique of left-libertarianism (or more specifically some aspects of the cultural program advanced by, e.g., Roderick and me, as part of the left component of left-libertarianism). The two are not identical; left-libertarianism, at least as Roderick and I present it, is a species of thick libertarianism, but there are many other kinds; notably, as I’ve repeatedly tried to stress Hoppean paleolibertarians, and orthodox Objectivists are each advancing their own thick conceptions of libertarianism. What I differ with them on is not thick libertarianism — the idea that libertarianism is best seen as one strand within a bundle of interrelated and reinforcing political, cultural, or philosophical commitments, which is one of the very few ideas on which the Hoppeans, the ARIans, and I all agree with each other — but rather the specific commitments that they are trying to bundle in. There are several related and entangled but importantly distinct and conceptually distinguishable issues that Preston is attempting to treat, and I don’t think that the essay does a very good job of distinguishing them carefully. (Which is why thick libertarianism ends up getting used over and over again as if it named a distinctive ideology, rather than what it is, a cluster of picky philosophical distinctions that might help categorize a number of different ideological positions. It’s also why the essay jumbles together several different arguments about several different topics, with very little in the way of anything that actually attempts to engage the work I did on distinguishing, explaining and justifying several different kinds of relationships that might connect the struggle against the state with other values in the thick bundle. This kind of jumbling makes fruitful discussion much harder to carry on, and much more work to prepare.

— Rad Geek (2009-04-24, 2:18pm)


Aster: I'm a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model.

Charles: Huh? Why? It doesn't seem to have worked out very well so far.

Me again:

It depends what you compare it to. If you compare it to the best system I think human beings are possible of creating, undoubtably it’s inferior. But if you consider it in the context of that vast slaughterbench of individuals known as human history, it looks more like a miraculously achievement. Certainly, the system is on the edge of failing now. But the very partial, irregular, and inconsistent virtues which the system has shown in the last two centuries is still an unspeakable achievement in a world in which the norm is the closed society. I’m alive today. I can’t ever forget that in any previous age, given my ideas and gender transition, I would never have made it this far.

I think part of the difference in our outlooks is that I look at freedom as a positive construction. I don’t see a natural state of freedom which government, elites, or capital has stolen from us. I see a natural baseline of tribal dictatorship- animal society knows nothing of the individual- which humans have with slow and tortured cumulative effort managed to partially replace with a form of society which allows for some degree of human freedom. We should certainly work and demand more than what we have, but we should also remain aware that the creation of conditions in which the individual personality is even partially free to be herself requires a set of social and material conditions in tension with a state of nature.

I used to consider myself a borderline anarchist, but I don’t any longer. (let me stress that unlike orthodox Objectivists I am not hostile to anarchism). The reason has to do primarily with an experience in the anarchist scene.

Some months before I arrived in Wellington, a female anarchist accused a male anarchist of rape. Prior to this, everything I’ve seen suggests that relations within the community were entirely peaceful- zero aggression beyond the level of dishonestly leaving dishes for the next person to clean up. So when this happened, it was a social shock. People picked sides. People got accused of covering up for a rapist and/or damning someone as a rapist without evidence (I have a strong opiniong about who was telling the truth, but I won’t discuss it here). The result ruined friendships, hurt a community involving hundreds of people, and hovered like a ghost over every subsequent practical or ideological disagreement, long after the victim herself clearly expressed an authentic desire to move on.

The reason the problem kept reverberating is because there was no way to finally and publicly resolve the dispute. Any standing body which was recognised as making a judgement which counted would be… authority, heirarchy, a government. There was clearly a view that things should work themselves out, that things like this shouldn’t happen in a nonheirarchical community… and, indeed, this was a singular and exceptional occurrance within a very honest and safe group of people. But this one aggression had catastrophic results. There was no way to deal with it. And as far as I could see, it was all very tied to the idea that harmony was natural, that interference in that harmony felt wrong. The result of an informality of structure was that everyone ended up supporting their friends and allies and communal trust never entirely recovered. Ironically, the political result of all of this was the creation of a ‘safer spaces’ policy which worked as de facto law but without objective and accountable methods. And the de facto law caused more problems for human freedom than would a written law which explicity set up an authoritative institution.

The conclusion I came out of this was: law is valuable. I don’t mean enforcement, police, prisons, that sort of stuff. I mean that it is better to have publicly written institutions that set up standards rather than trusting society to work itself out. You need formal principles which don’t spring out of the ground, which have to be set up, written down, and applied in a regular manner within a community- for in the absence of formal rules, you get not no rules but tribal rules.

After this, and for other reasons, I started becoming very conscious of the fact that the social relations we take for granted depend on a prior structure of civilisation which makes public dealings possible. A civil society may, from a certain angle, be self-organising. But for that social organisation to work (especially if you want it to work in a dircection of individualism and freedom*) one needs a background set of institutions and values which have to be constructively built. And in that light, partially liberal societies start looking much more half-full than half-empty. Freedom isn’t a birthright that dark forces have stolen from us; freedom is a positive accomplishment made possible by the invention of better social structures. And if we wish- as we should- to seek more freedom, we should look at this not as tearing down but as building higher. Those who do think we will find our freedom primarily by breaking and tearing down are mistaken- and are easy prey for people who don’t like a free society and can abuse the naivete of radicals to make them dig their own graves.

It goes deeper. If you look at an anarchist community, one quickly becomes aware that one is dealing with unusually good people. Nice people. Considerate people. Idealistic people. People who don’t often think of stealing and lying as available options. And they’re often quite privileged people- people who haven’t known as much pain and others and for that very reasons are capable of being more kind and idealistic. That such people exist is a very good thing- the world desperately needs such people and would be very wise not to despise idealists and creators.

But precisely because most bohemians are nice, they create social systems based upon the assumption that their kind of psychology is a given. They take for granted a great deal of civilisation which is unconscious to them. But that social psychology is as a rule a product of favourable circumstances- such as an enriching, leisurely childhood. If one wants to be rude, it’s also sustained by flat out privilege- the characteristic ethical blindspot of bohemians is the assumption that the world owes us a living.

But most importantly, the anarchist way of life is built upon an immense complex of civilisation structure carried around inside the human mind. The better world for which anarchism advocates is built upon all the (to my mind, correct) assumptions of this one. When we fault the injustices of the states that came out of the liberal institutions, we’re right, but our capacity to be right is itself the product of the startling success of those revolutions- Thoreau says something like this in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Even our capacity to think and value more finely and treat others with more human dignity is a product of more humane conditions. Those who criticise the illiberalism of the best existing systems today are themselves the continuing success of those systems. We can criticise them because they won (and, if they fall, we will lose the right to criticise).

Yes, Americs and all the other liberal democracies were set up by rich dead white men who forgot to include anybody but themselves. But the fact that they included anyone is, by historical standards, an unspeakable improvement and a breathtaking experiment. Throughout human history poverty, superstition, fear, hatred, collectivism, atrocity, and war have been the order of the day. I find it horrible to think about what life for the average person- averaged over our entire history- has really been like. Everyone reading this is privileged beyond sane possibility by any previous standard. And that includes politics- we’re able to posit the possibility of stateless societies because previous social architects managed the feat of creating working liberal societies.

The success of anarchism would mean that we’ve completely humanised the human condition. The anarchist possibility is a hypercivilisation. Anarchism is not a negation of bourgeois tyranny- it’s an avante-garde continuation of the principles of the older bourgeois liberal revolutions. The revolution (at least one we want) will not break the structures of oppreesion. It will build the structures of freedom another level higher. Anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights are some of the most recent, the most fragile, and the most difficult of these accomplishments. They are not reversals of the betrayals of 1776 and 1789; they are their most wild successes. And the fact that life after 1776 and 1789 was still a tytannical Hell for most people isn’t something I’ve forgetting- again, I could never have survived if I has been born even one generation ago.

And in that context, I’m grateful to those dead white men and their state- even if to get my freedom, it is them I have to fight with extensions of their own principles.

America’s dying today- but it’s dying precisely because it is guided by people who have abandoned the spiritual infrastructure of liberal civilisation- by a ruling class whose level of thinking is an illiterate mess of delusion and pragmatism incapable of sustaining a free society. Any system would fail in the direction of tyranny under the same circumstances.


One technical point- what I was broadly praising wasn’t the actual American system (past or present), but an ahistorical conjunction of the best parts from different periods- an 18th century ‘conservative’ limited government with 20th century ‘liberal’ provisions for rights enforcement. If I was going to write a model political blueprint I’d change any number of things (a longer bill of rights, proportional representation, a parliamentary system, nix the stupid electoral college).

But I still think what we need is a consciously selected society based upon specific and rationally validated values. A society in which individuals may do what they wish requires an insistence that societies operate by individualist principles, with an establishment of appropriate civil and formal institutions. You can have a society whee individuals are left alone or you can leave societies alone to dispose as they please with individuals- you can’t have both.

— Aster (2009-04-25, 7:02am)


. . .


It depends what you compare it to. If you compare it to the best system I think human beings are possible of creating, undoubtably it's inferior. But if you consider it in the context of that vast slaughterbench of individuals known as human history, it looks more like a miraculously achievement.

  1. I don’t think that it worked out better than other competing proposals which were made at the time would have worked out. For example, if we’re comparing different proposed governments, then it ought to be noted one of the chief accomplishments of the United States Constitution, as compared with the earlier Articles of Confederation was that the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to substantially increase centralization, in particular to grant the general government wide powers to impose national taxes and to pass and enforce Fugitive Slave Acts. The first was a substantial reason for its political success at the North; the second was a substantial reason for its political success at the South. I don’t consider either of these an advance over what came before.

  2. How much of an achievement it looks like depends on where you’re looking at it from. There isn’t much of a miracle there for the Shawnee, or the Lakota, or for Africans, or for African-Americans, or for the Filipinos (1,000,000+ dead thanks to a war that could not have happened but for the war machine that a centralized U.S. made possible), or for the Vietnamese (4,000,000 dead from the same cause a few decades later), not just because it failed to improve things but because it made things actively worse than they were before under the status quo ante. It’s not enough to say, Yes, that’s terrible, but the alternatives were just as bad or worse. They weren’t, not for the people who have gotten the heel of the boot under the U.S. government. It’s one thing to say that the ideals that motivated some aspects of the founding events of the U.S. could, if radicalized and universalized, bring liberation for everyone (I agree with that, and often say so); but it’s important not to miss the fact that not only weren’t they, but in fact the selective versions were often used to enable the elite to inflict much more violence, sometimes genocidal violence, on those who were cast outside of the magic circle.

If you want to go looking for less-lethal states, they exist, but I don’t think that anything like the U.S.A. could possibly qualify. San Marino, maybe; Switzerland, maybe. I have problems with these states, as I do with any other, but I can see citing them as examples of societies which manage to rise above the general bloodbath of recorded history. But certainly not anything that has ever been done under the United States Constitution.

America's dying today

Q: When was it ever alive?

I think part of the difference in our outlooks is that I look at freedom as a positive construction. I don't see a natural state of freedom which government, elites, or capital has stolen from us.

But that’s not my view either.

I’m not trying to recover a primordial state. I view freedom as an achievement for the future; the question is by what means it can be achieved. My complaint is not that you’re proposing a structure; it’s that you’re proposing a structure which has been tried and found wanting, and which there are good reasons to consider structurually predisposed to the slaughter, enslavement, war, and torture that has been committed under its name since the day that it was signed. The reason that I want the State to get out of the way is not because I expect everything to fix itself automatically once people are left alone. It would do a handy job of automatically fixing some things — nobody but states builds atomic bombs; nobody but states starves people to death in the name of de-kulakization/industrial modernization/intellectual property rights in DNA/opium prohibition/etc. But there are many things that need to be worked out through conscious effort and activism and the building of social structures and institutions.

So when you say:

The conclusion I came out of this was: [explicit] law is valuable.

I agree with you, but I don’t know why that’s an argument against anarchism, or in favor of the United States Constitution. Anarchism doesn’t mean dispensing with all written precepts for social conduct or with any possible sort of juridical institution. It means dispensing with the State. There are plenty of ways of getting explicit law, and institutions which write down laws based on rational deliberation and criticism, and juridical institutions which apply law or judgment to concrete cases, based on consensual association and without any kind of state. That’s been precisely the point of market anarchist theory since the get-go. The idea is not to get rid of orderly dispute resolution, but rather to stop the State from violently suppressing alternative forms of it.

Without the State, you can’t have finally unaccountable juridical institutions, and you can’t have written laws which are passed off as binding solely because of the political position of those who wrote them down. But I consider that a virtue, not a defect, because the need for institutions which allow for holding aggressors accountable, and for settling disputes through deliberation about right, rather than by means of brute force, doesn’t just apply when it comes to encounters between one citizen and another. It also applies when it comes to encounters between the citizen and the State; but there’s no way to get that as long as the State remains a state. The state as such is lawless in its encounters with the people it claims the right to rule; so if you think that law is valuable, that’s a reason to oppose the state, not a reason to support it.

As for the particular case you mention, that’s awful, and all too familiar. I’ve encountered plenty of similar situations in anarchist scenes around the U.S. in the past. I think existing anarchist scenes do a very bad job of supporting women and a very bad job of responding to rape in particular. But (1) so does the State, as we both know; (2) partly because of male supremacy, which is everywhere at the moment, but partly also for reasons that have specifically to do with the legal and juridical structure of the state (because state-centric criminal law handle crimes of violence as a matter of the State’s interest in preserving public order, not as a matter of vindicating the rights of individual victims; no surprise that D.A.s and cops are typically incredibly unresponsive to the needs of women, especially when it comes to a crime typically committed within the private sphere); and (3) the problems with the existing anarchist scene only suggest a problem with anarchism as such, or a reason to favor the state, if there are no realistically available ways to deal with a situation like this using anarchistic methods. But there are ways to deal with it. I’m all for people involved in organizing anarchist spaces getting together and writing down, and taking seriously, policies about how to deal with sexual violence or other issues that are likely to come up in a social space. (I’ve personally written plenty of policies, back when I was involved with planning an anarchist convention some years back.) Those people in the scene who think that any such attempt to do so amounts to government (for ill or for good) are, well, wrong — not just wrong about how to deal with the problems of interpersonal violence, but also wrong about what government is and what it is anarchism is opposed to.

But I still think what we need is a consciously selected society based upon specific and rationally validated values.

O.K. But isn’t that a reason to favor a form of social organization in which peaceful people are free to select their political institutions, rather than one in which a predetermined set of political institutions are violently imposed on them regardless of their consciously selected preferences?

A society in which individuals may do what they wish requires an insistence that societies operate by individualist principles, with an establishment of appropriate civil and formal institutions.

Anarchism does not preclude civil or formal institutions.

The success of anarchism would mean that we've completely humanised the human condition. The anarchist possibility is a hypercivilisation.

O.K., sure; but the question is how we get there from here. If what you mean as the process of civilization is something like, getting from a condition of chaotic or semistructured violence, to a condition of social peace, then I agree that building social structure is part of the process. But there are different kinds of social structures, and the state is only one among many. It’s only one among many possible structures; it’s also only one among many of structures that have actually operated in history. (Here are some others, which did not derive from a centralized state: the norms and institutions of academe, friendly societies, labor unions, churches, synagogues, the Law Merchant, the English common law of torts and contracts, etc. Some of these are beneficent, others baleful, and most are a mixture of the two.) The question is whether the level of social peace that some people are privileged to enjoy today was brought about by the state, or by other structures without the help of the state, or by other structures in spite of the state; I think the answer is mostly the last. And further, it’s a question of whether, going forward, centralized state methods are likely to advance or to hold back the cause of greater civilization and social peace. I think, looking at what the state actually does do most of the time it is doing something, and looking at what states are always going to be most likely to do, given the way that they are structured, that the question is not a hard one to answer.

One technical point- what I was broadly praising wasn't the actual American system (past or present), but an ahistorical conjunction of the best parts from different periods- an 18th century @@e2;20ac;2dc;conservative' limited government with 20th century @@e2;20ac;2dc;liberal' provisions for rights enforcement.

I hope that you’d also include some other innovations besides the Incorporation Doctrine that also weren’t part of the Founding elite’s interpretation of the Constitution ca. 1790 — for example, the Thirteenth Amendment.

That said, if we’re now going to be looking at political systems which have never existed at any point in history, and which to be sustainable would also (as you argue) require a different culture and civil society, which does not now exist and never has existed and would involve a really radical transformation of what does now exist — then it seems like I can help myself to the same sort of hope and activism for the sort of radical transformation in culture and civil society which would make anarchy practical, sustainable, and desirable.

— Rad Geek (2009-04-25, 2:11pm)

Nick Manley:


Yeah, I was going to point out what Charles did for himself. You were attacking a strawman. The federated organizations imagined by anarcho-communists are fantastically consciously constructed. The minarchist-market anarchist debate is over whether competitive defense services can achieve a individualist liberal rule of law — not over the desirability of orderly proceedings per se. There are also a lot of relatively minor disputes in life where the state doesn't intervene without chaos resulting. A serious rape accusation is arguably something for an objective court of law, but a verbal scuffle with my mom isn't.


How would you answer a person pointing out Lawrence vs Texas, Brown vs Board of Education, and civil rights legislation passed on the national level?

Incidentally, the Brown vs Board of Education decision occurred in the context of compulsory schooling. You were compelled via taxes to support a racist school structure — no doubt said taxes fell on black and white alike.

— Nick Manley (2009-04-25, 4:24pm)



Bill of Rights, Amendment XIII, Aster’s edition.

Section I:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the County of Bohemia, or any place subject to her jurisdiction. Actually, involuntary servitude even as punishment for real crime just makess people nastier and isn’t exactly productive. Forced labour as restitution for aggression is a maybe, but it sounds way open to abuse.

Section II:

One more thing. It’s still involuntary servitude if you force someone to carry a gun and murder foreigners- actually, that’s even worse. And mandatory volunteerism- you guessed it, ‘involuntary servitude’!

Section III:

Oh, and that includes your wife. And your children. Don’t give that look- no, your wife and children aren’t your personal beasts of burden or fuck-toys. I don’t care if ‘your culture’ says otherwise. Tough.

Section IV:

It’s still involuntary servitude if you make the kid go to a big ugly building and bore them to death and call it ‘education’.

Section V:

It probably doesn’t count if it’s your dog or your cow, but we can discuss that issue. Maybe. Torturing millions of veal calves in factory farms does have a really bad slaveryish feel to it. Cats go under ‘implied non-applicability’- you can’t tell them what to do anyway. Actually, this amendment has an exception regarding you in relation to your cat. Obey her or else, not like you can resist.

Section VI.

The principle applies to places not subject to the jurisdiction of the County of Bohemia too, but this isn’t an excuse to bomb foreigners and take their stuff. Or to get other foreigners to ruin their livelihoods so they have to work in your sweatshops for virtually nothing. It even applies to BROWN people, believe it or not- and the fact that it took you this long to figure that out means you suck.

Section VII. Aster shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Actually, anyone who wants to stop a slavery situation should feel empowered to do it. Figuring out the enforcement and incentive structures will be a bitch, though- but that’s not an excuse for giving up and just letting slavery happen, Keith.

Section VIII: And the clever loophole in these rules you figured out is NOT OK. Slavery=BAD, if you were missing the point here.

Section IX: And if you were thinking that of course this principle applied to everyone but you- well, then you were wrong.

Charles, is that better?

— Aster (2009-04-25, 5:07pm)

Soviet Onion:


Charles said most of what I would have. I’m very much in favor of polycentric law, specifically because I think it’s a kind of decentralization (not be confused with mutually-exclusive “localisms” a la Hoppestan/anarcho-communism, ’cause that shit’s wack) that manages to incorporate the entire cosmopolis in a competitive and collaborative project(+). It’s the kind of decentralization that incorporates multiple overlapping world-strands instead segregating into little chunks where oppressive conditions can entrench themselves. It’s decentralized only in the sense that the same globalized process is taking place everywhere. The center is everywhere. Perhaps a better term for this is “system redundancy”, or even just competition.

The standard market anarchist talking point posits a competitive system of law and security in which no one is compelled to pay for enforcement they don’t want or seek the services of a specific mediator. This would tend to simultaneously whittle away anything that wasn’t strictly directly related to the defense of person or property, while strengthening those remaining parts (since competition is more efficient than monopoly), resulting in something that would unconsciously grope toward an approximation of a market liberal order, even in the absence of conscious endeavor (and the Lawyers in the crowd would see that as an almost mystical proof of Natural Law, but that’s also wack).

But the same thing would tend to happen culturally. By subsuming more and more people from larger cultural and geographic groups into the process, and forcing them to reason and persuade in an open environment wherein individuals are presented with a realistic possibility to run to the highest ground, you dissolve taboos and meme-traps to wind up with a code that should tend toward something more respectful of rational individualism, irrespective of whatever local aberrations may have been there initially. That ties into what I meant earlier about competition giving people so many options to run to that it forces all options to become better, because it becomes harder to put the cultural clampdown on anyone.

You see, this is why I’m not a good writer. I just ramble. To answer your point, I can see reasoned, macro-level cosmopolitan sentiments manifesting themselves best through this kind of anarchist decentralization. You don’t need to choose between an (unstable) monopoly state or an (undesirable) organic tribe.

(+) It’s no surprise that most of humanity’s early philosophical development took place in violently antagonistic environments like ancient Greece, China, India, Renaissance Italy etc. Competition is just a way of reconstituting this dynamic without violence, anarchist peace being the perfection of what we now call war, as Proudhon would say. Marxism tries to wish this discord away rather than harness it as an engine of progress (and even they recognize that it an engine of progress, but only to envision an end state that transcends it).

Note: I'm the last person to say that cultural change doesn't matter, but this system is likely to be the most stable and compatible form in which to help preserve and extend it. Certainly more than your description of decentralization would indicate.

In a loosely related note, I attended the Finding Our Roots anarchist convergence today and something in one of the workshops caught my ear, a word I hadn’t heard in a long time: Globalization. It was in the context of someone describing anarchism as advancing an alternative vision of globalization to the neoliberal one, and this person spoke in kind of a tongue-in-cheek fashion, because he knew that this had already become a cliche.

Now, left-libertarians do try to present themselves as real advocates of “free-trade”, “free-markets”, “privatization” and sometimes even “property rights”, all in an attempt to redeem these (more or less) valuable concepts from their hypocritical usurpers, and present them as an Unknown Ideal toward which we can aspire with all the genuine radicalism that it deserves.

But I’ve never seen left-libertarians do the same with globalization.

Isn’t it odd that a group of people who advocate mostly local, self-contained, territorial forms self-government and economic relations still felt that the word globalization was worth redeeming, and left-libertarians haven’t?

— Soviet Onion (2009-04-25, 8:03pm/8:53pm/9:28pm)

William Gillis:


I think giving up on the anarchist project because of one specific instance in one specific scene where some folks failed to have a good response to an instance/charge of rape is a little, well disappointing.

No one ever pretended that the present-day movement has already found all the habits and organizational tendencies necessary to resolve every dilemma before a functioning society. Our only claim is that such models exist to be found.

I think these problems of justice can be solved theoretically but because of the emotional immediacy and the relative perpetuity of sexual assault in our culture the movement has opted for a trial and error approach with various cities trying various solutions and engaging in an — albeit limited — dialogue. There are collectives and mediating bodies in dozens of cities across the united states with experience dealing with precisely these kinds of situations, often to impressive ends. Your example is a classic one, but it’s one that’s recognized as such. For all of Social Anarchism’s annoying self-limitations they HAVE demonstrated over the last few decades a serious and proactive commitment to developing organic solutions. And as Market Anarchists we should be able to recognize that if even a free market can take a few iterations to generate and test solutions, a small cliquish group of people LARPing on weekends as though they were already in a free society might take a while longer.

The problem is not that there aren’t solutions, the problem is that these models and groups fall into disuse and their nuances aren’t conveyed to the next 3-year batch of radicals. Long distance (in time AND space) communication has never been Social Anarchism’s strong suit. But this is not a fundamental impediment but a reality of the movement’s size, culture and technological aptitude.


As to the rest.

I take seriously umbrage at your portrayal of the Social Anarchist movement as rife with naive kindness and idealism because of their largely pampered privileged bourgeois upbringings.

Practically everyone I work with or run into on a regular basis come from backgrounds of seriously fucked up shit. I may think I have the slightly worse extreme stories of childhood homelessness, starvation and abuse, and there may be an annoying rash of privileged upper working-class kids scattered around the scene for good measure, but I am really fucking sick of folks who briefly slum it with the cliques most immediately accessible to them and use such unrepresentative anecdotes to write off the entire movement.

It’s not about naivety. It’s precisely because we’re intimately aware of the sheer depth of horrors in the sociological/psychological composition of our society and how they function that we endeavor to prove another world is possible.

Yes America is a pretty damn amazing accomplishment and a great improvement. We can measure things against Anarchy, Full-blown consciousness-outlawed Fascism, or how things were previously in history. America obviously fails against the first but triumphs amazingly against the latters. As far as world empires we could have at this state of technological development America is practically a divine miracle.

But as you well know it’s a strawman to argue against Anarchists as though we want to immediately whisk away the state and its various forms of control. We’re not, nor have we ever, argued for some police-strike. The civilizing process will take some damn time. Probably millennia were we destined to remain at roughly this level of technological capacity.

That being true it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands and become a social democrat for the duration. (And we CAN argue for reformism and certain improved models of statism without being hypocrites.) But the reality is that the statist or liberal paradigm is one of fetishizing immediate advances or ameliorations in ignorance or apathy of their long term consequences. Simply put, the game of statist reform threatens to paint us into a corner from which we cannot emerge. Being an Anarchist is differentiated from Liberalism or Minarchism because while some of us may give to the EFF / ACLU, vote for lesser evils or get involved in political campaigns we navigate these contexts constantly mindful of our pursuit of an end far beyond them. We can’t choose means that cripple our ultimate ends.

— william, 2009-04-25, 11:44pm

Now, setting aside my editor hat and putting my contributor hat back on, a few notes on the discussion.

  1. I’d still be interested in hearing from Soviet Onion whether he has anyone else in mind when he talks about a left-libertarian tendency to inappropriately fetishize localism and decentralism, and if so, who.

  2. In reply to Aster, I oppose debt slavery, including debt slavery to pay off restitution. Otherwise, sounds fine, and, speaking as head of state and a supermajority of the provincial councils, I’m happy to incorporate it into the Bill of Rights of this secessionist republic of one. Probably was already hidden under a penumbra somewhere, but a little repetition never hurt anybody.

  3. In reply to Soviet Onion, I agree with you, and you are unjust to your own writing. Except there’s no such thing as a meme-trap because there’s no such thing as memes. I agree that the non-territoriality of anarchist justice and defense associations, institutions for deliberating about right, and so on, is important to stress; decentralism means the lack of a fixed center, not a proliferation of millions of fixed centers with a small stretch of turf.

    As for globalization, well, I dunno; but for what it’s worth, Southern Nevada ALL does distribute Free Trade Is Fair Trade and one of the main issues we focus on locally is immigration freedom. I agree that the discussion of counter-globalization or alternative globalization doesn’t get as much talk as it ought to, but I don’t think that tendencies among left-libertarians are really the problem here; I think the problem is one that exists throughout the anarchist movement, and that we’d be talking about it more if more of our interlocutors were bringing it up in their own conversations, and I agree with Shawn’s point in What ever happened to (the discourse on) Neoliberalism? that the critical narrative seems to have bumped into some obstacle in the collective memory of radicals. (Speaking only for myself, I suspect that the reasons why have a lot to do with the political events of the last 8 years, and with some bad decisions that we made, or that were made for us by our conversation partners, going into the anti-war movement.)

What do y’all think? Fire when ready in the comments.

U.S. out of Las Vegas!

One of the things that I said in my speech about ALL to the Libertarian Party of Clark County, which was deliberately provocative and carefully worded, was I am here today to bring you two messages. So let me cut to the chase and deliver both of them right now. They are the point of this entire talk, and I can put them both in ten words or fewer. Here's the first: Las Vegas will be free soil in our own lifetimes. And the second is: We are all going to make it happen. That may seem ridiculously optimistic, given the immensity, the scope, the pervasiveness, and the ruthlessness of the many-headed monster we call the modern State. I try to discuss a bit in my speech why it is not overly optimistic, focusing on the second claim — that we all, meaning not ALL or the Libertarian Party, but just about everybody in Las Vegas — can and will take part, if those of us who care about these things play our cards right, through the use of populist organizing, coalition building, direct action, and counter-economics.

But another thing that I didn’t focus on much, which I’d like to mention, is the importance of the first thing I said, when I said Las Vegas will be free soil. I said that, and not something else (the U.S. will be free soil; the word will be free soil) because I think that’s an achievable goal. It’s not that I don’t want the whole U.S., or indeed the entire earth to be free soil; it’s not even that I think either couldn’t be free soil in the forseeable future. They could; I hope they will; if I can help, I will. But Las Vegas is where I live, and where Southern Nevada ALL intends to act, and I think it’s immensely important to begin there, and not to sell yourself on the idea that action has to be directed against the largest possible targets, or, more importantly at trying to strike some decisive blow at those targets that will somehow defeat Power everywhere and forever. Real empires almost never fall that way, unless they are conquered by some outside force, usually another rising empire, and for anarchists that’s not an acceptable option. So we need to think about getting the empire to crumble, not to implode, and to help it along by chiseling wherever and as hard as we can. If we win, it will crumble in some places faster than it will crumble in others. The basic problem is that a central aim of the imperial State has always been to get people to forget, effectively, about their neighborhood, their friends, their family, and everything else actually around them, and to understand their homeland in strictly political terms, in terms of a flag and a set of lines on the map and a capital hundreds or thousands of miles away. If anarchists ever want to get anywhere, we’re going to need to break that link, to pry people’s notion of home from out the talons of the State and its notion of political citizenship. Which strategic point brings me to a really excellent recent post by Jeremy at Social Memory Complex (2008-06-13), which is working towards some of the analysis that goes along with:

Or does our whole approach to this dissonant national endeavor need retooling?

I think it does. Is the lobbyist-driven agenda of corporations, special interests, and political culture really any less distant than U.S. foreign policy? Do we have any authentic control over the decisions in our society that affect us? Or are we just treated as fungible units of polity that have only to be deftly mobilized by public relations wizards in pursuit of an agenda fundamentally alien to us? What, in other words, is the difference between our powerlessness within the borders of the U.S. and the powerlessness endured by the residents of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Instead of contrasting our experience under our government with that of its foreign victims, we might do well to compare the experiences. We've been taught from a very young age to distinguish American citizenship from that enjoyed by citizens of other countries, chiefly by virtue of our unique institutions of governance. But it is these same institutions that are being built in Iraq: a democratic, constitutional government with corporate control and obedience to international capital, with an established U.S. military presence to ensure stability in the region. These features are proving just as confounding to their freedom as their American counterparts are for us.

Through overwhelming military force, claims of moral privilege, and alleged threats – not unlike the P.R. which allowed the U.S. to conquer the west and the south in the 19th century and frame it as liberation – the U.S. government is imposing a democratic government and a market economy on an unwilling people. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is also continuing to ratchet up the police state at home even as it practices martial law in Iraq. Just as there were Tories and other people loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, the federal government finds plenty of lackeys in the fifty states, Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed throughout the world to do their dirty military or paramilitary (law enforcement) work. Legislative creep and sheer audacity constantly expand the scope of lawful authority, defining down the degree of liberty an individual can expect to enjoy. Participation in the decisions that affect us is framed as a set of predetermined choices provided by the establishment rather than a direct say at the local level. And all of these features bring more and more of the world under direct control of Washington – both the world within U.S. borders and the world outside them.

For it is into Washington, in the District of Columbia, that all the spoils of these policies flow. The D.C. metro area is among the fastest growing in the nation, despite having no productive civilian industry to speak of (except perhaps I.T., but no more than any other city if you discount government contracting). Not only is it the seat of governance for the country, it is the clearing house for the international policy of most nations. By enticing Americans to "work within the system" to influence policy, citizens legitimate the process by which power and authority are steadily concentrated. An entire lobbying industry has sprung up from the need to have some say in this process; doing business in the empire has a high cost of entry, and once you get a seat at the table it's plunder or be plundered. As more people see D.C. as the place where decisions are made, rather than local governments or foreign capitals, the amount of money and people pouring into the city will continue to grow, while localities and other countries become bureaucratic appendages of D.C. policy.

. . .

But it's not just that Washingtonians rule over an overseas empire; it's that domestic U.S. territory is increasingly treated as part of the conquered territory, rather than as the source of state legitimacy. Sure, we have elected representatives we send to D.C. from all over the country, but experience shows that only in the rarest of occasions do they not adopt the Beltway outlook of going along to get along with the system. Instead, they play the game to bring home as much of the spoils of empire (taxation and government contracts for further imperialism) as possible. In the process, they cease to represent their constituents in D.C., preferring to represent the Washingtonian agenda in their respective localities. They become little Paul Brehmers, advocating policies that promote the more effective rule of the domestic and foreign empire. They measure success in terms of how they can coax or coerce the locals into compliance with necessarily foreign interests.

If it is policies in Washington, D.C. that are changing this country into an empire, it is inaccurate to label the empire American. Clearly, the vast majority of Americans are not participating in it, but are merely preferred subjects in territory as occupied as that in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . If the decision-making bureaucracy, military might, and economic clout are all based in Washington, doesn't it make sense to call this system the Washingtonian empire, rather than conflating it with the disenfranchised subjects in the fifty states? It's no more an American empire than it is an Iraqi or Afghan one.

The Washingtonian Empire is the largest, richest, most powerful, most hierarchically distributed, and most subtly maintained in history. It is so successful that it has even managed to proceed with its agenda without much notice as to its true nature. We should stop trying to get people to take responsibility for the decisions of a foreign city-state, because this only encourages the conflation of their American identity with an alien one.

By drawing on our revolutionary, anti-colonial legacy, we can frame the American political experience as one of historically consistent subjugation. We can then find common ground with other victims of American imperialism while articulating an authentically decentralist agenda.

— Social Memory Complex (2008-06-13): The empire is not American, but Washingtonian

Make sure you read the whole thing, especially Jeremy’s very salient discussion of the impact of this kind of analysis on strategy.

Let me just add that one of the most important dimensions in which to emphasize the nature of America as occupied territories is the connection with the daily lives of the most thoroughly oppressed and exploited people under the bootheels of the United States government and its praetors and proconsuls: especially black people, brown people, poor people, immigrants, people labeled crazy, women (especially the women most marginalized and criminalized by the government and civil society), etc. etc. etc. During the 1960s, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and many other New Left liberation groups explicitly linked the conditions and struggles of people in the brutally police-occupied, white-controlled ghettoes of the U.S. — which were founded in slavery, lynch law, apartheid, and immiserating land grabs, which were treated politically as presumptively criminal, unruly elements of the body politic, to be reformed, contained, or eradicated; which were regimented and patrolled on every street corner by the occupying paramilitary forces of the white government — with the conditions and struggles of colonized peoples throughout the so-called Third World, recognizing that just because the lines on the map separated Harlem and Watts from Johannesburg and Nairobi, the people in each had far more in common with each other than any of them had with the handful of white men sitting in the halls of power in D.C., in London, and elsewhere. The false dignity of a morally and practically meaningless imperial citizenship was dismissed; in its place was offered self-understanding for people facing the violence of colonization and solidarity with people rising up against Power in their own homelands throughout the world. In the 1970s, Detroit feminists elaborated the thought by pointing out that, in an important sense, women throughout the world constituted a Fourth World, which faced subjugation and colonization at the hands of petty patriarchs and male States, whether those sites of colonization were located in the capitals of First, Second or Third World regimes. Anarchists can and should learn these lessons well, and take the thoughts to their logical completion, by showing how the State, just as such, always and everywhere, operates as a colonizing force, against all its subjects, and for the profit of the handful of beneficiaries who constitute the ruling class. (Of course, the fact that it operates like this against us all does not mean that it operates this way against all of us to an equal degree. The point here is not cheap sympathy; it’s solidarity, especially with those who are the most trodden upon by this monster State.)

While the legacy of 1776 is worth understanding and learning from, and an important weapon to turn against the power in Washington; but so are many other things, and I think it is vital for the Libertarian Left to take up and learn from this tradition in articulating our anti-imperial theory and practice.

See also:

10,000 ways to lose your freedom

You talk of simplification. But if you can simplify in one point, you can simplify in all. Instead of a million laws, a single law will suffice. What shall this law be? Do not to others what you would not they should do to you: do to others as you would they should do to you. That is the law and the prophets.

But it is evident that this is not a law; it is the elementary formula of justice, the rule of all transactions. Legislative simplification then leads us to the idea of contract, and consequently to the denial of authority. In fact, if there is but a single law, if it solves all the contradictions of society, if it is admitted and acceptedby everybody, it is sufficient for the social contract. In promulgating it you announce the end of government. What prevents you then from making this simplification at once?

— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, Fourth Study, The Principle of Authority, § 2.2 ¶Â¶ 9–10.

Over at newsrack, lefty Thomas Nephew kindly took notice of GT 2008-05-16: Women and the Invisible Fist. Nephew wrote:

Via Jim Henley, who seems lately to be about metamorphosing your father’s (and/or mother’s) libertarianism into something more honest, multifaceted, and interesting. See also in this respect Henley’s Art of the Possible post, and the site as a whole: Liberals and libertarians on common ground... and otherwise. Henley says that the challenge is to correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence. I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. But I’m interested that libertarians are thinking about the challenge.

— Thomas Nephew (2008-05-24): Worth reading

That lead to some interesting discussion in the comments thread. I replied:


Thank you for the kind mention, and for the thoughtful comments.

You write: “Henley says that the challenge is to ‘correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.’ I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement”

There are a couple of different kinds of malign spontaneous orders that need to be differentiated here.

The first are malign undesigned orders that emerge, in part, from diffuse forms of violence — what I called “invisible fist” processes, as with the socio-cultural ripple effects of stranger-rape and other prevalent forms of violence against women.

The second are malign orders that don’t emerge from diffuse forms of violence, but rather from voluntary interactions. Unlike some libertarians, I believe that there are plenty of examples of these, too (for example, certain kinds of widespread credentialism and elitism that have emerged over the past century, and which have a big effect on education and on the workplace). These malign undesigned orders are often intimately connected with social orders that have coercive elements (for example, I’d say that certain pernicious forms of credentialism and managerialism, which contribute to classism and to the exploitation of working folks, have an awful lot to do with consistent government intervention on behalf of the managerial class and against the deskilled proletariat over the past century — cf. for examples my essay Scratching By at http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8204 or Kevin Carson’s Mutualist Blog at http://mutualist.blogspot.com/) — but, while intimately connected, are not identical with them (it’s likely that even without that government intervention they might live on through institutionalized cultural prejudices, unless deliberately confronted and undermined).

Libertarians and anarchists can consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the former (violent) sort of undesigned order; they can’t consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the latter (non-violent, but still ugly) sort of undesigned order.

In the second case, though, I ought to stress that not abandoning the use of force doesn’t mean abandoning the use of confrontation or hardball tactics–they just have to be carried out through tactics and institutions outside the political arena, the legal arena, or the regulatory bureaucracy. (On what should be done instead, I’m really an old Leftist at heart: I think people should form fighting unions and community organizations, build counter-institutions and mutual aid societies, use targeted and general strikes, boycotts, work-to-rule, hardball forms of social ostracism, stage sit-ins, etc. etc. etc. Forget about the government; we can do this ourselves.)

In the first case, the use of countervailing physical force in defense of self or others is defense, not aggression, so it need not offend any libertarian or anarchist sensibilities (unless one is a principled pacifist–which I’m not, and which most libertarians and anarchists aren’t either). You worry that that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. I’m inclined to agree with that (although we might disagree on what the importance of agreement is here). But supposing that we do agree, I don’t think it tells against Jim’s point. Agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement aren’t in and of themselves a problem for anarchism or libertarianism. The question is how the agreement on those norms is brought about: whether the agreement comes about by general acquiescence to privileged demands, or whether it comes about by means of a broad consensus among equals.

Government ensures agreement upon these norms by erecting privileged institutions which are legally empowered to force everyone else to acquiesce to the norms they propound and act on.

Anarchy, on the other hand, doesn’t mean chaos or the break-up of any agreed-upon norms of justice or enforcement. (At least, that’s not what anarchy means in the mouths of anarchists who use the term.) What it does mean is that any agreement upon those norms should be brought about through the free interactions among equals and by the emergence of a broad social consensus.

Further, anarchists generally believe that that kind of consensus can rightfully be acted on by any free association that puts reasonable norms for justice and enforcement into practice — rather than being limited to a privileged class of government-approved cops, judges, etc. The idea here being that the justice of judgments and the righteousness of enforcement are things that ought to be assessed on the merits of the conduct itself, not according to the identity or the political status of the judge or the enforcer. That is to say, that it should be considered as a matter to be resolved by appeals to the content of the norms, rather than to the political status and prerogatives of the body propounding them.

So the ideal here is not to abolish any general norms of justice or enforcement, but rather to keep the ideal of consensus on norms while detaching the crafting of the consensus from the imposition of exclusive government-granted prerogatives.

Does that help clarify, or does it muddify?

— Rad Geek (2008-06-01): Comments on Worth reading

Thomas replied with some comments on professionalization and specialization in the law, which are the main thing that I want to focus on today. In part because the issue is interesting and important in itself; in part also because the way that police forces and the legal system operate today is, in many different ways, ideologically dependent on the idea that we need to turn a great deal of our lives and freedom over to a cadre of trained, specialized legal professionals for our own protection and in order to ensure justice and social peace. He wrote:

Thank you very much for your comment — it’s really an excellent post in its own right. I think I understand what you’re driving at; I’m trying to decide what I think about it, and that takes me longer than maybe it should. My thoughts so far:

  1. I suppose I have a sneaking agreement that there’s too much that’s privileged and mysterious about judges, lawyers, and law enforcement. But I also think there’s specialization and craft in these pursuits, just as there is in, say, cabinetmaking or watchmaking. Those are pursuits I leave to others; maybe so is law enforcement or judging. Even just a policeman has to master tons of information and training — knowing the law, when to wait, when to intervene, how to gather evidence, how to avoid violating rights while pushing back against spontaneous malign orders.

  2. But I also see the difficulty with that analogy: unlike with the cabinet or watchmaking trades, I recognize I have a citizen’s responsibility in understanding my political system and helping point it in the right direction, to the best of my puny abilities.

— Thomas Nephew (2008-06-02): Comments on Worth reading

By way of reply, I argued that the need for specialized expertise and training (1) isn’t an argument for monopoly, and also (2) is itself a function of the expansiveness and authoritarianism of the State:


Thank you for your kind words.

You write: “But I also think there’s specialization and craft in these pursuits, just as there is in, say, cabinetmaking or watchmaking.”

Probably so, although I’m inclined to think that there is, or ought to be, much LESS specialization and craft than the professionalized government enforcers and judges would have you believe. To be sure, the government laws that are on the books today are tremendously complicated and require years of specialized training and practice to even begin to get a good grip on a relatively small specialty. But I think that that’s precisely because the people who make and use the laws have a political and a professional interest in making those laws extremely complicated, and in having them cover an extremely wide and not very well defined scope of human affairs. Libertarians and anarchists believe that regularized enforcement should cover a much more precisely delimited and a much, much smaller field than it currently does, so to some extent the problem vanishes along with the laws that libertarians and anarchists believe ought to be abolished.

For example, labor relations law as it presently exists is extremely complicated — it requires making a lot of very fine distinctions, balancing many different prerogatives granted to and regulatory limitations imposed upon unions, individual employees, and employers, etc. etc. etc. It takes a lot to even understand the basics of the situation, and the tricky details of a concrete case often can’t even be resolved without hashing out the issues in bureaucratic negotiations through the NLRB or in federal court. But the complexity of the legal situation is clearly a function of its being channeled through the federal regulatory bureaucracy. That situation clearly benefits NLRB bureaucrats and professional labor lawyers; it’s much less clear that it benefits the rank-and-file workers for whose benefit this sort of thing was supposedly constructed, but who are substantially deprived of any real control over the process by putting so much of it into the hands of professional legal experts. If agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement were (as anarchists believe that they should be) limited only to the issue of protecting innocent people from being attacked by physical force, or vindicating their rights after the fact if they should be attacked — with all the rest to be handled by free contracts between the individual parties, unregimented by a government bureaucracy, and by whatever forms of nonviolent leverage and activism that the creativity of organized workers and a fighting union might devise — then it’s much less clear what need for specialization or professionalization there would be. (There might still be a lot of need for impartial arbitrators; but impartiality is distinct from technical expertise, and is something you can get by finding any third party of good will and good sense for the duration of the arbitration; it doesn’t require a distinct class of professional arbitrators.)

Generalizing from that case, I agree with Lysander Spooner that if the realm of enforcement were strictly limited to questions of interpersonal justice, then, quote:

No objection can be made to these voluntary associations upon the ground that they would lack that knowledge of justice, as a science, which would be necessary to enable them to maintain justice, and themselves avoid doing injustice. Honesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple matter, easily understood by common minds. Those who desire to know what it is, in any particular case, seldom have to go far to find it. It is true, it must be learned, like any other science. But it is also true that it is very easily learned. Although as illimitable in its applications as the infinite relations and dealings of men with each other, it is, nevertheless, made up of a few simple elementary principles, of the truth and justice of which every ordinary mind has an almost intuitive perception. And almost all men have the same perceptions of what constitutes justice, or of what justice requires, when they understand alike the facts from which their inferences are to be drawn.

Men living in contact with each other, and having intercourse together, CANNOT AVOID learning natural law to a very great extent, even if they would. The dealing of men with men, their separate possessions and their individual wants, and the disposition of every man to demand, and insist upon, whatever he believes to be his due, and to resent and resist all invasions of what he believes to be his rights, are continually forcing upon their minds the questions, Is this act just? or is it unjust? Is this thing mine? or is it his? And these are questions of natural law; questions which, in regard to the great mass of cases, are answered alike by the human mind everywhere.”

— Lysander Spooner (1882), Natural Law, or the Science of Justice, section 4.

And I would follow up your second point by urging that it is dangerous, and to some degree irresponsible, to adopt large-scale systems of law and practice that practically require ordinary citizens to abandon the questions of political and interpersonal justice to a privileged, insular, and easily corrupted class of specialists.

But, secondly, I would also argue, further, that even if the requirements of justice ARE complicated enough in some particular case that it requires some specialized training and expertise to sort them out, or where correctly applying and implementing them requires specialized training and expertise in something else (e.g., for enforcers, training and expertise in de-escalating potentially violent situations may be a form of specialization well worth having), that seems to me like an argument for leaving the field open to many specialists, who can offer their services to anyone who is interested in retaining them (e.g. many private associations for arbitration and/or defense, which people go to on the basis of choice rather than being forced to go to one in particular on the basis of fixed territorial monopolies). Not so much an argument for limiting the field to a single fixed, institutionalized class of specialists (e.g. a government court or a government police force with rigidly and exclusively defined territorial or topical jurisdictions).

The first (non-monopolistic) solution really would make the business of law a skilled trade or profession, much like watchmaking or medicine, where people go to acknowledged experts freely, but aren’t forced to choose one particular expert on the basis of political status, and can choose another, on the basis of their own considered judgment and comfort levels, or for that matter can still choose none at all, if they decide to hazard the risks and trouble of doing it for themselves.

The second, monopolistic solution doesn’t make the business of law so much like skilled trades and professions, but rather like a feudal or command economy, in which people are assigned particular experts and forced to turn matters over to that particular expert rather than another, on the basis of the political status of the experts rather than on the basis of broadly and consensually acknowledged expertise. It’s that which, as an anarchist, I really object to.

Does that help? What do you think?

— Rad Geek (2008-06-02): Comments on Worth reading

In reply, Thomas raised some fairly common counter-objections and worries, especially about the dangers supposedly posed by the devolution of policing from public control to private defense — or, to spin it another way, from government to civil society.

But the complexity of the legal situation is clearly a function of its being channeled through the federal regulatory bureaucracy. That situation clearly benefits NLRB bureaucrats and professional labor lawyers; it’s much less clear that it benefits the rank-and-file workers for whose benefit this sort of thing was supposedly constructed, but who are substantially deprived of any real control over the process by putting so much of it into the hands of professional legal experts.

This seems like blaming the chickens for the fox’s raid on the chicken coop. At least lately, the situation you refer to clearly benefits management in most NLRB disputes. I’d put down most of what’s wrong with NLRB to its being an easily subverted agency, most of the blame for that to corporations achieving via the back door of a compliant board what they couldn’t via the statutes authorizing the NRLB in the first place … and most of what’s wrong with those statutes to earlier corporate influence in making things like unionization far too difficult in the first place. Rightly administered and empowered, NLRB ought to be a counterweight to moneyed and propertied interests that have no interest in worker’s rights. The fact that it isn’t rightly administered and empowered seems to me a measure of the strength of the forces arrayed against it, not of the weakness of the idea of an NLRB itself.

The first (non-monopolistic) solution really would make the business of law a skilled trade or profession, much like watchmaking or medicine, where people go to acknowledged experts freely, but aren’t forced to choose one particular expert on the basis of political status, and can choose another, on the basis of their own considered judgment and comfort levels, or for that matter can still choose none at all, if they decide to hazard the risks and trouble of doing it for themselves.

At least for legal representation, that — in theory — is already the case, isn’t it? The problem is when the innocent can’t afford a Clarence Darrow, a Johnny Cochrane, or an F Lee Bailey to get them off but the guilty can.

I don’t see how to bid out for police functions, though, without that turning into yet another part of society baldly favoring the rich and privileged over the poor and disenfranchised. While that may be too much the case even with a police force as public monopoly, I think it would surely be worse in a “Deadwood“-type services-to-the-highest-bidder world. But maybe I’m misunderstanding you in how police functions ideally ought to work.

— Thomas Nephew (2008-06-02): Comments on Worth reading

To which I made some counter-counter-objections, and raised what I think ought to be some obvious questions:


You write: “This seems like blaming the chickens for the fox’s raid on the chicken coop.”

I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t blame rank-and-file workers for the way the NLRB functions. I blame the politicos, the “Progressive” bosses, and the conservative union bosses who pushed to create the system. (Radical unions, like the I.W.W., rightly opposed the system as an effort to promote conservative unionism and to capture and domesticate unions through a combination of government patronage and government regulation.)

You write: “Rightly administered and empowered, NLRB ought to be a counterweight to moneyed and propertied interests that have no interest in worker’s rights.”

Two things.

First, I have no confidence in anyone’s ability to craft a regulatory agency that successfully resists being substantially captured by the interests that it regulates. I can’t think of any example in the history of American regulatory bodies where this has been pulled off for any length of time, and I don’t think it should be particularly surprising that, since political entities respond to political incentives, they will tend to be administered in a way that systematically benefits the wealthiest and most politically-connected people.

Second, even if the NLRB were ideally administered, the system is designed from the ground up as a means of constraining union demands and restricting unions to the most conservative and least effectual methods. (Thus, the Taft-Hartley bans on secondary strikes, secondary boycotts, union hiring halls, wildcat strikes, etc. etc. etc.; thus the emphasis on a heavily regulated process of collective bargaining, controlled by very elaborate legal requirements that are often next to impossible for rank-and-file workers to understand, in place of extremely effective and very simple to understand tactics, like work-to-rule and other forms of direct action in the workplace.)

You write: “At least for legal representation, that — in theory — is already the case, isn’t it?”

Well, not entirely — you can choose one lawyer rather than another, as long as you can afford their fees, but you can’t choose anyone as your advocate except those who have been officially approved for membership in the government-created and government-regulated lawyer’s guild. But lawyers weren’t the “experts” I was referring to; I was referring to the fact that the government forces people to take legal disputes before specific judges (with jurisdiction fixed by the issue in dispute and by accidents of geography), and excludes other no-less qualified and impartial experts from taking up the dispute simply because the privileged judge has a particular political status and the other would-be arbitrator doesn’t. If we are really talking about a form of specialized expertise here, like that of the watchmaker or of the doctor, then anyone should be able to take the case, not just a judge deemed to have that topic and that location within his bailiwick by the government.

You write: “I don’t see how to bid out for police functions, though, without that turning into yet another part of society baldly favoring the rich and privileged over the poor and disenfranchised.”

Well, I don’t know. Isn’t that already how government policing works?

Tax funding doesn’t prevent government cops from treating poor people pretty shitty, or from acting as an instrument of class power. In fact, the fact that poor neighborhoods have no real control over who provides policing in their neighborhoods, and no way of cutting off their portion of the funding for neglectful or abusive police forces, is part and parcel of the problem.

Anyway, I’m not sure what you mean by bid out for police functions. If you mean the government outsourcing policing to private security corporations (Wackenhut, Blackwater, whatever), I’m not for that, and I don’t consider it an example of free market self-defense. I think that all government involvement in policing (whether in-sourced or out-sourced) should be abolished.

If you mean individual people choosing to cover the costs of policing, and having a choice about who, if anyone, they get police services from, then I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the result will be (even more) plutocratic policing. It’s true that, if all policing were based on free association and not on government monopoly, there might well be some policing that is done by private goon squads for hire, and those might have an incentive to favor the rich over the poor. But (1) again, I’m not convinced that they’d have more of an incentive to do so than government cops already have; and (2) there are lots of other ways of using free association to get self-defense and neighborhood defense done. For example, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords organized historically oppressed people to arm themselves, and to patrol and defend their own neighborhoods (including defending them from the predation of abusive white cops). In any case, where there are many, competing and countervailing associations that serve defensive functions, if one association becomes especially neglectful, or, worse, predatory, against marginalized people, other associations can move in to compete, or new associations can be formed, to check the first. But when policing is monopolized by a single institution, there is no real reason for them to try to please anybody outside of their firmest base of support (in the case of political monopolies, that means the ruling class–as is confirmed by how police departments already operate today). If they don’t please marginalized people, why would they care? They stay paid anyway, and there’s no countervailing force to hold them to account for their abusiveness.

My own view is that the need for any form of professional policing at all would be dramatically less in a free society than it is in the present day. (For example, in a free society there would be no drug laws, vice laws, or border laws, and thus no narcs, no vice cops, and no La Migra. There would also be much less entrenched urban poverty, because — for reasons I discuss in the Freeman article — ghettoized urban poverty as we know it is largely a function of interlocking government interventions against poor people’s survival strategies and attemtps to flourish through creative hustling; hence much less economically motivated crime, and also much less of certain kinds of antisocial behavior. So, again, this is, to a great extent, a problem that vanishes along with the needless government laws and endless government “wars” on consensual behavior, which I already favor abolishing. But, even if the demand for specialized policing were to remain just as high as it is today, I still think that it is far, far better to have a situation in which people are free to withdraw their support from abusive agencies, and where there are many acknowledged experts to keep each other in check, than a situation in which people are forced to pay for their own abuse, and in which cops are never held to account for wrongdoing by any means other than “handling it internally” and issuing the occasional “Oops, our bad”.

— Rad Geek (2008-06-01): Comments on Worth reading

It’s a fairly wide-ranging discussion, and you ought to read the whole thing if you want to follow up on some of the sub-threads about, for example, organizing, class, tactics, immigration, and so on. For now, I want to highlight the discussion about specialization and professionalization in policing. On that note, I want to stress that it’s precisely those ideals in lawyering and law enforcement that lead directly to things like this, and this, and this. And, less directly but very quickly, gets us from those to this and this. And that from there it doesn’t take a very slippery slope to get down to this and this and this.

And the perceived need for specialization, professionalization, and expertise is a need which only exists because of the very system of law and enforcement it is invoked to justify. On a related note, consider this video (thanks to Jeremy at Social Memory Complex 2008-06-04: Don’t talk to the police), which provides both excellent legal advice, from the standpoint of simple self-interest, and some solid analysis of our present predicament how ordinary folks like you and me ought to relate to government cops under these conditions.

Without that system, without its politically-fabricated complexity, and without the tremendous latitude deliberately created by that complexity for government police to exercise arbitrary power in stopping, detaining, fining, and arresting suspect people — the 10,000 or more crimes that government law has fabricated, the crimes so numerous that not even the government itself can count them all anymore, and so potentially ruinous for anyone in trouble with the law that you have little choice but to regard anyone threatening to exercise their specialization and craft in the law as little more than a dangerous soldier in a hostile, occupying force — without all that, I say, there would be no basis, no need, and no call for that complexity or that arbitrary authority, or for the privileged, professionalized retinue of lawyers and enforcers who are expected today to go around navigating that complexity and exercising that arbitrary authority, in order to solve the very problems that the same complexity and arbitrary authority created in the first place.

Further reading:

Statist logic

In comments at The Art of the Possible, Jeremy asks:

And how come you get the country and I have to leave [in order to secure individual liberty from government coercion under majority rule]?

Angelica replies:

Well, as most people think democratic government is a good idea and it's the idea we've used for a long, long time, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that your idea is better.

In logic, begging the question (sometimes known by its Latin name, petitio principii) is the fallacy of presupposing, in an argument, part of what you need to prove. There are lots of ways to spell out exactly what that comes to, and some interesting philosophical debate to be had. But one paradigm case of question-begging that pretty much everybody agrees on is the circular argument–a degenerate argument in which the conclusion supposedly to be proved is itself one of the premises. For example, when one argues that, all other things being equal, I ought to be ruled by a form of legal authority based on what most people want rather than based on my individual consent, because, regardless of whether or not I individually consent to it, that’s the form of legal authority that most people want.

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