Tragedy and Hope

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the tenth anniversary of the Molinari Institute, and also the tenth anniversary of this blog.

Let me start today’s post by reprinting my very first blog post:

Reflections on the First Anniversary of September 11th

The first time I visited the site of the World Trade Center was some time around 1986. There was a fierce wind whipping through the canyons of Wall Street, and the flow of cars and pedestrians on the pavement below was equally vigorous. The friend who was showing me around waited for me to notice the two gleaming towers peeking over the nearer buildings. After pausing to honour Alexander Hamilton’s grave (yeah, I know, but compared to today’s politicians he looks pretty good), we headed to the WTC and took the long elevator ride to the top. The wind was too strong, they said, to let tourists onto the outdoor observation deck, so we contented ourselves with the indoor one, where the view was still breathtaking. I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty as a tiny green speck below.

Somehow, on subsequent trips to New York I never seemed to get that far downtown – though I remember once on a commuter flight passing startlingly close to the two towers shining in a coppery sunset.

World Trade Center

The second time I visited the WTC site was last December. The area looked like the description of New York in the first chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Apart from the clot of gawkers at Ground Zero itself, the streets were nearly deserted. Shop windows were dark, broken, or boarded up. Wire fences partitioned the area. Buildings and streets were chipped with rubble. A steady plume of smoke rose from the gaping abscess at the heart of the district. The Stock Exchange, decked out in red, white, and blue electric lights, looked ghoulish, like too much mascara at a funeral.

Today is the first anniversary of September 11th: a day to grieve for the thousands of innocent Americans who lost their lives, their loved ones, or their fortunes in the attacks; the millions of innocent Americans who lost civil liberties as a result; the thousands of innocent Muslims who have become, or will become, collateral damage in the U.S. military response; and the millions of people around the world who are being drawn into an endless crusade – I use the word advisedly – to “rid the world of evil.”

Today is also a day to grieve for the wound that the attacks inflicted on the libertarian movement. Since I regard libertarianism as the world’s best hope for the survival of civilisation, I take this occasion for grief to be comparable in seriousness to the others. No issue in recent memory has split libertarians more seriously than September 11th.

Some (call them doves) argue that the terrorists were motivated by anger at America’s arrogant foreign policy, so that disengaging from our international commitments, an advisable move in any case, should secure our protection in the future. Others (call them hawks) argue that the terrorists hated America not for its failings but for its virtues – for its individualist, capitalist, secularist culture – and so merely adopting a noninterventionist foreign policy would avail us naught. Many hawks argue that September 11th proves the need for a more energetic and aggressive government than most doves are willing to countenance. Even the normally dovish Cato Institute has thrown its support to, in their own chilling language, the “removal” of foreign governments and the “elimination” of their supporters.

Today the United States stands poised on the brink of war with Iraq – or, more precisely (since the U.S. has already been waging war steadily against Iraq for over a decade), on the brink of an attempted conquest of Iraq. It is an appropriate occasion to reflect on the role of the State in September 11th and its aftermath.

Do the terrorists hate us for our (relatively) libertarian culture, or for our un-libertarian foreign policy? Well, pretty obviously, both. The question is whether they would be motivated to give their lives in an attack on this country if they had only the cultural grudge against us, rather than the military grudge as well?

Sure, I imagine some would still be willing. I remember all too well, from my days in Ithaca NY, the fundamentalist Christian who rammed his truck into a local movie theatre – injuring only himself – to protest the showing of The Last Temptation of Christ. (He said that he had done it on a pious impulse, and that the possibility of wrecking his truck or injuring himself simply hadn’t occurred to him. The mills of Darwin grind slowly ….) All the same, I for one find it hard to imagine al-Qaeda having quite as easy a time recruiting suicide hijackers on the basis of a mere horror of Baywatch.

And that means we owe September 11th to our friend the American State.

Very well, some may say, perhaps a less interventionist foreign policy would have prevented the attacks – but now we have to face the actuality of the attacks’ having in fact occurred, and so we now need a powerful government to deal with the consequences.

The problem with this argument is that it requires us to forget that the information and incentive problems that plague State action in other cases are not going to disappear when the task is protection from terrorism. In any case, if nineteen people can bring the mightiest State on earth to a virtual halt, what more could be needed to demonstrate the emptiness of the State’s promise of protection?


The current push to invade Iraq is a clear example of the unreliability of the State. No credible evidence has been offered to link Iraq with al-Qaeda; in fact, Saddam Hussein is precisely the sort of secularising, Western-style leader that al-Qaeda detests. (Notice how the guy dresses, for Pete’s sake!) Sure, Hussein (happily, I don’t know him well enough to call him Saddam) is a corrupt and oppressive ruler; but rulers like that are a dime a dozen. Sure, he wants to get his hands on some weapons of mass destruction. Suppose he succeeds. Then he’ll be one more corrupt and oppressive ruler with weapons of mass destruction; there are plenty of those too (China? Russia? Pakistan?), and we’re not invading any of them.

Our rulers are pretty clearly using the war on terrorism as a cover for an attempt to grab Iraqi oil; that such a move would doubtless galvanise further hostility to America throughout the Middle East, and thus increase the likelihood of further terrorist attacks, seems to leave them unmoved. (Remember those incentive problems States face?) Hussein, for his part, is unmoved by the fact that his defiance of the U.S. is likely to result in mass death among his own civilian population; so long as playing chicken games with the U.S. makes him look cool in the Islamic world, his sleep is not much troubled by the possible consequences for his own citizens. (Yup, those incentive problems work the same way over there too. Why should rulers – American or Iraqi – care about pleasing customers who can’t cancel their service?) The American and Iraqi States are dragging their respective citizens into a deadly confrontation from which neither’s civilian population can benefit.

Jeremy Bentham is not exactly one of my favourite philosophers, but he certainly hit the nail on the head when he defined war as “robbery, having murder for its instrument … operating upon the largest possible scale … committed by the ruling few in the conquering nation, on the subject many in both nations.”*

That’s why I’ve taken the occasion of the anniversary of September 11th to launch a new organisation – the Molinari Institute – dedicated to the increasingly urgent task of abolishing the State.

* E. K. Bramsted & K. J. Melhuish, eds., Western Liberalism: A History in Documents from Locke to Croce (London: Longman, 1978), p. 355.

The past decade has seen all too much robbery and murder committed by the ruling few in the United States on the subject many both here and abroad.

On the other hand, over the past decade, the Molinari Institute has grown from one guy with a webpage to an ongoing effort of some forty people (I include in that number those involved in the Institute’s two autonomous projects, the Molinari Society and the Center for a Stateless Society) bringing a consistent message of market anarchism and left-libertarianism.

Since 2002, the Molinari Institute has been making available online (and in many cases translating) dozens of 19th-century anarchist classics. Since 2006, C4SS has been producing explicitly market-anarchist op-eds for syndication, with a tremendous acceleration recently (over 600 major media pickups, both domestic and international, in the last three years alone). In 2007, Molinari/C4SS people played a central role in founding the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. In 2010, we began offering online courses; and in 2011, we published two manifestoes, Markets Not Capitalism and Conscience of an Anarchist. And Molinari/C4SS has been hosting discussion panels annually: at the Eastern APA since 2004, at the Pacific APA since 2011, and at both APEE and Libertopia since 2010.

We have bigger and bolder plans ahead (including, at long last, The Industrial Radical). Join us!

Molinari Institute & C4SS

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4 Responses to Tragedy and Hope

  1. JOR September 12, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    I remember how many people blamed 9/11 on the US’ supposed disengagement and unwillingness to meddle thoroughly/brutally enough in the middle east prior to the attacks.

    I think of them every time I hear some progressive blame the Bush/Obama economic crises on libertarianism. The more things change, and all that.

  2. Jason September 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    “We have bigger and bolder plans ahead (including, at long last, The Industrial Radical).”

    Awesome! When should this be expected (the Industrial Radical specifically, not just bigger and bolder plans in general)?

    • Roderick September 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      When should this be expected (the Industrial Radical specifically

      If all goes well, October.


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