Author Archive | Roderick

Politics Against Politics

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve argued, some would say ad nauseam, that the libertarian struggle against statist oppression needs to be integrated (or re-integrated) with traditionally left-wing struggles against various sorts of non-state oppression such as patriarchy, racism, bossism, etc.

My position finds support, albeit in a less than straightforward way, in Rothbard’s article “Contempt for the Usual” in the May 1971 issue of Libertarian Forum.

This might seem an odd article for me to cite on behalf of my leftist heresy, since the article is a sustained attack on cultural leftism generally and feminism in particular. But I maintain that Rothbard’s arguments, no doubt malgré lui, actually support my position.

Here are some crucial excerpts:

For apart from the tendency on the Left to employ coercion, the Left seems to be constitutionally incapable of leaving people alone in the most fundamental sense; it seems incapable of refraining from a continual pestering, haranguing and harassment of everyone in sight or earshot. … The Left is incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of the average person’s peaceful pursuit of his own goals and his own values in his quietly sensible life. Maoist poster Many libertarians who are enamoured of the principles of Maoism point out that, in theory at least, the decentralized communes and eternal self-and-mutual-criticism sessions are supposed to be voluntary and not imposed by violence. Even granting this point, Maoism at its best, forswearing violence, would be well-nigh intolerable to most of us, and certainly to anyone wishing to pursue a truly individualist life. For Maoism depends on a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering of every person in one’s purview to bring him into the full scale of values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of his neighbors. … The point is that in the Maoist world, even at its most civilized, the propaganda barrage is everywhere.

To put it another way: one crucial and permanent difference between libertarians and the Left is in their vision of a future society. Libertarians want the end of politics; they wish to abolish politics forever, so that each individual may live his life unmolested and as he sees fit. But the Left, in contrast, wants to politicize everything; for the Left, every individual action, no matter how trivial or picayune, becomes a “political” act, to be examined, criticized, denounced, and rehabilitated in accordance with the Left’s standards. … The Women’s Lib movement, of course, has been in the forefront of this elevating of hectoring and pestering into a universal moral obligation. …

One would hope that the free society of the future would be free, not only of aggressive violence, but also of self-righteous and arrogant nagging and harassment. “Mind your own business” implies that each person attend well to his own affairs, and allow every other man the same privilege. It is a morality of basic civility, of courtesy, of civilized life, of respect for the dignity of every individual. It does not encompass all of morality, but by God it is a necessary ingredient to a truly rational and civilized social ethic. …

The crucial point here is that those libertarians whose only philosophy is to oppose coercive violence are missing a great deal of the essence of the ideological struggles of our time. The trouble with the Left is not simply its propensity for coercion; it is also, and in some sense more fundamentally, its hatred of excellence and individuality, its hostility to the division of labor, its itch for total uniformity, and its dedication to the Universal and Permanent Pester. And as it looks around the world, it finds that the main object of its hatred is the Middle American, the man who quietly holds all of the values which it cannot tolerate. … [O]ne of the great and unfilled tasks of the rationalist intellectual, the true intellectual if you will, is to come to the aid of the bourgeoisie, to rescue the Middle American from his triumphant tormentors. … In the name of truth and reason, we must rise up as the shield and the hammer of the average American.

So how does all this support my position? Well, notice that Rothbard here treats the principle of minding one’s own business as broader than the non-aggression principle; he criticises “those libertarians whose only philosophy is to oppose coercive violence” for not recognising that minding one’s own business implies a rejection “not only of aggressive violence, but also of self-righteous and arrogant nagging and harassment,” even when such nagging and harassment involve no use of force against person or property.

Q. Do you know the women's movement has no sense of humor? A. No ... but hum a few bars and I'll fake it! In short, then, Rothbard in effect agrees that a pervasive attitude of such “intolerable” Maoist-style criticism, even if peaceful, would be a form of oppression, and one that libertarians should be concerned to combat just as much as they combat actual aggression. And this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been saying too. Restrictive cultural attitudes and practices can be oppressive even if nonviolent, and should be combated (albeit, of course, nonviolently) by libertarians for some of the same sorts of reasons that violent oppression should be combated.

Of course, Rothbard’s point might seem to support mine only generically, not specifically – since he identifies feminism, rather than patriarchy, as an instance of the form of oppression he’s concerned to combat. As Rothbard sees it, “the Middle American, the man who quietly holds all of the values which [the Left] cannot tolerate,” is inoffensively minding his own business, while feminists and other leftists who attack his values are refusing to mind their own business, and are instead subjecting the ordinary mainstream American to “a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering … to bring him into the full scale of values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of his neighbors.”

I think this is the wrong way to understand the nature of the complaints that feminists and other leftists are bringing. That’s not to say, of course, that we feminists et al. are never guilty of the sort of thing Rothbard is referring to; any ideology can be, and every ideology surely has been, defended in obnoxious, officious, and intrusive ways, and feminism is no exception. But the question is whether that’s the whole story, or even the main story, with the feminist criticisms that Rothbard is talking about, and I claim it isn’t. The way to understand the criticisms that we feminists bring is to see that from our point of view it is patriarchy that refuses to leave people alone – that the process by which patriarchal attitudes are promoted, inculcated, and reinforced amounts precisely to “a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering of every person [especially women] in one’s purview to bring [her] into the full scale of [patriarchal] values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of [her] neighbors.”

The point of feminist criticism is thus not to politicise the reproduction of male supremacy but rather to identify the political character it already possesses, and the aim of a feminist political movement (understanding “political” here to denote any organised movement for social change, whether peaceful or violent) is to defend women against such oppression, to serve as their “shield and hammer.” And ditto, mutatis mutandis, for the defence of workers, gays, ethnic minorities, etc., against various forms of oppression which, while indeed often supported by violent means (statist or otherwise), are by no means confined to such means. To whatever extent Rothbard’s “Middle Americans” are complicit in such oppression, they are to that extent not minding their own business – and leftist attempts to correct their attitudes are then strictly defensive, in service rather than violation of “a morality of basic civility, of courtesy, of civilized life, of respect for the dignity of every individual.”


Philosophy in Alabama

Alabama philosophers? The conference schedule for next week’s Alabama Philosophical Society is now online. This year it’s up at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where I’ve actually never been before, despite having friends in the area.

I’m giving a paper on how Aristoteleans can avoid the twin pitfalls of making the concept of happiness include everything worth wanting (thus rendering happiness unattainable) and making it include only everything worth choosing (thus making it too easily attainable, since whatever’s currently unattainable is currently not worth choosing). (This sort of topic makes it all too obvious, to Greek philosophy specialists anyway, whose student I was at Cornell.) Anyway, my paper overlaps heavily with my APEE paper and Mises seminar.

Fellow Molinarian Charles Johnson is also scheduled to be there, defending Francis Hutcheson on the psychology and epistemology of ethics.


Center for a Stateless Society Launched Today

Would you buy a used anarchy from these men? For too long libertarians, and I mean anarchist libertarians, have treated market anarchism almost as an “esoteric doctrine” to which one is introduced only after one has thoroughly assimilated some more moderate form of libertarianism – as though anarchism were an impediment rather than an asset in making the case for liberty.

Of course this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: potential converts find anarchism off-putting because they don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it is because we avoid explaining it. In fact market anarchism can and should be one of libertarianism’s greatest selling-points, highlighting a radical and inspiring alternative to the present system rather than some variant of economic conservatism. It’s time to put market anarchism front and center in our educational efforts, time to start making it a familiar and recognizable position.

It is thus with great pleasure that I introduce the Center for a Stateless Society, a new project of the Molinari Institute. Under the directorship of Brad Spangler, the center aims to bring a market anarchist perspective to the popular press, rather than leaving it confined to scholarly studies and movement periodicals.

Here’s the official press release:

Anarchists launch major media offensive
October 10, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A tiny think tank has set out on a project to provide ongoing news commentary in order to promote their set of views, known as market anarchism.

AUBURN, ALABAMA – October 10, 2006 – Center for a Stateless Society – The Molinari Institute, a market anarchist think tank, today launched a new media effort aiming to put their agenda to abolish government front and center in US political discourse. Dubbing their project the Center for a Stateless Society (www.c4ss.org), institute officials laid out plans to publish and distribute news commentary written by anarchists with radically free-market oriented views on economics – taking market anarchism out of the realm of academia and obscure internet blogs in order to put it in the public eye.

Center for a Stateless Society Molinari Institute President Roderick Long explained “For too long libertarians, and I mean anarchist libertarians, have treated market anarchism almost as an esoteric doctrine. It’s time to put market anarchism front and center in our educational efforts, time to start making it a familiar and recognizable position. The Center for a Stateless Society aims to bring a market anarchist perspective to the popular press, rather than leaving it confined to scholarly studies and movement periodicals.”

Naming longtime radical libertarian activist and freelance web developer Brad Spangler as the first Director of the Center, Long unveiled the Center’s new web site at www.c4ss.org for Molinari Institute supporters and the public.

Said Spangler “I’m honored to accept the post. In anticipation of this moment, we’ve developed a database of thousands of US media outlets for email distribution of content which these publishers will be able to use free of charge. Additionally, the c4ss.org web site makes use of stable, reliable and ‘free as in freedom’ open source web technologies. We’ve developed the site in such a way as to make maximum possible use of social bookmarking services, web syndication feeds and search engine optimization techniques. With this site, we aim to awaken more Americans than ever before to the brutal reality that all governments everywhere are essentially nothing more than murderous bandit gangs – and show them the shining light of hope for a world without the State.”

###

ORGANIZATIONAL SUMMARY
The mission of the Molinari Institute is to promote understanding of the philosophy of Market Anarchism as a sane, consensual alternative to the hypertrophic violence of the State. The Institute takes its name from Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), originator of the theory of Market Anarchism. The Center for a Stateless Society is the Molinari Institute’s new media center.

CONTACT
Brad Spangler
Center for a Stateless Society
media@c4ss.org
http://www.c4ss.org/

The first two anarchist op-eds are already up: one by Per Bylund on North Korea, and another by me on Iraq.


Revisionist History

Text of Herodotus I recently came across a story (if that’s the right word for it) that I wrote when I was around nine years old. It presents itself as being part of a series, but I have no idea whether I wrote any of the other installments listed.

Anyway, it’s called The History of the World! and it’s … kinda strange.


From New Caprica to the Negative Zone

The Bush administration has been getting a tough beating (not as tough as it deserves, of course – but still gratifying) in the sf world. Revenge of the Sith and V for Vendetta made some pointed references to Bush policies, while Battlestar Galactica’s first two seasons commented on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Spider-man and a Cylon Now Galactica’s third season begins with a situation analogous to the Iraq crisis, as the Cylons who’ve come to impose their conception of order on the human colonists face insurgents and suicide bombers, and joke bitterly about their earlier expectations of being greeted as liberators. (Leoben’s attempt to brainwash Starbuck into loving him recreates the same dynamic on an individual level.) Neither side is presented monolithically: we see the humans disagreeing with one another about the legitimacy of terrorist tactics, while the Cylons likewise disagree with each other about what’s permissible in combating such tactics. But the Bush approach is clearly presented as a disaster – and a predictable disaster.

Equally topical references are to be found in “Civil War,” the event currently engulfing the universe of Marvel Comics, as superheroes fight it out over whether to comply with, help enforce, or disobey the Superhuman Registration Act – a conflict that has set Iron Man against Captain America, Spider-man against Daredevil, and members of the Fantastic Four against one another. (I’ve referred to Captain America’s role in all this in a previous post.) Now come two of the best contributions to this series: the latest issues of Amazing Spider-man and Fantastic Four (issues 535 and 540, respectively – and both, not coincidentally, written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski). Speaking of the special prison that’s been built to incarcerate recalcitrant superheroes (and supervillains too, of course), one character explains:

She [the prisoners’ lawyer] can make all the motions she wants. This is outside the jurisdiction of local and federal courts. This is an act of Congress, signed by the President. Only the Supreme Court can intervene, and I happen to know they won’t.

This place is not on American soil. American laws don’t touch here. American lawyers don’t come here. Once non-registrants come here, they’re legal nonentities. Occupants. Prisoners.

The old quarrel between Hobbesians and Lockeans continues as well. One character argues:

Take away the law and what are we? Savages, up to our necks in blood. That’s why we give the law the authority to take everything away from us if we break it by murdering or kidnapping or – or simply telling powerful men, “Go to hell.”

The law is the law …. I support it because I honestly believe we have to support it, no matter what. [If the law is wrong] then eventually it’ll be changed, in an orderly, lawful way. We can’t just obey the laws we like, or –

While another character counters:

Sometimes the law is wrong. Sometimes the government is wrong. When that happens, you have to stand up and speak out. Even if you’re alone. Especially if you’re alone.

The question you have to ask is not what you have to do to protect me, or your position, or us. The question is – what are the rights and freedoms we say we cherish worth? Because I think they’re worth dying for if necessary.

These two issues are well worth picking up, even if you haven’t been following the series.

Here’s hoping that material like this sets readers and viewers thinking – and not just about the Bush administration, but about government in general.

 

P.S. Outside the sf realm, here’s another great rant from Olbermann.


TISATAAFB

BOOKS! Free books! I love ’em.

Shawn Wilbur has done amazing work making individualist anarchist works available online, especially as regards banking; check out a sample here.

Another good thing: the IHS has put the old libertarian bibliographical review Literature of Liberty online. Conical hat tip to K-dog.


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