Tag Archives | Left and Right

Whrothbard

So apparently Rothbard is Doctor Who now:

Well, that explains his conversion from lefty to paleo: it was a regeneration! Kind of like from Five to Six.


Left-Libertarian Economic Anthology Published

[cross-posted at BHL]

I’m pleased to announce (belatedly) a new anthology from the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS): Free Markets & Capitalism?: Do Free Markets Always Produce a Corporate Economy?, edited by Cory Massimino and James Tuttle.

One third of Free Markets & Capitalism? (not to be confused with C4SS’s earlier anthology Markets Not Capitalism) reproduces an online exchange from last year among Kevin Carson, Derek Wall, and Steve Horwitz on the question of whether corporate capitalism would indeed wither away in a genuinely freed market, as left-libertarians contend, or whether instead, as both capitalist and socialist critics of left-libertarianism maintain (whether cheerfully or gloomily), market incentives would tend to reproduce much of the structure of corporate capitalism even without state intervention to support the process.

The other two-thirds of the book are devoted to background readings (most by Kevin Carson – including his classic, The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand – but also a couple by me, and one by the late Roy Childs) expounding the left-libertarian position on the issue.

Buy a copy today! Buy two copies tomorrow! Buy four copies the next day, and eight the day after that, and so on ….


Stop Banning Muslims, Stop Banning Guns

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The debate over President Trump’s travel ban and the debate over gun control look surprisingly similar – except for who’s on which side.

In each case, supporters of the policy argue that it’s necessary in order to prevent incidents of lethal violence, while opponents argue, first, that the policy’s likely impact on such incidents is overstated, and second, that it’s unjust to restrict the freedom of a vast group, most members of which are peaceful and innocent, merely on the grounds that a small percentage of that group’s members might turn violent.

When the vast group in question is Muslim immigrants and would-be immigrants, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Republicans, and those in opposition tend to be Democrats.

On the other hand, when the vast group in question is gun owners and would-be gun owners, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Democrats, and those in opposition tend to be Republicans.

Yet it’s hard to see how the two cases differ in fundamental principle. Either the state is justified in disrupting, micromanaging, and in many cases endangering large numbers of innocent lives for the sake of a speculative chance of blocking a small number of criminals, or it isn’t. The rights and wrongs of such a case can’t magically reverse themselves depending on whether it’s gun owners or Muslim immigrants who are being targeted.

Notice, too, how similar are the rhetorical appeals made by proponents of restrictive policies in both cases. “Look into the eyes of families impacted by gun violence,” many Democrats urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of gun owners in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Or again: “Look into the eyes of families impacted by domestic terrorism,” many Republicans urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of Muslim immigrants in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Each side finds such emotional blackmail convincing in one case, while rightly remaining unmoved by it in the other. For such appeals invariably blur the distinction between an innocent many and a criminal few.

The pragmatic aspects of the two policies are similar also. A travel ban’s likely impact on terrorist acts is questionable, given that most recent acts of terrorism within the United States have been homegrown (and given that many of those blocked from entry are potential allies against terrorism). Similarly, gun control’s likely impact on gun violence is questionable, given the existence of a thriving black market in guns (and given gun ownership’s role as a deterrent to crime). In both cases, the cost of government action is a curtailing of freedom for millions of harmless people, while the benefits appear scanty.

Liberals and conservatives both display inconsistency; each group employs arguments in connection with one issue, that they forcefully reject in connection with the other issue.

When Donald Trump’s son compared the risks of letting in Syrian refugees to eating Skittles from a bowl in which a small number of Skittles were poisonous, liberals were properly outraged, pointing out that such a comparison was not only insulting but also grossly exaggerated the risks involved. Yet liberal support for gun control is based on the same logic as the Skittles comparison – sacrificing the freedom of the many in order to ward off a potential threat from the few – and likewise ignores evidence of gross exaggeration of risks.

Liberals who rightly oppose Trump’s travel ban should consider looking at their own support for gun control through the same analytic lens. And conservatives who rightly oppose gun control should likewise consider looking at their own support for Trump’s travel ban through that same analytic lens.

Travel bans use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful Muslims. Gun control laws use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful gun owners. Neither policy has any place in a free society.


What’s So Bad About Flag Burning?

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

President-elect Donald Trump’s recent call for a year’s prison term or loss of citizenship for those who burn the American flag – incidentally a reversal of Trump’s previous support for flag-burners on the Letterman show two years ago – leaves me with some questions. Four questions, specifically: two for Trump’s conservative supporters, and two for his liberal critics.

My first question for pro-Trump conservatives is this: In the past I seem to recall hearing quite a few of you (though admittedly not Trump himself) speaking pretty loudly in favor of free expression when the issue was laws in Muslim countries criminalizing speech or writings that “disrespect” Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. How exactly do the arguments you gave then, not apply to Trump’s proposal now?

Second, I also recall that you conservatives used to talk a lot about government’s duty to protect people’s private property rights (although admittedly eminent domain poster boy Donald Trump was never really in your camp on that issue either). Well, if I buy an American flag with my own honestly earned money, or make one with my own cloth and thread, it seems like it’s then my property, the product of my labor; and I don’t see why I shouldn’t have the right to burn my own property, if I do it without endangering anyone else. If the government claims that it, rather than myself, is the one who gets to decide what I do with my flag – that it is, in effect, the real owner of the flag I bought or made – doesn’t that sound more like communism than like a free market?

Next, I have a couple of questions for the liberals who’ve been criticizing Trump’s proposal for its excessive harshness toward flag burners. First: It’s great that you’re calling Trump out on his contempt for freedom of expression; but how many of you were offering similar howls of outrage just over a decade ago when Hillary Clinton was supporting the Flag Protection Act of 2005, which likewise called for one-year prison terms for flag burners?

Finally, a question especially for those liberal critics who say that they support the right to burn the flag but disagree with the flag burner’s message. What exactly is supposed to be wrong with the flag burner’s message?

Even if the flag were legitimately a symbol of freedom, a ban on flag burning would be an odd way to honor the flag – sacrificing the reality of freedom to the mere symbol. But is freedom what the flag really stands for?

It’s now becoming more widely accepted that the Confederate flag, however much its supporters may revere it as an icon of freedom, is inextricably associated with the cause of slavery and white supremacy. But how is the American flag – the symbol of the Federal government – any more defensible?

The Confederate flag flew over slavery for five years. The American flag flew over slavery for nearly a century, and then flew over Jim Crow and similar slavery-like restrictions for another century after that. (And the Federal government didn’t move against Jim Crow until the grassroots civil-rights movement had grown strong enough to be worth co-opting rather than ignoring.) And even today, the American flag flies over a country where blacks are disproportionately likely to be killed or imprisoned by agents of the state.

The same flag flew over the slaughtering of American Indians, the kidnapping of their children, and the theft of their land; and that theft still continues today, as for example in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline. That flag also flies right now over a land where the state records our phone calls, tells us how we can and cannot medicate ourselves, and maintains a regime of privilege that props up the crony corporate elite at the expense of everyone else.

To be sure, American citizens enjoy a higher degree of freedom than do citizens in many other countries, and it is this fact that leads so many to view the American flag as a symbol of freedom. But such liberty as Americans enjoy was hard-won, in the main, by grassroots efforts that eventually prevailed against government resistance. Honoring the flag, the symbol of the Federal government, doesn’t celebrate our freedoms; it celebrates the central authority from whom those freedoms were heroically wrested.

Around the world, too, troops bearing the Americsn flag have too often propped up dictators and bombed civilian populations, from Asia to Central America to the Middle East. American bombs have killed dozens of civilians in the past several months just in Yemen alone. Is it any wonder that millions of people around the world view the American flag with fear, seeing it not as a symbol of freedom but rather as a harbinger of terror and death? In the face of that reality, defensive insistence that the flag “really” means something else rings as hollow as the neo-Confederate’s claim of “Heritage, Not Hate.”

We’ve begun, as a nation, to relinquish our blinkered reverence for the Confederate flag. It’s high time that reverence for the American flag followed it into equally well deserved oblivion.


Molinari Review 1.1: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The Molinari Institute (the parent organization of the Center for a Stateless Society) is proud to announce the publication of the first issue of our new interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal, the Molinari Review, edited by yours truly, and dedicated to publishing scholarship, sympathetic or critical, in and on the libertarian tradition, very broadly understood. (See our original call for papers.)

You can order a copy here:

Print Kindle
Amazon US Amazon US
Amazon UK Amazon UK
CreateSpace Store

It should also be available, now or shortly, on other regional versions of Amazon. And later on it’ll be available from our website as a free PDF download (because copyright restrictions are evil).

mr1-1-coverphaze

So what’s in it?

In “The Right to Privacy Is Tocquevillean, Not Lockean: Why It MattersJulio Rodman argues that traditional libertarian concerns with non-aggression, property rights, and negative liberty fail to capture the nature of our concern with privacy. Drawing on insights from Tocqueville and Foucault, Rodman suggests that privacy is primarily a matter, not of freedom from interference, but of freedom from observation, particularly accusatory observation.

In “Libertarianism and Privilege,” Billy Christmas charges that right-wing libertarians underestimate the extent and significance of harmful relations of privilege in society (including, but not limited to, class and gender privilege) because they misapply their own principles in focusing on proximate coercion to the exclusion of more indirect forms of coercion; but, he argues, broadening the lens of libertarian inquiry reveals that libertarian principles are more powerful tools for the analysis of privilege than privilege theorists generally suppose.

In “Capitalism, Free Enterprise, and Progress: Partners or Adversaries?,” Darian Nayfeld Worden interrogates traditional narratives of the Industrial Revolution. Distinguishing between capitalism (understood as a separation between labour and ownership/management) and free enterprise, Nayfeld Worden maintains that the rise of capitalism historically was in large part the result of a suppression of free enterprise, and that thanks to state intervention, the working-class benefited far less from industrialisation and technological innovation than they might otherwise have done.

In “Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism,” Gus diZerega contends that libertarians misunderstand and misapply their own key concepts, leading them to embrace an atomistic vision of society, and to overvalue the market while undervaluing empathy and democracy. (Look for a reply or two in our next issue.)

Finally, Nathan Goodman reviews Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, an anthology edited by C. B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Goodman praises the book for its illumination of many aspects of the intersection between anarchist tradition and the LGBTQ community, with particular emphasis on the tension between LGBTQ activists who seek to dismantle oppressive institutions and those who merely seek inclusion within them; but in the area of economics, he finds its authors to be too quick to dismiss the free market or to equate it with the prevailing regime of corporatist privilege.

Want to order a copy? See the ordering information above.

Want to contribute an article to an upcoming issue? Head to the journal’s webpage.

Want to support this project financially? Make a donation to the Molinari Institute General Fund.


Remembering the Paris Commune

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Paris Commune by the French national government.

The Paris Commune remains a potent symbol for many people – though what exactly it symbolizes is a matter of dispute. To conservatives, the Commune stands for a reign of terror and mob rule. For many radicals, including anarchists and Marxists (even though at the time, Marx himself opposed the Commune as a “desperate folly” and urged would-be insurrectionists to work within the system), it signifies a community that importantly prefigures their own preferred social and political systems.

aux-morts-de-la-commune

The Commune wasn’t quite any of these things. While it bears responsibility for some foolish decisions (such as trying to relieve bakers of their long hours by forbidding them to work at night, which is a bit like trying to cure a disease by punishing anyone who shows symptoms of it) and some wicked decisions (most notably, executing the noncombatant hostages), on the whole the Commune behaved in a rather moderate and restrained fashion, and was far from being the sanguinary monster of conservative nightmares. (To the Communards’ credit, they were reluctant to kill the hostages, and so waited until the last possible moment to do so. To their discredit, that means that by the time they did kill them, it was an act of pure spite that no longer had even the thin justification of a strategic purpose.) The invasion and massacre instituted by the national government at Versailles in May 1871 to put down the Communards’ insurrection has far more claim to be described as a reign of terror than anything the Commune itself did.

While it certainly has inspired anarchists and attracted their sympathy (Louise Michel being the most prominent anarchist figure to emerge from the movement), the Commune was not in any real sense an anarchist project. Yes, it was a working-class insurrection, but one aimed at establishing, and one that did in fact establish, a government. And unsurprisingly, that government did (as we’ve seen) some of the stupid and unjust things that governments tend to do (though the regime that ended up suppressing it was guilty of far worse).

Nor can the Marxists plausibly claim the Commune as a precursor. While generally statist-left-leaning in their policies, most leaders of the Commune had no interest in abolishing private property; as Marx himself noted, “the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist.” The term “Commune” refers not to communism but to the independent mercantile cities, called “communes,” that flourished in Europe at the end of the medieval period. In that respect, the Paris Commune was fundamentally a secessionist movement; the Communards sought to make Paris into a self-governing political entity separate from the rest of France.

What anarchists tend to like about secessionist movements is their thrust toward political decentralization; what anarchists tend to dislike about them is their frequent concomitants of nationalism, parochialism, and isolationism. By those criteria, the Paris Commune scores fairly well, in that it did not seek to sever economic or cultural ties with the rest of the world; on the contrary, foreigners were eligible to be elected, and were in fact elected, to the governing council, on the theory that “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”

For all its flaws, the Paris Commune deserves anarchist respect as an example of cosmopolitan secessionism and working-class revolution. In honor of the Commune, I’ve translated “Paris, Free City,” a piece by Jules Vallès (1832-1885), one of the intellectual leaders of the Commune, from the early days of the rebellion’s initial success. It appeared in his periodical Le Cri du Peuple (“The Cry of the People”) on 22 March 1871. As will be apparent, Vallès is no anarchist; what anarchist could speak so cheerfully of “mayors [being] named and magistrates elected”? But in his secessionism, his enthusiasm for commerce, his distinction between an exploitative and a non-exploitative bourgeoisie, and his selecting the Hanseatic League as a model to emulate, he seems closer to anarchism – particularly market anarchism – than to Marxism.


Paris, Free City

To the bourgeoisie of Paris

There exists the working bourgeoisie and the parasitic bourgeoisie.

The one that the Cri du Peuple attacks, that its editors have consistently attacked and are still attacking, is the do-nothing one, the one that buys and sells positions and makes politics into a business.

A herd of windbags, a crowd of ambitious men, a breeding-ground for sub-prefects and state councilors.

The one, also, that that does not produce, that plunders; [The translation in Voices of the Paris Commune has: “They produce nothing but froth.” This is a misunderstanding of écumer, which in this context refers to piracy.] that raids, by means of shadowy banking schemes or shameless stock-market speculations, the profits made by those who bear the burdens — speculators without shame, who rob the poor and lend to kings, who played dice on the drum of Transnonain or 2 December, [The author refers to the massacre of insurgents by the National Guard in the Rue Transnonain on 14 April 1834, and Louis Napoléon’s bloody coup d’état on 2 December 1851.] and are already imagining how to play their hand upon the cadaver of the bloodied fatherland.

jules-valles-pic

But there is a working bourgeoisie, this one honest and valiant; it goes down to the workshop wearing a cap, traipses in wooden shoes through the mud of factories, remains through cold and heat at its counter or its offices; in its small shop or its large factory, behind the windows of a shop or the walls of a manufactory: it inhales dust and smoke, skins and burns itself at the workbench or the forge, puts its hands to the work, has its eye on the task; it is, through its courage and even its anxieties, the sister of the proletariat.

For it has its anxieties, its risks of bankruptcy, its days when bills come due. There is not a fortune today that is secure, thanks precisely to the clumsiness and provocations of these parasites who need trouble and agitation to live. Nothing is stable: today’s boss becomes tomorrow’s heavy labourer, and graduates see their coats worn to rags.

How many I know, among the established or well dressed, who are beset by worries as the poor are, who sometimes wonder what will become of their children, and who would trade all their chances of happiness and gain for the certainty of a modest labour and an old age without tears!

It is this whole world of workers, fearing ruin or unemployment, that constitutes Paris – the great Paris. – Why should we not extend to one another our hands, above these miseries of man and citizen, and why, in this solemn moment, should we not try, once and for all, to wrest the country, where each is brother to the other through effort and danger, from this eternal uncertainty that allows adventurers always to succeed, and requires honest people always to tremble and suffer!

Fraternity was queen the other day before the cannons and under the bright sun. It must remain queen, and Paris must take a solemn decision – a decision that will be a good one, and will have its day in history, only if it avoids both civil war and the resumption of war against the victorious Bismarck. [Voices of the Paris Commune gets this precisely wrong: “if it manages to avoid civil war and returns to the war against the victorious Bismarck.” This is not a possible translation of si elle évite la guerre civile et le retour de la guerre avec Bismark vainqueur; besides, if Vallès were calling here for renewed conflict with Prussia, why would he be proposing to “submit to everything” in the next paragraph, and why would he be advocating a negotiated peace with the Prussians a few paragraphs later?]

We are prepared, for our part, to impose nothing, to submit to everything, within the dolorous circle of fatality – on the sole condition that the freedom of Paris remains safe, and that the flag of the Republic shelter, in an independent city, a courageous populace of workers.

Denizens of the working-class districts and bourgeois alike: a few hundred years ago, in the very Germany from which came the cannons that have thundered at us, four towns declared themselves free cities; [The four founding members of the Hanseatic League: Lübeck, Brunswick, Köln, and Danzig.] they were, for centuries, great and proud, rich and calm: in every corner of the world one could hear their activity, and they cast merchandise and gold on every shore! …..

Well then! to undo, other than by the sabre, the Gordian knot in which our recent misfortunes have been tangled, there is but one message to give:

PARIS, FREE CITY.

Let us negotiate immediately, through the intermediary of the elected representatives of the people, with the government of Versailles for the status quo without struggle, and with the Prussians for the settlement of indemnities.

No blood is shed, the cannons remain cold, the barracks close, and the workshops reopen, work resumes.

Work resumes! this is the inflexible necessity, the supreme desire. Let us come to an agreement in order that everyone, tomorrow, may recover his livelihood. Citizens of every class and every rank, this is salvation!

Paris, free city, returns to work.

This secession saves the provinces from their fear and the working-class districts from famine.

Bordeaux has said: Down with Paris!

We, for our part, cry at one and the same time: Long live France and long live Paris! and we commit ourselves never more to extend toward this France who calumniates us an arm that she believed to be menacing.

Between Montrouge and Montmartre [Southern and northern districts of Paris, respectively.] will always beat, come what may, the heart of the old fatherland, which we will always love, and which will return to us in spite of everything.

Moreover, some towns – precisely those that the moderates fear – will likewise be able to negotiate in order to live free, and to constitute the great federation of republican cities.

To those who fear that they should suffer from isolation, we respond that there are no frontiers high enough to prevent labour from crossing them, industry from razing them, commerce from boring through them.

Labour! – towns with high chimneys that spew the smoke of factories, with large workshops and long counters, fertile cities do not die! Even rustics would not kill their hens that lay golden eggs.

Paris, having a flag of her own, can no longer be defamed or menaced, and she remains the skillful seeker, the happy finder, who invents beautiful designs and great instruments, who will be forever implored to put her stamp on that this metal or that fabric, on this toy or that weapon, on this goblet or that basin, on the paste for a porcelain vessel or the silk for a gown!

She will remain the master and the king.

PARIS, FREE CITY.

No more bloodshed! rifles at rest: mayors are named and magistrates elected. And then to work! to work! The bell sounds for labour and not for combat.

JULES VALLÈS.

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