Tag Archives | Left-Libertarian

A Vogt for Anarchy

I’ve recently reread A. E. van Vogt’s out-of-print 1977 novel The Anarchistic Colossus. (To the right are some of the covers that have graced the book; as was common for science-fiction novels in the 70s, none of the covers seems to have very much to do with the book’s contents. The bottom one is the most bizarrely off-target of the batch.) The title turns out to refer equally to the anarchistic society depicted in the story, to the human brain, and to the universe as a whole.

cover gallery The society – its rules the result of a kind of compromise between capitalist and socialist anarchists (called Caps and Co-ops in the book; the former are egoistic, the latter sentimental) – avoids all need for human retaliatory force by relying instead on a worldwide system of ubiquitous computerised monitors that are able to detect symptoms of aggressive emotions and instantly incapacitate anyone who behaves aggressively. The result is the closest thing to the Hobbesian-Randian dream of an automatic “final arbiter” independent of the human wills it constrains.

There are ways of gaming the system, of course. One is to modify the computers; the other is to modify oneself, training oneself to commit aggression while suppressing the emotional accompaniments. But pulling off either method successfully turns out to be tricky. (It’s never clearly explained why the Techs, the engineers in charge of maintaining the computer system, don’t reprogram it for their own purposes. Evidently they are committed to the status quo, whether from ideological conviction or from fear of one another.)

In an introduction, van Vogt suggests that this kind of mechanised system is the only way that anarchy could work: “what kind of technology would be required to maintain a system of anarchism among all those misbehaving human beings around us? No government. No police. Nobody minding the store. The entire operation would, of course, have to be automatic.” Yet on the other hand he does have one of his characters remark that “[a] segment of this society believes that the careful use of language all by itself, without any help from the [computers], is all that anarchism needs,” which seems like a nod to van Vogt’s own Null-A trilogy (which is worth a read, if you can get past the fact that van Vogt uses the term “Aristotelian logic” to mean a habit of thinking in terms of false dichotomies, apparently unaware that transcending false dichotomies is one of the central themes of Aristotle’s entire philosophy). The author talks a bit more about this here.

The economic system seems to allow private property and private enterprise (presumably a Cap contribution), but also a requirement that anyone willing to work must have access to sustenance or the means of obtaining it (presumably a Co-op contribution). We don’t see much detail as to how this all works, however – just a few enigmatic glimpses. Passengers on a bus can choose either to pay the fare or to take turns driving the bus. An automobile driver who fails to put money in a parking meter will find that his vehicle automatically deactivates itself. (But what would happen if someone started producing cars that didn’t do this?) Whenever someone invents a new, not-obviously-aggressive way of annoying other people, the Techs have to reprogram the computers to recognise and react to the new behaviour. (So is it really the Techs, not the computers, who constitute the “final arbiter”?) Parents can authorise their teenaged sons’ conscription into the military (which seems un-anarchistic?), but it’s unclear just how the military operates, since the soldiers seem free to wander off whenever they like – which rather defeats the point of conscription.

The plot is a complex tangle, but the central action concerns an attempted alien assault on the anarchist society. The book poses the question: how can the society as described here defend itself from bombardment by orbiting hostile spacecraft, when all use of violence has been delegated to machines that do not exist on those spacecraft? The answer is a SPOILER so I’ll hide it in the comments section.

Incidentally, I can’t help wondering whether the one-soldier-for-a-whole-society concept in John Wright’s Golden Age trilogy was inspired by a similar (not identical) notion in van Vogt’s book.


I’ve added the paragraph I accidentally left out.

Popery Unleashed

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Tom Knapp’s remark yesterday that “[t]he big problem with [Ayn] Rand was that over time she made it a point to isolate herself from anyone and everyone who demonstrated the kind of character that might lead them to run up the bullshit Garrison and Rand flag on her when necessary” reminded me of a critical remark made about abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison by one of his contemporaries. I can’t remember the author or the exact wording and I haven’t been able to find it online (anyone out there recognise it? I believe I heard it quoted on a Knowledge Products tape, one of a batch that I unwisely lent to a friend years ago and never recovered), but it does an excellent job of summing up a dynamic that is evident not just with Garrison or Rand but with all too many other intellectual leaders. It went something like this:

“How to Create a Pope: Find someone in whom the habit of having been often correct in many things has prepared him to be convinced that he is always correct in all things, and bombard him with praise in these matters until you have succeeded in helping him so convince himself.”

On an unrelated note, I recently came across an autobiographical sketch of Rose Wilder Lane that I hadn’t seen before, apparently done as part of some 1930s WPA project.

Philosophy By Mail

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

My copy of A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence, Volume 6: A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics, edited by Fred Miller (author of Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics) and Carrie-Ann Biondi, has just arrived. Xenophon It contains a couple of articles by me on the contributions to philosophy of law (and libertarian aspects thereof) by Xenophon, Cynics, Cyrenaics, Academics, Peripatetics, Polybius, Epicureans, and Stoics. Other entries include Michael Gagarin and Paul Woodruff on early Greek legal thought; R. F. Stalley on Socrates and Plato; Miller on near eastern legal thought, Aristotle, ancient rights theory, and early Jewish and Christian legal thought; Brad Inwood on Cicero and the Roman Stoics; Janet Coleman on Augustine; Charles Butterworth on medieval Jewish and Islamic thought; Thomas Banchich on Justinian’s Digests; John Marenbon on Abélard, the early Scholastics, and the revival of Roman law; Charles Reid on canon law; Anthony Lisska on Aquinas, Scotus, and other Scholastics; Brian Tierney on William of Ockham; and M. W. F. Stone on the Spanish Scholastics. You can buy it from Amazon, but when you see the price, you won’t. (I got mine for free.) Hope for it to show up at your friendly neighbourhood university library instead.

Today’s email also brings me the latest issue of Liberty, which contains Leland Yeager’s review of Tibor Machan’s anthology Liberty and Justice. In the following excerpt Yeager discusses a left-libertarian contribution from Jennifer McKitrick, vice-president of the Molinari Institute and Molinari Society:

Jennifer McKitrick devotes her “Liberty, Gender, and the Family” to summarizing and commenting on Susan Moller Okin’s “Justice, Gender, and the Family” (Basic Books, 1989). Okin had bewailed women’s having Jennifer McKitrick heavier burdens and slighter opportunities than men because, for example, family responsibilities impede their uninterrupted pursuit of careers. McKitrick warns libertarians against merely brushing such concerns aside. She regrets that even such an early feminist as John Stuart Mill, in his “The Subjection of Women” (1989), had accepted conventional ideas about the division of labor between the sexes. Yet she also warns against Okin’s program of comprehensive governmental remedies, which might include requiring employers to grant pregnancy and childbirth leave, arrange flexible part-time working hours, provide high-quality on-site day care, and “issue two paychecks equally divided between the employee and his partner” (94). McKitrick prefers facilitating marriage contracts whereby a man and a woman can tailor the terms of their marriage to their particular circumstances and preferences. She denies that women would be at a clear disadvantage in negotiating such contracts. Her article serves as an example of how a thoughtful person can have both feminist and libertarian sympathies.

Ron Paul in the Debates, Part 3

Once again, summaries (paraphrases, not exact quotes) of Ron Paul’s answers from tonight’s debate.

Introduce yourself briefly.

I’m a Congressman from Texas in my 10th term; I’m the champion of the Constitution.

How soon should we leave Iraq?

Ron Paul The sooner we leave, the better; it was a mistake to go in and it’s a mistake to stay; if you get the diagnosis wrong you should change the treatment. We’re not making progress; there were no weapons of mass destruction; we went in under a UN resolution and not because we were threatened; we’re more threatened by staying than by leaving.

You voted for the bill calling for a 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Do we need a similar fence for Canada?

No, and anyway the fence was the least of my reasons for voting for that bill. Border security and enforcing the law are important. I’m against amnesty. If you subsidise something, you get more of it. We subsidise illegal immigration with amnesty, birthright citizenship, and publicly-fund education and health care. We do need immigrant workers, but if we had a genuine free market they wouldn’t be the scapegoat.

If you think English should not be the official language, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [I’d like to ask Paul where in the Constitution it says we should have an official language. – RTL]

As a former Libertarian candidate, how do you view issues of church and state?

The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law. We shouldn’t have laws made at the Federal level; leave it to local people, local officials, the state level. We don’t have perfect knowledge and shouldn’t have some central authority in Washington telling us all what to do and imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everybody and ruining things for the whole country, as in Roe v. Wade.

In 2005 President Bush signed an energy bill giving tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies; at a time when they’re making record profits is this appropriate?

The profits as such aren’t the issue; they would be fine if they were earned in the free market. I object to their receiving subsidies and R&D money. But any discussion of energy policy has to deal with foreign policy; we’re fighting in the Middle East, we overthrew Mossadegh in Iran, because we succumb to the temptation to protect the interest of the oil industry.

Should the military’s policy on gays be changed?

I think the current policy is a decent one. The real problem is that we see people as groups instead of individuals. We don’t have rights as gays or women or minorities; we receive our rights from our Creator as individuals. If homosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with; but if heterosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with too. Apply the same standards to everybody.

If you think gays should be able to serve openly in the military, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [Why doesn’t this contradict what he just said above? – RTL]

Would you pardon Scooter Libby?

No. [Candidates were asked to stick to one-word answers. This didn’t stop Giuliani from blathering on forever. – RTL]

My brother died in Iraq. What can you tell me?

We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s not working. We’re losing 100 men and women a month, over 1000 a year. If we want the Iraqis to take up the responsibility, we need to give them an incentive. We should stop patrolling the streets; that’s a job for the police, not for the army. Yes, we should promote our goodness overseas, but through setting an example and encouraging emulation, not through the barrel of a gun and through armed force as the neocons believe. Woodrow Wilson also told us we could promote democracy that way; we’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

What is today’s most pressing moral issue?

The recent acceptance of the promotion of preemptive war. In the past we declared war in defense of our liberty or to aid someone. We’ve now rejected the just war theory of Christianity; and tonight we even hear candidates who are not even willing to rule out a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done us no harm. We should defend our liberties and rights, but not try to change the world by armed force, by starting wars.

What has the Republican administration done most wrong?

Bush ran on a platform of a humble foreign policy, no nation-building, not policing the world. Instead we’re spending a trillion dollars a year to maintain the power of our empire around the world. We need that money for education and medical care here.

How can the GOP reach out to disaffected moderate Republicans?

(Almost everyone got to answer this question, but not Paul.)

P.S. Having grumped earlier about Jon Stewart’s dissing of Ron Paul, I owe Stewart a nod for his excellent interview with Paul last night.

JLS 21.1: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The latest issue (21.1) of the Journal of Libertarian Studies offers a symposium on the topic “Market Anarchism: Pro and Con,” featuring Nozick and Rothbard Eric Roark vs. Robert Nozick on whether a dominant protection agency can justly evolve into a state, Randall Holcombe vs. Walter Block on whether the state is inevitable, Walter Block vs. Tibor Machan on whether government is essentially coercive, and Jordan Schneider vs. myself on whether the market can provide objective law.

Read a fuller summary of 21.1’s contents here.

Read summaries of previous issues under my editorship here.

Read back issues online here.

Subscribe here.

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