Tag Archives | Terror

Against Greatness

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about making America “great again” – from a man who seems not to care how many people’s liberty he violates in order to pursue his conception of national greatness.

In this context, I’m happy to announce the Molinari Institute’s latest t-shirt, which features a quotation from Jeffersonian political activist Abraham Bishop, one of the most radical of the American founders:

“A nation which makes greatness its polestar can never be free.”

Thanks to Sheldon Richman for introducing me to this line, which comes from an 1800 antiwar speech titled Oration on the Extent and Power of Political Delusion; here’s a bit of context:

A nation which makes greatness its polestar can never be free; beneath national greatness sink individual greatness, honor, wealth and freedom. But though history, experience and reasoning confirm these ideas; yet all-powerful delusion has been able to make the people of every nation lend a helping hand in putting on their own fetters and rivetting their own chains, and in this service delusion always employs men too great to speak the truth, and yet too powerful to be doubted. Their statements are believed – their projects adopted – their ends answered and the deluded subjects of all this artifice are left to passive obedience through life, and to entail a condition of unqualified non-resistance to a ruined posterity.

Bishop’s other works include an attack on church-state unions and a defense of the insurgent slaves in the Haitian revolution (showing himself, in that connection, a better Jeffersonian than Jefferson himself, who sided with the slaveowners). Bishop also championed women’s education and was an early critic of the Constitution. So he wasn’t an anarchist? Well, nobody’s perfect.


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.


They Love Us When We’re Dead

[cross-posted at C4SS]

I made this comment on Facebook a few weeks back, but I thought it was worth repeating here:

One thing that (many) social anarchists and (many) ancaps have in common is that they recognise anticapitalist individualist market anarchists as valuable comrades (albeit erring ones) as long as they’re dead 19th-century figures like Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, and Voltairine de Cleyre, and even include them in their favourite anthologies, but as soon as they encounter actual living 21st-century examples of anticapitalist individualist market anarchists, they cringe in horror and shriek either “capitalist!” or “commie!” depending on the direction of deviation.


If You Love Freedom, Thank an Anarchist

[cross-posted at BHL]

It’s often said – particularly on holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that Americans owe their freedom (such as it is) to u.s. military veterans.

ifulove-blogpic

This claim has always puzzled me. In what war in living memory was the freedom of Americans at stake? Without u.s. military action, were Japanese or German troops – let alone Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Panamanian, Afghani, or Iraqi ones – really going to be marching though Times Square? If anything, given the notorious ratchet effect whereby wars tend to produce permanent increases in government power, it seems more probable that u.s. military action has contributed to a diminution of our freedom.

Yet Americans do enjoy a greater degree of liberty, however inadequate, than citizens of many other countries around the world. To whom do we owe that fact?

Many people wear shirts that say, “If you love freedom, thank a veteran.” I wear a shirt that says “If you love freedom, thank an anarchist.”

So what have anarchists (and other fractious dissidents) done for the cause of freedom? In answer, I quote from two recent articles:

Anarchists have never taken power. We have resisted authoritarianism and oppression in every arena. From calling out Marxism long before its draconian aspirations became public record, to fighting and dying to resist Fascism, fighting Franco until he couldn’t afford to join Hitler and Mussolini and leading the resistance against the Nazis across Europe. We’ve fought the robber barons, the czars, the oligarchs, and the soviet bureaucrats.

And we’ve been extraordinarily popular in different regions at different points in history, although we have not yet had sufficient critical mass to completely transform the world. In every instance where anarchism surged to localized popularity with a few million adherents, as in Spain but also Ukraine and Manchuria, every surrounding power immediately put their wars on hold to collaborate in snuffing out the examples we provided of a better world, of better ways of interacting and settling disputes with one another, that do not turn to control but build a tolerable consensus for all parties when agreement is needed.

We’ve been at the forefront not just of technology like cryptocurrencies and the tor project, but we’ve also been at the forefront of struggles against patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, etc., etc. Since long before there were popular coalitions like “feminism.” We smuggled guns to slaves and ran abolitionist journals. We’ve coursed through the veins of our existing society, pioneering myriad social technologies like credit unions and cooperatives. We’ve consistently served as the radical edge of the world’s conscience, and played a critical role in expanding what is possible while developing and field testing new insights and tools.

Anarchism – as many commentators have noted – has served as the laboratory of the left, of social justice and resistance movements around the world. Even where we remain marginal, the tools we invent eventually become mainstream.

— William Gillis, “Transhumanism Implies Anarchism

 

 

[The] claim that our rights are something “given to” us, handed down from above by the government and its soldiers, is a pernicious, authoritarian, damned lie.

Who has given us our rights? Nobody. We have taken them. Every right we have, we have because we fought for it from below. We have these rights because we resisted violations of them, because we fought those who violated them &#150 sometimes fighting “the Soldier” – and compelled the state to recognize them. And the state recognizes them because it’s afraid that if it violates them we’ll damn well fight it – and its soldiers – again.

Rights have never been granted by authority. They have always been asserted against authority, and won from it. We don’t have our rights because the government and its soldiers are nice – but because we’re not. It’s not the Soldier – it’s the dissidents, the hell-raisers, the dirty flag-burning hippies, the folks with bad attitudes towards authority in general, who have given us our rights throughout history, by fighting for them.

— Kevin A. Carson, “No, It’s Not ‘The Soldier’

 

 


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