Taking left libertarianism seriously
On the Center for a Stateless Society and the discipline of effective outreach
I hate marketing but I have to admit it is effective. Any serious cause makes an affirmative and considered effort to get its message out. While this is an especially delicate matter when it involves politics, focusing on the strategy of propaganda, outreach, and advocacy as a coordinated effort authentically demonstrates the urgency of one's ideas to the world and one's opponents.
That is why I've been a big supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society ever since Brad Spangler founded it in 2006. Both left libertarianism and market anarchism (a label I try to hold at arm's length) deserve an outlet focused on getting their unique points of view in front of as many eyes as possible. The goal from the very beginning has been outreach and advocacy, to embark upon a coordinated, funded effort to get left libertarian polemics into mainstream outlets to influence policy and public opinion. The emergence of C4SS was a sign that left libetarianism had grown up and wanted to be a player on the political stage, not simply a loose ring of blogs (though those were heady, fun days indeed).
I've written several essays for the Center. The first two pieces I wrote for them were among the hardest writing I've ever done in my life. It turns out that writing for the general public outside the normal cliches of politics has very, very little in common with writing for an expressly radical audience. Couple that with the rules that guide newspaper publication, such as word counts, an emphasis on very accessible diction, and conforming to certain reading levels, and suddenly writing from the heart transforms into a kind of eristic crossword puzzle. However, the finished product was not only something of which I could be proud, but something that felt like an important, unique contribution to the conversation precisely because it was disciplined.
I'm a big fan of Glenn Greenwald; just about every position he takes is anti-authoritarian, liberal in the best sense, and based on rule of law (which, in this age, is as close to fairness as one can expect). However, he wrote an article on the Chick-fil-a controversy that bugs me. On the narrow question of whether governments should be able to punish corporations for political advocacy, I agree with him that such punishment is unconstitutional. I take issue with his reasoning, though.
Greenwald invites us to consider a series of bills that enlist government in punishing corporations for views they express, money they donate to causes, etc. Some examples:
- Congress enacts a law that states: No business incorporated in America, whether for-profit or non-profit, shall be permitted to donate any of its money to groups espousing liberal ideas. Any business found to be in violation of this prohibition shall be guilty of a Class A felony. Corporate donations to groups espousing conservative causes shall still be permissible and legal.
- A city enacts an ordinance that states: Any business found to have donated money to any group that advocates same-sex marriage or abortion rights (including Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood) shall be barred from doing business within the city limits. Businesses shall still be permitted to donate money to groups which advocate against same-sex marriage or against abortion rights.
I agree with him that the above laws are unconstitutional. Government is prohibited from discriminating or giving unequal protection to the free speech rights of corporations as currently settled law stands (that was indeed one of the caveats he made). Indeed, Greenwald took pains to point out that even in the Citizens United case, not one Supreme Court justice questioned the legitimacy of corporate personhood at all (I addressed Greenwald's commentary on this matter in more detail here). I also agree with him that The Nation's Lee Fang takes an unprincipled, politically expedient position against corporate personhood -- one cannot confine one's critiques of the doctrine to only those cases where it acts against one's sense of justice. Nobody wants to be allied with a hack like Fang less than I.
Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Dr. Matt Zwolinski has a video defending sweatshops. I suppose if this were just another libertarian site, it might not concern me. After all, he's hardly the first libertarian to associate our philosophy with defenses of exploitation.
What gets me is that the site is called "Bleeding Heart Libertarians". Ostensibly, the goal of the blog is to defend libertarianism as a compassionate philosophy. It adds insult to injury for libertarians to make the same tired arguments not only in a flashy new medium but also on a site intended to represent a compassionate, concerned variety of the philosophy whose label we both employ.
It's not that his arguments are wrong per se. Yes, sweatshop jobs are the best of a crappy set of options for far too many people in the third world. Yes, shutting down those sweatshops without doing anything else would not improve anybody's situation. And yes, I can't contest the point that people should do things to help their situation, even if they don't remedy it completely.
Happy new year!
I just discovered the RAW Illumination blog that carries on and promotes the philosophy, attitude, and perspective of one of my very favorite authors and thinkers, Robert Anton Wilson. There's a great interview with Douglas Rushkoff on his book "Program or Be Programmed" which I reviewed here. However, this transcription of Robert Shea's speech upon accepting the Hall of Fame award from the Libertarian Futurist Society for the book he co-wrote with Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, is quite gratifying to me. It provides comfort for the long, hard slog of being intellectually free and curious, not so much as some demonstration of autonomy as a will to self-definition and self-discovery. The final paragraph is powerful:
We say in the novel that the original Illuminati were dedicated to religious and political freedom and that this secret organization somehow became perverted so that in recent centuries the Illuminati had become a vehicle for a monstrous authoritarianism. Thus the myth of the Illuminati is an archetype for every political movement, from Lenin's Bolshevism to Reagan's Republicanism, that has promised people greater freedom while loading them down with more government. People can be fooled in this way because they are not sure what freedom is. Freedom is a word whose meaning has been worn away by overuse, like a coin that has passed through too many hands. We need to be clear about what it means to us when we use it and maybe not use it quite so much, but use other, more precise words instead.
The Technology That Will Realize a Left Libertarian World
As much as I talk about revolution and theory, this is what is going to free humanity from large, centralized, bloodthirsty, inhuman domination. Hat tip to Kevin Carson for staying on top of this. Watch it all: it's important that we frame our political and economic ideas in terms of the possible, and this is certainly one way for us to achieve this in our lifetime. Please contribute to their cause!
Does this sound like a certain left libertarian group you know?
It is true that there existed among us "social study groups", but we know how ephemeral and precarious they were: born out of individual caprice, these groups were destined to disappear with it; those who made them up did not feel united enough, and the first difficulty they encountered caused them to split up. Furthermore, these groups do not seem to have ever had a clear notion of their goal. Now, the goal of an organization is at one and the same time thought and action. In my experience, however, those groups did not act at all: they disputed. And many reproached them for building all those little chapels, those talking shops.
This is Amedee Dunois at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam. Read the full speech here. We can learn a lot from the example of those who have gone before.