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've been searching for this article and its author for years. What great timing that I finally found it in the Wayback Machine! It's one of the most important articles I think I've ever read, because it crystalizes perfectly what I consider the proper attitude to the domain of conspiracy. Here's an excerpt:
Almost all that is dismissed as conspiracy theory today is really only good or poor attempts at writing history in our own time. But why is it that when we are talking of the histories of whole different places in whole different times, we easily accept that this or that group of powerful people made this or that important event happen, yet when it comes to histories of our own time and place, we automatically reject any suggestion of any group of people making any important event happen? Throughout history, every important event always has some group of people behind it, and these events always offer revealing meanings about the kind of societies in which they occur. It is the same today.
I give this article the highest possible recommendation.
I think this is probably one of my favorite exchanges ever:
I guess you see your role as speaking truth to power, whoever happens to be in power. Which I can appreciate. The world definitely needs people like that.
What's the alternative? Flattering and cheering for power when it's on your side, no matter what it does?
The article Greenwald wrote is good, too.
I've often felt that my political principles are merely the application of beliefs and ideas that I hold on a deeper and more fundamental level. This quote does a better job of stating the relationship between the individual striving for spiritual understanding and the political striving for liberty than anything I've ever written:
Entities within your culture are fond of saying that humankind is made in the image and nature of the Creator. What image do we think of? What image comes to mind when one thinks of the Creator? That is a key question, and central to those who seek faith. For if a Creator is sought that is angry and punishing, righteous and full of justice, then we gaze at a part of ourselves, and if the Creator is gentle and nurturing and all embracing and unifying, then we gaze at a part of ourselves. Since there is a mystery, there is a choice to be made concerning one's attitude towards that mystery. Those who feel instinctively that the Creator is an unifying, loving and nurturing Creator are those which discover faith in one way, that is the positive path of polarization through service to the infinite One and to other selves, the images of the infinite One. Those who choose to see the creator of judgment, righteousness and law, are those who wish control, control over the life, control over the self, control over others, that there be no surprises, but that all be reckoned ahead of time, safe and tidy. This is the path of separation. We are aware that we speak to those upon the positive path of polarization, and so we will address faith in its positive sense, that is, that faith does not begin with faith in the self, but faith in the Creator. (Hatonn, February 3, 1991)
It is natural to look for meaning in tragedy. History, myth, literature all represent means by which humans attempt to come to terms with the dark sides of our experience and to find something valuable in it, so that the tragedy was not for naught. The motivation is not simply to avoid similar tragedies in the future, but to give ourselves a sense that we understand what's going on, that all this isn't just a huge chaotic mess from which we will never be able to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We seek comfort as much as insight.
It is not natural, however, to fit tragedy into an ideological narrative. Ideology doesn't originate within us but arises from our acceptance of a narrow system of thought to which we attempt to conform. So complex events and nuanced actions must be shoved like a square peg into a round hole in order to validate the black and white ideological approach in our gray shaded lives. But we adopt ideological approaches for similar reasons: to give ourselves a sense that we can explain it all, that if we can just achieve the world prescribed by the ideology, such tragedy will never occur again.
The attack on Representative Giffords is now being portrayed by many as an outgrowth of the "climate of hate" surrounding conservative politics in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The assassin would never have attacked this congresswoman, many claim, if there wasn't a poisonous undercurrent of anti-government sentiment. While an individual is responsible for his or her actions, we have a responsibility also to preserve a civil discourse and ensure that loose cannons do not employ our rhetoric in the service of violence.
AlternativeRight.com is a site I've been interested in, if a bit wary of, since Keith Preston informed me of its launch earlier this year. I've seen some commentary there that I find not so challenging or interesting, but some of the articles provide food for thought. Of particular interest to me are the realist approaches of many on this alternative right, and acknowledging novel and new insight into the realities of our world need not necessitate the adoption of their politics nor the acceptance of their conclusions. As a staunch leftist egalitarian, I find that maintaining an open mind towards the reactionary wing forces me to ground my ideals in the human. Ignoring or rejecting the ugly is insufficient for those who take ideas and politics seriously.
Still, I was a bit taken aback when I first heard of Keith's plans for a four-part series of articles on German jurist Carl Schmitt (Part 1, Part 2). Here was a thinker who provided the legal basis for a continuity between Nazi-era totalitarianism and emergency, extra-constitutional measures in the present "War on Terror". But as it turns out, Schmitt's actual scholarship on these subjects has been rather narrowly read over the past eighty or so years. One need not adopt his advocacy for the establishment to see the problems with liberal democracies he pointed out. This passage from Keith's latest is particularly compelling:
At a fundamental level, there is an innate tension between liberalism and democracy. Liberalism is individualistic, whereas democracy sanctions the "general will" as the principle of political legitimacy. However, a consistent or coherent "general will" necessitates a level of homogeneity that by its very nature goes against the individualistic ethos of liberalism. This is the source of the "crisis of parliamentarianism" that Schmitt suggested. According to the democratic theory, rooted as it is in the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a legitimate state must reflect the "general will," but no general will can be discerned in a regime that simultaneously espouses liberalism. Lacking the homogeneity necessary for a democratic "general will," the state becomes fragmented into competing interests. Indeed, a liberal parliamentary state can actually act against the "peoples' will" and become undemocratic. By this same principle, anti-liberal states such as those organized according to the principles of fascism or Bolshevism can be democratic in so far as they reflect the "general will."
Hey, anarchists, or really any reader who believes passionately in your political ideals for changing this world: depart with me on a thought experiment.
Your revolution succeeds. Through whatever means you think it possible, your fellow ________s have defeated the authoritarian/fascist/totalitarian forces and are ascendant. You, of course, know that your side will not rule in the same ruthless manner your enemy did.
Now what do you do with all these enemies whom you haven't killed or converted yet? The same beliefs that motivated them to oppose you in the past are likely not to be simply cast aside. After all, you didn't cast yours aside when you were out of power. As somebody experienced with dissidence, you know all too well that such people can take a long term view of their agenda and undermine the society you want to build in countless subtle ways.
A friend gave the pamphlet The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand to a friend of his, passing along his reactions to me. This essay is an attempt to answer some of his concerns, which I am not publishing here. However, I think it stands reasonably well on its own as a meditation on genuine change and its propensity for resulting in some kind of suffering. The friend began by asking,
With whom, economically and culturally, should or does the contemporary poet or artist identify?
I appreciate the question. My personal opinion is that I see no difference between the answer to this question and the answer to the question, "With whom should anybody identify?" You either see an unjust system as acceptable or not. How honest you are with yourself about the actual decision you're making is the real matter, and I don't think anybody scores perfectly in that area.
Everybody and their mother has invoked the old Mussolini quote (regardless of its accuracy) about renaming fascism to "corporatism". It always surprises me how many different political conclusions this point is used to augment. For some, it means private business is bad because it takes advantage of a vulnerable democratic political process. For others, it means firms are enlisted into the agendas of big bad politicians, restraining the so-called "free market" competition that benefits us all.
When considering each competing interpretation, it's most interesting and instructive to note which institution plays the victim and which the oppressor. After all, the quote is often used by people who assume the legitimacy of both big business and big government. The quibble lies solely with the relative power of one party relative to the other.
To my mind, the victim/oppressor dichotomy is positively self-reinforcing. In this case, the ontological dynamics serve to restrict what might be a broader conversation about not just the powers that be, but the powers we might have alternatively. Even radicals reinforce these established concepts: capitalists must have an articulable definition of the corporation and of the government to be able to ensure the victory of one over the other. Same for radical communists. If they didn't have set definitions of each institution, how would they understand the conditions of success towards which they strive?