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.

It's been a long time since I've regarded the Center as a disciplined outlet for left libertarian politics. It seems they try to get anything and everything mildly related to left libertarianism published. This would be fine for a left libertarian blog that sought to serve a readership that already agrees with left libertarian views (my leftlibertarian.org project was just such an unfocused survey). But it's important to remember that the Center raises money not simply to publish writing--anybody can do that these days--but to publish the best, most focused, most accessible writing that can subvert mainstream media outlets and turn non-anarchists into anarchists. That's not easy, which is why I was always in favor of paying writers for the burden of writing pieces that are not necessarily straightforward, enjoyable to work on, or directly from the heart like most of us enjoy writing.

Consider this essay by Aster Alice Raizel. Despite my rejection of the thesis, this is a really interesting piece, as a twitter friend reminded me, because it recalls the intensity of 19th century, luciferian-tinged anarchism. I've been a fan of her voice and writing for many years. The question is not whether this is a good essay, but whether it is an essay that promotes left libertarianism to a mainstream audience. After all, that mission is what brought me an others to the Center; it's no failure to expand beyond that, but does an essay like this marginalize the Center among mainstream outlets more than necessary? I think it does, and so it is incompatible with the Center's whole reason for existing.

Now, I won't pretend this isn't personal: Alice has been an extremely divisive figure in the left libertarian milieu. She was central to one of the first rifts that found me on a different side than many of my C4SS comrades. Based on my private and public interactions with her, I believe she is a seriously disturbed individual (it sucks this has to be said, but for the record, I am not referring to her gender identity). Based on observing her angry, vitriolic, unhinged behavior on public forums and blogs, I further believe she is an atrocious ambassador for any cause, let alone one that promotes the just and peaceful resolution of conflicts. So the fact that the Center would use donor funds to publish a wildly troubled person working out their daddy issues in public is just the latest and best example of its loss of purpose.

I was also struck by the sloppy and grating takedown of Greenwald by Arthur Silber that caught the Center's interest for some reason. Indeed, I wrote my own piece criticizing Greenwald's journalistic practices and principles not because I thought I was making an original contribution. Largely I wanted to salvage the ongoing, important conversation about journalism from such an overwrought and hysterical temper tantrum. There is simply no point in lecturing on integrity with a voice of petulent self-righteousness and caustic hate. I feel sorry for radicals like Raizel and Silber who have no other voice with which to discuss these matters, but it's simply a mistake for the Center to support such bile.

To give voice to concerns about an institution's direction inevitably risks offending those who see their interests aligned with the institution. This is even more true when people get their pay from that institution. So as desperate and sad as this seems for such an accomplished thinker, it just makes me grateful for the privilege to pursue politics on my own terms and eschew the constant performance that comprises politically correct leftism. And that's the position I've always strived to occupy on the libertarian left: an independent, anti-ideological, common sense position that can reflect on our faults as well as our virtues. I have no interest in the "me too" rah-rahing of movement clicktavists motivated more by publicly distinguishing their moral value from the fallen masses than by engaging with those folks to find ways forward for us all. Let me know when that kind of cultivated sanctimony actually effects changes in the world, Kevin, and I'll gladly eat my hat.

Any movement trying to find its own political identity, priorities, and values as well as maintain ideological integrity will make philosophical independence difficult. To their credit, left libertarians and C4SS adherents are if anything more honest than most ideologues. But if ideology requires any kind of balancing force, only the individual conscience can reliably provide it. Sometimes that means standing on the outside looking in, but that's immensely more satisfying to me than drowning myself in the echo chamber of self-congratulating, progressive puritanism. It's not true that the Center does no good work, but its supporters deserve to know the real motivation for its work. Presently the Center functions more as a thin veneer of institutional professionalism over of an insular clique of ideologues; I'm certain my comrades are capable of better.

The internet is a wonderful nursery for anti-system radicals, but eventually one needs to leave that noumenal realm of relative safety, put aside childish Twitter grandstanding and forum feuds, and apply one's values to the real world. There is an outlet that takes these kinds of politics seriously, which makes it both dangerous and promising. I believe Attack the System, for all its flaws, has usurped the position that C4SS could have thrived in, and I hope you will give that site and its writers a chance to show you what the application of genuine anti-state politics through a pluralist framework means for leftist aspirations and the egalitarianism we all believe is possible. (I no longer associate or support Attack the System and disavow them completely.)

Written on Saturday, March 08, 2014 | Tags: anarcho-pluralism, c4ss, left-libertarianism, lefitsm, kevin-carson, politics, tone-policing