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Are you really a libertarian/anarchist?

23 August 2009 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in philosophy | 141 Comments »

Anarchist black flagI introduced myself here primarily as an anarcho-capitalist. That’s changed. I’ve dropped my preferences, and now consider myself an anarchist without adjectives. The ancap flag (yes, the nice one with the big red heart) comes down, and my “about” page needs an update.

Preferences? What preferences?

A few questions for you, gentle reader, with my own comments upon them. Note that these, too, reflect my own preferences.

Given the context that we can’t presently know what a free society would look like, how it would self-organize, etc., consider the following:

Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella

Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella

  • If private property is impossible in a libertarian society, do you prefer the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If minimal states always collapse either into truly free anarchic or grow to monstrous proportions but never remain minimal, do you prefer a non-minimal state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If achieving a free society means that you must give up all legal and societal privileges flowing from state and other crooked institutions today (religion, poison culture, patriarchy, heteronormativity), would you do it? If not, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If living in a free society means that you can’t beat, abuse, indoctrinate or otherwise harm your children, do you prefer the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If transitioning to a free society means you must change big portions of your life, would you? If not, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If a free society is nothing like you ever imagined, will you cling to the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If Wal-Mart, Tesco and other mega-corporations are impossible in a free society, do you prefer the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If intellectual property (copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc.) is impossible in a free society, do you prefer the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.
  • If wage labor, profit, rent and/or interest are impossible or widely loathed in a free society, do you prefer the state? If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.

There are any number of other questions like these that I could ask. How do you reply?

Are you so chained to your own preferences that the unknowable unknown of what a free society might look like scares you right back into statist servitude?

Your comments, answers, complaints, curses, death threats, etc., all welcome below.

  1. 141 Responses to “Are you really a libertarian/anarchist?”

  2. By Teresa on 24 August 2009

    If all labels suddenly become obsolete, would you still call yourself an anarchist without adjectives?

    And if costumes don’t matter, why do you call yourself an anarchist without adjectives instead of a libertarian?

  3. By The New Anarchist on 24 August 2009

    Kurt Walton: “You can’t eschew the value of democracy and the lessons of history and expect to be taken seriously.”

    I doubt your familiarity with the true value of democracy since you live in a democratic republic and not a 6th Century BC Athenian wonderland.

    Even then, democracy is simply a form of government and not a almighty, blessed Way set down by glittery, shiny beings. Even if it were, I would be sorely disappointed in said glittery, shiny beings for thinking that everyone deserves a say in how I live my life (even the ancient Athenians limited their voting to the men – a prospect I find endearing – like a different physiology gives me magic powers that women don’t have).

    The “lessons of history” are whatever you make them out to be. This type of random, subjective, McCarthy-era nonsense is specifically why people are anarchists. We know history is bullshit, written by the winners. We know the masses cop to that bullshit every day. And if our forefathers hadn’t been on some proto-Parker Brothers’ Monopoly high when they set down the rules for this nation, then people might be better off and less angry. But once you strip away the republic, there is still capitalism to contend with, the underlying idea of which is that “stuff” is more valuable than “people,” specifically you people, specifically you.

    Try this: walk into any bank and present yourself as the deposit on a new account. Tell them that, since you’re a human being (and a voter, I’m assuming, which should raise your value a lot) and that you are priceless. Therefore, you should be able to withdraw any amount of money you desire because you, Kurt Walton, know the lessons of history and understand the value of democracy and will use your newly found wealth to spread those lessons to the world. See how long it takes you to be escorted out.

    Why would they do that? Because your value is in your labor, and not even much exists in that. There are hundreds of millions just like you. And whether you value democracy or anarchism or a government system founded on lessons put forth by a sentient willow tree, no one’s going to care about you unless you can offer them something that can be turned into cash. There’s your value.

  4. By Mike Gogulski on 24 August 2009

    @Teresa:

    1: If that occurred, the qualifier wouldn’t be necessary.

    2: Because the lexical distinction is useful in pointing out differences of philosophy and approach.

  5. By Noor on 24 August 2009

    To all the capitalists asking about property, I invite you to read Chapter 4 in What is Property?

    Chapter 4 is basically a nice compilation of all the arguments against property (that do not apply to possession-and-use).

  6. By Vache Folle on 24 August 2009

    Thanks for exercising my mind.

    It seems to me that many of the problems that are being discussed are artifacts of thinking in terms of individuals. Homo sapiens is a social animal by and large, and the recognition of “property” is a social act. Property does not derive from the individual organism but from the group.

  7. By Noor on 24 August 2009

    Property does not derive from the individual organism but from the group.
    Yes. The “extension of the self” and “product of labor” applies to possession, which must be distinguished from property.

  8. By Kyle Bennett on 25 August 2009

    “It seems to me that many of the problems that are being discussed are artifacts of thinking in terms of individuals.”

    This is one reason I am an anarchist, so people who believe this will have no say in how I run my life.

  9. By Kyle Bennett on 25 August 2009

    “Chapter 4 is basically a nice compilation of all the arguments against property”

    Is that really the best the anti-propertarians have?

  10. By Francois Tremblay on 25 August 2009

    “Is that really the best the anti-propertarians have?”

    Yes, it is.

    And it beats the crap out of anything I’ve ever seen from your side. Is there ONE cogent argument for property rights, or are they all just special pleadings?

  11. By Kyle Bennett on 25 August 2009

    “Yes, it is.”

    LOL. For a while there, I thought that because people seemed to take anti-propertarianist positions seriously, that there was a substantive argument behind it. After seeing Proudohn a while back, I kept looking for the *real* arguments.

  12. By Francois Tremblay on 25 August 2009

    … funny, I’m still looking for the real proprietarian arguments. Since you’re gloating, you must surely have some?

  13. By Aaron Kinney on 25 August 2009

    Francois owns Kyle on the property rights argument.

    Therefore, Kyle is Francois property, and property rights are valid. Waitaminute!

    Oh God, my head hurts…

  14. By hacksoncode on 25 August 2009

    Part of the problem is that I doubt we agree on the definition of “free”.

    To me, one of the most fundamental freedoms is the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your own labor without interference from others (yes, yes, including the right to sell it to someone or labor for hire).

    Essentially speaking, and leaving off the petty details for the sake of argument, that’s more or less the definition of “property”, as well.

    So, to me, “free society” and “no property” are simply a contradiction in terms. The argument for property is exactly the same as the argument for liberty.

  15. By Francois Tremblay on 25 August 2009

    “To me, one of the most fundamental freedoms is the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your own labor without interference from others”

    Yes… that is one of the reasons why I am against property rights. Probably the biggest one.

  16. By hacksoncode on 25 August 2009

    Perhaps it would save a lot of time if you define what you mean by “property rights”.

  17. By Francois Tremblay on 25 August 2009

    Don’t try to divert the issue. I define the term the same way the law defines it, and the same way we all define it. Right to use, enjoy the fruits of, buy and sell, rent out, and destroy. In short, total control over an object, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s total control over their objects.

  18. By hacksoncode on 25 August 2009

    So, paraphrasing your earlier comment: One of the reasons you oppose the right to enjoy the fruits of your labor is that the right to enjoy the fruits of your labor is one of the most fundamental freedoms?

    I’m not diverting the issue. I’m obviously missing something terribly vital to you, because that makes absolutely no sense.

    Unless, of course, you’re opposed to freedom. I don’t mean that in an ad hominem way… I’m just trying to think of all the ways in which that statement could possibly have a useful meaning.

  19. By Francois Tremblay on 25 August 2009

    You seem to be confused. Property rights are the opposite of “the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your own labor without interference from others.” I oppose property rights precisely because I do want “the freedom to enjoy the fruits of my own labor without interference from other.” Property rights mean that my full product is stolen from me, with the support of the State’s laws, which are based on property theory.

  20. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    You just said, 1 comment ago, that you defined property rights as “Right to use, enjoy the fruits of, buy and sell, rent out, and destroy. In short, total control over an object, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s total control over their objects.”

    And you are now saying that they are the opposite of “the freedom to enjoy the fruits of my own labor without interference from other”.

    Is this just a quibble that the fruits of your particular labor don’t happen to be objects or something? Or that the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your labor is in some abstract way different from the right to control said fruits?

    Or is it just that you want the right to control the fruits of your labor, but want to deny that exact same right to someone that might *gasp* employ you?

  21. By Kyle Bennett on 26 August 2009

    @hacksoncode,

    The difference, as far as I can tell, is that he supports the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor *only while one is actually laboring*. Stop for a cigarette break, and somebody gets to expropriate it… errr, labor on it, I guess. Property is the same thing it is for the rest of us, with the exception of persistence.

    But I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

  22. By Francois Tremblay on 26 August 2009

    I think you are confused because you confuse the free market with capitalism. In the capitalist system, your labour is a commodity, an object, sold to the highest bidder. It is owned by the leader of that work hierarchy (or in corporations, the fictional person of the corporation), and he is the one who gets the fruits, not you. You sign a contract which delegates responsibility of your production (i.e. the result of your labour) to that leader.

  23. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    Of course you are free to do that. You’re also free not to do that.

    What, would you make it illegal to sell the fruits of your labor?

  24. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    Before we attempt recapitulate all the communist arguments of the preceding century, allow me to say that I’d *like* to get to that goal.

    It’s just that there are only 2 ways to get to a point where people aren’t in conflict because they are competing over scarce resources:

    1) Evolve beyond greed. Technically this is possible if you assume that greed is actually counterproductive to individuals and their offspring (a dubious proposition). Get back to me in a few million years and let’s see.

    2) Develop technology to the point where there is effectively no shortage of resources. Technically, this might be possible. It’s certainly our best hope. It might only take 1000 years if we really hurry.

    Luckily it appears that people do start having fewer children when that becomes a) possible and b) unnecessary to ensure their survival in old age. So at least it’s not a logical impossibility.

    So the question remains: what do we do in the mean time, and how do we get there as fast as possible?

    Historically, a capitalist system has proven (and indeed, can be mathematically proven) to be the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources for maximum productivity.

    Let’s get to a technological state where anarchy is theoretically possible as fast as we can, and see what happens. I’m sure we’d *all* love to live in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe.

  25. By Kyle Bennett on 26 August 2009

    “I’m sure we’d *all* love to live in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe.”

    Not me. Sure, the technology, and the apparent general environment of goodwill… but peek under that surface and it’s either a fascist/socialist dystopia, or TV fiction. They left hints throughout the series of their wider socio-ecoonomic organization, and it’s simply not possible without some very nasty stuff happening just off camera.

    Just think a minute on how demeaning and depraved the Prime Directive is.

  26. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    Yes, well, there’s some difference of opinion on what “must” be happening off stage. But the real point is that it’s a universe where a true anarchy might theoretically be possible.

    And the nice thing about the Prime Directive is that if you want to have a lovely little anarchy they will leave you alone to do it.

  27. By Francois Tremblay on 26 August 2009

    “What, would you make it illegal to sell the fruits of your labor?”

    No… LTV does not prohibit selling, obviously, since it tells us how much things should be sold for.

  28. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    The word “should” there sounds suspiciously non-anarchical. Would you prevent selling it for some other amount? (and how?)

    The distinction between selling your labor and selling the fruits of your labor is so narrow as to be nearly indistinguishable. If you’re offended by “having” to do what someone else asks you to do, run your own business and skip that step.

  29. By Francois Tremblay on 26 August 2009

    “The word “should” there sounds suspiciously non-anarchical.”

    Please do not pretend to know what Anarchy is.

    “Would you prevent selling it for some other amount? (and how?)”

    Why should I? I would hope that people are not assholes and don’t try to exploit me. If they do, I’ll simply not buy their crap, and support boycotts or pulling their products off the shelves. Ostracism should be enough of an incentive.

    “The distinction between selling your labor and selling the fruits of your labor is so narrow as to be nearly indistinguishable.”

    You apparently can’t do basic math. That’s okay. Many stupid people lead happy lives.

    “If you’re offended by “having” to do what someone else asks you to do, run your own business and skip that step.”

    Yes, that’s an option obviously available to everyone, and so easy too. Dangit, how did I not think of this before? I just gotta take all this capital I’ve accumulated by being paid my full product and… oh wait. I still live in the capitalist system. I guess you’re just an idiot.

  30. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    Actually, I know perfectly well what anarchy is. It’s a complete fantasy that fails to take into account many millions of years of evolution of the human species.

    That’s why I’m a minarchist rather than an anarchist. Don’t be me wrong, though… if we get to a minarchist state and it turns out that magically people stop being acquisitive and venal, I’m all for doing away with that last bit too.

    It’s just that that’s religion and not science.

  31. By Francois Tremblay on 26 August 2009

    “Actually, I know perfectly well what anarchy is. It’s a complete fantasy that fails to take into account many millions of years of evolution of the human species.”

    Like I said… you don’t understand Anarchism, and yet you pretend that you do. Anarchism does not “fail to take into account” evolution! Have you even HEARD of Mutual Aid by Kropotkin? His WHOLE BOOK is on that very topic, you asshole. It’s a well-known book, you have no reason to not know about it if you know anything about Anarchism, which you don’t.

    “That’s why I’m a minarchist rather than an anarchist.”

    Then you are absurd, since minarchism is the most absurd and the most contradictory of all political positions. Either you believe in the State or you don’t: your silly middle ground (yea, we need the State, but the State is evil, but it’s a necessary evil, but it should be limited, it should limit itself, even though it has no reason to limit itself, but it’s necessary!) is the laughingstock of pretty much everyone else.

    “Don’t be me wrong, though… if we get to a minarchist state and it turns out that magically people stop being acquisitive and venal, I’m all for doing away with that last bit too.”

    Actually, minarchism can ONLY work if “magically people stop being acquisitive and venal.” Otherwise, it will always inevitably collapse into a tyranny (ironically, this is what minarchists always accuse Anarchists of, because they are projecting, like any good believer).

    “It’s just that that’s religion and not science.”

    Oh, I would say you’re projecting again, but I don’t think minarchism is a religion. But it’s certainly not science, that we both agree on.

  32. By hacksoncode on 26 August 2009

    I’ve seen the arguments that attempt to take evolution into account. It’s just that they fail miserably at this attempt.

    They’re just wrong.

  33. By Francois Tremblay on 26 August 2009

    … what? That doesn’t even make any sense. Are you claiming that the information is wrong, that Kropotkin and modern supporters of the cooperation theory (like Donna Hart and Robert Sussman) are factually wrong? Or that the argument made from that information is wrong?

    If you’re gonna say “you’re just wrong,” don’t expect me to take you seriously. Either tell us WHAT is wrong with the arguments, or admit you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.

  34. By John H. on 30 August 2009

    …If I may?

    Franc doesn’t disbelieve in ownership, his problem is with property. The strict mutualist position (which Franc, last I checked, has adopted) is that renting out capital is immoral, and so “property” (which includes the ability to rent out your possessions) is wrong.

    Franc, you’re an enigma. I’m not sure if you’re the worst evangelist in the world or the best. You make everyone (even your allies) want to punch you in the face sometimes, but you always get them to think about your point. You’re responsible in large part for my conversion to a sort of mutualism, so thanks, you pinko bastard. 😉

  35. By Francois Tremblay on 30 August 2009

    Thank you John for the succinct formulation.

  36. By VoidMaster on 30 September 2010

    The wording of your questions presumes many assumptions that I do not consider to be “givens.” For example; I am not sure why you assume that private property would not be possible in a libertarian society.

    One need not rely upon the state for protection of anything—be it private property, personal safety, etc. In fact, I would go so far as to put forth that one acts foolishly to rely upon the state for anything, including protection. I am quite capable of protecting my own person and property, even intellectual property. I do so currently and I do so without any help from the state.

    That is not to say that I face no limitations. I am under no illusions regarding my capacity for self-defense. If enough people bearing enough firepower came around bent upon taking what was mine, they would surely prevail. But guess what: that is possible with or without the state. Indeed, the state presents as the most likely culprit in such an endeavor. Theft is theft, regardless what the thief calls it or what he is wearing.

    So private property is quite possible even in a pure anarchy. It is the act of retaining possession that makes it private property, not the enforcement of rules. In fact, it takes enforcement of rules to abolish anything—including private property. And the presence of rules implies statism, even if it is a minimalist state. Ergo, the enforcer of rules is an agent of the state, regardless what label he applies to his master.

  37. By Michael on 3 July 2012

    I actually agree with Murray Rothbard in his article: “Are Libertarians “Anarchists”? ”

    The spurious logic of the dialectic is not open to the left-wing anarchists, who wish to abolish the State and capitalism simultaneously. The nearest those anarchists have come to resolving the problem has been to uphold syndicalism as the ideal. In syndicalism, each group of workers and peasants is supposed to own its means of production in common, and plan for itself, while cooperating with other collectives and communes. Logical analysis of these schemes would readily show that the whole program is nonsense. Either of two things would occur: one central agency would plan for and direct the various subgroups, or the collectives themselves would be really autonomous. But the crucial question is whether these agencies would be empowered to use force to put their decisions into effect. All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrants. But then the first possibility means nothing more nor less than Communism, while the second leads to a real chaos of diverse and clashing Communisms, that would probably lead finally to some central Communism after a period of social war. Thus, left-wing anarchism must in practice signify either regular Communism or a true chaos of communistic syndics. In both cases, the actual result must be that the State is reestablished under another name. It is the tragic irony of left-wing anarchism that, despite the hopes of its supporters, it is not really anarchism at all. It is either Communism or chaos.
    http://mises.org/daily/2801

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