The Dual Legacy of the Declaration of Independence

No one should raise the stars and stripes on the 4th. The proper flag to raise on the 4th of July is the black flag of anarchy.

 

The Fourth of July commemorates the anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, a document which the anarchist must view with mixed emotions.

The document’s stirring proclamation that “all men are created equal,” with inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that no government is entitled to infringe; its further insistence that all authority must depend on the “consent of the governed,” and that when such authority becomes abusive it is the “right of the people to alter or to abolish it” – all of these are welcome statements of a philosophical outlook which, if logically pursued, leads inexorably to a much wider liberation (an implication clearly grasped at the time by many of the Revolution’s critics).

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Economic Inequality: Three Takes

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In June 1963, when Nathaniel Branden published a piece on “Inherited Wealth” in The Objectivist Newsletter, he was still the beloved disciple of Ayn Rand, who reprinted his piece in her 1966 collection Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and continued to include it in subsequent editions despite her break with Branden in 1968. As Rand famously did not allow opinions deviating even in the slightest from her own to appear in journals or books that she edited, we can assume Branden speaks for Rand when he writes:

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Randians vs. Stoics

Stoicism, particularly in its ethical and political aspects (a defense of individual self-mastery on the one hand and commercial society on the other – for the latter, see, e.g., Cicero’s De Officiis), has been enormously influential throughout western history. During the Roman period it took on something like the character of a mass religious movement; Stoics were also statistically overrepresented among assassins or attempted assassins of Roman emperors. (One third of all Roman emperors died by assassination, so that’s not an insignificant number.) Later on, philosophical thinkers as diverse as Augustine, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Adam Smith, and Kant would draw on Stoic ideas (though always selectively) in crafting their own ethical and political views.

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Spooner Volumes Published

Phil Magness has performed a great service for the history of individualist anarchism by tracking down and publishing some of Lysander Spooner’s hardest-to-find works, in two volumes:

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Two Treatises on Competitive Currency and Banking

“Available for the first time in over 140 years, these two ‘lost’ treatises [What Is a Dollar? and Financial Imposters I-IV] by libertarian legal philosopher Lysander Spooner present his vision for a radically decentralized monetary system rooted in privately issued competitive currencies and free-banking. …

Once presumed to have been destroyed in a turn-of-the-century fire, these writings contain Spooner’s most extensive foray into economic theory and reveal new insights into his distinctive and uncompromising free-market vision. …

Spooner’s articulated theory of radically decentralized competitive currencies might be seen as something of an intellectual grandfather to the rise of cryptocurrency in the present day.”

Public Letters and Political Essays

“This collection brings together the political writings and short essays of Lysander Spooner for the first time in a single volume. Spooner’s editorials span topics ranging from abolitionism and the Civil War, to free banking and currency, to the trial of President Garfield’s assassin, to government corruption in Massachusetts during the Gilded Age – all with biting wit and an uncompromising disdain for politicians.

Containing over 40 years of newspaper editorials as well as the complete set of Spooner’s contributions to the magazine Liberty, many of these essays have been out of print for over a century. For any fan of Spooner’s political philosophy, and the idea of human liberty generally, this collection is essential reading.”

Smashing Fences and Fascists

I’m excited to announce the publication of two new anthologies from C4SS (the Center for a Stateless Society): The Anatomy of Escape: A Defense of the Commons (357 pp.; buy at C4SS [$12 plus shipping] or buy at Amazon) and Fighting Fascism: Anti-fascism, Free Speech and Political Violence (479 pp.; buy at C4SS [$14 plus shipping] or buy at Amazon).

The Anatomy of Escape explores the role of common property in a market anarchist system, while Fighting Fascism features debates over the ethical, political, and strategic/tactical considerations that should inform resistance to fascist movements. (Both books include contributions by me – although my piece in the fascism volume is a bit of an outlier, as it concerns fascism in a somewhat different sense of the term from the one addressed in most of the other pieces.)

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From the introduction to The Anatomy of Escape: A Defense of the Commons:

Many market anarchists – especially, though not exclusively, those associated with market anarchism’s “right” wing – tend to envision a fully free market as one in which all resources are privately owned. The essays in this book offer a different perspective: that a stateless free-market society can and should include, alongside private property, a robust role for public property – not, of course, in the sense of governmental property, but rather in the sense of property that is owned by the general community rather than by specific individuals or formally organized groups.

From the introduction to Fighting Fascism: Anti-fascism, Free Speech and Political Violence:

Anarchists are, by definition, anti-fascist. They oppose all forms of fascism just as they oppose all forms of statism, domination, and oppression. What’s left to be settled, however, is what our anti-fascist commitment entails in practice. What should our theoretical debates surrounding the nature and danger of fascist ideas imply for our practical strategies for creating the new, anti-fascist world in the shell of the old, fascist one?

More specifically, we need to understand just what fascism is and how it spreads. We need to know why fascism has any appeal at all and how to stem that appeal. We need to see how concepts like freedom of speech figure into anarchist praxis. We need to discuss what free speech is. We need to explore what constitutes mere speech and assembly and what constitutes intentionality and violence. We need to differentiate between self-defense and aggression. We need to seriously interrogate the morality and efficacy of different kinds of political violence. Most importantly, we need internally consistent ethical and strategic insights into replacing fascist ideas with anarchist ones. Failing to clarify these issues could cost us, not only our souls, but any fighting chance for anarchy left in this fragile world.

You can view the tables of contents at the links above.

And for more LWMA (left-wing market anarchist) books and other swag, check out the C4SS Store.

Expand Your Mind

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For Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire fans, now that the tv series is winding down, and neither the prequel tv series nor the next book will be here any time soon, the question is what to read and/or watch next. The answer a lot of people are recommending is the science-fiction epic The Expanse, which even gets frequently described (somewhat simplistically, but not entirely unreasonably) as “Game of Thones [and/or Song of Ice and Fire] in space.”

I want to add my own enthusiastic recommendation to that throng; The Expanse isn’t as popular as Game of Thrones, but it deserves to be, because it’s good in many of the same ways (complex politics viewed with a cynical eye; engaging but flawed characters; redemption arcs successful and otherwise; exciting action; willingness to kill off major characters; and a creepy menace growing on the periphery of the known world, to which the main players are initially oblivious). Moreover, while I don’t believe that the authors are either libertarians or anarchists, the series offers a great deal to interest libertarians (especially left-libertarians) and anarchists alike. Continue reading

Forthcoming Anthology on Dialectical Libertarianism

Check out Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s announcement for his forthcoming anthology Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (edited by Sciabarra, Roger Bissell, and Edward Younkins) here, and the abstracts of chapters here.

Contributors include Jason Lee Byas, Robert Campbell, Troy Camplin, Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Billy Christmas, Douglas Den Uyl, Nathan Goodman, Robert Higgs, Steven Horwitz, Stephan Kinsella, Deirdre McCloskey, David Prychitko, Douglas Rasmussen, John Welsh, the editors themselves (Sciabarra, Bissell, and Younkins), and your humble correspondent. (You’ll notice several of my fellow Molinari/C4SS and BHL folks on that list.)

In Sciabarra’s words: “These essays explore ways that liberty can be better defended using a dialectical approach, a mode of analysis that grasps the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom.” Sciabarra notes that while “some of the authors associated with the volume may very well not associate themselves with the views of other authors herein represented,” a “context-sensitive dialectical approach” is “living research program” that “will necessarily generate a variety of perspectives, united only in their ideological commitment to freedom and their methodological commitment to a dialectical sensibility.”

Sciabarra has devoted his career to exploring such an approach, most notably in his “Dialectics and Liberty” trilogy Marx, Hayek, and Utopia; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Review: New York 2140

Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. (Orbit Books, 2017).
 
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best science-fiction writers working today. Recurring themes in his stories include ecology, archeological exploration, anti-capitalist politics, and the ineluctable passage of time – all of which feature in New York 2140, which, like much of his work (including Icehenge, The Martians, 2312, Galileo’s Dream, and Aurora) fits almost-but-not-quite into the future history established in the Mars trilogy, his best-known work. (The inconsistencies are explained in Galileo’s Dream, where we learn that these various narratives belong to distinct but closely adjacent timelines.)

New York 2140 is a sprawling, magnificent tour de force. In its pages, the half-sunken (owing to global warming and consequent rising sea levels) but still-vibrant future Manhattan, criss-crossed by skybridges and streets-turned-canals, that figures peripherally in some of Robinson’s other works, here takes center stage, as average people eking out a precarious existence in the more sunken parts of the city band together to resist the twin threats of storm surges on the one hand and wealthy, predatory speculators from the higher and drier sections of the city on the other.

Like many of Robinson’s books, New York 2140 divides its attention among many characters rather than focusing on one or two protagonists. The chapters devoted to different characters’ viewpoints also vary in style, with some being told in first-person, some in third; some in present-tense, some in past; and so on. Periodic expository chapters, leavening their infodumps with sardonic commentary from an anonymous “citizen,” give the novel simultaneously a 19th-century and a postmodern tone.

A subplot, only tangentially related to the Manhattan storyline, involving an alternately zany and harrowing attempt to save polar bears from extinction by relocating them to Antarctica via airship (because science fiction writers love airships!) as part of an eccentric reality show, resurrects one of the central themes of Robinson’s Mars trilogy, namely the conflict between versions of environmentalism that favor active human intervention to create or preserve sustainable habitats and versions that valorize the natural, untouched landscape.

Predictably (for the same praise and criticism applies to the Mars trilogy), New York 2140 is terrific from a literary perspective, but a frustratingly mixed bag from an economic and political perspective. In many ways the book, and Robinson’s work more generally, epitomizes the tragedy of the Left: one foot in vital, grassroots, quasi-anarchist radicalism, the other in dreary, top-down, paternalistic authoritarianism (or “social democracy”), with this unstable union of opposites being held together by what I’ve come to call left-conflationism, i.e., the error of taking the perversities of corporate capitalism to be the result of, and so to be reasons to oppose, genuinely freed markets – and, relatedly, of seeing government as a check against, rather than a crucial enabler of, the power of economic elites: a safe and benign tool if we can only put the right people in charge of it. (Gary Chartier and I gave Robinson a copy of Markets Not Capitalism back in 2013, when, as he told us, he was just beginning to plan this “novel about markets,” but obviously we did not make a convert.)

Hence we’re treated to the spectacle of a purportedly egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist revolution whose guiding stars are Lord Keynes and the two Presidents Roosevelt, and whose ultimate payoff is to get one of the protagonists elected to Congress – a revolution that begins as bottom-up mutual-aid direct action via “dual power alternative networking,” only to fizzle out into the stale message that government is the heroic force that will save us all from the rapacious capitalists if we only just vote harder.

Robinson almost falls into self-parody when he describes the “private security firms” in his future New York as “play[ing] Snidely Whiplash to the NYPD’s Dudley Do-Right” – an absurdly kind evaluation of the NYPD, given its actual record. (I looked desperately for evidence that Robinson was being ironic here, but couldn’t see any.) Regrettably, Robinson’s view is simply a mirror image of Ayn Rand’s vision of corporate capitalists as the heroic force that will save us all from rapacious government, and is no more convincing. (Robinson likewise treats anthropogenic climate change as a product of unregulated markets, with no recognition of the ways in which it’s been fueled by corporate socialization of costs enabled by government intervention.)

Most disturbing is the disappointingly reactionary political program enacted by the novel’s victorious lefty radicals, which includes bank bailouts via nationalization, immigration restrictions into New York (“morally defensible” because those coming in “often had bad intentions” – a line that disturbingly echoes Donald Trump’s 2015 campaign rhetoric), mandatory national service (i.e., temporary slavery), and what amounts to martial law. Toward the novel’s end one protagonist responsible for much of this program briefly “pause[s] to wonder what it meant when a police state was aspirational, a staving off of a worse fate” – but quickly dismisses such worries to immerse herself in the minutiae of day-to-day policy. (Again, I’d like to think Robinson is offering an implicit critique here, but I see no signs that he is doing so.)

I highly recommend New York 2140 as a beautifully written, richly allusive, perpetually engaging and provocative novel. But I cannot recommend it as a lens through which to view the causes and likely cures of the social ills that beset us.

Anarchy in Manhattan

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The Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Eastern Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in New York City, 7-10 January 2019. Here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium: New Work in Libertarian and Anarchist Thought

G5C. Tuesday, 8 January 2019, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, 811 7th Ave. (at W. 53rd St.), New York NY, room TBA

chair:
     Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

presenters:
     Jason Lee Byas (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), “The Political Is Interpersonal
     Dylan Andrew Delikta (Memorial University of Newfoundland), “Anarchy: Finding Home in the (W)hole
     Alex Braud (Arizona State University), “Putting Limits on Punishments of Last Resort
     Roderick T. Long (Auburn University), “The Anarchist Landscape: Social Anarchism, Individualist Anarchism, and Anarcho-Capitalism from a Left-Wing Market Anarchist Perspective

Regrettably, our session is scheduled opposite a session on Elizabeth Anderson’s book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives, with comments by Jacob Levy and Jessica Flanigan. This is unfortunate both because many members of our potential audience will probably be lured away by this session, and because we’d like to go to it ourselves. But as good anarchists, we must bear our sufferings like Rakhmetov.