Government by Other Means

As expected, the Professor’s reply to my analysis of his avoidant tendencies is also avoidant, taking the form of a condescending remark that indirectly manifests his  discomfort by wishing him onto a therapist’s couch, with a Scotch and Soda.1 Yet even though the Professor re-asserts his refusal of serious dialogue, he returns, or had already returned, to my argument, merely in a different place. Alternatively, sustaining the pscyhoanalytical mode, we could say he returned to the argument and to me by way of a second displacement. I am grateful either way for the resultant second (quasi-)reply, since it provides an opportunity to delve further into a matter of broader interest than a comment-thread spat between two internet nobodies: How and why the argument for liberty, or negative freedom, turns against itself into the facilitation of tyranny.

1. Who controls, governs (is the one who really governs)

In a long comment that the Professor addresses to friend-of-the-blog Michael Drew, my name comes into play in the third paragraph (emphasis added, typos corrected):

But what if protective regulation was simply not available? Then, the libertarian argues, there’s no–or dramatically reduced–incentive for business to control government. If they can’t seek favors from government, and don’t have to fear heavy regulation from government, then what gains would be available to them that would be worth controlling it? This is where CK’s emphasis on “control” of government misses the libertarians’ point by being over-broad–he doesn’t break down what parts of government they want to control, so he doesn’t, as far as I can tell, understand the argument very well.

When the Professor describes a supposed emphasis of mine, and puts a word in quotation marks, one might presume that I had actually used that word. Yet nowhere did I refer to “control” of government, and it is not my argument that a weakened government must fall more easily under the “control” of private interests. Nor is the argument that the Professor is addressing my argument. I was and had been specifically arguing that the problem is not control of government, but displacement of governing power. From this point of view, governing power remains power, and finally the same power, whether exercised by so-called “public” institutions, or by so-called “private” institutions.

The distinction between “public” and “private” is obviously useful, but it remains a conventional usage, not an eternal or natural necessity. Politics and economics – or “political economy” – can equally or perhaps best be seen as constituting a single sphere, one that in alternative modes of social organization also cannot be distinguished meaningfully from “religion” and “culture.” Other, more pro-social radicalisms than economistic libertarianism have also of course tried to remind us that  “the personal is political,” while the deeper unity of public and private spheres is evident in the history of the “corporation” itself, which goes back to the Middle Ages and is anticipated in Roman law and administration. Quite typically, in the British colonies and in the early history of the United States, “corporations” were “chartered corporations,” under a formalized sharing of dominion by the existent state power.

In relation to the Professor’s misinterpretations, and to put the matter simply, government is never really controlled. Who controls governs, under whatever name, and regardless of the social-economic sector to which that governing power is conventionally assigned. Put differently, the disempowerment of governing institutions through the elimination of their ability to grant “favors” or impose “heavy regulation” – i.e., to offer meaningful positive and negative incentives via law and administration – turns the word “government,” when applied to public institutions, into an empty phrase.

When the power of the nominal government recedes, the real government or really governing power will be assumed by someone else, somewhere else. Without interference from the old regulator, the new freely self-regulating regulator is even more free to do what it chooses with its lands, its factories, its workers. When the government abdicates, its prerogatives will be assumed by the successor states. In case of conflict or grievance with the Duchy of Exxon, or the Republic of Apple, a citizen of the defunct State of California or United States of America might, out of confusion or nostalgia, look to the latter entities for help, but any real hope for redress would depend on the corporation’s governors, not, for example, a so-called Governor residing in a state capital.

This narrative is not science fiction or alternative history: This process occurs wherever “government” is undeveloped, weakened, or overthrown. “Regulatory capture,” the Professor’s main interest in these exchanges, would be merely a stage in such a process, which, as in other matters that may at first appear un-connected, the libertarian and the progressive may both decry and initially on the same basis, but with radically opposed further intentions – i.e.,  destruction of public institutions vs. improvement of them.2

2. No true libertarians or the pretty low question of the non-existence of successful libertarian experiments in history

The Professor finds it unfair to put the historical question to libertarians:

As to the historical examples CK asked for, it’s a lousy trick question. We’ve never really tried the libertarians’ experiment of disallowing business regulation due to refusal by liberals and conservatives alike. Their refusal is legitimate, of course, and I don’t imply otherwise. But it’s… pretty low to demand historical examples when none have been allowed.

It is true that those confronting libertarian utopianism often turn to this “pretty low” “lousy trick question.” It is asked usually with the confidence that the libertarian, even the professional libertarian pitching reform rather than radicalism, will be unable to supply an example of the “libertarians’ experiment of disallowing business regulation” ever working anywhere.

There are at least three ways of looking at the question: It could be that, as the Professor says, 1) the experiment has never been tried at all due to “refusal by liberals and conservatives alike.” It could be that, 2), the experiment has never been tried at all because it in some fundamental way is contrary to human nature or nature itself. Or it could be that, 3), the experiment has actually been tried, or is even in some sense a natural initial state of any enterprise – business in the broadest as well as the narrow sense – but that it never produces what the faithful libertarian believes it should produce, so remains unrecognizable to the libertarian as that experiment (no true libertarians, no true libertarianisms).

On further reflection, however, it will become clear that 2 and 3 are really two ways of saying the same thing, and that they would also fully explain number 1: In other words, history seems to suggest overwhelmingly that there is something inherently wrong with or perfectly impractical or undesirable about the libertarian concept at least as understood by libertarians. Since, however, the Professor has previously, and repeatedly, declared himself allergic to, or at other times incapable of, the kind of philosophical inquiry implied by any question of the inherent, of the humanly possible3, it is left to  the rest of us to consider whether the reason that there are no historical examples of libertarian-approved libertarianism is that the libertarianism of the libertarians is self-falsifying or un-actualizable.

This problem would not prevent libertarianism or particular libertarians from sometimes providing for, as noted, a reform impetus, a libertarian impulse or sentiment that can be made to seem attractive because it is at bottom entirely attractive, even universally attractive: “just like things are, but more liberated.” All the same, sustained criticism of libertarianism as an ideological stance will still produce absurdities, absurdities that the libertarian may find “astoundingly stupid,” because any libertarian determined to remain a libertarian at all costs must do so. As mere reformers, the libertarians produce suggestions for others to consider by their own lights and, one might say, at liberty, as free of libertarianism and libertarians as “conservatives and liberals alike” tend to prefer to be. Typically and indicatively, libertarianism also produces a political party of no significance, and politicians whose authenticity as libertarians comes into doubt to the precise extent they start becoming truly significant: The decreasingly libertarian successful politician is the infirmity of libertarianism realized, or conceptual incoherence in action.

Similarly, all of those bad historical examples, all of those not really authentic libertarianisms in Somalia or after reform of Glass-Steagall or in the imaginary libertarian slave states conjured by frankly state-democratic political liberals4 are authentically what ideological libertarianism achieves: brute anarchy, destructive unintended consequences leading to anti-libertarian corrections, and, in the realm of ideas, paradoxes.

3. Libertarian Repression

The Professor does not believe that he is an ideologue.5 He associates himself with an in-between position, acknowledging complementary flaws in the anti-statist libertarian and pro-statist liberal positions6: Libertarians, he thinks, tend to underestimate externalities, while liberals overestimate them, and in turn underestimate the harms of over-regulation and the dangers of regulatory capture.

This position may strike many as appealingly moderate and balanced. It can be taken as an outline of the liberal-democratic state concept sketched in relation to economics. Yet when the Professor returns to his argument on regulatory capture, more popularly discussed under the headings of “cronyism” and “corruption,” he continues to express it one-sidedly:

It seems to me that the libertarian argument rests on two important assumptions. One: in the absence of regulation there is not much businesses want from government (aside from gov’t contracts, which may or may not be a severable issue). Two: It’s impossible to have regulation without the potential for protective regulation, hence regulation inevitably leads to rent-seeking, regulatory capture, and collusion with government.

There may not seem to be much wrong with this description, but it reflects those same prejudicial assumptions, the un-articulated ones underlying those that the Professor does articulate.

Under “One” we have a problem of redundancy. “Regulation” and “government” refer conventionally to different concepts, to particular exercises of power as opposed to the seat of power, but on a more fundamental level they are synonymous. To regulate is to rule, to manage: to govern. A true absence of regulation, or the disallowance of regulation, would be true absence of government, and would convert the Professor’s statement into an apparent absurdity that also happens to be a truism: In the absence of government (regulation) there is not much businesses want from government (regulation). From a different point of view, the libertarian hopes to replace “government regulations” with a truly governing regulation against “regulation.” It is, in short, the pure substitution of the will of the business owner for any other source of authority.

The Professor likely has in mind, or would like for us to have in mind, the conventional understandings of the two key terms: Government as public officials and appointees, regulation as particular forms of regulation, contained in weighty books full of precise codes and sub-codes and sub-sub-codes. Yet, as I have been struggling to explain, the removal of “regulating power” from the nominal “government” is always the transference of actual governance to some other entity, to the Somalian or feudal warlord, or to the slaveowner, or to the derivatives shops at AEG and Goldman-Sachs, or, for that matter, to the manufacturer of toilet seat covers (which last entity will happen, by practical necessity, to produce and operate in accordance with much more detailed codes and sub-codes, and so on, for the manufacture of toilet seat covers). Without this power, this governmental power that is always a regulating power, government not only lacks anything to offer, it is no longer government at all: In the Professor’s version of the libertarian experiment, businesses are or will have become the real government, the real powers on Earth and in the Heavens, even more so than they are already.

Again – I repeat myself with emphasis because, as we have seen, this thought is hard for people like the Professor, as for most of us long habituated to the more conventional categories of the public and the private, to process – in libertopia, even if it is a mere experiment run under the theory of “just like things are, but more liberated,” business free of what is always called “burdensome regulation,” or of government, becomes the government. Business will be in theory subject only to the natural self-regulation of the market and the unknown limits of social and ecological tolerance, as per 19th Century liberalism in theory and practice, and as further explicated for our era by the 20th Century prophets of libertarianism and neo-liberalism.

Under the Professor’s “Two” point we have another one-sided truism: The Professor names “rent-seeking, regulatory capture, and collusion” as ills of government involvement in the economy, but these are just three terms for bad government. The government can “collude” or it can cooperate. It can provide for “rent-seeking” or it can pay reliably for services rendered. It can defend the nation or it can oppress the innocent. The descriptions will largely depend on how we feel about the particular examples of the collusion or cooperation, etc., or where we sit in relation to them or their results.

Following from the two-pointed passage quoted above, the Professor produces a syllogism: “If these assumptions are wrong,” he says, “then perhaps reducing government’s regulatory power would lead to more corporate control of government.” As we have seen, however, “government’s regulatory power,” properly understood, is a multiple redundancy. The three-word phrase could translate as “power’s powerful power,” “government’s governing governance,” or “regulation’s regulatory regulation,” and the main clause amounts to pure self-contradiction – viz., “then perhaps reducing the value of government institutions would make them more valuable.”

The further conclusions that rely on such flawed premises are of course also flawed, though they do somewhat inadvertently raise or return us to more profound questions. The Professor continues from the sentence on government’s regulatory power as follows:

But a) an argument for why businesses would [seek control of a non-regulating government] is necessary, not the simple assertion, as CK limited himself to and b) it would be false to infer that therefore libertarians actually desire that outcome (which I do not imply that CK did here, but which I have seen others do on this blog)…

Setting aside the Professor’s failure, perhaps based on lack of interest, perhaps based on self-interest, to understand the argument he is attempting to summarize, we can turn to the remark in parentheses, apparently intended to be generous, and can observe that CK might in fact be quite willing to entertain the possibility that libertarians and libertarian sympathizers do, in some manner secretly to themselves, desire an “outcome” different from the one they advertise.

The outcome in question would not be “control” of “government” by “business,” though at some stage in the process matters might give that appearance. The outcome, put simply, would be greater relative power for the libertarians themselves or for those with whom libertarians identify. In other words, in this context at least, there really is “will to power and nothing else besides.” Questions of conscious motivation and therefore of moral responsibility, and to repression in a psychological as well as political sense, naturally arise at this point. They may become unavoidable, especially if the higher aim of further inquiry would be to rescue the libertarian ideal from libertarians, in relation to the original libertarian dilemma: That the rule of the the ideal individual, the free will to power of the separate and equal person, is always the concretely determined rule of very particular, decisively unequal persons.

For now, we can observe that the existence of a public authority at all is perceived as an implicit limitation on or subtraction from the libertarian’s own power, just as any reduction of this alien power would constitute his or her own relative increase in power. In the libertarian imagination or, as Professor Hanley prefers, the libertarian psyche, the reduction in the power of government (or “government”) means an increase in power for each libertarian or for the individual, which latter, as individuality, is presented as an ideal, but which each individual knows exclusively and therefore universally only through and as him- or herself. The libertarians do not recognize popularly sovereign liberal-democratic government as an extension of themselves, or, put more precisely, of this self. They may exploit or even admire democratic impulses and particular constitutional traditions, but their views are in this sense profoundly anti-democratic and constitutionally anti-constitutional.


  1. Professor Hanley’s comment in full:

    Wow, CK, your insight into my soul and psyche is fascinating,. Can I come lie on your couch for a full psych workup? I’ll bring the scotch and soda, you supply the unintentional humor.


  2. From my comment under discussion of the “surveillance state” controversy that led to this skewed colloquy :

    A democratic and also leftwing or progressive stance identifies democratic government as the key to defending the weak as well as the people in general against various forms of oppressive power, including but not limited to unlawful violence. The libertarian or hijacked libertarian tendency thus helps to destroy the positive freedom of workers, minorities, and everyone else, or to make it more difficult to stop polluters, corporate interests, and so on – in addition to terrorists and other outlaws.

    What this means is that liberal-progressives and libertarians might take the same initial positions on different issues, but with different objectives: The progressives seek greater government openness in order to root out corruption and make government more effective. The right-libertarians seek greater government openness in order to expose corruption and make people even more skeptical of government. Their answer to corporate corruption of government is to make government even weaker, and thus put the entire state even more firmly in the hands of the wealthy and powerful.

    The fashionable libertarianism or left libertarianism of this moment doesn’t seem even to be aware of the problem. Liberals and progressives cooperate – sometimes enthusiastically – against their own interests in spreading alienation from government itself, rather than from bad or undemocratic or illiberal government. They have good intentions, but can’t figure out the day after the latest feeding frenzy why the Tea Party attitude and various forms of insane and obscene conspiracism remain popular enough to get elected and re-elected.


  3. Thus our necessary resort to psychological explanations: Whatever the explanation, or whatever explanation The Professor happens to report, it is clear that, if philosophy reveals fundamental, obvious, and somewhat invariable flaws in the concept he is professionally committed to examining and developing, he would have every reason to avoid that investigation. Of course, avoidance of philosophical investigation is not the same as avoidance of philosophy itself. It is always a commitment to naive or simply bad philosophy. If the Professor had even enough philosophy to understood what he was doing, or could allow himself to understand, he would face something of a crisis, but he is, as we have seen, a stone on these matters, and committed to remaining one. []
  4. I am referring here again to the article that the Professor called “astoundingly stupid”: “We Already Tried Libertarianism – It Was Called Feudalism” by Mike Konczal, at the Next New Deal blog. []
  5. The Professor asserts that it is not his purpose to “push the libertarian case” (before proceeding to a multi-comment defense of it in the context of recent economic history). He says he is interested merely in questioning “a critic’s level of knowledge.” He has also clearly indicated that by “critic” he means myself, but he has never explained why this critic’s “level of knowledge” is relevant to the assessment of an argument. In point of fact, that critic is happy to confess that his level of knowledge on topics of very high interest to the Professor is vastly inferior to the Professor’s. That critic is confident that an attentive student in one of the Professor’s no doubt very informative courses will attain a level of knowledge, or expertise in the relevant literature, far greater than any to which the critic aspires. Yet regardless of the or any critic’s qualifications for saying so, the problem remains that the Professor’s arguments on libertarianism are ill-formed, and they will remain ill-formed also regardless of the Professor’s or anyone else’s good or merely moderate intentions or expertise on particular specialties. []
  6. See, e.g., the Professor’s comment:

    I sort of stand in the middle, thinking both sides are not careful enough with their assumptions. E.g., I think libertarians are too often too dismissive of externalities, but liberals too often too sensitive to minor externalities. And of course, since I’m splitting the difference, I must be right!


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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

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16 comments on “Government by Other Means

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  1. In my Parochial grammar school, the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Kathleen, would confront particularly egregious wrongdoing that required a new rule to reduce the possibility that someone else would do it with the ever popular “See, you just had to go and ruin it for everybody else!”

    Perhaps the Invisible Hand would have eventually guided us to a reasonable grasp of RR&R, but I think her Iron Hand was probably more efficient and resulted in less property damage and personal injury.

  2. CK, I’m curious how much of this critique you think would similarly apply to left-libertarianism (anarchism). I would argue that the anarchist position sidesteps some of the tougher difficulties that right-libertarianism poses to itself.

    I think it’ll be helpful first for me to lay out an anarchist critique of right-libertarianism. Right-libertarianism is oxymoronic, I’d say, because on the one hand it bemoans state interference, but on the other it relies heavily on state interference for markets to function in the way libertarians desire. Libertarians generally try to hide this inconsistency by naturalizing their favored state coercion as “property rights” that are somehow prior to or independent from government. But it’s trivial to show that the protection of private property exhibits all the characteristics of regulation. Indeed, the public choice critiques libertarians love to use against the government actions they disfavor can be applied to all of the minarchist functions required in their proposed system. But libertarians can’t admit any of this without blurring the distinction between state action and private liberty that serves to focus their whole worldview. I think this is the core mistake of right-libertarianism, and many of the critiques you’ve mentioned above flow from it.

    But I think your claim that there will always be some governing power is too pat. There are many different kinds of governing, and not all of them are identically immoral. Indeed, you get at this when you say that governments can either be collusive or cooperative.

    I think in some respects, your disagreement with Hanley is merely verbal. Government can be defined as the monopolist of force, and this definition renders government inherently violent. (I suspect this is what Hanley often has in mind.) But there are lots of organizations that we’d think of as “governmental” that are pretty far removed from the exercise of this force. I suspect that Hanley would have much less of a problem with, say, a local city council that regulated workplace standards with moral suasion, and community support. There’s still regulation of a kind there, but there is no coercion that distorts decisionmaking and invites thuggish corruption or its milder bureaucratic forms. There’s a lot of room to explore here, and so your equivocation of “government’s regulatory power” into “government’s governing governance” perhaps obscures more than illuminates. When you say that there’s this Law of Conservation of Power, and that it’s as sensible to fight that as to fight the First Law of Thermodynamics, I think you’re a) being inconsistent with yourself, and b) preemptively closing off what could be a fruitful area of discussion.

    Think about it this way: Government is closely related with violence, perhaps even definitionally so as its putative monopolist. But we know that violence distorts decisionmaking and can be oppressive even when justified as a mechanism for keeping order. Libertarians and anarchists can be useful in that they remind statists that the imposed order they favor comes with serious costs. You Tweeted recently that the best libertarians are not utopian but rather have a strong bent toward reformism. I agree, and I think the kinds of reforms that libertarians and anarchists would propose are indispensable critiques of any imposed political order.

    • Thanks, Robert – very thoughtful and articulate comment.

      First, I’d say that elements of the critique ought to apply to anarchism and left-libertarianism, but some might apply to one and not the other. Unfortunately, I’m uncertain about what left-libertarianism really is, or what its concept of the state is, or whether there’s any coherent theory of left-libertarianism at all. Is it just leftism but with a greater emphasis on personal freedoms? Is it just wishful thinking along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to choose between the attractive aspects of socialism and the attractive aspects of its opposite?”? Anarchism isn’t inherently committed to individualism or, as you point out, related libertarian ideas about property, but I think the cost of its greater conceptual coherency is even greater political impracticality. The more consistent it is, the less it has to offer.

      Also, I understand that you’re writing somewhat loosely, but I never took a position on the “morality” of different types of governance, or for that matter on the morality of different types of violence or coercion. What I do dispute is that removing elements of governing power from nominally public institutions is ever a simple subtraction of oppressive or distortive, etc., governing power (or coercion and violence) overall. Furthermore, proceeding as though it must be such, or that power in the hands of a business-person is somehow better power than power in the hands of a public official, has often, and perhaps necessarily, merely resulted in less accountable power in the hands of those favored by circumstances, elected by fortune rather than directly or indirectly by voters.

      In the total “disallowing of business regulation” scenario (itself resting on a kind of super-regulation against regulation, however defined), we’re left to imagine the government being left to enforce property laws, and I’m not sure what else. I’m not sure what happens to the power to tax, but I suspect that government becomes capital’s enforcer and protector: I mean really, of course, not in utopian schemes that the libertarian is never in a position to actualize, or in spontaneous orders that never actualize themselves. There are many possible variations, of course, but the real results have never looked like libertopia, in part because they always must start from initial conditions of inequality that tend to be re-produced and reinforced. As for informal regulation, or the power of communal suasion, unfortunately we have a long history of its total insufficiency, and of the ability of the capitalist to salve, ignore, or fail ever to acknowledge a guilty conscience, or to go ahead with one anyway.

      But maybe I’m not clear on where you mean to be pointing us. I also don’t understand where my, ahem, First Law of Conservation of Governance results in self-inconsistency.

  3. No, thank you for this great blog! It’s such a great forum for thinking out loud.

    I think of anarchism as almost a kind of religious practice: Perhaps it’s too ethereal to ever be fully realized, but the practice and striving for it are intrinsically valuable. It’s like pacifism in that respect, which is perhaps no surprise given that a consistent pacifist would have to practice something very similar to anarchism.

    As far as forcing anarchism to commit to consistent prescriptions, I think that’s easy enough. Anarchism decries the common element of violence in both socialism and minarchist right-libertarianism. It’s as simple as that. Of course one can point out that proscribing one act of violence might lead to other more serious breaches of peace, but this problem is endemic to all political philosophies in some way or another.

    I wasn’t saying that you took any position on the “morality” of any kind of governance. But Hanley takes such a position, and I don’t think your equivalence between regulation, government, and power duly acknowledges the differences that Hanley would plausibly see between all these.

    As for your last big paragraph: I wholeheartedly agree that libertarians deserve flack for pretending that reducing government power necessarily reduces coercion, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to lump the anarchists in with this particular critique of anti-statism. Powerful corporate entities are able to be coercive in a vacuum of government regulation usually because the government sanctions their property rights.

    I think your First Law of Conservation of Governance, insofar as it purports to refute the libertarian dream of excising problematic government, is inconsistent with your acknowledgement that acts of governance can be collusive or cooperative. In my view, you’re trying to have it both ways by saying that government/regulation/power is synonymous when Hanley uses those terms, but allowing for a more nuanced diffraction in your own framework. But maybe I’m just misunderstanding you?

    • Some anarchism fits the description you give, Robert – as verging on pacifism – but not “anarchism” historically, far from it, since anarchism was also the name given to a politics of assassination, bombing, and other acts that we would today tend to call terrorism, the latter word having entered into the modern political vocabulary in direct association with the former. It’s not simply a bad coincidence. The sensibility of the pacifist and the terrorist significantly overlap, since both begin with an imaginary annihilation of “how things are.” In discussion with bob and our old friend Scott (who is still around and still a friend, just no longer actively participating in blog stuff), I would frequently return to Hegel’s explanation for fanatical violence, as an external expression of a more primary ideological and emotional disruption or loss of direction, impossibility of satisfaction with any real or positive expression or institution, or directionlessness – that Hegel also ties to (idealized) Hinduism.

      The mentality that rejects conventional judgments, including the conventional political moralities justifying the resort to military action, finds a very highly problematic fellowship with the mentality that begins with the same perception, of the falseness of conventional political morality, as a removal of the inhibition against military and other aggression. Gandhi’s scandalous letters to Hitler and comments on the fate of the Jews, or the “Eastern” interests of Goebbels and yoga-practitioner SS officers, or the shared origins of ecologism and fascism, also figure into this picture that always seems to be pushing us to premature and self-serving conclusions. Sooner or later, Hegel also succumbs, or is relatively easy to associate and implicate with genocide.

      I’m going to dig up the Hegel, and also refer you to the comment I just left for bob pleading a lack of time to do this thing/thinking right:

      The Hegel of relevance (not the preferred translation, for me, but serviceable enough):

      • No worries on the lack of time. I’ll respond mainly to organize my own thoughts, and to give you something to chew on in case you get more time in the future.

        I think some kinds of pacifism (and related ideological valences that tend to disclaim interest in Will) can be rehabilitated from the problem of hopelessly navel-gazing abstraction. Pacifism can be thought of as an exhortation to continually examine one’s own motivations for power, or as a reminder that the reasoning behind the exertion of power is never complete. If taken dogmatically, then yes, pacifism can lead a person to collapse into a perfectly inert singularity. But if pacifism is used as a tool, as an exercise of stepping outside of one’s own Will in order to explore its very boundaries, then instead of shrinking the Self out of existence, pacifism can instead expand self-schemas and allow for the expression of Wills that were even more capacious than existed before.

        This all reminds me of a verse in the Tao Te Ching, talking about those virtuous non-actors whose “natural rhythms of action play midwife to the highest good of each pregnant moment”. There is detachment here, yes, but it is not inert. Later the same book remarks that “when we sincerely follow the Great Integrity, we become one with it, and it embraces us”: It claims that stepping outside of one’s self can lead to recognition of a greater Self, Whose powers may then be drawn upon (or exercised, if the agent is conceived to fully merge into the principal). The Western world might recognize this as “He who loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

        But the ideological commitments of the secular West do not easily allow for this kind of thinking about the Will. I think it would be profitable here to discuss intentionality as it is generally conceived in the scientific literature. Per the Enlightenment convention, intentionality resides in the individual (human) Self, is generally though not always denied to non-human animals, and is invariably denied to “inanimate” “objects”. However, the more we try to recreate intelligence in a lab, the more we realize that it is highly dependent on external inputs, even to the point of necessity: Virtually nobody in AI argues these days that individual cognition is not in a very important sense “embodied” in an individual’s environment. Thus the Enlightenment insistence on this narrow concept of “Will” shows itself to be a species-wide solipsism: the implausible conceit that only we humans are possibly moral agents.

        You see a lot of this in right-libertarianism as well, where only “movers and shakers” have “freedom” (of will?) and merit inclusion in the moral community. I think you’re absolutely right that right-libertarianism is the core ideology of Enlightenment-related politics, and I’d argue that the intense policing of intentionality and agency among right-libertarians figures largely in the ideology’s development. You’ve skirted along the question of what separates the right-libertarian from the left-libertarian, and an interesting sociological datum I’d present for rumination is that right-libertarians are far more likely to deny that humans owe moral obligations to animals. I would explain this difference by reference to the right-libertarians’ insistence on an especially-rigid ontology of the individual Will. And I’d go further to gently suggest that perhaps critics of pacifism owe more of their position to this mistaken perspective than they’d like to think.

  4. The list of anarchist failures from the Paris Commune to the Narodny Volya to the Spanish Civil War, should be fairly clear on that point. the often remarked point on Gandhi, Satyagha could work against Dyer, but not against Model and/or more likely his Japanese counterpart is worthy of note.

  5. incidentally, here’s a piece of self-consciously very left libertarianism

    Ironically and typically, his thesis and concluding statements regarding the impossibility of “genuine economic and social justice” (as the author understands the terms), and his intended moral indictment of apparently all state systems ever existent, can be taken as support for the conservative premise in regard to leftism or democratism, which goes roughly as follows: given the everywhere evident lack of genuine economic and social justice on democratist definitions, supporting the philosophical inference of the impossibility of the attainment of same, or of the secure attainment any of the alternative ideals of the best society – whuddowedo?

    • Left-libertarianism can certainly be taken too far. But if it’s posed as procedurally conservative (i.e., calling for continual marginal adjustments to the status quo), then it avoids the utopianism charge, and can be a useful check on the leftist impulse to enable centralized states (which have high potential for oppression, it’s safe to say) in the name of social justice. Think Bleeding Heart Libertarians without the weird ideological commitments to the protection of capital.

  6. No, the author evinces a misunderstanding of Von Mises and Hayek’s complaint that were rebelling only secondarily against Keynes, but against the dirigiste theory of Wagner and Schmoller, as much as it is worth rubbishing Lind, that’s not ir.

  7. Now his complaint is really against classical liberalism, which was the default in both North and South America.

  8. No, just because it hasn’t happened before, in a modern industrial nation, recall Marx thought of Germany or the UK, before Russia, only Lenin supplied the shortcut.

    • Don’t get what you’re referring to, Don. Marxist general assumptions address all of history, not just the industrial era. Anyway, don’t get distracted by that squirrel. Mr. Carson makes an argument about all of civilization up to today, because he’s responding to the same obsrevation addressed in my post, of a complete lack of “true libertarianism” on the historical record.

  9. Well Carson does summon the ‘squirrel’ since he choses not to ignore the history of South and well as North America, social democracy doesn’t solve the problem, one can’t see how Marxism would.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Government by Other Means"
  1. […] Two previous posts by this blogger on this topic, written after more or less extensive discussion with contributors and commenters, or former contributors and commenters, at that site, including especially James Hanley, are “Libertarianism as Core-Extreme Ideology of the Liberal Democratic State” and “Government by Other Means.”  […]

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State of the Discussion

CK MacLeod
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+ My pleasure.Agree about the song, though I think the "haunting" aspect mostly comes from the historical context, as I discussed way back when, also [. . .]
"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber
+ Thank you. I know I have "orphan pages" on my website many broken links and even the "blog" of my mother's letters home to [. . .]
"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ This post (almost ten years old!) was from a discontinued blog, but it turns out I still had the MP3 file in the archives. So [. . .]
"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

Noted & Quoted

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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So, does Mitchell make any money on the work, which has been shared so many times? He uploaded a high-res image of the symbol and granted permission for anyone to use it personally for free. But for those who want to support his work or simply want something readymade, you can also buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and journals emblazoned with the symbol through Threadless.“I really just want to spread the image as much as possible and cement it in history,” Mitchell says. “In all honesty, the amount I’ve made from my Threadless shop so far is still less than my hourly rate, so I don’t really see it as a big deal. If you look at my Twitter, half the replies are people wanting to know where they can buy a shirt. Threadless is happy to help them out with that, and so I’m happy to let that happen.”Now that the symbol has flooded our streets and our timelines, Mitchell just has one request: “Impeach this idiot already,” he says.

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This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance. They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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