[…] 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.”  […]

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.

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.

Except how does he really cop to libertariarism, if you have contempt for free markets,

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.

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.

I disagree. He seeks to make his argument all-encompassing, under Marxist general assumptions.

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

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.

incidentally, here's a piece of self-consciously very left libertarianism http://networkedblogs.com/Mrfbj

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?

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.

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.

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: https://ckmacleod.com/2013/06/18/what-we-find-interesting-reply-to-noah-millman-on-obsolete-ir-realism/comment-page-1/#comment-75438

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


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?

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.

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.

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.