revolutionary thought

Kevin Carson has a good article today over at that you should read. He first tackles the notion that libertarian thought is weak or "soft" with respect to progressive social norms that historically have been (or can only be) furthered by state authority.. Anyone that has had even a casual dinner conversation about libertarianism has probably run into this.. It's inevitable that racism or sexism will come up -- used as an example of something that would be "allowed" in a stateless society, since it's non-coercive.

But critics of non-coercive unfairness like racism and sexism are also in danger of being led astray by the same tendency. Libertarians, in advocating for libertarianism on the left, are constantly confronted with the objection that people would be “allowed” to engage in racial or sexual discrimination, to deny food to the needy, etc.

But as Brad points out, this word “allowed” is perverse insofar as it “conflates ‘allows’ with what would be more precisely understood (in terms of libertarian theory) as ‘does not necessarily justify use of violence to compel restitution for in all cases’.” But this obsession with what’s “allowed,” in the narrow sense that nobody’s entitled to use force to prevent it, ignores “the holistic integrity of a stateless society arising from non-violent mechanisms of social normatization that cross the arbitrary topical boundaries one imposes on one’s self when analyzing and advocating various potential state policies.”

Civil society is prior to the state, and those “mechanisms of social normatization,” voluntary social safety nets, etc., predate it by millennia. One of the worst evils of the state is that it has crowded out or actively suppressed such mechanisms of civil society, as described by Pyotr Kropotkin. As Kropotkin argued in both Mutual Aid and The State, for most of the human race over most of human history, the state was merely a parasitic layer of tax collectors and feudal landlords superimposed on the peasant commune—the latter including the Russian mir, the English open field system, and Marx’s “Asiatic mode of production.” Had the Tsar and nobility vanished in 1700, Russian village life would have continued exactly as before—only with the peasants keeping all they produced. It was only in the past few centuries that the state actively attempted to supplant civil society, and to suppress private associations for mutual aid and social cooperation as rivals to its power.

He concludes with a comment on violent revolution which seems like it should be a given by now, but still bears repeating:

The way to achieve victory is not by seizing the state, or violently overthrowing it, but quietly confronting it with a reality already on the ground: the reality that a rapidly expanding share of its laws are either no longer enforceable or cost more to enforce than it’s worth.

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  • Kevin Carson

    Thanks, Chris.

  • wrog

    And then you have the “libertarians” who call themselves that because they want to hide the fact that they’re racist douchebags. Sorry, but if your A#1 exhibit of the Evils of Government is the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and you scream about Federal encroachment in peoples lives, while at the same time having no problem with the idea that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to the states, so that the state governments can commit whatever abuses they want, well, sorry but I call bullshit… i.e., there’s not really much to defend yourself against the conclusion that what you really want is the “freedom” to keep the niggers down, just like you did in the good ol’ days, and that your real problem with the Federal government is that you couldn’t control it the way you could control your state and local governments. (And yes, Ron Paul, I’m looking at you.)

    Which may seem tangential to to Carson’s point, but I think actually does get at the basic fallacy, the idea that removing government somehow removes all sources of coercion in society. Hence the use of the term “non-coercive”. Which is basically a lie. Which Carson pretty much admits when he praises the “mechanisms of social normatization”, for which we can read “traditional values”, under which, one assumes, we can file all of the various forms of coercion that Carson evidently likes. If one should happen to be of the minority religion/race/whatever and thus be bearing the brunt of social ostracization and whatever other measures that “civil society” will impose, well…, sucks to be you, I guess.

    The more general problem is, once you remove “government” (evidently being defined as the sources of coercion you don’t like), other agencies will move in to take up the slack and assume governmental roles, … large corporations, churches, militia gangs, will be happy to carry out oppressions of their own wherever they’re allowed to.

    Which in fact was one of Carson’s commenter’s response to the absurd comment about Russian village life in the 1700s: had the Tsar and the nobles vanished, somebody else would happily have plundered them. Central Asia has no shortage of predators, as it happens.