Left Wing Individualism – David S. D’Amato

Perhaps because I live in Chicago, perhaps because I work with other attorneys, in my day-to-day life I’m surrounded almost exclusively by people who identify with the mainstream, American left, centrist Democrats for whom mere mention of the word “libertarian” calls forth nightmarish imaginings of the Tea Party right. Regrettably, identifying myself as a libertarian stops any meaningful dialogue with this set before it starts; for them, libertarianism is associated with the extreme right wing of a one-dimensional American political spectrum that they have been successfully trained never to question. They often know just enough about Ayn Rand to regard libertarianism as an oversimplified and merciless case for corporate greed, for an economic status quo that finds the one percent growing ever richer while the “middle class” contracts and the poor suffer in sheer destitution. Ironically, this kind of centrist Democrat probably understands capitalism and its effects better than many libertarians, seeing economic predation for what it is and looking (however unsystematically) for something to step in and pull back on the reins. What they haven’t taken the time to understand, however, is either libertarianism as a real philosophy or the cavernous gulf that separates the economic system of the present moment from real free markets.

Benjamin R. Tucker, who suggested that anarchi...

Because of this reflex revulsion at the mere mention of libertarianism, experience has inclined me to describing my politics as “left wing individualism.” This characterization, I have found, invites questions rather than angry diatribes, preparing the ground for a fruitful conversation as opposed to a futile debate. I borrow the phrasing “left wing individualism” from Eunice Minette Schuster, who made “A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism” the subtitle of her dissertation, Native American Anarchism. Schuster’s book follows Native American Anarchism from its nascent, prototypical forms to its blossoming as a distinct and fully realized philosophical system and movement. Her study is important insofar as it illumes a strain of political philosophy that can seem confusing and oxymoronic within the context of today’s mainstream political debates.

The individualist anarchists that Schuster discusses in the section of her book that treats anarchism in its “mature” state were both extreme individualists and socialists, architects of a project which we at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) undertake to continue today. As advocates of unhampered freedom of competition, property rights, and the sovereignty of the individual, individualist anarchists are a part of the history of the contemporary libertarian movement. At the same time, like C4SS today, this group opposed capitalism and regarded socialism as, in the words of radical reformer Ezra Heywood, “the great anti-theft movement” of their day. Unlike today’s free market libertarians, who often demonize the poor as welfare receiving “takers,” thinkers like Benjamin Tucker, Ezra Heywood, and Josiah Warren (just to name a few) saw the rich as the true idle, freeloading class, the beneficiaries of privileges that allowed them to game the system and put a stop to real market competition.

These early libertarians saw that freedom and competition work for all the reasons that are familiar to us today: division and specialization of labor, the massive amounts of information distilled in prices, and accordingly the folly of attempting to plan the economy through the greatest monopoly of them all, the state. They argued that genuine competition in a free market is the best, surest way to ensure that labor is paid with its full product, that is, to solve what was then often called the Labor Question; this made them socialists, even if they fit uncomfortably with much of the socialist movement. Their fit with the liberal advocates of free trade and competition — the political economists — was no less uncomfortable, finding the individualist anarchists constantly compelled to school the economists in their own doctrine, to point out the errors and inconsistencies that characterized so much of what passed as defenses of free trade.

Read more via Center for a Stateless Society » Left Wing Individualism.

Poverty and Libertarians, Old and New

From the Center For A Stateless Society…

Early last week, one of many creepy U.S. bureaucracies reminiscent of the Ministry of Truth released new statistics on poverty, among various other metrics that it sees fit to keep track of. If we’re to accept the government’s data as true (and this is hardly an argument for that conclusion), nearly a third of all American counties saw a “significant increase in poverty” during the four years leading up to 2012.

Benjamin R. Tucker, who suggested that anarchi...

In an essay on poverty especially relevant in light of the new data, John Beverley Robinson confronts the notion “that anybody can go to work that wants to,” that the impoverished are so due to their lack of desire to labor. In Robinson’s monograph, the expositor of that shallow myth is a “man in [a] thousand-dollar sealskin overcoat,” privileged and ignorant enough to sincerely believe it. The myth is of course still with us and is particularly sturdy in these United States. Unfortunately, many of today’s self-styled libertarians hold it up, either consciously or not.

The old individualists, free market libertarians of a different sort, opposed this idea and with it capitalism, resisting it as a system of arbitrary increase, one in which capital was granted a special privilege to demand tribute. This special treatment to capital, particularly to land and to currency, was established through laws giving its holders special treatment by protecting them from competition.

Because these anarchists did not regard capital as anything unique in itself, as anything other than another stage of product (and the reverse, they argued, was also the case), they refused to accept the claim that it was entitled to payment in the industrial process. They instead argued that if a truly competitive system should ever prevail, one without invasive class legislation to protect capitalists, that the price to be paid for a given item would settle in due course at its labor cost.

As Benjamin Tucker once argued the case, of course the owner of a plough should be free to rent it out to his neighbor — having made the sacrifice of time and energy to build it — but without privileges to protect the builder of ploughs from the competitive process, the owner simply would not be able to demand such rents. In short, the absence of privilege would make everyone an owner of capital, and so capital would lose its ability to compel tribute, which anarchists like Tucker saw as just another tax on the productive.

The old libertarians were therefore not very much different from their contemporary counterparts; they very much opposed the welfare idea, the idea that one man ought to be able to live at the expense of another. The pivotal point of department, then, is that the old libertarians understood political economy well enough to detect the fact that it was the rich, and not the poor, who lived parasitically on the hard work of others. From principles the same as those of today’s libertarians — a level playing field, free competition, individual rights and private property — they reached very different, indeed socialistic, conclusions.

Read more via Center for a Stateless Society » Poverty and Libertarians, Old and New.

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Libertarian America: A conversation with Wendy McElroy, Part 1

MADISON, Wis., November 3, 2013 — Wendy McElroy, a Canadian individualist feminist author, has written numerous articles and several books on topics ranging from anarchist history to sexual expression. Her most recent effort, The Art of Being Free, is an exposition of the state of liberty in our world. An emotional connection to the social philosophy she cares about so deeply shines brightly in every word she pens.

Wendy McElroy speaking in Springfield, Illinoi...

McElroy holds nothing back and her opinions are refreshingly direct. In the tradition of her intellectual role models Benjamin Tucker and Samuel E. Konkin III, her distaste for the state is matched in intensity only by her love of humanity.

Read the rest via Libertarian America: A conversation with Wendy McElroy, Part 1 | Washington Times Communities.