Now that we have the summer issue off to the printer, we have been able to turn our attention to some housekeeping items (more on this later). In the meantime, while they were previously on severe back order, we now have a limited supply of Spring issues back in stock (with additional copies on the way). If you subscribed after the deadline for the Spring and anticipate the summer being your first issue, you can now purchase the Spring as a back issue item. Click here!
From George Reisman’s Capitalism treatise, he comments on Chernobyl’s disaster as a symptom of communism’s very nature:
The case of Chernobyl was a genuine disaster. But this fact is not an indictment of atomic power, still less of modern science and technology in general. It is an indictment only of the incompetence, and indifference to human life, inherent in communism. Under communism (socialism), there is no incentive to supply people with anything they need or want, including safety.
In addition, under communism (socialism), the ability of the government to prosecute wrongdoing in connection with the use of means of production is necessarily compromised by the very nature of the case, inasmuch as the state itself is the owner of the means of production and therefore is itself the party responsible for any misuse in connection with them. Indeed, any prosecution by the state would have to be a prosecution of its own officials, logically entailing the prosecution of its very highest officials.
This is because under the central planning that is an essential characteristic of socialism the highest officials have responsibility for every detail of economic activity. The implicit need to challenge the top leaders, of course, greatly diminishes the likelihood of such prosecutions. Thus under communism, as the result of the lack both of economic and legal incentives to provide safety, industrial accidents of all kinds are commonplace, including airplane and train crashes.
This is a good reason for rejecting communism, but certainly not a rational basis for rejecting atomic power and an industrial society.
Right after I published my second part to the Left/Right article, I was reminded of Jeffrey Tucker’s 1997 review of David Boaz’s primer on libertarianism (so often an unfortunate entry point for those new to libertarianism). Having read it at least three years ago, I browsed it again and was stunned to find that Tucker had critiqued the book largely based on the same 5 points that I myself came up with in my trying to grasp the difference between left and right. I have added an additional section called “Tucker vs. the Left-Libertarian Model” in my article and I pull select quotes and tie them to my points.
Tucker’s full article is here.
The temptation here is to declare my conclusion outright: libertarianism is a legal theory, not a political theory. But perhaps I should exercise more restraint: there are two visions/versions of libertarianism and their dehomoginization will be a future theme of the Austro Libertarian website, as well, of course, of the magazine itself. In any case, I’ve for some time been dissatisfied with the idea that libertarianism is a political theory. I think that there is a political theory that can flow from libertarianism, or perhaps we can say that libertarianism speaks to political theory, but it has always seemed to me that libertarianism should be thought of primarily as a legal theory, which can subsequently make judgements about politics and the state. That is, libertarianism is chiefly a set of propositions about right (legal) and wrong (criminal) civil behavior. For instance, at the beginning of chapter 9 in Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard states that “we may define anyone who aggresses against the person or other produced property of another as a criminal. A criminal is anyone who initiates violence against another man and his property.”
And indeed, in his characteristically precise explanation of what libertarianism is, Hans Hoppe doesn’t even mention the political first; he mentions the legal as the operating definition:
Libertarianism is a rational system of ethics (law). …libertarianism (Rothbardianism) is a systematic law code, derived by means of logical deduction….
From the principle of ownership come
rules concerning the transformation and the transfer (exchange) of originally appropriated resources are derived, and all of ethics (law), including the principles of punishment, is then reconstructed in terms of a theory of property rights: all human rights are property rights, and all human rights violations are property rights violations. The upshot of this libertarian theory of justice is well-known in these circles: the state, according to the most influential strand of libertarian theory, the Rothbardian one, is an outlaw organization, and the only social order that is just is a system of private property anarchy.
Here, we notice two things: one, libertarianism is a legal theory from which political theory can be judged (the concept of justice comes first, then we compare justice to the nature and activity of the state); and two, I was correct in my earlier statement that liberty flows from justice, not justice from liberty.
I wanted to have a this quotation of my recent article on Left and Right published over here as well, for future reference. Here it is:
With regard to libertarianism in our time, there is a developing crises at play wherein the individuals that make up what was once an exciting movement a mere seven years ago at the height of Ron Paul’s influence, are now so concerned about political theory narrowly speaking, that there is no attention being paid to broader cultural, sociological, historical, or epochal issues. The modern libertarian operates in an abstract silo and what weighs him down is not that he holds to libertarianism, but that he doesn’t know where it fits in the world; for his world is simply political theory alone– the authoritarian state is his only enemy– and he makes this mistake because he has fallen for the narrative of the modern zeitgeist: that all must be interpreted in terms of the political.
The crises, which this author predicts will only worsen, is a failure not of libertarianism as a theory, but of the libertarian as a person. He is the political theory version of a generation that has abandoned studying the world in exchange for shallow and disconnected ideas.
On this latter point, therefore, to say (as many contemporary libertarians do) that libertarians are connected to one another simply on the basis of their libertarian ideology is to abandon the importance of social criticism and to leave unresolved the problems created by the implementation of our modern political society. However, this presents a different and tremendously important problem, which is the basis for the coming crises in libertarianism: there is a rising impulse in the libertarian world to completely and consciously reject extra-libertarian social moods. This nihilistic libertarianism alters that old phrase of fascism to say: All within libertarianism, nothing outside libertarianism, nothing against libertarianism. By making libertarianism into a worldview, they not only distort its purpose as a political theory, but they also advocate for a certain social emptiness that libertarianism cannot, by the boundaries of its own subject matter, cannot fill.
After Andy Ngo was violently attacked, many on the right and even the center used this moment to declare that it was foolish to think that antifa (“Anti Fascist”) was some peaceful and pro-liberation group, that instead they were the true fascists because of the way they carried out their methods violently and without remorse. But this is historically ignorant and borrows the mainstream framework of western development. Specifically, that framework is that the last 250 years or so are characterized by liberation and progress, that the overall trend has been toward increased egalitarianism, democracy, “power to the people,” and therefore liberty. It is true in many ways that the last several centuries have been characterized by the former three, but these have little to do with liberty properly understood.
In any case, I talked about this in my reflection on the possibility of progress. As various revolutions have presented themselves to the world and became a key aspect of the overall intellectual current, it came to be that revolution was associated with progress. The French and Russian revolutions, perhaps misguided or misapplied, nevertheless were in the right direction because they favored people and “change” over the non-democratic social structures. And attempts to react to such revolutions were associated with backwardness, Reactionary impulse, and oppression. Thus, when the Marxist-Leninist spirit swept Europe, Eurasia, and even South America, any attempt to double down in opposition was seen as conservative and reactionary. Fascists and those who hold this same reactionary response to violent communists typically are the ones responding to revolutionary marxism.
In our case, Antifa are much more similar to the violent left-revolutionaries who sought a social upheaval which they set in terms of either economics (classical marxism) or cultural struggle (Gramsci-style cultural Marxism– Gramsci was, of course, an original “anti-fascist” who was held by the Fascist government in Italy.). Thus, saying that Antifa are the real fascists mischaracterizes the dynamic and does not take into account the socially-disrupting nature of violent revolution against the standing order of things. The reason why the “antifa as fascist” narrative plays right into the hands of the overarching narrative of the western world is because if people think of antifa as fascist, there is no paradox with the belief that revolution and disruption are inherently progress and social betterment. The modern and mainstream conservative movement has swallowed the progressivist overarching narrative and therefore see the wrong connection. But it makes little sense to think of antifa as rising in response to some other, revolutionary force in America. Is the so-called alt-right analogous to the marxist-leninist agitators while the antifa group rising in response to this? What absurdities.
But if antifa is, in reality, a communistic revolutionary force then we should realize again and again that revolutions are so often detriments to freedom, not their moment of birth. Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn and others have even pointed out that, with respect to purpose, method, and comparison of other historical revolutions, the War for Independence was not even a revolution, properly speaking. But that’s beside the point.
And realizing that antifa is not fascist, but instead the predecessor of reaction, suggests there is more social strife to come. The more violent communists and left-anarchists (in the traditional, mainstream sense) push their endeavors, the more likely an actually fascistic movement will develop in reaction. In other words all this bloviation of fear and tremble in the media, in the streets, in the western world as a whole, about “fascism” and Neo-nazis…” these are goading and flaming what could indeed turn out to be actual violent reaction to groups like antifa.
The far and violent left doesn’t even realize that it is sowing the seeds for something far worse. Perhaps a communist-fascist struggle might once again wake from its slumber.
And while on the anti-fascist subject, I should express my excitement for Paul Gottfried’s forthcoming Anti-fascist history book, which will do well to complement his Fascism one.
Bob Murphy was kind enough to interview me in the most recent Lara-Murphy report. You can read it here.
Your Dad called, he wants the ALMag for Father’s Day. Use “Mag4Dad” for $10 off the annual price, or pick him up a single quarter, so he gets the summer socialism issue, for twenty bucks. AustroLibertarian.com/Gift
Buck Johnson, a subscriber to AL Mag and a great supporter of the site, has a fantastic podcast, Death to Tyrants. Just today he published a conversation he had with the always interesting Paul Gottfried; Paul of course is one of the very best conservative writers in our time and he has been a very key influence on the way I interpret political movements.
One of the things that he mentioned in the conversation is something that I referred to when I discussed his book on Multiculturalism, namely that the modern mainstream left is a post-marxist left that has, in Marxism’s stead, replaced economic class warfare with identitarian class warfare. I wrote:
The left (especially the American left), Gottfried argues, was once wholly dependent on narratives relating to economic victims. The statist efforts to solve various economic circumstances produced what he, in his prior book After Liberalism, refers to as “the managerial state.” The managerial state was supposed to be the perfection of social democracy, with the victim groups similar to Karl Marx’s: the laborers, the proletariate, the impoverished, etc. The managerial state sought to expand its influence in order to protect the economically under privileged. It developed arguments for things like minimum wage laws, labor unions, and rent control.
But things have changed, at least in emphasis. The left, while of course still employing many economic narratives, seems to have doubled down on a different type of social victimization. Thus, the managerial state eventually gave way to a different kind of state, with new classes of victims and new programs to fix the “problems.” The new costume that the state has put on is what Gottfried refers to as “the therapeutic state.” Rather than seeing the victim classes in terms of economics, the new victims are those who are culturally underrepresented and “socially oppressed.” The main key terms in this new phenomenon include “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.” And more are on their way or currently given smaller scale status [i.e., the transexual movement].
He elaborated on this theme and described the modern left as adopting a post-Marxist framework where the current victims are victims of mental oppression, sexual oppression, discrimination and all the rest. This has replaced the old economic-oriented nature of the proletariate of the old left.
Now this is extremely interesting for those who follow this blog and my general way of looking at things. You’re not going to get this anywhere else. You ready?
Jacobin Magazine (what else would I be talking about??) has issued the same criticism of the mainstream left and they so often plea for the left to remember their old Marxist roots and not get distracted by the new mainstream left that has seemingly given up on economic oppression as their primary problem to overcome. Now I very swiftly rush to clarify that they are on board the whole sexual revolution schtick and they of course are all about opposing “discrimination” and liberating the sexually abhorrent from the psychological torture of traditional norms.
But at the same time, they recognize that the left has changed its tune and emphasis and so often complain about the replacement of economic concerns for social ones. In fact, in an interview that Bhaskar Sunkara did in 2011 (Jacobin’s very first print issue), the title was “Let Them Eat Diversity” and the entire thesis was that the left was so focused on racial and culture angst that they were forgetting about the economic class warfare that should be characterizing the left. The mainstream left was getting the poor all thrilled with progress toward racial and sexual diversity that they were secretly abandoning the economic project of old Marxism.
To take a more recent example, in 2015 Jacobin published an article called Race to Nowhere which argued that “elites in the United States have been offering up improved “race relations” rather then interracial workers alliances against capital as the primary solution to American inequality.” This article concluded with the following:
Then, as now, the most reliable path to a progressive politics that produces true justice and human rights is that which begins with building the political power of workers. It is this proposition that has often made elite opponents of white supremacy — both black and white — deeply uncomfortable.
Economic class, Jacobin argues, not cultural identity, should be the true rallying crying of a better leftism. This is in stark opposition to path that has been chosen by the mainstream left in our time. Of course, it would be absurd to interpret my exposition of all this as somehow preferring old leftism (classical marxism) to new leftism (post-marxism), I’m just trying to properly categorize the it all in my mind.
So Jacobin style democratic socialists want to reorient the left. And Paul Gottfried observes this shift as well. This is why Paul Gottfried is so insightful, why I love him so much, and why I pay attention to Jacobin, because they don’t just repeat mainstream left talking points.
We always hear that politics is downstream from culture. I am increasingly interested in Paul Gottfried’s case that, in actuality, the opposite is true. Under some forms of democracy, especially in its early years, the government will represent the general culture of the people. Under this arrangement, culture drives politics.
But as democracy matures and the state morphs into the creation of a Total Bureaucracy– indeed as it has developed in the west– things shift. The state takes on a life of its own and has the ingrained tendency to shape culture for its own ends
Gottfried, as usual, is particularly keen:
Contrary to an older understanding of culture, what we are referring to is a process of moral and social radicalization. It is a process that didn’t come about unbidden but which powerful, pervasive administrative rule promoted. And the social engineering function of public administration here and elsewhere in the West has been particularly evident since the 1960s, with governmentally encouraged immigration and an accelerating war against discrimination. Presumably, when Hillary Clinton assured a gay rights group that she was addressing last year (October 5, 2015) that she would use the IRS to force recalcitrant religious institutions into endorsing gay marriage, she was not simply responding to a cultural condition. She was working to create one.
Hence why the state is behind the move in the last 4-5 years to shock the middle class. It’s part of the need that the state has to leverage cultural change for its own ends. Gottfried:
As an engine of social and moral change, the state is on a perpetual behavior-modifying mission. Political Correctness is not just about “culture.” It results from government policies relentlessly applied for the purpose of changing the way we think about human relations. Accelerating immigration from different cultures also furthers the state’s presence in our lives. Demographic change weakens established patterns of social interaction that might resist the state’s expanding control, such as long-standing cultural identities. Further, immigration generates conflicts that require or are thought to require the intervention of state actors.
The issue of immigration is hotly debate in libertarian circles. And while I personally tend toward a more Hoppean approach, I most certainly think that, whatever one’s position, we should at least be mindful of the extent to which the central government loves to use immigration as a tool for cultural conquest. The point isn’t really about immigration per se, but rather how the state recognizes the types of conflicts that are generated in cultural and demographic changes and how it can exploit them for its own ends.
The great Richard Ebeling has a new article called Why Neo-liberalism is Really Neo-socialism. Of course, I was drawn to reading it because of how much time I spend reading the socialist Jacobin Magazine, and they refer to everything they oppose in the socio-economic world as “Neo-liberalism.” I thought Ebeling’s article was helpful in some ways, but unhelpful in others. He points out, importantly, that “The idea of need for a “new,” or “neo,” ”liberalism did not arise out of the ranks of the proponents of laissez-faire as an attempted justification for unrestrained and unregulated markets.”
One of the Dominant Social Themes in our time, related to economics, is that on the far right extreme, you have Neo-liberals who emphasize markets, profits, capitalists, etc over people, the poor, and the environment. This would be the GOP, for instance. Then in the center you have someone like Elizabeth Warren, and on the Progressive left you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But the thing that is shocking is almost nobody talks about the fact that Neo-liberalism is actually a historical deviation from classical liberalism. No one even mentions classical liberalism. Some libertarians scoff at the phrase Neo-liberalism as meaningless and a mere straw man. But this is not quite right. While many are certainly unaware of what it means and use it mindlessly, this does not mean it cannot serve a purpose. In fact, I think the best way to think about Neo-liberalism is in the context of the death of Keynesianism in the late 70s and early 80s during the rise of Milton Friedman. As the world of academic economists were trying to figure out where to go next, the famous (or infamous) Mont Pèlerin Society was born. It was an attempt to bring together those who opposed the budding socialism of the world and offer a new plan for freedom.
The classical liberals, led by Mises (who was supported by Hayek), obviously argued that it was time for complete freedom based on private property rights and that interventionism would never work. The Neo-liberals argued for a state-planned, or at least state-overseen economy. The Neo-liberals were Neo precisely because they feared the laissez-faire nature of Old School Liberalism and wanted instead to institute frameworks and institutions that would support and foster the health of the economy as a whole. Of course this means tax strategies, a keen central bank, anti-monopoly legislation, bureaus and agencies that would keep and eye on the ravages of the market. It was here that Milton Friedman, champion of using Government for freedom, overcame the older Misesians. As recounted by Guido Hulsmann:
Erhard’s success changed the Mont Pèlerin Society, sweeping in the very themes Mises had stressed should be excluded — such as the need for antitrust and the possible virtues of credit expansion. On both issues Mises sided with Volkmar Muthesius, who argued that the best way to combat monopolies was to abolish the policies and government institutions that created them in the first place. Mises was especially wary of yet another round of discussions of antitrust laws. In his youth he had witnessed the anticartel agitation that followed their rise in the 1890s. At the time, the debate had been propelled by the Verein für Socialpolitik, which was always seeking a new rationale for more interventionism. For decades now he had not come across new arguments on either side, and he expected that any debate in the Mont Pèlerin Society would quickly turn toward an interventionist agenda, rather than addressing the main case of present-day monopoly prices: the US price policies for agricultural products.
During the next three years, the conflict between Hayek and his recalcitrant secretary lurked beneath the surface. Hayek could not get substantial support to oust Hunold. Most American members were on Hayek’s side but feared that an open conflict would destroy the society. It eventually came to a showdown at the Kassel meeting in 1960. Both Hayek and Hunold stepped down from their positions, but Hunold would become vice president of the society and wreak havoc for a while longer. The 1961 meeting was to celebrate Mises’s eightieth birthday, but Hunold turned it into yet another battle between neoliberalism and laissez-faire. The Ordoliberals would soon be pushed into the background for a while; the power vacuum was not to be filled with Austro-libertarians, but economists from the Chicago School.
Neo-liberalism is therefore indeed the framework of our time. Socialist critics are correct about this. Neo-liberalism runs the world. But Neo-liberalism is economic interventionism. Neo-liberalism is the repudiation of free market capitalism. Therefore, when the far left criticizes the GOP and the Democrats for all being in the tank for the Neo-liberal mindset, there is no inherent reason to argue with this. Our age is the Neo-liberal one, inasmuch as Neo-liberalism is characterized by government interventionism, regulation, and progressive oversight into the framework of private ownership of the means of production. But from this, it is a severe mistake to assume that our age is one of free markets and a capitalist economy. This is because free markets, unregulated by the state and without central banking and national agencies of intervention, contradict the Neo-liberal framework. It is nonsense to blame laissez-faire for the failures of Neo-liberal intervention.
Finally, I do believe Ebeling makes a very common mistake. This mistake is a result of common lack of nuance in our circles. He calls Neo-liberalism Neo-socialism. I don’t think this is helpful. I believe that socialists believe in state ownership of the means of production and that Mises was right that interventionism was a dangerous and devastating deviation or contortion of capitalism, but is not actually socialism. Now, the Neo-socialism can be summarized either as a Neo-syndicalism (workers own their businesses and means of production, not the state itself) or a classical socialism via the backdoor of democracy (the “state is the people”). But neither of these are what we see in the postKeynesian-Monetarism-etc, Neo-liberal economic order under which we Austrians and Socialists all suffer.
Yesterday, Tom Woods talked to Ben Lewis about his essay in the Spring release of the AL Magazine. The subject was the America First Committee and the Non-Interventionists of the WWII era. Here is the link.
If every time the government intervenes (known as economic interventionism) into the broader economy there is an eventual wave of resulting economic pain, and if the political and academic classes continue to describe our system as free market or capitalistic, then the entirely predictable result is a mass embrace of socialism as the solution to said economic pain.
The adoration of socialism by the younger generation is not merely a result of their natural ignorance on these matters; though because they are products of a highly bureaucratized and pro-government system, this is obviously the case. Rather, the espousal is a result of what they have been taught via schools, news, entertainment, political speeches, and other sources of intellectual influence. They have been taught both that we live in a free market, and that government is always the remedy.
Because the narrative is that we live in a free market, the benefit to the political class is twofold. 1) people can blame capitalism instead of government for economic pains; 2) Solutions must always come in the form of new government activity, since that has yet to be tried.
Thus, the masses currently clamor for the utopias of socialism to free them from the evils of capitalism, all while living under the rotten system of interventionism.