AOH :: ONCHOMSK.TXT|
Chomsky on captialism, libertarian party, anarchism
Subject: CHOMSKY on Capitalism, Libertarian Party, Anarchism (long)
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L%MIZZOU1.firstname.lastname@example.org>
Excerpt from what I assume is a radio show? Pozner and Donahue? Some
"caller" asks the difference between Chomsky's anarchism and the U.S.
Libertarian Party's views. Chomsky replies:
> CHOMSKY: Well let me begin with the question about the Libertarian
> Party. The Libertarian Party is familiar here -- unknown elsewhere.
> There's a *long* tradition of anarchism, libertarian thought outside
> the United States, which is *diametrically* opposed to the positions
> of the Libertarian Party -- but it's unknown here.
> That's the *dominant* position of what's always been considered
> Socialist Anarchism. Now, the Libertarian Party, is a *capitalist*
> party. It's in favor of what *I* would regard a *particular form* of
> authoritarian control. Namely, the kind that comes through private
> ownership and control, which is an *extremely* rigid system of
> domination -- people have to.. people can survive, by renting
> themselves to it, and basically in no other way.
> So while I share a lot of..there's a lot of shared ground with the
> special, U.S. right-wing anarchism, which really exists only here
> (and in fact have plenty of friends, and so on), I do disagree with
> them *very* sharply, and I think that they are not..understanding the
> *fundamental* doctrine, that you should be free from domination and
> control, including the control of the manager and the owner.
Chomsky's comments are interesting.
The common thread in the writings of (what Chomsky refers to as)
"right-wing anarchists" is the preservation of "private property" --
i.e., land or capital, not personal possessions. They view it as a
"right", much like the right to express ideas.
Of course, private property (in the above definition) thus implies the
division of resources and land and, subsequently, the establishment a
body of "laws" to legitimize this property -- and, of course, that
"provides" the moral authority to use force to enforce these laws,
to protect against people who don't "own" these things but decide
to use them anyway.
And this is the root contradiction in "Libertarianism": the State
is bad... except when it protects my property.
And since only some own property, the Libertarian State thus functions
as servant to a select class. For the sake of appearance, laws are
constructed in class-less, egalitarian terms: "The State protects the
property of all, regardless who holds the right to it. Should you
people living in that bungalow ever own a factory, these laws will apply
to you too. You wouldn't want the State taking away _your_ factory,
The State as defender of property traces back to Locke -- a Statist.
Considering that classical liberalism has this Statist taint in its
very conception, it is no surprise at all that the term liberal has
come today to mean "interventionist".
Liberalism is Statism.
Classical liberalism is Statism.
The Libertarian Party is Statist.
The Libertarian Party wants to push back the State, true, but only so
far as benefits the economic class it serves. Toward serving the goals
of that class, it wants to maintain the coercive, authoritarian power
of the State to protect property -- i.e., capital interests.
Under the facade of "freedom" and "liberty" for all, they seek to enrich
a single economic class in society -- the capitalist class.
Any "Libertarian revolution" (big-L), however sincere in its desire to
liberate humans and let them seek their own paths in life without
interference from the State, that "Liberatarian revolution" is harboring
in its soul the same Statist germ that infected classical liberalism, --
the legitimization of "State".
That legitimization, even in minimal form, plants the Statist seed.
That legitimization will be used as a precedent for gradual, but
steadily wider intervention by the State in the name of "life, liberty
and property". It happened to classical liberalism.
At any rate, this whole train of thought brings to mind Peter Marshall's
recent compendium, _Demanding_the_Impossible:_A_History_of_Anarchism_ --
London: Fontana Press, 1992 (ISBN 0 00 686245 4). An informative and
vastly entertaining read, recommended for anyone with an anti-authority
bent, it logs anarchistic thought from the Tao to the Sex Pistols (700+
Marshall labels these old-guard classical liberals "anarcho-capitalists"
-- a superior term to right-wing anarchist, for reasons Marshall gives
in summation of this short chapter (Chomsky gets his on section in the
chapter called Modern Libertarians). Capital is what they really seek
to liberate, not people.
For your enjoyment, I present the relevant chapter from Marshall's book.
Chapter 36: The New Right and Anarcho-capitalism
Anarcho-capitalism has recently had a considerable vogue in the West
where it has helped put the role of the State back on the political
agenda. It has become a major ideological challenge to the dominant
liberalism which sees a role for government in the protection of
property. The anarcho-capitalists would like to dismantle government
and allow complete _laissez-faire_ in the economy. Its adherents
propose that all public services be turned over to private
entrepreneurs, even public spaces like town halls, streets and parks.
Free market capitalism, they insist, is hindered not enhanced by the
Anarcho-capitalists share Adam Smith's confidence that somehow private
interest will translate itself into public good rather than public
squalor. They are convinced that the 'natural laws' of economics can do
without the support of positive man-made laws. The 'invisible hand' of
the market will be enough to bring social order.
Anarcho-capitalism has recently had the greatest impact in the United
States, where the Libertarian Party has taken it up as the house
ideology, and where Republicans like Ronald Reagan wanted to be
remembered for cutting taxation and for getting 'the government off
peoples' backs'. In the United Kingdom, neo-Conservatives argue that
'there is no such thing as society' and wish to 'roll back the frontiers
of the State' -- a view adopted evangelically, in theory if not always
in practice, by Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
State socialism is attacked not so much because it is egalitarian but
because it seeks to accrue more powers for the State to exercise
The phenomenon of anarcho-capitalism is not however new. With the
demise of Benjamin Tucker's journal _Liberty_ in 1907, American
individualist anarchism lost its principal voice; but its strain of
libertarianism continued to re-emerge occassionally in the offerings of
isolated thinkers. The young essayist Randolph Bourne, writing outside
the anarchist movement, distinguished between society and the State,
invented the famous slogan 'War is the Health of the State', and drew
out the authoritarian and conformist dangers of the 'herd'.
FRANZ OPPENHEIMER's view of the State as 'the organization of the
political means' and as the 'systematization of the predatory process
over a given territory' influenced libertarians and conservatives alike
in the twenties. The Jeffersonian liberal ALBERT JAY NOCK reached
anarchist conclusions in _Our_Enemy_The_State_ (1935) at the time of the
New Deal. A conservative of the _laissez-faire_ school, he foresaw 'a
steady progress in collectivism running into a military despotism of a
severe type'. It would involve steadily-increasing centralization,
bureaucracy, and political control of the market. The resulting
State-managed economy would be so inefficient and corrupt that it would
need forced labor to keep it going.
Nock's warning did not go unheeded. FRIEDRICH A. HAYEK spelt out in
_The_Road_to_Serfdom_ (1944) the dangers of collectivism. In his
restatement of classic liberalism in _The_Constitution_of_Liberty_
(1960), he rejected the notion of social justice and argued that the
market creates spontaneous social order. But while he wished to reduce
coercion to a minimum, he accepted the need for the coercion of a
minimal State to prohibit coercive acts by private parties through law
enforcement. He also accepted taxation and compulsory military service.
While a harsh critic of egalitarianism and of government intervention in
the economy, he was ready to countenance a degree of welfare provision
which cannot be adequately provided by the market. His views have had
an important influence on neo-Conservatives, especially those on the
right wing of the Conservative Party in Britain.
Anarcho-capitalists like David Friedman and Murray Rothbard go much
further. In some ways, their position appears to be a revival of the
principles of the Old Right against the New Deal which sought government
interference in the economy, but they are not only motivated by a
nostalgia for a thoroughly free market but are aggressively
anti-authoritarian. Where Tucker called anarchism 'consistent
Manchesterism', that is taking the nineteenth-century _laissez-faire_
school of economists to their logical conclusion, anarcho-capitalists
might be called consistent Lockeans.
Following Locke, classic liberals argue that the principals task of
government is to protect the natural rights to life, liberty and
property because a 'state of nature' where there is no common law the
enjoyment of such rights would be uncertain and inconvenient. The
anarch-capitalists also ask, like Locke in his _Second_Treatise_, 'If
Man in the state of Nature be so free as has been said, if he be
absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest
and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom?' Unlike
Locke, however, the anarch-capitalists do not find such a state of
nature without a common judge inconvenient or uncertain. They maintain
that even the minimal State is unnecessary since the defence of person
and property can be carried out by private protection agencies.
DAVID FRIEDMAN sees such agencies as both brokers of mini-social
contracts and producers of 'laws' which conform to the market demand for
rules to regulate commerce. Each person would be free to subscribe to a
protective association of his choice, since 'Protection from coercion is
an economic good'. Apart from adumbrating _The_Machinery_of_Freedom_
(1973), Friedman has populated Hayek's defence of capitalism as the best
antidote to the serfdom of collectivism and the State.
The writings of AYN RAND, a refugee from the Soviet Union, best
represent the intellectual background to the new right-wing
libertarianism in the United States. In her
_The_Virtue_of_Selfishness:_ A_New_Concept_of_Egoism_ (1964), she
attempted a philosophical defence of egoism while in her novels she
portrayed a superior individual fighting the forces of collectivism,
particularly in the form of the State. Her superior individual, driven
by a Nietzschean will to power, appears in the guise of a capitalist
entrepreneur who is presented as the source of all wealth and creator of
all progress. Rand claimed that she had a direct knowledge of objective
reality, and her 'Objectivist' movement had a considerable vogue in the
sixties. Like most anarch-capitalists, she is convinced of the truth of
her own views, which to others appear mere dogma. She remains a minimal
statist rather than a strict anarchist.
Amongst anarch-capitalist apologists, the economist MURRAY ROTHBARD is
probably most aware of the anarchist tradition. He was originally
regarded as an extreme right-wing Republican, but went on to edit la
Boetie's libertarian classic _Of_Voluntary_Servitude_ and now calls
himself an anarchist. 'If you wish to know how the libertarians regard
the State and any of its acts," he wrote in _For_A_New_Liberty:_
_The_Libertarian_Manifesto_ (1973), 'simply think of the State as a
criminal band, and all the libertarian attitudes will logically fall
into place.' He reduces the libertarian creed to one central axiom,
'that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property
of anyone else'. Neither the State nor any private party therefore
can initiate or threaten the use of force against any person for any
purpose. Free individuals should regulate their affairs and dispose of
their property only by voluntary agreement based on contractual
Rejecting the State as a 'protection' with an illegitimate claim on the
monopoly of force, Rothbard would like to see it dissolved, as would
Friedman, into social and market arrangements. He proposes that
disputes over violations of persons and property may be settled
voluntarily by arbitration firms whose decisions are enforceable by
private protection agencies.
Rothbard described an anarchist society where 'there is no legal
possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of
any individual'. But where Tucker recognized no inherent right to
property, Rothbard insists on the need for a 'basic libertarian code of
the inviolate right of person and property'. In addition, for all his
commitment to a Stateless society, Rothbard is willing to engage in
conventional politics. He helped found the Libertarian Party in the USA
which wants to abolish the entire federal regulatory apparatus as well
as social security, welfare, public education, and taxation. Accepting
Bourne's view that war is the health of the State, the Party wants the
United States to withdraw from the United Nations, end its foreign
commitments, and reduce its military forces to those required for
Rothbard argued at the 1977 Libertarian Party Congress that to become a
true libertarian it was necessary to be 'born again', not once ut twice,
in a baptism of reason as well as of will. Since in his view
libertarianism is the only creed compatible with the nature of man and
the world, he is convinced that it will win because it is true.
Whatever the workers and bureaucrats might think or want, Statism will
collapse of its own contradictions and the free market will prevail
throughout the world.
However libertarian in appearance, there are some real difficulties in
the anarch-capitalists' position. If laws and courts are replaced by
arbitrary firms, why should an individual accept their verdict? And
since he 'buys' justice, what assurances are there that the verdicts
would be fair and impartial? If the verdicts are enforced by private
protection agencies, it would seem likely, as ROBERT NOZICK has pointed
out, that a dominant protective agency (the one offering the most
powerful and comprehensive protection) would eventually emerge through
free competition. A _de_facto_ territorial monopoly would thus result
from the competition among protection agencies which would then
constitute a proto-State. The only difference between the
'ultraminimal' State of a dominant protection agency and a minimal State
would be that its services would be available only to those who buy
Nozick's work _State,_Anarchy_and_Utopia_ (1974) is widely regarded as
one of the most important works in contemporary political philosophy.
Inspired in part by individual anarchist arguments, especially those of
Spooner and Tucker, and replying to the libertarian view of Rothbard and
Rand, he calls for a minimal State to oversee private protection
agencies to ensure contracts are kept by property-owning individuals.
He insists however that a man ruled by others against his will, whose
life and property are under their control, is no less a slave because he
has the vote and periodically may 'choose' his masters.
Nozick has helped to make libertarian and anarchist theory acceptable in
academic circles. But in the end he opts for a nightwatchman State in
order to protect the individual's rights to life, liberty and property.
In his 'framework for utopia', he proposes a society of independent
city-States organized according to their inhabitants' preferences. He
defends capitalism under the theory of just entitlement, arguing that
just acquisitions and just transfers made in the absence of force or
fraud legitimize the distribution of wealth resulting from capitalist
exchange. However poorly a person may fare in the exercise of human
liberty, there is no moral reason to correct market forces by
redistributing wealth. The acceptable maxim of capitalism for Nozick is
therefore: 'From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen'.
Nozick joins a group of American philosophers like JOHN HOSPERS and ERIC
MACK who adopt 'minarchy' rather than anarchy. They call for a minimal
State, restricting the scope of the modern state to Locke's 'common
judge with authority' to make laws (for the protection of property), to
punish thieves and malefactors, and to defend the nation against foreign
aggression. They are right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists
in the tradition of Jefferson, insisting 'that government is best which
A more thorough-going philosophical defence of anarchism has been put
forward by ROBERT PAUL WOLFF. He rejects the political legitimacy of
the State on a neo-Kantian principle of moral autonomy. he assumes that
in so far as people are rational and are to act they must be autonomous.
The autonomous man who determines his own acts refuses to be ruled and
denies all claims to political authority: 'For the autonomous man, there
is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a command.' Wolff does not
however see any immediate implications for his philosophical anarchism
and ethical individualism. In his 'Utopian Glimpses of a World Without
States' in _A_Defense_of_Anarchism_ (1970), he maintains that a high
order of social co-ordination in a society in which no one claims
legitimate authority would only be possible after its members had
achieved a high level of moral and intellectual development. Indeed,
rather than offering a defence of anarchism as a political theory, he
seems more concerned with elaborating a form of moral and political
Wolff's practical proposals are also problematic. He recommends a form
of 'instant direct democracy' based on a system of 'voting machines' in
every home linked to a computer in Washington. Each Bill would then be
voted on by all the people after it had been discussed by their
representatives in a national assembly. But such a system could easily
lead to representatives manipulating their votes as they do in existing
parliamentary democracies. There is also a big difference, recognized
in part by Wolff, between the passive role of listener and the active
role of participant in a debate. The kind of direct democracy practiced
in ancient Athens, which actively involved all the citizens, would
appear to be preferable to television viewers being merely able to
register their response to decisions made by an elected elite. Wolff's
proposal would turn citizenship into little more than a spectator-sport.
He allows no meaningful debate or collective discussion of ends.
Although he recommends extreme economic decentralization, Wolff alines
himself with the anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians by wanting
to retain private property and the market to co-ordinate human behavior.
Again, he suggests that the army could be run on the basis of voluntary
commitment and submission to orders but this would seem little different
from existing forms of voluntary conscription.
In the utopias of the anarcho-capitalists, there is little reason to
believe that the rich and powerful will not continue to exploit and
oppress the powerless and poor as they do at present. It is difficult
to imagine that protective services could impose their ideas of fair
procedure without resorting to coercion. With the free market
encouraging selfishness, there is no assurance that 'public goods' like
sanitation and clean water would be provided for all. Indeed, the
anarcho-capitalists deny the very existence of collective interests and
responsibilities. They reject the rich communitarian tradition of the
ancient Greek _polis_ in favor of the most limited form of possessive
individualism. In their drive for self-interest, they have no
conception of the general good or public interest. In his relationship
with society, the anarcho-capitalist stands alone, an egoistic and
calculating consumer; society is considered to be nothing more than a
loose collection of autonomous individuals.
The anarcho-capitalist definition of freedom is entirely negative. It
calls for the absence of coercion but cannot guarantee the positive
freedom of individual autonomy and independence. Nor does it recognize
the equal right of all to the means of subsistence. Hayek speaks on
behalf of the anarcho-capitalist when he warns: 'Above all we must
recognize that we may be free and yet miserable.' Others go even
further to insist that liberty and bread are not synonymous and that we
have 'the liberty to die of hunger'. In the name of freedom, the
anarcho-capitalists would like to turn public spaces into private
property, but freedom does not flourish behind high fences protected by
private companies but expands in the open air when it is enjoyed by all.
Anarcho-capitalists are against the State simply because they are
capitalists first and foremost. Their critique of the State ultimately
rests on a liberal interpretation of liberty as the inviolable rights to
and of private property. They are not concerned with the social
consequences of capitalism for the weak, powerless and ignorant. Their
claim that all would benefit from a free exchange in the market is by no
means certain; any unfettered market system would most likely sponsor a
reversion to an unequal society with defence associations perpetuating
exploitation and privilege. If anything, anarcho-capitalism is merely a
free-for-all in which only the rich and cunning would benefit. It is
tailor-made for 'rugged individualists' who do not care about the damage
to others or to the environment which they leave in their wake. The
forces of the market cannot provide genuine conditions for freedom any
more than the powers of the State. The victims of both are equally
enslaved, alienated and oppressed.
As such, anarcho-capitalism overlooks the egalitarian implications of
traditional individualist anarchists like Spooner and Tucker. In fact,
few anarchists would accept 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist
camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social
justice. Their self-interested, calculating market men would be
incapable of practising voluntary co-operation and mutual aid.
Anarcho-capitalists, even if they do reject the State, might therefore
best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists.
[ ... glad to see you actually made it all the way... ;)]
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