- August 2014 (5)
- July 2014 (5)
- June 2014 (5)
- May 2014 (4)
Keeping libertarians in check and exposing it as a bankrupt ideology
Ultimately, I have come to think of market anarchism (an umbrella term for the radical anti-state contingent of the American libertarian movement) as involving serious naiveté. Because market anarchists typically treat “abolishing the state” as an end in itself while entrusting the market to intrinsically work things out on its own after a state-collapse-scenario, they fail to grasp that a scenario of a state falling is fairly meaningless in itself if one’s goal is supposed to be an improvement in human freedom and well-being.
Since their analysis is often based on Austrian and related free market economics, they simply do not understand that the real power dynamics of the world in the present and the state of human culture is such that a state collapsing is just an opening for other organizations that weren’t the state to either get away with things they wouldn’t have been able to before or become political entities themselves.
Market anarchists are fooling themselves if they think that they are going to actively “abolish the state” rather than a state collapsing on its own accord or for other reasons, and that in the aftermath of that scenario the market will naturally provide better opportunity and well-being for more people while stopping any other formal political entities (“states”) from forming. The fact of the matter is that political revolution without social evolution (like “abolishing the state” in the name of the market) is a gamble in the dark.
It is well known that notable political changes tend to occur after a social or cultural change has already sufficiently taken hold. Markets and states alike are reflective of culture and are embedded in social power dynamics – and thus to simply try to abolish a state and entrust faith in markets is naïve.
It is common for market anarchists to snipe at minarchists, those libertarians who still believe in some form of “limited government”, by using logic to outline that the “limited government” won’t stay limited and ethical. Of course, the same logic applies to market anarchism, only instead of the starting point of a minimal state, we have the starting point of a state collapse scenario. Who is to make sure the post-state scenario doesn’t escalate into non-anarchic results and yield a kind of neo-feudalism in which market-based organizations become the shell for the next states?
The big corporations, banks, and other long-time pre-established centers of economic power sure aren’t going to disappear overnight just because the state falls. The lesson here is that abolishing the state doesn’t abolish economic reality – and it is misleading to be talking of “abolition”.
The market anarchist often implicitly relies on the assumption of a majority of society or at least a sizable contingent being ideologically on board with them sufficient for a movement that overthrows a state, as well as psychologically fit to be ethical post- revolution actors. History, sociology, and common experience gives us plenty of reason for skepticism about this. States rise and fall, and people are people.
Thinking realistically, it would seem that the market anarchist’s dilemma is as follows: you must either face the responsibility of a humungous task for “changing the culture” and making people ethical, basically fostering social evolution before “revolution” (and consequently give up on any Rothbardian zeal to abolish the state at all costs), or face the negative consequences of a state collapse scenario in current socio-economic conditions (and of simply thinking that the state was the problem) as human society’s ingrained problems just re-route themselves.
There are some market anarchists who openly embrace something like that latter option (by more or less embracing market dystopia), but they are not the majority and their position still sucks. You can find some in comments at Mises.org – be sure to point and laugh. On the other hand, some market anarchists (especially the left-libertarian type) may pipe in defensively in the face of my skepticism by saying “hey, I’m a *thick libertarian*, which means that I do want to change the culture”. Ok, I grok, you’re a vegan feminist transhumanist market anarchist from outer space.
The problem here, in addition to the problem I outlined in my criticism of left-libertarianism (that being “culturally enlightened” while enabling capitalism is only a surface-level improvement), is that they must truly face how problematic the culture is and how slow, grueling and futile social change can be. Furthermore, they must face some dissonance between the ideological admonition to abolish the state at all costs and their belief in the need for an enlightened culture. Sometimes this is like Jeckyl and Hyde.
Many people who call themselves “thick libertarians” can be observed to nonetheless fall back on a reductive anti-statism and faith in the market. This both shows that they are in the grips of a kind of culture themselves (libertarian culture and capitalist culture) and that “thickness” still covers a rotten core. Sometimes it seems that “thick libertarianism” signifies more that the individual libertarian is portraying themselves as an ethical person, but not necessarily that they understand how social ethics plays out in the world. It is of course my view that if they did better understand that, they wouldn’t be “thick libertarians” because they wouldn’t be libertarians at all.
Saying that you’re a “thick libertarian” often amounts to declaring one’s group association in culture wars or adding on to a collection of identities in addition to libertarianism that one claims is also part of it. It does not necessarily reflect a comprehensive notion of social change or exempt the market anarchist from the tough realities of trying to enact such change. It’s more like saying that one hopes to win a cultural battle *within the context of the market*, and therefore subjecting it to *the culture of the market* and the general forces of economic power.
Perhaps before rushing to feed the fate of society to economic machinations, we should continue to enculturate ourselves. Perhaps one should think of the market and the state not as a reified binary opposition, but as jointly embedded in human behavior and the result of general but complex power dynamics between people and culturally ingrained beliefs and practices. That seems like a better starting point than talking of “abolishing” things one does not understand and replacing them with something that one also doesn’t understand, while ignoring realistic expectations of human behavior and the common experiences of power that don’t really come from the state.