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Democracy Not Feudalism: A Left-Libertarian Critique of the Libertarian Right Part 1

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

“We have followed this norm and we find no need for the hypothesis of a superior power to organized labor, in order to establish a new order of things. We would thank anyone to point out to us what function, if any, the State can have in an economic organization, where private property has been abolished and in which parasitism and special privilege have no place. The suppression of the State cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the Revolution to finish with the State. Either the Revolution gives social wealth to the producers in which case the producers organize themselves for due collective distribution and the State has nothing to do; or the Revolution does not give social wealth to the producers, in which case the Revolution has been a lie and the State would continue.

“Our federal council of economy is not a political power but an economic and administrative regulating power. It receives its orientation from below and operates in accordance with the resolutions of the regional and national assemblies. It is a liaison corps and nothing else.”

Diego Abad de Santillan

What is Libertarianism? In the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, you will likely get a very distorted answer to this question. Asking your average American, they would most likely describe it as “socially left, economically right.” If they’re a bit more educated on the politics, but have not explored the etymology and history of libertarianism, they’d be more apt to associate it with free market capitalism and the philosophical justification for selfish individualism. If they have explored the meaning and history even more than that, they would at least admit that the word encompasses a variety of tendencies, which globally is still very much associated with left-wing anti-statism. The word itself was even coined by anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque, in a letter to mutualist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. It wasn’t until the early fifties, with the explosion of the laissez-faire capitalist counter-culture as a reaction to the strong unionism and New Deal politics of the time, and then again in the increasingly corporatocratic sixties and seventies to combat the New Left and social movements, that this bastardization began to quickly pull the word away from its more egalitarian roots. 

Classical libertarianism and right-wing neolibertarianism share similar advocacy in small, regional government, wanting minimal state influence over communities and individuals. The main difference begins in what each ideology envisions as  economic government, and how to make that government legitimate. Neolibertarians often don’t recognize the undesirable tendencies of capitalism, and think  the only alternative is state-ownership. Classical libertarians perceive economic organization as government within itself, and reason that unless this government is democratic in nature then it must be authoritarian, with bosses, shareholders, and chairman acting as barons and dictators. Neolibertarians, when their back is against the wall, will parrot the ideas of Friedman and Rothbard, which claim the problems found in today’s capitalism are the result of government interference. Classical libertarians would agree, but in an opposite sense, understanding  capitalism uses the state to sustain and enhance its power. To a classical neolibertarian, government (the state) and capitalism are twin curses: capitalism restrains our material freedom, the state limits our personal freedom, and both are intertwined. The relationship modern libertarianism has with older currents isn’t an honest one. In most parts of the word today, it is still associated with libertarian socialism and communism. In America, this isn’t the case, since the term was hijacked by laissez-faire capitalist Milton Friedman and “anarcho”-capitalist Murray Rothbard among others in the 1950s. Classical libertarians often do not accept neolibertarianism in their communities and neolibertarians consistently stand with the same politics which leads to the corruption they both criticize.

The biggest threat to democracy and individual liberty, besides the myth that our representatives are anything but illegitimately elected dictators, is private interest. Private interest has always attacked free association and democracy. They own the police, the political seats, the military and the media. They use their influence to legally and illegally attack unions and grassroots activist movements. They mobilize reactionary vigilantes to intimidate people at voting stations. They keep people insecure in order to distract them from taking action. They censor and attack populist candidates on corporate television, especially if they’re well liked. On that last note, the media is their biggest tool, because the entire structure which their power depends on exists only in the human mind. As subtle as it is, such restriction of information can be seen with neoconservative media such as CNN and MSNBC just as much as the more belligerent far-right media like Fox News. As libertarian socialist Noam Chomsky said in an interview at the Tucson Festival of Books in 2015: “The most interesting media, in my opinion, are what are called the liberal media. In fact, most of my own writing, discussion, and analysis is about them. They kind of set the limits; they say you can go this far and not a millimeter farther. And that’s true pretty much around the world. And, of course, it does cut out popular movements, popular activism—very occasionally something will break through. Zuccotti Park finally broke through, slightly, with [what] actually is better coverage than I expected for a while. But, generally, the idea that people might get together, organize, act to change the world—that’s frightening. That’s like some small country deciding to go off on an independent course—that’s quite dangerous.”

Because of the same hierarchical system supported by neolibertarians in its most extreme, you can’t even have a peaceful protest without it being declared a riot without cause. You can’t advocate the overthrow of criminals murdering us without being put on a list or thrown in a cage, even though that is literally a constitutional right, which apparently only matters in the context where it helps robber barons. You can’t fight back without being kidnapped, denounced, ridiculed, and slandered. Every single moment in this country human beings are tortured, robbed, intimidated, raped, spied on, locked up, separated, deported, gaslighted, and censored. The list keeps going. We have entire parts of the world where every higher political decision is molded around the interests of banks and multinational conglomerates. Entire countries are governed directly by companies—but didn’t our teachers tell us imperialism ended after the first world war? Over half the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of less than one percent of the population. Every politician who has a chance is bought, and even the rare saint who manages against all odds to find themselves in a position of power is still rendered ineffective, while often becoming diluted by their socially removed position. When looking at the blatantly corrupt nature of private power and the bourgeois state, economic democracy—otherwise known as socialism, especially libertarian socialism—becomes a reasonable alternative. 

However, right-libertarians still believe anti-capitalism is synonymous with anti-freedom. But it’s just the opposite! From natural monopoly, strict hierarchy, and subjective ownership to the domination of our independence and reasoning—capitalism is what Norman Ware accurately described as the “monarchinistic principles on democratic soil.” It’s why the libertarian left generally can’t see the libertarian right as anything other than neo-feudalists who think they’ll be rich one day if they push what only benefits the ruling class; it’s why the libertarian left can’t see a difference between the so-called “libertarian” right and authoritarian right. Right-libertarians, quasi-intersectionalist fascists (Democrats), and the nationalist theo-fascists (Republicans) put on a veneer of being in total opposition to each other, but economically and oftentimes socially they are more similar than different, especially in action, and all of them are products of the same people, meant to make things go in the same corporatocratic direction. The main differences between them is this: the DNC loosely pretends to be socially and economically egalitarian but consciously acts against anything progressive; the GOP pretends  private corporatism is a populist system but doesn’t pretend to be socially egalitarian, while also fostering a religious, pro-gun, and patriotic identity (most in power are none of these things), and neolibertarians are pro-oligarchy, pro-civil rights, and anti-federal government even though the former is incompatible with latter. Neolibertarians think capitalism is attacked by the state and not intertwined with it. They think creating a haven for morally blind financial leaches is the best solution to our world’s problems. Without protecting communities from the feudalistic nature of monopolies, we are, in turn, opening the gate to fascism—which is the intertwining of corporate and state, as defined by Mussolini  himself.

This said, the biggest component which separates neolibertarianism from traditional libertarian thought is its worship of property in its most feudalistic and exploitative form. Contrary to common belief, capitalism is not the same thing as markets. Capitalism is defined by hierarchical (private) ownership of property and capital, and unlike mutualism and communalism, it allows for the gross accumulation of property and therefore political power. Real capitalists, meaning the ones who possess actual capital, know this all too well. Don’t let the ignorance of the mainstream fool you, not all market economies are inherently hierarchical, although it is arguable they cultivate destructive values and are inherently alienating and unstable because of the nature of competition. Even so, depending on the system, those side effects may be less severe. Under capitalism, these issues are pushed to their limits; instead of freeing people from state tyranny, it forces people to use the provided devices of property and money against each other, and a new State will always evolve out of that. Capitalism itself has historically depended on the state for its tax bailouts and security in the form of armed forces and the police. Capitalism evolved out of monarchy. It took much of the twisted cultural values and pre-existing conditions of the dark age and build on top of it an even more complex and alienating system, accelerated by slavery, exploitation, and profit-driven war. As economist Kevin Carson said: “Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.” In the complete absence of a state, as is advocated by “anarcho”-capitalists, it would not survive without creating its own, by hiring guards and imposing debt to keep people subservient; it would be quick to devolve into a society run by corporate warlords.

For the record, private property—which is also centrally owned, something capitalists claim to be against for certain talking points—is different from personal property or personal residence. When we say “abolish private property” we mean establish communal housing and replace private business with enterprise owned by workers and communities; it means we believe property is not something which should ever be hoarded, and if property is not in use, or if it’s being used to exploit others, then there is no legitimate reason for it to be kept away from those in need. 

Currently, the only justification for private property is the investment economy, which doesn’t need to exist. Being opposed to private property doesn’t necessarily mean opposition to markets. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s philosophy, for instance, was pro-market, anti-State and private property, and includes a collectively-owned, mutual-credit banking system which sets a minimal interest rate to account for inflation. Proudhon did not believe in a hierarchical economy, but he didn’t think it was his place to stop anyone else’s behavior except providing equal leverage for everyone involved. He was also a fan of federated workers’ associations, which place workers democratically in charge of regional productive administration. He wished for all workers to be self-employed, individually united under the aforementioned workers’ federation under the principles of contractualism and direct democracy. In his controversial book “What is Property?” (Qu’est-ce que la propriété?) he described his beliefs as “a synthesis of communism and property”, going on to say:

“Property, acting by exclusion and encroachment, while population was increasing, has been the life-principle and definitive cause of all revolutions. Religious wars, and wars of conquest, when they have stopped short of the extermination of races, have been only accidental disturbances, soon repaired by the mathematical progression of the life of nations. The downfall and death of societies are due to the power of accumulation possessed by property.”

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