Democracy Not Feudalism: A Left-Libertarian Critique of the Libertarian Right Part 2

Libertarianism is the championing of liberty. We can’t have liberty with economic and political organization where the majority of the wealth generated  is extracted by uninvolved, unproductive rich people who are powerful just because they exist. There’s no freedom if people have zero say in the decisions which will affect their entire livelihood. That goes for all government.  Today, nobody bats an eye when we have appointed politicians with no consent from the public, without even mandatory public referendum. Unless the economy is designed so all those involved have an equal say to the same degree they are affected, it can’t possibly be a free society. That’s  a dictatorship. We’ve become so desensitized to this dictatorship it becomes easy to take  lightly. This state of affairs isn’t even 500 years old, and there have been modern societies in just the past 100 years with grassroots democracy progressing ahead of the traditional idea of government intertwined with the economy.

For examples of libertarian socialist societies, see: Makhnovia, Catalonia and Aragon, the democratic collectivism and confederalism of the Kurds; the countless examples of effective municipality as seen on small scales like the Paris Commune, and larger scales the egalitarian Highland Madagascar communities, the autonomous period in Guangzhou and the Mondragon cooperative federation; the countless examples of successful experimentation with communal property and participatory, direct, and semi-direct democracy; the thousands of years of tribal communism, advanced confederacy and trade, and highly democratic nature of a whole galaxy of relatively modern North American tribes: the Ema, the Algonquin, the Iroquois Confederation . . . 

. . . the Iroquois Confederation is a famous case. Known as the longest recorded participatory democracy, Cadwallader Colden said in 1749 they held “such absolute notions of liberty that they allow of no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories”—they were one of the most advanced and humanistic political networks on the planet before colonialism and the genocide of Manifest Destiny destroyed them and their couple hundred year runs, much longer under different names and affiliations.

You can keep going, across the ages, under different identities, with different technology and consciousness of their political standing. And every single time it appears, there is minimal social conflict compared to what we have now, with collections of people—despite the opposition—still working to provide the greatest good for the greatest number under democratic principles. This isn’t even considering the parasitic nature of capitalism and most aspects of the federal government, which is built on top of everyday acts of communism found in even the most basic social engagements.

Neolibertarians are already at the point where they recognize the danger in having imposed authority, especially over productive affairs. This is the main reason why they are opposed to socialism, being under the misconception that socialism is always statist and hierarchical in nature, that it means bureaucratic ownership and requires people to submit to a certain system. This assertion overlooks three crucial things: (1) that capitalism isn’t equally imposed on a default level; (2) that capitalism is inherently hierarchical and contradicting in nature, and therefore incompatible with democracy; and (3) that socialism is democratic by most definitions. Most tendencies within libertarian socialism are basically synonymous with democratic socialism (not social democracy, and the difference is monumental). However, they put extra attention on direct action, grassroots democracy, municipalism, restorative justice, and strong regional government. The core principle in libertarian Socialism was best described by Rudolf Rocker at the opening of his book on anarcho-syndicalism:

“it is a indefinite intellectual current in the life of our time, whose adherents advocate the abolition of economic monopolies and of all the political and social coercive institutions within society.”

Classical libertarianism, or anarchism—whose currents range from mutualism to Luxembergism to many other varieties of democratic socialism—is lesser known to have evolved out of the Enlightenment, with early socialist thinkers such as utopianist Charles Fourier all the way to mutualist politician Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and then anarcho-collectivist Mikhail Bakunin, and even more recently with self-described libertarian socialists like Noam Chomsky, receiving large influence from figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and even Adam Smith. What was borrowed was the idea that institutions preventing  us from the joys found in individual and social life is the biggest threat to our happiness and survival, and their ideas surrounding the challenging of authority, the the legitimacy of government were taken in and thoroughly built upon not long before the Age of Revolution came to an end, too late to stop the aristocracy from beating back all continued revisions attempted against the feudalistic principles the new governments were founded on. These governments—especially in the United States—then went on to eradicate the enlightened values of the native population in the name of power, a crime seen as unforgivable by true libertarians who understand the State gave the natives no gift but slavery and the torture of watching their terriotries occupied by the false notions of ownership and hierarchical government. If we’re asking the difference between classical libertarianism and the capitalist libertarianism commonly accepted as the definition in many places, then we should look no further than the highly complex, notably egalitarian Indigenous councils (which any historian would agree was more politically and ethically advanced than any developed nation of the time and arguably today) and the money-grubbing, anti-democratic colonials who murdered them.

But of course even the most oppressive and exploitative acts can be seen as natural or constructive  on neolibertarian grounds. One of the ideologies espoused by laissez-faire capitalists is the idea of social Darwinism, a theory developed by Herbert Spencer in his book Origins of Biology which basically takes a dangerously misunderstood interpretation of Darwin’s natural selection and the idea of “survival of the fittest” and tries to apply it to society and ethics. This has been the core philosophy behind fascism and other capitalist-oriented systems. It is a device  popularized by oligarchs, pretending humanity somehow benefits from cutthroat competition and belligerent hierarchy, where people somehow get ahead by leaving each other behind, and the haves are more deserving than the have-nots. This is easily identifiable in the “Jeff Bezos just works 130 billion times harder than you” kind of mentality, as well as the disdain higher classes have for the same demographics generating their wealth. Since Spencer, this theory has dominated our social political and social backdrop, and remains today in varying extremes. Applied to politics and economics, it is the fuel for every modern dictatorship; it is the Original Sin of our time, and just as sectarian and stifling to our progress as the more spiritual version of the idea during the reign of the Catholic Church. 

If we aren’t mutually supporting each other, which only artificial scarcity and manipulation can prevent us from doing, then we are creating a materially divided, miserable environment where even if the nation is rich, the people are poor. The only ones who have the right to happiness, security, and confidence are those with the least amount of wisdom, character, empathy and work ethic. Shareholders stack billions on top of billions overnight, sweated off the labor of people living paycheck to paycheck.  This reminds me of the quote by John Stuart Mill: “Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working, risking or economising.” Such a society will lead to even more social erosion, pain, and, especially when you consider the existential threat of climate change, the literal extinction of our species. 

“Survival of the fittest.” The most fit aren’t the people who destroy their own supply and reject collaboration; the fit are the collective, and the individual can find joy and security merely in the act of embracing empathy and social life, and working to create a more fulfilling environment for themselves and their community.

Exactly 40 years after Origins of Biology was published, a lesser-known counter to Spencer’s theory was made by Petr Kropotkin, a biologist, anthropologist, revolutionary libertarian, and the father of modern Anarcho-Communism. What he proposed was the theory that mutual aid was an evolutionary instinct found in all social animals, including humans, and it is the root of all higher emotion and social behavior. It attempts to point out that it makes much more sense for humans to have evolved the innate need to cooperate rather than struggle amongst ourselves, that such behavior can be consistently seen all around us despite the unnatural social division rooted in private monopoly, as opposed to a democratic monopoly, and it is only when we remove ourselves from these contradicting devices can we achieve our full potential. 

In his book Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, he writes:

“It is not love to my neighbor—whom I often do not know at all—which induces me to seize a pail of water and rush towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability which moves me. So it is also with animals. It is not love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense) which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces wolves to form a pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross there a river. It is a feeling infinitely wider than love or personal sympathy—an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life.”

Petr Kropotkin

We’ve seen the direct result of capitalism and selfish individualism—the core of what neolibertarianism seems to stand for. With inspiration from the writing and advisory from neolibertarian Milton Friedman, neolibertarianism helped set the trend for corporatization and cartel politics which has allowed corporate power to indirectly rule through imperialist puppets in every branch of government—the world’s biggest liars, murderers, and thieves. They are arguably worse than even the Nazis, not only because they’re subsidizing the genocidal State of Israel, not only because of the unprecedented mass surveillance and forced hysterectomies at the border which appears to continuing under Biden in the same facilities he helped build, not only because they’ve killed millions of civilians in ongoing imperialist wars in the past few decades, and not only because they utilize media to keep everyone afraid and distracted oftentimes over gross lies. It’s because even the Nazis weren’t working to destroy the planet and ecosystem, which is so far killing roughly half a million every year, and therefore all possibility for a secure and happy future. Our extinction needs to be treated as the inevitable result of capitalism. Allowing corporate criminals to dictate an entire nation is the exact opposite of liberty, and is only accepted in the U.S. because we are a criminal State not a democracy. 

It wasn’t neolibertarianism alone which has influenced the current climate in U.S. politics, but it has directly revitalized and reinforced many values meant to conflate human freedom with the illusory idea of “moral capitalism.” The most notable figure in this regard is laissez-faire capitalist Milton Friedman’s and his Chicago School droogs in the economic department where he taught, which has overtly influenced almost every presidential administration since Nixon, appearing in both the DNC and GOP. It was his work and advisory—as the economic adviser to multiple administrations since the 1940s, including Ronald Reagan and the U.K.’s Margaret Thatcher—which is responsible for decades of growing wealth inequality, multiple international coups resulting in despotism, the crisis of fake news, and more than several ongoing hegemonic imperialist wars. Most of these you will find both right and left libertarians criticizing sharply. Undeniably, it is his same philosophy which has the parasitical exploitation which now has around 80 percent of the country given the choice between rent and food, and two-thirds of the natural world having been destroyed in the past 50 years in the pursuit of private interest. 

Milton Friedman ideas dominated right-libertarian currents; there are lessons to be learned by his politics and the result of its implementation. On September 11th, 1973, a coup was executed in Chile to remove the elected democratic Socialist president Allende and put in his place the laissez-faire capitalist dictator Pinochet. The coup was funded by U.S. corporations and the CIA, and had an economic model outlined by followers of libertarian hero Friedman, loosely overseen by Friedman himself. It began with the sabotages against the Chilean economy beginning decades earlier, and the failed attempt to introduce laissez-faire capitalist ideas into Chilean universities. The intervention climaxed with the purging of thousands of union leaders and known leftists in the countryside, and thousands more within a period of days inside urban stadiums converted into torture and execution camps. Industries which were previously owned by the public and workers were auctioned off to oligarchs as part of a campaign of privatization and deregulation. Within four months this caused inflation to rise by 375%—one of the biggest economic crises of the twentieth century which, of course, is rarely talked about in U.S. history books and schools. Revolts were inevitable. To combat this, the dictatorship became even more repressive and began a nationalistic propaganda campaign to gather more support from the more reactionary demographics. Following Pinochet’s reign, riots involving police, populists, and the supporters of Pinochet’s politics continued, and although Chile is now more progressive than under Friedman’s regime, many of the democratic politics have never returned, and multinational corporations still maintain a tight presence. Even with the bodies of documentation surrounding this grisly incident, your average neolibertarian will still treat Pinochet and the economic model associated with him as something virtuous. 

However, despite all my criticism of them—and most of the left’s criticism with them—we have to recognize where and when neolibertarians can be allies. We should not treat neolibertarians as the enemy so long as they’re not actively and militantly threatening us or advocating harm to others. Many are enemies of the status quo, even if there are significant flaws in their politics. We should remember  a few of the orchestrators behind the Reddit hedge fund sabotage identified as right-libertarians—even though in the long run I’d say fighting capitalism using capitalism is a bad strategy, it demonstrated that some are capable of being immediate comrades. Community organizing and direct actions is a good next step. This also reminds me of the Yellow Vest Movement in Europe and occasionally North America. That is a great example—even if a rare example—of unity between left and right libertarian against oligarchical institutions. In France, both tendencies are largely present, and they still managed to work out a written agenda of shared demands including instituting a People’s Referendum and taking measures to end austerity. 

In 2020, Spike Cohen, the vice-presidential nominee for candidate Jo Jorgensen, tweeted something which most people these days regardless of orientation can unanimously agreed on: “We’re divided for a very simple reason: The more power over our lives is centralized in the hands of the few, the more we will fight each other over who those small few are. The solution is very simple: Take the damn power back.” Despite all my criticism for his economic positions, I still find myself inspired by these words; it almost makes him a hero in my eyes even though I would never have voted for Jorgensen, simply because they both ignore the same monopoly and power in production, and I find it hard to believe in the executive power altogether. Regardless, the fact that this same notion appeals to so many on either spectrum shows that the People—not the ones who intimidate us into handing over our authority—can be united. Not in the corporatist partisan sense spewed by the Biden administration as an excuse for helping oligarchs, but actual unity over commonly held interests, directly from the bottom and asserted through a series of direct actions meant to pressure the State and build solidarity. It will never be easy, and the threat of free democratic government has historically sounded the alarm for every hierarchical government in the vicinity to snuff it out as soon as possible. 

Still, there is strength in our role and numbers. Every attempt to organize, mobilize, educate, communicate, and defend our communities is an act of long overdue revolution. Even if our attempts at capturing the ideal fail, pushing for it will pressure the existing forces and in turn empower us, even if just a little. From there we continue forward. True, reform only means  the ruling classes are trying to sustain their position with bribery, and we can’t remove a system which sustains itself with violence without expecting a violent reaction, but the power of the collective can’t be underestimated. Against these odds, staying consistent and continuing to organize and agitate is the only way to move forward, and in every case we can’t be afraid to challenge our oppressors at any means necessary. The tactic of mass demonstrations and provocative direct action has shown potential—the removal of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the general strikes leading up to the Spanish Civil War, for instance. The power of our rulers is derived entirely from us. When we realize this, we can overturn the system overnight and reshape the world in whatever image we please, organizing on principles of mutual aid, solidarity, and bottom-up, horizontal democracy. 

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