Why The Left Libertarians Are Right
Or, Political Philosophy In The Real World
Man, oh man…. I just hit the wrong button, wrong mouse click, once again - again writing too long without a break - and accidentally published this essay, which is still a very, very rough draft. It wasn’t even finished yet, much less proof-read! Oy. Now I’d better get it finished, seeing that it is already published!
How embarrassing… Oh well, I guess this is further evidence that we all, really are very human, and very fallible.
Bear that in mind the next time you read or listen to a screaming oratory by one or another partisan ideologue on Twitter, YouTube, or in the corporate/state media. These are just ordinary human beings talking - and most of them, it must be said, have no idea what is really going on, and have no real understanding of anything they are saying.
By the end of this essay, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, corporatists, globalists, oligarchs and neo-fascist ruling elite, along with the newly authoritarian liberals and “progressives”, which represent the authoritarian left, and also the Marxist-Leninists and libertarian right, should all be thoroughly discredited in your mind, their legitimacy eviscerated and laid to waste, and their ideologies disemboweled, and left for dead. If the legitimacy of these ideologies is not thoroughly destroyed in your mind, by the end of this essay, then take a pause, reflect deeply on what you have read, and read it again, and as many times as is necessary, until the logical conclusions become inescapably clear.
Now, the art of philosophy with a broadsword commences - and only our illusions are threatened, and will be destroyed. Unless you are in love with your illusions, and therefore in love with your chains, you have absolutely nothing to fear, and everything to gain.
Venture on, brave souls. Liberation is at hand.
We should start out by saying that life is for learning; and that life is one long journey of learning - and more importantly, a journey of unlearning, of stripping away illusions, to reveal the self-evident truth. It is true, as Socrates said, that an unreflective life is not worth living. Moreover, I would say that anyone who has ceased to learn, has ceased to live.
If you have come to an end of learning, and have settled on a fixed and permanent, unchanging and unalterable view of the world, either you are omniscient, which of course is an extremely rare state of being and mind, or more likely, and more commonly, you have allowed your mind to turn to stone. And nothing good can come from that.
I was going to begin this discussion, or meditation, by giving a short list of examples of people from across the political spectrum (which is three-dimensional, not two) who are very, very thoughtful, intelligent, principled and aware. But I will refer you instead to a brief article that I just wrote and published, on Key Resources For A Better, Freer World. I will, however, mention a few people here, to give you some idea what I am talking about, in terms of building alliances, and the urgent task of uniting the people.
I have great respect for Ron Paul, Max Keiser and Michael Rechtenwald, all of whom are, as far as I understand, on the libertarian right - even though I sometimes disagree with them; and have great respect for them, above all, because they fiercely stand up for the basic, and fundamental principles, of constitutional rule, human rights and freedom. I have tremendous respect also, for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who, it seems to me, is what a traditional liberal should be: someone who values both compassion and freedom, who is a fierce defender of constitutional rule, universal human rights, and basic freedom - the three core principles of liberal democracy, or of any just or decent society: principles, without which, we are lost. And I have great respect for Paul Craig Roberts, who seems to me, what a good conservative should be - again, someone who fiercely defends constitutional rule, human rights and freedom for all. What I am trying to show here, is that while I personally associate myself with the libertarian left, there are people from across the political spectrum, who I would not only consider allies, but strong and noble, valiant allies.
What I am trying to convey here, is that while we may disagree on some matters, while we may debate, and while we may sometimes discuss social issues and political philosophy in passionate, even heated ways, all of which is good, and useful, and necessary, there comes a time when we must put our differences aside, at least for the moment, at least for the time being, and stand shoulder to shoulder, to fight for a common cause, and for the things that matter the most - which include, I would say, a shared valuing of the true foundations of any just, or even sane society, which are constitutional rule, with liberty and human rights for all.
It is a realization, which we need now, of the fierce need and utter urgency to create a unity among all people who are committed to constitutional rule, freedom and human rights, and who are united in their defence of these core, foundational values, and who are united in resistance to any and all forms of authoritarianism.
We either understand these core principles now, and understand that they are our common ground, and unite the people in defence of constitutional rule, liberty and universal human rights, or we are going nowhere but down - into a very dark time, and a truly dystopian, hell on Earth.
It is critical that we come to understand this now, and act accordingly, and without delay. Let us discuss social issues and political philosophy, openly, freely, and passionately, and with open hearts and open minds. Then, we must temporarily set all of that aside, and unite the people, to defeat the fascists. There is no milder term for it. This is fascism, and it must be defeated, once again.
Suffice it to say that, aside from the fascist right, and the totalitarian extreme left, who are mainly represented by the Davos oligarchs, the billionaire class, and their witting and unwitting minions and pawns, there is a large and growing number of people from across the political spectrum, including liberals, conservatives, libertarians of the right and the left, anarchists, democratic socialists and greens, who are not only well worth listening to, but who I would frankly consider to be allies - precisely because they are on the right side, with regards to the biggest, most urgent, and most central issue of the hour: which is to say, they are anti-authoritarian, and anti-fascist.
Keep that in mind as you read the following, and we dive into political philosophy in the 21st century, because it is extremely important for us to understand, and to remember now.
In short, despite our many differences of opinions, views, philosophies, ideologies or approaches, there is common cause and common ground that can and must be found, and now - or else, we truly all will be slaves.
Unity of all anti-authoritarians and anti-fascists, is now essential and imperative. It cannot be stressed enough. Now, on to the political philosophy discussion. We will return to the matter of uniting the people again, and soon, as we must, for the simple reason that it is now our most central and urgent task.
Generally speaking, I avoid all use of jargon, jingoism, slang; and also, and more importantly, I generally avoid all labels and “isms” - for the simple reason that they generally sow division and confusion, when what we need is unity and clarity of mind. Most people are so heavily conditioned, propagandized and indoctrinated, by the “education” system, the media, their government, their society, their workplace, their peers, the “social media”, and their particular tribal sect or political faction, that when they hear a label, an “ism”, a name or a term pertaining to political philosophy, or virtually anything else, they immediately assume that they know what that means, and they then shut off, completely, all rational thought, all critical thinking, and all genuine discussion or communication.
Labels generally, and almost universally, shut down all rational thought, critical thought, and all genuine discussion or communication among the people. Therefore, they should be avoided whenever possible. We should instead talk about specific issues, and specific ideas, or constellations of ideas, specific problems, specific interpretations of problems or events, and specific proposals to remedying problems. But of course, all of that being said, there are times when using labels, names or terminology, is useful or even necessary, if we are going to talk about human society, political philosophy, specific currents of thought or social movements, or almost anything else, either in terms of a big picture analysis, or in any real depth. The warning as to the blinding effects of labels must be born in mind however, or we will live in perpetual blindness, and we will all fall into a ditch.
Remember, the map is not the territory. Do not confuse your ideas about a thing, with the thing in itself. Intellectuals are the worst for this - they are always, as Alan Watts said, insistent upon eating the menu instead of the meal. They are like someone who wants to go to Paris, but rather than beginning the actual journey, they climb the sign post instead. Fundamentalists, both secular and religious, are even worse for it. They want to climb a ladder to heaven, but they are so in love with the ladder, that their hands are frozen to the rungs, in their feverish love affair with their own ideology.
“The final obstacle to God, is our ideas about God.”
“The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.”
- Lao Tzu
Idolatry of ideology is the norm. And it is blinding, and a paralyzing force - at best; and at worst, a it is source of horrible atrocities, committed in the name of righteousness. Remember that even the best and most important of writings, are like a finger pointing to the moon, as the Lankavatara Sutra says - and if you mistake the finger for the moon, then you will see nothing.
If you meditate on impermanence and death, by the way, then gradually, all fear of death dissolves, and all fear of life, therefore, dissolves as well: which means, you can begin to truly live; and moreover, all clinging, grasping and attachment slowly falls away - including the clinging to doctrines, ideas and ideology - leaving a responsive warmth and openness, brilliantly awake, alive, and filled with a natural clarity of mind and openness of heart. This is the beginning of the path to enlightenment.
Doctrine, ideas, ideology and philosophy can be useful, but it entirely depends on how we relate to them. They can be a prison, or an emancipatory aid, depending on how we approach them, and above all, depending on whether we cling tightly to them, or instead, strive to keep an open mind.
Generally speaking, I do not like to pigeon-hole myself, or others. I try to relate to people as individuals, not as representatives of a certain clan, tribe, sect, party, class or social group, an ideology, or whatever else. Treat people as individuals, and talk with them and relate to them as individuals - as human beings, first and foremost, and above all - and things will improve. See them only as a label, or as a member of a certain group, and there will be troubles unending.
If I was to label my political views, if I had to, though I generally avoid it, I would have to say that I am a left-libertarian republican democrat. But again, these words are meaningless to a good 90% of the population - including, especially, the “intellectuals”, the politicos, and the “educated”. Nevertheless, we will “unpack” their meaning here, as best as possible.
(Ugh, I used that obscenely over-used, jingoistic term, “unpack” - deliberately, to foist upon you, dear reader, an aversion for herd mentality, which, I trust, is already present within you, and which, I dare say, I wish to cultivate to a stronger degree.)
Normally I would not even use the term anarchism, or anarchist, and again, simply because the vast majority of people presume they know what these terms mean, when in reality, all they really “know”, all their heads are full of, is indoctrination and propaganda; meaning, they are deeply misinformed, but they presume they already know, so they are not willing to be open to engaging in any serious thought, or any rational thought at all.
There is a famous Zen story that goes like this, and it reveals a great deal about human nature, and about how to overcome the weaknesses of our nature, so that our better nature, our deeper, more authentic nature, can shine through. It goes like this.
A scholar comes to a Zen master, and he asks the Zen master to give him teachings in the philosophy of Zen. The Zen master invites the scholar to sit down for a cup of tea, of course, and the Zen master begins pouring tea into the scholar’s cup - and he pours, and pours, and pours, until the cup is overflowing, all over the table. The scholar then exclaims, “Stop! My cup is already full!” To which the Zen master replies, “Precisely. Your cup is already full. First, you must empty your cup. Only then can you truly receive.”
And that is the parable on our global pandemic, of idolatry of ideology, which has plagued the world for a very long time, especially in the West. Empty yourself of your preconceptions, and then only, can true wisdom, or even basic sanity, clarity of mind or common sense, begin to arise.
But, if pressed, I would say that I am indeed an anarchist - and echoing heartily the statement of Canada’s leading constitutional lawyer, Rocco Galati (whom everyone needs to listen to immediately, and with utter presence of mind, and great, thoughtful receptivity), I would say that I am a proud anarchist. But I would also say that I am a practical anarchist - which, in the short term, and the immediate present, means that I am more of a left-libertarian republican democrat, than an impatient and purist, dogmatic anarchist. (Yes, dogmatic anarchists exist, and in fact are the norm among that tribal sect. Chew on that, my fellow anarchists and libertarians.)
I am not a “pragmatist”, or a “realist”, because both of these terms are part of the lexicon of nihilism, and stem from and reinforce nihilism, which is a disease of the mind; and because both terms have been so abused, that they can be, and repeatedly have been, used to rationalize any kind of atrocity, abuse of power, or crimes against humanity. But I am practically-minded.
There is a vital difference between these terms, not only because the former are routinely used to rationalize great crimes and atrocities and abuses of power, but because they are rooted in nihilism, in my view. Being a “pragmatist”, or a “realist”, means you can justify and rationalize anything. It means, in practice, that you believe the ends justify the means; which means, in practice, you can rationalize even the greatest of crimes and atrocities. It means, in general, that you have no values, other than that of power and expediency. It means, you are a nihilist, in reality. I reject nihilism and utilitarianism, advocating basic principles of justice, compassion, freedom, ecology and peace. That makes me practical - not pragmatic, and decidedly not, a “realist”.
I would say, therefore, that I am a practical anarchist - meaning, I simply recognize the undeniable reality of our present situation: that the great majority of the people are not yet ready to live without the idiocies and the evils of the state. That means, the only way to abolish the state in the short term, would be through violence, and through aggression, coercion, domination, and through a fundamentally authoritarian imposition of one’s own ideology on the masses of people. If one is a consistent anti-authoritarian, as I certainly try to be, then you have to reject violence, except in circumstances of immediate self-defence; and you must also reject aggression, coercion, domination, and any form of imposing one’s views on others, or trying to control others’ lives. If the people are not yet ready to live without the idiocies and evils of the state, then we must accept that. We have no right to ram down their throats our ideology, philosophy, or vision for society, much less impose it through force upon the people. That would be to make everything that we stand for, turned into a lie.
So, for the time being, we must accept that, other than in small pockets, scattered about the Earth, the great majority of the people are certainly not ready to abandon the state, which they imagine to be their benevolent protector, nanny, solace, soother, pacifier and guide. They insist on living with its evils and its inanity, a little longer. We cannot force them to choose otherwise, without sacrificing and subverting our most basic and fundamental principles: the principles of freedom, anti-authoritarianism, non-coercion, non-domination, and non-aggression.
That means, for the time being, we must live a little longer with the evils and inanities of the state. It does not mean, however, that we must endure its worst excesses, or its worst abuses of power. These, we can and must resist, naturally.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, and, On Civil Disobedience. And it leaves us with Thoreau’s most eminently sensible response: “I do not want, at once, no government; but at once, a better government.”
Now, surely all of us can agree, whatever our longer term goals for society may be, that a better government, is something that is desirable - and also attainable. That means, whatever your political or philosophical views may be, we do, in fact share a common ground. Not only are we far more alike, as human beings, than we are different, and we share a common ground through our shared humanity; but also, we all want a better government. Some of us want no government, but as I have argued, that is not attainable in the short term, at least, not without mass violence and coercion; therefore, the point is to create, in the short term, and right now, a better government, until such a time as the great majority are mature enough, and confident enough in themselves, to live with no government at all.
Where to begin with a discussion of the libertarianism of the left? (Which, we should add, right from the start, was and is, the original libertarianism.) We could begin by me confessing that I was completely mistaken about left libertarianism.
Since I first began to think in a way that was consciously philosophical, political, and reflective, I have felt most at home on the left of the political spectrum (having no idea, for decades, that the political spectrum is actually three-dimensional, not two-dimensional) - but it was always the libertarian left that I was drawn to. I was steadfastly and passionately devoted to freedom, as well as to compassion and mutual aid - the three cardinal values of the libertarian left. I was rightfully suspicious of any great concentrations of power, deeply wary of elitism, and opposed to it instinctively; and I was, and still am, decidedly and firmly, staunchly, anti-authoritarian. I had no time for Marxist-Leninists, or elitists or authoritarians of any stripe, much less for fascists, who are even worse, if that is even possible. But I had assumed that the libertarian left represented a small minority of people, in any generation or era. My sympathies are still with the libertarian left, and they are clearer and stronger now, and more rooted in experience, studies, research and reflection, and not simply in my own intuition, which also roots them firmly and deeply. But I was wrong about that last point: left libertarianism is not a minority view, either now, or in the past. Or at the very least, ideologies aside: the spirit of freedom, compassion and mutual aid, which are the core values of left libertarianism, are not a minority view, but in fact, are the deeper, underlying, core values of the great majority of the people.
My awakening to a greater understanding of history unfolded slowly, of course, over many years of study and reflection. If you study, listen or read without reflection, by the way, you are wasting your time. They must go together, or it is, in fact, worse than useless: because you falsely believe that you have learned something, when you have not. An unreflective life is not worth living, to paraphrase Socrates. More to the point, what is important, is not simply to ingest information and ideas, but to digest and assimilate them. Otherwise, you simply end up being full of hot air and noxious gas - which is, unfortunately, a very common thing!
When I began to read more of the history of the Left, I was very surprised that, contrary to both popular and “scholarly” opinion, the Left has never been dominated by Marxist-Leninists or other authoritarians, except for two relatively short periods, which we could view, and should view, as the aberrations to the general history of the Left.
From the Enlightenment era of the 1700s, and the American and French Revolutions which followed it and brought it to fruition, up until the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was the anti-authoritarian wing of the Left which represented the larger and stronger current of thought and social movements. After Lenin parachuted into Russia, after the Russian Revolution of 1917 had already succeeded, and promptly declared himself the leader of the revolution, thereby staging what amounted to a counter-revolution, then began a period when the elitist and authoritarian wing of the Left, the Marxist-Leninists, became, for a short time, the dominant current on the Left, until roughly 1957 - a total of roughly forty years, out of the 250 years of the history of the Left.
But beginning in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the Left once again returned to its anti-elitist and anti-authoritarian roots. Sadly, over the past few years, the Left has once again temporarily lost its mind, and its better judgment, and has once again become dominated by elitists and authoritarians. This is tragic, and extremely dangerous, but it will pass. The authoritarians are always defeated in the end. Their hubris, if nothing else, guarantees their downfall.
Incidentally, the Left was briefly taken over by similarly elitist, authoritarian, rabidly fanatical extremist zealots, after the French Revolution had succeeded - presaging the Leninist take-over of the Russian Revolution. This was the reign of the Jacobins, which also became known as The Reign of Terror. 18,000 people, including virtually all of the leading figures of the French Revolution itself, were put to the guillotine. Now, the liberals and the Left are repeating their worst and most tragic mistakes. We have seen this before. And it will not end well - unless we reject authoritarianism, from the either the Left or the Right, and now.
What became known as the New Left, from the 1960s up until the recent fanatical and authoritarian turn of the Left, was in reality a rekindling of, and reconnection to, the original Left, the traditional Left, or what I would call, The real Left, the thinking Left - the anti-authoritarian Left.
The currents which have now become dominant, and even overwhelmingly dominant, across the Left at this moment in time, by contrast, can only be accurately described as neo-Jacobin, or neo-Maoist. They are arrogant and self-righteous elitists and authoritarians, and they are sliding rapidly into a support for totalitarianism, and for fascism.
Every so often, the liberals and the Left lose their minds, and go off the rails. This is one of those times. It will pass, but it will be a nightmare and a terror until it does.
(See my recent essay, When Liberals and the Left Lose Their Minds.)
What I also did not know, until very recently, is that some of our greatest heroes, and some of my own greatest heroes, were decidedly left-libertarian in their thinking and orientation.
The three greatest figures of the American and French Revolutions - Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette - were not only republican democrats, but also, left-libertarian in spirit, in their outlook and their views.
The two great heroes of the Mexican Revolution, Zapata and Pancho Villa, were also decidedly left-libertarian, republican democrats - and with a strong influence from anarchist philosophy, via the Magone brothers, who were their closest intellectual advisors, and who were in turn deeply inspired by the great, Russian anarchist and left-libertarian, Peter Kropotkin.
Henry David Thoreau, who was, at root, a very practical-minded anarchist, wanting no government, “when men are prepared for it”; but sought, “not, at once, no government; but at once, a better government” - was also, decidedly left-libertarian in his convictions, sentiments and views.
Thoreau in turn influenced Tolstoy and Gandhi, who were also left-libertarian - Gandhi, of course, being the leader of the revolution in India, which broke the back of the British Empire, the biggest empire the world had ever known, and brought India its independence.
Martin Luther King Jr., in turn, was deeply inspired by Gandhi, and was introduced to Thoreau via Gandhi - and he not only adopted Gandhi and Thoreau’s art and science, and strategy, of non-violent civil disobedience, but also was deeply influenced by the left-libertarian sentiments of his heroes, who were, among others, Gandhi and Thoreau.
As a result of the Civil Rights movement, and the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the entire milieu of the late 1950s and ‘60s was shifted away from authoritarian and elitist, Marxist-Leninism, towards the anti-authoritarian stance that was taken up by the New Left: including most of the civil rights movement, the peace and anti-war movement, the women’s movement, black movement, gay rights movement, Third World solidarity movement, environmental movement, and the indigenous rights movement.
The fact that the liberals and the Left have recently lost their collective minds, must be viewed in light of this historical context. The lunatics will be deposed, sooner or later - and the sooner the better. But they will be deposed. You can be assured of that.
I would argue that Spinoza, as well, the beacon of Western philosophy, and the person who has been called the prince of philosophers; because he devoted his life, not only to the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, wisdom and truth, but also, to the promotion of freedom and compassion, which are the two cardinal virtues or founding principles of the libertarian left - would have been a left libertarian, had he not been born two centuries before the term was invented. Certainly, in valuing freedom and compassion above all things, other than the pursuit of truth itself, he was in deep accord with the spirit and ethos, of what has come to be known as the libertarian left.
“What would Jesus do?” - is a question asked by many Christians; and you also don’t have to be a Christian to be interested in the answer. We know relatively little about the historical Jesus, but I think it is certain that a person existed at that time, and in that place, who demonstrated an extraordinary level of wisdom and compassion - however you want to interpret that fact. So, what did the wise sage of Galilee have to say, and what, if any, is its relevance to social and political philosophy? I think this is a useful question, and line of inquiry, regardless of one’s religious or metaphysical views, especially considering that roughly a billion people on the planet take Jesus as their principle leading figure. I’m not sure if there are still a billion followers of Marx, outside of Communist China and North Korea. It is doubtful. But there are a billion followers of Jesus in the world, still today, and probably for a long time to come. From a sociological standpoint, that makes Jesus, or at least, the general public view and interpretation of Jesus, far more influential, and far more powerful, than someone like Donald Trump or Joe Biden, for example, because, no matter what you think of the orange con man, or the blithering, bumbling, war-mongering Joe, both of these individuals are mere figureheads for the Wall Street/Davos corporate oligarchy, first of all, and are more puppets and pawns, than men of great power, regardless of their posing; and moreover, both of them have merely the appearance of having great power, only for a very brief window of time. The influence of Jesus, however we may view that, and I tend strongly to view it as profoundly positive - in the same way that I view the influence of the Buddha, Shankara and Lao Tzu, or Gandhi, or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom were and are profoundly influential spiritual leaders, as extremely positive, to mention just four of many other examples; the influence of Jesus remains a major driver and shaper of very real sociological and political realities. So, what would Jesus do? Well, I think we can say at least a few things with reasonable certainty.
Firstly, Jesus promoted and demonstrated love and compassion for all, and taught that we are “our brother’s keeper” - not his overlord, but his ally and friend - and taught and demonstrated cooperation, sharing, generosity and mutual aid. In political terms, that would align him most naturally with the Left. But Jesus also disregarded and ignored the authorities of the time, both religious and political, indicating a strong anti-authoritarian streak. Moreover, Jesus castigated and excoriated the religious authorities of the time, calling them vipers and hypocrites. And most tellingly, Jesus drove the money-changers from the temple - and it wasn’t with meek and timid words, either, but with a whip. I would say that makes Jesus decidedly a rebel, a radical, and a revolutionary. Taken together, this picture reveals a figure who would today, most naturally align with the anti-authoritarian, libertarian Left. To me, that is significant. Certainly it is a thought with potentially great, even vast power.
Further, in Mark: 10, Jesus schools his disciples, saying, you are not to be archists. You are to be an-archists. You do not set up hierarchical power structures, or a state - that is for the wicked, the misguided, the wayward and the confused: that is not for you, and that is not what you should be doing. I think that is deeply significant, myself, no matter what your political or religious views may have been, up until this point.
The Buddha, too, taught universal compassion, sharing, generosity and mutual aid - and he was decidedly anti-authoritarian, as well: which, again, makes him a kindred spirit, if not an outright beacon, of the libertarian left. He had a complete disregard for caste or class; and rather than have people look outside of themselves for answers, urged people to look within, and, “Be a light unto yourself.”
Lao Tzu, the founding, philosopher-sage of Taoism, was possibly the earliest and greatest exponent of anarchism, or left-libertarian thinking. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were constantly making fun of the Confucianists, who valued law and order, obedience to authority, and people, “knowing their place”. Their humour, their wit, and their wisdom, remain a lamp for libertarians, anarchists, and thoughtful people everywhere.
Read the Tao te Ching, and the writings of Chuang Tzu. (Jane English and Gia Fu Feng do the best translations, by the way, and virtually the only ones worth reading.) These are texts that not only contain profound wisdom, and a profoundly lucid philosophy, but also, give perfect, excellent guidance, both for the microcosm of the individual, and for the macrocosm of the society. And they are also profoundly and deeply anarchist, or left-libertarian, in nature.
So, we can say with assurance, that left-libertarianism has a distinguished and venerable philosophical tradition, par excellence. There is much to reflect on here, and great depths to be plumbed. We ignore them at our own great loss.
In addition to the great figures of history and the great popular movements of history which are closely related to, connected with, and steeped in an affinity to the core values of the libertarian left - including, above all, the values of freedom, compassion, solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid - there are, of course, numerous prominent figures from the past and the present who were, or are, more directly and explicitly left-libertarian. They include Kropotkin, Bakunin, Rocker, Emma Goldman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, and the now sadly departed Howard Zinn, Murray Bookchin and David Graeber - three brilliant minds, and brave hearts, and absolute giants of the libertarian left.
Murray Bookchin, above - author of Post-Scarcity Anarchism; and one of the key, landmark texts in the disciplines of anthropology, history, sociology, political-economy, and political philosophy: The Ecology of Freedom
The great evolutionary biologist (much more important than Darwin, frankly), anarchist, author of the truly monumental, and seminally important text, Mutual Aid, and one of the leading political philosophers of the libertarian left: Peter Kropotkin, above.
Chomsky, we must sadly note here, because it is unavoidable, spent his entire life fighting against oligarchy, corporate power, imperialism, authoritarianism, and any form of abuse of power, or excessive power, either by the state, corporations, or by any other institution, group, or set of individuals: that is, he was a self-described left-libertarian, and a consistent one, a passionate one, and a genuine one, I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt - until the fall of 2021, when he publicly called for the unvaccinated to be “isolated from society”, and fell into the morass of authoritarianism.
What happened? Some believe Chomsky was always insincere in his anti-authoritarianism. That is a deeply cynical view, as well as highly uncharitable. Moreover, it seems hardly plausible, considering he spent sixty years doggedly and steadfastly fighting against every form of abuse or excess of state and corporate power. It seems more reasonable to conclude that he, like the great majority of people, including virtually all of the liberals and the “Left”, has been simply, and literally, scared senseless, by the covid psyops and propaganda war. In any event, Chomsky’s writings and books, up until 2020, remain required reading for any thinking person over the age of 16, no matter what your political persuasion may be. It is also clear that Chomsky, who was the leading dissident intellectual in the world, ranking 6th in Western history in terms of his influence, as well as being the leading figure of the Left, has now passed the torch. His credibility, or at least his reliability, has now fallen to zero. Sad, but true. We will remember him in his greatness - before he lost his mind.
But the Left - the real Left, the thinking Left, the anti-authoritarian Left - lives on.
And that is the Libertarian Left.
Moreover, the women and men on the libertarian Left, are the natural allies of everyone who is anti-authoritarian, anti-totalitarian, anti-technocracy, anti-Communist, or anti-fascist. Remember that, no matter where you presently fall on the political spectrum.
The battle ahead, is not between Left and Right; but between the authoritarians, and the ones who wisely and intelligently value freedom, constitutional democracy and human rights.
Remember that too, for this is the central struggle, and the central challenge and task, of our time: defeat the fascists. Then, when we have defeated the worst of dangers, which is the newly arisen beast of fascism; then we can discuss what kind of world we want to live in.
First things first: defeat the fascists. All else is secondary.
I know, I am repeating myself, but it is critical for us all, to understand this now. The denial must be shattered. The corporate oligarchy and their political minions have gone from being merely dominant, to fascist. No other concern compares to this central challenge, and greatest of dangers. We must defeat the fascists first, or all hopes for a better, freer, greener, or more just world, will come to nothing, because we will be living in a nightmarish, Orwellian, gulag society, where the elite rule by decree, and all dissent is crushed. Stand up now.
Who is prominent among the libertarian left now? And I mean, of course, the thinking left-libertarians, who are in touch with the real world - meaning, those who are both on the libertarian left, and who also realize the obvious fact, that there is a global fascist coup going on. Sadly, and frankly, I am the only one I can think of.
Let’s change that.
But then, when I think of people whom I deeply respect, there are at least a few individuals, whose sentiments and views could be described as left-libertarian - because they are anti-authoritarian; they strongly prefer leadership and organization from below; and they strongly value liberty, freedom and human rights, along with solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid. In this broader definition of left libertarianism, not only do many of our greatest heroes of the past align most closely with the libertarian left, but so too, do such prominent and heroic figures of the present, as: Vandana Shiva, Rianne Eisler, Joanna Macy, Helena Norberg-Hodge, David C. Korten, Richard Swift, Anthony J. Hall, John McMurtry and Russell Brand.
(My apologies to anyone mentioned here who would disavow the libertarian left, or any connection with it, though I highly doubt that any of these fine and intelligent, thoughtful individuals would.)
We also have left libertarian movements, on a broad scale, that are alive and well in Rojava; and in Chiapas, Mexico, with the Zapatistas.
In short, and it deserves to be said again, left libertarianism is the original Left. And as I said before, it is the real Left, the thinking Left - the anti-authoritarian Left.
And the real Left, is alive and well, and growing stronger by the day.
One of the fundamental objections, or hollow critiques, that people commonly use to attack, deride, mock or dismiss, both anarchism and libertarianism, must also be considered here. That is the argument that anarchism, or libertarianism more widely, rests upon a supposition, either of a very optimistic, even naïve, view of human nature, or else upon a supposition that a radical improvement in human nature is forthcoming. But neither of these things is actually the case. Both anarchism and libertarianism make perfect sense, whether you are grimly pessimistic about human nature, or whether you take a more positive view of human nature (one that accords with the recent discoveries in science, anthropology and archeology, over the past 50 years - see Rifkin, Eisler, Gimbutas and Bookchin); or whether you are undecided, or fall somewhere in between, on a spectrum from Augustinian/Hobbesian jaundiced misanthropy, to the extremely optimistic, “crunchy granola”, opposite pole.
Let’s look at Hobbes, briefly - the cardinal figure, or even the pope, of the misanthropic school of thought, who has sadly, and tragically, poisoned the entire mindscape of the modern world, with his darkly dismal and utterly jaundiced views of humanity. Hobbes is the leading, preeminent apologist and rationalizer for all statists and authoritarians. He deserves to be studied, and critiqued, and his “philosophy” should be positively disemboweled, and laid to waste. (Sometimes a broadsword is the only suitable tool for the practice of philosophy.)
Firstly, Hobbes knew nothing of anthropology, which had not even been invented yet, at his time in history, writing in the 1600s. His views were pure conjecture, grounded upon nothing but sheer speculation. Secondly, his dark view of human nature has now been conclusively refuted and proven wrong by science and anthropology. (Again, see Rifkin, Eisler and Bookchin.)
But most importantly, Hobbes’ political philosophy is incoherent, irrational, and self-contradictory. Hobbes basically thought that human beings are vile, wicked creatures - repeating the dark, Satanic delusions of “St.” Augustine, which occluded the minds of generations of Christians, and poisoned the “Christian” churches, which became more Augustinian than Christ-inspired, for nearly 2,000 years. (See Plotinus, Pelagius, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis, the Gospel of Thomas - Marvin Meyers translation, Thomas Merton and Matthew Fox.)
Hobbes said, in effect, that human beings cannot be trusted with power. But if we accept his dismal premise, of human beings being wicked to the core, and we therefore do not trust human beings with even the slight bit of power - the power to govern their own lives; how then, does it make any sense at all, to give a few human beings great and vast power over others? You just said that human beings cannot be trusted with power. Now you want to give a few human beings vast power. Would not the rational conclusion be that, if you don’t trust human beings with power, therefore, you should strictly limit the power that any individual or group of individuals can acquire? Surely this is more coherent, more rational and more sane, even if you do take a dismal view of human beings. Which is why Thomas Jefferson rebutted Hobbes so successfully and so brilliantly, in a single line, saying, "“If you cannot trust men to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?”
Clearly, Jefferson was eminently sane and clear-minded, while Hobbes was a self-deluded fool, hell-bent on rationalizing power - no matter how incoherent it made his thoughts. (See my essay, A Short Rebuttal of Hobbes, for further discussion.)
So, it matters absolutely nothing, whether you take a dismal, dark view of human beings, or a more positive view, in terms of whether you believe that power in society should be strictly limited and decentralized: in either view, whether we view human nature as basically good, or whether we view human nature as basically wicked and corrupt, the same conclusion is reached: it is better to decentralize power, to share power widely, and to refuse to allow any individual, or group of individuals, to amass great power. The accusation, therefore, that all anarchists and libertarians are woefully naïve daydreamers, can be, at last, finally put to rest. The accusation stems from ignorance, from an incoherent, self-contradictory and self-defeating argument, that is simply hollow and vacuous, and holds no weight whatsoever. In fact, it is the anarchists and libertarians, at least on the left, who are the most cogent, lucid, and clear-minded of all.
Both the state and also the modern corporation - two modern inventions which have existed only relatively recently in our 200,000 year history of human life on Earth (and, we should also add, the media, the internet, and the means of mass communication, along with banks and energy resources) - are instruments of great power. If we want a safer, freer, more just, more egalitarian, more democratic, or more peaceful world, it would only be rational, to greatly reduce the concentrations of great power, in any form; so that when, not if, power is abused, far less harm can be done.
Power is always going to be abused, at least by some few individuals. But if you have no great instruments of power laying about, then the damage done will be minimized. (It is akin to disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.) If you have social institutions which offer the instruments of great power, readily available, then inevitably, the power-hungry few, who are in general, either Machiavellian or else simply sociopathic, will naturally gravitate to these instruments of great power. Dissolve, or at least limit, all instruments of great power, and when, not if, a sociopathic or Machiavellian few grasp the instruments of power, there is much less destruction that they can cause, because they simply have far less power to wield.
In short, decentralization of power, both economic and political, and also cultural and financial, means disarming the sociopaths. We may not be rid of sociopaths for generations to come, even though they make up just one percent of the population, according to the recent studies; but if there are no tools of vast power laying about for them to seize, and to use and abuse, then the crimes that can be committed by them will be relatively small; and all of the truly great atrocities, and tyranny, can be prevented. This is the anarchist and libertarian view - and the anarchists and libertarians on the left are the most consistent and coherent about it, because they recognize that both the state and the corporation, are instruments of great power, and therefore, are institutions that must either be dissolved, eventually, or at the very least, and in the short term, and the immediate present, be greatly limited in the scope of their powers. Anyone who cannot follow the simple but inescapable logic of this argument, is either a confirmed ideologue, I would say, or has no capacity for rational thought. And if you can follow this argument, and see that the conclusion is inescapable, that then, makes you a libertarian of the left. All other positions, in terms of political philosophy, then become inadequate, and untenable.
(Actually, an ideologue is, by definition, someone who has no real capacity for rational thought, so that earlier statement is a bit redundant.)
We should say something, at least in brief, about doctrine and tradition, as well, before we dive in further into the realm of political philosophy. Tradition is not necessarily a bad thing, although liberals, libertarians, and especially anarchists, are suspicious of it, if not instinctively averse to it. Some traditions are clearly worthy of being disavowed, demolished and abandoned. The KKK comes to mind.
On the other hand, other traditions, for example, the broadly left-libertarian communalism of traditional indigenous and peasant cultures, is worth learning from, and worth preserving. If we are smart, we will learn from them, and apply the lessons as we see fit, however they must be adapted to our particular circumstances. Again, tradition is not necessarily limiting or oppressive - it can be, in fact, rather than a hindrance or a burden, a trellis, upon which our culture and our virtue, our character and our lives, blossom and flower, and grow. The Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, come to mind here.
As to doctrine, the same holds true as for tradition. It can be blinding, bondage, or alternately, a spring board, or a lens for seeing things more clearly, and in focus. We should note also, that the anarchists tend to view doctrine with disdain - all the while, holding up their own particular doctrines as universal, supreme values; even while the anti-doctrinaire anarchists parade their doctrines as being non-doctrines. The absurdity of it should be as plain as day. And the intrinsic aggression, authoritarianism and coercion that it hides within it. It is the same as the post-modernists loudly and pompously proclaiming that there is no truth other than social constructs - while insisting, quite utterly dogmatically, that this is the universal truth. Again, the self-contradiction should be obvious, and absurd, at least upon reflection.
Doctrine can be useful, and can help us to see things more clearly; or it can be a binding and blinding force, used to rationalize and reify our existing prejudices, presumptions and dogmatic sectarianism; and commonly, to justify authoritarian power structures, which are thoroughly unjustifiable.
But the central thing to be said about doctrine, or the doctrine of doctrines, we could say, with some irony, is that it is not doctrine which will save, liberate, or heal our world or ourselves. What the libertarians of the left, along with the more sensible of the anarchists - who are a subset of the broader libertarian family - both realize, is that while doctrine, ideology or philosophy can be extremely useful, it is lived experience, and learning through experience, which is the doorway to a better future, a better world, and the healing and liberation of humanity and the Earth.
Which is to say, we should hold our doctrines, ideas, philosophies, ideologies or creeds, lightly. We should be open to the necessity for adaptation, improvisation, and above all, for reflection, reconsideration, and for learning from experience, as we go. Again, life is for learning. If we presume that we have it all figured out, we will simply paint ourselves into a corner, or put up stone walls in our mind - or worse, become simply blind, as well as repressive. And again, nothing good can come from that.
Mind you, I would far rather talk with someone who has actual convictions, ideas, principles, values, a philosophy on life, or an ideology, even if they are a bit too overly fond of their ideology, than talk with one of the multitude of psychically absent, sheepish conformists, people-pleasers and yes-men, who would eagerly join leagues with the devil, if they thought that was the more popular thing to do.
And I would far rather talk with someone of narrow mind, than no mind; or talk with someone of excessively rigid convictions, than talk with one of the seemingly endless hordes of intellectual prostitutes and Sophists, who will argue for any position, and defend any lie, half-truth or illusion, provided it pays well, or at least advances their career.
And I would far rather talk with someone with conviction, even if their convictions and beliefs are too tightly held, than talk with a James Harthouse - a person who is wholly dedicated and committed to nihilism, and to the egoism, narcissism and amorality that it entails; whose head is nearly as empty as his stuffed shirt, his meaningless pronouncements, and his hollow breast.
He is a bombastic, strutting fool, with an empty head, and a hollow heart. He is the nihilist. And the nihilist is a person who lives deep inside a black hole which he has created for himself, where no meaningful communication, and virtually no light, gets in, or out. He is a rotting corpse, walking about on two legs.
He is a bringer of death. He sucks all life out of the room, and out of anyone in his vicinity, who is not of remarkable strength of character. He is to be shunned.
He is the bringer of living death. He is worse than all the fanatics of the world - and he seeks to make all others as dead inside, as he is himself.
Ideologues may be blockheads and windbags, but the vacuous conformists are worse; and the political prostitutes are worse yet. But the nihilists are the worst of all.
The balance lies in having values, views and opinions, and hopefully, a conscious philosophy, which is consciously examined - while refusing to fall into either ideological dogmatism, sectarianism and fanaticism, on the one hand, or nihilism on the other. Sanity lies in the middle way.
As to doctrine, ideology, theories, philosophies, narratives, mythologies, or ideas in general: Keep an open mind. None of us are omniscient, nor infallible. (Read Socrates and Montaigne, as a dose of good, strong medicine.) A little more confidence among humanity is urgently needed now - but so too, paradoxically, is a little more humility, also needed. And the two are not necessarily at odds with one another. True confidence expresses itself in open-mindedness, as well as open-heartedness; just as true humility is not a groveling, weak-kneed, or submissive passivity, but an absence of ego-attachment, which allows for a natural radiance of dignity and empowered confidence to shine through.
Howard Zinn was very lucid on the subject of ideology, as he was lucid, virtually at all times and on all things. He wrote of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the heart of the Civil Rights movement in its early phase:
“It was not an ideology - it was a mood. Moods are harder to define. Moods are hard to put in jail.”
Left libertarianism is less a body of ideology, than it is a spirit of freedom, fused with a spirit of solidarity, mutual aid, and courageous compassion. That, is the spirit which can both free, and heal our world. I personally do not see what else will.
A new renaissance, is what is needed now - and that is, in fact, what is indeed beginning to unfold now. The new renaissance which is now emerging from the darkness, requires a freshness of perspective, above all - not a new or old ideology, or an ideology of any kind.
But to the extent that philosophy will inform, and help to shape and direct social change, as it always has, and always does, the new renaissance will be left-libertarian in spirit - or it will not be a true renaissance at all.
“Remember, to be radical, is simply, to grasp the root of a problem.”
“I have a suggestion. Pretend, you have boils - pretend sitting on your ass, gives you enormous pain. So you must get up. You must move. You must act.”
“Let’s not talk any more of capitalism, socialism… Let’s talk about using the incredible wealth of the Earth for human beings. Give the people what they need: food, water, clean air, pleasant homes to live in, trees, some grass…some hours of work; more hours of leisure. Don’t ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.”
- Howard Zinn, from Marx In Soho
A statement by one of the greatest philosophers of the past 100 years, Alan Watts, is relevant here. He observed that, “People who mistrust themselves and others, are doomed.” That is worth reflecting on, and reflecting on deeply. What upholds all forms of great concentrations of power, all social hierarchies, all systems of domination and submission, all forms of authoritarianism or elite rule, all manner of surrender of our power, our conscience, our freedom, our rights, all abuses of power; and what drives alienation, the breakdown of social connections, the loss of meaning and inner connection to oneself, and the inner hunger that inevitably results from it, and which drives consumerism, materialism, escapism, entertainment addiction, and the compulsion to be chronically and constantly distracted; and what underlies the willingness of the great majority to chronically and voluntarily subject themselves to the constant and pervasive propaganda and indoctrination, which accompanies all of this, and which effectively neuters and virtually lobotomizes and disembowels them, and renders them compliant, passive, obedient, and incapable of critical thinking, or even rational thought? Underlying it all, is a psychology of fear. And so, when Alan Watts says, People who mistrust themselves and others are doomed”, I am inclined to feel, intuitively and immediately, that he is right; and it just so happens that all of the best empirical evidence, and historical evidence, supports that claim. Why does the Hobbesian delusion persist? Why do the great majority continue to yield up their power, to an elite who routinely abuse that power? Because the people do not trust themselves, or each other. That is what is at the bottom of it. When the people come to trust their own inner judgment, more than they trust any form of government or external authority, or any elite, then only, will we have a society that is truly compassionate, rational, just, peaceful, ecological, sane, or free, and not before.
Inspire the people to trust themselves, to see the good in themselves and in others, and in nature and the cosmos, and in human nature - not a naïve trust, that cannot recognize that people are fallible, or that there are always a few who are sociopathic, and frankly inclined to evil; but a clear-eyed trust, that sees that the basic goodness of humanity can deal effectively with the errors and even the evils of the world, and deal with them better, when there is no power elite ruling over them: because any form of power elite, produces far more destruction, suffering, harm, and evil, than it prevents or cures.
In short, remind the people of their basic goodness - not flawlessness, but basic goodness. Remind them that they can indeed trust their better instincts. And remind them that even with the errors, which are inevitable, and even with the sociopathic few, who are always, or at least for a long time to come, going to be in our midst; that system of government is best, which indeed governs the least; and that order of society is best, where power is shared, and where power is widely distributed and decentralized, both politically and economically, and also culturally. Restore and rekindle their confidence, and inspire the people, and all things become possible - including, a peaceful, just, and free society, with a liberated humanity, and a liberated world.
I agree with Chomsky on most things - at least, prior to his bizarre turn, in 2021. And I definitely agree with him, when he said, “The great majority of people have basically decent impulses.” And I agree with Thomas Jefferson, when he said, “That government is best, which governs the least.” And also when he said, “I am not one who fears the people.” Indicating, with shrewd acuity of vision, or simple presence of mind, that it is not the people that we need to fear, but the power-hungry elite.
The studies that the great sociologist Erich Fromm did in the 1930s and ‘40s, uncovering the roots of fascism and totalitarianism in Germany, are revealing. He found that in Germany, prior to the rise of the Nazis, only about 15% of the people were strongly committed to fascism. That is a heartening finding. But he also found something more disturbing. He found that only 20% of the people had a strong commitment to constitutional democracy, human rights and freedom. That is the weakness; and I think it is similar today - which is precisely why we are facing the rise of fascism, yet again. Fromm found that the 65% of the people in the middle, had no strong preference, either for freedom or for fascism. And again, that is why fascism could arise in Germany in the 1930s; and it is why fascism is arising again today.
That could leave us feeling helpless, hopeless and bleak; but there is another way to look at it. The 65% of the people in the middle, who are neither fascists, nor dedicated protectors of freedom and human rights, do generally have basically decent impulses. They do tend to believe that freedom, compassion and mutual aid, however they express that, are good and valuable things. The problem is, they have never reflected sufficiently on anything, to become clear and strong in their convictions, or in their better instincts. But their better instincts are still there, nevertheless. And their instincts, if they are towards freedom, compassion, and people helping one another, which they are, makes them libertarians of the left, even if they do not yet realize it.
More importantly, it means that the great majority of people are not committed authoritarians. That is cause for hope - and moreover, for determination, and resolve.
It means, there is hope for a society that is both compassionate and free. That hope, that possibility, is what we have to build on.
Individualism and Collectivism:
Resolving The Central Dilemma Of Political Philosophy
The central problem of political philosophy is how to resolve the tension between the two polarities, of the individual and the collective. All political debate ultimately revolves around that central question. We have seen oscillation between the two extremes, but seldom, at least since the age of empires and hierarchy began, have we seen a wholesome balance. And it is balance that is the key.
(We could say that Confucius, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hegel and Marx, among others, represent the extremists on the collectivist-authoritarian side; while Stirner, Nietzsche, Friedman and Hayek represent the extremists in the individualist camp. But neither one of these ideological factions has the answers. Both of them lead us into disaster, as history has already proven, and proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. Who can lead us out of the folly of the two extremes? I would say that is the left libertarians, including, I would argue, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Gandhi, Lao Tzu, Murray Bookchin, and myself.)
The statists and authoritarians want to resolve the issue by abandoning the individual, by proclaiming that the individual doesn’t matter, and that only the collective matters. They will of course deny that this is what they are doing, but it is exactly what they are doing. All kinds of abuses of power, and all forms of repression, oppression, systemic violence, and atrocities, up to and including total surveillance, mass incarceration, and genocide, thereby become rationalized and justified, with the self-delusion, or self-deceit, that this is for the greater good. Every emperor and tyrant in history has invoked precisely this line of argument, in defence of what in reality is tyranny, oppression, violence, and crimes against humanity. Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, Pinochet, and countless others, have invoked the same line of argument, saying that their crimes and authoritarianism are justified, for the sake of the greater good.
And now, we have the liberals and the Left, using exactly the same argument, hinging at this moment on the covid crisis, and the cult of Branch Covidianism which has been created, to rationalize and justify the demolition of all human rights, constitutional rule, democracy and freedom - for the sake of an imagined greater good.
This line of thinking, of sacrificing the individual for the collective, leads historically to one thing only, and that is the confluence of tyranny, repression, and horrible atrocities and crimes against humanity. But apparently, the liberals and the Left have learned nothing from history, and are hell-bent, quite literally, and determined, to repeat the worst mistakes, and the worst horrors, from our past - naively believing, and with profound self-delusion, that this is all justified, and is for the greater good. Well here is news: when you create a police state, it does not produce human happiness; and moreover, when you impose both censorship and mass incarceration, lo and behold, that does not produce human happiness - it produces a nightmare society. I am amazed that these things must be explained, but apparently, they must.
So, we know, or we should know by now, that trying to resolve the tension between the individual and the collective, by saying that the individual has no value, and is expendable, leads to a horrific state of society, and not to a good society, much less a virtuous or compassionate society. Moreover, when you tell yourself that individuals are expendable, you end up viewing human life as having no real value - because society is composed of individuals, and if the individual is expendable, and of no real value, is nothing, then you have a society of nothings, amounting to nothing. That is not a compassionate, just or virtuous society - that is a ruthlessly callous and black-hearted society, and a society which can rationalize anything, because human life has no value.
If Hitler’s murder of six million people in the concentration camps was a horrific crime against humanity, and a despicable act, which of course it was, it is only because every single individual life is precious, and has intrinsic value. If the individual has no value, then the individual is nothing - and killing six million individuals would amount to killing six million nothings, and so, would be justifiable, in some sick and perverted, delusional and psychopathic view of things.
Either you view every human being as precious, or you end up viewing all human life as essentially worthless - and that can lead to only one thing, which is a society which is tyrannical, oppressive, and genocidal: which is a society that has no real compassion, no virtue, and no justice, to say nothing of freedom, constitutional democracy or human rights.
Hence, the greater good argument for fascism, totalitarianism or authoritarianism, which always results from a one-sided and repressive collectivism, is vapid and hollow: it is a lie, a self-deceit, for it always results in a society that has no compassion, human decency or justice, but which is ruthless. It is a lie and a delusion which we have seen acted out countless times in history, and now, we are repeating the same experiment, using the same methods, expecting different results - which, as Einstein said, is the very definition of insanity.
But while we know, or should know, that collapsing the polarity between the individual and the collective into a one-sided collectivism which denigrates and denies the value of the individual, leads to a nightmare society; we should also now come to recognize that doing the opposite, and collapsing the polarity into its opposite of extreme, into extreme individualism, also doesn’t work - to say the least.
We had hyper-individualism in the West for many generations, and it produced social decay, moral and spiritual degeneration, crime, violence, strife, division, interminable conflict, and ultimately, created the precursor situation for the rise of authoritarianism, which we are experiencing now. It was, in short, an utterly failed experiment.
When you deny the value of the collective, the community, the greater whole of human society, you deny the values of community, cooperation, solidarity, sharing, compassion and mutual aid. That inevitably breeds isolation, division, loneliness, conflict, disharmony, mental illness, addiction, escapism, anxiety, depression and despair, apathy, narcissistic infantile regression, and social decay.
(Remember here, and always, that non-fiction is not meant as entertainment. It is meant to convey knowledge, wisdom, understanding, information, or ideas. It does not need to be grippingly fresh and novel on every page, and in every sentence or paragraph. In fact, it must return, repeatedly, to recurring themes, in order for the ideas to be fully conveyed, and fully digested; because virtually nobody fully digests new and complex ideas in an instant. We have to revisit them, and repeatedly, to assimilate or even to truly understand what is being said. That is the same whether you are of high intelligence, or middling intelligence. Highly intelligent people are generally as indoctrinated as anyone else, and more so, if they are also highly “educated” - hence, repetition, and the revisiting of themes, is simply necessary: if, that is, our purpose is understanding, and not mere entertainment. If you want entertainment, and not knowledge, wisdom or understanding, then go watch a soap opera, or watch sports. Don’t read non-fiction, if all you want is to be entertained. You’re wasting your time. But if you value knowledge, truth, wisdom, learning, or understanding, then returning to recurring themes is an essential part of it. We are not hyper-active seven-year-olds, hopefully. We can stand some revisiting of recurring themes, because we have some self-discipline, and can postpone gratification, for a greater reward in the future. Those who want instant gratification, or endless entertainment, make themselves into dullards and idiots. That, is not what the better minds, and greater spirits, seek.)
In short, a society that is based upon hyper-individualism, which denies the value of the collective, the community, along with compassion, sharing and mutual aid, inevitably drives itself towards collapse.
In fact, what would happen if the libertarians of the right had a magic wand, and all governments and states were instantly dissolved, would first of all be a global corporate oligarchy - where you had all the freedom, and only the freedom, that you could afford to buy; followed by soaring crime, violence, strife and division, and social decay, leading to the point where the authoritarians of either the right or the left would then say: “See! We need law and order! We need stability, safety and security! And we need a “strong” central government (aka, a police state) to provide it!” And what’s more, the great majority of the people, seeing that their society is a mess, and is falling apart, would eagerly embrace the authoritarians as the answer - and then we would be right back again to statism, authoritarianism and oligarchy, and a potentially worse tyranny than we have already. So, right wing libertarianism contains the seeds of its own destruction, because of its one-sided hyper-individualism, which is quite simply, foolishly short-sighted.
So, if you are not going to collapse the central polarity of human society, which is between the individual and the collective, into one or another pole, since doing so only results in either totalitarianism or collapse, or collapse followed by totalitarianism, what then do you do? Well, the obvious answer is to try to find a balance between the two extremes, of individualism and collectivism, and try to unite the two polarities into one harmonious whole. In general principles and in general outline, it is only left libertarianism that does that. All of the other ideologies or political philosophies fall either towards authoritarian collectivism, in reality, whether they admit this to themselves or not; or else towards a hyper-individualism which will lead to the decay and collapse of society, leading in turn to a new rise of authoritarianism, and the death of all freedom and constitutional democracy.
The only answer to the central problem of political philosophy, is to balance and integrate the two polarities, of the individual and the collective: which means, we must unite the values of freedom, spontaneity, imagination, creativity, innovation, experimentation, organically-arising order, tolerance, diversity, and the individual, on the one hand; with the values of community, cooperation, compassion, solidarity and mutual aid, on the other. And the only political philosophy that does that, is left libertarianism.
How, precisely, we work out that all-important balance between the individual and the community, and between freedom and compassion, or freedom and cooperation, is, I would say, for individual nations to determine for themselves - and I would further urge, it is for individual communities, not nations, but communities, to determine how they will seek that balance.
Can we have a federation of communities, based on the two, cardinal, founding values of freedom and cooperation, or freedom and compassion, or freedom and mutual aid? I certainly think so - and I can see no reason why we cannot. Certainly, moreover, this vision of a federation of grassroots, townhall, direct democracies, what what Thomas Jefferson had in mind, and urged be created. Unfortunately, most of the framers and founders of the United States, believed in oligarchy and elite rule - not democracy, much less decentralized, federated, townhall democracy, as Jefferson urged. But that was an error we can now overcome. And indeed, if we are to survive, or to thrive, we simply must overcome it - and now.
The balance between the two polarities, of the collective and the individual, is the balance between the yin and the yang, in Taoist terminology: it is the balance between the feminine principle, which is communion, and the masculine principle, which is agency. Any individual who falls to one extreme or the other, degrades himself or herself, and abandons or suppresses half of their humanity, making their lives poorer and more miserable because of it. And if a society falls toward either extreme, problems and horrors will be compounded and multiplied, not resolved.
Moreover, as the Taoists well understood, when a situation goes toward one extreme, a reversal of opposites is inevitably forthcoming. If you try to create a collectivist paradise, it will inevitably become a totalitarian nightmare, and what will happen, after the horrors of that regime become intolerable to the people, is that an outbreak of hyper-individualism will result.
In any case, the authoritarian daydream always ends in collapse, because it is simply unsustainable, in sheer sociological terms. Likewise, if you try to create a society based on hyper-individualism, which neglects, rejects, or abandons the complimentary elements of community, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid, then you will have a society that is in decay, and headed for collapse (as Alexis de Tocqueville also realized), and the social decay which it inevitably creates, will in, turn invariably produce its opposite polar extreme, and will give rise to an authoritarian response.
Again, if you want a compassionate society, or a just society, then you must embrace freedom also, as a cardinal, and fundamental virtue, and a core value to be preserved. And if you want a society based in freedom, then you must embrace the complimentary virtues and values of cooperation, compassion, solidarity and mutual aid. When humanity learns this basic lesson of political philosophy, or lived life, then only, will we see a better, freer, and more just, stable and peaceful world - and a world that is in balance with nature - and not before.
Anarchism, Libertarianism and Republican Democracy:
Long Term Goals, and Immediate, Urgent Tasks
Imagine a society with an economy that is not based on hierarchy, inequality, exploitation, oppression, domination and submission, and wealth extraction of the many for the benefit of the few. Imagine a society with an economic system that does not function as a global wealth-extraction machine, devouring and subjugating the people and the planet, so that the ruling business elite and their minions, can have vast and ever increasing wealth and power. Imagine a society where freedom, compassion, cooperation and mutual aid are the founding values, not just in theory, but in practice. Imagine a society with an economy where the 99% are not yoked by a ruling class, owners or elites of any kind, but where freedom, equality and mutual aid play out in our daily lives, free from both coercion and desperation. That is the dream of the libertarian left, and it has been tried, and been proven successful - and certainly it produces a society with far greater freedom, equitability, and human happiness, than either neoliberal or neoconservative corporatism, on the one hand, or the state socialism of the Marxist'-Leninists on the other, both of which have produced only grim and frankly grotesque societies, and a nightmarish world.
But as soon as you talk about equality, solidarity, mutual aid, sharing the wealth, cooperation, or a classless society, instantly the blinkers go on, if they were not already tightly fitted before, and both the left and the right imagine that you are talking about something that you flatly and clearly stated you are not. They become deaf, and incapable of rational thought. All they can see is their ideological constructs - not the reality, nor even the argument or proposition being made.
Both the Marxists and their detractors will say, “That’s communism!” But we all know, or we should know by now, how that played out, in the real world. We tried that, and it was a total disaster. It was a gulag. When a “vanguard” elite seizes all power in society, for whatever stated or intended purposes, whether to build a workers’ paradise or for any other reason, the result is not freedom and happiness for the people, but mass domination and subjugation of the people by a new ruling elite. It is a dead ideology, outside of North Korea and China - let it rest in peace.
Imagine instead, that rather than have a ruling elite hold power, in the form of a centralized, state-controlled economy, run by a bureaucratic and political elite, or an economy that is controlled by a small group of business elites, the globalist corporate billionaires, along with the state apparatus which they control - both of which systems have proven to be nothing short of disastrous for the 99%, as well as to the Earth; instead, imagine a society where we have the people themselves, directly owning and managing the factories, farms, corporations, hospitals, etc., and electing their own managers. That would be a form of evolution of freedom and democracy, since freedom and democracy would be principles that are applied to economic life, and not simply to political systems. It is a necessary as well as a logical evolution of freedom and democracy, and its time is coming, as surely as day follows night. Perhaps not soon, but with certainty, I believe.
In terms of the practical application of instituting economic democracy and economic decentralization, I would urge that small businesses, co-ops and family farms be left alone, but that we break up all 1,000 of the biggest corporations, and turn each one of them into federations of networked and coordinated, democratically-run, worker-owned cooperatives. The transformation of the world, would be the result, and the emancipation of humanity would also blossom in its wake.
I would recommend that we not only dethrone the corporate oligarchy, but break it up, as I have already described - and divide the shares of the 1,000 biggest corporations, and their ownership and control, in thirds, with one third going to the workers in the local branch, one third going to the people of the local community where the branch operates, and one third being equally divided among all adults on Earth, thereby reflecting the fact that these corporations are trans-national, and also, that they have amassed their wealth and power on the backs of humanity broadly. In this way, local, democratic control of the biggest corporations would be achieved, while a strong voice for humanity more broadly is strengthened and retained - and this would be achieved without injury to small business or family farms, and even more importantly, without central planning, or a bloated and authoritarian state. So far, I have seen no other vision, strategy or plan for dealing with the global corporate oligarchy which holds any promise, or even any seriousness to it.
In the more immediate term, and in local communities and regions, where the level of awareness of the people is sufficiently high enough, although I would urge we implement the above plan right away, I would strongly recommend we make use of the very concrete, working models of left libertarianism, broadly speaking, that are already alive and functioning well in southern Mexico, with the Zapatistas, and in Rojava, where democratic confederalism, based in the political philosophy of social ecology, set out by Murray Bookchin, is alive and flourishing.
That is the long term vision of the libertarian left, and for more enlightened communities and regions, it can even be the near term future: economic democracy, at a grassroots, local, community level, is combined with a radical, direct, grassroots political democracy. It would mean an end to the existence of a ruling class of any kind. It would mean freedom, dignity, empowerment, and abundance, for all.
But, aside from relatively small, local pockets, I do not think that humanity is quite yet ready for such a grand and magnificent, liberating transformation of human society. I believe, to be realistic, we must set our long term aims high, as Thoreau said, but keep our short term goals more practical, in the sense of being aligned with what is actually achievable now. And the short term goal, is not to radically restructure human society, but simply to reign in, and to dethrone, the corporate oligarchy which has taken over our democratic governments, our nations, our economies and our world.
This, much more modest and humble goal, itself would be a magnificent achievement, opening the way for greater and higher goals, and further evolution yet to come. It would halt the neo-fascist and ecocidal corporate elite in their tracks, remove them from their seat of power, as the de facto rulers of the world, and restore the power to the people, and to their national, constitutional democracies, and strengthen, temporarily, out of necessity, the nation-state, in order to achieve this goal, and in order to open up the way for a further, future decentralization of power.
We must now separate long term ideals, from short term and immediate, urgent necessities. First, we defeat the globalist, neo-fascist and ecocidal corporate oligarchs, and restore the powers of constitutional democracy at the nation-state level. Then only, can we proceed to higher goals, and towards further decentralization of both political and economic power. And although I have said it many times, it appears it must be continually repeated, until the people understand it, and understand it viscerally, as well as intellectually: if we fail at this, we will have failed at everything - and we will live in a gulag society, ruled by globalist billionaires, while the people and the planet continue to be devoured, until our civilization finally collapses under the weight of its own madness. We must now come to understand this most central point and task, or we are quite simply doomed.
What of the libertarians of the right? What do they offer? The libertarians of the right are basically the mirror image of the Marxist-Leninists. That may seem a shocking statement, but it is true. The Marxist-Leninists see no problem in state power, or even in vastly concentrated state power. But they are deeply concerned about great concentrations of economic or corporate power, and want to eliminate them. Libertarians of the right see no problem in economic power, or even great concentrations of economic power, believing, as in some fairy tale of the imagination, that only state power, and never corporate power, or economic power, is the great danger and the great evil. Both the Marxist-Leninists, and the libertarians of the right, therefore, have glaring blind-spots, big enough to cruise an aircraft carrier through. Because they are blind to the great problems and grave dangers that are intrinsic to great concentrations of political or state power, in the case of the Marxist-Leninists, and to the even greater problems, and grave dangers, that are intrinsic to great concentrations of economic power, therefore, neither of these ideologies can be taken seriously - at least, not in the 21st century.
The libertarians of the right, essentially want to repeat the same mistake that was made in 1776. The mistake that was made in 1776, in the founding of the United States, and the mistake that was made in all liberal democracies, was to question and challenge the power of the monarchy, the aristocracy, the church and the state, and to put strict limits on these powers, without questioning or putting limits on economic powers. The result was that, as early as 1812, when the embers of the American Revolution were barely cold, the “new moneyed aristocracy”, as Jefferson called them, were already powerful enough that they were vying for dominance over the new democratic government. The libertarians of the right want to repeat that same formula, and that same mistake. But as Einstein said, Repeating the same methods and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. Clearly, we cannot keep repeating the same mistakes of the past, expecting things to change. They won’t.
Libertarians on the political right view the state as the source of all human problems, to put it directly. They are partially correct, but they are too narrow and superficial in their view to be coherent, or to offer a genuine path, either to freedom, or to a better society in broader terms.
The state is essentially a form of human organization in society which holds a virtual monopoly on the use of violence and force, based upon hierarchical power structures, and based upon a social model of domination and submission. The problem, at root, is not the state. The state is just the symptom, or the surface manifestation, of a much deeper problem. The problem is hierarchy itself. This is where the libertarians of the left and the right part company. The former deals with the real world; the latter, only with its own ideological constructs, which are themselves dissociated from reality.
Here we have to point out another extremely important thinker, philosopher and polymath, Ken Wilber. Ken Wilber’s work in systematizing the whole of human knowledge is immeasurably valuable. He is truly the Aristotle of the modern world. But that does not, however, make him omniscient. Nor does it make him infallible. Ken Wilber succeeds brilliantly in his organization and systematization of human thought, and he succeeds brilliantly in elucidating three of the four quadrants of his new system of understanding human knowledge. Where he stumbles, is in his view of the outer collective aspect of our existence, which corresponds to the realm of human knowledge pertaining to what we call sociology, social psychology, political-economy, history, anthropology and political philosophy. There, he is simply, and frankly, out of his depth. That’s understandable, since it is pretty hard to be a genius in all fields, simultaneously.
Ken Wilber views hierarchy as natural, beneficial and inevitable. But he is making a mistake which he doesn’t seem to recognize, or know that he is doing. He conflates and confused natural hierarchies of emergent complexity, which are innate to life and the cosmos, with hierarchies of power, rooted in systems of domination and submission. The two kinds of hierarchy are radically different. One is natural and inevitable. The other is a social creation.
Hierarchies of complexity can be understood as nested sets, or wholes within wholes. We have subatomic “particles” nested within atoms, within molecules, within cells, within cellular tissues, within organs, within organisms, within families, within communities, within societies, within ecosystems, within planetary biospheres. This kind of hierarchy, which is a hierarchy of increasing complexity, is inviolable. It is simply a part of nature we cannot change, and even if we could, to do so would annihilate all existence. But that is very different from hierarchies of power, where one group or class dominates the rest. Again, one is natural and inevitable; the other, a mere social creation, historically contingent, and utterly open to being changed, modified, or abandoned.
Another place where Ken Wilber, brilliant as he is, confuses and conflates one kind of hierarchy for another, is in his portrayal of natural inequalities, or hierarchies, of talent, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. He makes the case that such hierarchies are both natural and inevitable, and he is self-evidently correct. As he says, when you want to read a novel, do you want to read a novel written by Dostoyevsky, or a novel written by me? When you want to go to a concert, do you want to hear me perform, or Bruce Springsteen? Clearly, some people are more talented, or more knowledgeable, than others. Nobody can deny this fact. But he then goes on to justify and rationalize hierarchies on power on this basis. This is the cult of elitism, to be blunt about it. And there is no historical justification for it, for if anything, what we can see from history is that any time power is greatly concentrated in the hands of a ruling elite, power is abused, and tyranny is the result - and humanity suffers for it. So again, Ken Wilber, no matter how intelligent, gifted or lucid he may be, and is, is not infallible, and he is simply wrong on the question of hierarchy.
Should we listen to our spiritual leaders, philosophers and scientists? Yes, of course - we would be extremely foolish not to. But should we make them into god-kings? Of course not - that would also be extremely foolish, as well as extremely dangerous. And if the world’s spiritual leaders, philosophers and scientists should not be made into god-kings or ruling elites, how much less justification is there for allowing a small band of robber barons and billionaire tycoons rule the world? Obviously, there is no justification in it at all - nor any trace of sanity.
The central points are that, (a) all hierarchical power relations must be justified; and (b) all great concentrations of power in human society have historically produced tragedy, tyranny, atrocities and disaster. Blindly or unquestioningly accepting hierarchical power relations, as normal, natural, inevitable, or legitimate, is infantile, medieval, and based in ignorance - and it shows an utter ignorance of history, above all.
As Chomsky has said, demonstrating a vastly greater lucidity, at least on this point, than Ken Wilber: all forms of authority, domination, or hierarchical power relations, must be justified - they are not self-justifying. Sometimes the hierarchical power relation is justified, such as when a parent physically restrains a child from running out into the middle of a busy street. But most of the time, the hierarchical power structure, or authority, has no truly valid justification. In such cases, the authority or power structure is simply illegitimate, and therefore should be rejected.
Hierarchical power relations, or patterns of domination and submission, based in race, gender or ethnicity, for example, have no real, valid justification, and therefore, should be opposed, rejected, and gradually dismantled. State power is one such set of hierarchical power relations, and ultimately, humanity will learn to transcend it. I do not believe that the people are ready for it yet, however, and therefore, agreeing with Thoreau, “I do not seek, at once, no government, but at once, a better government.” And I think that is the intelligent position for anarchists, and for libertarians more broadly, to take.
The central point to understand, however, is this. The libertarian left recognizes that it is hierarchical power relations which are the root of our problems - the state being merely one of many forms that such hierarchies of power and domination can take form. Simply by removing the state, therefore, without, for example, also removing the hierarchical power dynamics, structures and systems of what has become a global neo-feudal corporate oligarchy, would be worse than useless, because, while it would do nothing to create real freedom, it would, however, leave the corporate oligarchy intact, while removing the one, powerful social institution, the constitutional democracies of nation-states, which have the potential to place the corporate oligarchy in check, and to begin to dissolve and break up its excessive, unduly acquired power. Only after dethroning the corporate oligarchy, or at least simultaneously with it, would the dissolution of the state create the conditions of freedom. This is what the libertarian left understands, while the libertarian right does not.
Anarcho-capitalists and libertarians of the right advocate free markets and laissez-faire capitalism, with a shrinking or elimination of the government and the state. They are frankly out of touch with reality, for several reasons.
Firstly, laissez-faire capitalism simply doesn’t work, even from the perspective of narrow economic concerns. It was tried in Pinochet’s Chile, when the generalissimo and CIA-sponsored dictator Augusto Pinochet, who came to power by way of a CIA coup, which overthrew the democratically elected, democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s, took on the Friedmanite Chicago Boys as his economic advisors. The acolytes of Milton Friendman compiled a thick tomb they called “the brick”, which was to transoform the economy into a free market, laissez-faire paradise - under the bootheel of a military dictatorship, which was the only way the people were going to be force-fed it - and Pinochet happily complied, and implemented its advice in sweeping economic changes. One of the first steps Pinochet took, under the Chicago Boys advice, was to eliminate the minimum wage, driving millions of people into brutal and stark destitution and poverty. The social effects of the free market agenda was nothing short of a total disaaster. But the economic effects were just as stark. The result was that the economy collapsed in short order. Pinochet had to abandon the Friedmanite, Washington Consensus, neoliberalism on steroids, laissez-faire program entirely, and was forced to reinstitute government intervention in the economy, to save it from total ruin.
The fact that these facts are still not widely known to the world, and particularly unknown to the anarcho-capitalists and the libertarians of the right, is nothing short of shocking itself. Free-market laissez-faire capitalism simply doesn’t work, even in narrow economic terms. It is a daydream not based in any connection to the real world. Point number one showing that the libertarians of the right, along with their neoliberal and neoconservative cousins, are simply disconnected from reality.
Secondly, even if the economy somehow miraculously didn’t collapse in a laissez-faire program, which it is virtually guaranteed to do, what is even more certain is that it would simply create an oligarchy, sooner or later, which would then swallow up the cherished freedom, which the anarcho-capitalists, and libertarians of the right, so rightly cherish.
In 1812, more than 200 years ago, and only a short time after the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I pray we shall crush the moneyed aristocracy in its infancy, for already it bids defiance to our laws and seeks a contest of strength with our democratic government.” The great mistake of liberal democracy, in the founding of modern constitutonal democracies, was to place checks and balances, and firm limits, on the powers of church and state, but not on great concentrations of economic power. Because of this oversight, already by 1812, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the “moneyed aristocracy” were trying to take over the government.
Today, Thomas Jefferson would be called a “conspiracy theorist”, of course. The term is asinine, and is only used by pseudo-intellectuals and intellectual whores. Drop it like a rock. Disregard anyone who brandishes it as a weapon. They are either an idiot, or a liar.
I am no Marxist (see my essay on that subject), but while Marx was a terrible philosopher, and a dangerously naïve political philosopher, at best, he was, nevertheless, a brilliant sociologist. And we would be foolish not to consider, very seriously, what he had to say about the problems of capitalist societies, even if we strongly disagree with his proposed solutions, as I do, and virtually all of the libertarian left does as well. And Marx was simply right when he observed that in a market-based economy, money, capital and economic power tend towards ever greater concentrations. This is simply a self-evident fact. The more money you have, the faster you can “make” more money. As every successful business person knows, the first million is the hardest. If you have no money at all, it is difficult to get yourself out of destitution - not impossible, but difficult. But if you already have millions or billions of dollars in wealth and capital, you can easily turn that into greater and greater wealth, capital and economic power. The process of the inexorable concentration of money, wealth, capital and economic power in a market economy, moreover, is exponential. Very quickly, you have the emergence of monopolies and cartels. Very soon after that, the cartels become more powerful than the government, if there is one, and take it over, as has happened around the world, and in most places, more than a century ago. Limited government becomes then a thing of the past, because now the government and the state are the de facto property of the ruling business elite. And if there was no government at all to begin with (which is a purely theoretical and vacuous proposition, not tied to reality), then the same new corporate oligarchy would simply devour all that remained of freedom. In short, if you allow unfettered and unregulated free-market, laissez-faire capitalism, and you refuse to place any checks and balances or any limits on the natural tendency of capitalism to concentrate wealth and economic power in increasing and exponential ways, then you end up with a corporate oligarchy which is neo-feudal in nature, with the business elite in the position of the new Tzars, or neo-feudal god-kings, and the 99.9% reduced to being either among the few privileged servants and courtesans, or to an underclass of serfs and slaves. Your vaunted and beloved free market, therefore, is guaranteed to return you to serfdom, to feudalism, and to chains. And this, the libertarian right, proclaims is the path to freedom. They are, quite simply, delusional.
Thirdly, we made precisely the aforementioned mistake with the founding of the modern liberal democracies, and the result was the rise of monopolies and cartels, exactly as was, or might have been, predictable, and we now have a global corporate oligarchy, whereby, the richest 1,000 individuals and the CEOs of the Fortune 1,000 biggest corporations now meet at Davos, at the World Economic Forum, which the leading business journal of the Western Hemisphere, the London Financial Times, itself calls “the de facto world government”, and which the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul has called, “the new royal court”, and, “the new Palace of Versailles”.
We are in this position of having a consortium of global corporations and global billionaire business elites, effectively ruling the world, precisely because we failed to place sensible checks and balances, and limitations, on great concentrations of economic powers, in the way that we placed checks and balances, and limitations, on political powers, and on the powers of both church and state. Have we learned nothing from the past two hundred-some years? It would seem not. Repeating the same mistake, would be disastrously foolish. Lack of regulation or limits on corporations and great economic powers are what created the mess we’re in, whereby a handful of astronically rich and pwerful men and women can freely loot, plunder, pillage, and effectively devour, both the planet we live on, and the 99.9% who are not among the ruling elite. Do we want to do the same thing all over again? Even if we could, we would be insane to do so.
But the fact is, we do now have a global corporate oligarchy to contend with, and we cannot simply ignore the fact. The libertarian right and the anarcho-capitalists, if they are unwilling to confront and to challenge the global corporate oligarchy, show that they are not dealing with the real world. The same can be said for the vast majority of the liberals, “progressives”, conservatives, democratic socialists and greens. None of them is dealing with the real world, or extremely few, at least.
If we value freedom and liberty, as we should - and not as a perk to human life, but as an essential ingredient, and fundamental requirement, for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a decent life, or even, a truly human life - then we must question, and challenge, and confront, both excessive state powers, and also, and even more urgently, the greatly excessive powers of an unelected and unaccountable, global corporate oligarchy, which is becoming neo-feudal, and neo-fascist, and at a very rapid pace.
These are the conditions for dealing with life in the real world. From my perspective, it is only the libertarian left, with few exceptions, that are dealing with these realities squarely and head on. For that reason, and for the sake of a better and more compelling long term vision for humanity, based on the twin and inseparable values of compassion and freedom, or freedom and mutual aid, I feel that it is left libterarianism which holds the most common sense, of all the major political philosophies and ideologies in the world today. Indeed, it often seems they are the only ones who have any sense at all.
Extremely few people among the liberals, conservatives, progressives, social democrats or greens, have understood yet these three irrefutable facts. That makes them flatly out of touch with reality. RFK Jr. is one exception, and there are others, but in general, all of these various factions, are simply dissociated from reality. They cannot possibly offer any true leadership, because in order to do that, you must first be in contect with the real world. They are not.
As to the libertarian right, they too, have not yet come to understand these three simple truisms, or facts. They too, live in a dreamworld of their own imaginings. They are lost in a fog of their own delerium. they are too in love with their ideology. That makes them blind to the realities which stare them everyday in the face. All they can see is their precious ideology. They are medieval priests, dogmatic and sectarian to the core, and as functionally brain-dead, or so it would seem. Until and unless they come to term with at least these three realities, which by now, should be considered axiomatic in political-economy, they are a bag of hot air, with nothing of substance to offer. But that small minority does not concern me very much, nor should they concern anyone else. What concerns me, above all, is the question of what we are goiing to do in the face of these, by now, undeniable realities, and particularly, what are we going to do to confront the reality of a global corporate take-over, which by now, is very nearly complete, and which will spell neo-feudal corporate fascism, if we allow it to succeed?
Where, in any case, is this mythical, magical, all-knowing hallowed diety, known reverently as the “free market”? We do not live in anything remotely resembling a free market economy. We live in a world where giant cartels, and above all, the global banking elite, effectively control the global economy, as Swiss systems analysis has proven beyond any doubt, and effectively rule over most governments, and most of the world. There is no free market, except in fantasy land. Getting rid of the government would also not create this magical, all-knowing, infallible deity that is worshipped by the right, known as the “free market”. Getting rid of the government would simply mean consolidating the global rule of the already dominant and hegemonic corporate oligarchy. That would mean neo-feudalism, not freedom, and certainly not free markets. Again, we need to deal with the real world here, not fantasy, and not any ideology which is disconnected and severed from the real world that we actually live in.
If you want a free market economy, if that is what you desire, though I would say there are deep-seated inherent problems in it, the minimal, first and most essential steps that would be required to obtain anything remotely resembling a free market, would be to break up all of the monopolies and cartels, which by now means breaking up most if not all of the Fortune 1,000 biggest corporations, then set into law, in a constitutional amendment, strict limits on all future concentrations of economic powers, and a ban on all monopolies, oligopolies and cartels. Even these steps would be insufficient (see my essay, Reclaiming Democracy, for a more comprehensive action plan), but these are the minimal first steps that would be required. Until anyone on the libertarian right takes this on as a top priority, there is no reason whatsoever that anyone should take them seriously.
Furthermore, the libertarian right values freedom above all other concerns - noble enough, and sensible enough, but also, insufficient in itself. The libertarian left also values freedom highly, and as a fundamental principle for any sane or decent society; but the libertarian left values both freedom and compassion, or freedom with voluntary mutual aid. I would say the libertarian left has the stronger moral ground, and also, the greater popular appeal.
If anything, the libertarian left is more aligned with the core values of the great majority of the people. The great majority may have temporarily forgotten their natural love of freedom, and sense of the fundamental importance of freedom, but it is in their hearts, naturally as human beings, and it will resurface again, and quite possibly soon. At the same time, the great majority of people intuitively and instinctively feel that to love one’s neighbour, and to live in compassion and mutual aid, is simply the ethical and decent, moral thing to do, as well as the intelligent thing to do, since it means we all live better, when we do. That makes the deeper instincts of humanity, in my view, left libertarian by nature.
As far as I can tell, having for the past four decades considered the libertarians of the right to be too incoherent to be taken seriously, the right-wing libertarians want a deregulated, free-market, laissez-faire economy, with a radically shrunken or eliminated government and state. In short, they rightfully question, and challenge, the excessive powers granted to, or acquired by, big government and the state apparatus; but they fail to adequately question or challenge the business elite, or the cartels and the oligarchy they have now created, and which are now a vastly greater, more excessive, and more dangerous form of hyper-centralization and hyper-concentration of power in society. Again, they do not seem to live in the real world.
The libertarians of the right, in short, question, challenge and confront the excessive powers of government and the state - that is, they question, challenge and confront excessive concentrations of political power; but they do not apply the same standard of critique to the business elite, and they do not, it seems, seriously question, challenge or confront great and excessive concentrations of economic power. This is, our should be, a clear self-contradiction. Hence the statement that right-wing libertarians are incoherent.
Left libertarians likewise question, challenge and confront the excessive powers of government and the state, equally valuing freedom and innate, inalienable, fundamental human rights; but, left libertarians question, challenge, and confront, any and all forms of hierarchy, domination, tyranny, abuses of power, or excessive concentrations of power. In short, left libertarians are more consistent, and more coherent, than libertarians of the right, because they question and challenge both political and also economic powers.
We should also note, that this enormous blind spot of the libertarian right is also shared by virtually all liberals, conservatives, social democrats and greens, making them all irrational, incoherent, and detached from reality.
On an interpersonal level, I think it is only decent and right, compassionate and virtuous, as well as intelligent and wise, to relate to all people, wherever possible, no matter their ideas, their philosophies, their ideologies, their views, their political or religious affinities or associations, or their socio-economic status, health status, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or nationality, with a basic respect, courtesy, friendliness, kindness and warmth. I think it is sad, even tragic, that these qualities of our human interaction have declined over the decades, to sometimes appalling levels. But I do not think we need to be, or should be, overly polite or tepid in our discussions of political, social or philosophical issues. I mean to say, a basic respect and compassion for all, is a very good thing; but a valuing of the truth, above all, is also, and equally, important. Sometimes, we simply need to be plain-spoken. Sometimes, gentle euphemisms, and evasiveness of the matter at hand, just will not do. Sometimes, the plain and honest truth must be spoken, and spoken plainly. Sometimes we simply have to cut through the fog. Mincing our words is not always the most compassionate thing to do. Sometimes the most compassionate response is a fiercesome honesty.
I have to say here, also, that while I disagree, and passionately disagree, quite obviously, with the libertarians of the right on some points, namely, on their general inistence that unregulated, Wild West, laissez-faire capitalism is a good thing, and even a thing which is synonymous with freedom, which, as I have tried to show, is simply a naive if not a delusional notion, I do have a genuine respect for libertarians of the right, despite their seeming general confusion in matters of economics. At least they have principles which they are willing to stand up for; at least, furthermore, they have some sense of history; and they furthermore realize and understand that great power tends to be corrupting, and inevitably, leads to abuses of power, and to tyranny and oppression, if not also to atrocities and to genocide, which are also historically commonplace - and a very present and real danger, in any society and in any age, whenever power is excessively centralized or excessively concentrated in too few hands. That certainly is more than can be said for the blinkered, zombie-like masses, who clearly have no sense of history whatsoever, no understanding that great power not only can be abused, and abused horrifically, but virtually always results in tyranny, atrocities, and great and horrific abuses of power; and who have no values left that they are willing to stand up for, other than their sole remaining value, which is the preservation of their own comfort, at any cost, and at any moral price.
While all of humanity and all beings truly are one family, nevertheless, it is the anarchists, the anti-authoritarians, and the libertarians of all stripes, who are, and remain, my closest kin.
I should also say here, that while there are certain principles that we should always stand up for, including freedom, compassion, voluntary mutual aid, universal, fundamental and constitutional human rights, ecological sanity and peace, I think it is undeniably true, what the teacher of my teacher, Lama Yeshe said, when he remarked that the central problem of Western civilization is that we are overly obsessed with our ideologies. That statement also echoes the words of the greatest scholar of world mythology, and one of the greatest scholars of world religions and world cultures, Joseph Campbell, when he said that the East and West parted ways when the West became, at least 2,500 years ago, overly obsessed with the written word, and with doctrine. That obsession over ideology and doctrine may be the death of us yet. We need to find a little more balance, if we are going to recover our common sense, much less heal our troubled world, or find true freedom, justice or peace. We need to remember that life is to be lived, and not merely theorized; and that life itself, is a never-ending grand experiment, and it is best lived as a grand experiment in living, and not as rote prescription, and far less, as a grand Inquisition, where the heretics are metaphorically, and sometimes literally, burned alive at the stake, for the unforgivable sin of questioning our most holy dogma and canon.
Furthermore, I have recently come to realize, more clearly than ever before, that there are many, many, good natured, thoughtful and intelligent people, at just about every point or station on the (three dimensional) political spectrum (see the Nolan Chart), barring of course, the fascist right, and the totalitarian, extreme left. And I have found a new-found sense of camaraderie and common cause, common ground and mutually shared interests, as well as, of course, a shared basic humanity, with thoughtful conservatives, liberals, progressives, greens, social democrats, and libertarians on the right. There is more that we have in common, than in truth, divides us. It is very important that we remember that. The over-arching strategy of any ruling elite or empire, is of course, to divide and thereby conquer the people. As much and as passionately as we may sometimes disagree, or even often disagree, we must bear that in mind always, or we will be, simply slaves. As the saying goes, and it is true: United we stand, divided we fall.
Despite my critique of liberalism, conservatism, social democracy, progressivism, the green movement, anarcho-capitalism, and the libertarianism of the right, I do insist here that we avoid sectarianism. That might seem odd, even seemingly self-contradictory, but it is also a fact. We can debate and discuss political philosophy and social issues as much as we want, and we should - freely, openly, passionately, and with open minds, and as little dogmatism as possible; but we must, from time to time, pause these great philosophical and political discussions, to deal with certain urgent and pressing realities, which cannot be avoided. That time is now - and the time is short.
We have three truly dire and urgent crises to face, and we must face them, and at once, without any further delay. One is the obvious and growing ecological crisis. One is the growing risk of global nuclear war. And the third, which is central to both of the first two, is the challenge of confronting and deposing, and dethroning, the new de facto rulers of the world, the latest and last of empires, which is the global empire of neo-feudal corporate fascism - which is showing its real face, right now, as we speak. First, we defeat the new wave of fascists and oligarchs. Then we can discuss what kind of society we want to create, having dealt with the greatest and most immediate, and urgent of dangers, which is the new face of global corporate fascism.
Let the thinking liberals, progressives, social democrats, greens, conservatives, anarchists, and libertarians of both the left and the right, come together now in unity to defeat this newest and more dire of dangers, which is the global corporate-fascist oligarchy. We either do that, or we will have no hope of freedom, no hope of liberty, no hope of retaining any of our innate, basic, and fundamntal human rights, no hope of retaining our constitutions or our democracies, and moreover, no hope of achieving any of our Santa Clause wish list of pipe dreams, in terms of social or ecological goals. We either unite to defeat the new wave of corporate fascists, or we will be reduced to serfs and slaves, while the Earth continues to be plundered, and destroyed, while we live in a gulag society that would make Aldous Huxley and George Orwell cringe with horror and with terror and fear.
Unite the people now.
J. Todd Ring,
December 9, 2021
How do accomplish such a thing? How do we defeat technocracy, or what I have called, global neo-feudal corporate-fascism? We have many tried and proven, powerful tools at our disposal. Among them are boycotts, divestments, shareholder activism, “move your money” campaigns, buy local campaigns, strikes and blockades. We must use them all now. But the biggest part of the strategy must be, as Gandhi demonstrated, and extremely effectively, the strategy of non-compliance, non-violent civil disobedience, and non-cooperation. Stop giving the corporate oligarchy, who are your slavers, a single dime of your money. And don’t give them your labour, your creative power or your energy, either. Starve them into weakness, then crush them with one, swift blow.
Build off-grid and parallel structures, systems, networks and communities now. Wherever possible, buy only from independent, small-scale producers, artisans and farms. When we have built up our power base, the power base of a new global democracy movement, then we can recapture and reclaim our national sovereignty, and our constitutional democracies, our basic freedoms, and our human rights. Until then, we are at war, make no mistake.
This is a global class war. Warren Buffet, one of the four richest men in the US, who together have more wealth than the poorest half of Americans, has said, “There is a class war going on alright - and we’re winning.” Only the dangerously naive and the dim-witted can fail to see it. It truly is, as I titled my second book, The People vs The Elite. Or as the great Vandana Shiva put it, in the title of her recent book, it is now a matter of Oneness vs The 1%.
Get busy living, or get busy dying - as a favourite movie line says. What are we waiting for? We have a world to heal, and a world to reclaim.
December 9, 2021
Here is a YouTube playlist that I compiled with some interesting videos on anarchism. Below that I will link a playlist on Libertarianism.
You can also, if you like, look up my Spotify playlist, on: Anarchism, Libertarianism & Republicanism.
And here is an interesting, albeit cursory, look at Taoism and anarchy - Lao Tzu being the original anarchist, or left libertarian. The modern application or expression of Taoism would be, and is, social ecology, or left-libertarianism more broadly. Yes, it works best with decentralization of politics, economics & demographics. But that is achievable, and also simply necessary now. For social, economic, political, spiritual, psychological and cultural reasons, and most urgently for ecological reasons, economic, political, cultural and demographic decentralization is now imperative - if we are to survive, or to thrive. See my essays on federated decentralization and re-localization, Rojava and social ecology, land reform, regenerative agriculture, and democratic revolution. Don’t just buy local, live local. Escape the cities now. They are becoming totalitarian death traps and enslavement zones. Build parallel structures now. Sow the seedbeds for the new, post-empire society - and now.