For years, I have tried to express why I fundamentally disagree with American Libertarianism. While I have expressed sympathy for the libertarian rejection of domination by the state, I have also accused it of cluelessness when when it comes to realizing that the state is no longer what primarily dominates us. The state been bought “lock, stock and barrel” by our new master which is predatory corporate capitalism. And capitalism usually gets a free pass from libertarian thinkers.
I have said things like:
“Anarchism, from which libertarianism sprang, criticized all forms of domination. Modern American libertarianism includes a noncritical view of capitalism that dismantles the only hope of curbing corporate domination, which is democratic government. Modern libertarians want to punish the hapless lion tamer of democracy, and release the lion of unfettered capitalism on us all.”
One problem is that libertarians, like the Green Party, are usually defined more with what they are against than with any core principles of their own. This makes the party very hard to define, much less critique. While I agree with many of their criticisms of the state, having a common enemy can give a false sense of unified purpose. I fundamentally disagree with a call to freedom that leaves the racist, religious, classist and sexist heirarchies of the culture intact. I sympathize with rejection of all forms of governance, but our government, at least potentially, is a democracy. Private corporations are feudal dictatorships. It seems insane to me to throw out democratic government using rhetoric that was originally designed to overturn autocracies.
Fortunately, Noam Chomsky has come to the rescue. Chomsky represents an anarchical attitude to current problems and specifies how he believes its libertarian cousin gets things wrong.
Here is a quick summary. First he defines anarchy:
Well, anarchism is, in my view, basically a kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics. Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying.
Then he says what anarchy is not:
I mean it’s not at all the general image that you described — people running around the streets, you know, breaking store windows — but [anarcho-syndicalism] is a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none.
Then he gives his view of libertarianism:
Well what’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society.
…that kind of libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because freedom is better than subordination. It’s better to be free than to be a slave. Its’ better to be able to make your own decisions than to have someone else make decisions and force you to observe them. I mean, I don’t think you really need an argument for that. It seems like … transparent.
If anyone is for freedom it is Noam Chomsky. But like Dylan says, in this world, “you got to serve somebody.” We can call government evil, but it exists as soon as two people enter the same room. It is as evil as it is understandable for those who benefit from economic and cultural hierarchies to pretend that the systems of power aren’t there, and even to dismantle any protections for those oppressed by such systems and attitudes.
In an important sense “government” is taking responsibility for how we share power. The question we should be asking is, “what political systems and attitudes can give us forms of freedom that do not mean domination for anyone else?”
Of all places, this interview took place in Modern Success Magazing. Thanks to editor Michael S. Wilson for thinking outside the box of what success might mean.