Michael Lind’s recent article accusing libertarianism of being inherently pro-autocracy conflates two different issues. He notes that libertarians have often been skeptical of majoritarian democracy; he also notes that libertarians have sometimes said nice things about certain autocracies. Both of these claims are true, but they are much less closely related than Lind supposes.

One reason for Lind’s conflation is that he automatically translates being anti-democracy into being pro-autocracy — because he assumes that the only alternative to democracy is autocracy. But in fact there is a third option; rather than the many dictating to the few or the few dictating to the many, what libertarians seek is a world where nobody is in a position to dictate to anybody — or at least to get as close to that situation as possible. (It might be argued that such a system actually has a better claim to the term “democracy” than those regimes that typically receive that label.) For anarchist libertarians, this means replacing the state entirely with networks of voluntary association; for minarchist libertarians, it means structuring the machinery of government in such a way as to make it as difficult as possible to abuse.

In other words, libertarians don’t oppose democracy (in the conventional sense) because they hanker after autocracy; they oppose democracy because it is too much like autocracy.

And even this point assumes, generously, that existing democracies really are majoritarian. As many libertarians have argued, the logic of monopoly government and special-interest capture explains why real-life “democracies” tend to be plutocratic oligarchies in democratic trappings.

In a related conflation, Lind repeatedly refers to “conservatives and libertarians” as though these two groups can be lumped together. But libertarianism at its most consistent is fundamentally opposed to conservatism; indeed it has often been argued that libertarianism is best understood as a form of radical leftism. (Certainly there are prominent figures who combine aspects of both libertarian and conservative rhetoric, but the same could be said of virtually any two ideologies.)

What muddies the waters here is that individual libertarians have indeed, unfortunately, sometimes succumbed to the temptation to let their opposition to democracy befuddle them into whitewashing the evils of certain existing autocracies.

Lind is certainly right to condemn this lunatic tendency; but he grossly overestimates its extent, because of his conflation of anti-democracy with pro-autocracy. The actual extent of libertarian rhetorical support for autocracies pales in comparison to the extent of the similarly motivated and similarly disastrous progressive rhetorical support for communist regimes.

I should also note, in closing, that Lind’s claim that libertarians have been silent about “abuses by police and the military” is particularly ludicrous. If he could write that claim with a straight face, clearly his familiarity with libertarian literature and the libertarian blogosphere is laughably inadequate.

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  • Fernando Teson

    Nice post, Roderick, and entirely correct. I wouldn’t even take too seriously this slanderous accusation against libertarians; I’ve seen the mainstream Left do this over and over. The strategic purpose is to obscure the fact that they themselves are authoritarian. Another problem is the left’s hostility to markets. so when Milton Friedman correctly said that pro-market reforms in Chile were a good thing even when enacted by a bad dictator, the Left maligned him, not only because they unfairly saw this as an endorsement of Pinochet, but because they just don’t believe that free markets are that good. Economic freedom is not important to them, period.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_N6HQ4Y5ZPT4HGXE3EPX3Z7KH2E BerserkRL


      But I don’t think Pinochet’s “reforms” were pro-market in any meaningful sense.

      On this point, I think Naomi Klein (in one of her Jekyll moments) has it right:

      “It’s clear that Chile was never the laboratory of ‘pure’ free markets that its cheerleaders claimed. Instead, it was a country where a small elite leapt from wealthy to super-rich in extremely short order — a highly profitable formula bankrolled by debt and heavily subsidized (then bailed out) with public funds. When the hype and salesmanship behind the miracle are stripped away, Chile under Pinochet and the Chicago Boys was not a capitalist state featuring a liberated market but a corporatist one …. a mutually supporting alliance between a police state and large corporations, joining forces to wage all-out war on the third power sector — the workers — thereby drastically increasing the alliance’s share of the national wealth….”

    • Anonymous

      Lind erroneously attributes the authoritarian sympathies of some libertarians to all libertarians. Please do not accuse each and every one of us on the left of being, monolithically,  the true authoritarians.

      Given the mainstream left’s tendency to prefer neo-liberal market tweaking reforms, I think its unfair to accuse them of being anti-market.  Although this is a bit of a sore spot for me, a Leftist who is a libertarian fellow traveler on many issues, as I find the focus on economic freedom above all other kinds to be dangerous; depriving people of freedom of speech and freedom from state violence in the name of economic freedom is abhorrent.  As Friedman was fairly hands-on in the economic reforms made by Pinochet he is more complicit in the regime than that of an outside commentator

      • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

        The difference is that Lind was taking the positions of individuals and attributing them to a philosophy. Fernando is taking a philosophy and attributing it to the people who hold it. In other words, if you understand the “mainstream Left” to mean the “statist Left,” then it is, by definition, true that they are authoritarian. It is not that some on the mainstream Left support states and this a misleading fact to attribute to everyone in that camp. The camp simply is pro-state, i.e. pro-authoritarian. If you are anti-state, then I wouldn’t say you’re in the mainstream Left.

        • Anonymous

          In other words, if you understand the “mainstream Left” to mean the “statist Left,” then it is, by definition, true that they are authoritarian

          And if you define the mainstream left as “anti-authoritarian left” then the left is, by definition, anti-authoritarian.  Mainstream means the most widely accepted or the most common or normal, not whether such views are authoritarian.  So mainstream left means the kind vanilla leftism that most people who view themselves as left-wing  would adhere to.  

          The formulation which you attribute to Mr. Tesoro holds that mainstream left = statist = authoritarian.  Its a fair characterization to say the mainstream left is statist, at least relatively, but statist does not necessarily mean authoritarian.   The use of a democratically established state in order to further policy goals is statist but not authoritarian.  

          For example, much of the criticism Obama is receiving from the “professional left” has been targeted at his failure to deviate from the authoritarian tendencies of the Bush administration, his failure to advocate for progressive causes which are perceived to be popular (the public option for example) and his failure to make the case to the american public that unpopular progressive causes are correct.  Without commenting on the advisability of these policy goals, it is clear that they are generally statist but supportive or neutral to democratic norms.   I have seen very little criticism of Obama for failing to jam progressive policies down people’s throughts.  Obviously there are authoritarians on the Left, as there are in any movement, but it is just as false to say the mainstream left’s ideology is inherently authoritarian as it is to say the same for libertarianism.

          • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

            Its a fair characterization to say the mainstream left is statist, at least relatively, but statist does not necessarily mean authoritarian.

            I think I’ve located our point of disagreement. A state is, by definition, authoritarian. Last time I checked, even states that weren’t (at the moment) “jam[ming] progressive policies down people’s throughts [sic]” were still in the business of forcibly maintaining their claim to supreme authority.

          • Damien S.

            what do you call the distinction between a military dictatorship that
            murders dissenters, and a majoritarian democracy with strong respect for
            civil liberties?  Because most people call the former authoritarian and
            the latter, not.  If you’re going to redefine common terminology to
            suit yourself, that’ll rather hamper intelligible discussion.

          • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

            I call them both authoritarian. I thought I was clear about that. Fortunately, language affords me many options for expanding on that. And I know how most people use the term. That’s rather the point of bothering to suggest that common usage hides some important truths. It would be a shame for most people to go on using the term in a way that suggest that the latter don’t “tend to be plutocratic oligarchies in democratic trappings.” Now, what do you think most people would call a plutocratic oligarchy? Oh, that’s right.

          • Anonymous

            down people’s throughts [sic]

            You sir, need to bone up on your anatomy!  The throught connects the hambone to the aetheric gizzard!

            Also I think the distinction between authoritarian and non-authoritarian states is valid and should not be elided as it describes a very important difference between varieties of states.  Even if we prefer that there be no state, we can also prefer a better kind of state to a worse kind.  I take the position that if the state exists, then it should be as decentralized as possible. 

            Where a democracy becomes a vehicle of plutocratic oligarchy it ceases to become a substantive democracy and, instead, becomes a procedural democracy (although these regimes are not separated by a bright line, a but exist on a continuum of the effectiveness of the democratic control). 

          • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

            I agree that the distinction is valid. I just don’t agree that the distinction makes its cut through the varieties of states. I would perhaps go further than Roderick and say that it’s not just a tendency but that democracies (in the conventional sense) just are plutocratic oligarchies, and that this is precisely because they operate with the characteristics of states (even those shared by “good” ones), not despite those characteristics.

      • Anonymous

        So do we also paint Larry Summers (IIRC) with the gangster brush as he was the primary market architect for the soviet transition from socialism to a “free market” society? 

        • Anonymous

          Does the architect of the privatization of the former Soviet Union bear some responsibility for what results from that privatization?  Yes, to the extent those results are foreseeable.   Why wouldn’t they?   To be clear, I do not believe Friedman’s guilt is anywhere near the level of a co-conspirator in the crimes of the regime – he’s more like the mob doctor who patches up bullet holes, but doesn’t take part in any of the mobs operations.

          Plus,  it seems like you are conflating the results of a reform program with the methods used to implement it;  the Yeltsin regime (as far as I know) did not engage in murder and torture to suppress dissent as the Pinochet regime did.  

          • Anonymous

            It’s is a hard question to say just how corrupt Yeltsin and his regime was. It’s clear that a lot of people think the transition period included a lot of political robbery. Moreover, many of the upcoming capitalists under the new open and free market capitalism of Russia were thought to have been little better than the large organized crime bosses that functioned within the older soviet system, profiting from the corruption in the USSR and enforcing social order.

            I do suspect we don’t want to paint Yeltsin and Pinochet with the same brush I don’t think we should paint the economist suggesting the countries take on free market institutions were ever advocating or supporting the following actions of those regimes. 

            Perhaps your position is that there is no way of constructively engaging a repressive regime other than effort to oppose their bad behaviors.

          • Anonymous

            On the question of engaging repressive regimes, I hesitate to say never, but I think it is generally extremely difficult to engage regimes such as this in a constructive manner, especially when the policy recommendations will engender opposition.  When one is giving advice to a regime, one must be cognizent of how that advice will be implemented.  In a regime led by a murderous dictator, policies which face opposition will be implemented murderously.   In a democratic regime, they will either be popular enough to survive or they will not be implemented.

            I don’t think Yeltsin and Pinochet are especially comparabel either.  My general point was that advice givers bear some responsibility for what results from their advice. 

            So Summers responsibility stems from the flawed policies which were implemented. Friedman’s stems from the horrific manner in which the policies he recommended would most likely be implemented.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

    Well, some people have posted defenses on this blog of  “epistocracy” – and that does strike me as a new and dangerous wrinkle in the libertarian dialectic.   And the recent anti-democracy rhetoric from the libertarian camp strikes me as somewhat more strident and concerning than I remember it from past discussions with libertarians.

    Libertarianism used to have relatively little support within the academy, and has as a result usually had an anti-elitist cast.  But as libertarianism acquires support at elite universities, and as one combines libertarian thinking with the natural tendencies toward intellectual arrogance and confident belief in superiority which are always present in elite academic settings, it’s possible one can get some dangerous new combinations.   The supposed general freedom not to be coercively governed by others turns into a specially emphasized freedom not to be governed by others who are not educated enough, and then into a right to be governed only by one’s intellectual peers.  And of course that right can’t be socially manifested in en effective way unless the elite secure for themselves the power to govern others.   This is the old road to claims for philosopher kingship and such phenomena as the anti-democratic tyranny of ancient Athens.  That’s something Americans need to be vigilant against, since this combination of an insistence on individual rights with the prerogatives of education and expertise has perverted and toppled democracies before.

    Roderick, you say, “what libertarians seek is a world where nobody is in a position to dictate to anybody — or at least to get as close to that situation as possible.”

    One of the things I have tried to argue in many comments here on this blog is that the only really viable way of preventing autocratic or oligarchic rule is to establish republican institutions that vest rule in a broad and engaged citizenry, and to stabilize those institutions with checks and balances.  It’s nice of libertarians to dream of a world where no one coerces anyone else or dictates anything to anyone else.  But if that dream is elevated into a recipe for actual political reform, reforms that erode and disempower democratic institutions,  the libertarian will only create vacuums into which the autocracies and tyrannies they claim to deplore will rush in.   It is charming picture libertarians have – a world of non-coercion that tyrants don’t immediately overpower and destroy.  But in the actual course of human events, that is never what happens.  If the many have a common interest against subordination to an autocratic few, they only way they can secure that interest in a sustainable way is to bind themselves to one another in solidarity, and erect a wall of concerted and shared power against concentrated and despotic power.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_N6HQ4Y5ZPT4HGXE3EPX3Z7KH2E BerserkRL

      Libertarianism used to have
      relatively little support within the academy, and has as a result usually had
      an anti-elitist cast.


      It seems to me that the anti-elitist strand of
      libertarianism is growing, not shrinking.  Where was the libertarian left twenty years ago?


      It is charming picture
      libertarians have – a world of non-coercion that tyrants don’t immediately
      overpower and destroy.  But in the actual course of human events, that is
      never what happens.


      But that’s the same argument that’s been used
      historically against every move in the direction of liberty.  Again and again we’ve heard that
      slavery, or monarchy, or male supremacy, is an ineradicable feature of human
      society, and that any attempt to abolish these institutions can only result in
      their resurrection, so that the most we should shoot for is efforts to moderate
      these institutions and make them less abusive.  Why should we take the argument this time any more seriously
      than its predecessors?


      If the many have a common
      interest against subordination to an autocratic few, they only way they can
      secure that interest in a sustainable way is to bind themselves to one another
      in solidarity, and erect a wall of concerted and shared power against
      concentrated and despotic power.


      Well, I have no quarrel with that unless you
      assume that this “concerted and shared power” has to be
      But why should we assume that? 
      All the many have to do to liberate themselves from the autocratic few
      is to ignore them.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

        First, I’m not sure what the difference between left and right really has to do with it.   There have been populist left movements and populist right movements; just as there have been elite left movements and elite right movements.

        But for what it’s worth, there has been a coherent libertarian left in the US, it seems to me, at least since the aftermath of the McCarthy era – but this libertarian left traces its roots back at least to the anarchist movement in the 19th century.  Chomsky has always called himself an “anarchist” or “libertarian socialist”.

        Personally, I think the radical or Chomskyan left’s absorption of too many of the habits of and views of libertarianism and anarchism, and its neglect of the democratic theory or governance and organization for governance, has seriously weakened the left and accounts in part for its increasingly disorganized and debilitated state over the past several decades as neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, Thatcherism, Third Wayism and other similar right-trending movements have asserted dominance over the political culture, and rolled back the power of workers.  The left will never be resurgent until more leftists decide they want to be the government and participate in it at a formal level, instead of posing forever as perpetual dissidents working only to resist or at best “petition” the government.

        I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “all the many have to do to liberate themselves from the autocratic few is to ignore them.”  If an armed band of brigands is determined to take your land, or your crops, or your resources, or impress you and your friends and family into slavery, or establish some other kind of permanent control or direction over all of you, you can hardly prevent them from doing so just by ignoring them.  You have to repel them and defeat them.Now I suppose you can succeed here and there in repelling and defeating threats by adventitiously banding together temporarily into an organized, rule-governed unit for that limited purpose, and then dissolving back into a less organized form of existence.  But the threats are persistent and many, and it’s both inefficient and ineffective to keep forming and dissolving units of organized power only when threats arise.   For one thing, you will want to deter threats from acting against you in the first place, rather than continue paying the high price of only banding together and acting once threats have arisen, and have begun to do their damage.  The practical thing to do is to preserve the band as an organized society; to debate, refine and improve the rules under which you live and organize your cooperative activity and common life; and to establish settled practices for keeping these rules and in place.  And then you are a government.

        You say, “Again and again we’ve heard that slavery, or monarchy, or male supremacy, is an ineradicable feature of human society, and that any attempt to abolish these institutions can only result in their resurrection.”

        There is no doubt that important kinds of freedom can be advanced, and advanced on a sustained basis.  But the way they are typically advanced is by establishing modifications of existing political orders and systems of laws so that the objectionable form of bondage or coercion are actively prevented.  And they are only actively prevented by an organized power that has more coercive heft than the potential oppressors.

        For example, all kinds of forms of male domination and female subjugation that existed just a few decades ago have been altered and pushed back in the US and other societies.  That’s in large part because many of the constitutive practices of male domination are now illegal, and the institutions and claims of right that once underpinned these practices have been abolished.  Those who seek to engage in those practices, and there are many who do, are now thwarted by the law and by the imposition of punishment, or at least the threat of punishment, on a continuing basis.  So if this is a triumph on behalf of liberty, it is a triumph of democratic government and the rule of democratic law.

        And none of these changes would ever have occurred without the extension of the voting franchise to women.  It is more voting and and expanded democratic polity, armed with stronger laws,  that freed people – not less voting and weaker democratic polities.

        • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

          “And then you are a government.”

          Nope. This is the problematic premise underneath your whole line of thinking here (along with that of people like Gus di Zerega  and others in the state-as-self-organizing-network camp). You’ve convinced yourself that anarchism is the lack of persistent institutions or organizations because you seemingly define governments or states as any persistent institution or organization. Either that or you think this is the case in matters of large-scale defense. But why should we accept this? I find that to be a weird way to think of it.

          If you’re going to tell an anarchist that they don’t really oppose the state if they support any kind of “organized, rule-governed unit” for defense (as you suggest is prudent), then it probably helps to know what they mean by a “government” or “state”:

          I won’t hazard a definition of either “government” or “state” here, but some essential features can be described. States have governments, and governments, as such, claim authority over a defined range of territory and citizens. Governments claim the right to issue legitimate orders to anyone subject to them, and to use force to compel obedience. But governments claim more than that: after all, I have the right to order you out of my house, and to shove you out if you won’t go quietly. Governments claim supreme authority over legally enforceable claims within their territory; while I have a right to order you off my property, a government claims the right to make and enforce decisive, final, and exclusive orders on questions of legal right—for example, whether it is my property, if there is a dispute, or whether you have a right to stay there. That means the right to review, and possibly to overturn or punish, my demands on you—to decisively settle the dispute, to enforce the settlement over anyone’s objections, and deny to anyone outside the government the right to supersede their final say on it. Some governments—the totalitarian ones—assert supreme authority over every aspect of life within their borders; but a “limited government” asserts authority only over a defined range of issues, often enumerated in a written constitution. Minarchists argue not only that governments should be limited in their authority, but specifically that the supreme authority of governments should be limited to the adjudication of disputes over individual rights, and the organized enforcement of those rights. But even the most minimal minarchy, at some point, must claim its citizens’ exclusive allegiance—they must love, honor and obey, forsaking all others, or else they deny the government the prerogative of sovereignty. And a “government” without sovereign legal authority is no government at all.-Charles “Rad Geek” Johnson, “Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism”

          You have not demonstrated that simply reaching the point where an institution is “preserved,” where there are “settled practices,” or where there is enough continuity to “deter threats” requires anything of the sort Rad Geek describes. If an organization hangs together despite the lack of these essential features, then it is not a state, but anarchy. If we accept, as you said, that “[objectionable forms of bondage or coercion] are only actively prevented by an organized power that has more coercive heft than the potential oppressors” then why must we also accept that this can only take the form of something with sovereign legal authority?

          That’s in large part because many of the constitutive practices of male domination are now illegal, and the institutions and claims of right that once underpinned these practices have been abolished.

          Why is this any more likely to be the case than the idea that the Civil Rights Act is in large part the reason that many of the constitutive practices of racism “have been altered and pushed back in the US and other societies”?

          And none of these changes would ever have occurred without the extension of the voting franchise to women.

          Yes, it’s probably true that legislative changes would not have occurred without the extension of the voting franchise to women. That’s very different from saying that any change would never have occurred without the extension of the voting franchise to women.

          In addition to these kinds of consequentialist considerations, (to quote Rad Geek again, somewhat out of context):

          But even if you concede that immediate repeal of statist controls, without the preconditions in place, would eventually result in disaster, rather than cultural adaptation … you would need to add some kind of further moral argument that would show that people are entitled to continue invading the rights of other people in order to maintain a particular standard of living, or to stave off aggression that would otherwise be committed by some unrelated third party at some point in the future.

          He is speaking here against gradualism as a strategy for moving toward statelessness but I think the moral (no pun intended) applies here as well. From the perspective of the anarchist, you are arguing that we should trade coercion for coercion, and that, in light of the idea that it doesn’t need to be a choice, isn’t a very appealing argument.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

            By settled practices for keeping the rules in place, I just mean a rule of law.  And a rule of law requires a jurisdiction – the place where the rules will be enforced.  It seems to me that if you have a territory, and some rules, and some settled system for enforcing the rules, you are one of those evil “states” anarchists purport to tremble over – whether you like it or not.

            You seem to me fixated on all the moralistic verbal mythology of “sovereignty” and “authority” and the various pious claims some governing entities make for themselves.  I am more concerned with function and practices.   A government, it seems to me,  is anything that successfully engages in governing.   And governing just consists in making and enforcing rules over some group or territory.If you accept that the only way to resist attempted and potential oppression is through settled and sustainable systems of organized power, then that’s the crucial thing.  I don’t care if you want to call that system of organized power a “state” or “anarchy” or “radgeekocracy.”   Isn’t the point here that you are accepting the need for organized coercive force and laws?  You can’t get out of that by saying your organization’s rules wouldn’t be capital-L Laws, just so you can claim you are not an arche.When the organization of defenders comes to beat me up and kick me out of his turf because he doesn’t like my oppression, I’ll just laugh if he says, “I’m not a government.  I’m an anarchist! … because  I’m not wearing a shiny badge that says, I am an agent of the Sovereign.”

          • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

            I will keep quoting on “radgeekocracy” because, frankly, he has your number:

            Government is not just a matter of what an institution does but how it does it; governments are institutions which claim not only the right to settle disputes, but a special kind of sovereignty over dispute-settling, and they are thus, among other things, centralized, monopolistic, territorial, tax-funded, and non-consensual. But it is perfectly possible to conceive of social institutions that do various things that government claims to do (e.g. protecting rightful claims of property) while lacking one or some or all of those features — that are, for example, non-territorial, or funded only by voluntary contributions, or don’t make any claims of an exclusive prerogative, or…. Now, maybe you want to claim that a non-governmental institution would be ineffective at defending property claims if it didn’t have all the features that sovereign governments have (e.g. territorial monopoly or non-consensual sources of funding). You can do that, but if you do, you need to argue for that position, not simply define the alternative out of existence. Or you might want to use the word “government” in a broader sort of way — for example, not to mean a territorial monopoly on the legally legitimated use of force etc. etc., but rather just something like “any institution that offers effective settlements of interpersonal or social conflicts, no matter how it does so.” If that’s how you want to use the word, you can do that too, but you should then realize that you’re now discussing many institutions that are “governments” by your definition, but not “governments” in the sense that free-market Anarchists oppose.


            You can’t get out of that by saying your organization’s rules wouldn’t be capital-L Laws, just so you can claim you are not an arche.

            I’m not sure why you think that we say we disagree on the definition of what make a government a government, that we don’t in fact disagree. The definition is offered not to “get out” of calling something rulership that really should be, but is meant to actually capture what rulership is. You can disagree, of course, but we can do without this elaborate form of question-begging.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

            My point is that if one grants your definition – or Radgeek’s definition – of “state “or “government”, and uses those definitions to distinguish those organized exercises of coercive rule-making that are governments from those organized exercises of coercive rule-making that are not  governments, then the anarchist objection to governments has been reduced to something relatively trivial.

            Radgeek’s explanation is very puzzling.  He seems to be saying that the fundamental difference between governments, on the one hand, and coercive institutions that are not governments but that do the same things as governments, on the other hand, consists in “how” these entities do what they do.  But then in explaining this what this special government-like mode of exercising coercive power involves, he and you seem to be saying that what makes some coercive institution a government is that governments make various claims in the process of exercising coercion.

            But if the anarchist view on what makes some kinds of organized coercive force objectionable has been reduced to some objections to the making of various kinds of claims in the process of exercising coercive force, then it has been reduced to a doctrine without the large significance that both its defenders and opponents have customarily  attributed to it.

            Recall that my own initial claim was that one can only effectively resist autocracy and tyranny in a sustainable way is through a democratically organized wall of concerted and shared power that is brought to bear on a consistent basis against actual would-be oppressors.  I then added that it would be practical for this organized group of people to preserve their unity as a society over time; to make rules for a common life together; to debate, refine and improve the rules over time; and to establish settled practices for keeping these rules in place.

            Now if some self-styled anarchists are happy with all that, I am in turn happy to have them in the democratic camp.  I really don’t care what additional claims that organized power makes for itself concerning its “rights”.   I believe they need to exercise coercive rule-making power, and do it democratically.  The enunciation of claims and doctrines is optional.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pedro-Eidt/1653980475 Pedro Eidt

            more like killing those who perform the same service without its authorization rather than enunciation of claims.

          • Anonymous

            What do you think of the concept of declaring a person Outlaw in the old english legal system? 

            While I concede there’s an element of territoriality it’s clear, to me at least, that the important distinction is that it applies to a person — a part of some community — independent of an territorial aspect.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

            Why is this any more likely to be the case than the idea that the Civil Rights Act is in large part the reason that many of the constitutive practices of racism “have been altered and pushed back in the US and other societies”?

            It’s not.  So I’m not sure what you are asking about here.  My view is that government action has been responsible for both rolling back the the subjugation of women and rolling back slavery and other forms of racial oppression.  So that seems like a mark in favor of government to me.

          • http://insteadofablog.wordpress.com/ Neverfox

            I agree that it’s not, but what should have been obvious from the thrust of my whole argument is that it’s not more likely than something that has little or no responsibility for desegregating society.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

            Sorry, I guess I’m being thick here.  What is not more likely than something that has little or no responsibility for desegregating society?  I’ve completely lost track of the claim you are making.

          • Anonymous

            Although it should be pointed out that slavery was a state-created and state-enforced property right in people.  Racial oppression has generally been committed directly by the state (from slavery and Jim Crow to the modern drug war’s focus on people of color) or indirectly through the enforcement of rights, such as the enforcement of private individuals rights to exclude people of color from their businesses or the enforcement of exploitative debts  and contracts.  As Malcolm X said: “You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress” So the state can’t help create a problem, kind of fix it (but not really, see, e.g. the composition of the prison population) and then get credit for a job well done.

          • Damien S.

            As far as our experience goes, *all* property is state-created and -enforced.  The slaves were no different than the land they worked or the factories they didn’t work in.  The state divvies up and enforces land title.  The state doesn’t create the factory or the tools in it, but land’s involved again, and the state enforces that the factory belongs to the capitalist who built it and not the workers who work it or the squatters who could use it as shelter.

            And, despite being illegal, people manage to keep sex and labor slaves today, even in the US.  Pure private enterprise, there.

          • Anonymous

            I agree.  The view of property rights as sacrosanct is probably the biggest reason I don’t consider myself a libertarian.  

    • Anonymous

      That’s a possibility and I’ve certainly heard libertarians that talk in ways that suggest they might easily follow such a path — or perhaps simply fall for a version of the fatal conceit Hayek talked about with socialist.

      It’s pretty clear that we have similar problems with today’s democracies. Moreover, the problem appears to be getting worse, not better.

      One thing that you discount too much is simply the individualist requirement within libertarian theory. You’ve often pointed out some of the problems with over emphasizing the individual and how libertarians are perceived.  That turns into a strength in this case, for any libertarian to take on the mantel of intellectual superiority and therefore the right t dominate another will be seen by all as a charlatan.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_N6HQ4Y5ZPT4HGXE3EPX3Z7KH2E BerserkRL

    See also Sheldon Richman here.

  • Anonymous

    Lind is making the mistake of conflating individual people who identify as libertarians with ideological libertarianism.  And there are plenty of people who think they are libertarians because they are republicans and yet don’t hate gay people.   To be fair to Lind, however, 1) the people he overgeneralizes from  (Hayek, Mises, Friedman) are highly regarded by most libertarians and 2)  the elements of organizational libertarianism which manage to have the most influence on policy (and are, therefore, the most visible) are those addled by the fusionist alliance with conservative elements.  These elements have often been willing to look the other way when authoritarian actions further their shared economic goals.  For example, Scott Walker engaged in some anti-democratic tactics in his union busting (with a dash of good old crony capitalism) and  received very little criticism from mainstream libertarian institutions like Cato and Reason.   So to the untrained eye, libertarians appear most frequently when they are sharing the stage with authoritarian conservatives who happen to also support economic freedom.  Lind is wrong about libertarianism, but in an understandable way; if libertarians who abhor authoritarianism do not want to be lumped in with libertarians who support it, at some point they should probably argue with them a bit more loudly.  

    • Damien S.

      Indeed.  And Mises and Hayek aren’t just highly regarded, they’re founding thinkers.  Seeing them endorse fascism like that should be rather embarrassing.  Sort of like Jefferson and slavery, but that at least is usually acknowledged, and longer ago; funny how reading the post here didn’t give me any clue that Lind would be talking about Hayek and Pinochet.

      Also, I don’t know what Libertarians were like back in the 1980s, but these days visible libertarians are visibly strongly associated with the Republican party and conservatism.  Gun rights and deregulation and tax cuts and privatising or abolish Social Security, Beck and Limbaugh and the Tea Party.  Associating libertarianism with conservatism isn’t some fantasy of Lind’s, it’s what most people will see.

      (Granted, the mainstream Democratic party especially post 9/11 isn’t exactly a bastion of calls for drug legalization and protecting civil liberties, undermining my 1990s dichotomy of “GOP does guns and taxes, Democrats protect civil liberties”, but there’s still a clear advantage in gay rights, and rights vs. police at least below the Obama level.)

      There’s actually a deeper argument associating (US/right) libertarianism with autocracy, though Lind doesn’t make it.  An anarchist or even minarchist world of sovereign or fee simple landowners is basically a world of petty monarchies.  In a world of roughly equal yeoman farmers, that’s not a big deal.  In a world where land and/or capital are concentrated, and most people are dependent on rent or jobs to live, there’s no barrier but competition against company towns and petty tyrannies not just in the workplace but in one’s off-work life, and the effectiveness of that competition.  Untrammeled liberty of property owners combined with inequal possession of property means liberty for the wealthy, servitude for the poor.  Or so it seems to most modern liberals who think about it for a bit, while libertarians are almost always in denial of the importance of the property distribution.  You promise anarchy, but we see autocracies.

      And man, those MacCaulay quotes.  Can’t have democracy, because the hungry poor might try to get some food by force.  This being the bleedingheartlibertarians site, one hopes people here have more concern for those with but half a dinner — but I’ve yet to see anything more than the completely orthodox (and conservative) assurances that Libertopia will generate such wealth and generosity as to trickle down on the poor.

      • Isaac Yonemoto

        The irony is that Hayek was correct.  Yes a few thousand people were disappeared, but that’s not terribly many, relatively speaking.  But what’s quite interesting is that the Pinochet regime stepped down.  Without bloodshed.  And Pinochet was tried by the very government that he put in place.  Now how many dictators suffer that fate?  And when it did end, it ended quite peacefully, and Chile is now one of the most prosperous nations in South America.

        • Anonymous

          A few thousand extrajudicial murders is just a statistic!  Depriving a few thousand people of their lives (and torturing 30,000 more)  is a small price to pay in order to guarantee individual rights! Wait that doesn’t sound right…

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  • Eric Sundwall

    The frequency of these attacks from Salon, Slate et al, is increasing. A welcome thing in my estimation, as they are so easily disputed and bring light to the fallacies and fears so often propagated.

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  • Anonymous

    If I understand your point here: “… the libertarian will only create vacuums into which the autocracies and tyrannies they claim to deplore will rush in.  ” then “they only way they can secure that interest in a sustainable way is to bind themselves to one another in solidarity”, the binding together and solidarity you allude to is really the same thing that the libertarians who would do so seek to replace or avoid, isn’t it?

    To the argument that the dream of a non-coercive society can never exist or persist because aggressors will not respect it (and hence must be met with force), I,  being one who values these dreams (and thinks that dreaming is essential to a creative and satisfying life) would allow for other possibilities.

    Perhaps it is no more than naivete, and could lead to a different but equally onerous arrangement, where some are conscripted into service defending the rest, however, it is possible, given the  freedom and resources sufficient for the task, we could identify means to preventing them (aggressors) from interfering with us – without becoming disproportionately engaged.

    I think the real (big) dream is to establish a society that is so proficient at teaching and demonstrating the value and desirability of living a rational life that eventually most people would join, leaving the irrational outliers with no army.


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  • john valerio

    I don’t think it’s possible to agree anymore with you, Roderick.  It’s truly sad that such educated people, like Lind, think and argue like little children when it comes to understanding things of political nature that they do not agree with.  Personally, I think Lind is being willfully ignorant to forward what he WANTS people to think knowing that the rebuttals will not get nearly the attention that his article will. He can then simply ignore posts like yours and Richman’s (linked above in the comments).

  • john valerio

    Lind ‘s logic in a baseball analogy:

    Everyone is a Red Sox or Yankees fan. So if you hate one, you are a fan of the other. PERIOD.

    It’s no more silly than what Lind actually said.

  • GaffiGubbi

    I haven’t read Lind’s column, but it does seem like there’s a valuable lesson here.

    We all approach life from a binary viewpoint – to eat or not to eat this mushroom, get inside the cave or go hunting, pros and cons. That’s how we operate. In reality our choice sets often turn out to be false dilemmas, but presenting radical dilemmas provokes us deeply because survival often requires choosing between A and B. People unsophisticated in informal logic (and otherwise ideologically committed people) thus don’t always see that preference of A over B doesn’t entail endorsement of A.

    The problem is that if libertarians don’t learn to communicate themselves, they can’t help but look like fascist sympathizers. Given the choice between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR, or Pinochet’s Chile and Castro’s Cuba, I’d choose the former ones without blinking an eye, and I trust that most people here would do the same (no doubt most liberals would as well, but they’re not the ones being examined). However, the best way to make our seemingly authoritarian tendencies even more apparent would be to coyly say “Well, the Nazis did have some property rights…”. In the eyes of people who see in two colors, black is all they will see in that.

    So what can we do, outside of explaining that we’re not actually fascists and autocrats? I suggest trying to make bleeding heart libertarianism a unique and more recognizable brand – something separate from libertarians who look like they apologize for rightist authoritarianism*. Let’s choose our words very carefully –  a lot of times paleos like Rockwell bash Lincoln’s federal tyranny making it look like he’s siding with Confederates, whereas a bleeding heart solution would be to start from a staunch anti-slavery position but add that Lincoln didn’t solve it the right way. I actually agree with Rockwell that Lincoln was a tyrant in some sense, but it’s simply disastrous to phrase it that way if you want your ideas to be taken seriously. Rhetorical jiujitsu is the key.

    Libertarianism is a very large tent where small disagreements in focus, rhetoric, policies and principles can make all the difference – and because it’s a radical and principle-based philosophy, libertarians like to theorize about the most radical things in life and the most outrageous conclusions are often augmented. The principles of liberty, non-aggression and property can have deep consequences, and if we don’t learn how to communicate those principles, we end up with people who think we question female suffrage (Thiel) and permit slavery (Block’s and Nozick’s voluntary slavery), child neglect (Rothbard), authoritarian rule (Hayek, Hoppe) and feudalistic private tyrannies (Hoppe) among other abominable things. I’d want most people to see that libertarianism isn’t a philosophy of tyranny at all, but if we can’t have that, the best alternative would be for them to say “Some libertarians have some really awful and inhumane ideas, but at least there are some BHL’s (or left-libertarians, whatever you want to call them) who are sensible and thoughtful, even though I disagree with them.” That way we have an open window through which to communicate with the public about libertarian ideas.

    *Note: this doesn’t mean we should stop calling ourselves libertarians or to completely disassociate from people like Rockwell and DiLorenzo, because we still share a common continuum of ideas and principles. (I also don’t mean to say that right-libertarians actually do endorse authoritarianism, but they often make it look like they do) It just means creating a recognizable brand that says “I believe in liberty and I take the principle of non-aggression seriously, but I also believe in social justice and I oppose oppression in all forms.”

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