The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, January 26, 2009

A small black flag, waving

The author of the fine but all-too-aptly-titled blog Liberty Alone appeals to any fellow left-libertarians in the UK:
Any left libertarians (including geolibertarians, agorists, market anarchists, individualist anarchists, volunatrists, voluntary socialists, liberal anarchists, mutualists, dialectical libertarians and others) get in touch please…
So comrades, go rally. I'm not quite sure what a 'volunatrist' is, but I like the sound of it.


Hmmm. I've always thought of myself as left-libertarian, but a lot of that site struck me as left-Libertarian, which is a very odd place to be. Another thing I've always thought is that there's an ocean between libertarian and Libertarian - figuratively as well as literally.

Perhaps this just points up the bagginess of the term 'left'. I prefer 'Marxist' - not least because of the effect the phrase 'libertarian Marxist' has on passing Libertarians.

Ken haven't you ever heard of Pierre Etgilles, the famous French volunatrist? He disappeared while trying to cross the Alps by Volunatrone.

I would probably fall into the left-libertarian camp if it weren't for the amount of dewy-eyed devotion to the holy^Wfree market, solver of all woes.

So, I vary, this week I am a post-statist, radical devolutionary, consensusatorial ad-hocritist (and changer of cat litter).

Hi Phil. If you are a North American I think I can solve your linguistic problem. I left the States in 1972. At that time, "Libertarian" meant free-market enthusiast, usually with roots in von Mises, Rothbard, Rand, and later on a higher intellectual level, Nozick. So for a gringo, "Left-Libertarian" WAS (IS?) a contradiction. Here in Europe it isn't, since "Libertarian" need not (here) mean a free-marketeer. Rather, it can mean someone who in some sense wants to maximize individual liberty and freedom of thought and action, while insisting on the need of some sort of state: perhaps one that ensures the above while guaranteeing basic security, services, and (income?) distribution.
Note all the qualifiers. There are many kinds of Left-Libertarian. For orientation, look carefully at the Wikipedia article on "Libertarian Socialism". I learned a lot from it.

Any left libertarians (including geolibertarians, agorists, market anarchists, individualist anarchists, volunatrists, voluntary socialists, liberal anarchists, mutualists, dialectical libertarians and others) get in touch please…

Wonderful. Reminds me of Blazing Saddles...

"I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers - and Methodists!"

P.S. I should have included F.A. Hayek in the lineage mentioned above.

Wasn't Etgilles looking for a lost tribe of brabarians?

I prefer this from Blazing Saddles: "All right, we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks, but we don’t want the Irish!"

Dalziel - those brabarians will get you every time.

On the subject of Libertarian Socialism in Britain, anyone interested in the subject should look at David Goodway's "Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow". Lots of info on both anarchists like Alex Comfort,
John Cowper Powys* and Colin Ward, and Left-Marxists like Morris, E.P. Thompson and Maurice Brinton.

*I believe Powys' status as a philosopher & literary critic
(as opposed to novelist) has yet to be recognised, and Goodway does a lot to rectify that.

Anon, Maurice Brinton may have thought he was a left-Marxist, but he wasn't any kind of Marxist. His theory was that all social relations are determined by social relations within the process of production (or to put it crudely, industrial relations). This is not Marxism, though he may have been honestly mistaken that it was.

Can't really say I had ever heard of him before, but having read a a few of his works, your analysis doesn't seem to tie in with them (at the point in time at which he wrote them). For e.g, "Socialism must give man an opportunity to create, not only in the economic field but in all fields of human endeavour. Let the cynics smile and pretend that all this is petty-bourgeois utopianism. "The problem" Marx said, "is to organise the world in such a manner that man experiences in it the truly human, becomes accustomed to experience himself as a man, to assert his true individuality". from

Still prefer Comfort though. Sod Marx (right or drunk), this is better.

Seeing the news film

Consummatum est. It will long since
have been finished. You who walk
from the screen's edges into the dark have gone
outside our pity. Finished days ago -
that road now empty. And yet one of you
looked straight at us, who hid in time and space
and warmth and food behind the round glass eye.
One turned her back. A child carried a child.
A child ran searching, will always run. No sound
out of his desperate oval mouth - what we have written
we have written: nothing will change it. If
we shout Look, she is there he will not hear.

So passing us whose tender pity wraps
the infant princes and the baby bears
behind the glass of the lens you did not ask for
pity or revenge, only an answer -
Why you? Why we? You did not say
You too, it shall be so with you - before
democracy's fat glad commentary
hustled you out of being. You stay with us
an after-image of the colder light
on a white ground, dark - on the white ground
dark, beside the path, a liberated child.

And I the child will run always, but never knowing
a senile general and ten frightened men
for whose prestige I, suddenly lost,
being four years old, and seeming
after long searching to have fallen asleep
am here, cannot be buried. In this immutable dream.
Once we could kill people and they would die.

This is the record, this is finished. Wash
that from our fingers, if we can.

Well Ken,from my reading of Brinton,he came across as a very unconventional Marxist indeed, and
your argument that he actually wasn't
a Marxist is a valid one (although I
personally disagree).

On another note, have you every read
David Widgery's "The Left In Britain"? Even today it's a useful
resource for figuring out the different Leftist groups in the UK.

Rather, it can mean someone who in some sense wants to maximize individual liberty and freedom of thought and action, while insisting on the need of some sort of state

Not even that. I'd say that it can mean someone who wants to maximize individual liberty and freedom of thought and action, and who sees capitalism (wage labour, commodity production) as one of the barriers to doing so.

Have big-L Libertarians (the ones who believe in money) agreed a line on inherited wealth, by the way? I used to have a lot of fun asking Libertarians whether they believed in a 100% inheritance tax, and if not why not - but maybe they've sorted that one out by now.

Ken - Brinton no Marxist? You do realise that's fighting talk? (Not with me specifically, but still.)

Phil, many thanks for noting my unintentional omission! A hatred of capitalism is so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I simply unconsciously PRESUPPOSED it and didn't mention it's being the barrier you rightly say it is.

"I left the States in 1972. At that time, "Libertarian" meant free-market enthusiast, usually with roots in von Mises, Rothbard, Rand, and later on a higher intellectual level, Nozick."

Actually, until the 1960s/70s libertarian in America meant what it still means everywhere else, a libertarian socialist. In fact, anarchist use of "libertarian" began in New York, in 1858:

150 years of libertarian

Libertarians in this sense of the word generally call the right-wing "libertarians" propertarians, for obvious reasons...

As for Brinton, he was a Leninist, then a Marxist and then rejected the term in favour of "libertarian" or "libertarian socialist". For Workers' Power is a great collection of his writings, available from AK Press.

Bunty, that's a great poem. (and topical, sadly.) Where's it from?

Ken, as ejh says it's by Alex Comfort.

I found it on his obituary here:

Too topical indeed, I'd just blogged some of the pics from just before finding it, and it could have been written about them.

There don't seem to be many of his poems online at all (that's the only one I found), tempted to see if I can buy some of his books and release one or two more into the interwild.

George Berger: "Here in Europe it isn't, since "Libertarian" need not (here) mean a free-marketeer. Rather, it can mean someone who in some sense wants to maximize individual liberty and freedom of thought and action, while insisting on the need of some sort of state"

No, that is what we call "liberal" in Europe, not the same as "libertarian".

There are plenty of self-described left-libertarians who like free markets and don't like the State. They might also describe themselves variously as "Libertarian Communists", "Socialist Anarchists", "small-scale Socialists", "Free Market Socialists" or even "Anarcho-Syndicalists". Or just plain "Anarchists".

You've had them in America too: Emma Goldman, maybe Eugene Debs, Joe Hill, certainly Dorothy Day.

Some of them will point out that the connection between free markets and capitalism that is is assumed by statist politics is not proved. Or that a free market, if it was *really* free, would be free for the workers as well as the bosses. In fact maybe there would be no distinction between workers and bosses, between labourers and owners. Or that freedom is not opposed to equality (as the right-wing tries to kid us all the time) but that you can't really have one without the other. In fact we want all three of the old "Rights of Man". Lets have Liberty, Equality, *and* Fraternity.

And while we're at it we want bread *and roses too...

Hi Ken Brown, Anonymous, and Phil. The three of you have exposed me for the sloppy thinker that I am! I keep on forgetting to add an anti-capitalist clause to my supposed definitions. As I said to Phil, my only (poor) excuse is that a hatred of capitalism is so hard-wired in me that I didn't include such a clause. In real life I'm a retired academic philosopher who likes precision of thought and statement. That makes my omission totally inexcusable. You were all correct to jump on me!


Of course, another 'excuse' might be: that since a capitalist instantiation of society, by its very nature, leads to an aristocratic (power law) division of resource access /and/ consequent freedom, any rational and internally coherent definition of 'libertarian' must preclude capitalism already. *g*


Bread, Roses, and I think a few bottles of Alloa's finest could be in order.

I'm not sure I follow you, Bunty. Do you mean that since capitalism by nature restricts (reduces?) freedom for non-Aristocrats, any definition of "libertarian" that agrees with what we know about society (your "coherent") must already preclude capitalism? More simply, That ANY truly libertarian society must be non-capitalistic? I can accept that very easily. Thanks for the elucidation.

That was pretty much it, although I did mean 'internally coherent' in terms of any given family of libertarian philosophy in of itself. I.e., the anarcho-capitalist variant contradicts itself, because capitalist outcomes contradict anarchist principles. [although that may be what you said :D ]

Having said that there's probably more than a few would (sidestep reality and) argue that it's the equal 'possibility' of liberty that is more important as a foundation of a libertarianism than _actual_ liberty. Even the Levellers, for instance, took it as read that people who worked for a wage (covered by the category of servants in those days) had forgone their right to any real political power. Neoclassical economic theory holds that inequalities of wealth are justified due to different individuals having different contributions to the marginal factors of production -- conveniently ignoring the empirical reality that if this were the case then the difference in wages would more likely form a bell curve (as talent, intelligence, and being a big fat, no-good, greedy guts does) rather than an unprincipled Pareto one. But that is the sort of victim blaming that is only possible via such pseudo-mathamatical postulates as: "Let us first assume that all horses are spherical" being taken as ideology rather than thought experiments.

However, I digress.

Bunty, thanks for letting me know that I understand your point. About your second paragraph; I'm an ignoramus at economics who keeps forgetting, say, Pareto's notions 5 minutes (or seconds) after I learn them for the n-th time. But I do remember one good text on the kind of "pseudo-mathematical" postulates you rightly make fun of. It's the first half of David Schweikert's AFTER CAPITALISM. The author argues convincingly that some basic principles of marginal factor theory are ETHICAL postulates and not EVIDENT MATHEMATICAL ones, as the founders (e.g. Menger) claimed. They express the economist's ethics and need not appear in a decent economic theory. The master of THIS site, Ken, alerted me to this book in November, 2007.

Another good book in a similar vein is Steve Keen's Debunking Economics - The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences. It can be a bit tricky to keep track of things at times, as he'll disprove something in one chapter, then pretend he hadn't in the next in order to debunk in another way (essentially showing that even if the first postulate had been true, then it doesn't matter as there's plenty else wrong). He's very thorough :)

It's rather worrying to learn that the world (that of it under the auspices of world trade) is largely run on the advice of people who are essentially astrologers.

I did like Schweikert's book, be interesting to do something like give him New York to turn into a city state based on the principles of economic democracy and see how it turned out.

Which, going back on topic briefly, is why I wouldn't put myself under the left-libertarian banner per-se. I tend to believe that the best approach available [apart from A.I., because we all know where that leads] to solve a complex (as in complexity theory) social problem is a tribal swarm approach--trying loads of different theoretical approaches (with idea, approach, and methodology dissemination/improvement between them), rather than any single dogmatic ideological movement.

Basically, an open-sourcing of the socio-economic construction of reality.

Thanks Bunty, I'll do my best to look for the book you mentioned.

One last comment about Powys: A.N. Wilson pointed out in a review of Powys' "Porius" that JCP had been
strongly influenced by the philosophy of Marx's old bugbear, the ultra-individualist Max Stirner.

(I can't get the link to Wilson's article to work, :( but it's on JCP's Wiki page).

The combination of "left" with free-market-style libertarianism isn't an oxymoron, it's a return to the individualist anarchist tradition of the 19th century, which was pro-free-market but anti-capitalist; see

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