LIBERTARIANISM: BOGUS ANARCHY
A distinct mainstream movement specific to the United States,
Libertarianism had its inception during the 1960s. In 1971 it formed
into a political party and went on to make a strong showing in several
elections. Libertarianism is at times referred to as ``anarchism,''
and certain of its adherents call themselves ``anarchists,'' e.g.,
the economist James Buchanan. More significant, the work of
US individualist anarchists (Benjamin Tucker et al.) is cited
by some Libertarians. Accordingly, it may rightly be asked whether
Libertarianism is in fact anarchism. Exactly what is the relationship
between the two? To properly decide the question requires a synopsis
of anarchist history.
The chronology of anarchism within the United States corresponds to
what transpired in Europe and other locations. An organized anarchist
movement imbued with a revolutionary collectivist, then communist,
orientation came to fruition in the late 1870s. At that time,
Chicago was a primary center of anarchist activity within the
USA, due in part to its large immigrant population.
(Chicago was also where the Haymarket affair occurred in
1886. An unknown assailant threw a bomb as police broke up a public
protest demonstration. Many radicals were arrested, and several hanged on
the flimsiest of evidence.) Despite off and on political repression, the
US anarchist movement continued in an expansive mode until the mid-1890s,
when it then began to flounder. By 1900, anarchy was visibly in decline.
But like its counterpart in Europe, anarchism's marginalization in the
United States was temporarily slowed by the arrival of syndicalism. North
American syndicalism appeared 1904-1905 in the form of a militant unionism
known as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Anarchists entered the
IWW along with revolutionary socialists. The alliance did not last long.
Internal squabbles soon split the IWW, and for a time there existed
anarchist and socialist versions. Finally, with involvement of the US in
WWI, the anarchist IWW, and anarchism in general, dropped from the public
Anarchy in the USA consisted not only of the
Bakunin-collectivist/syndicalist and Kropotkin-communist strains, but
also the Proudhon-mutualist/individualist variant associated most closely
with Benjamin Tucker. Individualist anarchy actually had a longer history
of duration within the United States than the other two, but not only
because Proudhon preceded Bakunin and Kropotkin. There were other
individualist anarchists before Tucker who had ties to various radical
movements which predate Proudhon. Within the United States of early to
mid-19th century, there appeared an array of communal and "utopian"
counterculture groups (including the so-called free love movement).
William Godwin's anarchism exerted an ideological influence on some of
this, but more so the socialism of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier.
After success of his British venture, Owen himself established a cooperative
community within the United States at New Harmony, Indiana during 1825.
One member of this commune was Josiah Warren (1798-1874), considered to be
the first individualist anarchist. After New Harmony failed Warren
shifted his ideological loyalties from socialism to anarchism (which was
no great leap, given that Owen's socialism had been predicated on Godwin's
anarchism). Then he founded his own commune ("Modern Times") and
propounded an individualist doctrine which nicely dovetailed with
Proudhon's mutualism arriving from abroad. Warren's activities
attracted a number of converts, some of whom helped to further develop
American mutualism. The most important of these were Ezra Heywood
(1829-1893), William B. Greene (1819-1878), and Lysander Spooner (1808-1887).
The advent of the Civil War put an end to much of the utopian movement and
its communal living experiments. Individualist anarchism was itself reduced
to an agitprop journalistic enterprise of some measurable popularity. And
in this form it found its most eloquent voice with Benjamin Tucker and his
magazine Liberty. Tucker had been acquainted with Heywood and other
individualist anarchists, and he subsequently converted to mutualism.
Thereafter he served as the movement's chief polemist and guiding hand.
The Proudhonist anarchy that Tucker represented was largely superseded
in Europe by revolutionary collectivism and anarcho-communism. The same
changeover occurred in the US, although mainly among subgroups of working
class immigrants who were settling in urban areas. For these recent
immigrants caught up in tenuous circumstances within the vortex of
emerging corporate capitalism, a revolutionary anarchy had greater
relevancy than go slow mutualism. On the other hand, individualist
anarchism also persisted within the United States because it had the
support of a different (more established, middle class, and formally
educated) audience that represented the earlier stream of indigenous North
American radicalism reflecting this region's unique, and rapidly fading,
decentralized economic development. Although individualist and communist
anarchy are fundamentally one and the same doctrine, their respective
supporters still ended up at loggerheads over tactical differences. But
in any event, the clash between the two variants was ultimately resolved
by factors beyond their control. Just as anarcho-communism entered a
political twilight zone in the 1890s, American mutualism did likewise.
Tucker's bookstore operation burned down in 1908, and this not only
terminated publication of Liberty, but also what remained of the
individualist anarchism ``movement.'' The aggregate of support upon
which this thread of thought had depended was already in
dissipation. Individualist anarchy after 1900 receded
rapidly to the radical outback.
What then does any of this have to do with Libertarianism? In
effect, nothing, aside from a few unsupported claims. Libertarianism is
not anarchism, but actually a form of liberalism. It does, however, have
a point of origin that is traceable to the same juncture as anarchism's
marginalization. So in this limited sense there is a shared commonality.
To be more precise, the rapid industrialization that occurred within the
United States after the Civil War went hand in glove with a sizable
expansion of the American state. At the turn of the century, local
entrepreneurial (proprietorship/partnership) business was overshadowed in
short order by transnational corporate capitalism. The catastrophic
transformation of US society that followed in the wake of corporate
capitalism fueled not only left wing radicalism (anarchism and socialism),
but also some prominent right wing opposition from dissident elements
anchored within liberalism. The various stratum comprising the capitalist
class responded differentially to these transpiring events as a function
of their respective position of benefit. Small business that remained as
such came to greatly resent the economic advantage corporate capitalism
secured to itself, and the sweeping changes the latter imposed on the
presumed ground rules of bourgeois competition. Nevertheless, because
capitalism is liberalism's raison d'etre, small business operators had
little choice but to blame the state for their financial woes, otherwise
they moved themselves to another ideological camp (anti-capitalism).
Hence, the enlarged state was imputed as the primary cause for
capitalism's ``aberration'' into its monopoly form, and thus it
became the scapegoat for small business complaint. Such sentiments
are found vented within a small body of literature extending from
this time, e.g., Albert Jay Nock's Our Enemy, The State (1935); what
may now rightly be called proto-Libertarianism.
As a self-identified ideological movement, however,
Libertarianism took more definite shape from the 1940s onward
through the writings of novelist Ayn Rand. The exaltation of liberal
individualism and minimal state laissez-faire capitalism that permeates
Rand's fictional work as a chronic theme attracted a cult following within
the United States. To further accommodate supporters, Rand fashioned her
own popular philosophy (``Objectivism'') and a membership organization.
Many of those who would later form the nucleus of Libertarianism came out
of Objectivism, including two of its chief theoreticians, John Hospers and
Murray Rothbard. Another conduit into Libertarianism carried a
breakaway faction from William F. Buckley's college youth club, the Edmund
Burke-style conservative Young Americans For Freedom. More academic
input arrived from the Austrian school of neoclassical economics
promulgated by F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (of which the economist
Rothbard subscribes). All these marginal streams intermingled during
the mid to late 1960s, and finally settled out as Libertarianism in the
It is no coincidence that Libertarianism solidified and
conspicuously appeared on the scene just after the United States entered
an economic downturn (at the same time Keynesian economics was discredited
and neoclassical theory staged a comeback). The world-wide retrenchment of
capitalism that began in the late 1960s broke the ideological strangle
hold of a particular variant of (Locke-Rousseau) liberalism, thereby
allowing the public airing of other (Locke-Burke) strains representing
disaffected elements within the capitalist class, including small business
interests. Libertarianism was one aspect of this New Right offensive. It
appeared to be something sui generis. Libertarianism provided a simplistic
status quo explanation to an anxious middle class threatened by the
unfathomed malaise of capitalism and growing societal deterioration, i.e.,
blame the state. And this prevalent grasping at straws attitude accounts
for the success of Robert Nozick's popularization of Libertarianism,
Anarchy, State, And Utopia (1974). It rode the crest of this polemic rift
within liberalism. The book was deemed controversial, even extreme, by
establishment liberals (and social democrats long pacified by the welfare
state), who, secure in power for decades, were now under sustained attack
by their own right wing. Yet at bedrock, Nozick's treatise was nothing
more than old wine in a new bottle, an updating of John Locke.
Libertarianism is not anarchism. Some Libertarians readily admit this.
For example, Ayn Rand, the radical egoist, expressly disavows the communal
individuality of Stirner in favor of liberalism's stark individualism.
Plus Robert Nozick makes pointed reference to the US individualist
anarchists, and summarily dismisses them. This explicit rejection of
anarchism is evidence of the basic liberalist ideology that Libertarians
hold dear. But more specifically, within the movement itself there exist
factional interests. There are Libertarians who emphasize lifestyle
issues and civil liberties (an amplification of John Stuart Mill's On
Liberty). They want the state out of their "private" lives, e.g., in drug
use and sexual activity. Others are chiefly concerned with economics. They
champion laissez-faire/``free-market''/ neoclassical economics, and fault
the state for corrupting ``natural'' capitalism. Although both groups
despise the state intensely, neither wants to completely do away with it.
This minimal state position, sufficient by itself to debar Libertarianism
from classification as anarchism, is embraced by Rand, Buchanan, Hospers,
and Nozick. More revealing, however, is why Libertarians retain the
state. What they always insist on maintaining are the state's coercive
apparatuses of law, police, and military. The reason flows directly
from their view of human nature, which is a hallmark of liberalism, not
anarchism. That is, Libertarianism ascribes social problems within society
(crime, poverty, etc.) to an inherent disposition of humans (re: why Locke
argues people leave the ``state of nature''), hence the constant need for
``impartial'' force supplied by the state. Human corruption and degeneracy
stemming from structural externalities as a function of power is never
admitted because Libertarianism, like liberalism, fully supports
capitalism. It does not object to its power, centralization, economic
inequality, hierarchy, and authority. The ``liberty'' to exploit labor
and amass property unencumbered by the state is the quintessence of
capitalism, and the credo of Libertarianism ne liberalism, all of
which is the utter negation of anarchism.
Lastly to be addressed is the apparent anomaly of Murray Rothbard.
Within Libertarianism, Rothbard represents a minority perspective that
actually argues for the total elimination of the state. However
Rothbard's claim as an anarchist is quickly voided when it is shown
that he only wants an end to the public state. In its place he allows
countless private states, with each person supplying their own police
force, army, and law, or else purchasing these services from
capitalist venders. Rothbard has no problem whatsoever
with the amassing of wealth, therefore those with more capital will
inevitably have greater coercive force at their disposal, just as they
do now. Additionally, in those rare moments when Rothbard (or any other
Libertarian) does draw upon individualist anarchism, he is always highly
selective about what he pulls out. Most of the doctrine's core principles,
being decidedly anti-Libertarianism, are conveniently ignored, and so what
remains is shrill anti-statism conjoined to a vacuous freedom in hackneyed
defense of capitalism. In sum, the ``anarchy'' of Libertarianism reduces
to a liberal fraud. David Wieck's critique of Rothbard, applicable to
Libertarianism in general, will close this discussion.
``Out of the history of anarchist thought and action Rothbard
has pulled forth a single thread, the thread of individualism,
and defines that individualism in a way alien even to the spirit
of a Max Stirner or a Benjamin Tucker, whose heritage I presume
he would claim - to say nothing of how alien is his way to the spirit
of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and the historically
anonymous persons who through their thoughts and action have tried to
give anarchism a living meaning. Out of this thread Rothbard
manufactures one more bourgeois ideology.''
1 David DeLeon, The American As Anarchist: Reflections On
Indigenous Radicalism (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 1978),
p. 147; Jay Kinney, ``What's Left? Revisiting The Revolution'', in
Stewart Brand, ed., The Next Whole Earth Catalog (Sausalito, CA:
Point, 1980), p. 393; David Miller, Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent &
Sons, 1984), p. 4. By itself, the fact that Libertarianism formed a
political party and has attempted to attain power through the
electoral system seriously undermines its claim to be anarchism.
2 James M. Buchanan, "A Contractarian Perspective On Anarchy",
in J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman, eds., Anarchism: NOMOS
XIX (New York: New York University, 1978), p. 29. Libertarianism is also
referred to as "anarcho-capitalism" and "philosophical anarchism." The
word "libertarian" was used by French anarchists in the 1890s as a synonym
for "anarchist." Consequently, some contemporary anarchists refer to
themselves and/or anarchy as "libertarian." But here there is no implied
connection to Libertarianism. Michael P. Smith, The Libertarians And
Education (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983), pp. 2, 3.
3 David Friedman, The Machinery Of Freedom: Guide To Radical
Capitalism, Second Edition (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989), pp. 37, 113;
Murray Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (Lanham,
MD: University Press of America, 1978), pp. 51-52.
4 Bruce Nelson, Beyond The Martyrs: A Social History of Chicago's
Anarchists, 1870-1900 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, 1988),
pp. 4, 15, 25; Laurence Veysey, The Communal Experience: Anarchist and
Mystical Counter-Cultures in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 35.
5 Ibid., p. 35.
6 Sima Lieberman, Labor Movements And Labor Thought: Spain, France,
Germany, and the United States (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1986),
p. 247. Dorothy Gallagher, All The Right Enemies: The Life and Murder
of Carlo Tresca (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, 1988), pp. 60-61.
7 James Joll, The Anarchists. Second Edition (London: Metheun,
1979), pp. 201-203; Miller, pp. 134-135; Terry M. Perlin,
Anarchist-Communism In America, 1890-1914 (Ph.D. dissertation,
Brandeis University, 1970), p. 294.
8 John C. Spurlock, Free Love: Marriage and Middle-Class
Radicalism in America, 1825-1860 (New York: New York University,
1988), pp. 28, 62.
9 James J. Martin, Men Against The State: The Expositors of
Individualist Anarchism in America 1827-1908 (New York: Libertarian
Book Club, 1957), pp. 14, 17; William O. Reichert, Partisans Of
Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling
Green University, 1976), p. 66.
10 G.D.H. Cole, Socialist Thought: The Forerunners 1789-1859
(London: Macmillan, 1953), pp. 87-88.
11 Martin, p. 97.
12 Veysey, pp. 35, 36.
13 Edward K. Spann, Brotherly Tomorrows: Movements for a Cooperative
Society in America 1820-1920 (New York: Columbia University, 1989),
14 For example, see the vitriolic exchange between
Kropotkin and Tucker. Peter Kropotkin, Modern Science And Anarchism,
Second Edition (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 70-71. Benjamin R.
Tucker, Instead Of A Book, By A Man Too Busy To Write One (New York:
Haskell House, 1969), pp. 388-389.
15 Martin, pp. 258-259.
16 See, Stephen Skowronek, Building A New American State: The
Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920
(Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1982).
17 See, Olivier Zunz, Making America Corporate 1870-1920
(Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990).
18 David M. Gordon, Richard Edwards and Michael Reich, Segmented
Work, Divided Workers: The Historical Transformation of Labor in the
United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1982), pp. 109, 110.
19 Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, The State (Caldwell, ID: Caxton
Printers, 1935). Peter Marshall, Demanding The Impossible: A History
of Anarchism (London: HarperCollins, 1992), p. 560. Veysey, p. 36.
20 John Hospers, Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for
Tomorrow (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1971), p. 466. Ted Goertzel,
Turncoats And True Believers: The Dynamics of Political Belief and
Disillusionment (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1992), pp. 141, 263.
21 DeLeon, pp. 119-123; Micheal G. Newbrough, Individualist
Anarchism In American Political Thought (Ph.D. dissertation, University
of California, Santa Barbara, 1975), p. 216.
22 Murray Rothbard is the "academic vice president" of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute at Auburn, Alabama, and contributing editor to its
publication, The Free Market. Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., ed., The Free
Market 11(7-8), July-August 1993, 1-8.
23 Newbrough, p. 217.
24 John Gray, Liberalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota,
1986), pp. xi, 41; J.G. Merquior, Liberalism: Old and New (Boston:
Twayne Publishers, 1991), p. 138.
25 Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, The Virtue of Selfishness: A
New Concept of Egoism (New York: Signet Books, 1964), p. 135.
26 Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, And Utopia (New York: Basic
Books, 1974), p. 276. Also see, Tibor Machan, "Libertarianism: The
Principle of Liberty", in George W. Carey, ed., Freedom And Virtue: The
Conservative/Libertarian Debate (Lanham, MD: University Press of America
and The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1984), pp. 40-41.
27 Goertzel, p. 262.
28 Gray, p. 42; Hospers, p. 417; Nozick, p. 276; Rand and Branden,
pp. 112, 113.
29 Hospers, p. 419; Nozick, p. ix; Rand and Branden, p. 112.
30 Murray N. Rothbard, "Society Without A State", in Pennock and
Chapman, eds., p. 192.
31 David Wieck, "Anarchist Justice", in Pennock and Chapman, eds.,
[This article appears in issue #41 (Fall/Winter 1994-95) of
*Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed* available for $3.50 postpaid from
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