Archive for the Hobbes Category

New studies show babies have basically decent impulses and are strongly driven by moral imperatives

Posted in analysis, anarchism, anthropology, books, class, common ground, consciousness, democracy, elite, empowerment, freedom, Hobbes, inspiration, Kropotkin, libertarian, libertarian socialism, must-read, people's movements, philosophy, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, psychology, reading, science, social theory, sociology, the world's other superpower, truth with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by jtoddring

More research shows once again that compassion, empathy and mutual aid, and an instinct toward cooperation, are innate in human beings, confirming what the great Russian biologist and anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin had already amply demonstrated over a hundred years ago, in his monumental work, Mutual Aid. My but our cherished ideological self-deceptions die slowly.

The dark view of human nature presented by Hobbes and many others, is still alive and well, despite the growing mountain of evidence to the contrary. The ideology of social Darwinism, hatched by Herbert Spencer, and not, emphatically, by Darwin himself, still holds considerable sway, especially among the power elite, to use C. Wright Mills term, who use this grand self-deceit as a rationalization for their callous and frankly sociopathic behaviour.

But, as Chomsky has said, the great majority of people have basically decent impulses. Since this is the case, and since those who gravitate to positions of great power tend to be power-mongers and sociopaths, far more often than altruistic benefactors or true leaders, we should question our learned obedience to government and other elites and power structures, and trust our own common sense, and ourselves, far more.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/as-babies-we-knew-morality/281567/

J. Todd Ring,
November 18, 2013

A Short Rebuttal of Hobbes

Posted in anarchism, anthropology, civil liberties, class, corporate fascism, corporate rule, corporations, corporatism, corporatocracy, crisis of democracy, democracy, democratic deficit, empire, empowerment, fascism, freedom, geopolitics, globalism, globalization, Hobbes, human rights, imperialism, Jefferson, Kropotkin, libertarian, libertarian socialism, libertarianism, Mussolini, neoliberalism, philosophy, police state, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, resources, social theory, sovereignty with tags , , , , on April 26, 2008 by jtoddring

Freedom, Democracy and the Delusions of Power

For all his faults and the faults of the endeavour he was involved with, Jefferson was right on the essential point, in terms of political theory, which is the rebuttal that lays waste to Hobbes, the fantasy which still imprisons our minds and world, and that is: “If you can’t trust men to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?”

Here is a succinct critique of the Hobbesian confusion over power in society, which still affects our world profoundly and pervasively, and from which we had best awaken, and quickly. Power games are nothing new. They are millennia old. It is imperative that we understand them, particularly now, as old patterns are morphing into new and darker guises.

Hobbes wrote nearly 400 years ago, around the time of the English Revolution, well before anthropology was born as an academic discipline, so he might be forgiven for his complete lack of understanding of human society, but his prejudices have become ours, his mistake our mistake, his confusion our own, and we are forced to deal with him, jaundiced, cynical and pathetic as his views may be. He wrote that life before civilization was “nasty, brutish and short” – something he surmised, and which anthropology has now thoroughly disproven, but the premise of his entire political philosophy none the less. He argued that human beings need a strong and powerful central authority to keep them from tearing each others’ throats out. Just who this authority might be, considering he did not trust people with power, was the lunacy to which Jefferson alluded. Moreover, it has been the rise of hierarchical power structrues in society that has brought unending war, conflict and systemic violence, not its absence, as the anthropological evidence now has shown. Still, we must deal with Hobbes, though we should have listen more attentively to Jefferson, and put this deluded figure on a dusty shelf where he belongs, along with his tragic ideas. Hobbes felt that if there were not a strong central authority powerfully constraining human beings, then we would instantly return to barbarism and a “war of all against all.” His fearful assumption and resulting notions of power in society have since pervaded all of Western society, and with the globalization of Western media, culture, and neoliberal political ideology and economics, Hobbes’ delusions have now pervaded most of the world. This specter haunting the world must be put to rest once and for all.

The core premise that I am addressing, the premise that you can’t trust human beings, is the root of the Hobbsian fallacy. There are strong reasons to disagree with this premise, and I do, but let’s accept it for the moment for the sake of argument. Assuming, for the moment, that you can’t trust people, who then, do you propose to govern people? The argument put forth by Hobbes, and accepted by so many scholars, politicians and business men, though it is clearly ridiculous, is this. You say you don’t trust people, therefore you give some people enormous power. This should strike us as patently absurd, if not simply delusional. If you do not trust people with a little power, the power over their own lives, then why would you entrust them with overwhelming great power? Is not Lord Acton more sensible here? “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I think there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the issues of power in society, and the implications – as we have seen in Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, China, Russia, Cambodia, and across the “Third World” in so many brutal, soulless, self-serving dictatorships – are extreme.

It seems to me that if you are afraid of people, if you take it as a basic assumption that you cannot trust people, then you have basically two choices – assuming there is no place to go to get away from people, or that you choose not to do so.

One choice, is the path of Hobbes: seek, cozy up to, or align yourself with some great power, in order to feel safe(r). But as we saw with Stalin, to name just one example, cozying up to power is no guarantee of protection, and as we see in all dictatorships or tyrannical regimes, of either right or left, seeking the protection of such powers leaves one in great danger from the very same powers. And seeking power oneself, when it is not a cozying up as a courtesan underling, or a mousy tugging at the coat tail for protection from above; when it is a grasping at the highest level of power, ie: becoming top dog oneself, this too is fraught with the greatest of danger, both from external and internal threats. The latter course leads generally to a life of paranoia, as it is always a reality that such power is impossible to guarantee, and even powerful emperors and empires fall to dust, invariably.

Therefore, the three variations on the first strategy – seek, serve/cozy up to, or align with a great power, is totally unreliable, and cannot ensure safety – far from it. In fact, this strategy opens the doors to even greater dangers.

The alternative to looking to power – your own or someone else’s – to protect oneself, which is the essence of the Hobbesian hypnosis, or delusion, is to disarm – both oneself and others. This is what Jefferson aimed to do, I would say. And this is the basic premise of classical liberal democracy. (Jefferson was simply more coherent and consistent with regard to such views than many others at the time or since – though he too had his contradictions.)

To make an analogy: if you are afraid of people, you can get a gun – better yet, become a mob boss, a big gun – or you can lick the boots of the mob boss who has the guns, hoping he’ll protect you, and won’t get angry for some unforeseen reason one day and feed you to his dog. This is basically the power-seeking/power cozying-up/protect me mister powerful man set of patterns. Become a mob boss, or lick the boots, or whatever else is required, of the mob boss, and hope this strategy keeps you safe. It doesn’t. And moreover, it should be repulsive to anyone to do either.

The alternative to becoming a mob boss, or licking the boots of the mob boss, is to eliminate the mob bosses – to disarm the threat. This is the basic gist of constitutional democracy, when intelligently applied, and particularly to that more robust form of constitutional democracy which is Jeffersonian democracy. Do not seek to gather power or align with centers of power, but rather, seek to distribute power and empower all, so that none have such excessive power that it could easily be abused.

To make another analogy, in a world where you perceive danger everywhere, as Hobbes did, you can start an arms race, hoping that great power will protect you, or you can work toward mutual disarmament. The former path is the one we have been on for some millennia now, and it has been a path of disaster. At this time, our weapons have grown so powerful that to continue down this path is a virtual guarantee of self-annihilation. The path of mutual disarmament is now the only viable path for human survival. This applies not only to the obvious aspects of disarmament, such as the universal elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, but to the more essential point of dissolving excessive concentrations of power in society, distributing power more broadly, and empowering all in equality, so that none have the means to terrorize or oppress others. Jefferson thus was far more sensible, more rational, and simply more sane than Hobbes.

Ultimately, the kind of elitist thinking which Plato and Hobbes represent, forms the basis of both feudal and fascist orders. Liberal democracy is antithetical to such notions, and libertarianism – left libertarianism, to be clear – is the most consistent application of this line of thinking which rejects elitist and authoritarian social structures. This is where Jefferson, for example, intersects with Chomsky. Jefferson understood the need to keep power decentralized politically in order to prevent its abuse, and understood equally well the need to place firm checks and limits on the powers of corporations, and what he called “the new monied aristocracy.” Jefferson, were he alive today, would be aligned with the libertarian left.

Chomsky put it remarkably succinctly when he said, ultimately, “you’re either an aristocrat or a democrat.” In other words, you either believe in rule by an elite, or you believe in rule by the people. The monarchies and aristocracies of feudal times were forms of elitist rule. The Caesars and Pharaohs and Babylonian kings represented forms of elitist rule. The theocracies of the Ayatollah Khomeini or the Taliban were forms of elitist rule. The reign of local thugs and war lords in parts of Africa is a form of elitist rule. The regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mussolini and Hitler were forms of elitist rule. And the emerging de facto world government, as the leading business journal, the Financial Times calls it, seated in Davos, Switzerland, is of course another form of elitist rule. All of these are antithetical to democracy, antithetical to freedom, antithetical to human rights, and antithetical to human dignity. They are a crude form of barbarism, masking itself, as always, as the salvation of the world. And there is now a powerful and dominant faction of the world’s business elite who want to create a most thorough form of elitist and authoritarian rule. We should shudder, and of course, defeat all such adolescent and dangerous dreams of self-deification. It would be very unwise to think that such infantile grandiosity, delusions of grandeur, or fantasies of total power have gone away, are a thing of the past, or can be dismissed as minor concerns. There are always a few who dream of complete domination, and will go to the greatest of lengths to attain their goal.

Plato became disillusioned with democracy after the council of Athens sentenced his teacher, Socrates, to death. Famously, he advocated a society ruled by philosopher kings. It sounds good in principle, but in reality it has almost without exception turned into a nightmare. Elite rule has almost universally brought oppression, tyranny, irrationality, stupidity and destruction upon humanity – over and over again throughout five thousand years of recorded history. Shall we try again? Have we not repeated this pattern enough? At present, the global business elite is planning the same routine, once more, and working fiercely and consciously to create Plato’s dream. They have decided that they are the wise kings, and want a global rule, with them in full control. Sounds like a recipe for total disaster to me, as I’m sure it does to most people. Yet here we go again. If we do not oppose the current trend, that is, if we do not reclaim our power, we will have a global feudal fascist order, and soon.

It is time we dispensed with our Hobbesian delusions, and decentralized power. Authentic democracy, freedom, human rights, and even human survival, now requires mutual empowerment and the dissolution of excessive concentrations of power in society. This would mean greater power for individuals, families, communities, states and provinces, joined together in federations of shared power and mutual aid and protection; and diminished power for national governments and large corporations. It would require firstly, however, a dismantling or opting out of investor rights agreements which transfer real power to unaccountable and undemocratic transnational centers of power, namely the global business elite. NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA, the WTO, IMF, World Bank and SPP all concentrate real power in society in the hands of a few international business elites, as does the current global monetary system. All of these therefore are anti-democratic and incompatible with a future of social justice, democracy or freedom.

In order to decentralize power and reduce the possibilities for power to be abused or become oppressive – as Jefferson advised and even urged – the power of the nation state and national democracies must first be strengthened however, for it is the power of the nation state and national democracies which are one of the powers potentially available to people to fend off and reverse the growing concentration of power in the hands of a global investment elite. To save democracy, the global business elite must first be put in check, their powers limited and rolled back to a level where they can no longer dominate national governments, communities and the lives of virtually all of humanity. Once this is accomplished, and it will be, then we can look to decentralizing power further, in order to take democracy and freedom to new levels of maturation and fullness. I think I’m safe in saying that three of the thinkers I respect most, Chomsky, Jefferson and Thoreau, would all agree on this. First reduce the power of the global business elite, and return power to national democracies. Then we can talk about a future of sanity, sustainability, justice and peace. Until then, we are on the road to serfdom and slavery, if not self-destruction. It is time to take the power back.

Thomas Paine was right. The central issues of power in society are not so very complicated. Ultimately, it is largely a matter of common sense. The primary obstacles are fear, disempowerment and illusion. The answers therefore are clear. They are courage, empowerment and a basic clarity of mind. These three elements are all within our reach.

The future is in our hands.

J. Todd Ring,

February 13, 2008

Essential reading:

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

Mutual Aid – Petr Kropotkin

Escape from Freedom – Eric Fromm

The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boitie

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Friere

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism – Max Weber

Powers and Prospects – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Chomsky

Necessary Illusions – Chomsky

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Trilateralism – Holy Sklar

The Collapse of Globalism – John Ralston Saul

The Great Turning – David C. Korten

WordPress: Writings of J. Todd Ring

YouTube – Prajnaseek’s Channel

The Right Kind of Confusion: Conservative Divisions and the Collapse of the Right

Posted in American politics, Bush, Canada, Canadian politics, capitalism, Clinton, conservative, Conservative Party, conservatives, corporate rule, corporatism, debt, deficit, Democratic Party, election, FDR, fiscal conservative, Global War on Terrorism, Harper, Hilary, Hobbes, Keynesian economics, liberal, libertarian, Martin, Mulroney, neoconservatism, neoliberalism, New Deal, Obama, politics, Reagan, Republican Party, right, social conservative, Thatcher, Trudeau, U.S., Uncategorized, war on democracy, War on Terror on May 16, 2007 by jtoddring

The Conservative Party seems to be a strange mixture of competing and conflicting ideologies, as Devin Johnston pointed out in Countdown Until the Conservative Party Disbands Again. His post sparked reflections on the state of conservative parties and alliances in Canada and the U.S. Here are a few thoughts. To begin with, I think it’s helpful to distinguish some of the ideological or philosophical currents that are lumped together under the label of “the right” or “conservative”. The first that comes to mind for many is crass servility to corporate power, however, there is of course, much more complexity to the right than that.

One element within that loose category called “conservative” or “the right” is the current which comprises social conservativism. As Devin again, nicely summarized: “Social conservatism is the premise that there is one “right” way of living in a community and one “right” set of values, beliefs and ideals. Social conservatives advocate the suppression of the rights and freedoms of minorities through the state imposition of white male Christian heteronormative values. [In Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, it would be Arab male Islamic heteronormative values; and in both cases, class prejudice and class warfare are more than a little present – they are in fact central.] Classical liberals precisely reject any attempt by the state to dictate beliefs and values to citizens.” Well put. You could say it is Thomas Hobbes versus Thomas Paine.

Another current is populist, with strong values of grassroots democracy. Closely related but more emphatic in its wariness of centralized power is the libertarian current. Populists may be social conservatives, although there is an uneasy tension in this inherent contradiction; but any genuine libertarian will disavow state interference in the lives of citizens, including same sex marriage, de-criminalization of marijuana and other hot-button issues for social conservatives.

Classical liberalism places a high value on freedom, and distrusts what libertarians call the “nanny state.” Libertarians therefore have an uneasy alliance with the right, as the right is uncomfortably full of social conservatives who want to regulate everything from who you sleep with to how you brush your teeth. Libertarians can for these reasons be found forming alliances with the left when conditions are right. (No pun intended.) It is not necessarily that they are fickle, but more that they are looking for political representation within a system and political climate that is far more statist, centralist, elitist and authoritarian than they would like to see. Depending upon the policies – or promises – of the right or left, they may go either way, and this can at times be an informed and intelligent choice.

Thus, libertarians have more in common with classical liberals – or even left libertarians, who are in truth their estranged cousins – than with social conservatives. It is the espoused values of limited government, freedom, populism, and fiscal conservatism of the right that has attracted the support of libertarians, but if we look to the actual record of the right in Canada and the U.S. we can see that these values were only for public consumption, not for actual practice. Libertarians, populists, fiscal conservatives and advocates of freedom have been sold a bill of goods. More directly, they have been lied to.

The U.S. became the world’s biggest debtor under Reagan, who ballooned the debt to record levels with his tax cuts for the rich and corporations, combined with massive military spending, which is piped through the Pentagon system to form what amounts to corporate welfare for the military-industrial complex – all the while praising the free market, fiscal prudence and shrinking big government. Orwell would nod to Reagan’s handlers. Bush I carried on the tradition, and Bush II has pushed the debt up to $8 trillion – to the point where the dollar, the U.S. economy, and likely the U.S. government will soon collapse, as leading economists have noted with urgency.

All the while, throughout this spending spree by the right in the U.S., government got bigger and bigger, encroachment on personal lives and liberty grew, and erosion of civil rights and freedom is now at crisis point: the constitution itself is at question. It is not clear that democracy will survive in America. The merger of the state and corporate world has been taken to near complete lengths. Eisenhower’s warning has become stark reality.

Both of these trends – wildly indulgent corporate welfare, bringing the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and grossly inflated powers of government encroaching on civil liberties and freedom – disgust and revolt the libertarians who have in the past supported the Republican and Conservative Parties.

In Canada, Mulroney took the conservatives into the realm of Thatcher, Reagan and neoconservatism – a flat betrayal of the history and traditions of the party. It was under Mulroney that the deficit and debt ballooned, while Trudeau is wrongly blamed. Trudeau and the Liberals faced recession and the OPEC crisis, Mulroney simply sold out the country to the corporate barons. I am no fan of the Liberal Party, but the truth must be told. It was not spending on social programs that drove up the debt, as the right wing media and “think tanks” (read corporate propaganda tools) convinced many to believe.

It was a combination of deliberate slashing of government revenues under Mulroney and successors (including Martin) by way of lavish corporate tax cuts, combined with the strong arm tactics of the international financial community which held our national debt and demanded increasing returns on “investment” by way of interest payments, which created the inflated deficits and growing debt. In the U.S. and Canada, as well as Britain and other Western nations, Keynesian economics and New Deal policies was blamed for fiscal imbalance, cynically and dishonestly, while the real culprit was welfare-state capitalism: hand-outs and tax breaks for the rich and the business elite – with a roll-back for ordinary people of all the gains made over decades and generations, with wages falling and social programs slashed.

This is the true story of the `80’s and `90’s in Canada: cut social spending by claiming a debt crisis – a debt crisis that was created consciously by slashing corporate taxes. It is a win-win situation for the corporate sector: greatly reduced taxes, and a disintegrating social safety net which means people are increasingly desperate and will work for less and less pay. Wonderful for corporate Canada. A tragic betrayal for the people of the country. And this scheme was authored and orchestrated by both Liberals and Conservatives from Mulroney on, all the while speaking of fiscal responsibility and loyalty to the people of Canada. Sickening deceit is what it is.

What we have in the Liberal and Democratic Parties, is a divide between traditional liberals and neoliberalism. Traditional liberals value freedom, democracy, and at least some measure of equality. Neoliberalism surrenders all values to one: compliance with the corporate masters. In the Republican and Conservative Parties, we have a similar division: between traditional conservatives and neoconservatives. Neoconservatives, like neoliberals – being two sides of the same boot-licking serve-the-man philosophy – have surrendered all values to the one over-riding principle: don’t bite, but fervently serve the hand that feeds you – that is, corporate America, or in Canada, Bay Street.

The conflict between social conservatives and libertarians within the broad realm of the right makes political alliances on the right tenuous at best. When you add in the split between genuine fiscal conservatives on the one hand, and on the other hand, neoliberals/neoconservatives (two sides of the same coin) who dominate the party leadership of the right in both the U.S. and Canada (along with all of the major parties), and who speak of fiscal responsibility while engaging in patronage, pork-barreling and corporate welfare to obscene degrees and in grossly hypocritical if not Machiavellian fashion, you have a potential rift that can quickly turn explosive. Witness the present meltdown of the American Republican Party. These divisions are tearing the party to pieces, and not even the most shrill and Orwellian fear-mongering or GWOT rhetoric can keep this machine from flying apart.

Social conservatives are fleeing the Republican Party, as are fiscal conservatives. Libertarians are simply appalled, and feel they have been lied to and betrayed. Republicans under the neocons have alienated the Christian right, the traditional conservatives and the libertarians. All that is left is a few scared suburbanites and the handful of super-rich who are the real constituency of the neconservatives. The party is disintegrating. The game is now open. The political landscape in the U.S. is shifting rapidly.

A maverick like Ron Paul could potentially seize on this disruption in the Republican Party, and capture support that would normally go to someone like Bush or Giuliani. With the Democrats making themselves the party of spineless non-opposition to the horrors and corruption of the neocons (Hilary and Obama being two cases in point), the dark horses like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich actually stand a chance.

Not that I place much hope or even interest in electoral politics in the present or immediate future, believing that they are largely irrelevant by virtue of a general vacuity of both vision and courage, and viewing grassroots movements as the real source of social change, both historically and in the foreseeable future; but some basic sanity and human decency in the realm of parliamentary politics would be a refreshing change.

Getting back to Canadian politics, if the rhetoric versus reality chasm is exposed more thoroughly in the case of the Conservative Party, and the already existing internal divisions made clear, so that a healthy debate among conservatives can occur, the results will likely be the splintering of “the party” but also the resurrection of democracy among the right. That would not be a bad thing.

Basically, the Conservative Party in Canada, as well as the Republican Party of the United States, are parties of, by and for big business and the corporate lobby, but they have to get elected by voters, and not simply gather “donations” from the business elite to get elected; thus they have to lure social and fiscal conservatives, populists and libertarians into thinking that these parties actually have some substantial allegiance to something other than the pursuit of money and power through service to the corporate elite. This is the primary flaw and fatal internal division within the parties of the right: they are built upon a lie.

Of these five elements that we have identified within the right – social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, populism, libertarianism, and service to corporate power – it is almost without exception the one single principle of service to the corporate elite which consistently wins out; all other values are for rhetorical purposes only – they can, will be and have been dispensed with whenever they conflict with the over-riding principle: serve the masters.

Show the people the lie, and the façade falls apart. Then you have a party exposed for what it is: neoconservative, not genuinely conservative – which is a party of class warfare: serve the moneyed aristocracy, as Jefferson decried, and fool the people into serving themselves up on the altar of mammon.

Devin Johnston hits the nail on the head when he says, “At any rate, it is clear to me that the Conservative Party is a pathetic attempt to unite people who are in fact completely at odds with one another in order to destroy a common enemy: godless socialism.” (At least that was the case up until the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the official enemy.) It can be added however that polls in Canada as well as the U.S. show consistent and overwhelming popular support for socialist-leaning policies and views. There is in Canada and the U.S. overwhelming popular support for universal public health care. Overwhelming support for universally accessible education. Overwhelming support for a guaranteed social safety net to protect the poor, ill, injured, disabled and elderly from the ravages of an unfettered monopoly capitalism. An overwhelming majority – generally approaching 80% – believe that the economic system is inherently unfair, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and that the rich get richer while the poor get…..something other. (This latter point by the way is not socialist, but simply a matter of the intelligent or merely common sense observation of the undeniable facts.)

In a nation-wide poll of American citizens the core socialist dictum of “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need” was felt to be such a matter of common sense and common human decency, that over 70% of Americans believed it must have come from the U.S. Constitution. It was, of course, a statement made by none other than Karl Marx. This is why the New Deal policies of FDR in the U.S. Democratic Party and Trudeau in Canada, were so immensely popular: they approximated the ideals of fairness, justice, equality and compassion, even though they were watered down by virtue of existing within an fundamentally unchallenged economic framework of monopoly capitalism. The populace leans left, as it has for generations, while the economic system maintains power in the hands of the few, with the results that political parties have done more to serve the interests of the powerful than those of the people.

If the rhetoric is cut through, the popular support vanishes; and all that is left of the parties of the right in Canada and the U.S. is a servile allegiance to corporate America and Bay Street. Poke the balloon. The time is right to burst this bubble of delusion.

The only other prop holding up this rape and pillage party apparatus of the right is the scare tactics of the Global War on Terror; and that too, is failing. A whole other discussion would be necessary to dissect this campaign of state terrorism which is in effect, and by design, a war, not on terror, but on democracy. For the time being, let it suffice to say that this is not a war that the power elite – being the corporate elite and their political servlings – can win.

When it comes to dismantling the basic structures of democracy, disemboweling the safeguards of basic human rights and freedom, and nullifying a two-hundred year old tradition of constitutional democracy, they will fail. The values of democracy, freedom and human rights have been too deeply imbued in the people of the Western world for these to be given up without a fight – in fact, without a powerful resistance movement.

600,000 or more dead in Iraq to “fight terrorism” and “sow democracy” – in truth, as most now admit, to fight imperial wars for control of world energy supplies – this is terrorism at its finest; or most brutal. The anti-terrorist legislation of post-9/11 paranoia and propaganda, most notoriously the U.S. Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act: this is not the safeguarding of “our way of life” – this is not the “defense of liberty and freedom.” This is the destruction of constitutional democracy and civil rights. This is the criminalization of dissent. This is a Machiavellian lie of the greatest proportions. And this is becoming evident even to the staunchest defenders of the “war on terror.”

The propaganda war that upholds corporate power now, after the red scare days have passed – the tactics no longer effective with the absence of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc – the only rhetoric that upholds this fragile and crumbling edifice of corporate power, short of brute force itself, is the lie of the war on terror. Frighten the people, and they will support “strong leaders” and repressive measures at home, as well as imperial warfare abroad, disguised as self-defense. But the propaganda war is failing. Either there will be another terrorist incident, which will bolster the effectiveness of the propaganda, and again rally the people into supporting their own slavery, the surrender of their rights and freedoms, and the wars of empire around the globe, or the propaganda campaign will collapse, and with it, the power elite that serves, and is in power to serve, the power of the rich and the corporate world. The latter is not likely to be allowed to happen, so watch out for the former.

In the short term, a renewed campaign of what the political elite and agencies like the CIA call “political warfare” and “psychological warfare” – what used to be called propaganda when there existed a bit more honesty in the political arena – is likely to be invoked; and in the short term, there may yet be temporary, Pyrrhic victories for the corporate elite and their servants who present themselves as popular leaders of the right (or the center or left, a la Clinton, Martin, Blair). This is, or should be, a cause for concern. In the not too distant future however, and in fact, in the very near future, such Machiavellian machinations as are won by acts of great deception are unsustainable, and will collapse. They are indeed collapsing as we speak. We need to hasten the demise of these dangerous delusions – at least, that is, if we are at all alive to our human hearts and minds, and care not to see unnecessary suffering, madness or destruction on this small and beautiful, fragile planet. We need to break open these bonds of confusion, examine them, and tear them asunder. They will collapse upon examination. All that is required is the light of day.

 

J. Todd Ring

May 16, 2007

 

Posted by: jtoddring, in New Deal, Trudeau, Keynesian economics, debt, FDR, Democratic Party, social conservative, fiscal conservative, Liberal, deficit, Reagan, Mulroney, Martin, Harper, Hilary, Obama, Thatcher, Bush, Clinton, libertarian, Global War on Terrorism, conservatives, Canada, Canadian politics, capitalism, corporate rule, Hobbes, war on democracy, corporatism, election, Conservative Party, Republican Party, neoconservatism, war on terror, American politics, U.S., neoliberalism, right, conservative, politics

On Libertarianism: Right & Left

Posted in anarchism, Bakunin, Bertrand Russell, capitalism, Chomsky, communism, conservative, corporate rule, corporatism, crisis of democracy, democratic deficit, Eric Fromm, fascism, globalization, Hobbes, Jefferson, Kropotkin, left, Lenin, libertarianism, Marx, neoliberalism, philosophy, Plato, political theory, politics, right, social theory, socialism, Thoreau, war on democracy, World Economic Forum with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2007 by jtoddring

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

~Albert Einstein

Libertarianism is a term that has come to be identified with the right, with limited government, ideals of freedom, free market capitalism and laissez fair economics, however, the term originally meant libertarian socialism, a libertarianism of the left. The distinction of two kinds of libertarianism, or more appropriately, a spectrum of views within what is called libertarianism, is important. Both right and left libertarianism have a deep skepticism about excessive concentrations of state power, encroachments of government power in the lives of individuals and communities, and a belief that ultimately, “That government is best which governs the least.” Beyond this agreement, there are considerable differences between libertarianism of the right and that of the left. But before the distinctions between left and right libertarianism can be discussed, we need to clarify just what is essential to a libertarian perspective, and also, to distinguish between the ideal and the immediate in terms of advocating or working towards specific goals for human society.

Thoreau expresses a very clear and lucid view of the subject, recognizing the ideal, yet also the immediate reality: ideally, and “when men are ready for it,” no government, which we shall have, and which shall be a degree of liberation not yet seen or imagined; but in the immediate sense, not “no government, but at once, a better government.” In other words, work toward and keep in mind the ideal – freedom from state power messing up and intruding on the peoples’ lives, liberty and communities, but also seek more limited victories in the short term: a better government.

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have…..But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

– Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience

Bertrand Russell also came to the same conclusion. His cool, rational conclusion, after a very fair-minded and objective analysis, was that anarchism – from the Latin, an-archos, meaning absence of an over-arching power, not chaos – is likely the best form of human society (as well as the full and self-consistent application of libertarian values), but we are not likely ready for it; in the short term, what he called libertarian socialism is the best order for society to which we can aspire. By that he meant limited government, with all government power kept as close to the community as possible, and as close the hands of the people as possible – as Jefferson urged – but also with strong values of voluntary free association and human cooperation for mutual aid and benefit (a la Kropotkin). Ideally, and in the short term, he recommended we work toward a society where power lies primarily, not in the hands of a few bureaucrats and lobbyists in a far away capital where power is centralized, but in the hands of the people at the level of community, with federations or networks of human cooperation and solidarity, trade and communication between and among communities and individuals for their mutual benefit and protection. Jefferson would certainly agree in spirit if not in all details.

Chomsky clarifies the distinction between long-term ideals and short-term goals within a reasonable and clear-headed perspective which is skeptical of concentrated political power, or any form of social power for that matter:

“Classical anarchist thought would have been more opposed to slavery, feudalism, fascism, and so on, than it would have been to parliamentary government. There was a good reason. Classical liberal thought, and anarchism coming out of it, were opposed to any concentration of power, that is, unaccountable concentration of power. It is reasonable to make a distinction between the more accountable and less accountable. Corporations are the least accountable. So, against the corporate assault on freedom and independence, one can quickly turn to the one form of social organization that offers … public participation and … that happens to be parliamentary government. That has nothing to do with being opposed to the State. In fact, it’s a sensible support for the State.” – Noam Chomsky

This is precisely why I can admire a democratic socialist like Hugo Chavez, who was democratically elected in closely monitored free and fair elections, who has introduced and held public referenda on every major decision faced by the people of Venezuela – a thought inconceivable to the elitist politicians of Washington, Ottawa, London, Paris or Berlin – and who is presently utilizing, with great popular democratic support, the institution of constitutional parliamentary democracy to protect the people of Venezuela from the greatest threat to human freedom and well-being on the planet today: the tyranny of unaccountable private empires – the global corporate raiders. It is no contradiction, therefore, to support libertarian socialism, or left libertarianism, while admiring a social democrat like Chavez. As Chomsky put it, it’s sensible support for the state – under certain limited conditions.

Chomsky as well expresses a view of libertarian socialism, and advocates for a society based on libertarian socialist principles of freedom along with voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. And Chomsky, as well or better than any other, clarifies the distinction of right and left libertarianism. Libertarians across the spectrum are opposed to excessive concentrations of political power, as it is viewed that such high degrees of concentrated political power in society have more often than not created more harm than good – a view that is shared among Jefferson, Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, Kropotkin, Chomsky and many others.

The history of the world shows that this view is the most realistic perspective on government and political power. The opposing view, that government is the saviour and redeemer of humanity, has brought about Stalinism, Nazism, fascism, Maoism, and lately, neoconservatism, among other evils. The view that is opposed to the libertarian desire to keep political power firmly in check, sees government as a kind of benign big brother, a paternal or maternal figure, a parent that treats citizens like children, who need to be coddled and scolded, controlled for their own good. It is a dangerous elitism, breeding naturally authoritarianism. It comes from a fear of freedom, as social psychologist Eric Fromm correctly pointed out, and not just megalomaniacal dreams of power.

Plato was the most famous and influential of the “government as saviour” camp. The philosopher kings, the wise few, would rule with benign despotism over the hapless and ignorant many. Sounds desirable, maybe, until you reflect that if you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you possibly trust them to govern others? (A flaw of basic logic which was not missed by Jefferson.)

Hobbes furthered the view, presenting the anthropologically ignorant and incorrect view that life before civilization, by which he meant life before centralized government, was “evil, nasty, brutish and short.” The revolution in anthropology that occurred in the 1970’s with the discovery of new and conclusive evidence about our human history prior to the age of empires, refutes Hobbes unequivocally. Hobbes knew nothing of anthropology, of course, and the data would not be revealed for another few centuries, but he was wrong, and we know that now – or at least, we can know that now, although almost no-one is aware that such a revolution has occurred in anthropology and our knowledge of human history: we live in a pre-Copernican time with regard to the general culture’s understanding of anthropology and human history; most still believe the sun revolves `round the earth, though the evidence to refute this fallacy has been made clear.

In any case, Hobbes was engaging in a kind of rational self-deceit. Hobbes view of human beings was jaundiced and pessimistic in the extreme. He felt, as many do, that if there was no powerful over-arching force to restrain human beings, they would instantly rip each other’s throats out, and everything would descend into a war of “all against all.” Again, the anthropological data refutes this terrified view, but even if one were to accept it for sake of argument, it simply begs the question. If you do not trust people, then why would you give a few people extraordinary power? Would this not seem even more dangerous? Who did Hobbes expect to govern us, aliens? Hobbes did not trust people, so he argued that some people have an all-powerful position in order that these people protect people from people. This should strike us as immediately self-contradictory, ridiculous and absurd.

As Jefferson said, “If you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?” It is therefore not idealistic and utopian to think that government should be kept to a minimum of centralized, concentrated power, but on the contrary, it is a healthy and prudent skepticism that informs such a view.

(When you combine Plato, Hobbes and Machiavelli, you get the neoconservatives – or their mirror image, neoliberalism. You get wildy elitist, authoritarian, ruthless, predatory, self-delusional, megalomaniacal empire fetish. That is what we are experiencing now.)

Thoreau demolishes Hobbes’ fantasy-scape with a few strokes on the pen:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Libertarianism: Right and Left

The libertarianism of the right has a view of power that does not keep to its own self-consistency. It views political power as potentially dangerous, having the great potential to be abused, and therefore needing to be kept in close check. But it does not recognize economic power as a power in society, which is an oversight that is hard to fathom, such power being so plainly obvious. Because libertarians of the right tend not to recognize economic power as a form of power in society, they are unconcerned with its concentrations – even when concentrations of economic power become staggeringly large, as they have over the past twenty or thirty years. This is an oversight that is frankly dangerous, if not delusional.

Libertarians of the left share the skepticism of highly concentrated political power, but, naturally, recognize the potential for harm and abuse from excessive concentrations of economic power. Thus, in the present order of things, corporate power is to be addressed equally, along side state or governmental power. To do otherwise is to contradict oneself, and worse, to leave the door open to serious and extreme abuses of power, and also, to fascism, which, as Mussolini said, is rightly called corporatism, since it is the merger of business and the state (and that is exactly what is happening now, and on a global scale) due to the lack of foresight to correct and put in check all forms of great concentrations of power in society.

Right libertarianism questions, challenges, and repudiates high levels of concentration of political power in society – and rightfully so, I believe – yet it is, or at least has been until recently, unwilling to question the role and nature of high levels of concentrations of economic power.

This is, once again, frankly, a gross oversight, and one that makes right libertarianism a contradiction in terms: you cannot advocate limitations on powers that unduly constrict human freedom and pose threats of tyranny in a self-consistent, coherent, or even rational manner, if you are only willing to look at one form of power in society, and remain blind to others. Economic power is every bit as real as political power – some would say more so.

The 500 biggest corporations on earth now have combined revenues that total three times the GDP of the world’s biggest national economy – that of the United States. If this does not constitute power in society, I’m not sure what would.

OK, well, corporations have immense power, but that does not mean it translates into political power – does it? They are competing with one another. Yes, they are competing with one another, and they also share common interests: drive labour costs and wages down, eliminate or circumvent labour and environmental standards, find the cheapest source of labour and resources and move there, then dominate them, open borders to free flow of capital, but not to labour…..The commonalities are pretty clear.

And do they meet, discuss common interests, work together cooperatively? Of course. Wouldn’t you if you were in their position?

Do teachers join together to pursue common interests, such as decent pay, pension plans, etc.? Do janitors get together to pursue common goals of better pay and working conditions?

It is obvious, or should be, that there are common group interests – or, heaven forbid we use the term, class interests – that bring otherwise competing parties together to pursue common goals. The corporate elite are no different. This is not a conspiracy, but simply common sense.

The world’s corporate elite gather, among other places, at Davos Switzerland, every year for the World Economic Forum, and there seek to push governments to their will, to advance common interests among the elite global investment class, the billionaire class, or the class of ruling oligarchs, to every extent that they are able to do so – and that is a considerable length.

The billionaires, and the large corporations they control, do not control the world – but they certainly dominate it, and they dominate virtually every nation and government on earth, as well as dominating the global economy, the financial system and most of the media. This is, by any sane or reasonable definition, hegemonic power: corporations and the billionaires who control them, now effectively rule the world. The only way to properly define such a system or order of things, is not democracy, certainly, but oligarchy – or plutocracy, or neo-feudalism, or most starkly, and what we are fast approaching in its full, ugly form: global, neo-feudal, corporate fascism.

It is impossible to deny the very real power of corporations in society without digressing into ideological fundamentalism and willful blindness. Refusing to challenge economic concentrations of power while espousing a libertarian philosophy is self-contradictory: right libertarianism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Would a laissez-fair, free-market capitalist, who supports only limited government – a libertarian as it is known on the right – be considered an oxymoron or a self-contradiction if he was also a slave owner? Of course. But it is not very different if a libertarian advocates checks and balances on political power, yet does not question the giant corporate monopolies and oligopolies that now wield more power than democratically elected governments.

Right libertarianism is truly a contradiction in terms, unless by that you mean a conservative libertarian, who also questions and challenges excessive concentrations of corporate, economic and financial power, and not only state or governmental power. U.S. Congressman and 2008 Presidential candidate Ron Paul, for example, I would describe as a conservative libertarian in this sense. He has his head on his shoulders when it comes to corporate powers, as far as I can tell. He is not stuck in ideological dogmatisms.

The left is equated – wrongly – with heavy-handed, bureaucratic, if not totalitarian government – or at least this is the view of the left that we get from the right wing; however, there are, broadly speaking, two wings or schools of thought within what has been called the left, and only one of the two fits the above description.

In the socialist movement of the 1800’s there was a definite rift, and a fierce debate, between the two very different currents of thought within what is loosely described as the political left. Marx led the wing we are most familiar with, Bakunin the other. Bakunin and the libertarian socialists were ousted, lost the battle, and were to some considerable degree eclipsed from history – at least until very recently. Bakunin warned that Marxist ideas would lead to a new form of tyranny – and of course he was right. The Soviet Union was the prime example, and Bakunin predicted the tyranny long in advance.

Now, with the Marxist-Leninist school of thought being in full disgrace within the left, as well as within the broader community of humanity world-wide, and with global neoliberal corporate capitalism experiencing a deep and profound, and rapidly growing crisis of legitimacy world-wide, with rapidly rising popular discontent, people are beginning to look for alternatives – and the alternative is becoming clear to many. That is, in the short term: a freedom-loving and anti-authoritarian, democratic socialism in the short term; and libertarian socialism in the longer term. I would say they deserve our thoughtful attention, and merit respectful consideration, at the very least, and to put it most mildly.

The War on Democracy: Unchecked Power Out of Control

Under what we should more honestly call monopoly capitalism, the era of the small shop owner being the primary economic player having long ago vanished, corporate power has become so concentrated – that is, economic power has become so enormously concentrated – that it now threatens to engulf and eviscerate all remaining democratic power of societies world wide. We should be concerned. Jefferson warned of this 200 years ago. We did not listen. We are now facing the results of our lack of foresight.

Those on the right and the left with a libertarian perspective would do well to communicate. There is a natural alliance here, if we can learn to speak in ways that are mutually understandable. There is no time for bickering or ideological warfare. We need to get together to protect the basics: decent, although flawed, human, imperfect limited government, within the framework of constitutional democracy and basic human rights and freedom.

If we do not come together, and not just right and left libertarians, but more traditional liberals, conservatives, social democrats, greens and progressives, and all who oppose the, by now undeniable, drift into oligarchy and corporate fascism, and stand together for constitutional democracy, civil liberties, human rights and freedom, all other considerations will become merely abstract, and we will find ourselves living in a brave new world, and a very dark age,  leading rapidly to ecological collapse and the end of human life on earth.

Jamie Brownlee sums up the current, central challenge to humanity at this time, in one brief and extremely lucid passage:

“At present, the state is the only institution large enough to act as a counterweight to corporate power; therefore, short-term goals should involve defending, even strengthening, those elements of the state that are accountable to public input (which are the ones constantly under attack by private power.) Opening up the state to democratic participation and improving the effectiveness and accountability of state regulation are the most realistic interim strategies for dealing with the corporate threat and the practical problems of tomorrow—problems on which people’s lives depend. In the short-term, then, political activism that directly targets corporate power should be complimented by efforts to re-democratize the state and government.”

– Jamie Brownlee, Ruling Canada, Corporate Cohesion and Democracy, 2005

As constitutional lawyer Joel Bakan, author of, The Corporation, has said, if the typical corporation really was a person, then by an exact psychological definition, it would have to be labelled as a sociopath. Even if we did not have grave misgivings about excessive concentrations of power in human society, as we should, these are not the kind of powers which we should wish to govern and rule our nations or the world. Clearly, it is time for a change – a real change, and now. The urgency cannot be overstated, or emphasized enough.

First things first – let us recapture, reclaim and renew our democracy, and “crush in its infancy”, as Thomas Jefferson said, the oligarchy, the new empire, and the excessive powers of “the new moneyed aristocracy,” which now threaten, not only democracy and freedom, but all life on earth. Then we can decide where to go from there. On this point, we must be clear.

We must gain the clarity that is urgently needed at this time, and unite and inspire, and empower the people. And we must act decisively, and now.

J. Todd Ring

April 15, 2007

Further reading:

Writings of J. Todd Ring

Amazon.com: Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Dover Thrift Editions): Books: Henry David Thoreau

Amazon.com: Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism & Syndication: Books: Bertrand Russell

Amazon.com: The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future: Books: Riane Eisler

Amazon.com: The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy: Books: Murray Bookchin

Amazon.com: Escape from Freedom: Books: Erich Fromm

Amazon.com: The Power Elite: Books: C. Wright Mills,Alan Wolfe

Amazon.com: The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power: Books: Joel Bakan

Economist’s View: You’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone

Economist’s View: Can Democrats and Libertarians Find Common Ground?

“Their Libertarianism and Ours” – from:

Amazon.com: Don’t Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial: Books: Ellen Willis

On Libertarianism: Right & Left

Posted in Chomsky, democracy, far right, Hobbes, Jefferson, left, libertarian socialism, libertarianism, philosophy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, Ron Paul, social theory, Thoreau on April 15, 2007 by jtoddring

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

~Albert Einstein

Libertarianism is a term that has come to be identified with the right, with limited government, ideals of freedom, free market capitalism and laissez fair economics, however, the term originally meant libertarian socialism, a libertarianism of the left. The distinction of two kinds of libertarianism, or more appropriately, a spectrum of views within what is called libertarianism, is important. Both right and left libertarianism have a deep skepticism about excessive concentrations of state power, encroachments of government power in the lives of individuals and communities, and a belief that ultimately, “That government is best which governs the least.” Beyond this agreement, there are considerable differences between libertarianism of the right and that of the left. But before the distinctions between left and right libertarianism can be discussed, we need to clarify just what is essential to a libertarian perspective, and also, to distinguish between the ideal and the immediate in terms of advocating or working towards specific goals for human society.

Thoreau expresses a very clear and lucid view of the subject, recognizing the ideal, yet also the immediate reality: ideally, and “when men are ready for it,” no government, which we shall have, and which shall be a degree of liberation not yet seen or imagined; but in the immediate sense, not “no government, but at once, a better government.” In other words, work toward and keep in mind the ideal – freedom from state power messing up and intruding on the peoples’ lives, liberty and communities, but also seek more limited victories in the short term: a better government.

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have…..But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

– Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience

Bertrand Russell also came to the same conclusion. His cool, rational conclusion, after a very fair-minded and objective analysis, was that anarchism – from the Latin, an-archos, meaning absence of an over-arching power, not chaos – is likely the best form of human society (as well as the full and self-consistent application of libertarian values), but we are not likely ready for it; in the short term, what he called libertarian socialism is the best order for society to which we can aspire. By that he meant limited government, with all government power kept as close to the community as possible, and as close the hands of the people as possible – as Jefferson urged – but also with strong values of voluntary free association and human cooperation for mutual aid and benefit (a la Kropotkin). Ideally, and in the short term, he recommended we work toward a society where power lies primarily, not in the hands of a few bureaucrats and lobbyists in a far away capital where power is centralized, but in the hands of the people at the level of community, with federations or networks of human cooperation and solidarity, trade and communication between and among communities and individuals for their mutual benefit and protection. Jefferson would certainly agree in spirit if not in all details.

Chomsky clarifies the distinction between long-term ideals and short-term goals within a reasonable and clear-headed perspective which is skeptical of concentrated political power, or any form of social power for that matter:

“Classical anarchist thought would have been more opposed to slavery, feudalism, fascism, and so on, than it would have been to parliamentary government. There was a good reason. Classical liberal thought, and anarchism coming out of it, were opposed to any concentration of power, that is, unaccountable concentration of power. It is reasonable to make a distinction between the more accountable and less accountable. Corporations are the least accountable. So, against the corporate assault on freedom and independence, one can quickly turn to the one form of social organization that offers … public participation and … that happens to be parliamentary government. That has nothing to do with being opposed to the State. In fact, it’s a sensible support for the State.” – Noam Chomsky

This is precisely why I can admire a democratic socialist like Hugo Chavez, who was democratically elected in closely monitored free and fair elections, who has introduced and held public referenda on every major decision faced by the people of Venezuela – a thought inconceivable to the elitist politicians of Washington, Ottawa, London, Paris or Berlin – and who is presently utilizing, with great popular democratic support, the institution of constitutional parliamentary democracy to protect the people of Venezuela from the greatest threat to human freedom and well-being on the planet today: the tyranny of unaccountable private empires – the global corporate raiders. It is no contradiction to say support libertarian socialism, or left libertarianism, while admiring a social democrat like Chavez. As Chomsky put it, it’s sensible support for the state – under certain limited conditions.

Chomsky as well expresses a view of libertarian socialism. And Chomsky, as well or better than any other, clarifies the distinction of right and left libertarianism. Libertarians across the spectrum are opposed to excessive concentrations of political power, as it is viewed that such high degrees of concentrated political power in society have more often than not created more harm than good – a view that is shared among Jefferson, Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, Kropotkin, Chomsky and many others.

The history of the world shows that this view is the most realistic perspective on government and political power. The opposing view, that government is the saviour and redeemer of humanity, has brought about Stalinism, Nazism, fascism, Maoism, and lately, neoconservatism, among other evils. The view that is opposed to the libertarian desire to keep political power firmly in check, sees government as a kind of benign big brother, a paternal or maternal figure, a parent that treats citizens like children, who need to be coddled and scolded, controlled for their own good. It is a dangerous elitism, breeding naturally authoritarianism. It comes from a fear of freedom, as social psychologist Eric Fromm correctly pointed out, and not just megalomaniacal dreams of power.

Plato was the most famous and influential of the “government as saviour” camp. The philosopher kings, the wise few, would rule with benign despotism over the hapless and ignorant many. Sounds desirable, maybe, until you reflect that if you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you possibly trust them to govern others? (A flaw of basic logic which was not missed by Jefferson.)

Hobbes furthered the view, presenting the anthropologically ignorant and incorrect view that life before civilization, by which he meant life before centralized government, was “evil, nasty, brutish and short.” The revolution in anthropology that occurred in the 1970’s with the discovery of new and conclusive evidence about our human history prior to the age of empires, refutes Hobbes unequivocally. Hobbes knew nothing of anthropology, of course, and the data would not be revealed for another few centuries, but he was wrong, and we know that now – or at least, we can know that now, although almost no-one is aware that such a revolution has occurred in anthropology and our knowledge of human history: we live in a pre-Copernican time with regard to the general culture’s understanding of anthropology and human history; most still believe the sun revolves `round the earth, though the evidence to refute this fallacy has been made clear.

In any case, Hobbes was engaging in a kind of rational self-deceit. Hobbes view of human beings was jaundiced and pessimistic in the extreme. He felt, as many do, that if there was no powerful over-arching force to restrain human beings, they would instantly rip each other’s throats out, and everything would descend into a war of “all against all.” Again, the anthropological data refutes this terrified view, but even if one were to accept it for sake of argument, it simply begs the question. If you do not trust people, then why would you give a few people extraordinary power? Would this not seem even more dangerous? Who did Hobbes expect to govern us, aliens? Hobbes did not trust people, so he argued that some people have an all-powerful position in order that these people protect people from people. This should strike us as immediately self-contradictory, ridiculous and absurd.

As Jefferson said, “If you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?” It is therefore not idealistic and utopian to think that government should be kept to a minimum of centralized, concentrated power, but on the contrary, it is a healthy and prudent skepticism that informs such a view.

(When you combine Plato, Hobbes and Machiavelli, you get the neoconservatives – or their mirror image, neoliberalism. You get wildy elitist, authoritarian, ruthless, predatory, self-delusional, megalomaniacal empire fetish. That is what we are experiencing now.)

Thoreau demolishes Hobbes’ fantasy-scape with a few strokes on the pen:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Libertarianism: Right and Left

The libertarianism of the right has a view of power that does not keep to its own self-consistency. It views political power as potentially dangerous, having the great potential to be abused, and therefore needing to be kept in close check. But it does not recognize economic power as a power in society, which is an oversight that is hard to fathom, such power being so plainly obvious. Because libertarians of the right tend not to recognize economic power as a form of power in society, they are unconcerned with its concentrations – even when concentrations of economic power become staggeringly large, as they have over the past twenty or thirty years. This is an oversight that is frankly dangerous, if not delusional.

Libertarians of the left share the skepticism of highly concentrated political power, but, naturally, recognize the potential for harm and abuse from excessive concentrations of economic power. Thus, in the present order of things, corporate power is to be addressed equally, along side state or governmental power. To do otherwise is to contradict oneself, and worse, to leave the door open to serious and extreme abuses of power, and also, to fascism, which, as Mussolini said, is rightly called corporatism, since it is the merger of business and the state (and that is exactly what is happening now, and on a global scale) due to the lack of foresight to correct and put in check all forms of great concentrations of power in society.

Right libertarianism questions, challenges, and repudiates high levels of concentration of political power in society – and rightfully so, I believe – yet it is, or at least has been until recently, unwilling to question the role and nature of high levels of concentrations of economic power.

This is, once again, frankly, a gross oversight, and one that makes right libertarianism a contradiction in terms: you cannot advocate limitations on powers that unduly constrict human freedom and pose threats of tyranny in a self-consistent, coherent, or even rational manner, if you are only willing to look at one form of power in society, and remain blind to others. Economic power is every bit as real as political power – some would say more so.

The 500 biggest corporations on earth now have combined revenues that total three times the GDP of the world’s biggest national economy – that of the United States. If this does not constitute power in society, I’m not sure what would.

OK, well, corporations have immense power, but that does not mean it translates into political power – does it? They are competing with one another. Yes, they are competing with one another, and they also share common interests: drive labour costs and wages down, eliminate or circumvent labour and environmental standards, find the cheapest source of labour and resources and move there, then dominate them, open borders to free flow of capital, but not to labour…..The commonalities are pretty clear.

And do they meet, discuss common interests, work together cooperatively? Of course. Wouldn’t you if you were in their position?

Do teachers join together to pursue common interests, such as decent pay, pension plans, etc.? Do janitors get together to pursue common goals of better pay and working conditions?

It is obvious, or should be, that there are common group interests – or, heaven forbid we use the term, class interests – that bring otherwise competing parties together to pursue common goals. The corporate elite are no different. This is not a conspiracy, but simply common sense.

The world’s corporate elite gather, among other places, at Davos Switzerland, every year for the World Economic Forum, and there seek to push governments to their will, to advance common interests among the elite global investment class, the billionaire class, or the class of ruling oligarchs, to every extent that they are able to do so – and that is a considerable length.

The billionaires, and the large corporations they control, do not control the world – but they certainly dominate it, and they dominate virtually every nation and government on earth, as well as dominating the global economy, the financial system and most of the media. This is, by any sane or reasonable definition, hegemonic power: corporations and the billionaires who control them, now effectively rule the world. The only way to properly define such a system or order of things, is not democracy, certainly, but oligarchy – or plutocracy, or neo-feudalism, or most starkly, and what we are fast approaching in its full, ugly form: global, neo-feudal, corporate fascism.

It is impossible to deny the very real power of corporations in society without digressing into ideological fundamentalism and willful blindness. Refusing to challenge economic concentrations of power while espousing a libertarian philosophy is self-contradictory: right libertarianism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Would a laissez-fair, free-market capitalist, who supports only limited government – a libertarian as it is known on the right – be considered an oxymoron or a self-contradiction if he was also a slave owner? Of course. But it is not very different if a libertarian advocates checks and balances on political power, yet does not question the giant corporate monopolies and oligopolies that now wield more power than democratically elected governments.

Right libertarianism is truly a contradiction in terms, unless by that you mean a conservative libertarian, who also questions and challenges excessive concentrations of corporate, economic and financial power, and not only state or governmental power. U.S. Congressman and 2008 Presidential candidate Ron Paul, for example, I would describe as a conservative libertarian in this sense. He has his head on his shoulders when it comes to corporate powers, as far as I can tell. He is not stuck in ideological dogmatisms.

The left is equated – wrongly – with heavy-handed, bureaucratic, if not totalitarian government – or at least this is the view of the left that we get from the right wing; however, there are, broadly speaking, two wings or schools of thought within what has been called the left, and only one of the two fits the above description.

In the socialist movement of the 1800’s there was a definite rift, and a fierce debate, between the two very different currents of thought within what is loosely described as the political left. Marx led the wing we are most familiar with, Bakunin the other. Bakunin and the libertarian socialists were ousted, lost the battle, and were to some considerable degree eclipsed from history – at least until very recently. Bakunin warned that Marxist ideas would lead to a new form of tyranny – and of course he was right. The Soviet Union was the prime example, and Bakunin predicted the tyranny long in advance.

Now, with the Marxist-Leninist school of thought being in full disgrace within the left, as well as within the broader community of humanity world-wide, and with global neoliberal corporate capitalism experiencing a deep and profound, and rapidly growing crisis of legitimacy world-wide, with rapidly rising popular discontent, people are beginning to look for alternatives – and the alternative is becoming clear to many. That is, in the short term: a freedom-loving and anti-authoritarian, democratic socialism in the short term; and libertarian socialism in the longer term. I would say they deserve our thoughtful attention, and merit respectful consideration, at the very least, and to put it most mildly.

The War on Democracy: Unchecked Power Out of Control

Under what we should more honestly call monopoly capitalism, the era of the small shop owner being the primary economic player having long ago vanished, corporate power has become so concentrated – that is, economic power has become so enormously concentrated – that it now threatens to engulf and eviscerate all remaining democratic power of societies world wide. We should be concerned. Jefferson warned of this 200 years ago. We did not listen. We are now facing the results of our lack of foresight.

Those on the right and the left with a libertarian perspective would do well to communicate. There is a natural alliance here, if we can learn to speak in ways that are mutually understandable. There is no time for bickering or ideological warfare. We need to get together to protect the basics: decent, although flawed, human, imperfect limited government, within the framework of constitutional democracy and basic human rights and freedom.

If we do not come together, and not just right and left libertarians, but more traditional liberals, conservatives, social democrats, greens and progressives, and all who oppose the, by now undeniable, drift into oligarchy and corporate fascism, and stand together for constitutional democracy, civil liberties, human rights and freedom, all other considerations will become merely abstract, and we will find ourselves living in a brave new world, in a very dark age.

  1. Todd Ring

April 15, 2007

Further reading:

Writings of J. Todd Ring

Amazon.com: Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Dover Thrift Editions): Books: Henry David Thoreau

Amazon.com: Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism & Syndication: Books: Bertrand Russell

Amazon.com: The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future: Books: Riane Eisler

Amazon.com: The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy: Books: Murray Bookchin

Amazon.com: Escape from Freedom: Books: Erich Fromm

Amazon.com: The Power Elite: Books: C. Wright Mills,Alan Wolfe

Amazon.com: The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power: Books: Joel Bakan

Economist’s View: You’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone

Economist’s View: Can Democrats and Libertarians Find Common Ground?

“Their Libertarianism and Ours” – from:

Amazon.com: Don’t Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial: Books: Ellen Willis