Archive for the libertarian socialism 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.

J. Todd Ring,
November 18, 2013

Anarchism, capitalism, democracy and common sense

Posted in activism, alternative, alternatives, American politics, analysis, anarchism, banks, capitalism, China, class, consciousness, corporate fascism, corporate rule, corporations, corporatism, corporatocracy, crisis of democracy, democracy, democratic deficit, ecological crisis, elite, empire, empowerment, end-game, environment, fascism, fascist, Feudalism, freedom, geopolitics, globalism, globalization, health care, human rights, hybrid, inspiration, Jefferson, Lenin, libertarian socialism, libertarianism, media analysis, money, must-read, neo-feudalism, oil, Orwell, peace, people's movements, philosophy, police state, policy, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, politics of oil, propaganda, psychology, resources, social theory, socialism, sociology, sovereignty, sustainability, the world's other superpower, tipping point, truth, U.S., war, war crimes, war on democracy on October 25, 2013 by jtoddring

I am not inclined toward market anarchy, or anarchist capitalism, as I see it as being both non-viable, since capitalism without restraints invariably breeds monopoly capitalism, which is no longer capitalism in the sense of a free market, but a form of feudalism, since the few end up dominating and ruling over the rest; and because capitalism is based upon a two-tiered society of the owners of production, in Marxist terms, the people who have an unequal share of economic power, and hence also, social, cultural and political power, and those who must work for them in order to survive; and thus, capitalism is based upon the need (of the many, not the few) to rent yourself out for money, which is degrading and dehumanizing, as well as antithetical to freedom.

Renting yourself out for money was called wage slavery by Abraham Lincoln and others who opposed it. A more stark and honest term for what it means to rent yourself out for money is simply prostitution.

Unless you want to be a slave – or a slave master, if you are both lucky and also supremely unethical – or you are simply lost in confused thinking and illusions, you cannot support capitalism in any form: at least, not without strong legislation such as labour laws, minimum wage standards, workplace safety requirements, environmental protocols, and above all, anti-trust legislation to prevent and break up monopolies.

If you want capitalism, if you want an economic system and a society based upon wage slavery – though I do not see why any sane person would – then at the very least, you have to put restraints on it: you have to chain the beast, or it will devour you.

You certainly cannot support a form of capitalism that strips capital, and the controllers of capital, of all restraints – unless you are either a self-deluded ideologue, or you are a member of the business elite, or a wanna-be member of this class.

So I would say that the idea of market anarchy, or anarchist capitalism, is one that is propounded by two groups: the deluded, and the cynically dishonest and self-serving.

Of course the business elite like the idea of eliminating all government oversight and restraints on their actions. It would mean total freedom for them – freedom to loot and pillage at will, to play one nation, state, province and community against another in a race to the bottom, with ever lower wages and working conditions, and ever lower environmental standards, and by these and other means, to gather even more of the wealth, resources and power on the planet into their hands, even more rapidly and frantically than they are already doing.

The corporate elite also favour the elimination, not only of all governmental restrictions on their actions – although they are quite keen to push for a police state to restrain the actions of the people, and to further secure their power and their de facto rule; they also strongly favour the elimination of all social safety nets and all government programs that help the poor and unemployed.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, social programs that help the people cost money – and the corporate elite would rather their multi-billion and trillion dollar state subsidies increase; therefore, programs that help the people must be slashed and eliminated – the welfare state is supposed to provide for the rich, not the masses.

Secondly, and more essentially, the welfare state, and all social safety nets and social programs that help the poor and the unemployed, must be slashed and eliminated, so that the people will be driven to desperation, and will welcome their corporate masters, and beg to be shackled and chained for a mere few cents an hour, or a few crumbs of bread.

The business elite like to talk amongst themselves and in the business press about what they call pampered Western workers. They like Chinese workers much better, as the offshoring of production and the deindustrialization of the West make abundantly clear. They do not want to pay $30 or $40 an hour for labour, or even $10, or $7.50 an hour for a wage slave in North America or Europe, when they can get one for $1 an hour in Mexico, or $0.10 an hour in China. Destroying social programs and safety nets means that Western workers can be trained to accept Chinese standards of pay – which is to say, social programs and safety nets must be destroyed in order to make the pampered Western workers more compliant and malleable serfs.

The other means of creating an ultra-low cost labour pool is through slavery, and that is being vigorously pursued by the reigning corporate powers as well – it is called the prison system. Prison labour is a rapidly growing out-sourcing choice for large, profitable corporations. With prison labour, you can pay workers just pennies an hour, and if they get out of line, you can get the guards to beat them to a pulp.

But to return to the driving down of wages and benefits across the West…

This is the primary reason for the so-called austerity programs being foisted on the people, purportedly for their own good, and the reason for the attack on the welfare state and all social programs across the Western world: free the corporations of the bondage of having to pay wages that people can live on, by driving the people to utter desperation, where they can be more easily manipulated, and exploited on a greater scale, for the increased profits of the already astronomically rich few. It is a grand and noble vision indeed.

But the main attack on government is an attack by big business on government regulations applying to big business. (They are happy to see red tape, high taxes and bureaucratic hurdles thrown up for small business, but they want a fast-track and a back door, with zero restrictions and zero taxes for themselves. Taxes, laws and regulations are for the little people.) The business elite do not want government restrictions on their actions. They want the subsidies and the bailouts and the protection of an increasingly militarized police state and a welfare state for the rich, but they do not want any restrictions on their own actions. Fascism for the people, total freedom for the elite – that is what the corporate oligarchs who rule the world today want, and that is what we are rapidly being driven into, like corralled cattle, being herded down the cattle chute.

While the elimination of government would mean total freedom for the corporate elite, it would mean total subjugation under neo-feudal corporate rule for the rest of us, and therefore we should oppose it – vigorously and passionately.

If you want to abolish government, you had better abolish all great concentrations of economic power first, or you will not have anarchism, much less freedom – you will simply have unfettered corporate rule, and a new form of tyranny.

So no, I do not support market anarchism or anarchist capitalism. I would tend to favour libertarian socialism, or anarchist socialism, where collectivism and anti-statism come together in a valuing of both freedom and mutual aid, as Kropotkin, Rocker, Bookchin, Bertrand Russell, Chomsky and others have argued for. In the short term, however, I would be happy simply to see a government that truly is, of the people, by the people, for the people, and not simply a servant of ruthless corporate powers and the super-rich.

I do not believe that a truly free society is even attainable without a very strong degree of mutual aid and solidarity among the people, which is absolutely necessary to accomplish the goal of a free society. So freedom and mutual aid must go hand in hand. To dream of it being otherwise is sheer fantasy.

How we blend and balance freedom and mutual aid, or liberty and collectivism, is the question. Whether or not we must, is a non-issue.


The seizure of corporate property by the workers, or by the people otherwise, at the local level, I do see as frequently if not generally justified, and Rothbard gives some good examples, such as workers taking over any and all corporations that are tied to the military-industrial complex, since they are involved in mass murder, among other reasons.

We can also look to the example of Argentina, where workers took over factories and ran them themselves, very successfully, as the documentary, The Take, revealed.

Or we can look to the Spanish Revolution, which was a largely anarchist revolution. The anarchist experiment in Spain, which lived between 1936 and 1939, I believe, was extremely successful, and could certainly be repeated elsewhere, but it would take great international solidarity to keep it alive in the face of the predictable backlash by the presently reigning vested interests.

As Chomsky has said, what the elite fear most, is the threat of a good example. For that reason, any example of worker control or workplace democracy, of any alternative to elite corporate rule, will be viciously attacked, no matter how small or remote. We must be prepared for that; but that is not an insurmountable obstacle to real social change. The people always have the real power. They simply need to realize it, and act upon the fact.

The anarchist revolution in Spain unfortunately ended up being crushed by an alliance between Western business elites, Western governments and the Soviet Union – Bolsheviks despise worker control just about as much as capitalists do. (Lenin destroyed the worker councils immediately upon seizing power, and Kropotkin declared after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, that the revolution is dead. But the example of a successful anarchist revolution, and a proven successful anarchist-socialist model for an advanced industrial society, still lives, and it still offers a better alternative, by far, over what we have now.

But to return to the subject of appropriation – or reclamation, as it might better and more accurately be called – there are other good reasons which justify such actions, and make them entirely legitimate, aside from the ones mentioned by Rothbard.

First of all, if what is nominally called private property was gained through illegitimate means, then all claim to title is null and void. For example, if an armed band of thugs rolls into town, and steals all that the people have or possess at gun point, we would say they have no right to that property. If one nation sends in its military to seize the oil or other resources of people in a foreign land, then that nation has no legitimate claim to such property. If a slave owner amasses a great fortune by means of the labour of his slaves, then he has no right to that property, which is more justly the property of the slaves who produced that wealth – cotton for example, or sugar cane, and the revenues from it – and not the slave master who illegitimately lays claim to it. And there are less obvious reasons for the invalidation of claims to property rights, such as great imbalances of power. In essence, all of these examples involve the exploitation of an imbalance of power to acquire wealth, and the imbalance of power makes all such claims to property acquired through these means, null and invalid.

That is the case generally for large concentrations of wealth and economic powers, such as the big corporations have today – for reasons of imbalances of power, and special favours sought by means of what is essentially bribery to political candidates, through what is euphemistically called election financing, among other reasons. The claims of property rights on the part of the corporate giants are highly dubious at best, and in reality, groundless, invalid and illegitimate.

Of course, this raises fears and even terror in some, for fear that their property will not be regarded as sacrosanct. Where do we draw the line between legitimate property rights, and appropriation or reclamation of what are reasonably viewed as illegitimate claims on property or resources, is the question we must ask. We draw lines all the time, and it is not hard to imagine a reasonable balance being sought and found. For example, leaving all small and medium businesses intact, as well as all family farms, family homes and personal possessions, but endorsing and supporting an appropriation or reclaiming of resources and assets which are presently held by the largest corporations, forthwith to be held as the shared property of the people – just as we now share public parks and public roads, public libraries and public fire departments – with shares in these corporation distributed equally to the people (and full voting shares, of course).

This would break up the corporate giants, immediately strip them of their excessive powers, put some teeth in anti-trust measures, and most essentially, would bring an immediate end to the domination over the global economy, the political process and the media by the presently ruling corporate elite. And it would once again restore some semblance of equality and also accountability within our society, and would at the same time dramatically increase the justice in our society, and also the quality of life and well-being of the people, immeasurably. I would therefore urge that such steps be taken immediately.

And it does not have to be an all or nothing scenario. We could start with the worst offenders, the banks, for example. If you want to dethrone Wall Street, and reign in the banking elite, and thereby get money out of politics, as any sane person should want today, then break up the big banks. And what are you going to do with them, one might ask. Well, one option is to do just what I have described here: seize their assets, and distribute shares of ownership equally among the people, effectively turning them into democratically controlled co-ops, with dividends paid directly to the people.

You do not let such corporate criminals get away with such crimes, nor do you give them a mere slap on the wrist. They are said to be too big to fail. Well, they are too big to exist – unless they are controlled by the people. Confiscate their assets, and return the power to the people.

Six giant banks now dominate the entire American economy, as well as both major political parties. Seize these powers, and put them in the hands of the people, and you will have a revolution – and real social change.

And we can have a mixed economy. We do not have to move too fast, if that scares people. Look at Europe – mixed economies are the norm. Most European nations have universal public health care, which is essentially a socialist feature of their society, yet they have democratic governments, constitutions, freedom and civil liberties, and they have capitalist, market-based economies. Adopting a universal public health care system did not turn these countries into Communist regimes, no matter what the paranoid right may scream. They are mixed economies with essentially republican governments and market economies. We can drop the paranoia now.

Despite the red scare tactics and the misunderstandings, having a socialist medical system has not turned European nations into Stalinist regimes, or anything remotely of the sort. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Americans have wanted a Canadian or European style health public health care system for decades – and it is half as costly as the for-profit private health care system of the United States. But this is an aside.

So we could easily imagine a mixed economy where we have excellent social programs, such as universal pensions, unemployment insurance and public health care, a market-based economy, open and transparent constitutional democracy with rights and freedoms for all enshrined in law and custom, and also have large sectors of the economy run as worker co-ops or publicly owned co-ops; run, not by the state, but by boards of directors and chief executives that are elected by the people directly, with the people being the majority or even the sole share-holders.

We are talking about taking giant, unwieldy, unaccountable and undemocratic corporations which are now out of control and running rampage, and turning them into accountable, democratically run co-ops, owned and controlled directly by the people. This would make a dramatic, and much needed, urgently needed change to our society. I see no reason to delay.

So yes, re-appropriation, or a reclaiming of resources by the people from the corporate oligarchs who have seized them and laid claim to them, is not only entirely justified and legitimate – it is also highly practical, workable, and an attainable goal which should be sought without delay.

In fact, I would say that if we do not take such measures, and soon, then the corporate elite will consolidate their power globally, with the results being that we find ourselves living in an Orwellian, technocratic, neo-feudal fascist regime, and a very dark age.

We must take bold steps now, to protect the people and ourselves from the clear and mounting threats of a full-blown corporate fascism. When six banks control 40% of the wealth of America; when six corporations control 90% of American media and can effectively manipulate the public mind; when Wall Street and the Fortune 500 fund the elections and effectively choose the political puppets of their liking; and when and a few dozen corporations, mainly banks, effectively control the global economy and rule the world, as a recent Swiss study showed, in a case of science confirming the obvious, then it is time for a bold and unhesitating response on the part of the people, without question.

Furthermore, with regards to claims of property rights: abuses of any great power also render all claim to that power null and void, as the Declaration of Independence states – and this applies to economic powers, such as those held by the business elite and the corporate giants, every bit as much as it applies to kings and queens, governments and political powers. If you abuse it, you lose it. And the corporate giants and the billionaire class who control them, are most definitely abusing their power.

A tax on tea sparked the American Revolution – it was a last, final insult, after myriad insults and injuries by an oppressive and tyrannical power. Such a tipping point is fast approaching again, when the people will say, No more, and the corporate empires will be swept aside, like so many empires that have fallen and been cast off in the past.


So I would say no to market anarchism, or anarchist capitalism, but yes to the people reclaiming the resources and assets that are held by the big corporations: for reasons of justice and equitability, for reasons of accountability, for reasons of environmental stewardship and the survival of the human race on earth, which is now in great peril, and because the corporate powers have become, and are now, simply tyrannical, by any reasonable definition or meaning of the word, and are causing great injury to the people as well as the earth on which we all depend for life.

If Thomas Jefferson could argue that a tax on tea is overly vexatious and justifies a revolution – I am exaggerating somewhat of course, to make a point, but we get the point of it – then surely today there is every justification for revolution against the new tyrants,  who are the reigning global billionaire class of the super-rich, and the giant corporations they control – who are infinitely more injurious to the people than King George ever dared to dream.

Two hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson warned that the corporations, and what he called the new moneyed aristocracy who controlled them, were already bidding defiance to our laws and challenging our democratic government to a contest of strength. And he said that he hoped the new moneyed aristocracy shall be killed in its infancy. He did not mince words, nor did he have any illusions as to the great dangers which confronted the people. We did not listen however, and that is why we are in trouble today. By now, any further delay in putting serious checks and balances on the new ruling super-powers of the corporate elite, would be nothing short of disastrous.

The powers and the abuse of powers, of and by the King of England, pale in comparison to the powers and the abuse of powers of and by the Bank of America or Goldman Sachs alone. It is time to dethrone the new tyrants. It is time to kick the corporate oligarchs out of the palace and into the streets – certainly out of government, and out of their present position as the de facto world government, and the unelected rulers of the world, as the business press itself calls them.

(The business elite prefer to call themselves the masters of the universe – and no, I am not joking – and their demonstrated egomania, power-lust and sheer madness only adds to the reasons to throw them from power.)

Gentleness is the best general rule, but there is a time for boldness. There is a time for the ferocity of a lion. And there is a time for the overturning of tables. Throw the money changers from the temple. They have overstepped their proper bounds, and have made themselves a menace. They must be deposed. And the most direct and effective way to dethrone this newest ruling class of would-be emperors, Caesars and Tsars who are the global corporate elite, is to reclaim their assets, and thereby to strip them of the very basis of their powers.

If a person on a rooftop with a rifle starts shooting at people, you disarm that person, and stop the violence. The big corporations and the business elite who control them are now wielding vast and unaccountable powers, which is reason enough to strip them of such powers; and in addition, they are demonstrably wreaking havoc, destruction and great suffering on the earth and upon the people. Therefore, they must be disarmed. And the only way to effectively disarm them, or to reign them in and halt their drive to fully dominate and control the global economy and the resources, the wealth and the nations of the world, which they are well on their way to doing, as anyone who is paying attention can clearly see; as well as to prevent them from destroying democracy completely, and to halt their clearly suicidal onslaught against nature and the earth, is to strip them of their powers – which means, stripping them of their assets.

It must be done. The people must reclaim their power. And no, Lenin, you were wrong, and we will not repeat your mistakes. No, this time, the revolution must come from below, and power must be returned to the people, and kept close to the people, at the level of the grassroots, and not in the hands of any ruling class or ruling elite of any kind – be it a political elite, a bureaucratic elite, a military elite, a religious elite, a self-proclaimed intellectual elite, or a business elite.

Freedom will come. And it will mean more than being able to choose between Coke or Pepsi, or choosing between which slavers will shackle your legs and make you their wage-slave.

A new day is being born. The writing is on the wall.

Stand now, people.

J. Todd Ring,
October 24, 2013

Libertarianism, Anarchism, Socialism and Democracy

Posted in activism, alternative, alternatives, analysis, anarchism, Bertrand Russell, Chomsky, Jefferson, Kropotkin, libertarian, libertarian socialism, libertarianism, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, right, right wing, Ron Paul, social theory, socialism, sociology, the right, Thoreau on April 19, 2011 by jtoddring

Fundamental questions


The future of humanity on earth


Further reflections on political economy in the real world

The questions of philosophy, and in particular, political philosophy, are of course large: and the implications of our responses, vast, far-reaching, and profound. We must take a moment to gain, as much as we can, a fresh look at things. From this freshness of perspective, we can gain a basic clarity of view. It is that basic clarity of mind, combined with a basic and shared goodwill and a courageous spirit, that we shall prevail; that victory over injustice and tyranny, as well as the madness of ecological self-destruction, shall be won; and we shall have, as human beings on this earth, and our children shall have – even more importantly – a better and brighter future than any of us might have dared to imagine, or dream of. It starts with clear-eyed and honest, thoughtful reflection. It starts here, now, in this moment, as in every moment. The future is wide open, but to create out of this vast openness, and not out of precluded possibilities or blinkered, presumptive, shallow thinking and narrow prejudice, requires our full attention and our well-considered thought. Let us dive in. There is much to discuss, and much to reflect upon. We can afford, and must demand of ourselves, a few moments of reflection, or else we will continue to rush madly and headlong into our own enslavement and self-destruction – which is the path we are currently drifting upon, and drifting with increasing speed, toward that cliff which approaches now. Let us stop for a moment, pause, and consider or reconsider, our groundwork assumptions, in a little more depth perhaps than we are ordinarily inclined, so that we can muster the clarity with which to act in the greatest interests and for the greatest benefit for all, including for ourselves, for our children, and for our children’s children.


I heartily agree with Thoreau on most subjects, including his views on government: he is at once a far-sighted idealist, and also a very clear-eyed pragmatist, with his feet firmly on the ground. His thought is always refreshingly lucid, frank, honest, good-hearted and direct, and he is a definite kindred spirit. A quote from him will open this short essay on political philosophy:

“I heartily agree with the statement, “That government is best which governs the least” – and I would like to see it acted up to more readily and more completely; and I would extend it to say this: that government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that is precisely the kind of government they shall have.” (Emphasis added.)

Thoreau here makes it clear that he is a kind of grassroots Jeffersonian democrat, with strong anarchist inclinations. He goes on to clarify precisely what he means, however, in order that we have no confusion or misunderstanding in our minds: “But I would not count myself among the no-government men. I do not call, at once for no government, but at once for a better government. Let every man state what kind of government would command his respect, and that shall be one step towards attaining it.” In other words, anarchism is the long-term ideal, but men and women are not likely ready for it just yet. In the meantime, let us have the least heavy-handed government possible, and also the most noble that we can create. Thoreau is, in a word, eminently sane. (The very well-considered views of Chomsky and Bertrand Russell echo Thoreau on this point as well, and both are of a rare lucidity, generally speaking – though naturally no one is infallible.)

All forms of elitism and authoritarianism are based in the urge to control and repress. The impulse to control and repression is based, clearly, in fear. The problem with control complexes – be they in personal life or the political sphere – is that they tend to compound problems, and end up creating more problems than they solve. As the old sage and first philosopher of Taoism, Lao Tzu said, “If you want to control the cattle, move back the fences.” He continued to say, with emphasis, “The greatest danger is the excessive use of force;” “Trust them: leave them alone.” And, as Jefferson said, piercing the Hobbesian delusion to its core, “If you can’t trust people to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?” We would be wise to ponder these statements at length, and in depth. Or as Chuang Tzu, the second major thinker and sage of Taoism has said, “You should govern a large country like you cook a small fish.” That is, lightly.

Jefferson, Thoreau, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and others of like spirits – such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Chomsky, Bookchin, Rianne Eisler, David C. Korten, Ron Paul, Kropotkin and Etienne de la Boittee – I would say, are all in a mode of mind which represents a basic clarity with regards to political life and human society. We might want to look more into these thinkers, for they have much to offer us today in light of our current social issues and global crises. We are running headlong into a kind of global neo-fascist corporate feudalism, and that spells the end of both freedom and democracy if we allow this trend to reach its chilling final conclusion. A little quiet reflection is sorely needed now, to avert disaster of the greatest magnitude, to defend over 800 years of rule by law and constitutional due process, to prevent us from being thrown back into “a more brutal age of empires” (as Zbig wishes for us), and most essentially, to secure a future of well-being and freedom for all.


From my own perspective, I would be happy, in the short term, with a form of democratic socialism, with the emphasis on democratic – and for this or any kind of democracy to be just, it must be a constitutional democracy or republic, with the rights and freedoms of all individuals enshrined in and protected by constitutional law. I would be even happier with an environmentally conscious social democracy, or what can be called a red-green democracy – again with the critical emphasis on constitutional democracy, freedom and civil rights for all.

With regards to socialism however, I would have to state clearly that questions of wealth pale in significance to questions of power. Therefore the vertical axis of political thought, which ranges between libertarianism and elitist authoritarianism, is far more important than the more commonly focused-upon horizontal axis of right and left. The vertical axis indicates relations of power, from decentralized to totalitarian. The horizontal axis chiefly emphasizes relationships, dynamics and distribution of wealth, from communal to hyper-individualistic. Wealth shapes power, if it is allowed to do so. The converse is also, and even more fundamentally true: the distribution of power determines the distribution of wealth. Therefore, if we are concerned with equitable distribution of the fruits of the earth or of our labour, we should be concerned first and foremost with the distribution of power. Libertarian socialists understand this; most Marxists and state-socialists seem not to. And in any event, and much more importantly yet, any society that claims to be just or free, but in reality concentrates power in the hands of the few while disempowering and making slaves of the many, is anything but just or free, no matter what it calls itself, or what grand rhetoric it invokes.

There are major questions with regard to economic systems, and above all, with questions of economic democracy, or the lack thereof, which fundamentally pertain to the subject at hand, but these are beyond the scope of this short essay. For excellent reflection, analysis and thought on these subjects, see Bertrand Russell’s Roads To Freedom, along with the writings of Kropotkin, Bookchin, Chomsky, Joanna Macy and Michael Albert.

I would be happy with either a right-leaning or left-leaning democracy, whether it be conservative or liberal, republican or democratic, libertarian or progressive, socialist or capitalist, or any blend of the above, so long as it is a true and functioning democracy, with constitutionally protected rights and freedoms for all individuals, and above all, true rule by the people – unfortunately, such a thing is still very rare anywhere in the world at present: but this is certainly open to change, and change – real change – is coming, and is emerging now, rapidly, all over the world. The tide is turning in Latin America, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and also, though it is still gestational and yet to blow the lid off, so to speak, in North America and Europe. Real change is on the rise, I assure you. Freedom and justice are at hand. Democracy is coming.


To further clarify the fundamentals of democracy and political economy, let the following be stated and the subject matter elucidated. The word democracy is beautiful, meaning, from the Latin, demos kratos: people power, power to the people, power of the people, or rule by the people themselves. The word or idea of democracy must be clarified however, so that it is not abused or misunderstood. Most essentially, for a democracy to be just, noble and free, or even for it to be effectual, intelligent and to function at its best, it must be a constitutional democracy or republic, in which rule by majority vote is held in check and balanced against certain basic laws which are enshrined in a constitution, in order to protect the freedom, rights and well-being of all individuals, and in order that the voices of all may be heard and considered. Without such constitutional safeguards, democracy degenerates into that ugly description of its dark side or dark potential: two wolves and a sheep sitting down at the table, and deciding what to have for dinner. “Tyranny of the majority” is not just a phrase: it is often the reality. This is why democracy requires a constitution, with protection for the voices, rights, freedom and well-being of all individuals.

Another critically important note must be made here: that constitutional democracy and corporatism are fundamentally and unequivocally at odds. The one grounds power in the hands of the people; the other silences and marginalizes the people, nullifying any genuine substance to democracy, quietly or overtly eviscerating both democracy and freedom, along with the destruction of constitutions and rights, while concentrating all power, increasingly and steadily, by coup or slow stealth, in the hands of a reigning financial or economic elite. The one values, safeguards and upholds the well-being, rights and freedoms of all individuals, while the other is a deception: pretending that corporations are real persons, when clearly they are not, so that the corporate powers can trump and triumph over the people. In short, the rights and freedoms of individuals apply to real people, and cannot be applied to or appropriated by corporations. When the latter happens, democracy and freedom are dead or in peril, and nothing but slavery is on the horizon. Failing to understand this antagonism and fundamental difference between democracy and corporatism is the reason that democracy is in peril now (though many, amazingly, still do not realize it) and freedom is facing its darkest hour.


It must be emphasized, that while democracy is the best form of government – that is, rule by the people, and not by any self-proclaimed elite – for democracy to be at its best, or even to function properly at all, it must be bound to constitutional law. In order that democracy may function as the rule of the people, and do this in the best possible way for all, it must be open to the voices of all. This means that a constitution is required in order to provide the grounding of fundamental laws protecting, at the very least, the freedom of the individual from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture or summary execution, along with other basic freedoms and rights, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of thought and belief, and the freedom of expression and assembly of all individuals. Without such protections and safeguards to freedom of person, speech, thought, assembly and expression being constitutionally enshrined and upheld, individuals and minority groups can and often are silenced by the majority, and democracy becomes both far weaker and far less just. Without the safeguards of basic laws enshrined by a constitution which protect and defend the rights, civil liberties, freedom and well-being of all individuals, democracy reverts to a kind of crass and blind rule of the majority, which often and easily degenerates into a tyranny of the majority. For democracy to function well, the voices of all must be heard and not silenced or marginalized; and for democracy to avoid becoming a simple-minded tyranny of the reigning majority, a constitution must enshrine and defend and protect – even cherish – the well-being, rights and freedoms of all individuals. So when we say democracy, let us understand that this must mean constitutional democracy, and not simple majority rule, so that the well-being and freedom of all individuals is upheld and promoted.

It must also be emphasized that for democracy, freedom or justice to be real and to prevail, not only political power, but also economic power must be addressed. As Chomsky put it, cutting as usual to the very heart of the matter, “It is an axiom that power follows property.” If we allow economic powers to become so staggeringly concentrated, as they have over the past 200 years with the rise of the corporation, then we will naturally see the eclipse of both freedom and democracy, all justice will be gone, and we will, once again, be peasants under the boot of feudal lords. If this sounds familiar, it is because we have left unchecked for too long, the staggering growth of economic powers: we are now serfs, and are rapidly becoming slaves. It is not too late, but monopolistic or oligarchical, plutocratic powers of excessive concentrations of financial or economic power, must be checked.

The powers of finance, corporations and the economic realm in general, cannot be permitted to continue to encroach upon, dominate, or functionally eviscerate the democratic process, as they are doing now. This is a basic requirement for democracy and for freedom, as well as for justice – in fact, given the ecological crisis, it is a requirement for any future for humanity at all.

If Tom Paine were alive today, he would be urging revolution, now as then. And he would not be speaking in denunciation of a king, but of a far more grotesque, more pervasive, and all-encompassing form of tyranny than King George could ever have imagined. He would be speaking truth to power, and urging us to resist, to defy, and to overthrow that unjust, undemocratic and tyrannical power which is oppressing and exploiting us, and holding down the freedom, creative power, imagination and true potential of humanity. The power he would today be decrying and urging resistance and revolution against, is the new money powers of the corporate aristocracy and the global corporatist empire, which has arisen over the past 200 years, and which now threatens to swallow up the dreams of humanity, along with our freedom and civil liberties, our democratic process and governments, our wealth and potential and very future on earth.

Thomas Jefferson saw this danger 200 years ago: the very real, and even then, imminent danger of “the new monied aristocracy” and rising corporate powers usurping the powers of the people and of democratic government, and leaving in their place a new kind of slavery and tyranny over the earth. We have failed to listen for nearly 200 years, and so are at a very dark hour. We had better listen now.


To further state my own views as to political philosophy, I would say that I am libertarian, or more simply put, anti-authoritarian. I am not opposed to the term anarchism, but prefer the less misunderstood term of libertarianism, since the elitists, globalists, authoritarians and corporate propagandists have made such a successful attack on the term anarchy that it immediately strikes fear in the hearts of otherwise intelligent people, rendering them blinkered bleating fools, incapable of any kind of rational thought.

It is a libertarianism of the left that I am speaking of here, and not the laissez-faire capitalism which constitutes right-wing libertarianism. Right-wing libertarianism is an oxy-moron, as far as all evidence and logic would indicate. Socially or fiscally conservative libertarians must understand, as many do, that both economic and political powers can and do threaten our basic freedom and well-being; and therefore, it is imperative that both political and economic powers be kept in check and within certain bounds, so that freedom, democracy and the well-being of each and all can be secured and promoted.

Presently, big money is a far greater threat to freedom than is big government – and while I am a fan of neither, I am interested in choosing my battles intelligently: first things first. Reign in the corporate elite, restore the rule of constitutions and democracy, return the power to the people, and then we can go from there.

In order to accomplish these most critical and urgent aims, the people must unite: this means that we must begin to realize that the primary battle is not between left and right – it is between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and the rule by an unchecked and anti-democratic, arrogant and tyrannical, self-serving elite on the other.

The real battle is not between liberal and conservative, nor left and right, but between the people and the would be “masters of the universe.” Let’s get things straight: if we do not come together on the fundamentals – the preservation of freedom, democracy, and rule by the people, there will be nothing left to debate, for we will all be slaves, and democracy shall be no more. It is time for the people to unite. Unite!


We could also call left libertarianism by other terms (hopefully, without frightening too many people into irrationality, or into fits of rage or frothy-mouthed vitriol, or glazey-eyed unthinking presumption, or name-calling stereotyping, or bleeting group-think, or asinine guilt-by-association absurdities, or glib, smug, thoughtless reactionary jingoism, or else into a terrified grab for the remote control and the soft pain of somnambulant self-medication through the great grey tube of the tv and the virtual enslavement system of the mass media trance – the shot in the arm of the digital opiate). To speak in broad terms, a libertarianism of the left can also be described as, or at least closely related to, that which has been called variously, libertarian socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism or democratic communitarianism. To put it most simply and directly however, let us say that left libertarianism is most readily and easily, and also most accurately understood, as this: grassroots democracy, with an emphasis on sharing, cooperation and mutual aid.

It is hard for anyone of sound mind and good heart to argue against such a position as this: Jesus meets Jefferson, you could say; or the Buddha meets and meshes with the Enlightenment values of freedom, equality, solidarity and democracy. Left libertarianism evokes our better selves, our higher impulses and thoughts and motivations, and aspires to our highest values as human beings on earth: love and compassion, freedom and democracy, mutual aid and caring, justice for all, and a basic instinct towards peaceful coexistence, cooperation and sharing. Who dares denounce such values openly? I dare them to profess aloud that they despise these things.

Are these values and views out of touch with reality? Are they childishly naive or whimsically idealistic? Hardly. History shows that such a view as this, which is deeply sceptical of all forms of excessive concentration of power in society, is the most lucid, the most sober, and the most prescient and prudent. One need not be an optimist about human nature to agree with a left libertarian view. If one is sceptical about the darker potentials of human nature, then one should all the more be a democrat, and, a democrat in the populist sense, the Jeffersonian sense, or the libertarian sense, for we have seen all too often, too repeatedly, and too gruesomely, that power does indeed corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Therefore, if we are sceptical as to human nature, or at least as to human fallibility, as Hobbes was, we should, unlike Hobbes, be rational, and prevent any one person or group of people from acquiring too great a power in human society. This means, taken to its logical conclusion, that we are strongly in favour of grassroots participatory democracy, constitutional checks and balances and limits on all forms of social power, including, not only political power, but also economic and cultural power, such as media powers or church powers or financial or corporate powers, so that freedom can prevail, and so that no one group or individual can dominate the rest, and so that tyranny, exploitation, oppression and injustice can be averted and avoided, to every extent possible. In short, if you are a democrat, and are rational and lucid, or have given the subject clear-eyed and in-depth thought, then you are a libertarian democrat, or a grassroots democrat, or a Jeffersonian democrat, however you wish to phrase that basic clarity of mind.

This does not mean that one must be socially or even fiscally conservative with regards to political economy or political philosophy. What it means, is that all forms of excessive concentrations of power are regarded with a serious scepticism, and that freedom and democracy are valued, not only in rhetoric, but in policy and action.

To be a true democrat, one must value, in thought, speech and action, democracy and freedom – that would seem to be self-evident, but alas, it is rare. What this entails is this: to be a true democrat (or republican) one must be anti-authoritarian and anti-elitist. And to be a consistent – or one could even say – an intelligent democrat, one must address not only political power, but also economic power. To address both political and economic power, along with a valuing of freedom, justice and truly authentic, substantive participatory democracy, requires one to be both a democrat and also a libertarian. Anything other is simply self-contradictory, irrational, or else either disingenuous or flatly undemocratic.

“‘Rugged individualism’ has meant all the ‘individualism’ for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking ‘supermen.’ America is perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues; while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as ‘un-American’ and evil in the name of that same individuality.” – Emma Goldman

As Chomsky so aptly and cogently summed it up: “You’re either an aristocrat or a democrat.” There is no third choice, in reality; and all aristocratic sentiments and notions are anti-democratic and ultimately tyrannical, if not simply mad. The aristocratic notion of political philosophy or ideology amounts always and most essentially to this one simple-minded thought: I, or else me and my buddies, should rule supreme over all. The infantile grandiosity and megalomania should be readily self-evident to all. To be a genuine democrat is to resist and reject all such notions of elite rule, in favour of a genuine rule of the people, by the people, for the people. In short, you can choose freedom and responsibility, which are a package deal, or you can choose a childish dependency upon a supposed benign parental figure of elite rule, and hope that your slavery is pleasant, or at least not too damaging. I would say in conclusion, we are left with a choice of sanity or madness, and the path of democracy and freedom is the only path aligned with the former.

J. Todd Ring,
March 17, 2011
Prajnaseek on Youtube

See Chomsky, Bertrand Russell, Rianne Eisler, Bookchin, Kropotkin, Aldous Huxley, Erich Fromm, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Emerson and Thoreau for similar views on society and political philosophy.
(See the Nolan Chart for the four dimensions of political philosophy – there are more than two.)

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

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 Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Dover Thrift Editions): Books: Henry David Thoreau Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism & Syndication: Books: Bertrand Russell The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future: Books: Riane Eisler The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy: Books: Murray Bookchin Escape from Freedom: Books: Erich Fromm The Power Elite: Books: C. Wright Mills,Alan Wolfe 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: Don’t Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial: Books: Ellen Willis