Left-Libertarians and the Ring of Power
Column by Glen Allport.
Exclusive to STR
Image of The Ring of Power from Wikimedia Commons
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If I had the Ring of Power, I would only use it for GOOD!
Recently, I was reminded that to at least some extent, left-leaning libertarians and anarchists do not understand that compassionate social goals cannot be achieved by the violence and coercion of the State. Love, compassion, and brotherhood are in a different realm than politics and political power. We absolutely do need more love in this world, but using State coercion in service of love can only backfire because coercion is diametrically opposed to love; it is cruelty rather than compassion. Furthermore, psychopaths are drawn to the coercive State like flies to offal – which is why everywhere we look today and in history, those at the top of government structures are more interested in Power than in love and compassion.
To the elite, love and compassion are for campaign ads and political promises, but Power is the name of the game. Back in the 20th Century, George H. W. Bush, "Bush the First," ran on a campaign slogan of a "kinder, gentler" America. Shortly after taking office, he gently invaded Iraq, killing over 100,000 civilians. Nobel Peace laureate Obama is so excited about bombing Syria that it would be cute if he were a puppy dancing around its owner expecting a treat, but – well, he isn't. He's a politician who wants to murder yet another group of mostly-civilians in a pipsqueak far-away land that is no threat to the most powerful nation on Earth.
Civil Society Requires Non-Aggression
Back in 2006 I wrote Call Me an Abolitionist, Please, in which I pointed out that "civil society requires nothing less than complete abolition of initiated coercion." I added that:
"All excuses, schemes, and rationalizations for initiating coercion against others only create more coercion. We've tried 'the divine right of kings.' We've tried 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' We've tried 'democracy.' It doesn't matter how you dress it up: initiating force or threats of force against peaceful human beings is a crime, and creates nothing but injustice, violence, and misery. Using the term 'abolitionism' points out that ALL forms of initiated coercion must go; belief that it is necessary or benign to initiate coercion for this or for that reason, or in some special manner, is delusional and dangerous."
My assumption at the time was that most – not all, but surely most, I thought – of those calling themselves "anarchists" understood the need for following the Non-Aggression Principle. Increasingly, I wonder how widespread that understanding really is. In my 2006 column, I did point out that "anarchist" is a term with a perplexing variety of meanings, including more than a few at odds with the Non-Aggression Principle. Indeed, to the public at large (not to mention to the State and to the corporate media, which works hard to reinforce this), the definition of "anarchist" is essentially the same as "terrorist."
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STR readers may be interested to note that Henry David Thoreau is associated in this list with Anarcho-pacifism which, as you would expect, does not advocate the use of force or violence to achieve its goals. But again: several of those schools of thought do advocate using force to eliminate economic disparity, racism, or other real or perceived problems. Many who consider themselves left-libertarians, progressive-libertarians, or who use other freedom-related labels to describe themselves have the same mistaken idea: basically, that compassion, equality, or other desired states and actions can be successfully imposed by State Power, and that using Power "in the right manner" would increase or secure liberty.
The truth is that any group which advocates or sanctions aggression – the initiation of force or coercion – in service of their goals is harming the cause of liberty, which means also harming mankind. Aggression is cruelty; it never leads to anything positive.
To advocate aggression is to advocate continued use of Power in the sense Tolkien, and Mao for that matter, used the term. Chairman Mao (R.J. Rummel's #1 mass murderer of the 20th Century) famously pointed out that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun"; Tolkien wrote a huge fantasy adventure centered around the need to destroy a magical, highly addictive and corrupting Ring of Power. Peter Jackson's gorgeous film version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings includes Gandalf reacting to Frodo's offer to give Gandalf the Ring: "Don't tempt me, Frodo! Understand, Frodo – I would use this Ring from a desire to do good . . . [long pause] . . . but through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine."
Frodo is the hero of Lord of the Rings because he alone is not tempted to use the Ring to achieve his goals, and is not even tempted to maintain possession of the Ring. Frodo WANTS to be rid of it, and – knowing that until the Ring is destroyed, it will endanger everyone on Earth – Frodo undertakes a long and dangerous journey to the volcano at the heart of Mordor, the only place where the Ring of Power can be destroyed. At the end of the tale (spoiler alert), Frodo does indeed destroy the Ring, utterly, by throwing it into the magma at the heart of Mt. Doom.
Get it straight, pro-aggression "anarchists" and "libertarians": You cannot use Power to achieve your goals, unless your primary goal is to perpetuate the evils of Statism. Yes, I know: you only want to use the Power for good. (So did the followers of Hitler, Lenin, and Mao.) But you, and those who come after you, would be wielding a power so "great and terrible" that, frankly, it may have already destroyed the world. Please don't make things even worse, which is all you CAN do by violating the Non-Aggression Principle.*
* Yes, if the world is ALREADY destroyed, things can't get any worse – ultimately. But things certainly could be worse than they otherwise might be in the meantime, before the end, and besides – maybe we aren't yet actually doomed. Sounds Pollyana-ish, I know (see here and here for a jolt of reality), but perhaps mankind will get lucky.
Do you want to oppose racism, homophobia, child abuse, central banking, factory farming, and genetically modified kittens? Glad to hear it. Right on, brothers and sisters!
I'm totally with you, but please oppose the evils of this world without using aggression or initiating violence. Especially, please do not expect, ask, or propose that government Power be used in the service of your goals; all you are doing in that case is arguing that Tweedle-Dee instead of Tweedle-Dum should be installed as The Decider (video, 3 min 57 sec; Jon Stewart). Either way, State aggression rolls on – and soon enough, psychopaths gain the upper hand (as they always have) because who else, really, is willing to scratch and claw and lie and cheat and even kill to attain the Power of the State?
As long as State Power exists, it will be co-opted and eventually taken outright by those who want Power over others – by those exactly like today's power elite and like the dictators, kings, presidents, coercive busy-bodies, corporatist and mercantilist titans of industry, and other tyrants who have made life so brutal, poverty-stricken, and harsh for most of mankind since the dawn of recorded history. Only coercive government allows for such evil on a national and global scale, and it must be ended, in the same way that chattel slavery was ended. All excuses for why coercive government "must" exist are misunderstandings and sophistries.
Love and Freedom are Equally Necessary, but Different in Kind
Love (including compassion, brotherhood, a sense of connection to others) is yin to freedom's yang, and the two parts of that duality must be thought of and handled differently.
Liberty is defined by actions and requires enforcement. Violations of the Non-Aggression Principle (coercion and fraud, such as rape, murder, home-invasion robbery, environmental destruction, and other real crime) must be widely seen as wrong, prevented by non-coercive means (education, private security firms, social norms, and contract law, to name just a few) and corrected when they occur (again, contracts, security firms – including use of force when necessary – and other means). The Market for Liberty is an excellent place to start if you haven't considered the idea of non-State provisions of law, dispute resolution, and other "government services." The Voluntary City is another good resource, in this case for real-world examples of "government services" supplied instead by civil society (i.e., by voluntary means).
Note: coercive funding, meaning taxation and fiat currency, is the foundational evil that the rest of the State's wrongdoing rests upon. Why would anyone expect customer satisfaction in a situation where the customer's money is taken at gunpoint, no matter how the customer feels about the "services" being provided? Coercive funding is why we all pay for war, for torture, for subsidies and special treatment of many kinds to the nuclear industry and to most other large industries. Coercive funding is the only way you could be made to pay for such things and for every other harmful thing our multi-trillion-dollar empire does. Why isn't the State spending its stolen money the way YOU think it should be spent? A few moment's thought should bring you the answer.
In contrast to liberty, love is an inner state and cannot be enforced, but instead requires emotional health. In turn, that requires gentle, appropriate treatment at the earliest time of life and throughout childhood, including real-time satisfaction of basic needs. Coercion is never useful in creating love – seriously, what are you doing to do, point a gun at someone and force them to love you? To feel compassion? To snap themselves out of homophobia or racism or a generally mean-spirited world-view?
"Ah," but you say, "we can use coercive government Power to make people ACT as if they were compassionate! And we can take money from them and spend it compassionately!"
That misconception – that coercive Power can be used for good – is how we got public housing ghettos and Obamacare and Bush's No Child Left Behind and the long-running War on Drugs (gotta save people from the nightmare of drug use!) and America's aggressive "wars for peace" and the NSA and Homeland Security and pretty much every other boondoggle and tyranny we now have. All of it is supposedly for our benefit and protection, but the results are quite different.
It is hard to rid oneself of the addicting, something-for-nothing lure of using State Power to end the evils (whatever you perceive those to be) of this world. One thinks of Captain Pickard on the U.S.S. Enterprise telling a subordinate to "Make it so!" – and like magic, the thing is done. But real-world history shows the truth: Violence, coercion, and stolen money are not the path to a better world.
There is a better way – a way that actually reduces tyranny and evil instead of increasing them.
The Path to a More Compassionate World
How then to increase the amount of love in the world? How to ensure that needs are taken care of and to move society in the direction of brotherhood and decency and kindness?
The answer is simple, if not necessarily easy: Without using aggression, advocate and work for both love and freedom.
By "freedom" I mean real freedom, including abolition of the coercive State – voluntaryism, in other words. I would say "anarchy," but as we have seen, most people, including many in what would appear to be the freedom movement, are convinced that aggression is perfectly fine if used in service of goals that they, personally, agree with. We will never get anywhere that way; using aggression "for good reasons" is exactly what we have now.
By "love" I mean the inner experience of love, which includes a sense of connection with others and which leads to positive attitudes and behaviors engendered by that inner experience. I do NOT mean government programs supposedly aimed at compassionate goals.
How to do that, exactly? By fostering institutions and attitudes that value both compassion and human rights (i.e., freedom or liberty), including especially for the young. Entire books could be (and have been) written on the subject, so – as I am already running long here – I won't attempt a more detailed answer in this column but will suggest further reading. Among my own columns, consider:
Anarchy or Minarchy is Only Half the Question, Part 2
(especially section 7, "Bringing More Love and Freedom Into the World", which includes a discussion of A.S. Neill's approach to children at Summerhill School in England)
Websites and books, starting with one of my own:
The Biology of Love by Arthur Janov
Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence by Robin Karr-Morse (Author), Meredith S. Wiley (Author), Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (Introduction)
Summerhill School – Founded in 1921 by A.S. Neill and still in operation today, run by Neill's daughter Zoë. The essence of Summerhill is, I think, nicely conveyed in this short quotation by Neill:
"Well freedom in my school is, do what you like as long as you don't interfere with somebody else. Put it this way. If a child doesn't want to study mathematics, it's nobody's business; it's his own. But if he wants to play a trumpet when other people are sleeping, that's everybody's business. That's license." ~ A.S. Neill
~ conversation between A.S. Neill and Maria Montessori, Redbook Magazine, Dec 1964, reprinted as "Radical Private Schools" in This Magazine is About Schools 1(1), Apr 1966, p19 [as quoted in Wikipedia]
Sudbury Valley School – a famous day school modeled after Summerhill (which, however, is a boarding school)
Love and freedom: if we are to get anywhere, libertarians and anarchists will need to take BOTH sides of the duality seriously.