Posts tagged Brad Spangler

Re: Anarcho-Capitalism Is Not A Form of Libertarian Socialism


I’m late to this party, but I’ve been late to a lot of parties lately, and am trying to catch up, so….

  1. This is a really excellent and thoughtful post. Thanks for putting it out there.

  2. Of course you’re right that there are substantive, not merely rhetorical differences between the norms advocated by most libertarian socialists (as the term is conventionally understood) and anarcho-capitalists (Rothbardian or otherwise). And that these differences include difference over norms of just enforcement. (Not just what free associations would be best to make but also what even counts as free or unfree association.) If Spangler has leaned a lot on questions of rhetoric and semantic distinctions, I hardly think it’s because he wants to argue that there is no substantive difference. It’s because he wants to do a better job than the conventionally-drawn subcultural battle-lines have done so far in showing where those substantive differences really are. And (given Brad’s usual orientation towards activism in particular) I expect that a lot of the upshot is supposed to have to do with where the opportunities for alliance and cooperation in spite of real differences might be.

(In particular, if someone tends to believe, as many anarcho-capitalists do, that conventionally pro-capitalist Constitutionalists or minimal-statists are closer to the anarcho-capitalist position than conventional libertarian socialists are, then that’s probably one of the things that might need rethinking. Not because anarcho-capitalists and conventional Red-and-Blackers have the same conception of freedom or domination, but because anarcho-“capitalists” and limited-governmentalists don’t have the same conception either. And I expect that Brad thinks — anyway, I know that I think — that, purely verbal agreements and purely verbal conflicts to one side, when allowed free rein and carried through consistently, the syndicalist or anarcho-communist or anarcho-collectivist or mutualist conceptions of these terms, and the anarcho-“capitalist” conception, are plausibly closer to each other in theoretical structure, and definitely closer to each other in practical political effects, than either the libertarian socialist conception is to state socialism, or the anarcho-“capitalist” conception is to minarchism or Constitutionalism.)

  1. In response to Alex Peak’s comments on economic panarchy, you write “Spangler isn’t exactly talking about that either – he’s claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between the groups, and I explained why I think that this is misleading.” I agree that Alex’s comments were off to one side of your concerns and of Brad’s original point. But I don’t know why you read Brad as “claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between” libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists. As I read Brad’s posts, his point was that (consistent, agoristic, whatever) Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is a species of the genus “libertarian socialism.” Certainly he explicitly says that there are lots of other kinds of socialists who are not left-Rothbardians; I think his argument also allows for there being lots of other kinds of libertarian socialists who are not left-Rothbardians. It’s a subset relationship, not an identity. The point as I understand it doesn’t have anything to do with claiming that Rothbard’s and Kropotkin’s versions of socialism are fully compatible, let alone identical; it has more to do with convincing people who are Rothbardians that they are one among many kinds of libertarian socialists — not really supporters of capitalism (as Brad thinks they should understand the term). Which presumably will have some impact on how they position themselves in debates about the political-economic status quo, and in their thinking about their political relationship to other anarchists, on the one hand, and “libertarian” state-capitalists, on the other.

  2. You write: “Part of why I think that Spangler’s claims are misleading is that he seems to think that if you think that the state intervenes to uphold an unjust allocation of property and that the consequences of abolishing the state naturally lead to a redistribution of property, this makes you a libertarian socialist, but that’s not what libertarian socialism is defined by. It involves fairly specific notions about property at a different conceptual level, and it doesn’t entail a reduction of the issue to the pre-existance of a state.”

That’s a strong definitional claim, but I’m not sure where you’re getting your definitions of “libertarian socialism” from. Apparently not from Benjamin Tucker, who called his ideas both libertarian and socialist, but was also very emphatic that he didn’t share the “fairly specific notions about property” advanced by, say, Kropotkin or Bakunin. (Whether or not he was on the same page as Proudhon depends on how you read Proudhon; which is of course a contested issue within libertarian socialist thought.) People who nowadays call themselves “libertarian socialists” do tend to agree with Kropotkin more than they do with Tucker, but that seems like variation and changes in majority opinion amongst socialists; not a change in the boundaries of who counts as a socialist and who doesn’t. If Tucker is not going to be counted as a libertarian socialist, then I’d need to know why not; certainly he considered himself one and was commonly accepted as one at the time. If he does get counted, then I’d like to know what definitional criterion having to do with “fairly specific notions about property” would consistently accept him but turn out consistent Rothbardians. If there isn’t one, then it seems like your definitional criterion is either too broad or too narrow to consistently line up with the paradigm cases. In which case you would need a different criterion.

Re: Socioeconomic Creationism

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

Well. Isn’t it empirically true that there are specific government policies which, either through design or through unintended consequences, tend to profit the rich, hinder and impoverish the poor, or do both at the same time? If you doubt it, I can name some examples.

Can you think of any actual examples of people who fall back on the claim that poverty is substantially caused by government policies, rather than by voluntary market forces, who do so because they’re simply unable to understand how spontaneous orders work? Every proponent of such a claim that I can think of (Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Gabriel Kolko…) is relatively clear on the notion of spontaneous order; they get to the conclusion that government policies cause poverty not by explanatory default, but rather because they can point to a bunch of concrete examples of government policies that really do this.

In my experience, most of the real “socioeconomic creationists” with regard to wealth, tend to attribute poverty to tightly coordinated conspiracies (“international bankers” and the like), or else to the personal greed and vices of individual business people, not to structural factors like government policy.

If the average man makes more than the average woman, the socioeconomic creationist concludes that this must be due to the misogynistic oppression of women, rather than the natural outcome of men and women having different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities.

You seem to be presupposing that “misogynistic oppression of women” and “spontaneous order” are two mutually exclusive explanations of the situation. But why make that claim? There’s nothing in the concept of a spontaneous order that requires that all spontaneous orders be benign. It may be that if certain kinds of ignorance, folly, or vice are widely distributed throughout the population, then lots of little individual acts of stupidity or evil will, without the design of the participants, add up to a large-scale, malign spontaneous order that goes beyond the intentions of the participants.

“Preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” aren’t the only factors that can contribute to the individual decisions from which a spontaneous order emerges. And not all “preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” are independent of prevalent prejudices and traditions, either.

Self-described libertarians

Thanks for the mention, and for the kind words. I agree about the tone of that OC Weekly article. It’s kind of baffling, because the analysis is actually so much better than the analysis in most abusive-cop pieces, but the tone comes off as if it were written by a fugitive from a direct-to-video American Pie script.

As for self-described libertarians, what I’ve found is that they (we) are a pretty diverse lot. A lot are tools or creeps, and especially those “small government” types whose views are conventional enough to fit into the outer fringes of mainstream political discourse. But, while I don’t want much to do with those folks, radical libertarians tend to be a very different sort, and those that I get along with and try to learn from (e.g. Roderick Long, Kevin Carson, Jennifer McKitrick, Carol Moore, Anthony Gregory, Sheldon Richman, Brad Spangler ….) are generally maneuvering to out-Lef the establishment Left, in terms of exposing the class dynamics of the State and making a case for radically decentralist, grassroots approaches that achieve Leftist and feminist goals by ordinary people getting together amongst themselves, and bypassing or confronting the State, rather than collaborating with it or trying to seize control of it. Maybe that approach is the right approach, and maybe it’s the wrong approach; but in any case it’s a very different approach from the one that you’d be likely to see from the “small-government conservative” types, or at your local Libertarian Party, or in your average MeetUp for Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. And it’s an approach that more libertarians seem to be adopting lately; a tendency which I hope I might be able to encourage, in whatever small ways I can manage.

Anyway, that’s how I see it now. Does that help clarify, or does it muddy?

Re: The Ron Paul Flap – Short Version


In that is it any more offensive or dangerous than a reverence for majoritarian democracy?

Maybe more offensive; probably not more dangerous. How offensive a particular view is, on the whole, depends on a lot of factors, not merely how dangerous it is to individual rights. Vices aren’t crimes, but they are vices, and sometimes a vicious attitude merits taking offense.

Nobody gets atwitter about advocacy of democracy, so why should racism be any more alarming?

I don’t know what counts as getting “atwitter” or what domain you’re quantifying over when you say “nobody.” Most libertarian writers that I know are fairly contemptuous of majoritarian democracy. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three libertarians whose criticism of Ron Paul (Micha Ghertner’s, Wendy McElroy’s, and Brad Spangler’s) has specifically revolved around how the campaign promotes the myth that freedom can come about through majoritarian democracy.

As for Long, as far as I know, his position is not that racism is somehow worse or more alarming than political majoritarianism. The claim is just that racism is objectionable from a libertarian standpoint, not that it’s more objectionable than something else.