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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Say "No" to Capitalism: In Defense of Sheldon Richman and the Libertarians Against Capitalism Facebook Group

Walter Block, a good friend of mine who's also a fan of my show Liberty Cap Talk Live on Blog Talk Radio, a prominent blogger and writer at LewRockwell.com, a well-noted economics professor at Loyola University New Orleans, and a prominent senior fellow at the right-libertarian educational/academic organization Ludwig von Mises Institute, has penned a piece for LRC.com, in which he criticized my good friend and left-libertarian/agorist/anarchist mentor Sheldon Richman for having recently started his group Libertarians Against Capitalism on Facebook and positing his contention that the word capitalism lacks any value to and is a problem in the eyes of many purist free-market ideologues. (Here's Sheldon's rejoinder to Block on his Free Association blog.]

Curiously, Block writes in his piece in part:

If U.S. Presidents such as George Bush (41st or 43rd), Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are widely considered capitalist supporters, and they are, then I, along with Libertarians Against Capitalism, want no part of this moniker. (Ronald Reagan magnificently utilized free market rhetoric; but budgets and regulations increased when he was governor of California and President of the U.S.) And the same goes for the likes of Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle and Nelson Rockefeller, along with talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. I will not say that there is a 180 divergence between what they mean by 'capitalism' and how I use this word, but the differences are very stark. This includes other politicians of the following ilk: John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michael Steele, and Fred Thompson. Their 'capitalism' and mine are very, very different.


Intriguingly enough, Block fails to distinguish his so-called term free-market capitalism (in its purported context) from the commonly-used term state capitalism at the end of his paragraph. But then again why ruin the fun when you can attempt to make a good although unconvincing case against the critics of the term capitalism because of its purported pro-freedom/anti-state roots when actually its true anti-liberty/pro-state baggage predates the 20th century and further extends to France's National French Assembly after the French Revolution of 1789, which was populated by the original leftists (laissez-faire advocates) on the Left (where Frederick Bastiat and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon sat) and the fascistic and mercantilistic aristocrats on the Right? Not only that, what about this term and its concepts' deep-seated ties to corrupted, seedy, and shady interventionistic state influence? Apparently, he refuses to acknowledge all and any of those historically factual points.

Then, after listing the names of many conservatives in the above paragraph, Block further writes:

Nor can we afford to ignore a large group of neoconservatives, who are also linked with 'capitalism' in the public mind, for example: Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith, Carl Gershman, Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Richard Perle, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Schwartz, Leo Strauss, Ben Wattenberg, Paul Wolfowitz and James Woolsey. Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism, wrote a book called 'Two cheers for capitalism.' As for me, I want no part of this sort of 'capitalism.' It is three cheers for me, all the way.


Additionally, he writes:

And the same goes for conservatives such as Roger Ailes, David Brooks, William F. Buckley, John Derbyshire, David Frum, Robert Gates, Jim Geraghty, Jonah Goldberg, Lawrence Kudlow, Rich Lowry, Jay Nordlinger, Ramesh Ponnuru, Karl Rove, Mark Stein, John Yoo and Byron York. If they support capitalism, and they are widely seen to do so, then I, too, along with called Libertarians Against Capitalism, oppose it. For the "capitalism" of these people includes as a central tenet war, militarism and imperialism. They may call it 'American Greatness,' but what it amounts to is the U.S. tossing its military weight all around the world, in a totally unjustified manner.

Also, there are foreign dictators who have been, willy nilly, linked with capitalism, and I wouldn’t want to be linked, politically, with them either. For example, Pinochet, Franco, and even, help us please, Hitler.


And, finally, he says:

Reading the above, one might infer that I am as good a candidate as any other libertarian to join Libertarians Against Capitalism.


Ah, but, according to Block, "Not so, not so." Why is that the case, you ask?

As convoluted as his logic is, here's the following kicker coming from him:

My main reason is not etymological but rather linguistic. I readily admit that 'capitalism' has a bad press, and its historical use is none too salutary either. But, the enemies of libertarianism are always trying to take words away from us.


The "enemies of libertarianism" are "always trying to take words away from us"?

As much I love Walter personally (and I don't mean to get my digs in him as well), it's not that the "enemies of libertarianism" have been co-opting our terms for years. They have taken back the term libertarian, considering we took it from them. We did so as a response to the state socialists in the progressive camp having taken the word liberal from us! Look at "libertarians" like Neal Boortz, Mancow Muller, Wayne Allyn, and Bob Barr (who, although successfully had secured the Libertarian Party nomination in 2008, failed to win the presidential election). They have been acting as though they have been in favor of Liberty, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. And they even employ terms such as capitalism and libertarian that are in their vocabularies.

Furthermore, Block says:

They have already long ago stolen 'liberal.' We must now call ourselves 'classical liberals' if we want to use that appellation at all. Some have recently had the audacity to try to take away the word 'libertarian.' I refer, here, to Noam Chomsky, who has the temerity to characterize himself as a libertarian.


(Of course, his "attempted theft" charge against Chomsky doesn't holds any water whatsoever, considering that Chomsky has been using that term to describe his brand of state socialism [statism] for decades. Block's "evidence" against him is indicated here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Thus, Block's case is very weak and implausible and appears to be on shaky grounds.)

It's pleasant to know that Walter tries to differentiate himself from the capitalists he noted in the above paragraph. My question to him would be: why would you even want to associate yourself with a word that has historically been employed by state socialists (statists) such as progressive Bill Maher (who called himself a "capitalist" on his Real Time show last night) and conservative economist Ben Stein across the political spectrum? Right-libertarians like Block, Stephan Kinsella, and Brad Edmonds continue to embrace the term willingly and without question, despite their inherent incongruities and flawed, convoluted logic. John Stossel of Fox Business even qualifies as an example of this, especially when one considers his vulgar libertarian framing of the libertarian philosophy on his show Stossel and his libertarian and capitalist guests whom he often interviews in front of his live studio audience.

Free market capitalists apologizing for vulgar libertarianism and shilling for the conservative and corporatist shills by protecting the term capitalism, even with the best of intentions and in a vociferous manner, merely create the perceived impression that all voluntaryists and many other advocates of Liberty are in bed with the establishment. These moves land free-market radicals in trouble across the board, regardless of what many right-libertarians claim. These stooges set themselves up for disdain and alignment with the Republicans and their Wall Street-worshipping statist cronies. Should we, including Americans in general, be surprised with this type of behavior that has been an endemic (although embarrassing) part of our society, our culture, and the parasitic political establishment?

As for the word libertarian, Sheldon Richman posits:

Libertarian was used by left-wing Spanish anarchists during the 1930s civil war; they were no friends of private property and free trade. Going back further, the word was used by anarcho-socialists after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 because the word anarchist could land them in a heap of trouble. I doubt Block would regard those libertarians as comrades. The French word Libertaire appears to be the origin of our word libertarian, and it seems to have had nothing to do with what Block wants to call capitalism. Quite the opposite.


Sheldon is correct. The word capitalism has always had a twisted, dark, and vile history with the Liberty movement, thanks to and despite the efforts of Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand. Block's attempt to save the term is an exercise in futility, because the word has really never been ours to begin with. Trying to resuscitate it, putting new life into it, and cleanse it from its sins are nothing but ideological and historical revisionism. No amount of spinmeistering from the hacks in our movement will change that talking point.

Block finally concludes his piece by writing:

So, I beseech Sheldon Richman and the other members of Libertarians Against Capitalism to disband their group, and, instead, work with the rest of us to save as many words as we can for our own use.


I doubt Sheldon has any interest in saving the word simply by disbanding his group. No left-libertarian/agorist/voluntaryist worth his salt believes that such an endeavor is, as Sheldon correctly noted at the end of his blog post, "worth the candle." Capitalism, like the word libertarian, is not an ally - but rather an enemy - of laissez-faire. They do not truly go together like popcorn and butter. Laissez-faire capitalism is an artificial construct, not to mention a clever redundancy. Not only that, it is an oxymoron. One who calls oneself a laissez-faire capitalist is akin to one calling oneself a Christian Satanist. One cannot be a Christian and a Satanist simultaneously. Either one is a Christian or a Satanist; there is no such thing as "between one and other other" or "both." Besides, there are plenty of terms that advocates of Liberty can use such as market anarchist, voluntaryist, laissez-faire, and free market. Besides, capitalism is a word that free-market radicals have now rejected.

It would be wise of our pro-Liberty allies to wash themselves of the label and stay away from it permanently. After all, it can't be saved.

Besides, we have no need and use of that poisonous word we call capitalism. But we do have a need of the Libertarians Against Capitalism group on Facebook. Let's educate the masses about the true vile nature of capitalism as it stands today.

4 comments:

Gary Chartier said...

Thanks, Todd: I think you're clearly right about this.

"Capitalist" was used as a pejorative by the nineteenth-century free-market radical Thomas Hodgskin, and in a not-so-flattering way by the classical liberal slavocrat John Taylor of Caroline, long before people like Mises and Rand sought to use "capitalism" in a celebratory sense.

Mainstream Dems and Reps in the US may think of "capitalism" as a neutral or positive term. But it's a name many people throughout the world are inclined to use for a system of social and political dominance by a small number of wealthy and well connected people.

Radical libertarians may know that this kind of dominance would be wildly unlikely in a freed market. Radical libertarians may know that affirming the value of freedom in all areas of life means opposing not only state violence but also various kinds of social and cultural subordination and hierarchicalism.

So radical libertarians might know that, when they talked about "captalism," they were talking about something different from what people around world who hate corporatist privilege and rule by the wealthy were thinking of when they used the word. They might know that. But it wouldn't be easy to make the point. Call yourself a proponent of "capitalism," and these people will be sure, even if incorrectly, that you're their enemy. Make clear you oppose capitalism, and you've potentially found new allies in the struggle for freed markets and against the state.

A side note: Chomsky seems to hold the mistaken view, shared with many Marxists, that strengthening the state over the sort term can reasonably be seen as a step along the path to its dissolution in the long term. That view is absurd: we know what people do when they have access to power, and the vast majority don't relinquish it. Following Chomsky's prescription in this regard would lead to more statist authoritarianism. But when Chomsky uses "libertarian" as a label for himself, he's not talking about himself-as-short-term-statist but rather himself-as-long-term-anarchist. I just wish he'd skip the short term and get to the long term.

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