Love for Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises

15 Feb

From Marx…

In On the Jewish Question, Marx famously critiques liberal theorists of religious freedom on the grounds that they merely wish to emancipate the state from religion. Assuming—wrongly, it turns out—that the 19th century state, or at least the American state, had indeed been fully emancipated from religion (e.g., there was no official state religion, no specific confessional requirement for the exercise of political rights, etc.), Marx notes that the American people are nevertheless quite religious. This leads him to the observation that “to be politically emancipated from religion is not to be finally and completely emancipated from religion, because political emancipation is not the final and absolute form of human emancipation.” We may be free of religion at the level of the state, but we are not free of it in our everyday life (like most Enlightenment thinkers, Marx thinks of religion as a defect). To be truly free of it, we need to emancipate ourselves from religion, to shift our focus from the state to society itself, to get past the distinction between our public lives and private selves. Not just in matters of religion, as it turns out, but in other areas as well.

President Obama’s recent “compromise” over contraception—where religious-based employers like Catholic universities and hospitals are required to provide insurance coverage that includes free birth control but are not required to pay for it, leaving insurers to eat the costs; churches and other explicitly religious institutions will remain exempt from the provision—makes me wonder if we’re not moving in the reverse direction.

98% of sexually active Catholic women essentially reject the Church’s position on contraception. In this respect at least, society has emancipated itself from religion. Even so, the state allows its policies to be dictated by the Church elders. And judging by the growing Republican discontent with even this compromise, the state’s capitulation to religion and religious sensibilities could get worse. Keep in mind, as Katha Pollitt points out, that we are not talking about isolated sects like the Amish, which don’t depend on all manner of tax subsidies and public monies for their operations; these are large-scale institutions that would not exist in their current form were it not for the state’s ongoing support.

…to Mises

Speaking of conservatives, the birth control debate recently led Mike Konczal back to Ludwig von Mises’ classic 1922 text Socialism. Mises was a pioneering economist of the Austrian School, whose political writings have inspired multiple generations of libertarian activists in America and elsewhere. Mike took a special interest in the fourth chapter of Socialism, “The Social Order and the Family,” in which Mises has some retrograde things to say about women and feminism. This led Mike to conclude prematurely that Mises was against birth control, which he wasn’t, but as I make clear in the comments thread, Mike’s larger point—that Mises was not in favor of women’s sexual autonomy; nor, for that matter, was he in favor of other kinds of autonomy that would free women from the dominion of their husbands—still stands.

All this back and forth about the text prompted Brian Doherty, author of a wonderful history of libertarianism, to waspishly comment that, well, who really gives a shit what Mises may or may not have thought about women and birth control. Libertarians care about liberty; all the rest is commentary.

Mises does go on to address “natural barriers” that socialists want to overturn, and doubtless some of his own personal opinions about what those natural barriers might be would differ from moderns, liberal or conservative, which is exactly why [Konczal’s] entire implied point doesn’t make any sense to begin with. Those concerns are far more matters of opinion, not political philosophy, and in no sense should bind even those who have sworn fealty to Mises’ general views on economics and liberty. (For example, I’m quite the Misesian in most questions of politics and economics, but can imagine an intelligent conservative argument that the “rationalization of the sexual passions” is in some sense harmed by birth control, though not in the specific procreational sense he is addressing specifically.)

But let’s address the larger point, if there is one, besides that atop all of our heads for even talking about this: That polemical points can rightly be earned laying some judgment, whether real or imagined, of an intellectual founding father or influence on a political movement or tendency on to the backs of its younger followers–either to mock them or to insist that, no, this is really what their intellectual mission is: not to promote liberty, but to work for whatever Ludwig Von Mises liked or didn’t like.

It is interesting, for those interested in intellectual history, that Mises saw free love as part of some larger socialist mission to destroy the family. But for the libertarian the relevant question is, is this voluntary or not, does this infringe on anyone’s life, liberty, or property or not? “Anything that’s peaceful,” baby, as Leonard Read, one of Mises’ great popular disciples in America, wrote.

Thus, there’s a libertarian case to be made against forcing anyone to cover any specific medical care, birth control or whatever, in the insurance deals they make with their clients. But it has nothing to do with whether Ludwig von Mises was comfortable with free love, or birth control, or with catheters, or blood transfusions, or any other specific medical procedure that might or might not become a political controversy when the government tried to force people to sell insurance only on the condition that that insurance cover that procedure or medication’s use.

Set aside the strangeness of someone who’s written—for what were obviously more than antiquarian reasons—one of the best intellectual histories of libertarianism, in which Mises plays a not insignificant role, telling us that intellectual history, and Mises’s role in it, doesn’t much matter.

Also set aside Doherty’s declaration by fiat that Mises’s views on women are just “matters of opinion,” which can be discarded as so much ancient prejudice, rather than genuine “political philosophy.” (This chapter on Robert Nozick in Susan Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family should make any reasonably literate political writer leery of the notion that a libertarian’s views on women are somehow contingent or incidental and separable from their larger worldview. In Mises’s case, it’s doubly important to remember that he saw his chapter on women as one part of his campaign against socialism, an effort in which he styled himself the lonely leader of a small, heterodox band.

Socialism is the watchword and the catchword of our day. The socialist idea dominates the modern spirit. The masses prove of it. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of all; it has set its seal upon our time. When history comes to tell our story it will write above the chapter “The Epoch of Socialism.”

Mises did not think his views on women were refractions of the age; he thought they were the dissonant wisdom of someone who had thought long and hard, against the dominant view, about such issues. And given that many socialists were making feminist arguments and gaining ground across Europe—Remember Red Vienna? It wasn’t all economics, you know—I’m not sure Mises was entirely wrong in his self-understanding.)

Finally set aside, as one commenter on Mike’s thread pointed out, the fact that many of Mises’s views persist in later libertarian arguments.

The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:

Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it.  Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people—specifically, women—free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that…women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

Now Doherty will reply, well, that’s just Mises’s view of feminism, who cares, we libertarians stand for freedom. But the underlying logic of Mises’s argument—in which the redistributive state is criticized not for making men and women slaves or equals but for making them free—cannot be so easily contained. It can easily be applied to other realms of social policy—labor unions, universal health care, robust public schools, unemployment benefits, and the like, which the left has always seen as the vital prerequisites of universal freedom—suggesting that the real target of the libertarian critique may be the proposition that Mises articulates here so well: that all men—not just the rich or the well born—and all women will in fact be liberated from the constraints of their “social and economic conditions.”

86 Responses to “Love for Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises”

  1. Robert February 16, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Well done. Of that particularly rotten branch of “Old Right” reaction that is paradoxically called “libertarianism” (honestly, exactly how is that a rag-tag combination of anti-New-Dealers and emigre Austrian School economists claim full rights to a term that had been used exclusively by anarchists for a full century prior?), Von Mises has always been my choice for the most repugnant. He once called Milton Friedman a socialist.

    • Mike February 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      We really shouldn’t support intellectual dishonesty by calling them “libertarians”.

      See:

      http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/150-years-of-libertarian

      for the history of the term.

      Rothbard even admitted the appropriation:

    • Marcus Nestor February 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      That would be the same von mises who emigrated to america to get on medicaid.

  2. Jimmy Reefercake (@JimmyReefercake) February 16, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    top of the morning to you. libertarians like liberty, but the liberty to oppress others creates quite a paradox! In contract, could it be that the young libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, are actually peace loving pot heads? I’d like to see you continue to explore that contrast, especially in the context of the 99% movement, and the linchpin for ending marijuana prohibition. Fun fact I read in Rolling Stone, Scott Olsen was a Ron Paul supporter.

  3. terry epton February 16, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    In his compulsion to demonstrate that libertarianism is a mask for domination, CR has misinterpreted and misrepresented Mises. If you read the entire Chapter Four of SOCIALISM, it is crystal clear that Mises holds gender equality as the goal, and the ideal. He argues that capitalism and classical liberalism have made great strides toward achieving this goal, while acknowledging there is still a long way to go. Von Mises criticizes the Left for idealizing per-capitalist gender relations and the notion that gender equality can be achieved through the abolition of property. Mises is so clear that one wonders how CR could have gotten it so wrong: wishful thinking, dishonesty, or simple stupidity.

    • Corey Robin February 16, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      No, Mises is not so clear. I provide just a smidgen of the countervailing evidence against your claim in the comment thread over at Mike Konczal’s post. And there’s more. One can disagree about how much emphasis or weight to assign to such quotations, how to fit them in with other quotations, where they stand in relation to Mises’s overall view — that’s fair game. But if you have any experience in reading, writing, or teaching a text of political theory, you might want to rein in your desire to ascribe an interpreter’s contrary interpretation of that text to his foolishness or malfeasance. You only impeach yourself when you do so.

      • terry epton February 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

        Your “smidgen of countervailing evidence” is simply to turn Mises’ meaning on its head. Chapter Four of SOCIALISM is one loud unbroken screed for gender equality. The main paragraph you quote takes issue with how the Left would attain this goal, not with the goal itself. As for your motives, I implore readers to go back to the text (SOCIALISM An Economic and Sociological Analysis by Ludwig von Mises Liberty Classics Indianapolis Chapter Four) and decide for themselves. I challenge anyone to honestly interpret these pages as a defense of privilege. Corey, I challenge your honesty. I believe this is cheap shot McCarthyism, hiding behind pretensions of scholarship.

    • Wheylous March 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      I think Mises is all over the place on that one. Could you explain some of his less-than-perfect quotes, such as this: http://i.imgur.com/Doghj.png

      I can find quotes in there which sound very feminist and ones which are much less so. How should I be reading this?

  4. Alex February 16, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    “Brian Doherty, author of a wonderful history of libertarianism, to waspishly comment that”

    One wonders how Corey and his kin would feel if others responded with “Corey Robin has jewishly argued…”

    Luckily, someone has already written a scathing analysis of what might be termed ‘The Jewish Progressive Mind’ and the kind of perversions that Jews have unleashed on the West:

    http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/chap5.pdf

    The Internet is allowing more and more people to realize which group is behind all the societal diseases that have afflicted us over the past several decades, and the day of reckoning is drawing more and more near.

    • Corey Robin February 16, 2012 at 11:14 am #

      Wow. Just wow. I wonder if the libertarians know the likes of you are coming to their defense. For the record, “waspishly” was not a reference to Mr. Doherty’s ethnicity. It’s a reference to this: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/waspish

      Any more anti-Semitic filth from you, and you’ll be banned from these parts.

    • Turkle February 17, 2012 at 1:15 am #

      Well, that is the single most ignorant thing I’ve ever read on an academic blog! “Waspish” indeed. The idiot troll is hereby advised that “WASP” is generally written in all-caps.

  5. Roland Haertl February 16, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    As always, great comment on the circular logic.

    rantsbyroland.wordpress.com

  6. scrantonius February 16, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Dr. Robin, I’ve enjoyed your writings, and in fact I myself am working on a Ph.D. dissertation on reactionaries (the original “oligarchs,” of ancient Greece). However, I wonder if you might say a little more about this statement:

    “libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.”

    In particular, there seem to me to be some epistemological problems here and elsewhere in your statements.

    Now, I grant it that the history of ideas is never a purely intellectual business and that there is a lot of sordid history to be uncovered at the root of a lot of these political philosophies, as you so often point it. However, isn’t there a danger that all this “genealogizing” of the right to show its authoritarian side preemptively denies the possibility that libertarians, for example, might make good-faith arguments in favor of their positions?

    A lot of libertarians probably don’t know this chapter by Mises, and if they did, they would reject its ideas. Even if the problem cannot be so easily extracted from Mises’ philosophy, what does that have to do with contemporary libertarians’ own version of the philosophy, which they might build up using (again) what they think is bona fides? How does Mises’ argument affect their philosophy if they’ve never considered it?

    Even if many or most actually existing libertarians were to secretly harbor authoritarian druthers (something I doubt), doesn’t the fact that one *need not* harbor these feelings mean that your statement, quoted above, should be qualified? Mises’ “worldview” is not “the” libertarian worldview.

    • herrnaphta February 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      ‘A lot of libertarians probably don’t know this chapter by Mises, and if they did, they would reject its ideas.’

      Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from the response to Corey’s argument, this isn’t generally the case. More often, libertarians have accused him of the most insidious plots for simply quoting what Mises said and putting it in the context of his broader argument. Just admitting that yes, Mises was a proponent of gender inequality, but no, that isn’t part of the libertarian worldview today has not been the main response. More often, people fly into histrionics about how Corey clearly knows nothing about Austrian philosophy, etc etc etc.

      • Wheylous March 5, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

        … in effect rejecting an understanding of Mises which would be anti-feminist. Think about it. If libertarians were against female autonomy, they’d agree with Mises and be like “yeah, he said that.”

    • Corey Robin February 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      It’s a fair point. (By the way, you can call me Corey.) And one I don’t have a very good answer to yet. I’m just beginning to think and write about these guys — they don’t make much of an appearance in my book — and so should proceed more cautiously in these early formulations. But just a few thoughts by way of a reply. First, a minor correction: I don’t see my enterprise as one of uncovering “a lot of sordid history” upon which theorists construct their fancy theories which are supposed to hide that history. I see myself as recovering what are in fact ideas — about hierarchy, domination, and their relationship to excellence and beauty — that are articulated as political principles and sought to be put into practice. In many ways, I see my work as in synch with Quentin Skinner’s (though I don’t do the full-scale contextualism he calls for). That is, to treat ideas as speech acts, as moves in a polemic. So the point is not to reduce ideas to their sordid origins; it’s to put the ideas in the context of battles, and to see what happens to those ideas — what’s going on in them — once we understand that.

      But onto your more pressing point re the libertarians. It seems right to acknowledge that there are some libertarians who fit your case. Hell, I know some of them. The question is one of significance. As I try to suggest in this post — and in the links I refer to — I don’t think what I’m describing here is peculiar to Mises. The Okin critique of Nozick is one point in the libertarian spectrum one could turn to; the posts on Rothbard and others that that commenter over at Mike Konczal’s site points to is another; Ron Paul’s retrograde positions on reproductive freedom is another; the fact that more genuinely liberal libertarians like Will Wilkinson have virtually declared in recent months that his efforts at liberalizing libertarianism to be fruitless would be another; and so forth. Like I said, I have no doubt that there are some younger libertarians today who, having grown up in a world that’s been reshaped by the feminist movement, would reflect its influences. But again, I wonder about their significance. (Though one insider to the movement is now schooling me into its long history of sexual and other forms of radicalism. Yet the questions remain: How representative is that stream within the movement itself? Is that stream actually within the movement (there’s always been an attempt by libertarians to reclaim 19th century thinkers who were not libertarians as their own)? What kind of impact has that stream had outside the movement, on the real world? And to the extent that it has had any impact is it b/c its liberatory dimensions — on, say, the question of sex — were parasitic on other movements, especially other movements of the left?

      This isn’t a good response to your question, I know, but I’m constantly trying to keep in mind the admonition that T.S. Eliot articulates in “The Literature of Politics,” which provides an epigraph in one of my chapters, about the importance, when it comes to formulating an account of the position of a political party or tendency, of sifting out the incidental from the essential, the thinning forest from the thick woods.

      • scrantonius February 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

        Thanks for the thorough reply. My point was very academic, not only in the sense that I was talking about logical possibilities but also in that I’m currently in academia and am often exposed to very quiet, unassuming libertarians who bear little resemblance to media blowhards and presumably have thought very hard about their ideas. And note that there is also a small but vibrant sub-species of “left-libertarianism,” e.g. the work of Michael Otsuka. (I say this with full acknowledgement that the phrase “left-libertarianism” is an implicit capitulation to the right, who until the neoliberal era had nothing even approaching a monopoly on the term “libertarian.” My bad.)

        My main point in playing the devil’s advocate for libertarianism was to affirm the guidelines according to which we’re going to assess these kinds of philosophies, since after all it’s a two-way street. Just as most contemporary progressives, I imagine, would count as irrelevant the fact that several early-20th-century progressives advocated eugenicist practices which we now consider abhorrent, we can’t hold old Mises every libertarian. (But maybe some of them, if his defenders are as numerous as herrnaphta suggests.)

      • scrantonius February 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

        Sorry, “hold old Mises *against* every libertarian.”

  7. Corey Robin February 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Terry: First, I didn’t quote from one paragraph; in the comment thread to which I referred you to, I quoted from many different paragraphs from that chapter. (See link below.) The fact that you could get just this simple fact wrong tells me something about how you might miss quite a bit that’s going on in that chapter. Second, Mises takes issue with the goal itself, as becomes very clear three paragraphs later. He thinks the goal is both not possible and undesirable. Third, where I agree with you is that people should read the chapter themselves. That’s why I link to it more than once here. I trust that if people do read it, while they might not agree with my interpretation, they will certainly see that it hardly requires any dishonesty on my part to make it.

    Here’s the link to my comment at MIke Konczal’s post, in which I quote extensively from Mises’s chapter in order to make my argument: http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/von-mises-makes-the-libertarian-case-against-free-love-and-implicitly-against-birth-control/#comment-22518

    • terry epton February 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

      I’m persuaded. I was wrong. I take back, and regret my accusations of dishonesty on your part.

  8. s. wallerstein February 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    If you go back a few decades, you’re going to find very embarassing and politically incorrect things said by then prominent figures on the left.

    Bertrand Russell, while a defender of women’s rights and socialism, makes racist statements about blacks.

    I just finished “Raro” (that means “queer”), a gay history of Chile, by Oscar Contardo and his account of the homophobia of Allende’s Popular Unity government is strong stuff.

    Then there are legions of leftwing defenders or apologists for the Soviet Union or the Chinese cultural revolution. Neruda, that great leftwing romantic, wrote an ode to Stalin.

    Orwell laughs at defenders of animal rights.

    I’m sure that if we make an effort, we can find many many more instances of embarassing statements by figures on the left, pre-1980.

    It seems that the contemporary left, which is critical of capitalism, of sexism, of racism and of homophobia while defending human rights, is the product of a long historical process.

    • Todd February 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      Do these examples suggest that the comments uttered were part and parcel of socialism as Mises’ words did of libertarianism?

      • s. wallerstein February 17, 2012 at 8:33 am #

        Hello Todd:

        “Part and parcel” of a philosophical system means “essential to”, “that which if removed, the system collapses”.

        For example, materialism, class struggle, the fact that capitalism exploits and alienates working people are essential to Marxism.

        Whatever Mises may have thought (people are not always good judges of their own philosophical sytems), the oppression of women is not essential to libertarianism.

        I know and argue with many libertarians who have consistent philosophical positions and are in favor of women’s rights. Some are professional women.

        What is essential to libertarianism is a position in favor of unregulated free markets, and unregulated free markets lead to inequalities of income and of wealth and the destruction of the environment.

        I suggest that those on the left concentrate on the negative effects of unregulated free markets on income/wealth distribution and on the environment when they debate libertarians, rather than on what Mises may have thought so many years ago.

        In any case, Corey’s discovery of Mises’s position on female emancipation is interesting in itself, since it shows what the intentions of the founders of libertarianism were.

  9. herrnaphta February 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hey Corey, just wanted to say thanks for posting the Okin chapter. Really a novel and fantastic critique of Nozick.

  10. Todd February 18, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    s. wallerstein wrote:

    “Whatever Mises may have thought . . . the oppression of women is not essential to libertarianism.”

    But oppression is, which was, I think, Corey’s point.

    “I know and argue with many libertarians who have consistent philosophical positions and are in favor of women’s rights. Some are professional women.”

    What kind of women’s rights are they in favour of?

    “What is essential to libertarianism is a position in favor of unregulated free markets”

    How is that inessential (or at least tangential) to the specific oppression of women?

  11. doloyeung February 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Your quote from Mises on free love is him summarising the socialist position and what they hope to achieve. It is not Mises’ own estimation of what would result. Whether or not Mises believes that free love would make women more free and liberate them from their social and economic conditions is made clear by the concluding paragraph of his rumination on free love:

    “The evolution which has led from the principle of violence to the contractual principle has based these relations on free choice in love. The woman may deny herself to anyone, she may demand fidelity and constancy from the man to whom she gives herself. Only in this way is the foundation laid for the development of woman’s individuality. By returning to the principle of violence with a conscious neglect of the contractual idea, Socialism, even though it aims at an equal distribution of the plunder, must finally demand promiscuity in sexual life.”

    If you’re familiar with what Mises means by the principle of violence it’s plain that he believes women would have far less freedom under a policy of free love within a socialist society( and this what he is analysing here, free love as practiced with a socialist society, not the decisions of individual men and women to practice free love in a capitalist society.) than they would in a society patterned after liberal ideals.

    • Todd February 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks from that passage as though _any_ relation that doesn’t involve a contract is ipso facto violent, which is nonsensical (not to mention ignorant of actual relations in “contractually-based” societies).

      • P. March 6, 2012 at 12:40 am #

        Contractual means nothing more than “consensual” or “freely chosen”.

        He uses the word “contract” because of the classical dichotomy between status and contract relationships.

    • Donald Pruden a/k/a The Enemy Combatant February 29, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      What really demands questioning is the notion of Socialism as a principal of violence, and its apparent corollary that capitalism somehow is not. Well! — so much for the facts of recent history.

      Anyway, I suspect that Mises means that violence is the principal that would undlie any kind of praxis of “free love” for women. Thus, you risk the enforcement of this “free love” by the state through its monopoly on violence in order to protect a woman’s right to free love. In other words, freedom of love can only be protected by the state’s capacity for violence. Women’s free sexuality necessarily equals “promiscuity”; promiscuity is protected by state violence. Ergo, women’s necessarily promiscuous sexual agency is possible only under a regime of state violence.

      Thus we should fear Socialism because, like a woman’s right to free love, it is undergirded by the principal of violence — because no sane person would freely “contract” with it.

      And this species of sexual paranoia (with its effort to naturalize the interests of capital) is different from modern American conservatism in what way, exactly?

  12. Jimmy Reefercake (@JimmyReefercake) February 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    you guys are all freaks.

  13. Nik Barry-Shaw March 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I think the distinction to make is between the libertarian system of ideas and the actual political practice of libertarians, which are related but not reducible to one another.

    I took a class at McGill with an extremely right-wing libertarian named Tom Velk, who mocked the idea that things like addiction or advertising were inconsistent with the notion of consumer sovereignty and loudly proclaimed that the U.S. could have won the Vietnam war if only they hadn’t been such wimps and just nuked the whole country! (I wasn’t politicized enough yet to stand up and punch Prof. Velk in the teeth on behalf of the Vietnamese people; instead I sat there and felt vaguely queasy.) And yet our course readings were full of talk about international peace, skepticism about state power, the dangers of monopoly – and the rights of women.

    In the class, Velk mentioned a long-standing political puzzle for libertarians: if markets are the best of all possible worlds, and people are rational individuals, why don’t they freely choose capitalism? The reason, though libertarians can’t see it this way, is that their brand of “freedom” is freedom for some (to exploit and to dominate) and unfreedom for others. In practical politics, therefore, Velk (a bombastic radio commentator) and other libertarians have to draw on nationalism, machismo and other less-than-libertarian currents and arguments to advance their agenda. In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has done a lot of work documenting the contradictions between the ideas of libertarians like Friedman and their actual political alliances (Pinochet’s Chile being just one example amongst many), though she tends to assimilate libertarians (and neoliberals) with neo-cons. Libertarians and neo-cons are two different breeds in the world of ideas, but they often end up in the same camp politically.

    If libertarians stick too much to their principles, they end up harping against imperialist wars like the antiwar.com folks and deploring the unacceptable violations of free market doctrine (subsidies, bank bailouts, IMF/World Bank bullying) like some people at the Cato Institute. In short, they find themselves in the political wilderness, because they are railing against things that are part and parcel of “actually-existing” capitalism – as opposed to their ideal type capitalism of pure competition and free markets. Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation is the best critque of libertarian utopianism and its contradictions, I think.

  14. Paul March 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I read a little book by Mises titled “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality” which read more or less like his take on the psychology of the enemy (anyone against capitalism). It’s pretty revealing, and fits perfectly with your analysis of his attitude toward women. The implied thesis of the little book is that capitalism reveals who the real men are, and the loser’s resent it. He describes strange scenarios, which are meant to be like etiologies of anti-capitalism in the human mind, where an unsuccessful husband is nagged by his wife for his failure. You see, in past societies he could defend himself by telling his wife that the rigid class structure absolves him of responsibility. Not so, nowadays. The market reveals his inadequacy to his wife and he blames it for his own shortcomings. But that’s not all. He draws this idea out and applies it in one way or another to all variants of market haters. The stupid siblings of entrepreneurs, who use the reflected means of their alpha relatives’ success to undercut it, out of simple spite and envy, is just one of the many species he describes. The Hollywood reds are another. And there are more. But they all seem to share an implied femininity – either as symbolically castrated males or as ‘naturally’ castrated women. For example, he refers to the resentful relatives as the “stolid progeny,” and he insists that we not forget the important role that a stripper played in the radical community in Hollywood. In other words, anti-capitalism is a type of hysteria, with the sexist connotations implied, or penis envy. If you haven’t read it yourself, I recommend it. It’s the clearest example that I can think of that illustrates your point.

  15. Sharon Presley March 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Speaking as someone who has been a libertarian activist since 1964 and an active libertarian feminist since 1974, and as apparently one of the few or only actual females commenting here, I find this discussion really off the mark. Mises doesn’t define the libertarian movement for me or my constituency, nor does Rothbard or Nozick. Whatever our agreements or lack thereof with them, the libertarian movement has roots in the 19th century as well. It didn’t start with Mises and it certainly doesn’t end with him. There were libertarians before them (e.g., Albert Jay Nock, Suzanne LaFollette in the 20th c and Voltairine de Cleyre in the 19th) whose views on women were noticeably different from Rothbard or apparently Mises. Trying to condemn libertarianism as a whole for what these men may (or may not) have said is both petty and disingenuous. You are grasping at rather flimsy straws if you imagine that all libertarians are even remotely in lock-step with Rothbard or Mises (whatever his views may actually be) on the issue of women and liberty.

    Sharon Presley
    Executive Director
    Association of Libertarian Feminists

    • Todd March 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      “Mises doesn’t define the libertarian movement for me or my constituency, nor does Rothbard or Nozick.”

      If all of those people (and you and your constituency) believe in a certain kind of freedom ie bourgeois freedom, then, yes, Mises does define libertarianism as much any other libertarian (including feminist ones): restricting freedom of the many in order to have freedom for the few.

      • Sharon Presley March 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        Whenever I hear trite Marxist phrases like “bourgeois freedom,” I am reminded of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where some pigs are more equal than other pigs. The phrase generally implies that *individuals* will in fact have no freedom; there will only be the “freedom” of the collective, which of course will be assured by the people controlling the collective, and in turn, oddly enough, the people who use that phrase imagine they will be the ones assuring that collective “freedom.” Thus IMO, the truth is exactly the reverse of what you state.

      • terry epton March 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

        The Right is always talking about freedom, but they use a very limited definition of this term. They would protect us from government but not from employers, corporations, hunger or want. We need government to attain perfect freedom. Without government, whites would own blacks, men would own their wives, and there would be no on-the-job bathroom breaks. The Right opposes the expansion of government because they secretly support slavery and privilege. Just look at all of the Right’s great thinkers, Burke, Mises, and the rest. CR has discovered all their hidden meanings and despicable passages. Corey knows that real freedom can come only through government. Perfect freedom comes only through the total state.

      • Sharon Presley March 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

        I know it’s comforting to you to believe this little fantasy about libertarians. It makes you all the great defenders of freedom, or so you think. I, on the other hand, don’t believe that socialists or for that matter, any others that I disagree with, are monsters. I believe that you really think you’re right and really do care about people. But you have made us into the Other, into inhuman monsters that don’t exist in any reality, a caricature that is laughable and untrue that only serves to comfort you. It’s petty and cheap. And I also see that I’m wasting my time here because you don’t want a real dialogue–not when you use such silly caricatures. Does it make you feel superior? Oh my. How nice.

        As for the “total state,” I wonder how you think individual freedom is possible with a “total state.” You mean one like Soviet Russia? Communist Cuba? Or Nazi Germany? They were/are all total states. But I guess you only care about “people,” not individuals. And if you imagine there is any such thing as “perfect freedom,” you just flunked Psychology 101 to say nothing of Poli Sci 101. Real human individuals are messy and unpredictable; they have good points and bad. You can’t make them perfect by state decree. And the ones that run the so-called perfect state; the total state–what of them? Are they perfect too? Or will they be examples of Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”? But we can ignore him, can’t we, because he was merely part of the Establishment. What did he know? You may not be a monster but you’re certainly a putz who understands little about human psychology.

      • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 12:24 am #

        Sharon, you hit the nail on the head. I was only spoofing CR & friends. That you missed my intent reflects less on me & you and more on Corey’s position, which is condescending McCarthyism, disguised as scholarship.

  16. Sharon Presley March 9, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    Well, Terry Epton, you are quite a character! It would certainly explain the most peculiar language. I think Marxists are authoritarian twits but rarely have heard anything quite so bald as that. That I could actually believe that you were serious does in fact reflect on CR and his friends, exactly as you say. My hat is off to you, assuming of course that you are not still pulling my leg and trying to put one over on me again. McCarthyism is not quite the word I would have used. I can’t help but wonder…

    • swallerstein March 9, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      Sharon and Terry,

      If Corey were so authoritarian as you claim, your comments would have long since been erased and you both would have been banned from his blog.

      • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 6:48 am #

        I don’t recall accusing Corey of authoritarianism. I would allow him to define his own positions. I only wish he would grant his opponents the same courtesy. I did suggest that CR advocates the broad expansion of state power, because he proclaims this endlessly.

    • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 6:32 am #

      Sharon, I was trying to pull some legs, but your legs were not amongst them. You and I are two allies in enemy territory on this blogsite. I have also been a libertarian activist since 1964. (There was something about that year!) I suggested McCarthyism for this reason: McCarthy made broad brush accusations of secret Communism against the whole Left. CR is accusing the entire Right of covert authoritarianism. People have a right to define their positions and intentions without McCarthy accusing them of being Comsymps or Correy Robbins accusing us of eating babies. I have been an individualist anarchist for the last 20 years, but in my 48 years of activism I have made many stops. I spent much of 1965 as a member of the John Birch Society, so believe me, I know McCarthyism when I see it. Sharon-Keep keeping on!

  17. Todd March 9, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    “Sharon Presley wrote”

    Whenever I hear trite Marxist phrases like ‘bourgeois freedom,’ I am reminded of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ where some pigs are more equal than other pigs.”

    And when I hear liberals, conservatives, and libertarians prattle on about freedom, I’m reminded of that phrase about the rich and the poor being equally forbidden to sleep under bridges.

    The phrase only seems trite because it describes a trite truth.

    “The phrase generally implies that *individuals* will in fact have no freedom; there will only be the ‘freedom’ of the collective, which of course will be assured by the people controlling the collective”

    So, what you see it describing is a capitalist enterprise . . . .

    I’m happy to see we agree.

    “, and in turn, oddly enough, the people who use that phrase imagine they will be the ones assuring that collective ‘freedom.'”

    Oh, no. Believe me, I don’t have the time, interest, or aptitude for real management. But, if someone else thought I did and elected me to do the job, I’d do the best I could.

    • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Libertarians dream of a world where the rich and poor are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges. Progressives dream of a world where there are no rich and poor. I dream of a world where libertarians and progressives can co-exist and pursue their visions without imposing them on each other. Does this sound impossible? What’s impossible is the eternal war in which all sides fight to rule their neighbors.

      • Todd March 9, 2012 at 8:50 am #

        “I dream of a world where libertarians and progressives can co-exist and pursue their visions without imposing them on each other.”

        It’s a little late: class society exists and is imposed on both libertarians and progressives. The thing is that its current form is _much_ closer to what libertarians want (albeit not exactly what they want; for that, we’d have to be pretty much in 19th century American social relations) than what radicals (and some progressives) want.

        It’s very nice that you don’t want to impose something on someone, but that’s not the way the world works. Even if you and others like you were to go away and form your own completely insular society along the lines you want, sooner or later, I guarantee that you’d be working to change outside society over to your way of thinking. Not out of any malice or envy but simply because the structural requirements of your (ultra bourgeois) society would demand it. Same goes for communism: you can’t have it in just one country.

      • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 9:21 am #

        Todd-Communist and collectivist societies thrived in great variety within capitalist America during the early nineteenth century. Often these communities and the majority government co-existed peacefully without feeling threatened by each other. If you oppose class society and capitalism, you should be free to turn away. But you do not have a right to force me to join you. Even if you have a majority on your side. I oppose all aggressive wars, including the class war.

  18. Todd March 9, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    terry wrote:

    “Communist and collectivist societies thrived in great variety within capitalist America during the early nineteenth century.”

    If you’re referring to the “Little Icarias”, they flourished only so long as the money was there eg from a wealthy backer, or they were run along utopian bourgeois lines, not communist ones (for all that they might have called _themselves_ that); these were fine as social experiments but hardly of much use beyond the broadly obvious.

    “The significance of Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism bears an inverse relation to historical development. In proportion as the modern class struggle develops and takes definite shape, this fantastic standing apart from the contest, these fantastic attacks on it, lose all practical value and all theoretical justification. Therefore, although the originators of these systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects. They hold fast by the original views of their masters, in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat. They, therefore, endeavour, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realisation of their social Utopias, of founding isolated “phalansteres”, of establishing “Home Colonies”, or setting up a “Little Icaria”(4) — duodecimo editions of the New Jerusalem — and to realise all these castles in the air, they are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois. By degrees, they sink into the category of the reactionary [or] conservative Socialists depicted above, differing from these only by more systematic pedantry, and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.

    They, therefore, violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new Gospel.

    The Owenites in England, and the Fourierists in France, respectively, oppose the Chartists and the Réformistes. ”

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch03.htm

    (See note 4.)

    (Villages of self-sufficient peasants don’t count, BTW. That’s something different.)

    “But you do not have a right to force me to join you.”

    And you, supposedly, don’t have the “right” to force me to join you, but you can’t have a society of one, and any choice I might have had in the matter has been foreclosed by others who more-or-less agree with you and who ensured that their way (and your way) was and still is paramount (or at least gaining ground).

    If you want to talk about rights, you really have to start with actually existing conditions and build from there (which is what radicals do). Otherwise, talk of rights is so much bourgeois wind.

    • terry epton March 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

      Todd-If the past experimental communist societies were unable to survive without money from wealthy backers, as you claim, maybe this tells us something about the economic viability of communism. Kind of like what brought down the USSR, right? But in fact your history is off and the record of these experimental societies is far more mixed. Marx and especially Engels took a look at these societies and found them wanting. Their disciples later went out to found regimes in which communism came not from idealism but from force. The history of these states in the twentieth century range from gray prisons of conformity to genocidal monstrosities. I imagine you have a slightly different take on this history. Anyone who would force capitalism on you, shares nothing with me. If you can’t understand this, you have missed my central argument. As for bourgeois wind, the validity of my ideas has no more to do with my class than with my race. The notion that I am wrong because you presume I am middle class is as appalling as that maniac who attacked CR a few weeks back for being Jewish. Anyone who believes that the crimes of Communist regimes might be some sort of historic aberration need only read your closing sentence to discover how central de-humanization is to Marxism.

      • Todd March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

        “maybe this tells us something about the economic viability of communism.”

        It more likely tells us something about what people (who might not know any better) consider communism to be like (thanks to _lots_ of serious propaganda).

        “But in fact your history is off and the record of these experimental societies is far more mixed.”

        Proof?

        “Their disciples later went out to found regimes in which communism came not from idealism but from force.”

        Aside from those really bad bookends ie Idealism and Force, your statement is wrong: communism hasn’t existed (yet).

        Don’t make the mistake of assuming USSR = Last Word in Communism (or even communism at all) just because some diplomatic flack said so. You’re a libertarian, I presume? Do you take it as gospel that the US is capitalist society because someone in government says it is? I’ve yet to meet a libertarian who’d agree with that.

        “Anyone who would force capitalism on you, shares nothing with me.”

        You might like to imagine that; lots of people do. Lots of people also stop at traffic-lights without thinking about it even though there are no cops or other cars within sight.

        “As for bourgeois wind, the validity of my ideas has no more to do with my class than with my race.”

        The term bourgeois was being used to describe attributes attached to the notion of law that fails to take reality into account, not your background. Plenty of non-bourgeois people believe very fervently in bourgeois ideas they learned early on in life.

        “you presume I am middle class”

        No. Bourgeois doesn’t equal middle class; it’s something very different.

        “how central de-humanization is to Marxism.”

        Marx didn’t invent Taylorization or rationing bathroom breaks to improve productivity, and you want to presume Marxism itself is dehumanizing?

        At least Corey read the works of right-wing thinkers to get to his thesis. Have you done the same to be able to make such a ridiculous statement?

      • Sharon Presley March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

        And isn’t it also true that Marx said that the socialist state came after the capitalist state. That is, socialism can’t build an industrialized state on its own; it needs to ravage (i.e., steal) the infrastructure and creativity of capitalism. Any social system that cannot create the means of production on its own and must feed on a different system is both socially and morally bankrupt. If it is nothing without the capitalists, it is nothing but a looter and a scavenger.

        And Terry, I agree with you, the authoritarianism of the previous commenter is clear. You offer choice; he spurns it–because he doesn’t want *you* to have a choice. He wants to force his system on you and me, and obfuscates by claiming that choice would lead to tyranny. Oh shades of “1984” –choice = tyranny; no choice = freedom. Wow, let’s give him the Orwell Award.

        BTW the term for attacking someone merely because of some characteristic about them is formally know as a circumstantial ad hominem and is a breach of critical thinking. It tells us more about the user than the recipient of the attack.

        And p.s., yeah. 1964 was a good year. :)

  19. terry epton March 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Hi Todd & Sharon. I enjoyed your posts! Todd, am I getting this right, you don’t think much of the Utopian communist societies, and you reject most of the regimes during the last century that called themselves Marxist? All those revolutions, all that bloodshed, had nothing to do with Marxism? Then what was it all for? You might be more of a Utopian than I am! On the mixed record of communal societies, the religious based communalist known as the Shakers, at their height had 20 separate colonies, some of which survived for 80 years. The secular communalists in Mamouth County New Jersey lasted twelve years. When Sharon and I were kids in the sixties, there were hundreds of communes of various forms, a few of which are still going. I briefly lived in one myself, a few blocks from Haight and Ashbury. On the bad bookends of idealism and force, I wasn’t referring to philosophical idealism, meaning the opposite of materialism. I meant idealism in the sense of someone living communally out of choice and conviction, not because you put a gun to their head. People stop at traffic lights when there are no cops around to avoid auto collisions. Marx didn’t invent Taylorization, but Stalin sure glommed onto it. You are right about CR knowing his right wing theory! He’s read more of it than I have. But what he does with all this scholarship is dubious, and often flaky. I have a reasonable handle on Marx & the Marxists, but I periodically go back to the well.
    And Sharon, my friend, there isn’t much that you and I have to disagree about, but I love reading your input. Beyond the Orwellian doublespeak, I am sure that Corey Robbins really does believe that freedom can only be achieved by expanding state power, as paradoxical as this sounds to us. The tragedy is that CR can’t give us the same benefit of the doubt and concede that we also earnestly want freedom. On a theoretical level, I can understand why Marx proposed that capitalism could create industrialism, but that socialism and then communism were necessary to humanize industrialism. I don’t agree with it, but I can appreciate his train of thought in the abstract. The problem is that none of this happened. Marxists took power in economically primitive or peasant societies. Does anyone believe they then humanized industrialism? Not even Todd and CR with all of their wacky views can bring themselves to believe that!

    • Todd March 10, 2012 at 12:15 am #

      Sharon wrote:

      “That is, socialism can’t build an industrialized state on its own; it needs to ravage (i.e., steal) the infrastructure and creativity of capitalism.”

      Do you ravage ie steal from your parents’ house just by being brought up in it? Are you a parasite on your parents?

      “Any social system that cannot create the means of production on its own and must feed on a different system is both socially and morally bankrupt.”

      The way capitalism did on feudalism?

      “You offer choice; he spurns it”

      Except that the choice is a non-choice because he refuses to see the reality underlying it. If we’re playing chess, and you want to make a certain move, but my friend puts a gun to your head and says that’s a bad choice but feel free to make it anyway, what kind of choice is that?

      You certainly do have the free choice to make the move and be killed, but that’s not much of a choice.

      terry wrote:

      “Todd, am I getting this right, you don’t think much of the Utopian communist societies, and you reject most of the regimes during the last century that called themselves Marxist?”

      I’m not sure what you mean by “reject”; the social relations they created weren’t communist if that’s what you mean.

      “All those revolutions, all that bloodshed, had nothing to do with Marxism?”

      No, I didn’t say that.

      “Then what was it all for?”

      It was as much, if not moreso, a moving-away-from as a moving-towards. They were all attempts, just as making a land where feudalism and all the evil trappings that went with it were supposedly abolished was an attempt, too.

      “On the mixed record of communal societies . . . .”

      See Marx’ comment above about New Jerusalems.

      “I meant idealism in the sense of someone living communally out of choice and conviction”

      And living in a certain manner that was little different from peasants living in an isolated community on their own little plots of land. How on Earth is that anything for human beings to aspire to? In any event, that’s nowhere near communism.

      “People stop at traffic lights when there are no cops around to avoid auto collisions.”

      Read that again, please: I said no cops or other cars around.

      “I have a reasonable handle on Marx & the Marxists”

      Forgive me for being blunt, but I very much doubt that you do. At least, I haven’t seen anything demonstrated so far to indicate you’re any more familiar with the topic than most people.

      “The tragedy is that CR can’t give us the same benefit of the doubt and concede that we also earnestly want freedom.”

      IIRC, nowhere have I seen Corey write this. Instead, the basic point of what he did write was that libertarians and other reactionaries want to increase freedom for a minority of individuals while decreasing it for the majority. Where I’m pretty sure he (and I definitely) do give you the benefit of the doubt is that we don’t think you’re Evil or utterly psychotic or just plain stupid (or “wacky”) for holding the ideas you have and fighting for them. Personally, I’ve come to believe people are much more complex than that (although that complexity itself can change, too, under the proper circumstances). However, they do definitely have the capability to be their own worst enemies.

      • terry epton March 10, 2012 at 5:27 am #

        Todd, you are saying that the Communist regimes of the last century simply began the process of breaking with the past, but made little progress in building the future? Think of the costs, tens of millions killed by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and lesser players. If it took this much carnage to take the first small steps, how many bodies will have to be stacked up to actually build the new society? You alluded to the “evil trappings” of feudalism. Marxism is about necessary historic stages, not about such bald moral judgments. Quoting long passages out of Marx does not mean you understand Marxism. People stop for red lights when there are no cops or other cars around because they can never be certain another car won’t speed out of nowhere. You suggest that people in Utopian communities sometimes revert to aspects of feudalism. I suspect that the communist world you envision might also revert to feudalism, only on a universal scale. You graciously concede that your Rightist opponents are not Evil, psychotic or stupid, only that they want to deprive the majority of freedom. This is as close as you and CR can get to not demonizing those you disagree with. You have to demonize us, in or justify imposing your will on us.

      • Hugh T March 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

        For Todd: I think the addition of the firearm may actually confuse the issue of where unfairness threatens the “free choice” of individuals in a market-driven social environment. Libertarians can legitimately argue that the addition of a firearm to the mix has no bearing on the fairness of the game itself. I think you can sidestep this issue while making a far stronger argument: namely, that the constraints imposed by the rules themselves (even when applied to all “players” equally) don’t offer enough meaningful choices to individuals such that they would count as “free” by any understanding of the term that did not beg the question. In other words, thinking about life as if it were a game consisting of formal rules is a dead-end and a terrible analogy to boot.

        Where many libertarians go wrong (in my estimation, of course) is by treating social existence itself like such a game – one that operates by strictly enforced formal rules and in which everyone has a shot at success if only they are willing to exert the effort required to develop talent and “business acumen,” or whatever one chooses to call it. Sure, there are rules, and sure, some are *very* strictly enforced. But, to draw upon a chess analogy again, the game starts with some people controlling only a single piece whereas others have a full complement of heavy pieces at their disposal. Libertarians have never really managed to make an unqualified defense of property rights sound reasonable in the face of this fact, because it is plainly ridiculous to propose that every person occupies the social station they do as a result of factors within their scope of control. My ranking in the world of chess may be a sound indicator of how skilled I am personally at the game; my salary/wealth/estate/whatever is certainly not such a sound indicator of any analogous quality adhering in me as an individual. A further argument can even be made that such qualities aren’t anything more than a social-biological wheel of fortune, making a system that “rewards” possessing them as a matter of “moral desert” no less arbitrary than assigning social stations based on race, or birth order, or the seventh digit of one’s social security number. You should try it some time; the elaborate dances libertarians will sometimes do to defeat or bracket those concerns is quite entertaining.

        Marx’s observations about the nature of wage labor are relevant: if the only thing you have that is marketable (“socially valuable”) is your body, then you have no choice but to sell your labor-power, making your body a commodity in the process. I tend to agree with Marx that it doesn’t matter all that much whether one is assembling widgets or selling sex. The spiritual effect is the same: universal prostitution.

        Even libertarians who for personal reasons would prefer alternative social arrangements for themselves are finding non-participation requires significant preexisting financial resources (libertarian island, anyone? That’ll be twenty billion dollars, please. Cash or credit? No, we don’t accept payment in bitcoins, sorry…). Needless to say, such resources can only be obtained by participation if one isn’t wealthy from birth. So to opt out of participation one must participate. If that is consistent with one’s understanding of “freedom” there isn’t anything at all amiss about calling that notion hot air, whether or not one additionally specifies the species as “bourgeois.”

  20. Todd March 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    terry wrote:

    “Todd, you are saying that the Communist regimes of the last century simply began the process of breaking with the past, but made little progress in building the future?”

    You’re putting it crudely (they did want to build something for the future, too, but that’s hard to do when you’re dealing with social relations that have been around for a long time), but I’ll more-or-less accept it.

    “Think of the costs, tens of millions killed by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and lesser players.”

    I might think of that if you can show me that you’ve thought of the debt owed by capitalists to the people they had murdered, tortured, bombed, shot, executed, etc. for over a century (and it’s still on-going).

    Seriously, if all you’re going to do is hand-wave bloody numbers and ignore the heaps of dead and the damage done to entire societies due to capitalism, we might as well stop the conversation as it’s veered into the absurd.

    “You alluded to the ‘evil trappings’ of feudalism. Marxism is about necessary historic stages, not about such bald moral judgments.”

    The fact that you make such a statement as this argues very convincingly that, if you’ve read Marx at all, you didn’t do a through job of it.

    Marx made quite a few “bald moral judgements”; you should go read some.

    “Quoting long passages out of Marx does not mean you understand Marxism.”

    Maybe, but I think it’s been showing so far that you don’t.

    “People stop for red lights when there are no cops or other cars around because they can never be certain another car won’t speed out of nowhere.”

    Really? Is that what you do? You think, “I’m not certain another car won’t come speeding out of nowhere despite that I can see no sign of a car anywhere”? It think it’s a bit less calculating and a bit more ingrained and reflexive than that.

    “You suggest that people in Utopian communities sometimes revert to aspects of feudalism.”

    peasants don’t equal feudalism

    “You graciously concede that your Rightist opponents are not Evil, psychotic or stupid, only that they want to deprive the majority of freedom. This is as close as you and CR can get to not demonizing those you disagree with.”

    Except that it’s not demonizing. It’s not demonizing to call someone who’s just shot someone else in cold blood a murderer: that’s called a description.

    • terry epton March 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Todd, you are right, when we discuss the crimes of Marxist regimes, we must also examine the crimes committed by capitalist nations. Slavery, colonialism, imperialism, American hegemony, the list is long. And as you say, its still going on. But full disclosure: I am not a defender of capitalism. I believe in an economic smorgasbord where each person can pick and choose between all economic systems, including capitalism. What I am here to defend is anarchism and I have worked earnestly to face the human rights abuses committed by anarchists. Considering how few of us there are and what a brief time we spent on the world stage, we have more than our share of crimes. These include violence against clergy and shopkeepers during the Spanish Civil War and repeated acts of terrorism. Doctors are told to first do no harm. Activists dedicated to excising social ills must also first do no harm. And the sad truth is that Marxists, in their quest to liberate, have murdered vastly more people in the twentieth century than all the monsters who intended evil, like Hitler. I do not believe this is an accident. As you said, although Marxism claims to be a science, Marx’s writings are often heavy with emotional moralizing. In another paradox, Marx sought liberation, but through the violence of class war. Todd-look at your own words. You write that you are not demonizing people like me, you simply see us objectively as cold blooded murderers. Allowing for the exaggeration of metaphor, what does this say about your mindset? You don’t know me; you don’t even have a very clear idea of my politics. But because I disagree with you, you compare me to a cold blooded murderer. This is the ethos of class warfare. Is it any wonder that when Marxists have seized power, their greatest achievement has usually been mass executions?

      • Sharon Presley March 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

        Unfortunately due to both illness and pressing obligations, I’m bowing out of this discussion but I want to say that I fully support what you say, both about Marxism and about Todd. When you see someone making his/her opponent into The Other, a monster, you know you have a dogmatic ideologue who is unable or unwilling to see those who disagree with them as real people who have sincere motives. That kind of dogmatism, or let’s call a spade a spade here, fanaticism, is indeed what brings violence and terrorism to the world. “Gott mit uns” Oh yeah. We’ve seen plenty of this. There is only one right way and it’s mine.

        You and I understand that there is no one right way for everybody. We want to see a world in which people have choices. But Todd and his ilk don’t want that. They make up bogus excuses why that is not possible. I think they really believe that. I do think their motives are sincere. I don’t think they are monsters. I just don’t think they want to give people the freedom to choose because in their view, the people might choose unwisely. Who are the real freedom-lovers here?

  21. Sharon Presley March 11, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    P.S. if you count both Stalin and Mao as Marxists (and it would seem appropriate to do so) then, Terry, your stats are absolutely accurate. In fact with just Stalin alone, your stats are accurate. Lenin stopped being a humanitarian about 10 minutes after he took power. Stalin never was. I’ll give American Marxists a bit more credit than those guys but anyone who won’t give people choices is inevitably, in the long run, a tyrant.

  22. Todd March 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Hugh wrote:

    “For Todd: I think the addition of the firearm may actually confuse the issue of where unfairness threatens the ‘free choice’ of individuals in a market-driven social environment.”

    The point of the gun was just to make my point about choices starkly clear: one can _say_ one has choices all one wants, but, if Reality doesn’t permit it, the words are completely hollow and meaningless.

  23. Todd March 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Presley wrote:

    “I’m bowing out of this discussion”

    What? You mean you thought you were a participant?

    “When you see someone making his/her opponent into The Other”

    Oh, please. Try making an argument against something other than a strawman.

    “There is only one right way and it’s mine.”

    I find it so strange how you use the exact same words that bosses use, and yet you hand-wave about my “fanaticism”. Try reading some Freud next.

    “You and I understand that there is no one right way for everybody.”

    Except the capitalist way, right? _That_ is just beyond reproach, apparently.

    “They make up bogus excuses ”

    Funny. I thought you said you were participating; I can’t say as I saw you trying to present an argument.

    “I just don’t think they want to give people the freedom to choose because in their view, the people might choose unwisely.”

    Oh, I’ll grant you there are communists who think this way, but they’re about as ignorant as you apparently are when it comes to Marx.

    If people choose “unwisely”, that in itself permits them to learn better when their choices turn and bite them in the ass. (Then, of course, we also have to toss ideology, propaganda, false consciousness, fear, and ignorance into the mix.)

    “Lenin stopped being a humanitarian about 10 minutes after he took power.”

    See what I said above about your ignorance? Lenin never was a humanitarian (certainly he was never a humanitarian like many bourgeois leaders nowadays, with their bleeding heart “humanitarian invasions”); he certainly never wrote that he was.

    “anyone who won’t give people choices is inevitably, in the long run, a tyrant.”

    And that is why I oppose capitalism and class society.

  24. Todd March 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    terry wrote:

    “I am not a defender of capitalism. I believe in an economic smorgasbord where each person can pick and choose between all economic systems, including capitalism. What I am here to defend is anarchism”

    If you were an anarchist, you would not have said this:

    “I believe in an economic smorgasbord where each person can pick and choose between all economic systems, including capitalism”

    Anarchists work to bring down actually existing hierarchical social structures, which includes capitalism. What you’ve described wanting is nothing more than plain, old bourgeois choice.

    Are you sure you’re not a victim of that endless argument between anarchists and libertarians as to what constitutes their respective positions?

    “Considering how few of us there are and what a brief time we spent on the world stage”

    “Spent”?

    Dude, do you realize that anarchists are still _very_ active?

    “we have more than our share of crimes. These include violence against clergy”

    In the Spanish Civil War? Guess who supported Franco, wanted to maintain control of education, and was one of the biggest landlords in the country? (Not that all the clergy actively supported Franco.)

    “And the sad truth is that Marxists, in their quest to liberate, have murdered vastly more people in the twentieth century than all the monsters who intended evil, like Hitler.”

    Have you been reading that baloney from The Black Book of Communism? Take those numbers with a grain of salt:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Book_of_Communism#Criticism

    “As you said, although Marxism claims to be a science, Marx’s writings are often heavy with emotional moralizing.”

    I wouldn’t call it moralizing. Having a definite moral compass isn’t the same thing as moralizing.

    “In another paradox, Marx sought liberation, but through the violence of class war.”

    You seem to take the words “class war” literally and one-sidedly (the capitalist class wages war on workers, too, by restricting or abolishing unions, cutting pay, mass firings, etc). This isn’t to mention such a very crude way of putting it, as if all it would take is just to string a few people up or shoot them. Nothing could be further from the truth:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/09/08.htm

    “You write that you are not demonizing people like me, you simply see us objectively as cold blooded murderers.”

    Can you not follow the written word? Seriously, where did I call you a murderer. I said that you and others like you are interested in reducing freedom for the many, while increasing it for the few.

    “you don’t even have a very clear idea of my politics.”

    One of us, definitely, doesn’t have a clear idea about his politics . . . .

    • terry epton March 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      Todd- Discussing economics, Emma Goldman wrote: “Anarchism’s economic arrangements must consist of voluntary productive and distributive associations, gradually developing into free communism. Anarchism, however, also recognizes the right of the individual, or numbers of individuals, to arrange at all times for any other forms of work, in harmony with their tastes and desires.” (From RED EMMA SPEAKS: SELECTED WRITINGS AND SPEECHES BY EMMA GOLDMAN.) Like you, she was a communist, but unlike you, she didn’t believe this gave her the right to force communism on anyone else. This might be a difficult concept for you to handle.
      I had never read THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM. But I checked out the wikipedia site you sent, and I agree, the book’s stats are dubious and inflated. The history of mass murder is too important to be left to cold warriors. Before the Wall came down, it was still possible for reasonable people to disagree over the dimensions of these crimes. But once communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, victims were free to speak, and the files of the various secret police were opened. This resolved the debate. Historians still disagree about exact numbers, and this disagreement can never be fully settled. But that tens of millions were murdered by Communist regimes is completely certain. There are historians with Nazi sympathies, like David Irving, who still deny the Holocaust. Similarly, there are Left partisans who continue to deny communist mass crimes . But no serious historian still denies these two episodes. Todd, that you are in denial tells us something about you. Either you are kidding me, or more likely, you are kidding yourself. Its easy to sprout radical cliches about bourgeois wind and bourgeois free choice, but unless you can honestly face the ugly historic results of your ideas, you are just playing games.

      • Todd March 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

        I pretty much disagree with Goldman (although I suspect that we’d pretty much agree on what she means by “communism”): I’m not the voluntarist/prefigurationist that she is; it smacks of a misunderstanding of how economies, never mind bourgeois ones, work, and it implies, like every right-wing argument involving free will, that human beings are always consciously calculating and therefore know exactly what they’re doing and what they want to do all the time, which is nonsense.

        In any event, what she wrote and what you wrote above about wanting an “economic smorgasboard” (including capitalism) don’t match. At this moment, she must be spinning in her grave fast enough to a power a small city that her name is being yoked to a pro-capitalist argument.

        As for her voluntarism and prefigurationism being difficult for me to handle, it’s never been particularly difficult for me to say something’s wrong if I think it’s wrong. But that doesn’t prevent me from still supporting the person and/or the movement in a broad sense.

        “Todd, that you are in denial”

        What am I in denial of? I don’t think I’ve written (like some stalinoids I’ve read) that the crimes of the fSU, East Germany, Poland, etc. were completely fabricated or blown utterly out of proportion. When I’m not here teaching you stuff, I read from real experts just how many in the “anti-imperialist” Left are embarrassing themselves and their comrades by still supporting Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam’s Iraq, and Assad’s Syria, and I agree wholeheartedly with those experts.

        “Its easy to sprout radical cliches about bourgeois wind and bourgeois free choice, but unless you can honestly face the ugly historic results of your ideas, you are just playing games.”

        This clause:

        “Its easy to sprout radical cliches about bourgeois wind and bourgeois free choice”

        and this clause:

        “unless you can honestly face the ugly historic results of your ideas”

        have no logical connection. It’s entirely possible to know exactly what one is talking about when referring to bourgeois wind, etc while also facing ugly truths.

      • terry epton March 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

        Todd-Not only is your knowledge of Marxism stronger than mine, but you also know more about anarchism and Emma Goldman. This must be why you are so determined to revoke by bourgeois freedom of choice. You are so much smarter, we’re better off having you make all my decisions.
        But unfortunately, you are dead wrong about Emma Goldman. Emma was indeed a lifelong implacable fighter against capitalism and private property, which she saw as enslaving. But her central goal was individual freedom. As she put it: “The individual instinct is the one thing of value in the world.” Anti-capitalism was her deep conviction, but because free choice was her one central objective, she was unwilling to impose her anti-capitalism on those who freely chose private property. Emma was also an atheist, but she was unwilling to impose atheism on believers.
        There are many cross currents and ambiguities in Marxism, and debates are endless about its true meaning. But there is never any mystery in the words of Emma Goldman. If you had ever read her in depth, you would not have written that last post.
        Not all advocates of individualism adhere to the simplistic notion of free will you allude to. Todd, for a guy who knows so damn much, that was a statement of rather global ignorance. Emerson and Transcendentalism were early critics of free will but proponents of individualism. Emma Goldman credited Emerson as her source. Emerson saw the individual as the seat of the divine spark. As a materialist, Emma called it an instinct. But both were part of the modern rejection of free will and both were individualists.
        As for Marxism and mass murder, Goldman lived in the Soviet Union under Lenin, well before Stalin. But even before the body count had drifted up into the millions, Emma understood that Marxism was about repression, not liberation. As she put it: Lenin had fallen in love with the sound of the firing squad.
        Todd, don’t worry too much about Emma turning over in her grave. I was in Chicago to commemorate the centennial of the Haymarket affair over twenty years ago, and I visited her grave. It was undisturbed.

  25. Todd March 14, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    epton wrote:

    “You are so much smarter, we’re better off having you make all my decisions.”

    Please. This has nothing to do with smarts. If it did, getting rid of capitalism and class society in general would be loads easier . . . .

    “As she put it: ‘The individual instinct is the one thing of value in the world.'”

    Like I said: there’s a lot I disagree with her about. Hardly a surprise: I’ve found that I disagree quite a bit with anarchist thought as I’ve read it here and there over the years.

    “Emma was also an atheist, but she was unwilling to impose atheism on believers.”

    Just out of curiosity, has this ever actually happened: atheists getting into power and then forcing others to be atheists as well?

    “If you had ever read her in depth, you would not have written that last post.”

    What, calling her a voluntarist and prefigurationist? That’s what those words said to me: that she believed that all that was required to make a new society was simply will-power and people ignoring actually existing conditions to make an enclave of that new society in and alongside the old one (remind you of “Little Icarias”?). It’s a common enough idea among anarchist and left-liberal types cf Occupy movement.

    “for a guy who knows so damn much, that was a statement of rather global ignorance.”

    OK. Show me how I was wrong.

    Just make sure you actually read what I wrote and reply to that.

    “But even before the body count had drifted up into the millions, Emma understood that Marxism was about repression, not liberation.”

    It certainly involves repression (much in the way murderers are usually repressed): if someone is doing something wrong to others, and you want to stop it, and those who are performing the wrong don’t, for whatever reason, listen to your demand that they stop, you force them to stop. It doesn’t have to be with bullets, but it’s often come down to that.

    Do you think that the revolting slaves who made Haiti a state of liberated blacks were much concerned that they were repressing the freedom of those who owned slaves or bought and sold them?

    “Lenin had fallen in love with the sound of the firing squad.”

    It’s entirely possible, but who did he put in front of the firing squad and why? If you’re the leader of a nation that’s just declared “war” on bourgeois property-relations, don’t you think other bourgeois states are going to do everything they can do destroy what you and others have built? Don’t you think anarchists wanted to destroy it as well, for their own reasons?

    • terry epton March 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Todd-In your March 13 post, you equated individualism, free will, and Emma Goldman. Enlightenment era individualism was deeply rooted in rationalism and free will. But later individualist movements such as the Transcendentalists, turned away from doctrines of free will. It was in this tradition that Emma placed herself. She also was a follower of Nietzsche, and other pre-Existentialists, as well as Dreiser, and other literary Naturalists, all of whom made war on free will rationalism.
      Atheists who repressed religion: some Jacobins, Stalin (at times, but not during WWII), Mao, some Spanish Loyalists. I know I am leaving out a lot more perpetrators than I’m including.
      If you are going to impose your views on the world, you are certainly talking about repression. If you equate dissent with crime and murder, you will need many firing squads. If you disparage choice as bourgeois, you better start building gulags. Lenin put large numbers of class enemies not suspected of any crimes, in front of firing squads, to spread terror. Some anarchists are about class war and executions, but not the ones I look to. Your revolution is for the majority, but when the Berlin Wall came down, the vast majority of Eastern Europeans rejoiced. Most of humanity celebrated. Your revolution had become a prison.

      • Todd March 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

        epton wrote:

        “Enlightenment era individualism was deeply rooted in rationalism and free will. But later individualist movements such as the Transcendentalists, turned away from doctrines of free will. It was in this tradition that Emma placed herself.”

        OK, so how does this prove I was wrong?

        “Atheists who repressed religion”

        That’s not what I asked. Go back and read my question again.

        “If you are going to impose your views on the world, you are certainly talking about repression.”

        Didn’t I just write that above?

        However, what do you expect, say, ex-slaves to do when they rose in revolt to repress their masters and those associated with them in order to win their freedom?

        “If you equate dissent with crime and murder, you will need many firing squads.”

        Why? The US has done this (and still does) domestically and doesn’t use firing squads.

        Depending how dissent is codified, it can very easily be made a crime (or just _be_ a crime already eg shooting a politician).

        “If you disparage choice as bourgeois, you better start building gulags.”

        I don’t disparage choice as bourgeois: I disparage bourgeois choice. There’s a difference.

        “Lenin put large numbers of class enemies not suspected of any crimes, in front of firing squads, to spread terror.”

        Are you talking about bourgeois who had exploited their employees mercilessly or are you talking about nobles who had previously held land and serfs as property and who would have dearly liked to have had that private power back again? And are you talking about giving a warning to the bourgeois and nobles who had escaped and who were spoiling to destroy the revolution?

        “when the Berlin Wall came down, the vast majority of Eastern Europeans rejoiced. Most of humanity celebrated.”

        Sure; I can’t say as I blame them. Marx certainly would’ve cheered.

        Tell me, are you still a Bircher?

  26. terry epton March 16, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Todd- In your March 13 post you wrote that Goldman’s views “…implies like every right wing argument involving free will, that human beings are always consciously calculating and therefore know what they’re doing and what they want to do at all times, which is nonsense…” As I wrote yesterday, Emma Goldman rejected this notion of free will in her political formulations, her literary criticism, and in philosophy, for decades, in hundreds of articles. I couldn’t figure out how you could have missed this because you seemed to be such an expert on her views. When I quoted her as saying everyone had a right to choose any economic arrangement in harmony with their taste and desires, you understood that she really wasn’t serious, you knew her hidden meaning. But then you wrote on March 14 that you’ve only read a little anarchist thought “here and there over the years.” So then I thought: Todd must be a genius because he’s hardly read her but he still understands Emma better than me, even though I’ve been reading her for forty years and have probably made it through half of what’s in print by and about her.
    No one can enter the minds of believers to wipe out their faith. But when they persecute, incarcerate, or shoot clergy, turn churches into municipal office buildings, throw people in jail for religious observance and prohibit the teaching of religion, I would call that a good faith effort to force atheism on believers. Everyone on my list in yesterday’s post was guilty of some or all of these acts. I am an atheist, but I have not the slightest impulse to force anyone to abandon their faith. But that’s just the crazy bourgeois guy I am.
    You wrote yesterday about “…bourgeois who have exploited their employees” as appropriate candidates for revolutionary firing squads. If you consider all the people who own big and small businesses, with employees who you deem are exploited, we are talking about a lot of people. What you are advocating and defending is mass murder. I don’t know you, but reading your posts you seem like a very angry person, and I can’t help wondering: Todd, what’s wrong with you?
    And, you’ll be happy to hear that yes, I resigned from the Birch Society, some forty-seven years ago, when I was still in high school. Have you changed any of your views since high school? I’d be surprised.

  27. swallerstein March 16, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Terry:

    If I may interrupt your conversation with Todd, yes, Todd does seem very angry, but perhaps he has witnessed injustices that make him that way.

    Someone who is angry at injustice can also be described as “indignant” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  28. Corey Robin March 16, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Okay, I’m going to bring this discussion to a close. If you all want to engage in further discussion with each other, you can email me to let me know that you’re up for it, and I’ll then email whoever agrees the relevant email addresses. I just don’t want a comment thread to become a running dialogue between two individuals. Comments are now officially closed.

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