If there is a single issue which confuses many on the libertarian left, is the relationship between state and government. To give an example, the Centre for A Stateless Society, does not make a distinction in the general sense, referring to governance only on the scale of voluntary associations. For them, echoing the so-called anarcho-capitalists, state and government are are apparently synonomous. Despite strong theoretical appeals to a mutualist cooperatives, their relentless attack on government is strategically aligned with anti-democratic capitalist forces. To engage with an extremely divergent point of view, the Anarchist Media Institute is strong in its advocacy for the government to establish a "people's bank", for a stockmarket turnover tax, extended support for public Medicare, etc.
It is fairly obvious where the Isocracy Network lines up in this debate; after all, we elected Dr. Joeseph Toscano from the AMI to be our Public Officer, and he kindly took up our offer. This is not to suggest that we support all the policies of the AMI of course (for example, we reject the stock market turnover tax as we reject all generic transaction taxes), but certainly we support the general thrust of leveraging even nominally democratic government to provide positive freedoms and even involvement and participation in the mainstream democratic process. As previously explained, we align ourselves with the practical tasks of political anarchism. Of course, even on this level some of the best libertarian socialists find themselves having to make what at first glance appears to be a contradictory appeal, such as Noam Chomsky's claim of having a short-term goal of extending state authority in order to ensure democracy and human rights (Powers and Prospects, 1996)
The Isocratic strategy of direct involvement in politics and government put us at odds with those we consider our closest allies, the various expressions of social anarchism, whose position is very well elaborated in An Anarchist FAQ and Anarkismo. Here state and government, true to the anarchist tradition, is frequently conflated. Proudhon makes his famous oft-quoted remarks of what it means for a person to be governed in The General Idea of Revolution, concluding with "That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality". Bukinin in Statism and Anarchy says "[w]e declare ourselves the enemies of every government and every state power, and of governmental organization in general", and Kropotkin defines anarchy as "the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government".
There is little need to elaborate on this point with further examples. What is necessary however is to understand whether the treatment of government and state as synonomous is justified in terms of meaning, whether they were justified in the context of the times, and whether they are still justified now. After all, it is a very strange abdication of dynamic principle of a living system of thought not to engage in reconsiderations of even fundamental propositions. Further, if the terms are shown to have divergent meaning and their equivalence was contextually bound, then this raises the issue of the utility of particular forms of political activism in the interest of emancipation.
In terms of meaning, a cursorary dictionary lookup would indeed agree that there is a synonymous relationship between state and government. However a deeper, etymological view is quite illuminating. Government, the linguists will tell us, actually derives from the ancient Hellenic "kybernan", to steer a ship. Governance simply means to give the "ship", of any size, a direction. Whilst obviously a specialist skill, there is nothing in the definition that suggests that "the pilot", is an exclusive archon. In contrast however the state, whilst derived from the Latin "to stand", is more directly refers to estate, of property status. It is only when the two are combined that authoritarianism becomes evident, the government of estate through private, exclusive ownership.
The contextual expressions of the socialists, anarchists, and even some of the more senstive liberals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is understandable in a society where the governance was carried out by a the landlord and capitalist classes, the owners of land and capital. As much as the interests of the two were in competition with each other, they were certainly united in their resistance to the working class, receiving voting rights, let alone women, or those of different "races". The achievement of universal adult political suffrage was an incredible struggle, fought none harder in the United States of America which systematically and effectively exlcuded Afro-Americans in many states until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and in South Africa, where "non-white" people were excluded until 1994.
Much of this was due, of course, not just to the class struggle, but also with the ideological foundation deriving from classic liberalism. As the classic liberals argued in favour of individual liberty and individual self-ownership, it is by extension that democratic rights follow. For if one accepts the right of their own self-governance, they must also extend that right to others to remain morally consistent. Social democracy is an extension of individual freedom. Where democracy is introduced without freedom, it become demagoguey. Where individual freedom is introduced without democracy, it becomes an indirect dictatorship through economic monopoly (especially where the Lockean provisio is breached). Freedom and democracy combined however provide both political rights, and increasingly social rights.
As Tony Benn has pointed out, this is why people with power despise democracy. Doubtless the transformation of the advanced capitalist state into a liberal and social democracy has thrown many anarchist and socialist thinkers who remain stuck in a pre-democratic conceptualisation. Of course, one does not need to slip into the claims that the modern state is actually a neutral and contested ground or even potentially so as a polyarchy, such as advocated by Robert Dahl (Democracy and Its Critics, 1996), as all states, by definition, are class states. However it can also be recognised that through political class struggle and liberal ideology, that democratic governments do not always act in in the interest of ruling classes, a position carefully elaborated by Nicos Poulantzas (cf., Political Power and Social Classes, 1968, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, 1973, and State, Power, Socialism, 1978).
The issue, and perhaps here we differ from mainstream anarchism, is the recognition that whilst every society has a government, a means of directing the social system, it is not inevitable that every society has a state, a government ruled by class - even though the state functions and governmental functions are carried out within the same institutional framework. Certainly this shows how the voluntaryists are trapped within a well-intentioned confusion, as they presuppose a mutual recognition of property rights that simply does not exist. If there are competing claims to property rights, then statism is inevitable as it must result as it intervenes on behalf of one claim or another. To re-emphasise a point made from the very definitional stage, the state exists whilst economic classes exist. It will only be with the abolition of the private property rights of landlords and capitalists that the state will be abolished and that property itself reaches its natural and phenomenological division between social property, to be managed by a democratic free associations, and personal property, the liberty of individuals.
In contrast Max Weber (Politics As A Vocation, 1919) claimed that the state was the body which claimed legitimacy over a monopoly of violence over a geographical region. Again this is an example of a confusion between state and government. To suggest that an well-regulated, inclusive civilian militia orientated towards the defence of freedoms is the equivalent of a exclusive standing army and police, dedicated to external and internal invasion is evidentally false on the basis of experience. Where Weber is correct however is the idea that there is an natural monopoly of governance. Where there are multiple governments claiming the same geographical region, that is a war, as international relations that go sour should obviously illustrate. An authoritarian state wins wars by imposing its will over a population through firepower; a democratic government achieves its victory through attrition and defections.
As further examples of how governance is inevitable, but states are not, there are at multiple requirements for freedom through governance which are rarely effectively addressed by naive, anti-government libertarians. The first of these is the distinction between positive and negative liberty, as outlined in the classic essay by Issiah Berlin (Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958). The one-dimensional thinking of naive libertarians only gives consideration of the latter, where they are free from constraints. Often from a basis of pre-existing privilege, they do not understand the importance of enabling freedoms. Whilst it is true that often positive freedoms require reducing the negative freedoms of others (e.g., welfare through taxation), this is not necessarily the case (e.g., social welfare funded through resource rents), and even when it does occur it may be at least ethically justified on utilitarian grounds, that is, the reduction in freedom for the few is much less than the gains it provides to many.
On a related subject anti-government libertarians appear to very well versed in basic economics - and very poorly versed in the economic reality beyond the model of perfect competition. A classic example is the reaction to the government intervention on the minimum wage. Naive libertarians, following what used to be economic orthodoxy, assume that the minimum wage sets a floor on wages which must result in unemployment, a point illustrated in a recent post on Bleeding Heart Libertarians, which advocated the benefits of sweatshops. This would be true of course if the labour market was in a state of perfect competition. In reality, as Joan Robinson pointed out many years ago (The Economics of Imperfect Competition, 1933), such markets are a monopsony, which provide advantage to the buyer of labour in nearly all cases. As a result, the most recent empirical research shows that significant increases can be made to the minimum wage without damaging effects to unemployment. However such complexity is beyond the anti-government libertarian who prefers to believe that the heavenly models of freshman economics really exist on earth.
Further, naive libertarians do not seem to understand the need to mitigate negative externalities and enhance positive externalities. Apparently in there universe all actions are discrete, as are all costs and benefits. Again, a heavenly model. In reality, actions and interactions have costs and benefits beyond those directly involved. To give a trivial example, if someone learns traffic rules, it is not only that person who benefits. However on a pure discrete model, it is inefficient for a discrete individual or organisation to engage in the funding for the social benefits that others receive. Thus, to encourage these positive externalities strategic investments are by a general body which represents the community as a whole. An extreme version of this is of course public goods, in the positive sense, and the 'tragedy of the commons' in the negative.
To give a summary the Isocracy Network is opposed to the state, the coercive authority that limits personal freedoms, restricts democracy and acts in the interests of the ruling economic classes of capitalist and landlord. Our objective and orientation is towards a stateless society, one without private property, through the abolition of the system rules that allow for economic classes. Taking up the promise of liberalism and democracy, with a strategy of revolutionary reformism, we seek to change governments, directly, to institutions that systematically establish and ensure personal liberty and social democracy and thus abolishes such classes. This is why we can describe our politics as being against class states and in favour of democratic government.
Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on September 2, 2012.