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How Newspeak Makes Real Libertarian Thought Impossible In The US


United States – Zacqary Adam Xeper

United States – Zacqary Adam Xeper

The United States is an Orwellian nightmare, and I don’t mean because of the NSA. Over decades, we’ve destroyed the difference between the words “government” and “state.” This linguistic trick has made it impossible to truly understand what either of those words mean, or to realistically challenge the status quo.

The history of what’s now called “Libertarianism” in the US is rich with language-twisting and thought-constraining propaganda. The term “libertarian” itself is even a corruption of its original meaning. It had been used since 1858 as a synonym for “anarchist” — that is, belonging to the socialist, left-wing, anti-private-property anarchist movement dating as far back as Proudhon. This changed around the 1970s, as the right-libertarian founding father Murray Rothbard boasted in 1979:

One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, “our side,” had captured a crucial word from the enemy…”Libertari­ans”…had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…

This was the point at which capital-L “Libertarianism,” the right-wing aligned ideology of extremist individualism, antisocial paranoia, and a religious devotion to the gods of the market, came into its own.

Rothbard went on to say that this was more proper, because “we were proponents of individual liberty” and not the anarchists. To further make this point inarguable, the US Libertarian Party founder David Nolan created his famous chart:

The chart was sold as a more nuanced alternative to the one-dimensional political spectrum, because this one had two spectra: how much personal freedom you advocate, and how much economic freedom you advocate. The “left” were branded as advocates of personal freedom and not economic freedom, the “right” as advocates of economic but not personal freedom, but only the Libertarian Party advocated maximum personal and economic freedom.

The implication, of course, is that if you disagree with the Libertarian Party, you must hate freedom.

Nolan followed in Rothbard’s crusade against traditional libertarian socialism: there’s simply no place for it on his chart. Though classical anarchists identified with the left-wing of their time, it’s reductionist to say that libertarian socialism is opposed to “economic freedom.” But it certainly disagrees with the Libertarian Party definition of “economic freedom,” which is the freedom to own property and be an asshole about it. Alas, the chart’s accompanying “world’s smallest political quiz” takes the existence of private property, corporations, employment, and current social structures as a given. Anyone thinking outside of that paradigm is given a choice to advocate “freedom” and be branded a neo-Libertarian, or be against “freedom” and be branded a liberal.

It wasn’t enough to say that critics of Libertarianism were against freedom. As Libertarianism bled out from its fringe party and flowed into the mainstream right-wing of the Republican Party, rhetoric against the idea of “government” shot up. No longer content to criticize “the state” like the anarchists and libertarian socialists of old, the Libertarian right wanted to get “the government” out of their lives. First laws, rules, and regulations, but soon anything that even sounded like it could be somebody telling you what to do, all became “big government.”

Even as David Nolan and the Libertarian Party advocated for their own form of “self-government,” the idea got away from them and mutated into the monstrosity it is today.

To criticize “the state,” meaning an entity which has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in an area, is now interchangeable in the United States with criticizing “government.” Even when you drop the “the,” and refer to the abstract idea of “government,” the right-wing Libertarian way of thinking prevents any opinion but universal distrust and disgust.

In the US, “the state” and “government” have been newspeaked into the same word. We can’t have a reasonable discussion about how people can achieve self-government anymore, because right-wing Libertarianism has made the idea of governing anything taboo. If you’re for government, you’re an authoritarian socialist, and you can’t be a libertarian. If you’re against war and the police, you also have to be against food stamps and social justice. If you start talking about governance without the state, nobody can wrap their heads around what you’re saying. Make any reference to “the state” and people wonder if you’re talking about Louisiana or California. Because those are states, right?

Anyone who’s truly studied or paid attention to how communities operate in a stateless society knows that government is happening. Rules, codes, and standards of behavior — even if they’re unwritten — get enforced all the time in any situation where human beings come together. People enforce “vernacular law,” as David Bollier calls it. This is because government isn’t an institution, an organization, an entity, or any kind of single, concrete thing. It’s a process. It’s something we do, like science, dancing, magic, justice, warfare, or art. “The government” should rarely even be a grammatically correct combination of words.

Discussing that concept — the idea of people governing themselves, without the iron fist of the state — is essential for any realistic plan to achieve real, actual liberty for all of humanity. This was the ground first tread by the anarchists and libertarian socialists of the 19th century, and that tradition is being continued today by commons scholars, the alter-globalization movement, Pirate Parties, indigenous resistance movements, radical democrats, and more. The idea of self-governance is still marginalized and has an uphill battle around the world, but in the United States, we barely even have the language left to express it.

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About The Author: Zacqary Adam Xeper

Zacqary is an activist in the New York Pirate Party, where his official title is "Cat Herder." He is an open source game developer, and the Chief Executive Plankhead of Plankhead, a free culture arts collective. Despite believing that money is a superfluous social construct, he has a Gittip profile.

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  1. 1

    Use the trivium method to come to you own conclusions and navigate
    your way around in self ownership


  2. 2

    I call myself a free market anarchist and it really means that i can sell my stuff directly to you, and you can sell your stuff to me without middlemen.
    Node to node, and no need to go to the alpha male tribe leader asking for food and redistribution of the wealth he stole.
    This alpha male can be the state or a corporation incorporated by state law.

    I think people of every persuasion can benefit from the coming swarm economy and blockchain technology such as (but not only) ehereum were producing entities (corporations of PEOPLE) are put on top of blockchains instead of using the state monopoly of violence.

    The multitude of people who agreed to disagree is what made the Swedish pirate party great when it started, and now as expected, monopoly of thoughts had us divided and fallen.
    I will never fight for the control of the state again, but against it.

    Anarchy for me is to have a perpetual movement and self organization
    of society.
    If that includes local government as you describe, it is fine with me.
    It is the coercion and force of any kind i reject.

    • 2.1

      lol, that should have been “purposeful movement”
      Perpetual movement would be impossible, since the commitment of people as an energy source is needed :)

      Individual liberty and self ownership is necessary to make people want to have that commitment.

    • 2.2

      Ethical “free markets” don’t exist though. Not allowing child labor or slavery or any other good being traded is in fact, not a free market.

      Economic coercion, however, is a topic that mutualists (the first kind of anarchists, who are actual market anarchists) and individualist anarchists have spend a lot of time writing on. Yet the right-wingers who claim to be anarchist keep ignoring it for their own personal political gain. Capitalist thinktanks, claiming to be anarchist or libertarian such as the Charles Koch Foundation(now known as Cato Institute), always have big corporations as sponsors. The authors with membership of these thinktanks then they go on and focus only on small companies in their writings in order to construe a simplified structure of our society without the actual existing and problematic power dynamics at play.

      • 2.2.1

        Im agree with average people that are free market anarchists like Larken Rose that corporations are incorporated by state law, and that they screw people via state power and laws , with state imposed monopoly such as copyright,

        I am not for those think tanks repeating their mantra of a “gold standard” solution which is totally false.

        I hope for a future were markets are decentralised so that you and i can sell things to each other without going via an alpha male brute, thats it.

        The think tanks you talk about has traditionally talked about “gold standard” in currency and such topics that felt like appealing to the old paradigm with
        the simplified world view you talk about.
        Those who control most of the gold would rule such a world.

        Some of them still reject crypto currency because of hard core austrian economics which i think is good up to a point, but not the truth that meets all ends.

        This however, the thing this article talk about is NOT some creation of big think tanks and if there is one thing we can do,
        it is to look at local currencies and local organization and

        I also believe that individual liberty and freedom must be uphold since that makes people do stuff together, like non state governance and building of a real community rather then by force and the alpha male brutes.
        Markets, real free markets by people makes this happen.

        See the documentary series the ‘century of the self’ for more insight into past experiments of social organization.

  3. 3

    lol, that should have been “purposeful movement”
    Perpetual movement would be impossible, since the commitment of people as an energy source is needed :)

    Individual liberty and self ownership is necessary to make people want to have that commitment.

  4. 4
    Caleb Lanik

    Extremely well said. My father used to argue that the fire department should be privatized, anyone who didn’t pay their monthly “protection” money would simply see their home burn down. Strangely enough, I haven’t heard him make that argument since his house caught fire and firemen saved his life a few years back.

    • 4.1

      As it is now, your father did pay his monthly “protection” money, it’s called tax.
      And yes it saved his life which i agree is good thing, but the same tax ends life abroad and end lives daily.
      In the US that tax is used to harass people and bring state force to them.

      What about voluntary firefighters?
      If one house catches fire it is in everyones interest to put it out, fire spreads.
      Such things can be handled by government by the above definition and not the state.

      • 4.1.1
        Caleb Lanik

        The part you miss in that equation is the progressive tax system. Firefighters help the rich and poor alike, and this is in no way based on their ability to pay. Under his libertarian utopia, the rich would pay a flat monthly fee for fire protection, and those unable or unwilling to pay would simply see their homes destroyed in the event of a fire.

        As for voluntary firefights, I can appreciate the dedication and bravery it takes to risk one’s life to assist your community, but the training and equipment needed to do so successfully doesn’t come cheaply. Taxes, donations, or fees will inevitably be necessary to pay for these, and as long as we’re doing so, I see no reason not to provide a salary for full-time, professional firefighters.

        • Well, united state has a history of voluntary firefighters, and
          giving them a salary is not a problem either.

          A certain community were free market rules (talking again of peer to peer biz) simply agree to put a fee or something on top a consumer good or agree to put aside a certain amount of money each month for services they like.

          One could argue it’s a tax, but it’s rather a voluntary fee for something the community wants.

          Self governance and not the state, which is what the above article is about if I’m not mistaken.

          You can build it into a crypto currency for this purpose or come up with some yet undefined entrepreneurial solution to it.

          Calling out free market anarchists, as some do here, for thinking in the old paradigm must be met with equal standards of thinking outside the box.

          In the end i think this issue is a bit like the chicken or the egg question.
          We can do this together and without the state force that takes most of that tax for good things and use it for a majority of evil things.

          War and drone strikes being one resent issue the so called “liberals” seems to ignore. (not calling you a “liberal” )
          And lots of other issues were the ability to tax is the root of
          the things the pirates fight in the first place.
          Corporations are incorporated by state law, state law is funded by tax and are manipulated by the corporations tax and lobbyism to their benefit

  5. 5

    the word “freedom” is glib.

    Really, thought of freedom should be nuanced. Greater freedom for the powerful individual/system means less freedom for the ordinary individual. Eg. it would make sense to make degree of freedom inversely proportional to power/influence of the individual/system. The greater the power the greater the degree of surveillance/control. The less influence/power the less surveillance/control. (Exactly the opposite of the current situation.)

    We’re glib about the word “government” too. It should apply to any system of power which controls or exerts influence. That includes corporate power. Any demands about reducing “government” power should be assumed to include reduction of corporate power (But is usually intended to mean reduce control of corporate power which ironically increases corporate government over the individual)

    • 5.1

      The people who will decide who is ordinary or powerful will always be the powerful.
      They will be the ones who have more freedom and power in such a society.
      By simply using their freedom as powerful influential people to on control the mechanism that decides ordinary or powerful, and thus control freedom.
      In any system that tries to decide this, it always turns out the same.

      Corporate power is an extension of both government and the state.
      Corporations are incorporated by state law, without it, there are no corporations.
      This is the reason corporate power use the state to to exercise power and lobby politicians to gain more power.

  6. 6

    Someone said the other day: “there is no free market without a government, where there is no government there is no free market.”

    The same goes for ownership of property. Without government there is no property. The only way you can hold property is by force of arms and as soon as someone bigger than you, or better armed than you or with more men than you wants what you have, you don’t have it any more.

    It’s easy apparently for Americans to ignore all the benefits of a co-operative society and pretend they are big strong individualistic independents. Is fighting everyone in your society really where you want to be?

    • 6.1

      Only thing is that the people who owns the most in such a society influences the government to do their bidding.
      And people must uphold their ownership of property and markets from the state instead.

      Now of couse, as stated in this article government does not necessary mean the state.

      But look at what happens when some decision maker in the minority decision maker group called government gets a free renovation of his house from one of the firms he later will grant a contact or monopoly.
      Then that is state power, and not free market, since one has gained power from the “king” or “authority” and can later be as shitty as it’s desire because there is no competition.

  7. […] falkvinge.net: How newspeak makes libertarian thought impossible in the us […]

  8. 7

    You say that ‘self government’ without the state is not the same thing as anarchy – but that’s pretty much the actual definition of anarchy.

    Since this article is all about words that don’t mean what the media says they do – anarchy doesn’t mean “without rules”. It derives from “an-” (without) and “archon” (‘ruler’ or ‘lord’)

    Anarchy means “without rulers” not “without rules”.

  9. 8

    “…the socialist, left-wing, anti-private-property anarchist movement…”

    Not a lot of liberty to be found here. Private property, accumulated through homesteading and consensual trade, is the best solution to the inevitable question of how rivalrous resources shall be allocated to human beings. The only other solutions are savagery and conflict, or totalitarian micromanagement and coercion.

  10. 9

    Usually they’re not even against private property – they’re against the monopolies – against “intellectual property” and restrictions of freedom such as copyrestrict ( “copy-rights” ).

    Tricking people into believing “monopoly = property” and defending it is the main issue of the economy today. So many smart people realizing that with monopolistic laws they can make more money off sitting and getting money off old labour rather than actually doing something useful.

    If doing something useful is less valued than getting into the “system” to get paid for other people doing useful stuff (or maybe even worse – get paid for over 70 years OLD work)… well the smart people will lose their glow, give up their talents and focus on getting a good position within the monopoly where they can get good money for doing nothing.

  11. 10

    Again thats a problem by the state, corporations which lobby politicians are the thing the pirate movement fight.
    At least when i joined the Swedish one in 2006.

    Corporations are however incorporated by state law, and when they grow, they use their power to influence legislators so much that they get laws written for them.

    Get rid of the state and the problem disappears.

    Read the above again and consider combining these two links to understand what i mean by that statement.



    Add to that the technology for well fair and other community organization such as mtnhours.com that can be done.
    Stop ask the people and structures that made this possible to fix the problem.

  12. 11
    Eric Tazelaar

    Oh, this helps me to better triangulate in on the policies of the Pirate Party, assuming that your writing is representative of it. So I guess I will chuck the idea of forming an alliance with them.

    -a libertarian who is rather fond of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and private property

  13. 12

    Using ingenious technology and innovation the Romans made an Empire that withstood the test of your time.
    An HVAC repair business is most often started by the technician who may have
    learned the trade through previous employment.
    The business degree raises one’s social standing: in simple terms, it opens for you doors that could
    have otherwise remained closed to you.

  14. 13

    one of your best comedy routines ever.

    check into it: Proudhon may have thought he was on the left, but others saw him for the rightist he was. a more “central” organizing figure for anarchism is Bakunin, and look at the Marx-Bakunin debates to see the same argument you claim to see past: Marx did not see anarchism as compatible with left principles, because it isn’t. now have a look at how many worldwide fascist movements have invoked Proudhon.

    there is no such thing as “left anarchism.” it’s a contradiction in terms, and anyone who sells other views (as most of the comments here seem to intuit, since most visitors to Rick’s site are far-right) is deeply confused.

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