Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Responding to Libertopians...

Here is a response to a couple defenders of market-libertarianism I penned elsewhere on the net. Do please enjoy:
Kevin Carson: The Trouble in Libertopia article had two parts, one a critique of the spontaneism of right-wing libertopianism, the other of left-wing libertopianism, and Michel generously posted excerpts in two separate posts here. So, you may find that the "sizeable community" I seem to have neglected is actually equally a target of my "overbroad assertions" (Goldilocks personally thinks they are not too broad, not too narrow, but just right) after all.

Like corporations, militaries also are, as you say, "creatures of the state," and yet most canonical and popular market libertarian discourse inevitably functionally supports them, too. Whenever libertarians declare the sole proper sphere of government to be police/armies to protect property rights and contracts, for example, this amounts, in the real world in which "defense" and "policing" are vast capital-intensive industrial information-gathering enterprises, to a de facto endorsement of a planned economy and welfare state stealthed as that "Defense," and all to the wildly disproportionate benefit of the already rich and powerful.

No doubt, as you protest, you can direct our attention to a few photogenic theoretically-pure libertopian specimens (there's one, a coddled earnest middle-class white kid in his freshman philosophy class, how cute, he has a copy of Atlas Shrugged in his pocket and he's not yet been kissed, let's check back on him in three years, shall we?) who really would abolish all armies and corporations together with all those detestable welfare entitlements that make life the least bit worth living for the overwhelming majority of people in modern societies and install in its place some purely Somalian hot hell in the name of their pure principle, but the fact remains that market libertarian discourse has as its principle life the endless release into the world of ideological utterances deployed by Republicans to justify deregulation, privatization, militarization, corporate spending sprees in the service of elite-incumbent interests. If it weren't for the hypocritical recourse of Republicans (and corporatist Democrats) to market libertarian/neoliberal pieties they would have no life to speak of at all, at least not in the US (and its European counterparts, especially in the UK).

The guiding assumptions of those few pure anarcho-capitalists out there who do not indulge in such hyprocrisies are perfectly nonsensical in their own right. To institute alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes demands artifacts the legitimacy of which has a different character than that of conventionally exclusive/competitive instruments (a different character that makes them, it is true, uniquely vulnerable to special abuses whose amelioration must be part of the institutions themselves). This seems to me to be the bare starting point of an actually adult conversation of the governmental aspect of the political. And after a wider reading in the literature of liberalisms and libertarianisms than most its adherents can boast of, I am reluctant to report that this basic understanding is woefully lacking, to be kind, among even the luminaries of neoliberal and anarcho-capitalist discourse, in my opinion.

Now, precisely because, as you say, corporations are indeed chartered by the state, I personally think it would be a fine thing to re-introduce into those charters characteristics all of which have already been part of the institutional identity of limited liability associations at various moments in the long life of that legal/financial instrument, for example, strict definitions of a corporation's purpose which cannot alter without the dissolution of the charter, limits of the term of the association, insistence that since the public takes on certain risks and costs in granting such an association limited liability that it should be required as part of the compact always to act in ways that serve the public interest, and I personally would like to see strict guidelines limiting the income and perqs of the officers at the top of a corporate hierarchy in respect to the income and perqs of workers at the bottom. As I said, all of these elements have been part of the story of the corporation and could be part of the story again.

Of course, one needs a pesky thing called a legible working State to enforce such stipulations, and one needs a democratically-responsive and accountable state at that to have any hope of instituting regulations that would benefit majorities rather than armed minorities like these would do, and as you say I quite agree that corporate power predominates in the world's notional democracies at the moment to the devastation of equity, diversity, consent, sustainability. I believe we must re-mobilize such hard-won still-available legal instruments of our democratic institutions to fight the threats of corporate-militarism, and I believe it is doubly nonsensical to fancy either a blanket dis-invention of the state as such is possible (I personally don't consider such an aspiration even to be conceptually coherent) or would do anything if it were possible to fight corporate-militarism, such as it is, and hence, I must say, I consider such talk a distraction from good work and derangement of good sense. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

As for Marcel, forgive me for being blunt, but you need to demonstrate an understanding of and willingness to actually engage with the arguments of mine to which you are presumably responding before I can believe that this is a good-faith exchange of a kind that justifies the time required to pursue it.


The Mathmos said...

Great response. The logic of which should impel one to seek the destitution of neoliberals in all their manifold political incarnations around the world. Including the Dems, Nobelized war criminals and corporate apologists that they are.

Louisiana is paying the high price for the Democratic Party's moral and political bankruptcy in favor of the ruling corporate class :

This article made me sick to my stomach for a whole day. And counting.

Dale Carrico said...

If you apply "logic" at a level of abstraction that renders you indifferent to differences that make a difference you are being illogical.

If you grasp the force of such a critique and then find yourself attacking Democrats either rather than or more than Republicans at this historical moment, then you aren't much practical use to those who agree with you in approving this critique.

What is needed is more, and better, Democrats, in order to mobilize the forces to reform the world from here where we can the better to implement with endless difficulty and heartbreaking pain and careful thought the vision you presumably approve in approving this critique.

I don't say that because I think all or even enough Democrats are good, but because they are among the best tools actually on offer to do the job at hand (very much including the job of making the tool a still better, eventually possibly an adequate one).

Both the effort to hold back the literal madness of the Republican Right as well as the effort to empower and push forward the Democratic Party as a sustainable-democratizing force from within their Green-Labor-Feminist ranks require you and people like you to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

By this I mean you have to find a way to articulate best ideals and grasp structural quandaries, on the one hand, as well as to articulate best-possible efforts given actually-existing constraints and the local-current quandaries one takes up opportunistically in connecting the latter to the former, on the other hand. It is this second part that actually costs effort and gets us anywhere worth going.

If you just swallow some political theory-head variation on The Big Picture and leave it there, lolling around feeling marvelously nauseated and universally disgusted and all-knowing and declaring a plague on both your houses, it seems to me one takes a crucial tool -- since guiding ideals and structural critique help keep us from cynically assimilating to the given in the name of pragmatism -- but use it to disdain pragmatism for a false and self-indulgent idealism that contributes nothing substantial to the realization of its declared ideals.

For those who may think I'm being harsh on poor "Mathmos," you should know that this is the latest in a long series of comments here, many of which have focused their ire preferentially, and to mind nonsensically, on the obvious deficiencies of the actually-existing center-left in the US to the practical benefit of the flabbergasting insanities of our white-racist war-mongering christianist-talibanist Randroid-Teabag far right, often while dancing unsightly jigs of useless ideological self-righteousness in the process. At least so it seems to me.