Does YouTube Have The Right To Ban Alex Jones?

Alex Jones’ Infowars got banned from Youtube, Apple and Facebook all in one day. His followers are outraged and scream censorship. His many enemies are celebrating the move as a victory for truth. What is going on? Is this just a perfectly legitimate example of free association by private companies, or are we dealing with something else?

Libertarians don’t tend to think of censorship by private institutions as a violation of freedom of speech. A private person, or company, should be free to ban or endorse any kind of opinion he or she likes. This is technically absolutely correct, and an important point to make. It is, however, questionable whether this argument holds when we are talking about big companies like Google or Facebook.

Could there be a legitimate reason to ban Alex Jones? I have known Infowars since the early 2000s. Back then, Jones was the only political commentator I knew off who was already publishing his opinions as videos online. This was years before youtube became popular, when the internet was still very slow and expensive. Jones deserves some credit for very early recognizing the full potential of the internet.

He seemed to have a more or less classical liberal mindset. His videos were hugely critical of the state. The 1993 massacre in Waco Texas was portrait by him as a clear sign that the government had declared war on its citizens. Inforwars, and its sister side Prison Planet, argued that we are going rapidly into a massive police state. Knowing the history of western states since, it is difficult to argue that he was completely wrong about that. Already back then, he clearly seem to have a very conspiratorial view of the world. The new world order, as he called it, was a conspiracy of a small elite of people to enslave the rest of us.

Although I was a lot more susceptible to this simplistic conspiratorial viewpoint back in the day, I always thought that Jones was slightly nuts. But at first I thought he was nuts in a good way. At least he saw the state as a big problem. This was something I did not hear from many people in Germany at the time. So, even if slightly wrong, he felt like a little bit of fresh air.

I particularly liked that Infowars was still asking critical questions about 911. Being the conspiracy theorist that he has always been, he openly advocated that it was the US government itself that was behind the attacks. Again, I was never fully convinced by that, and these theories have now long been debunked as complete nonsense, but at least the conspiracy theorists were still asking critical questions.

That was better than what I heart from most commentators, who had collectively lost their marvels, rallying blindly behind the US flag. Conspiracy or not, the inside job theorists were among the few people, who saw correctly that the government was abusing these terrorist attacks to massively infringe on our liberty. They also saw clearly that going to war against terrorism was a terrible idea.

Since that time, Infowars has of course become hugely successful. Alex now reaches millions of people regularly. He therefore has the power to influence the opinions of a significantly big crowd. But he clearly has not grown very much when it comes to his theories of how the world works. His view on politics is now more conspiratorial than ever, and the theories seem to have got more crazy rather than less.

In my view, he has gone from someone who I thought was valuable, because he was roughly advocating the right things for the wrong reasons, to somehow who is a real liability to people critical of statism. His crazy theories make critics of the status quo look bad. Especially since the rise of Donald Trump in politics, Infowars has become absolutely excruciating. Nowadays, I can never manage to view more than a minute or so of his crazy rants. And ranting is basically all he does. He seems to be one of those people who think that voicing an argument loudly somehow makes it better. He has also become an outright cheerleader of the a state run by Donald Trump.

Why am I saying all this? I am saying it to make the point that I have very little motivation to defend Infowars. I am not a fan. I even think Alex Jones has become a real liability. I also find it hard to defend him with the notion that he is attacked, because the elite fears the truth. The risk that his crazy conspiracy theories about how the world works will become mainstream when people are exposed to them is rather slim.

But I am indeed concerned about his ban from social media. After all, he does reach enough people to at least disrupt the official narrative. I am concerned that Infowars might just be the first to go. Well, it is probably too late for that. But at least one of the first big ones to go. Much more reasonable commentators might be next. In fact, a lot of libertarians are already under attack. Defending these social media giants with the argument that they are private companies is quite wrong, or at the very least naive. There are two flaws in that argument.

Firstly, just because something is private does not mean that liberty minded people cannot have an opinion about it. This is the opposite of true. Capitalism works only as far as consumers make informed choices. It is not just acceptable to criticize private companies, it is important.

The reason why amazon works is, because they have a comprehensive review system build into the platform. Everyone is free to review products and sellers. Without this private review system, amazon would probably not be very save to use. The whole reason why capitalism works is, because it allows for quick corrections of mistakes via market feedback. If a company engages is unwanted policies, everyone has a right, and even a duty, to criticize it.

The second mistake in the reasoning that we don’t need to be worried about private censorship is that it is highly questionable how private these companies really are. The whole argument assumes that Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook are completely free to choose their company’s policies. It assumes that everything we are witnessing is free from state interference.

But very few things are free from government interference these days. We do not have fully private property rights, in which owners can simply do as they please with their belongings. Most usage of property is highly regulated, making it a mix of private and public. And that is certainly true for companies like Facebook and Google.

We don’t know how much they are being bullied behind closed doors. But conspiracy theories are not necessary. What is out in the open is enough to see that there is a lot of pressure on them to comply with the interests of the government. The history of censorship on platforms like Facebook clearly shows that they only started editing political content once they got pressured by the state.

In Germany, Facebook was first attacked by the government when people started to criticize the wave of immigrants coming into the country. These attacks at question were undoubtedly degrading and aggressive. One would hope that a civilized society would naturally criticism, and even ostracize, extreme xenophobes like these people. The comments, however, were made on the private newsfeed of Facebook users.

Germany is not a free country. There are many restrictions on what can be expressed publicly, and even privately, to other people. Therefore, the government in Berlin wanted Facebook to stop users from making such comments. But when it first approached Facebook, and demanded for the company to became an enforcer of German censorship laws, Facebook reacted completely disinterested. As a result, nothing happened.

Being a US company, Zuckerberg was clearly confused by what the government expected him to do. Facebook at the time simply did not have any editorial unit, specialized in policing political opinions. Why would they spend money on something that would make their users less happy? The whole business model was to provide a social network for as many people as possible.

But Facebook was about to find out that you cannot just ignore a state. Politicians started to make sure that Facebook understood that it could not simply reject an offer from the mafia. They threatened Facebook with fines of millions of Euros for each and every single violation of a not deleted post in violation with German censorship laws. In other words the government threatened to destroy Facebook in Germany, if the company did not comply with whatever editorial wishes the state had. It was only after that threat that Facebook become an editor of political content.

This shows very clearly that these companies are not free to simply determine their own policies. It is very naive to believe that governments will just sit there and let a private organization challenge the foundations of their power. Ideas are very powerful. No one who wants to stay in power can afford to lose control over the narrative of public debate. Any state, no matter how liberal on the surface, has always had effective policies to influence, and outright control, the production and distribution of ideas.

Most states therefore still have outright speech prohibition. Most states also still have a media that is openly run by the government. No government currently allows a truly free education system. The difference between dictatorships and democracies is that the former are more overt in their attempt to control ideas. Democracies on the other hand have found ways to control opinions through the backdoor. Interventions are usually portrait as quality controls rather than outright censorship. Someone needs to make sure that schools and universities are “quality” institutions. Someone needs to make sure that citizens are not mislead by “fake news” from evil players.

Historically, laws have not been effective limits to the power of governments. If there ever was an idea that deserved the label naive than it is that governments can be controlled by laws, laws that have to be enforced by the state itself. What does put a lit on the power of governments is the popularity of certain policies. The physical force of compliance by the masses is very important to every state. In democracies, politicians are also at risk of not being re-elected. The reason why there is still free speech in the US is not because the government cannot break the constitution. If the first amendment to the US constitution was unpopular, it would be gone in a heart beat, or simply be ignored.

When faced with popular laws which cannot be ignored, governments often will prosecute opponents for the violation of other laws. The people in power tend to not care why an opponent is fined or goes to jail, as long as he is knocked out. Given the huge quantity of laws in existence, almost everyone is always in violation of some law. Does anyone believe that Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy because of rape allegations? Maybe, just maybe, his imprisonment has something to do with the fact that he was exposing the corruptions and criminality of western governments.

And does anyone believe that Zuckerberg really helped to rig the last US elections? The real reason why he was dragged before congress is, to intimidate him. The message was clear, we, meaning the US government, are not able to directly censor Facebook because of the first amendment. But make no mistake, if you don’t play ball with us, we will get you for something else.

It is very obvious, that the social media giants are not private in the sense that they can freely determine their policies. They are heavily bullied by governments to comply with the needs of the powerful. Sure, one might criticize them for not putting up too much of a fight. But the real villain is the government. Infowars being banned by independent companies on the very same day is hardly a coincidence. It serves as another evidence that these companies are not independent, private players.

And if governments think, they cannot yet get away with outright banning an unwanted commentator, they will secretly ban the opinions by making sure that posts do not appear in the newsfeed of followers. They also often sabotage the funding of unwanted organizations. Libertarians like the Ron Paul Institute, Anti-war.com or Scott Horton are already targeted like that. All have seen the views of their posts on social media deteriorate recently without formerly loosing any followers.

So no, what we are dealing with is not simply private companies using their right to free association. What we are dealing with is a classic attempt by governments to win control over the distribution of ideas.

The solution to all of this can therefore not be to demand more government interference. This would assumes that the problem is the social media companies themselves. But all the evidence points to the fact that it is the government bullying of these companies that is the real problem. And this is not going to change, no matter who the most popular social media platform is going to be.

Any company, with a headquarters and centralized servers, will get under enormous government pressure if it actually becomes big enough to make a difference. The only solution seems to be to create more decentralized platforms for the distribution of ideas. In that case, the state would need to go after everyone individually, which is much more difficult to do. Decentralization is therefore the only way to escape the bullying. But it is easier said than done. States are a hard problem.

Answering Jordan Peterson on low IQ productivity

Jordan Peterson is surfing on a wave of popularity. Within a very short time, the Canadian professor has managed to create a cult like following. This is not something he intended. All he did was to stand up for his own liberty in Canada. Nothing suggested that he would be very successful when he started protesting. In fact, he took some great personal risks. His timing, however, turned out to be very good. He evoked a silent mass, which, just like him, thought that political correctness had gone way too far.

I have a great deal of respect for someone who is fighting for his believes at the risk of personal costs. Not surprisingly, I also happen to agree with his fight for liberty. But since he is now an authority for so many people, he also deserves to be criticized whenever he gets somethings wrong. As an advocate of open debate, I am sure Peterson would agree with that.

And he does seem to get quite a few things wrong. His popularity puts him under a lot of pressure to always have an answer to everything. Because he was protesting against political correctness, he is now often interviewed about politics in general. Peterson, however, does not strike me to be particularly interested in politics. His real passion clearly is psychology and religion. This is something he shares with many of his followers. The major cause for his huge popularity appears to be his personal development advise rather than his political philosophy.

It is not necessarily a good idea to take someone as an authority on every subject, just because he is clearly smart. Like everyone else, Peterson is only an expert in things that he has spend enough time thinking about. Listening to him, I get the impression that one of the areas he knows little about is economics. I recently came across a video of an interview, in which he discusses the importance of IQ for productivity. His thesis is that people with a too low IQ are unable to contribute to the economy. This, according to Peterson, is a significant problem, because the group of people with relevantly low IQs is quite large.

This opinion is based on common misconceptions. In order to understand the mistakes in his reasoning, let us go through his argument systematically. He starts out by quoting a number of studies which show a clear correlation between IQ and success in life. In fact, Peterson claims that IQ is the most important predictor for long term success known to us. Consequently, people with a too low IQ seem to be doomed to failure.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, so it is reasonable to assume that he knows what he is talking about. That is not to say that IQ is the only factor important for success – personality traits like high conscientiousness and low neuroticism are also important. But apparently, none of these can compensate for a low IQ. This is not just true for personal success, but is particularly true for economic success. People with low IQs apparently struggle to be productive.

Let us look at the relationship between productivity and IQ. The argument that people with low IQs struggle to succeed in a modern economy is based on the observation that intelligence helps us to complete complex tasks. In fact that is exactly what IQ test questions are all about. That means, the more complex a task, the more IQ is needed to complete it. Peterson claims that modern economies have already become very complex, with simple task being automated. And it is reasonably to assume that the trend towards more complexity is going to continue in the future. Therefore, people with low IQs will increasingly not be able to add value to such an economy. In other words “there is not a job for everyone”, as he puts it.

It is certainly true that there is not a job for everyone. Some people clearly find it difficult to produce wealth. Examples of these would be certain drug addicts or those with a mental disease like Schizophrenia. The latter distorts the view of reality and makes a person dysfunctional in the real world. However, is Peterson right that a low IQ on its own prevents people from adding value to the economy?

As proof that this is indeed the case, Peterson quotes a policy of the armed forces, to not allow recruits with an IQ lower than 83 to join. This threshold is based on long term internal studies which have apparently shown that people with such low IQs simply are incapable of performing any needed task in the military.

The reason why Peterson things this is relevant is because the military is in constant shortage of bodies, and has jobs that require very few skills. He also mentions that one of the purposes of the military is to lift people out of poverty, by giving them a good education. Therefore, he concludes, if the military isn’t capable of employing them, no one is. Having established these facts, he points out that about 10% of society have an IQ that low, clearly suggesting that 10% of society will therefore not be employable. If all of this were true, it would be a grim outlook indeed.

But there are a number of fallacies in this argument. First of all, it is questionable to take a centrally planned bureaucracy, like the military, as a good indicator of who can and who cannot be productive. For some reason, intellectuals love hierarchical bureaucratic structures, and even Peterson, who is not a socialist, does not seem to be able to resist that temptation. The real testing ground, however, should be the actual private economy. No central planner can know what is and what is not productive work. This is of course the fundamental flaw in socialism, and the reason why it can never work. Ludwig von Mises famously pointed this out in his groundbreaking 1920 article “Economic Calculation in the Social Commonwealth”.

The real economy often gives us surprising answers as to what is and what is not productive. And looking at real world economic data, we find that the free market does seem to find productive tasks for low IQ people. If it were true that people with an IQ below 83 are unproductive, and those are 10% of society, then we would not expect to find unemployment rates in any free market economy to be under 10%.

Unfortunately, we do not have any economies that are totally free of state intervention to test this. However, we can at least have a look at some of the most free and advanced economies. Two good examples for these are Singapore and Switzerland. Both, according to the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, have been among the most advanced and productive economies in the world for a very long time. They are also two of the most free and unregulated. Singapore, a city state, even has hardly any welfare state at all. As far as I can tell, neither of these two economies has had an unemployment rate even close to 10% in the last three decades. In fact, during that period of time, the highest unemployment rate has been a little over 5%. Today it is 2% in Singapore, and 3% in Switzerland.

From this alone, it is save to conclude that, if a low IQ is a growing problem in increasingly complex societies, then, at least at the moment, the economy is clearly not complex enough for this to have a significant effect. In fact, as far as I am aware, even people with seriously low IQs can be trained to be somewhat productive. People with Down Syndrome, for example, who have an average IQ of around 50, can be trained to fulfill productive tasks. And luckily they are often exempt from damaging protective policies like the minimum wage.

But to be fair, at such low levels, the productivity is indeed strongly reduced. This does suggest that Peterson is not completely wrong. There is some relationship between IQ and productivity. But at least at the IQ 83 level, this does not seem to be significant enough to make a person unable to contribute to a modern economy.

The next question is, is this going to change in the future? Will people with low IQs increasingly struggle to be productive as the economy becomes more complex? It sure looks like strong reasoning to suggest so. The argument, however, rests on a very questionable assumption. Is the economy really getting increasingly complex? Do we therefore need better skills to handle complexity in order to be productive in the future? What is the evidence that we are witnessing such a development?

I think this is a fallacy. The exact opposite appears to be happening. Sure, being able to handle complexity, unquestionably makes people currently more productive. That is why managers and engineers have a higher salary than cleaners or garbage collectors. But this is not a new development. Managers and engineers have always earned more than workers doing simple tasks.

In order for there to be a problem one would need to argue that simple tasks are disappearing completely. And in fact, many people would argue that we have seen a shift away from simple jobs to more complex ones. Historically, the majority of people worked in farm jobs, which mainly required physical strength, and were repetitive. Whipped, uneducated slaves were able to do these jobs. Nowadays, however, we have clearly moved towards thinking office jobs.

It is true that most people have stopped making a living through physical labour. This change came with the rise of machines which were able to do the physical for us. Throughout history, whenever we saw new technology been introduced, the assumption of most people, at all times, has been that this would lead to a rise in unemployment.

Yet, people have always been wrong to assume so. As we have seen with the unemployment rates of modern economies, their concerns have so far not materialized. There are still an enormous amount of very simple jobs left. That is as long as the government does not regulate these jobs out of existence. Almost every human being, even people with low IQs, have skills that machines are unable to perform. These skills include things like common sense or the enormous fine motor skills of the human hand. The latter is still unmatched by robotics.

Has all this new technology made our work more complex? Why would it? Technology is a tool. And the better these tools are, the easier it is to use them. Usually, technology is only complex in its early development stages. This is the stage when it is not widely used yet. A simplification for the user is usually a necessary condition for a technology to spread widely.

When computers first were invented, only the most highly trained engineers could use them. Today, my three year old niece can operate an iPad. The latter, of course, is orders of magnitude more complex than the first computers that needed to be operated by experts. Advanced tools do not make things more complex, they make them easier.

There does not seem to be much evidence that our jobs have become more complex. Sure, we now have more office jobs. But thanks to increasingly sophisticated tools, we also have more idiots doing office jobs. And there is absolutely no reason to expect the situation to get worse.

A lot of people are worried about the advent of AI and robotics. These, so they think, will create machines that will be able to beat us in any skill we have. Therefore, there will be no more jobs left for us to do. No more jobs, except for the highly complex task of coordinating these machines. This will lead to a society in which there is a great divide between a small elite in control on the one hand, and all the rest of us on the other, who will be left out of the economy.

This is an absolute fallacy that I have written about before. Machines are tools and not competitors. They are not competitors, because they do not have any interests on their own. Every tool makes us more productive, and most tools are even superior to us in some way. That is why we use them. Even a very simple tool, like a hammer, is used by us, because it is superior in certain ways to our hand. It is therefore misguided to thing that machines who are better than us are a problem. We cannot have too good tools!

And the better the tools, the simpler they will make jobs. Tools help us to complete tasks more quickly, and to a higher standard. That is another way of saying, they make us more productive. The more intelligent machines get, the more they can handle complexity themselves. That is why my niece can operate a highly complex iPad. The complexity of the computer is reduced to a very simple interface. Consequently, if machines are able to handle complexity, they can be used as a tool by people, who are bad in handling complexity. And those are the people for whom these machines will be most useful.

Think about it – when machines were invented to replace our physical labour, was it clever to argue that this was a disaster for the weak? Was it clever to argue that now only the strongest would be able to compete with these machines? Of course not. The exact opposite was the case. With the advent of strong machines, it was particularly weaker people who became more productive, because machines are not competitors, they are tools.

Just like a calculator has the biggest use for people who are bad at calculating in their head, and strong machines are best for weak people, intelligent machines will be best for the not so intelligent. If anyone will get to be disrupted by intelligent machines, it will be intelligent people, who will lose their advantage to produce. They will lose their advantage, because the economy will get a lot more simple rather than complex.

It is also a fallacy that the production of wealth can be concentrated in the hands of a few. This cannot happen, at least not without the use of force. Who would the minority of producers sell their products to? Already in the early 19th century, the economist Jean-Baptiste Say famously figured out that supply creates its own demand. There will always be an advantage of having a division of labour, no matter how advanced machines get. And it will always be better that more people produce rather than fewer, no matter which tools they use.

That means there will always be an economy, and we are not going to all become self-sufficient individuals. The only difference will be, that the more tools we have, the more everyone can potentially fulfill every part of that division. Peterson says that “not everyone can be trained to do everything”. That is true. But in the future, maybe everyone can have a tool which can do everything for them.

Life will not become more complex, but it will become easier, at least economically. That is not to say that it will necessarily be easier to find a purpose in life and be happy. That, however, is a different question from productivity. Economically, technology will be a great equalizer rather than a divider. So there is no need to worry about people with low IQs. The evidence shows that, if the state lets them, they are able to produce now, and they will be even more so in the future.

The Way Libertarians Should Get Involved in Politics.

 

Libertarian prodigy Adam Kokesh and the Anarcho-capitalist ‘zen master’ Larkin Rose have clashed recently and very publically. The reason these two well-known figures have had a heated exchange is over Adam Kokesh’s decision to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in the next US general election.

My summary of the debate is as follows: Adam Kokesh wants to spread the message of liberty in the political sphere by running for president. Whereas, Larkin Rose believes that by simply taking part in the electoral process you justify the inertia of the government. On his blog, Larkin Rose has gone as far as calling Adam Kokesh a pompous fool in what he sees as a delusional campaign that will have no real results.

The discussion is very interesting to me because it reflects a shift in my own personal position on this issue. If you would have asked me a year ago which person I would have supported, I would undoubtedly have told you that I side with Larkin Rose. His logic makes sense; by engaging with the political system, you justify the state. Furthermore, he is right when he when he critiques of Adam Kokesh’s idea that you could even have a ‘non-president’ as insane. It would be highly illegal for someone to simply sign a document saying ‘I hereby abolish the government’. Throughout the discussion, Rose sticks to his guns by saying the transition from our current situation to a free society should be by ‘walking away from the state’.

However, my opinion has begun to shift. It sounds obvious but trying to engage with people politically in areas other than politics is rather difficult. Outside overtly libertarian circles trying to convince ordinary people to buy Bitcoin, stop voting for political parties and purchase a copy of Human Action is extremely challenging. This agorist rationale reminds me of a talk I went to about the British Missionary David Livingstone. Despite travelling widely across Africa, learning how to converse with the Africans he encountered, being a celebrity in Britain and having significant imperial support. He is said to only ever have converted one African to Christianity. Clearly, trying to enact change by persuading one individual at a time is an enormous task.

But what about the idea of a libertarian revolution? This is perhaps more realistic, there has been lots of enthusiasm around the attempt to create a libertarian(ish) enclave in Liberland and I have lost count of how many articles I have read about ‘sea-steads’. Yet, there are still good reasons to be sceptical about such an event. If there was indeed going to be a libertarian revolution, then there would already be audible murmurs of libertarianism reverberating around the country. Historically, revolutions or even protests tend to be flashes of anger that are picked up and channelled by more ideologically committed enterprises.  For example, (probably) the most successful organised protest group in the UK The Stop the War Coalition are able to hold massive demonstrations on a regular basis that have an effect on government policy. This isn’t because of their members wholesale swallow the ideological direction of the organisers, but because they work tirelessly to make sure that when there is anger, they have something ready to go.

It stands to reason then, that perhaps the most crucial issue with libertarianism (particularly here in the UK) is that we are disorganised. Libertarianism is a minority position. Therefore, unless people would be prepared to suffer a massive wage drop, it is understandable that we tend not to be full-time career radicals in the way that many Stop the War organisers are. All of the libertarians I have had the opportunity to meet are normal working people first and libertarians second. Again, this is understandable but it does mean that we suffer a severe organisation deficit. By the time we are organised any potential wave of indignation will have been and gone. I presume that there are clever ways to get around the fact that there are no full-time libertarians coordinating a potential action, but I have yet to see them.

To my mind, the worst idea that I come across is the ‘wait and see’ option. The idea that we should wait a few hundred years and wait for libertarianism to become popular on its own is nonsense. Forget politics, nobody has ever achieved anything by this logic. And if they have it is only the case in retrospect.

Although I sympathise with Larkin Rose and admire his patience. Although I am very much against the idea that any cultural shift can be imposed from above, I think that simply refusing to engage in politics is a mistake. My position on this issue has recently shifted in a more politics friendly direction. But the dark realm of established politics is far from risk-free.

The perils of getting involved with the political system present us with similarly enormous problems.There are several good reasons why this may not be the best course or action for libertarians. The first and the most obvious is that the odds of us ever winning an election are minuscule. It is understandable that come election time, many people who may wish to support us will vote for one of the more established political parties. In fact, some more committed and practically minded folk may make the decision that it would be better to get involved with a more established party and try to turn it in a more libertarian direction from the inside. So it is clear that under our current electoral system, competing in mainstream politics would be very difficult. And that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon.

But there is an easier way to build a following in mainstream politics. And that is by putting forward policies that are widely popular rather than principled. In fact, politics is often a delicate balance between sticking to one’s ideals and doing what is expedient. This is in itself a problem. By competing in the bear pit of politics libertarians will inevitably need to appear palatable to the general public. Furthermore, there will come a point where individual libertarians will be expected drop discussions about ideology and start talking about strategy. This will not be an easy shift to make. Why bother engaging in politics just to have your ideals diluted when you can stay out of things and spread ideas another way? There are no easy answers to this question, hence why many libertarians stay out of politics.

We should also consider the cost of getting involved in politics. Unlike a business venture there are considerable financial and time commitments attached to politics. Money will need to be raised, weekends spent campaigning and countless hours will need to be spent organising things. And what will come of it? Probably nothing. Getting a political party off the ground can take decades of commitment and sacrifice. No wonder lots of people think we should just bypass the established political system altogether.

As previously stated Larkin Rose is correct in his assertion that Adam Kokesh’s dream of abolishing the state is impossible, the government does not work that way. But in the debate Kokesh makes it clear that he does not expect to win, he merely just wants to highjack the political system to spread the ideas of libertarianism. In my opinion, there is something in this.

It sounds simplistic but mainstream politics is the language that most people use to talk about how to change the world. When I turn on my TV and watch Question Time, I expect to hear about politics. Whereas when I watch Countryfile I do not. Having spent the past four years as a libertarian I have noticed a lack of libertarians in our national debate. By refusing to engage with the political system at all we are locking ourselves out of it.

Most political debates (to use a polite term for it) I see on social media are rarely intense philosophical discussions. They are about people, policies and parties. If we remain outside the mainstream, we will remain outside the consciousness of most people. They will have no reference point for libertarianism, and we do not become part of the political lexicon.

To use an analogy: when everybody else is conversing in English we are speaking Japanese. Indeed some people can understand Japanese, but they are few in number outside a core of native speakers. Instead of trying to get others to learn our language, it’s time we started talking English.

This does not mean that we should abandon discussing ideas and trading opinions with each other, far from it. If you visit the social media pages of most British socialist organisations you will see that they bitterly amongst themselves about the real interpretation of some obscure paragraph in Das Kapital whilst still having a profound, and growing impact on our political landscape; how do they do it? The answer is easy, they play the game.

It is my belief that as libertarians we should be more willing to ‘play the game’. However, there is a middle ground to be reached here. If we abandon principles in favour of practicality then we would all join the Conservative party. Not a good idea in my book. Yet, if we put all principles over any sense of expediency then we go nowhere. There are practical things we can do that would introduce libertarianism to the British Public that don’t compromise what libertarianism stands for.Clearly, we must find a way of engaging with the political mainstream, without becoming absorbed by it.

I have ended this article guilty of doing something that I hate; claiming that people should ‘do something’ but not articulating what exactly I mean by that. There will be a follow-up post tomorrow outlining some things people could actually do.

 

Free Speech In The Age Of The Internet

Not too long ago, the internet used to be a very free space. It seemed out of reach from governments, and was almost entirely unregulated. Users felt free to publish almost anything they liked, and they could do so anonymously. The internet, therefore, was a hope for everyone with non-mainstream opinions that their voices could finally break through the protected consensus of the mainstream.

This hope was certainly justified. The internet still is very much a force for good. But like all forces for good, the government tends to hate them. And so Leviathan has been eager to jump on it. The state is trying to make the internet a force for its own good. The progress made in that endeavor during the last decade is very worrying.

Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA, was the first to blow the whistle. His revelations revealed that western governments had very advanced programs to use the internet to control society. Before Snowden, few people had thought about the consequences that most of what we do these days leaves some traces on the internet. I certainly was not worried about it. But Snowden made the public aware that, by hovering up all these information, the government could potentially know about almost everything we are up to in our lives.

This is not just a problem for really bad guys, like terrorists. The secrecy of private lives has been an effective tool against a lot of government tyranny. Whenever the official rules of the state became too silly, a lot of people just secretly stopped following them. The state essentially needed to be good enough, so that most people followed the rules out of conviction. The prospect of the state being able to take away this kind of effective protest is truly frightening. For the first time, Snowden revealed that the internet did not necessarily have to be a force for good. If we are not careful, it could turn out as a tool for real enslavement.

Nevertheless, the fact that everyone can now publish their opinions cheaply, and on multiple platforms, remains extremely powerful. After all, in many western countries there are still laws in place which, at least formally, guarantee a certain amount of free speech. These laws date back to times, when it was significantly more complicated and costly to make one’s voice heard. The establishment therefore usually did not see free speech as too much of a threat.

In fact allowing people to express their opinions, while at the same time not giving them a platform, can be an effective tool for controlling opposition. The moment the government locks up dissidents, they can claim to be a victim of an oppressive regime. This tends to draw support to them. At the same time, leaving someone alone without platforming him, but giving him hope that his voice might be heard in the future, gives that person an incentive to not go too far with his opposition. As long as he believes he can make his voice heard in the future, he might still play along with the system, even though the system is very much rigged against him.

But with the internet, people now have a very real chance of finding an audience. The internet has indeed shown to be the game changer that it was promised to be at the beginning. Since the people in power often believe their own propaganda, they have been very late to realize, how much they have been loosing control over the narrative of debates.

The big wakeup call came with Brexit and the election of Trump. Both events were completely unexpected to the established forces. They were so hit by surprise that it took them a while to realize why voters had turned against them. A lot of people simply do not get their information from officially briefed sources anymore.

Since the establishment had this epiphany, we have seen frantic attempts to win back control. There has been an increase in legal speech prohibitions in almost every western country, with the possible exception of the US. Only last week we saw Scottish YouTuber Markus Meechan, who goes under the name Count Dankula, being convicted in a court of law for hate speech. His crime was to make a joke for his girlfriend, by teaching her pug to perform a Nazi salute to the words “gas the jews”. Meechan is not actually a Nazi. Far from it, he explains at the beginning of the video that he thinks Nazis are the most offensive thing he could imagine. The goal was not to spread hatred, but to teach his girlfriend wrong, who claimed that her pug could not possible do anything that is not cute.

None of that of cause matters. Free speech is meaningless if it is not allowed to offend people. Unless someone is issuing a concrete and believable thread, or is involved in planning a violent crime, everyone should be free to say whatever he or she likes. A Precedence like the Meehan case clearly shows that the government is trying to clamp down on free speech.

Last year, we saw the UK government even proposing punishments of up to 15 years in prison for people who merely watch “extremist” content online. This is allegedly targeted at supporters of terrorist groups. However, all it takes is a precedent from a judge to extend this law to cover all kinds of opposition to the government. True opposition can easily be portrayed as extremist. But if merely watching content online becomes a crime, punishable by multiple years in prison, we are truly in deep tyranny territory.

The bigger strategy to get back in control of the narrative, however, does not seem to be outright speech prohibitions. Especially in the US, these would face some serious legal hurdles. Instead, the strategy seems to be to somehow go back to the good old days of being able to deny someone a platform.

After the Trump election, a narrative has been spun to make alternative news sources look like tools for evil forces. The phrase ‘fake news’ was introduced to differentiate between legitimate, meaning establishment, information, and uncontrolled news sources. Introducing the label ‘fake news’ would be little more than amusing if it had stopped there. But unfortunately, we are seeing an outright criminalization of everything that is not approved media content.

This would usually look like a cause doomed to fail, giving how easy it is to publish anything on the internet. But unfortunately, the way the online distribution of information appears to work at the moment does give the government a chance of succeeding. While it is true that everyone can publish anything easily on the internet, that is not to say that it is easy to find an audience.

Social media has a huge effect on which content people consume. What does and does not appear in the news feed of Facebook and Twitter, or in the search results of Google and YouTube, very much influences opinions. And these few companies very much control a huge amount of the distribution, and advertisement of alternative media.

From a libertarian perspective this could sound like good news. If distribution is in the hands of private companies, then there is little to worry about, right? Private companies, for the most part, do not have political agendas. They just want to make a profit. That means, they have an economic incentive to make as many customers happy as possible.

Unfortunately, this is only true in a free market system. What we have today, however, is crony capitalism. In today’s system, whenever a company reaches a certain size, or whenever a company crosses political interests, a collusion between the government and that company can be observed. After all, the government can make business very difficult for pretty much anyone. It is therefore difficult to say no to the mob.

How do we know that this is happening? Well, first of all, it is naïve to believe that the state would simply stand bank when one of its core interests is threatened. Many people have long suspected that the reason google is the best search engine is because they get help from the intelligence community in the US.

But we don’t even need to go into conspiracy theories. The collusion is happening very overtly. Governments simply have declared the media platforms to be responsible for the content that its users post. As a result, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who have a quasi monopoly, have started to censorship user content. And they are not just censoring posts that are against some laws. They are keenly censoring anything that even remotely might get them any negative criticism from the establishment, just in case.

There clearly is no will to resist government influence. These companies are more than happy to go along with an established agenda. On the other hand, the pressure they are put under by the government is certainly huge. Campaigns to demonize content are being lounged very aggressively. Anyone who is on the wrong side of the news, is attacked as being an illegitimate actor.

The most prominent villain has been made out to be Russia, who is accused of “interfering” in elections by simply talking to people on social media. I wrote about this here. But there are other scapegoats. The latest scandal is the use of Facebook data by the company Cambridge Analytics. As already in the Russian scandal, there is a lot of noise, but it is actually not so easy to find out what the exact accusations are. I might be wrong, but as far as I can tell, Cambridge Analytics is not actually accused of breaking the law. Instead, the company is accused of unethically collecting user information on Facebook, by burying the agreement to share these information in the terms and conditions of its apps. And we all know that no one reads those. It then used these information to provide a superior advertisement service.

If this is true, than it is not clear what the huge scandal is about. Sure, Cambridge Analytics might have got some information about users that the users were not really happy to share. While that would not be very good, the harm done in this case does not seem to be huge. After all the company did not use these information to steal or harm users in any other way. It simply used it for tailor made advertisement.

The fact that Facebook excessively collects its user’s data, and uses it to influence people on the network, has been well know for a long time now. Many users feel uncomfortable about it. I know a number of people who have left the platform for that reason. I myself have a ‘strictly no private stuff’ policy when it comes to using Facebook. As a consequence, user numbers are declining, and the average time spend on Facebook is down 24%. That is huge. If the Cambridge Analytics scandal will turn the psychology of users against using Facebook even more, than that is certainly a net positive as far as I am concerned.

Still, one has to ask why this particular case sparks so much outrage. One cannot help but get the impression that the real “crime” of Cambridge Analytics was to work for the wrong team in the last US election. What if they had worked for the Clinton campaign, or to promote an officially accepted cause, like climate change? I am willing to bet anything that in that case, we would have never heard much about it. And if we did, the media would have presented Cambridge Analytics in a very different, much more positive, light.

In fact, we don’t really have to wonder about this. As a number of commentators have pointed out, Obama employed very similar advertisement tactics in the 2012 election. This was not a big scandal at all. No one seemed to have be bothered by it. And the difference between the two cases is clear – advertising the election of Obama is officially approved, while advertising Trump is not.

All of this makes it increasingly obvious that the domination of distributing content online by a very few big players is a real problem. It gives governments a handle on attempting to control the narrative. Making distributers of information responsible for the media content on their networks is a quite clever stroke of genius. That way, we will likely overshoot on the censorship side, without the government having to formally make it look like they are clamping down on freedom of speech. But this strategy would not be so easily possible if it wasn’t for the fact that we have quasi social media monopolies.

What can be done about it? I have heard a lot of people suggesting that we need to get the government involved in controlling these monopolistic platforms. This would apparently guarantee more fairness. At the very least there should be strict regulations.

Unsurprisingly, this seems like a really bad idea to me. I really do believe that the government is the real villain in all of this. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were not too bother censoring information before the state threatened them, and made a lot of noise about it. Putting the state officially in charge of these platform would only make things a lot worse.

It seems that the only possible answer to this problem is more consumer responsibility. Users need to demand less interference, and move to alternative platforms if possible. This is certainly easier said than done. The reason why there are so few players in this field is, because one of the major benefits of big platforms is a network effect. As consumers, we want to have as easy as possible access to all information. More importantly, content providers want to use platforms on which they can reach a maximum amount of people. If, however, all information are in the same place, we are necessarily talking about a quasi monopoly.

So the only solution seems to be to make a compromise to reduce one’s benefits of a network effect in exchange for having fewer interferences. But this could turn out to be a too big compromise for many people to make. Still, with the degree of interference that we are seeing at the moment, it seems likely that a large enough number of people will eventually make that compromise and move to alternative platforms.

In fact, this is what we are seeing already in the last few months. As mentioned, user time on Facebook is down 24%. Market monopolies don’t tend to last forever. Very few of the biggest major companies from a century ago are still around today. I shell be very surprised if Facebook will still be the dominant platform 20 years from now. At some point users will have enough of it. If nothing else, Facebook will at some point become old and not hip anymore. All the cool kids will be on the new popular platform X.

I witnessed the speed with which such change in psychology can happen myself when I was still living in Germany. Before there was Facebook, another social network called StudiVZ was very popular there. Within a very short time, it was so popular that one had to be on it in order to maintain a normal social life. Then, suddenly, people liked Facebook more and an exodus from StudiVZ began. Within a year, the network went from being so popular that no one could afford not to be on it, to being completely dead. That is how quickly it can go. Something similar happened of course to myspace.

Meaning, if there is any major shift in psychology against Facebook, the social network could very well go from having a quasi monopoly to being out of business very quickly. This seems inconceivable to most people now, and I am not predicting this to happen within the next year. But it seems almost certain to me that social media platforms will be subject to fashions. And that means that at some point in the future the network effect will work against Facebook.

In free markets, consumers have powers and responsibilities. Simply complaining about the policies of a company, without being willing to take action and move to the competition, is usually not very effective. On markets, everyone acts according to incentives. And the big companies have no incentive to resist the influence of governments. An institution that has a monopoly on physical force has the ability to make offers that no one can refuse. We therefore need to educating internet users about their responsibilities as consumers in order to change the psychology against companies that have become too powerful. I am not saying it is easy, but it is the only way, and it can clearly be done.

Video: What is the Libertarian Movement For?

There a few people in the world of libertarianism that require as little an introduction as Brian Micklethwait. As somebody who has been involved in promoting the cause of liberty for a rather long time there is no wonder that when he speaks, people listen.

Brian began his talk with a short exhibition of different books written by libertarians. Including Tom G Parker, Innes Bowen, Alex Singleton and Dominic Frisby. This is one of the great things about listening to Brian, he is an enthusiastic promoter of not just his own ideas but of the British libertarian community. An idea that we would do well to adopt if we are to move forward.

After this impromptu book review, Brian began his talk with the assertion that the libertarian movement is alright. A surprising and welcome vote of confidence given the small number of libertarians in the UK.

When did the libertarian movement begin?

The first point Brian made was that libertarianism in Britain has deep roots. All the way back to the seventeenth century in fact. His reasoning for this is that although many later thinkers of the Enlightenment eschewed the levellers as somewhat embarrassing zealots their ideas this was a mistake. There are many reasons for this. The first being that the questions that people in the seventeenth century were trying to answer were profoundly different to the sorts of questions we are asking now. Whereas in modern Britain we are trying to figure out how much power should the state have, the levellers were preoccupied with the conundrum of ‘who should the state be comprised of’. This profound difference along with the role religion played in that era make it seem distant and incomprehensible but it is not.

Brian went on to say that the ideas of the Levellers came to fruition during the Industrial Revolution. The concept that one has property, and It can be used as the individual sees fit was not invented by the industrialists of the nineteenth century, they inherited an already old and noble tradition.

History aside, Brian makes an important point here.  Libertarianism is an ideological tradition that stretches far back and has greatly improved society. He brings us up to the present day by saying that somewhere in the early 1960s Marxists stopped believing in progress. Instead, they opted for environmentalism and anti-consumerism.  Libertarians are still arguing the case for progress hundreds of years after the smoke began to rise out of Brian’s factories.

How to do libertarianism

Brian’s second point is that in order to do libertarianism well we must avoid the pitfall of ‘we must’. In order to make the movement progress, we should understand that our morals are not for somebody else to follow, but for ourselves. The focus should be on how we plan to make libertarianism better. These combined acts of devotion to the libertarian cause make more of an impact than simply commanding other activists to do as you wish.

He also makes a point about the shape of British Libertarianism. Brian is a decidedly ‘big tent’ libertarian. Willing to embrace others who do not subscribe to his own particular worldview. Having had the opportunity to speak to Brian on many occasion, I know he is not somebody that shies away from expressing an opinion. Yet there is a certain ethos of ‘stop blabbering and just get on with it’ that is rather refreshing.

Conclusion

Ultimately Brain’s talk ended on an uplifting note. He stressed that people should at least enjoy themselves while doing libertarian things. Although applying yourself is important, ploughing all of your life savings into founding a radical anarcho-capitalist magazine and then complaining endlessly when it goes bust after three issues is not going to help the cause of other libertarians. Brian makes the important distinction between bread and babies; bread, when sliced into smaller parts, is still valuable. Whereas babies that are sliced into small chunks are not so valuable…

Essentially make sure that your long-term goals are divisible and achievable by small individual acts. Rather than investing your time and energy on a once in a lifetime splurge. And you might as well have fun while you are doing it!

Does the Future Belong to SJWs?

On the recommendation of a friend, I have been reading The Descent of Man by the artist, sculptor and transvestite Grayson Perry. My friend said to me “if you want to understand modern feminism read this book.”

The book is a mess of internal contradictions. For example, in one chapter, Perry talks about how forced gender roles are terrible. But in the very next chapter, he is explaining how ‘female’ characteristics are inherently positive.

However, there are some interesting points that Perry brings up in his book. There is a theme running right through Grayson Perry’s logic that ‘the future will be a more feminised society.’ In fact, this mantra underpins most of the points that he makes throughout the book. If I had to sum up The Descent of man in a sentence I would say “The era of the strong male figure is disappearing fast, men need to adapt or suffer a lifetime of depression and wasted opportunity.”

Since the late nineteenth century, the challenge for the big ideologies has been to promote their vision of ‘the future’.  Fascism, communism, nationalism and social democracy are all horrific political ideologies. However, they all promised that their ideology alone was the key to unlocking a prosperous future. The communists of the nineteenth century guaranteed a more egalitarian society built on scientific principles. Similarly, the USSR went to extreme lengths to show the world that communism was just as capable of providing new and cutting-edge innovations just like the capitalist west. The Space Race being the most notable example of this.

The modern ‘social justice’ movement is no different. They vow that their vision of the world is the only one that is capable of taking the next step on our journey of human progress.

The nature of modernity is flux and change. Most of the monster ideologues of our recent history have sought to hinder and slow down the maelstrom of the modern world. The social justice oath to equality is just another attempt to pull the brakes on human ingenuity and endeavour.

Imitating the big ideologies of the twentieth century, the social justice movement promises that it alone holds the keys to the future. Yet, just like communism, fascism and nationalism the chronic flux of modernity will be their undoing.

To Mr Perry’s credit, I would not lump him in with the SJW crowd. He raises many important points that I will address in later articles.Yet, there is something oddly familiar about the way he addresses the future. I am really just using this book as a jumping off point… 

The Power Problem

The most stinging critique of Anarcho-Capitalism comes from professor Noam Chomsky when he argues that such a social system would be a sick joke. This is because the result would be the consolidation of power into the hands of a few mega-wealthy individuals. These super-rich elites would then be in a position to coerce the rest of society. This would secure unlimited freedom for a tiny few but virtual slavery for the many.

Here I will argue why that is not the case. Despite his obvious hostility to capitalism; I am it has to be said an admirer of professor Chompsky. This criticism demands that we consider the nature power and how it is used and abused.

In order to fully consider this issue, I will address it in two parts. The first will address what power is and how it relates to individuals. The second will examine the nature of power in politics. I do not believe that a state of virtual slavery would be established in a free society. Yet the standard Anarchist response to this critique is somewhat lacking in sophistication. To say that ‘in a truly capitalist world all individuals will succumb to a harmony is interests’ does not on its own provide a convincing argument.

Interpersonal Power

Being in a position of power is typically defined as ‘the ability to do as one wishes.’ Yet this definition is problematic. I might really want to do something highly illegal but if I follow through with it then I will be swiftly arrested. Clearly, the simple act of behaving in a certain way does not demonstrate power. Furthermore, if an individual is threatened with force unless prompt payment is received. The victim’s utmost desire at that moment may be to hand over the money so that harm does not come to them. Once again simply doing as one wishes does not convey power. Therefore this definition falls far short of acceptable.

We should begin by drawing a distinction between instructive and destructive power. Instructive power is the ability to influence others to act. Whereas destructive power is the ability to stop another individual from acting. Put differently, destructive power is the absence of impediments to one’s actions. Instructive power is possible to repudiate; a person may be influenced to act without any authority being exercised. Consequently, we are left only with destructive power. Indeed, in order to stop a certain act power must be deployed. Clearly, if we are to redefine power the presence of constraints on our behaviour must be taken into consideration.

This distinction between destructive and instructive power seems familiar. This is because it bears a resemblance to Isaiah Berlin’s conception of positive and negative liberty. Concerning this distinction, Hayek is right to point out that many of the most desirable states of being can be defined only negatively. Peace is the absence of war, wealth is the absence of want and liberty is the absence of external restraints. As seen previously destructive power can be defined in a similarly negative way. But is power a desirable thing in the same way that peace, wealth and liberty undoubtedly are? It is to this issue that we now turn.

The desire to accumulate power is for Nietzsche the very essence of being human. He calls this The Will To Power. At first observation this does not sound palatable; No rational being would want to live in a world where everybody strives to dominate their neighbours. Therefore, at this stage, we could rightly argue that power is a purely harmful thing. However, after closer examination, we might conclude that this is not the case.

The ability to stop a tyrant from imposing his will on one’s life is extremely beneficial. Much more so than the ability to persuade the tyrant to do so. On an interpersonal level being able to stop others from exercising undue authority over our lives is most desirable. The Will To Power then, need not be a pernicious doctrine. On the contrary, it would be an essential organ of a functioning civil society. It would be foolish to deny that a certain amount of tension exists in any community. The belief that individuals should live in a state of no tension and eternal harmony is a bizarre utopian idea that we would do well to avoid. The attempt to achieve this ideal has been recorded in blood across history and leaving heaps of corpses in its wake. At least to some degree power can be a beneficial thing.

Finally, we must consider how power is exercised. There has been a recent development in contemporary thinking that suggests oppressive social hierarchies can be enforced subconsciously. The lack of empirical evidence to prove this aside, we can reject this notion out of hand. To accept this doctrine would be to dispose of the individual as the central figure in our enquiry- reducing people to helpless debris in the winds of time. Yet there is some grain of truth in the underlying foundation of this popular concept.

In his Distinctions Pierre Bourdieu outlines the way that the social elite maintains their position at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy by their monopoly on taste. While much of what Bourdieu infers from this theory can be dispensed with, there is an important truth in it. Namely, that power is played out in our everyday lives. If an authority figure gives us a command, and we comply, we legitimise their superior status.

This is distinct from formal authority. If the CEO of a large company gives a command to all of their subordinates they should (in theory) be compelled to obey. However, if the instruction is not met with compliance then the power of that CEO has not been legitimised. Being at the top of a hierarchy does not in itself allow one to exercise authority. Consequently, the way others respond to our demands is more significant than our position in a hierarchy. The conception that there is some natural hierarchy inherent in humankind is incorrect. Indeed, history is littered with examples of ineffectual monarchs led by their subordinates.

We can conclude that in the realm of interpersonal relationships we give license for others to exert power over us when we cease to act as we would really like to. In other words, the powerful figure impedes our ability to act with authenticity. For the purposes of this article, Sartre’s definition of authenticity will be used. Authenticity is a more useful term than ‘wish’. I may wish to put on a polite facade in order to impress a superior. Yet if the person were not a superior I would not have to put on such a show of good manners. Conversely my superior by virtue of their position does not need to be courteous to me. Their power position allows them to be authentic. Therefore the ideal of authenticity must form part of our definition of power.

All of the above considered, my definition of power is as follows: To act authentically, without external impediments or fear of reprisal. 

If we as freedom lovers seek to enhance the interpersonal liberty in society.  We should take seriously the assertion that without a state a cabal of wealthy proto-aristocrats could form such a significant external impediment over the rest of society so that it is less free than before. It is to this scenario that we now turn.

Power in the political realm.

We now move into the political realm. This is essential if we are to evaluate whether an Anarcho-Capitalist society would result in freedom for the few while creating a state of virtual slavery for the many. I will state here that my base units for political action are individuals rather than the nation, class, race, political party etc.

Certainly, the history of political human affairs is often read as a battle for power by rival competing institutions. Detractors of Anarchism claim that in the absence of the state the surviving institutions would accumulate an unwieldy amount of authority. The assertion often made is that while the proposed aim of Anarcho-Capitalism is to maximise the interpersonal liberty of each person. The alleged reality would be the diminishing of individual sovereignty. It is often said that state is needed to ensure that each person’s freedom is respected and not abused by some very wealthy but malicious individual. If this claim is true, then Anarcho-Capitalism as we currently understand it is a grotesque paradox.

The key question seems to be this; if we get rid of the state what happens to the power that used to exist in that society? Professor Chomsky takes the position that this power consolidates around those with the most accumulated wealth who will then work to destroy the liberties of the rest of society. On the face of it, this makes sense. In a capitalist social order, those who accumulate the most capital do indeed exercise more authority than those with fewer resources. Without the state to mediate between the rich and the poor it seems logical that the result would be chronic exploitation. In other words, people are unable to act authentically.

Most Anarchists conclude that this assertion is false (I say most because there are those that claim that such a state of affairs is desirable. We shall turn to them later). But why? As I mentioned earlier to state that ‘capitalism leads to the harmony of all interests’ is over-optimistic and has a certain theological sound to it. My contention is that although such exploitation and dominance are indeed within the realms of possibility it is neither necessary or likely to manifest itself. One is cautious here not to predict the future or delve into an entertaining but ultimately useless blueprint for a fictitious Anarcho-Capitalist society. However, I am able to make my case without delving into fantasy.

Firstly, we should consider legitimacy. For a polity to function its inhabitants need to legitimise it either by compliance or coercion. The point was made earlier that power is played out between individuals in their behaviour, this is also true in politics. What threats and impediments impede the individual’s choices forms the political landscape.

If an Anarcho-Capitalist society is going to work then its inhabitants need to behave in an Anarcho-Capitalist way. This is very rarely stated but I have always considered it to be true. This does not mean that every member should be a fervent ideologue. It simply means that in their lives individuals give legitimacy to free institutions. In practice, this requires that individuals act as an impediment to each other’s accumulation of power and allow each other to act authentically.

But isn’t this a cop-out? Surely the same could be said for Communism? ‘If everybody behaved like a communist then it would surely work’. This was famously championed by Leon Trotsky.  Our response to this should be no. Unlike Communism (or any other totalitarian ideology) Anarcho-Capitalism not only asks but requires us to act authentically. It is the only mode of political organisation to my mind that allows each individual to act with true authenticity. In a free society, individuals need to be prepared to defend our interests against others. Part of this requirement is the realisation that at times societies may be tense and uncomfortable. Yet in an Anarcho-Capitalist society, each of the parties will at least be legal equals when there is no state to weigh in on the side of a favoured individual.

Professor Chomsky’s claim is that those with greater means would have more power than others. Indeed there are those who are less able to defend their interests than others. We now turn to the question of the poor, a central component of professor Chompsky’s criticism. Of course being a Marxist, Chomsky sees a capitalist system as inherently violent and oppressive. The paranoia that Marxists deploy when defining power in a capitalist system is shown in contemporary Gramsci style thinking. For them, every organ of the corporeal realm is a weapon of Bourgeoise control. They state that the rich only become so at the expense of the poor. We would be right to reject such an idea; there is not a finite amount of wealth in the world. However, this does not mean that tension and exploitation are not important issues in our discussion on power.

The state is an ineffective impediment to abuses of power for the poor. Anybody with an iota of common sense can see this. The causes of inequality are difficult to tackle and complex. No government from the least interventionist to the most burgeoning has managed to eradicate poverty and imbalances o power completely. Those that have succeeded in stamping out one sort of penury only end up creating a new kind. The role of the state here is supposed to empower those with little resources against those with vast reserves of wealth but it almost never does. This is because the government is in a sense a great lie. It masquerades as an unblinking monolith that promises stability, certainty and protection. But we all know this is an absurd falsehood. It is natural that people look for certainty in a world of constant flux but in reality, there can be none. This is why those regimes that appear the most sphinx-like and uncompromising crumble the fastest and hardest. It is truly remarkable that so many such as professor Chomsky still cling to the belief that the state can ever really stand in the defence of the downtrodden.

Libertarians often seem to get confused here. Sometimes they suggest that the state has god-like levels of influence in our lives and people are mere playthings in the hands of politicians. Yet on other occasions, they claim that the state has no real power at all to influence us. I believe that the better of these two positions is undoubtedly the latter.

The belief that a modern state acts in the interests of powerless individuals is tragic and desperate. For people to truly be an effective check on each other’s power they need to act in a liberated fashion. Once we reject the Marxist and statist dogmas that encompass our discussion on power relations we leave ourselves open to different interpretations of power. If our goal is to enhance the ability of all to be authentic then Anarchism should by no means a controversial doctrine. One of the key tenants of Libertarianism (as well as Anarchism) is that we hold individuals and large institutions to the same moral standards. Therefore, what moral constraints apply to individuals may also apply to large institutions. We can surely conclude that institutions like the state possess The Will to Power. Surely if we are interested in the freedom of each person then erecting a system of laws, rules and customs that inhibit the power accruing tendencies of each of us would be most beneficial.

Conclusions

There are some who seem to believe that getting rid of the state means getting rid of the power which that state exercised. This is only true to an extent, in fact in an Anarcho-Capitalist society it should matter greatly what institutions are functioning effectively and what else should be done to increase freedom of those who live in that community. In order to stop power accumulating in the hands of despotic individuals, it is essential that people actively work to defend their own liberty and preserve their individual sovereignty. As has been previously stated in order for an anarchist society to function its inhabitants need to act in an anarchist way. It is not enough to say (as others have done) that the rich will not exploit the poor because it is not in their self-interest. We should not have reservations about having a gold standard of a functioning free society.

In a wealthy society, it is unlikely that those with a comfortable existence will tolerate desperate poverty and squalor in their locality. In The Empire of Things the historian Frank Trentman argues that when the base level of comfort of a society increases, it’s tolerance for seeing suffering decreases. The world is necessarily unequal, but it is highly unlikely that a free society could stand gaping levels of inequality for too long before it’s stability becomes questionable. The poor will come to resent the rich and the comfortably off would get sick of seeing extreme hardship. Others are bound to disagree with me here, but it is, for this reason, some sort of base level voluntary support for those in tough times would be a desirable feature to protect individual liberty. Those communities that do not provide such support would in my view be less efficient anarchist societies. What form this support takes is perhaps best left for another article.

Although total stability in the political realm is impossible it is in our interests that our institutions exist long enough to be flexible and do not shatter at the slightest instance of discord. The stability question is something that many have ignored; most notably Hans Herman Hoppe. His vision of a Propertarian society in my view would last less than a week if put into practice. It is in his conception of a functioning stateless society where each people live in antisocial enclaves at odds with each other is doomed to failure. Rather than preserving the power of individuals to exercise their own self-sovereignty the Propertarian argument would see us be slaves to an absolutist dogma that has little consideration for the real world. Surely we do not believe in a doctrine that does not recognise the lived experience of those who live in it.

If a wealthy person uses their wealth to purposefully impede the life of a less wealthy person then this is an effective affront to their freedom. A certain amount of tension in society may be beneficial to keep people alert to their personal liberty, but too much tension would be counter-intuitive and have the reverse effect.

It is likely that in the Propertarian society that Noam Chomsky’s vision of a super powerful person using their capital to coerce a less powerful multitude would come to fruition. Hoppe makes no attempt to hide his preference for skewed power relations, on the contrary, he actively promotes an idea of ‘natural hierarchy’. As mentioned earlier hierarchy is meaningless unless it is legitimised but we have ruled out instructive power. Leaving nothing left but destructive power- coercion. Only in the mind of the confused could this be considered an acceptable outcome of an Anarchist society.

An Anarchist society that is done properly would not lead to paradise for the few and misery for the many. This is a ‘harmony of interests’ of sorts, but one that relies on culture as well as economics. Professor Chomsky’s warning of ‘private tyranny’ is one we should heed, but it should not force us to abandon our ideas.