Today on MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” co-host Krystal Ball showcased a rather embarrassing misunderstanding of libertarianism, citing Somalia as a “libertarian paradise” and suggesting that society would descend into dirty, violent chaos in the absence of government.
Ball apparently believes (with the superstition of the devout) that, for instance, healthcare services can only be furnished by and through the coercive mechanisms of the state. Such confused ideas emanate from the mistake of seeing the state as a socially progressive quasi-charity, as the result of some social contract by the terms of which we give up certain freedoms as participants in civil society, and in return receive services like police protection, roads, clean water and even health insurance. If Ball took a more careful, historical look, however, she would see that the state is not such an institution, not the result of a legitimate agreement, not genuinely interested in the plight of the poor or those workers she’s so worried about.
American radicals like Benjamin Tucker, Ezra Heywood and Joshua King Ingalls probed more deeply and understood the state in its historical and theoretical context; they worried about many of the same concerns as Ball. Their lives were intimately bound up in the defense of labor against capital, in social and economic justice and advancing the causes of society’s marginalized groups. It is interesting, then, to observe someone like Ball — obviously unfamiliar with radical history and movements — so sweepingly identify all of libertarianism as right-wing. One tradition of libertarian thought, anarchism, has always regarded the economic and political ruling classes as fundamentally inseparable, and has accordingly looked for the connections between coercive political authority and wealth inequality and exploitation. The state is the consortium of a rich, predatory elite; it guards their interests and creates the structural preconditions for widespread poverty and misery. Ball might ruminate on the words of Joshua King Ingalls, discussing the true origins of the state:
As the boundaries of tribes extended they came into contact with other tribes, upon whom they made war or who made war upon them. Mutual destruction and the possession of the domain and goods was doubtless the purpose of these conflicts. The more warlike destroyed the weaker or less warlike, and appropriated their wealth, as formerly our farmers destroyed the bees to obtain their accumulated honey; but, like them, the warlike tribes soon learned a better way. We have seen, now, what we may class as the primitive form, both of “production and division by usurpation.” Under this most discouraging state of affairs, however, production still went on, evincing the aptitude of mankind even in a savage or semi-savage, for productive industry, notwithstanding the word of our teachers of economics and apologists for existing usurpations; that unless the capitalist and landlord be assured of the lion’s share in the distribution they would not co-operate, and industry must cease.
This form was superseded by another form, in which the lives of the conquered were saved, upon the condition that they would become the bond-slaves of the victors—they, and their children, and their children’s children. This form may be termed chattelism. Under it production and division were quite simplistic problems. Its effect upon the increase of wealth was, no doubt, considerable in comparison with the barbarity which it superseded, and which killed the worker to obtain possession of his product. It was in some respects more considerate to the vanquished, and much more convenient for the predatory class; but it was less favorable to production than might have been expected, for the worker before had the normal incentive to industry, the prospective possession of its fruit, and till the last the hope that he might escape the threatened doom. But as a productive worker, the slave soon sank to the lowest level known to industrial activity—so low that the lash became the resort to stimulate his flagging purpose. To this enslavement and usurpation there was this justification, and this only. The victor could plead that he had saved the life of the vanquished, which was forfeited by the laws of barbaric war, and in consideration of which the victim gave his long-life service and also that of his posterity.