Missing Comma: Gold Scared

In 2013, I noted a rise in stories about so-called “Republican Anarchists.” Articles appearing in every publication and website from the Huffington Post to the New York Times decried the emergence of these Harry Reid-coined “anti-statists.” At the time it seemed like just another annoying turn of phrase that was popular in the moment but wouldn’t really amount to much in terms of cultural staying power. Other anarchists, like Wayne Price, noticed the same phenomenon.

Price wrote at Infoshop:

Historically this is very unusual. Far-rightists have usually been called “conservatives.” (They are rarely called the more accurate term, “reactionaries” — those who want to go backward.) Those in the center or the left may call them other names, such as “nuts” or “fascists.” (They are mostly not “fascists” in the sense of wanting to overthrow bourgeois democracy and replace it with a rightwing dictatorship — but they shade into such people.) But they were rarely, if ever, called “anarchists.” Why now?

There may be three reasons. One is that the real anarchist movement has grown and impacted on popular consciousness. Anarchists were part of the Occupy movement. Calling rightists “anarchists” manages to smear them with the conventional opprobrium of the left-wing, masked, bomb-throwing, window-smashing, anarchists (as widely pictured). Simultaneously it smears real anarchists with the opprobrium of the far-right politicians. For once, the Democrats have turned the tables on the Republicans. After all, the latter regularly denounce Obama and the Democrats as “socialists,” or even “communists” or “Marxists” (leaving aside “Muslims”). If only.

A second reason is that the far-right is loudly “anti-statist,” due to its supposed love of “liberty” and “freedom” (but not “democracy” and certainly not “equality”). The newspapers refer to them as “libertarians,” meaning pro-capitalist anti-statists (almost no one knows that “libertarian” once meant socialist-anarchist, and still does in much of the world). They declare, in the famous words of President Ronald Reagan, “The government is not the solution; the government is the problem.” They claim they oppose Obama’s Affordable Care Act because they want “to keep government out of health care.”

A third reason, I suspect, was that the far-rightists were generally acting in a destructive, uncompromising, and chaotic fashion. For the Democratic politicians and editorialists, this brought to mind the behavior of the “anarchic” anarchists, who are supposedly committed to chaos, destruction, and ruin.

While I suspect Price and I disagree on certain things, I came to the same conclusion:

It is disingenuous to call Republicans anarchists, as articles in New York Magazine, the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, New York Times and OpenDemocracy have all done within the last year. Why? The answer is simple: despite their flirtation with (often the most basic or vulgar) libertarianism, Republicans love the State. Specifically, they love the aspects of the State that anarchists loathe most. Anarchists wouldn’t clamor for war on public radio, as John McCain did yesterday; they wouldn’t call for closed borders and the expulsion of undocumented immigrants, as people like Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer do on a near-constant basis. Perhaps vitally, they wouldn’t be running for Congress in the first place.

But there is a larger undercurrent here that hasn’t really become visible until recently.

Natasha Petrova wrote the first part of her response to Lynn Stuart Parramore’s recent Alternet piece, “Three Things That Make Libertarians’ Heads Explode,” this week. She’s dissecting the article in her blog over the course of the next few weeks, but I wanted to bring up a larger metanarrative that she hinted to:

[Parramore] evidences no awareness of the existence of left-wing market anarchists or any other type of libertarian leftist. In her world, the only libertarians that exist are the Reason Magazine or right-wing variety.

This type of article has become extremely popular in recent months. Following the recent potentially-botched Newsweek article on the founder of Bitcoin, Salon published an article by Andrew Leonard sneering at anyone who viewed the cryptocurrency with a libertarian lens: “Sorry, libertarians: Your dream of a Bitcoin paradise are officially dead and gone.”

Other examples – just at Salon alone – include:

Additionally, Pando Daily writers Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, formerly of NSFWCorp, have used their platforms to go after various columnists and journalists for the grievous crime of being a so-called libertarian; from 2010 to now, Ames and Levine wrote several articles about Washington Post writer Radley Balko, including a recent article about how Balko was a member of the Cato Institute and therefore his journalistic work on the police state is invalid. Their nascent feud with Glenn Greenwald and First Look Media is also worth noting for the same reason.

What is this phenomenon? Why, all of a sudden, are some progressives – who don’t usually even disavow capitalism in the first place – so interested in whether someone identifies as a libertarian or not? It seems like the surest way to get paid in progressive media is to write about the inanity and/or evils of libertarianism – to manufacture a “gold scare” that obfuscates the complex web of issues and ideologies that comprise “libertarianism” and combines them into one gelatinous monolith. It’s great for page views.

While the implications of any term ending in “scare” sound serious, recalling imagery of a time where anarchists and other radicals were run out of the country on threat of death, this gold scare is, at best, amusing and at worst, slightly irritating.

Even socialist publication Jacobin has commented on this odd obsession with libertarianism:

One should not have any illusions that critics of the national security state all share socialist politics. But we should judge these critics by what they say and do and what their political impact is. An endless inquisition into hidden beliefs and motives, and the attempt to unmask a devious libertarian hidden agenda, makes for a satisfying purity politics for those who want to justify their own inaction. But it does nothing to contest the predatory fusion of state and capital that confronts us today, which must be confronted in the government, the workplace, and many other places besides.

Let’s be clear: Libertarianism is no monolith. Jeffrey Tucker’s recent article on “brutalism vs. humanitarianism” proves that there’s a lot we disagree on, just in terms of how far we think libertarianism should go. Past the “do we need liberty” question, there isn’t much we do actually, unequivocally agree on. So when a progressive writes an article saying, “GASP! All libertarians believe X!” the only appropriate response is laughter.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory