Who’s Really Being Naive?

It’s quite common for mainstream liberals to dismiss as “naive” and “utopian” the anarchist vision — all varieties of anarchism, not just market anarchism — of a society governed by voluntary associations between free people. Without the state to prevent it, society and the economy will be dominated by the savage, combative, greedy and self-centered.

But if anything is naive and utopian, it’s the view of the state as something that protects ordinary people against big business. If the liberals’ implicit Hobbesian view of human nature is correct, rather than my Kropotkinian view, then we’re all doomed in any case.

So it’s utopian to believe that the ruthless people in charge of businesses will be restrained from making those businesses bigger and bigger at the expense of their competitors, or the ruthless rich will be restrained from getting endlessly richer and richer at the expense of a progressively poor working class and disappearing middle class, by the simple removal of entry barriers and the presence of unfettered competition. But apparently, in the mainstream liberal view of the world, it’s not utopian at all to believe that simple procedural rules and paper restrictions can prevent the state from being controlled by the same ruthless people for their own ends.

Frankly, in terms of gritty realism, I’ll put my belief in the power of market competition to restrain business against their belief in the power of democratic majorities to control the state, any day of the week.

The state, since the beginning of history, has been the instrument of a ruling class. It first came into existence when human predators figured out the peasantry produced a sufficient surplus to be milked like cattle; since then, starting with the king, priests and nobles, moving on to feudal landlords and capitalists, one ruling class after another has been milking us.

It’s utterly naive and utopian to believe a majority of the public can exert meaningful control over the state apparatus. A minority of insiders will always have an advantage in time, attention span, interest, information, and agenda control over those of us on the outside. The average person on the outside only has a limited amount of time or energy for maintaining an interest in politics, after dealing with the primary issues of work and family, friends, and local community. But for the elites that control the state, politics IS a major part of their daily work and social life. Can anything be matched for sheer naive optimism with the belief that, in the long run, we can maintain a higher degree of vigilance over the functioning of the state than they can?

If the state exists as a level of economic control by which a ruling class can profit, you’d better believe the most savage, combative, greedy and self-centered will always have a leg up in gaining control of it. Our only hope, in that case, is that the self-centered savages who gain control of the state will be smart enough to see it as in their self-interest to take good care of us so they can get more work out of us. That’s essentially what happened in the New Deal. The so-called “progressive” policies of the 20th century were brought about, not by democratic pressure (as in the Art Schlesinger received version of history), but in the interest of one faction of the capitalist elite.

So anything done by the state to make our lots more bearable will be done, not because the state is “all of us working together,” but as a side-effect of plutocratic and managerial elites pursuing their own self-interest. Apparently the same people who cannot be trusted in the economic sphere become fully trustworthy when they’re sitting in the “executive committee of the ruling class.”

May the liberals’ illusions rest kindly on them.

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