Ten Years Of Spreading Good Ideas — And Pissing Off Awful People

Although October 10 was the tenth anniversary of Center for a Stateless Society, it’s coming up on the eighth year for me. In December 2008 I was invited to be the Center’s first paid writer, thanks to a donation large enough to cover one research paper and an op-ed. So I wrote a study entitled “Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles,” which was in many ways an abstract of my later book Homebrew Industrial Revolution — and also reflected my rather naive Proudhonian hopes, on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, that the state might take rational action to ease the transition to a post-corporate economy. My first op-ed was “How to Kick Your Friends in the Teeth,” a response to Naomi Klein.

At the time I was skeptical as to how steady funding would be and assumed the writing gig would turn out to be a one-off affair, but it seemed like easy money.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was wrong, obviously, in my hopes that the Obama administration might ease the birth-pangs of post-state and post-capitalist transition, or even represent a brief hiatus in the growth of the warfare-surveillance state comparable to that after Nixon’s resignation. But I was also as wrong as I could be about the future of the Center. Far from being a one-off writing gig, the pieces I wrote that December eight years ago were the first of hundreds. C4SS has since acquired a large cadre of excellent writers and support staff, and distributed thousands of commentary pieces to media outlets around the world (including regular translations into several other languages).

More than anything, our profile in both the libertarian and anarchist movements has grown beyond anything I could remotely have imagined eight years ago.

Left-wing market anarchism had been a modestly important current in the larger anarchist movement going back to the early 19th century:  the classical liberal socialist Thomas Hodgskin, the American individualists, Franz Oppenheimer, Bolton Hall, Ralph Borsodi. And several of us who later coalesced into C4SS were independently developing free market analysis in anti-capitalist directions in the ’90s and early noughts.

I’d published Studies in Mutualist Political Economy four years earlier, and it gained some attention in the legacy libertarian movement thanks to Journal of Libertarian Studies (edited by Roderick Long at the time) doing a symposium issue on it. Roderick himself, as an Auburn University professor with considerable standing in the Austro-libertarian movement, had done a great deal to promote left-libertarian ideas. His body of writing at Libertarian Nation included articles applying market analysis in the interests of workers against employers and tenants against landlords, and defending collective property rights. Two articles of his, especially, stand the test of time: “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class,” and (coauthored with Charles Johnson) “Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Long-time editor Sheldon Richman had been promoting left-libertarian ideas in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty (much to the consternation of FEE’s donor base), and Gary Chartier was doing likewise in the academic world as a professor at La Sierra University.

But the Center for a Stateless Society itself hardly made a splash. Outside a handful of people with atypical inside-baseball knowledge owing to their personal acquaintance with one or another of us, it’s fair to say almost nobody in the libertarian milieux was aware of us.

It’s an understatement to say things have changed. We’ve stepped on a lot of venerable toes within the legacy libertarian movement over the years, and awareness of us there has accordingly grown by several orders of magnitude. And all those toes were badly in need of being stepped — not to say stomped — on. From being a mostly unkown fringe organization, we’ve gone to being perceived as Public Enemy Number One on the libertarian Right. Our involvement in the presentation of an open letter to Saint Ron Paul at a SFL conference, highly critical of his racist, sexist and homophobic associations in the paleocon movement, provoked howls of outrage. We are the primary target of hatred at the alt right blog RightStuff.biz. And — most deliciously! — Walter Block and Hans Hermann Hoppe devoted several minutes of a panel discussion to denouncing us (skip to around minute 25). Hoppe said the left-libertarians at C4SS “have become our” — presumably speaking for the paleo community at Mises.org and LewRockwell.com — “biggest enemies.” And I’m especially proud to say Block added: “Kevin Carson is horrible.”

I welcome their hatred of us. They’re exactly the kind of people whose hatred we want.

We are now in the position of acting, and forcing them to react to us. We are shaping the discourse, and they are reduced to framing their message — badly — in response to us. In the terminology of John Boyd, we’re inside their OODA loop.

In fact the right-libertarians have been reduced to the position of a priesthood defending the dogmas of a dying faith. We left-libertarians, Block said, deserve “a lower rung in hell” because we’ve “read Rothbard” — and still embraced heresy! For these people, their Austrian holy texts are no longer a living body of thought to be critically engaged and developed, but a creed and an exercise in in-group signalling. For that reason — and I say this as someone who’s neither an Austrian nor a Rothbardian — we understand Rothbard better than they do. Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk said of the Ricardians that they were making appeals to authority rather than addressing the actual points at issue between the classical political economists and the marginalists. And the paleo cultists, likewise, sit in their dogmatic torpor scribbling marginal glosses on Mises and Rothbard. “Pie Ludwig domine, dona eis requiem” bonk.

But more importantly, our readership has expanded by many thousands and we’ve become one of the more visible libertarian commentary sites on the Internet. And we’re the single biggest voice out there challenging the mainstream narrative that “free markets” mean corporate rule and that government is a “progressive” restraint on the exploitative power of big business. Every day, we inform people of the fact — or rather, rub their noses in it — that the state is the primary force by which propertied classes, bureaucratic institutions and privileged groups exploit, oppress or extract rents from everybody else:  employers from workers, landlords from tenants, transnational corporations from the Global South, extractive corporations at the expense of environmental degradation, etc. And we show how people are fighting these things (and other things like police abuses) not through the state, but by building the kind of society we want to replace the present regime of exploitation and oppression. These include not just non-capitalist markets but peer-production, natural resource commons, open-source micromanufacturing, Permaculture, alternative currencies, squats and other intentional communities, and networked insurgencies like Occupy, Black Lives Matter and NoDAPL.

We’re accomplishing all this despite our donations being only enough to fund our writers and staff at a fraction of our budgeted pay, because we’re all dedicated to what we do. But with more funding, we could do a lot more. We’d like to get our ideas to a lot more readers. And we’d like to piss off a lot more awful people. Please help us.

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