As structures of domination in our society increasingly reveal their true faces, the case for anarchy has never been stronger and the need for anarchy never clearer.
The war machine marches on, raining down death on noncombatants and breeding terrorists. The surveillance state expands its reach. Police violence—against ethnic minorities, against members of marginal and resistant groups, even against dogs—continues unabated despite increasing public attention. Vast numbers of people languish in prison as their families and communities are destroyed. Treaties that are sold as enablers of free trade prove instead to be designed to preserve corporate power and enshrine state-created intellectual property claims. The contest for emperor pits a vindictive, narcissistic loose canon who urges the murder of terrorists’ families, the deportation of peaceful workers, and the punishment of firms that seek to produce as efficiently as possible against a technocratic hyper-hawk who’s never met a war she didn’t like, who hailed the murder of Muammar Qadhafi by crowing, “We came. We saw. He died,” and who happily carries water for her corporate cronies.
The fact that the state wears no clothes seems inescapable.
Criticisms of the imperial status quo come from multiple quarters. The anti-imperialist wing of the statist left damns war and empire and corporatism. But its members seem too quickly to assume that a state apparatus that can’t be trusted to avoid imperial mischief abroad can somehow be trusted to oversee the economy at home, that the corporate influence that drives much foreign intervention needn’t affect domestic policy-making, and that central planners can outperform the order created through ordinary people’s consensual interactions.
The anti-imperial right, including paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians, similarly, and rightly, challenges war and empire and corporatism. But some paleoconservatives seem too willing to embrace xenophobic nationalism, favoring trade barriers and immigration restrictions. And some appear wedded to a social conservatism that rejects liberation for women and seeks to marginalize LGBTQ people. Some paleolibertarians can unfortunately be seen providing defenses of immigration restrictions and the exclusion of sexual minorities, and even sometimes allying with unsavory adherents of the alt-right.
So the importance of a different voice seems obvious, a voice that rejects war and empire and corporatism and that also embraces the liberating power of markets—truly freed markets, liberated from distorting corporatist privilege—and the merits of genuinely inclusive community. The left market anarchist project embodied in the work of the Center for a Stateless Society does just that.
For ten years, the Center has powerfully and passionately kept alive the radical libertarian tradition. It has sought to emphasize that figures as diverse as Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Henry George, Herbert Spencer, Voltairine de Cleyre, Albert Jay Nock, and Karl Hess were not, as many of them are today naively taken to be, partisans of the right but rather standard-bearers for the radical left. The Center has given new life to a vibrant strand of social critique linking support for markets and robust property rights with radical opposition to rather than support for the status quo.
The oddities of New Deal and Cold War American politics led, regrettably, to an unnatural association between American libertarianism and the political right. When figures like Hess sought instead to link libertarianism with the New Left (itself at its best an expression of the anti-authoritarian strand of the American political tradition), they were simply reemphasizing what had been true of libertarianism all along. The Center has done a remarkable job of keeping the perspective embodied in Hess’s radicalism front and center.
The Center’s intellectual vitality has been inescapable, its intellectual impact thoroughly fruitful. Recognizing that I will be overlooking other valuable contributions, I note some that have been especially meaningful to me. Charles Johnson’s careful elaboration of the interconnections between libertarianism-as-non-aggression and a range of normative concerns related to individual choices and social phenomena distinct from aggression has been an immensely valuable contributor to the development of the intellectual rationale for a true culture of freedom. Roderick Long’s exploration of ideas related capitalism and class has helped to undermine (to use his terms) right- and left-conflationism and facilitate a genuinely radical critique of corporatism and state power. Kevin Carson’s careful historical and economic work has illuminated the rise of corporate power and the economic and social viability of liberating, decentralist alternatives.
I speak of what’s personally meaningful, while naming names, because the Center matters to me not only as a site of resistance to prevailing systems of domination but also as a community. I have often reflected on the fact that, a generation ago, those of us committed to the left-libertarian project might well have continued in isolation, occasionally, perhaps, connecting with each other through mimeographed newsletters. C. S. Lewis observed, “We read to know we are not alone,” and my own experience of connecting with the Center highlights for me how correct he was. The information revolution has made it possible for scholars and activists throughout the world to discover each other, to recognize commonalities in their perspectives, to learn from each other, and to form transformative intellectual alliances and friendships. That, at any rate, has been my experience. I am immensely grateful for the camaraderie the Center has offered—for its capacity to serve as something I’ve never otherwise enjoyed, an intellectual home.
My focus here has been on the Anglo-American tradition, both because I know it best and because it has been the source of so many of the Center’s inspirations. But of course the victims of empire most frequently lie beyond the bounds of Anglo-America. And it is thoroughly gratifying to see the intellectual community I celebrate enriched by the contributions of participants from across the globe, from places in which imperial mischief is a fact of life and in which new intellectual visions and strategies for emancipation are very much in demand. The global spread of the left-market-anarchist vision is vital: it cannot be or become or be allowed to appear to be a narrowly North Atlantic preoccupation.
Fortunately, there is no reason to expect it to be. Left market anarchism provides a lens through which a broad range of social phenomena can be seen with unexpected clarity. And as people around the world try out that lens and discern its illuminating power, left-libertarian ideas can continue to spread. I am confident that the Center is poised to play a constructive role in fostering the conversation and activism the dissemination of those ideas will continue to foster.