Laurance Labadie’s “Reflections on Socio-Economic Evolution”

Reflections on Socio-Economic Evolution

Aside from various forms of robbery, legal and illegal, there are three methods by which humans get sustenance in their relations with others—parasitism, benevolence, and reciprocity.

Parasitism is the inescapable relation between mother and child which is absolutely essential for the prolongation of life. It is characterized by consuming what one has not produced. The urge for the furnishing of sustenance on this basis is love. The process of maturing is to depart from the getting of something for nothing and to be self-supporting as soon as possible.

Benevolence is a species of action motivated by sympathy—the ability of putting yourself in the other fellow’s place. In this form of receiving without giving there begins to emerge the calculation of whether the recipient is deserving. Also does the expectation of reciprocity begin to appear. These judgments are made by, and are the sole prerogative of, the giver. Benevolence loses its beneficial features when it is organized, when it is compulsory on the part of the donor, and also when the attempt is made to try to incorporate it by indoctrination into the mores of a civilized order.

Reciprocity is the natural and normal relation between sane adult human beings. It depends upon a calculation of the efforts and benefits involved. These calculations are the very aim and essence of a market economy, the object being the attainment of equity via competition.

In these three forms of human relations we see being developed transfers of physical benefit, and mental attitudes, corresponding to the growth out of complete helplessness toward a condition of relative self-sufficiency.

In terms of social evolution, robbery may be considered a form of maintaining sustenance in certain stages of human development, but as productivity and foresight advances it proves to be an uneconomic method of human relations.

Robbery cannot, legally speaking, be generalized as an economic principle. Neither can parasitism or benevolence. Each of these leave out the paramount essential of economic life, viz., production.

Economics is the study of relations which are in the course of men cooperating in satisfying their desires. Robbery, parasitism, and benevolence are necessarily left out of consideration. An economics of non-producers is an absurdity. Non-producers, in a society, must get their living from someone else, and it makes all the difference in the world whether recipients are the objects of voluntary and spontaneous actions of their parents, relatives, neighbors and friends, or whether the satisfaction of their consumption needs is to be incorporated into a social system by force (as with the State).

When all forms of private property are abolished, exchange hampered or prohibited, competition wiped out, and money forbidden, the liberty and independence of the individual is gone and there remains a tyranny as totalitarian and despotic as can be imagined.

When people begin to understand that the State originated for predatory purposes and for conquest, and realize that its underlying aim ever since has been to camouflage what in reality is its essential feature of controlling people so that it can arbitrarily rob some for the benefit of others, they will begin to understand the motives and effects of State activity in every quarter of the globe. They will begin to ponder on other alternatives for solving their problems than resort to the State machine. Such a recourse is today almost completely absent from the minds of reformers and revolutionists. In fact, subtract the idea of the State as an implementer of social policy from the minds of nearly all those bent on reform and their thinking process would be immediately halted.

Likewise, take the ideas of parasitism, benevolence, and (legal) robbery from just about the same minds and they can hardly conceive of a workable social order. Such is the condition of reform today that hardly any of the reform elements think in terms other than “social security” achieved thru the operations of the paternalistic State. In terms of psychology it points to various stages of immaturity, to minds incapable of thinking objectively of the conditions and imperative necessary for a sane society. The lack of mature thinking is bringing us to the brink of catastrophe.

Commentary – Eric Fleischmann:

The latest addition to the Laurance Labadie Archival Project, “Reflections on Socio-Economic Evolution,” was most likely published at some point in the early to mid-1940s by the International Anarchist Group of Detroit in combination with his “Economics of Liberty,” then reproduced in Ralph Myers Publisher’s Laurance Labadie: Selected Essays in 1978, and recently made available at The Anarchist Library. For all intents and purposes, it could have been written by a devout follower of Adam Smith. Like Smith, Labadie holds that there exist sympathetic features in human beings that drive us to act at least ostensibly altruistically. The former writes in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that “[h]ow selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. . . . As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation.” But, also like Smith, Labadie holds these views simultaneously with a theory of collective order emerging from the market via individual self-interest; think of the classic metaphor of the invisible hand of the market.

It could be argued that this combination of views are the fundamental core of classical liberalism and all its descendant* ideologies—including Labadie’s individualist anarchism. That is: human beings have a wide variety of inclinations, some empathic and some egoistical (and, of course, some entirely destructive), but it is always best to bet on humans being selfish rather than altruistic in order to mitigate those wholly destructive drives. This would seem to explain what draws Labadie to the combination of Stirnerite egoism and free market economics first introduced by Benjamin Tucker. For Stirner, as David Leopold writes for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy… 

morality involves the positing of obligations to behave in certain fixed ways. As a result, he rejects morality as incompatible with egoism properly understood. However, this rejection of morality is not grounded in the rejection of values as such, but in the affirmation of what might be called non-moral goods. That is, Stirner allows that there are actions and desires which, although not moral in his sense (because they do not involve obligations to others), are nonetheless to be assessed positively.

Similarly, Labadie seems to be committed to the study of free market economics on the basis that it mitigates the primacy of violence while not overtly making moral claims and focusing instead on voluntary exchange and freed production to meet subjective desires; it “is the study of relations which are in the course of men cooperating in satisfying their desires.” Thus, following these combined schools of thought, Labadie argues for an organization of society that certainly allows for gifts, “voluntary and spontaneous actions of . . . parents, relatives, neighbors and friends” and the “parasitic” but essential “relation between mother and child”—the baseline non-transactional cooperation of any society that David Graeber terms the “communism of everyday life”—but functions principally through the non-moral good of voluntary and mutualistic activities motivated by self-interest.

Labadie’s combined Smithian-influenced free market economic and Stirnerite egoism is not purely conjecture, as it is doubly reinforced by Labadie writing the following in a short piece on Stirner’s economic views:

I cannot now remember and furnish the reference, but I have read somewhere that Stirner translated Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” into German. There is little or no question that he realized that for a “free economy” to work satisfactorily, it was positively necessary that competition be given the largest scope of operation. Which means that opportunity to produce and exchange needed to be equitable. In other words, it demanded an equitable access to land. 1) He certainly understood that opportunities to exchange products without being held up by financial monopolies was also an essential prerequisite.

And, regardless of its influences, this piece offers immense insight into Labadie’s beliefs regarding human nature and the practical free market applications of his deep pessimism toward humanity.

*Note: the author has changed “derivative” to “descendant” so as to more accurately present their position. Amended 12/13/21.

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