The “Reform” of Kings and Masters

With a troubled eye toward Egypt, and in fidgety counteraction to the political unrest there, Jordan’s King Abdullah has replaced the whole of his cabinet, directing the new prime minister to undertake “true political reforms.” Ever the buzzword of political masters beleaguered by their own crisis-inducing attempts to constrain society, “reform” is the favored mantra of the Cult of the State and its many priests.

The reformist approach — substituting trifling adjustments to the gears of the political machine for any radical alteration — is the castle in the air delusion that mere periodic upkeep can keep said machine running smoothly. If we acquiesce in the approach of mere reform, then — at least for the drivers of the machine — everything will be all right, and we’ll remain, in Franz Oppenheimer’s phrasing, “servile labor motors.”

King Abdullah’s got it half right with his answer to the indignant calls of Jordan’s protesters: Dismissal his government. Of course, rather than letting a good thing stand, the king promptly got to work prodding his ministers’ understudies into their new posts, restoring the engine of exploitation before anyone could notice it was in the shop. The BBC’s coverage of the ferment in Jordan observed that its six million people have been “suffering from the rising food and fuel prices which have affected many of its neighbours,” and that the government hopes to allay frustrations with a new spending package.

It would seem, then, that the Jordanian state is artlessly solicitous about the welfare of its people, but the state’s concessions are scanty next to its sizable cut as overarching middleman. The rising prices referenced in the BBC story, though the state professes to being scandalized by their strains, are the reverberations of an economic system designed to garrote access to valuable resources.

As the obsequious instrument of ruling elites, the state fixes the flow of economic goods in order to allow those elites to take advantage of the high prices they’ve engineered. In the absence of extensive subsidization of monopolists who are granted a completely unjustified right to stockpile capital — that is, in a real free market — the levels of injustice and inefficiency we see today would be unknown.

As an alternative to perfunctory and ultimately futile “reforms,” the state could easily remedy the indispositions of its economic model simply by discharging not only a few of its agents, but by dissolving itself. Naturally, though, it has no interest in excising itself from economic affairs, of doing away with a program whereby, as Kropotkin said, “the workers are of no account.” It prefers instead to interject wherever it can, taxing a bit here, fencing off supplies there, sculpting a comfortable stronghold behind which the political class can live off of others’ industry.

The only protests someone like King Abdullah might actually heed are those of the companies he apparently “privatized” upon his ascension to the throne. The policies that naively earnest reformers hope to consummate through the violence of the state will never, in the end game, look very much like the wholehearted attempts at social reorganization they start as. The political process, because of its most basic and essential constitution, will envenom every good thing, lacing it with the overriding interests of the ruling class.

Free markets, in contrast, lacking in all of the inherent failings of politics, catalyze the kinds of mutually-beneficial transactions in goods and in ideas that draw society forward in true progress, not the whitewashed wastefulness of the state-corporate economy. “[T]he most lamentable spectacle to-day,” observed Benjamin Tucker, “next to rampant despotism itself, is the short-sighted reformer attempting to secure greater liberty by advocating the method of more authority, more intervention, more government.”

The great, fundamental difficulty for anarchists is, and always has been, answering the question of how to literally reform society into a just, free and peaceful one without appealing to the “proper channels” of statism. Whatever the answer is, we have all of history to show that it isn’t the counterfeit reform of the political process.

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