The Megamachines Are False Specters — A Response To Gelderloos

I think it’s a shame that anarchists don’t write more on either geopolitics or analyses of the future; over the last two centuries our greatest successes have come from our imagination and foresight. For this reason I applaud Peter Gelderloos’ recent attempted forecast, published in a variety of forms by Crimethinc.

There’s much to agree with in Gelderloos’ analysis and I applaud his effort, but there’s nevertheless much in his analysis I find askew.

We could do with more predictive evaluation of geopolitical or institutional forces, and I hope this opens the door to more writing in these arenas by anarchists, but there’s an ever-present danger to such lenses: you start seeing the world primarily in terms of big social structures and miss other critical dynamics — often assuming too much solidity, integrability, or centrality to said social structures. In my opinion Gelderloos’ analysis falls into this trap when considering capitalism, fascism, and technology. To be more specific on each account: he follows a rather marxist notion of capitalism as a unified whole system with a tendency to self-preservation, he frames fascism in terms of dictatorial institutions rather than an ideology of hypernationalism, and he struggles to maintain the dated narrative of a unified technological global social system.

What’s common across these is the projection of solidity to abstractions where the institutional macro structures are privileged as the most relevant causal forces. This glosses over the root dynamics of individuals, ideologies, and tools, treating them in short as mere cogs making up the broader “systems.”

Gelderloos’ analysis of fascism should be the most glaring issue for anarchists since he attempts to break with the longstanding near-consensus in antifascist analysis by instead casting “fascism” purely in terms of dictatorship — a structure of institutions — rather than as an ideology. Gelderloos is correct that fascists are ideological opportunists on a variety of things, for example they really don’t give a shit about economic systems. But it’s profoundly mistaken to assume fascism hasn’t had a stable and coherent ideological core. Fascism is always a hypernationalism, a “might makes right” fetishization of raw power and denial of empathy with beyond one’s tribe, community, or imagined “people.” This doesn’t require a centralized state apparatus, much less one structured in dictatorial terms. The last few decades of fascist permutations have shown clearly that you can have democratic or decentralized variants of fascism (eg “national anarchism”). Indeed these are arguably the most common varieties of fascism today, from the populists of the new European right to the goat sacrificing tribes of the Wolves of Vinland.

Gelderloos demands to know what conceptual clarity is provided by analyzing fascism in ideological and philosophical terms rather than as a specific lost historical moment. Well first of all, it can give us insight into the actual fucking organizing of fascists, or at the very least their descendants. But second of all it’s useful because — despite their opportunism on some fronts — fascists are often refreshingly clearheaded about things in a way liberals cannot afford to be. Liberalism is the tortured grab-bag of contradictions, with capitalism and democracy desperately trying to distract us (and themselves) from the functioning of the existing system. If liberalism is a pack of lies and distractions, fascism infamously doesn’t bother disguising its lies, flak, and prevarication. Fascism is the most confident and explicit expression of the ideology of power itself: Might makes right. Care only about your own. That there is a philosophical position diametrically opposed to anarchism is important and provides a lot of illumination. Fascism clears the air. Just as anarchism is not a fixed blueprint or system, fascism is not a system but a set of values, a motivation and take on power utterly at odds with our own. This means it has just as diverse expressions as anarchist ethics do. But at the end of the day you are either for or opposed to power, you either care about all or just a few. Inevitably the scales tend to fall and everyone is forced — as in the Spanish revolution — to side with anarchism or fascism.

Ideology and philosophy matter. They’re not always post-facto rationalizations of an existing context or system, but often the sincere source of new developments. The problem with lenses as sweeping as geopolitics is you get into the habit of evaluating the behavior and function of institutions and ignore the roots — the actual people and psychologies and patterns of relation that give rise to these structures.

One of the worst legacies the left has infected anarchists with is a totalizing molochian view of capitalism. This often leads to some really skewed predictions when we start freaking about “commodification” (often really just meaning a more fine tuned accounting of certain considerations). A certain type of pop-marxists have convinced many that “commodification” is magically in-differentiable from capitalism per se. Got some commodification? Someone’s keeping finer-grained track of something? Fuck son, you’ve got a bad case of capitalism — with all the attendant things we associate with it, nevermind tracing any specific causality. If you’re filling out an itemized form on a dating site (“commodification of romance!”) somehow that’s class society and workplace hierarchies growing stronger. Never you mind what the causal mechanisms are, think holistically!

This leftist view of capitalism as an unified monolithic megamachine with its own clear plan and needs — rather than conflicting loci of power, orthogonalized mechanisms, and acidic currents of bottom-up market pressures — blinds people to possibilities today and ultimately encourages us to cast our dreams off beyond the veil of a magical revolution. If the abstraction is treated like a cohesive whole, if we treat institutions as the only relevant agents, and ignore everything below as constituent cogs, well then there’s no hope for anything substantively different save via some kind of total break.

For those well and truly spooked with this kind of leftist thinking, there’s ultimately little option besides despair, or a reification of the same old rituals of subcultural community. When the world is filled up with gods like “capitalism” or “civilization” and drained of actual living breathing human beings there’s no hope of salvation, save through some kind of divine intervention.

So something new gets mystified and worshipped, The Revolution, or The Collapse. The Party or The Natural Order.

What gets lost as our attention focuses entirely on these big abstractions is the concrete issues of freedom. What possibilities are available to us in our social relations, in our projects, in our environmental conditions, in the configuration of our bodies?

Gelderloos unfortunately writes,

We are increasingly being sold a transhumanist narrative in which nature and the body are presented as limitations to be overcome. This is the same old Enlightenment ideology that anarchists have fallen for time and again[.]

We’ve “fallen for” transhumanism because it’s fucking correct. Anarchism’s aspirations are not to become fucking stewards of some kind of reactionary “natural order” but to champion positive freedom, to collaboratively expand what is possible rather than retreat to a single blueprint or ecological niche. Those who would tell you to make do with and embrace the current configuration not just of the world but of your body are reactionaries of the highest order.

This endlessly repeated mantra that technology is not methods or blueprints, not even the specific infrastructure being built (which is surely skewed to the interests of power), but is some kind of closely knit together global political system, where every component props up the whole, contains the DNA to inexorably rebuild the whole, is becoming an ever more desperate rhetorical maneuver. While there are certainly countervailing authoritarian pressures in certain normalizations — like bosses in certain sectors of the first world demanding you be on call via a cellphone — what we also see is across the planet is greater diversification among technological forms and uses from the bottom up.

And what conceptual value would there really be in seeing “technology” as a unified system rather than an ecosystem or a vast arena of complex conflict? Sure there’s a kind of mental reassurance in clustering a bunch of mechanisms together and declaring them a unified whole, a sum of their varying parts, a single megamachine. The simplicity of totalitarian thinking has always held an appeal, but that doesn’t make it a correct or an adequate lens for anarchists.

This sort of thinking can cause us to cluster too much together and fail to see the joints, the root causes, or ways things can be reconfigured (for better or far worse).

The danger and constraints of geopolitical analysis — of thinking in terms of the macroscale institutions — is that you risk growing as stupid as they are with as confined a scope of attention. You see things purely in terms of the persistent macrostructure and miss the degrees of freedom among the base, shifting or pushing in ways sometimes deeply antithetical to those macrostructures. Institutions seem invulnerable, infinitely capable of appropriation and cooption… until suddenly they fail.

I suppose it’s better that Gelderloos, in his categorization system, frames transhumanism as a liberal project rather than fascistic or dictatorial one. But of course he views it in terms of technocratic flows among the ruling classes rather than as a sincere grassroots ideology. Thus he misses the intensely anarchistic bent of morphological freedom.

This smacks of nothing so much as a myopic preoccupation with the neoliberal ruling order, with the existing systems and institutions, like Glenn Greenwald’s infamous tendency to dismiss the threat of fascism/nationalism while hectoring us to go back to focusing on the usual capitalists and imperialists.

There is of course a serious danger that neoliberalism will eventually triumph again and use fascism as a specter to better ingrain its own technocratic democratic order, but there is also a threat of nationalism winning, and a nationalist victory is in fact worse. A forthright fascism that isn’t twisted in on itself in obfuscation and delusion can be clumsily brash, but it can also grasp the longer game in a way liberalism almost never lets itself.

The greatest weapon of anarchists is that we see the roots. We are in a long war between power and freedom. Liberalism — being an ideology of the existing order, of existing institutions — can never allow itself to recognize this. And so it is only in the roots, the unruly masses beneath the institutional structures, that we will find the opportunities liberals can’t see or plan for. The little twists and turns, the reconfigurations, the unexpected degrees of freedom, to what liberals (and marxists) see as mere cogs inexorably a part of a whole.

Gelderloos writes,

Capitalism has invaded every corner of our lives, turning us against ourselves. The power of the State has grown exponentially and they have defeated us so many times before.

But we are still here. We are not merely here as marginal spectators whose one good trick — rioting — is increasingly toothless. We have been coursing through the veins of this system, reconfiguring things and pressuring back in countless ways. Central to our success has been our appreciation for the possibilities beneath the feet of the giants and the actual terms of the millennia old conflict we’re all in.

Unfortunately the very leftist legacy of preoccupation with the macrostructures, of reifying them into giant omnipotent monsters can only grasp two equally absurd paths: reform or revolution. Maintaining the monsters or making some kind of magical sudden break with them. This traps radical leftists in the mental cycles of depression.

Anarchism needs to break with this leftist frame and instead view things in more diffuse, myriad, and dynamic terms of erosion and insurrection.

There are no magically holistic megamachines, just complex ecologies and chaotic weather systems. And history is not a drama of giant storms, but of the butterflies beating our wings.

The Man Who Changed Superheroes Forever

Even if you’ve never read a comic book or seen a superhero movie, Stan Lee has affected your life. His storytelling. His approach to heroism. His moral lessons. His ethos, embodied in the catchphrase “Excelsior!” The Mount Rushmore of modern pop culture surely has a spot for him. His imagination permeates humanity’s modern collective imagination. Through the countless worlds and characters he brought to life, Stan Lee will live on longer than most of us.

Younger people mostly know Stan Lee from his unforgettable, 18-year string of cameos in Marvel films, especially the MCU. Sadly and poetically, his likely final cameo is already filmed for the upcoming untitled Avengers film, which is the finale to the MCU’s Three Phase, 22-movie, 11-year saga. My own early memories of Stan Lee come from the 90s Marvel cartoons: “Fantastic Four,” where “Mr. Marvel” himself would enthusiastically introduce each episode to the viewer, and “Spider-Man,” where our hero meets the real Stan Lee in a cross-dimension finale, equal parts heartfelt and meta.

First-Generation Marvel fans surely remember Stan Lee from the 60s comics bookended by his exuberant introductions and editorial columns, as well as the broader “superhero spokesman” public persona he developed at conventions and college campuses (no doubt helping to salvage a comics industry plagued by PR troubles and government censorship in the 50s).

If you’re here to learn about Stan Lee’s life as a comics writer, especially his complex legacy with his creative collaborators (after all, comics are primarily a visual art form), I strongly recommend you read the informative and respectful obituaries written by Spencer Ackerman and Jeet Heer. It would be unjust and ahistorical to fail to note how Lee’s artists (particularly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) were just as much, if not more, central to Marvel’s legacy and that Lee ultimately added the dialogue and written ideas onto their drawings and visual ideas.

While I don’t think the contributions of the artist and the writer can be totally disentangled in a meaningful way, I do think it’s mostly Stan Lee as the editor who seemed to guide the broad philosophy and ethos of 60s Marvel storytelling. This influence shows across all the artists (and is then articulated it in the characters’ thoughts and words), and it was Stan Lee’s contributions that made the most lasting changes to superheroes.

It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary Marvel’s 60s lineup — Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, etc. — was for the superhero genre. Before, superheroes were more like parental figures, buff cardboard cut-outs without much real human personality or individuality. Side-kicks like Robin were created so the young readers could identify with someone, while Batman could tell them what to do, how to act, who to respect, and when to buy war bonds.

But in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in direct subversion of the side-kick trope. Now, the side-kick was the superhero. Young readers no longer imagined themselves fighting alongside, and taking orders from, the superhero. Instead, the reader was the superhero. The superhero’s struggles were their struggles. The superhero’s world was their world. The superhero’s moral quandaries were their moral quandaries. Lee pushed for Spider-Man to be an ordinary teenager first, and superhero second. Likewise, the Fantastic Four was an ordinary family first, and superhero team second (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough*). And the Hulk was a guy with anger issues first, and superhero…barely ever.

By subverting the genre expectations set up by their Golden Age predecessors, Lee, Ditko, Kirby, and company brought superheroes down to Earth in the Silver Age. They made them relatable, vulnerable, flesh-and-blood people with whom we could identify and learn from, not through obediently taking orders, but through sharing their experiences, using our empathy, and achieving an emotional catharsis. Superheroes were transformed from two-dimensional mouthpieces for authority into three-dimensional weirdos, teenagers, and outcasts. Their stories were transformed from unabashed wish-fulfillment escapism into something that more closely resembled the real world, including its strife and failure. 

Aristotle was basically right that art can help us expand our understanding and reflect on our own life. By stepping outside our ordinary perspective and experiencing things through the eyes of fictional characters, we can discover things about both the world and ourselves. Aristotle placed moral learning at the center of his ethical theory, which is why he heavily emphasized the importance of tragedy in his writings on aesthetics. As creatures of both imagination and habit, art can dispose us to act more virtuously or more viciously. And through tragic art, we learn moral lessons central to the human condition; lessons about perseverance, loss, triumph, fear, acceptance, power, and responsibility. Using the comic book medium and the superhero genre to teach these lessons is one of the most aesthetically important and influential pop culture innovations of the last 100 years.

Where the comics creators of the 30s and 40s seemed to agree more with the views expounded in Plato’s Republic, that art was intellectually impotent and morally shallow, Stan Lee sided with Aristotle. What now seems like an obviously perfect fit — especially since the superhero genre was sparked by the Hercules-inspired Superman and infused with the epic heroism of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology ever since — was groundbreaking. By applying Aristotle’s ancient insights to the superhero genre, Stan Lee changed the world. Now, young readers were able to relate to, and learn deep insights from, their heroes. After their Aristotelian turn, superheroes reached a new echelon in American pop culture. Slowly but surely, they went from cheap pulp rags to modern folklore.

Shared art can shed light on a culture and how its people think about the events that shape them, process collective trauma, and (hopefully) achieve collective catharsis. During “Hollywood’s Golden Age,” not coincidentally coinciding with the Great Depression and World War 2, people found comfort in escapist films: mostly adventure, romance, comedy, cartoons, and propagandistic war movies, populated by larger than life heroes like Robin Hood and Rick Blaine. But by the time of the counterculture and Civil Rights movements of the 60s and 70s, the “New Hollywood” style took over in response to the need for a different kind of collective catharsis. Audiences wanted realistic violence, risque sex, up-close criminality, and the brutality of war presented in movies populated by grounded and relatable heroes like Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider’s freewheeling stoner motorcyclists, Wyatt and Billy.

Like Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Golden Age of Comics — which spawned Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America — let depression and wartime audiences escape into stories of wish fulfillment. If Rick Blaine joining the war effort was the great wartime hero, surely the great wartime superhero was Captain America, fulfilling the wish of toppling Hitler with a single punch. Historically a medium for young people, comics avoided the dark grittiness of 60s movies. But like filmgoers, comics-readers during the era of counterculture and civil rights demanded more grounded heroes and stories with more substance. Stan Lee recognized that and infused the Marvel Universe with the perfect balance of moralizing and escapism, message and story, philosophy and legend.

Lee, Kirby, Ditko and company envisioned the fantasy and sci-fi elements of the superhero genre as vehicles to explore more substantive issues through symbolism, subtext, and melodrama. Mutants were victims of bigotry and the X-Men sparred with the Brotherhood of Mutants over an ideological disagreement about when violence was justified in fighting oppression. The Fantastic Four’s abilities were metaphors for their psychological struggles and personas (Reed stretched himself too thin with work, Sue felt invisible, Johnny was a hothead, Ben felt like a monster). The Hulk was a part of Bruce Banner’s personality that he couldn’t control and which fed on his rage. Captain America, who was more of a Rick Blaine-style propagandistic hero when he was created in the 40s, was revived as a “man out of time” who eventually lost his patriotism. Marvel readers got to see real people talking about real issues.

I think the broad tonal and stylistic differences between the Greatest Generation’s superheroes and Gen X’s superheroes explains part of why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has consistently outdone the DC Extended Universe. While the influence of Silver Age Marvel was felt by the whole genre in due time, DC’s major characters — Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman — still carry heavy stylistic and tonal baggage from their Golden Age origins in the form of more distant, unassailable personas and God-like qualities and worlds. Yes, the movie-makers matter. But certain characters and source material naturally gravitate towards certain kinds of stories and tones.

The MCU has brought to life a familiar world inhabited by unceasingly human characters — with all the heavy emotion and passion that sprung from Kirby’s and Ditko’s pencils and all the relatable and inspiring dialogue that sprung from Stan Lee’s pen. It’s no coincidence that the most highly praised aspect of the MCU is the casting (which makes up for the films’ defects, at least according to the box office). It is experiencing those very characters on the big screen that is the most joyful and wondrous part of it all.

It’s not surprising that when Hollywood was ready to combine good CGI with heavily-branded intellectual property, it’s the 60s Marvel Universe that would generate the biggest movies of all time and ascend to a sort of post-9/11 American secular mythology. Indeed, Stan’s characters have much to teach us about hope in the wake of tragedy and strength in the face of crisis. But they also have much to teach us about power and responsibility while the longest war in our history rages on. They can teach us about innocence and privacy while our civil liberties are trashed, and about love and acceptance while immigrants and minorities are scapegoated.

I don’t wish to imagine how dreary modern pop-culture would be absent the influence of Stan Lee and his unwavering trust in young readers, his confidence in the cathartic and educational potential of comic books, his passionate belief in the moral power of superheroes, his life-long lessons about the twin nature of power and responsibility, and his countless tales of love triumphing over hate. Our world is just as much a product of art as art is a product of our world. I owe much of my world to Stan Lee. The man that changed superheroes forever also changed people forever.

Bring C4SS to LibertyCon 2019!

The Center for a Stateless Society wants to bring about a world where individuals are liberated from oppressive states, structural poverty, and social injustice. We use academic studies, book reviews, opinion editorials, and social media to spread left-wing market anarchist ideas far and wide.

Students For Liberty’s LibertyCon (January 17-20) is the year’s premier gathering of libertarian minds from all over the world – and C4SS is a mere $750 away from getting an exhibitor table at this event. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote radical left market anarchist ideas among libertarians from around the globe.

Every penny counts and the Center appreciates any and all help you are willing to give. Let’s get C4SS to LibertyCon and start building the new world in the shell of the old!

Donate Here

Kevin Carson on Liberty Chronicles

Yesterday C4SS’s own Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory, Kevin Carson, appeared on the popular libertarian podcast Liberty Chronicles, produced by

Together with podcast host Dr. Anthony Comegna, Kevin discusses the possibility of a post-capitalist world, the nature of capitalism as an economic system, and market alternatives to capitalist economics. Listen below, or at

Reign of Fire

Are the wildfires that have been devastating California a gift from government?  So argues William Finnegan in a recent article, “California Burning.”

According to Finnegan, the seeds of disaster were planted when the mission of the U.S. Forest Service was expanded in the early decades of the 20th century:

The Forest Service, no longer just a land steward, became the federal fire department for the nation’s wildlands. Its policy was total suppression of fires …. Some experienced foresters saw problems with this policy. It spoke soothingly to public fears, but periodic lightning-strike fires are an important feature of many ecosystems, particularly in the American West. Some ‘light burning,’ they suggested, would at least be needed to prevent major fires. William Greeley, the chief of the Forest Service in the 1920s, dismissed this idea as ‘Paiute forestry.’

Finnegan explains the “Paiute” reference:

Native Americans had used seasonal burning for many purposes, including hunting, clearing trails, managing crops, stimulating new plant growth, and fireproofing areas around their settlements. The North American ‘wilderness’ encountered by white explorers and early settlers was in many cases already a heavily managed, deliberately diversified landscape.

These facts incidentally give the lie to the common notion that American indigenous peoples were not entitled to property claims to their lands because they had not engaged in sufficiently transformative labor upon them.

Greeley’s sneering dismissal of ‘Paiute forestry’ was ill-placed. As Finnegan reports:

The total suppression policy of the Forest Service and its allies (the National Park Service, for instance) was exceptionally successful, reducing burned acreage by 90 percent, and thus remaking the landscape again — creating what Paul Hessburg, a research ecologist at the Forest Service, calls an ‘epidemic of trees.’

Preserving trees was not, however, the goal of the Forest Service, which worked closely with timber companies to clear-cut enormous swaths of old-growth forest. (Greeley, when he left public service, joined the timber barons.) The idea was to harvest the old trees and replace them with more efficiently managed and profitable forests. This created a dramatically more flammable landscape.

In other words, an alliance between big business and big government is responsible for rendering America’s wilderness areas exceptionally vulnerable to massive wildfires.

How to Support Striking Prisoners

Starting August 21st, prisoners nationwide went on strike, demanding better working and living conditions. There are currently strike actions confirmed at: Northwest Detention Center, Georgia State Prison, Broad River Correctional Institution, Lee Correctional Institution, McCormick Correctional Institution, Turbeville Correctional Institute, Kershaw Correctional Institution, Lieber Correctional Institution, Hyde Correctional Institution, New Folsom Prison, Toledo Correctional Institution, Wabash Valley Correctional Institution, Lea County Correctional Institution, Charlotte Correctional Institution, Dade Correctional Institution, Franklin Correctional Institution, Holmes Correctional Institution, Apalachee Correctional, Burnside County Jail, Stiles Unit, and Michael Unit, with more suspected prisoner strike activities being silenced to outsiders, and hundreds of solidarity actions continuing to happen nationwide among outside supporters. Going into week three it is important to assess where we are at and how we can help efforts moving forward.

Aside from solidarity actions such as banner drops, leafleting, business boycotts, divestment campaigns, noise demos, and other forms of solidarity protest, we can also provide much needed resources behind the scenes. Write letters to striking prisoners, coordinate and participate in phone zaps, and support the strike fund.

One of the most important forms of communication in this campaign has been letter writing. Most of the work of groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) consists of corresponding with inmate organizers via mail, and checking in on them and their needs as they organize behind bars. On their website, IWOC has a list of prisoners who are currently striking and would love to hear from you. Write them and let them know they are not alone. Let them know that you are here to help however you can. Knowing they have the support of those on the outside keeps them strong and regular correspondence lets guards know that people are keeping tabs on them.

Phone zaps have also been an indispensable tactic during this strike and others before it. Phone zaps let their targets know that folks are paying attention and are outraged. It lets them know that there is public support for these demands and that they are not going away anytime soon. Phone zaps have been used to halt the torture of prisoners, convince politicians to change their stances, and harass business owners and other public figures into amending their practices. An updated list of phone zap campaigns can be found here.

Finally, if nothing else, throw a few dollars into the official strike fund and/or spread it around to those who will. In the aftermath of these types of actions, many prisoners face state repression and will need things like legal help and other resources. The groups involved in the fundraiser include not only IWOC but also Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, San Francisco Bay View, and the Anarchist Black Cross who will use that money to continue to organize to support prisoner efforts to organize for their own freedom.

These three simple actions provide endless amounts of support and all play their part in helping make this a sustainable movement that can reach its goals. Together we can make a difference. So let’s stand in solidarity with our comrades behind bars.

No Code Alone Will Save You

The Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference has long been one of the more explicitly leftist and politically conscious hacker conferences. Unlike hacker conferences like Defcon and BlackHat, where the atmosphere has been relatively permissive of sexual harassment, state collaborators, and reactionary politics, HOPE has a reputation for being better. A little outpost of European hacker radicalism in America, HOPE has slowly improved; this year anarchists and anarchist propaganda were everywhere, talks featured reports from antifascists on their efforts to dox nazis, and heroes like Chelsea Manning were headline speakers.

And yet at this year’s HOPE some shitbag got up during a Q&A and bragged about having marched in UniteTheRight in Charlottesville, the nazi rally that murdered Heather Heyer. This fascist was joined by a small crew of reactionary provocateurs including Thomas Ryan, an FBI snitch in Occupy Wall Street. Naturally conference attendees rapidly mobilized themselves to respond in a variety of ways to this explicit reactionary presence. Yet the real clusterfuck ensued when many conference organizers and security staff refused to even remove the bragging fascist and threatened conference goers if they took action themselves.

Individual staff members sneered about “SJWs,” declared that wearing a nazi flag wouldn’t be grounds for expulsion, and claimed that no action taken outside the conference (like marching in a famous neonazi rally) would be relevant to expulsion from the conference. This absurd and infuriating stance of “ideological neutrality,” which has since set off numerous articles and the possibility of HOPE itself dissolving, must be read in context.

This was the first year HOPE banned the famous hacker John “Captain Crunch” Draper after his proclivity for sexual harassment and assault had been an open secret for decades. Indeed the first outburst of the Charlottesville fascist was to protest Draper’s exclusion. Despite this very small step, HOPE still gave a prominent speaking slot to known rapist Will Scott. It should go without saying that these things are deeply interconnected.

The argument against kicking out a fascist that goes, “yeah but did he march with nazis at this conference?” is obviously an argument that can be applied to dismissing rapists with, “yeah but did he rape anyone at this conference?” But moreover the place HOPE organizers were coming from is clearly one of conflict avoidance. It’s very clear that their instinct and priority was “preventing drama” in the sense of visible conflict, and not combatting oppressive power dynamics. They were, in short, welded to a naive and childish notion of apoliticism and “neutrality” that is of course anything but.

Those who set up spaces help determine the culture and norms of those spaces. And, despite the longstanding presence of anarchists, there is also unfortunately a longstanding fraction of the hacker milieu that values an acerbic and calloused environment where the unifying identity is one of nerd toughness and competitive edginess, with serious issues of ethics and politics being sidelined as minor distractions or personal affectations. “Who cares if he’s a nazi???!” They would rather cling to policing a tiny set of “behavior” or “actions” in a myopic and context-less vacuum. The effect of such shortsighted policies has long been plain and has been demonstrated empirically in countless other subcultures: if you ever let literal nazis into a space you encourage them to bring all their friends, to aggressively hollow out your project, and turn it into a nazi project.

What’s more the first people you lose as a result of your “tolerance” for genocidal authoritarian street thugs are the people most at risk from them. While some have doubled down on staying and fighting — and some have preternatural capacities to persevere in hostile environments — the simple reality is many women, queer folk, and people of color, are never coming back to HOPE. A number of great hackers and pillars of the community already refused to attend this year because of HOPE’s refusal to kick out rapists.

Before last weekend’s conference and after much dragging of feet, HOPE finally adopted a “Code of Conduct.” But it was clearly weaksauce and the result of contentious negotiations with those who prioritize “ideological openness” over actual fucking openness to marginalized people. Prioritizing the inclusion of those who choose to identify as nazis over those who have no choice in things like their skin color and the disadvantage such brings in our society. But never mind that the Code of Conduct preemptively carved out a justification for the inclusion of nazis — as a code its exploits were obvious and manifold. I personally heard core organizers sneer things like, “Oh so this person got physically up in your face and loomed over you menacingly after you said something snarky about their reactionary politics? Bad on you for snarking at them, you started it.” Meanwhile someone openly broadcasting their identity as a fascist and bragging about having marched in Charlottesville was not seen as displaying threatening behavior. It’s alright for reactionaries to corner speakers, but those opposed to the explicit fascist were told that if we did the same or attempted to expel him we’d be expelled.

Devoid of any bare semblance of explicit political orientation, a “Code of Conduct” will always be interpreted by those individuals who set themselves up as a spaces’ police. And a few of those individuals doing security at HOPE were besties with the fascist, the snitch, and their reactionary buddies, hugging and meeting up with them at Hooters afterwards.

But I don’t want to whine about how the Code of Conduct was “unfairly” enforced. It’s quite clear that the words in it were always interpreted by different people in vastly different ways. And I care not one whit whether the explicit fascist and his buds were technically “harassing” — that is ultimately such an irrelevant and meaningless standard. Explicit fascists should not be welcome at any conference worth a damn and neither should snitches. Full stop.

This should be fucking obvious.

It takes an extremely impoverished view of free speech or freedom of information to defend the inclusion of neonazis in our communities. Freedom of information must be evaluated on the scale of a whole network. The inclusion of deeply malicious nodes out to impose fascism on everyone poisons the network, impedes the flow of information within it. Time during HOPE that would have otherwise been spent on productive conversations on hypervisors was wasted organizing impromptu security for Chelsea Manning and having the most basic 101 of conversations over and over again, arguing that yes nazis exist today, yes they constitute an active threat, yes we must stand against them, and yes the bare fucking minimum is kicking them out of our spaces.

Unfortunately it seems that for many — pickled in a proud ignorance of politics beyond their nose — “free speech” doesn’t mean a world of maximally efficient information transfer and processing, but a bro-y culture where communication is stripped of nuance and attentiveness in favor of inane performative edginess and competitive callousness. This is disappointing to say the least. Because the hacker dream of freedom of information unleashing historically repressed voices online to help tear down all antiquated boundaries like borders and create a new world with new cultural norms? We got it. We actually kinda won that. It’s called “social justice.” There are still some unfortunate bugs and failure modes to be worked out, but on the whole it’s been a stunning success. The internet has opened up the world to countless people marginalized by systems of oppression. It’s beyond infuriating that those upset with this, who want to roll back the clock and give speech welfare to the shittiest ideas imaginable like fascism have the gall to pretend they stand for “free speech.”

While I understand the attachment many people have to Codes of Conduct at conferences given how hard they had to fight for them, I think a focus on appealing to a CoC is deeply flawed. Not least because codified rules of behavior will always struggle to integrate context. I don’t give a shit whether a rapist happened to rape someone at the conference or whether a neonazi shouted “jews will not replace us” at said conference. Rapists & neonazis should obviously be banned entirely. We shouldn’t have to legalistically argue about CoC violations.

A Code of Conduct isn’t a panacea. Not everything egregious will fall cleanly under it. No code of clearly measurable behavior, whether a CoC or the NAP or some Constitution will ever provide us with everything we need. The real world is complicated and so are the threats we face. Anarchists and others have long used Points of Unity in addition to clarify our values and motivations so that we can at least argue individual situations from the same starting ethos. HOPE and the broader hacker community need to accept that there is no such thing as neutrality, that values are inescapable, and that having any values means some manner of political exclusion.

To defend an open world of freedom of information necessarily involves cutting out and routing around bad nodes in the network. If we let rapists or proud fascists and snitches invade our spaces we push out most everyone else. If we fail to resist fascists we are functionally complicit in their campaigns and aspirations.

What If We Treated ICE Agents Like They Treat Us?

What if we treated ICE agents and cops the way they treated those accused of the non-crime of illegal border crossing? What their crimes against personal freedom were met with the type of treatment they impose on others? Perhaps in such a world those arresting them would document their arrest using templates such as this one.

The following is a template to be used when arresting oppressors after liberation is achieved.

On [DATE] of [YEAR], [ARRESTEE’S NAME(s)] were arrested and charged with civil rights violations. Specifically, they were charged with willfully exerting harm or directing others to exert harm in violation of individual rights and/or generally accepted standards of ethical treatment toward their fellow human beings. The offending actions are listed below:

  • War crimes, including intentionally targeting civilians
  • Illegal aggressive actions
  • Cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners
  • Indefinite detention of innocent individuals

As offenders have a tendency to flee prosecution, the accused will be held in a detention facility until the date of their trial. Typically, trial can be arranged within __ months. However, please be advised that recently there have been delays and processing times may vary. The accused may be able to shorten their detention by up to __ weeks by agreeing to plead guilty. Unfortunately, the policies and actions of recent presidents have led to a backlog of human rights cases. In particular, decisions made recently by the Trump administration have led to an increase in offenses along the border. The accused is advised to expect extra wait times if their trial is a ‘border problem,’ as it is difficult to convince highly-trained civil liberties judges to travel to such remote locations as Tucson, El Paso, or Washington D.C.
Any children of the accused will be detained and processed separately. Some offenders have claimed dubiously to have “families” that “need” them, without being able to immediately produce proof of familial relationship (document lists for establishing parentage are spelled out in Section 6 of the document). As such, children and other family members found in the offender’s custody will be considered illegally smuggled until proven otherwise. The accused need not worry about the safety of “their” children however as the children will be supplied with adequate plastic mattresses, foil blankets, and concrete floor space while being processed. Rest assured that our facilities fall well within U.S. norms for the care of children when parents are accused of a crime.

To that end, children will be held in chain-link enclosures for no longer than __ hours/days before being transferred to a foster care family, or whatever. If the accused is concerned about the well-being of the children, they can check in on them by calling the following number:____________. An operator will kindly advise where the child is being warehoused/re-educated.

Obviously the accused has the right to a public defender, however the accused should be advised that public defenders are over-worked and may only be able to meet with each client for a few minutes, if at all. The accused should be prepared to present their plea and the details of their defense intuitively. We understand this may be difficult for individuals who have little legal training.

If the accused is sentenced to a period of incarceration, they may be assured that their prison stay will be as comfortable as is typical. Extreme punishments, such as solitary confinement, will only be imposed if guards or prison employees perceive a need for such punishments, and will only last as long as is required to inflict the desired effect. Food will be provided to nearly/barely meet caloric and nutritional needs (note that individual needs may vary) and many supplies including phone minutes, will be available for purchase at a ‘competitive’ price.

We appreciate your understanding and cooperation during this process. Please indicate below, on a scale from 1 to 5, how likely you would be to recommend this arrest experience to your friends/co-conspirators:

1 2 3 4 5

Border Abolition: The Common Sense Position

One big problem with border abolitionists and open borders advocates is a lack of focus on how unradical it actually is. Well, of course it’s radical politically, but the major concerns among restrictionists are cultural, and well, we live in a post-monoculture world. We have for pretty much all my life. Most people don’t understand the country they want to preserve from globalism is the country most responsible for globalism’s existence. One thing I’ve noticed is that communities, even in conservative areas, are not at all fearful of the actually existing immigrants living among them. They will even rally to protect them. The hopeful yet frightening truth is that if the US citizenry wanted to purge itself of its undocumented population it has the capacity and institutions. But as happy as we are to call the police on our neighbors in many circumstances, an extreme minority of the population possess the desire or motivation to make that call to ICE.

What they dread is a meme embedded in their head by the media they consume. Rather than presenting them with the neighbors that have participated and contributed to the life they wish to preserve, the media feeds them representations of some brave new world where what they know is overrun by, at best, strangers from a strange land, and more typically by a horde of amoral third world conquistadors. We too often insist that the natives learn to adjust to this imposition rather than point out this is already the world they live in, and the political movement that would need to wipe away the values and progress of our civilization is actually the closed borders crowd. Without some cataclysm tearing our ways of life asunder, the free flow of the world population is inevitable, and in many ways it is already here.

Problems have and may yet emerge as a consequence of national barriers breaking down, but those problems are often inflicted by the last gasps of a dying world that very few of us have lived in for much of our lives.

So if you wish to go back to that world, then find a community that wants to build up those walls, and leave the billions of us who love this rather familiar world in peace. And to those who wish to fight for the promise of a world that has evolved beyond these glorified gang lines, realize that it is not the forces of reaction against that goal that pose the greatest danger. The threat comes primarily from inaction and a lack of perspective. The likes of ICE and DHS were constructed overnight, not long before this night. They can be demolished at the same pace, as long as we possess the moral and historical clarity to strike at their shallow roots and expose their weakness, their contingency, and the damage they’ve inflicted on every person who wishes to live in a world that’s freer than the one they were born into. It has been over a half century since humanity escaped the gravitational pull of the earth. Let us not accept that the world as we’ve viewed from the heavens, open and united, is beyond our grasp. Anything less than the abolition of this whole state of affairs is uncivilized and beneath every individual upon the surface of this boundaryless rock.

Support C4SS At Our New Store!

Want to support the Center and the work we do? Visit our brand new store
where you’ll find amazing deals on a variety of left market anarchist books, as well as stickers, buttons, and more.

For years you’ve supported us through our relationship with the Distro of the Libertarian Left — which continues to host a vast variety of historical zines — but we wanted to offer a more direct relationship for our supporters as well as a wider array of material than just zines and books.

Director’s Report: Spring 2018

At its inception C4SS focused on getting timely editorials with an anarchist focus published in newspapers around the world. However, with the slow decline of print media, many of the community newspapers that served as our bread and butter have dried up. Meanwhile, thankfully, our profile has risen as an incubator of theory and discourse. Consequently over the last eleven years we’ve slowly shifted focus from getting republished in mainstream media to things like publishing academic studies, translating anarchist material into fifteen languages, and hosting symposiums and debate between anarchist thinkers across the spectrum. Over the last year we’ve expanded the number and role of our editors to assure consistent quality and help nurture new writers. Additionally we’ve built a more active social media crew. Looking forward we’ve invested major energy into a number of new upcoming projects.

That said, while many of us have become preoccupied with these projects it’s important that we continue to fill our unique role providing a source of timely anarchist commentary on current events and also avoid creating a sense of institutional remove or inaccessibility around the Center. To those ends we’re looking to train up new writers.

We’re proud to have have collaborated with ALL Distro for years and they’ve done incredible work spreading Left Libertarian materials, however the primary maintainer has become preoccupied in his academic work and so over the last year we’ve been working to put together our own full fledged store. We will offer a wide range of products, not just books and zines but a host of unique buttons, stickers, and apparel. Some of which was available early to fans who visited our table at a number of bookfairs and conferences. All of which will be accessible as public domain information in addition to purchasable material goods. Running a store for ourselves will enable us to provide more materials, to directly profit from purchases, and to generally lend the institutional weight of the Center to better fulfill customer demand.

Available in our store will also be book versions of our popular Mutual Exchange symposiums, which are in the process of going to publication. The first of these books was published not that long ago and we’ve loved the feedback so far. Nowhere else will you find anarchists thinkers from across the spectrum debating in good faith and with great depth topics like property, democracy, and antifascism.

We’re in the process of building towards a new mutual exchange this summer that we’re very excited about and can’t wait to reveal.

Eleven years of nonstop publication has given C4SS a rich backlog of material to pull from, but it can also become inaccessible. We’ve renewed our audio projects. Check out our youtube channel for uploads of the audiobook version of Markets Not Capitalism, read aloud by Stephanie Murphy as well as continuing new recordings of C4SS articles. You can also now download the audiobook on Bandcamp, for free if you like, of course.

While C4SS continues to reserve money each month for the efforts by our active translators, we’ve also undertook a massive translation effort to get several core articles like the introduction to Markets Not Capitalism, Charles Johnson’s The Many Monopolies, and Kevin Carson’s The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand, translated into a number of world languages where anarchist content — to say nothing of market anarchist ideas — is rare. We’re now in the process of formatting those translations for distribution as booklets or pamphlets.

There are many more projects in various stages of work, from grants for investigative reporting and quantitative analysis, to reading groups and meetups. If you’re interested in getting involved drop us a line.

Left-Libertarians at Libertopia

Next month (3-6 May) in San Diego I’ll be speaking at the Libertopia conference, which is back after several years’ hiatus. Here’s my topic and abstract:

Hoppean Libertarianism as Right-Wing Tribalism: A Critique
Roderick T. Long

One of the main conduits by which many libertarians in recent years have been drawn into the orbit of the Alt-Right is the work of Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I argue that Hoppe’s views on such matters as racial difference, immigration, monarchism, and the desirability of culturally homogeneous communities are systematically mistaken, as well as incompatible with a libertarian understanding of human action.

My Molinari Institute / Center for a Stateless Society / Alliance of the Libertarian Left / Bleeding Heart Libertarians colleague Gary Chartier will also be speaking; here’s his topic and abstract:

How to Think About the Constitution
Gary Chartier

Libertarians often defend particular theories of constitutional interpretation. But, at least for those who are skeptical about standard defenses of state authority, there’s a prior question: are we obligated to follow the Constitution? If we’re not, I suggest, then there’s no right answer to questions about the right way to read the Constitution. Instead, we should make constitutional arguments likely to advance liberty.

Other speakers include David Friedman, Scott Horton, Jeff Tucker, Spencer MacCallum, and many more. Check it out!

Call for Anarchist Writers

We at the Center believe ideas matter. We believe thoughtful discourse enriches, rather than undermines, anarchist praxis. We believe that a world free of compulsion and degradation is achievable through, in part, a culture permeated by anarchist ideas. Our mission as an openly anarchist think tank is to thoughtfully articulate and defend anarchist ideas. We strive to present the inspiring, yet practical, alternative of anarchism and serve as a consistent source of engaging thought.

If you’re an anarchist and you have something to say, we want to hear from you. If you yearn for a better future, free of power and authority, but value productive dialogue over tribal posturing or armchair theorizing, we want to hear from you. If you’re angry about or acting against police brutality, military occupation, ICE deportations, mass incarceration, social injustice, or structural poverty, and want to channel that anger into something that can somehow, somewhere, sometime change someone’s mind for the better, we want to hear from you. Whether it’s your first time publishing anywhere or just with us, C4SS is always welcoming new writers.

We offer $25 for your first article we publish. Send essays or commentary of around 500-800 words to and we’ll work with you the rest of the way. We’re particularly interested in anarchist commentary on current events.

We are also looking for folks with the proper equipment interested in recording some of our expansive archive of literature (current recordings can be found here). C4SS will compensate you ($10 per recording starting rate) for new audio recordings of:

  • Feature articles
  • Classic essays
  • Mutual Exchange contributions
  • Book chapters

Audio submissions and/or any questions about audio submission should be sent to


Upcoming Panels: Marriage and Anarchy

Two Molinari/C4SS panels are coming up at two different conferences later this week:

1. The Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Pacific Symposium in conjunction with the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in San Diego, March 28-April 1, 2018. Here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium:
Author Meets Critics: Gary Chartier’s Public Practice, Private Law: An Essay on Love, Marriage, and the State

G9C. Friday, 30 March 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. (or so), Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, 910 Broadway Circle, San Diego CA, room TBA

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Jennifer Lockhart (Auburn University)
Lori Watson (New Mexico State University)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)

2. We’ve also organised a panel at the Association of Private Enterprise Education conference in Las Vegas, April 1-4, 2018. Here’s the schedule info:

Topics in Free-Market Anarchism

4.A.6.. Wednesday, 4 April 2018, 8:00-9:15 a.m., Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas NV, room TBA.

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)
Jason Lee Byas (University of Illinois)
Nathan Goodman (George Mason University)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Nathan is also on a bunch of other panels; he’ll be speaking on “Social Capital and Social Justice: Why Liberalism is Essential” (Monday at 1:10 p.m.), “Voluntary Associations as an Alternative to State Social Welfare Provision” (Monday at 2:30 p.m.), “The Political Economy of Whistleblowers” (Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.), and “Policing, Civil Society, and External Aid: A Polycentric Perspective” (Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.).

In other news, for a brief report on the recent PPE Society meeting in New Orleans, see here.

See C4SS at LibertyCon!

From March 2nd to the 4th, hundreds of libertarian-minded students will gather for the conference of the year in Washington D.C. For the fifth time, The Center for a Stateless Society will be promoting the ideas of left-market anarchism at Students For Liberty’s LibertyCon.

We are bringing all the ingredients for productive dialogue — eye-grabbing swag, thoughtful literature, and good manners — in the hopes that mainstream American libertarians will be more open to synthesizing concerns for social justice and structural poverty with their anti-statism, not in the form of sacrificing anti-statism for the other two values, but instead recognizing their interconnectedness. At a time when libertarianism is fighting off reactionary entryists left and right, the Center’s uncompromising radical vision ought to be at the forefront of the conversation.

Here’s a sneak peak at just some of the books, zines, stickers, buttons, and shirts we’ll have at our LibertyCon booth.

Whether you’re already a committed left-market anarchist and looking to stock up on various goodies and meet other like-minded folk, or you find the Center’s ideas somewhat compelling and want to bolster your knowledge about left-market anarchism, or you just know absolutely nothing at all about our ideas and want to learn more, take a second to stop by our booth this March 2-4 at LibertyCon.

And don’t forget our Saturday lunch event at Medaterra where we’re raffling off a free copy of Markets not Capitalism! You can register for LibertyCon here, and use the code CMASSIMINO for a discount! Travel and lodging information can be found here.

See you this weekend!

Decentralization and the Poverty of Our Political Language

Political dialogue suffers mightily from a lack of categorizational clarity. This problem is attributable in part to the slipperiness of political concepts, which implicate and blend (often carelessly) the empirical, the historical, and the normative. To blame, too, is the cultural phenomenon of politics as entertainment or sport, team-rooting being more important than truth-finding or genuine understanding. Once one has settled upon a team, he systematically shields himself from any information that could compromise his allegiance to it, as even brain scans have been able to demonstrate. Still, conceptual or categorizational clarity (if you’ll pardon the mouthful) is worth pursuing if we aspire to more than talking past one another or angrily exchanging partisan talking points.

One who consciously identifies his political thinking with decentralism has a particularly hard time finding his place within today’s ideological taxonomy. To whose cause does the decentralist join his strength, the left or the right? Liberals or conservatives? Decentralists argue that centralization and its massive institutions encourage and engender unaccountability, that the proper goals of socially beneficial human organization are obstructed rather than served by all-consuming centralization. As the anarchist intellectual Paul Goodman pointed out, “In a centralized system, the function to be performed is the goal of the organization rather than of any persons (except as they identify with the organization). The persons are personnel.” Though clearly a man of the left, when Goodman discusses the “centralizing style of organizing” he doesn’t sound anything like today’s liberals and progressives, who have made of rigid hierarchy and centralization through distant, monolithic institutions practically a religion. Indeed, he sounds very much like today’s libertarians, except that his analyses are filled with trenchant criticisms of existing capitalism, which he perceptively contrasts with “Adam Smith’s economics.” If Goodman’s drawing of this distinction comes as a surprise to today’s political left (however defined), it shouldn’t, for there has always been, particularly in the United States, a tradition of market-oriented left-wing individualism.

Strong decentralist currents are an important part of the DNA of both the left and the right, just as are the opposite forces; this is one of the many reasons why the labels “left-wing” and “right-wing,” by themselves, can’t clarify or explain very much of substance, why they fail to express anything particularly meaningful about the arrangement of the social and political order. German National Socialism and Italian Fascism are examples of what we might call right-wing centralism, while American free-market libertarianism might be an example of right-wing decentralism. On the other side, Maoism, Soviet Communism, and the twentieth century’s various other forms of authoritarian communism may be regarded as left-wing centralism, with classical anarchism, certain localist and anti-globalization movements, and aspects of the cooperative movement perhaps understood as cases of left-wing decentralism.

Yet even this attempt at classification seems to fall apart upon inspection. It is not at all clear, for example, what it is about libertarianism that places it on the political right, other than, perhaps, the fact that it is putatively a reaction, at least in the American context, against Progressivism and New Deal Liberalism, neither of which itself arguably belongs on the left. Similarly, definitions of Nazism and Fascism that associate them with the right, thus failing to recognize the socialist extraction of both, seem extraordinarily inadequate and tendentious. We’re left with a puzzle, the lingering feeling that our need to classify in terms of left and right may actual obscure more than it illuminates.

Today, libertarians may be foremost among the flag-bearers of decentralism, though their role as earnest defenders of global corporate capitalism detracts from their decentralism. Indeed, much of the left’s anti-corporate and anti-capitalist message is historically bound to decentralism, to an opposition to monopoly power and grants of special privilege to the rich, together with a preference for local and cooperative forms of production. In the late nineteenth century and through the twentieth, decentralism fell out of favor and the global socialist movement embraced political and “industrial gigantism,” possessed by a spirit that transcended political ideology during that period, that of treating hierarchy and centralization as the scientific way. In his biography of the first self-described anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, George Woodcock argues that the political left took a wrong turn “in accepting so uncritically the phenomenon of large-scale and centralized industrial organization.” Proudhon, whose anarchism incorporated a radicalized federalism and decentralism, has become more relevant than ever “now that we know all the social, economic, and ecological evils of industrial gigantism.”

Proudhon and American individualists that followed him (Benjamin Tucker, for example) were keen to point out that market economies are not inherently or necessarily capitalist economies. Much depends on how we define capitalism, whether we treat it as just another way to express the notion of free markets or define it in terms of inequality, exploitation, and privilege (as socialists of all stripes have tended to do). We won’t get very far in a conversation or a debate until it is clear that we’re using the same language, and too often we aren’t. The current moment in American political life seems to call for a renewed interest in decentralist ideas, if only as a point from which to start real conversations. In his introduction to E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful, Theodore Roszak remarks, “Bigness is the nemesis of anarchism, whether the bigness is that of public or private bureaucracies, because from bigness comes impersonality, insensitivity, and a lust to concentrate abstract power.” Notwithstanding the fact that today’s incoherent political categories would make anarchism and conservatism antitheses, there is certainly a current of Kirkian conservatism about which the very same thing could be said.

Help Bring C4SS to LibertyCon!

C4SS, or the Center for a Stateless Society, is a left wing market anarchist think tank. The Center utilizes academic studies, book reviews, op-eds, and social media to put left market anarchist ideas at the forefront of libertarianism and to eventually bring about a world where individuals are liberated from oppressive states, structural poverty, and social injustice.

Simply, the Center’s mission is to build a new world in the shell of the old.

Students For Liberty’s LibertyCon is the year’s premier gathering of libertarian minds from all over the world – and C4SS is a mere $750 away from getting a table at this event. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote radical left anarchist ideas among young liberty lovers from around the globe.

Every penny counts and the Center appreciates any and all help you are willing to give. Let’s get C4SS to LibertyCon and start building the new world!

Donate here.

Two New Publications

My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter I explore the relationship between libertarianism (in the free-market sense) and the anarchist movement, including the question whether anarcho-capitalism counts as a genuine form of anarchism. (My C4SS colleague Kevin Carson has a chapter in the book as well.)

According to the publisher, I’m only allowed to make 25 hard copies of the chapter – but I’m also allowed to post a copy online, so long as it’s on my personal website. That seems to me a bit like saying “No smoking allowed in this room, but it’s okay to set the bed on fire.” But okay, here’s a link to the chapter.

(My reference to capitalist labour markets as “oligopolistic” was supposed to be “oligopsonistic.” The editors changed it to “oligopolistic,” which of course has the opposite meaning; I changed it back in galleys, but it ended up “oligopolistic” in the final published text nonetheless. Sigh.)

I also have a chapter on “Minarchism on Seasteads” in Victor Tiberius, ed., Seasteads: Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies (Zurich: VDF, 2017). I explore options for constraining a seastead minarchy (essentially by incorporating as many anarchist features as possible; those who remember my articles from the FNF/LNF days will find my proposals familiar). Here’s the link.

(The version I’ve posted is the galley proofs with my corrections. No, of course the corrections did not make it into the final published text. Sigh again.)

Server Outages

For years we’ve relied on webhosting from 1984 Hosting, a small radical project based out of Iceland. We moved to 1984 from our old provider after a racist by the name of Olivier Janssens took us offline with a DMCA so spurious it made international news. 1984 has been good to us, but unfortunately last Wednesday their entire server infrastructure suddenly collapsed. You can read more about the unusual situation and the severity of it here.

We’ve spent the last week waiting for good news on what’s recoverable. As you can see our backup of the site has been restored on a temporary server with no missing stories, although a few months of images and files are presently lost. What this has meant however is an interruption in our Mutual Exchange symposium and outages on Wednesday and Thursday as we waited for a damage report and then went through the process of restoration.

Combat Illiberalism

Today marks the 80th anniversary of then-aspiring tyrant Mao Tse-tung’s “Combat Liberalism.” In that short pamphlet Mao outlines eleven ways that liberal attitudes might manifest themselves within an anti-liberal revolutionary movement like his. Broadly, Mao characterizes the liberal attitude as an orientation towards “unprincipled peace” and petty egotism. The pamphlet’s recurring theme is one of instilling party discipline both internally in oneself and externally in others.

There is a lot to say about “Combat Liberalism.” One startling feature is the way it exemplifies the illiberal fear of freedom. Economically, illiberals fear that free trade and laissez-faire will inevitably result in monopoly. Socially, illiberals fear that free speech and toleration will inevitably result in repression by their enemies. Accordingly, when building movements, illiberals fear that anything less than total regimentation will inevitably result in total disintegration.

Beyond remarking on those undercurrents in Mao’s pamphlet, we can also consider the inverse of his worry; political movements of all kinds can fall into attitudes opposed to their values. Libertarianism, especially individualist anarchism, is a kind of radical liberalism. Yet there are several ways that petty movement politics can push us into very illiberal behaviors.

Here I’ll be considering ten ways this can happen. Since I, unlike Mao, am a liberal, I will not just bark them at you. I will also give some brief explanation with each as to why it strikes me as illiberal and why it is a problem. With most of these, there are clear exceptions – times where the behavior is perfectly beneficial or even necessary. However, I would wager that we’re, at least, experiencing a crisis of overproduction in each of the following.

  1. The use of loud, public call-outs, especially when used to secure preferred distributions of social capital.[1]

Loud, public call-outs accompanied with damning screenshots have become unfortunately ubiquitous parts of political culture on the internet. This is not to suggest that everyone on the receiving end of these attacks is innocent. Innocence isn’t necessary for this practice to have its problems – just as the fact that most people in prison are guilty of actual rights-violating crimes doesn’t make mass incarceration acceptable.

These acts of shaming are dangerous in their power to socially isolate. They also give incentives towards cruelty, as those engaged in shaming elevate themselves socially through contrast with the person being shamed. This has an illiberal effect in that it pushes people apart into increasingly tribalistic subgroups, which then reproduce call-outs as a way of settling social scores instead of resolving problems.

To combat this illiberalism you should reserve public call-outs of this kind for truly serious cases where nothing else will work. 99 times out of 100, you should instead privately contact the person with your concern. If that does not work, you should privately contact mutual friends who are more likely to be receptive. This should be common practice even towards people you strongly dislike.

You can also combat this illiberalism by accepting the unenviable role of That Person in the comments of these call-outs. Often, it is easy to tell when someone is being unfairly construed to mean something much worse than what they actually mean. Take the time to make clear what this person is actually saying, especially when this person is from your outgroup and, especially, when what they are actually saying is still something with which you disagree.

  1. The drawing of hard social lines which must not be crossed.

Illiberal internet warfare that has its genesis in the last point can often become cemented by publicly calling out others for bare association, no matter how tenuous. This usually takes the form of insinuating or explicitly stating that if Person X retains some vague association with Person Y – coexistence within an organization, mere Facebook “friendship,” or whatever – then Person X must harbor some sympathies with Person Y’s problems. Incidentally, acquiescing to these demands can make them more effective. For if you accepted a demand to disassociate with Person Y but don’t do so with Person Z, it looks more plausible that you don’t take Person Z’s problems seriously.

  1. The drawing of hard ideological lines which must not be crossed.

This problem is often combined with the last one. In combination, they have the under-discussed effect of shielding people from critique. Much of the libertarian movement’s problems are born in mirrored dodges like “You can’t take their anti-war stuff seriously, they associate with people who are bad on immigration” and “You can’t take their pro-immigration stuff seriously, they associate with people who are bad on war.”

This point is also a bit more complicated than the others. Libertarians should unambiguously declare that shams like pro-war “libertarianism” and anti-immigration “libertarianism” are shams. In no way should those declarations be tamed – this would be a kind of “unprincipled peace.” Instead, we should reserve these kinds of statements for the cases where they are absolutely necessary. Moreover, even when drawing lines becomes necessary, we must stand guard against the abuse of those lines to keep out critics.

  1. The replacement of principles with alliances.

Construed broadly, most of this list could fit under this one point. What I mean more specifically, though, is the practice of downplaying problems that crop up within one’s own particular subgroup. People who have no actual affinities with war or borders will treat those issues as insignificant when it is their comrades who are hawks or nationalists. This is also true of less directly political problems.

In exceptions to points 2 & 3, this problem often motivates resistance to necessary action. More interesting, however, is the way these points feed off each other. Cases of opportunistic line-drawing can often be used to present problems within a movement as being necessarily a product of one’s intra-movement outgroups. This produces a tendency to see one’s own subgroup as definitionally the solution, never the problem. When individuals within that subgroup do create problems, these blinders prevent responsible action.

  1. The insincerity of shaping your positions according to your political identity, not what you think is true.

The subgroup tribalism discussed here can also develop commitment mechanisms in the form of strange beliefs. One way that you show affinity with a group is by having their back on their most bizarre beliefs. The illiberal effect here is in channeling your reasons for a belief away from reason and towards collective identity. It is also dangerous in that progressively wilder beliefs become necessary to show you’re really down. Stepping away from libertarianism for a second, this is one of the many ways perfectly normal young people in the illiberal left start joyously treating plans for mass-murder like a roleplaying game.

  1. The insincerity of shaping your positions according to shock value, not what you think is true.

Another death spiral comes in taking on views because they repulse people you dislike. This produces a kind of catharsis, where raising the blood pressure of your enemies gives you relief. As Jeffrey Tucker outlined in “Against Libertarian Brutalism,” this is a deeply illiberal impulse. It is also an addiction. Like many drugs, one can develop a tolerance and require deadlier doses for a high. Today, an edgy argument about the compatibility of libertarianism and immigration restrictions might be enough. A few years down the line, though, you might find yourself screaming about Jews in a Vice documentary without really knowing how you got there.

  1. The insincerity of treating ideas like a game.

Marxists take ideas to be largely impotent, with history moved instead by “material” economic relations. Fascists also laugh at claims that ideas rule the world, convinced that everything boils down to brute impositions of will through violence. It is liberals who afford ideas a central place in explaining history’s path.

Hence why treating ideas like a game does not make sense for libertarians. Before perpetuating the idea that killing political opponents is fine, with helicopter, gulag, or guillotine memes, you should consider the corpses that could follow. This is not hypothetical, as shown by Heather Heyer’s murder, which followed far-right repetitions of “run them down.” Returning to point 4, you should also be willing to be the killjoy who refuses to join your friends’ bloodlust. A commitment to open discourse does not require treating evil trivially, and those who do so should be held accountable.

  1. The molding of your views to moderation for moderation’s sake.

Since radical views have an aesthetic pull, this can facilitate the last three points. One solution might be, then, to consciously adopt a policy of moderation for moderation’s sake. I myself was deeply tempted by this in the days immediately following Trump’s election. What pulled me out of it was a friend noting that this is itself an aesthetic pull, making it deceptively illiberal. Comfortably simulating sincerity and smart opinions will not push you towards truth, it will push you towards complacency.

Karl Hess’s words, spoken by Barry Goldwater, that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue” have become a libertarian cliché. We should still revisit them frequently. They are a healthy reminder that an open movement for the open society cannot silence its logical conclusions for the sake of PR.

  1. The use of equivocal language that distorts the topic being discussed.

Unlike Mao’s regimented Communist movement, liberalism thrives on open debate. That ebb and flow of ideas, however, can be disrupted through bad faith argumentation. One such virus is the deployment of ambiguous phrases. These can sneak one indefensible premise in on the backs of a defensible one. They can also create false dichotomies, where those who disagree sound much more ridiculous than they actually are.

One case is when immigration restrictionists say they favor “private property borders.” Taken literally, this position is identical to advocating for open borders. Implicitly, this is actually building in the illiberal – in fact, very progressive-sounding – premise that We the People own the U.S.-Mexico border and public roads. It further sneaks in the illiberal – in fact, majoritarian-democratic – premise that the will of a xenophobic majority must be favored over the individual preferences of people who would gladly welcome immigrants.

Another such case is in the discourse surrounding “denying fascists a platform.” This is ambiguous between two separate positions. The first is a refusal to offer one’s own property to help fascists organize. This is obviously a correct approach, and someone who denies it misunderstands liberalism. However, the phrase “denying fascists a platform” binds that position together with the position that one should violently disrupt fascist speech and assembly. So too with “physically confront fascism” – which binds that violence against speech and assembly together with obviously good things like assertive protest and standing ready to defend against fascist violence.

As this point shows, open debate can be corrupted by equivocal language. It does not follow, though, as I have seen it recently claimed, that liberalism requires the flawed assumption that everyone is engaged in good faith. Liberalism – both in its vision of an open society and its open movement towards that open society – is perfectly well-equipped to deal with this problem.

The solution is nit-picking. When equivocal language is detected, it should be interrogated. People should be called on to specify what they mean and to make clear why they think one claim entails another. Forcefully drawing attention to implicit assumptions of this kind puts them into territory where they must be defended, and where their traps can be sidestepped by onlookers.

  1. The casual indifference between rational and sub-rational forms of communication.

There are many other things I could add to this list, but most of them fall under this final point. For example, it is easy to mock far-right internet trolls who are overweight, dressed poorly, or have “neckbeards” for those characteristics of their physical appearance. Much has already been said about the general sliminess of this behavior. It is also a discourse of self-destruction, if we take seriously the ideas of liberalism.

Sub-rational forms of communication, like mockery, are not the territory on which we will win. We will win through greater reliance on reason, where ideas rise and fall on their merits. Whenever we engage in sub-rational communication, then, we are in dangerous territory. Sometimes we must fight there, but it should always be to push things back onto our preferred turf. Our mockery should always show that those who stand against us are being ridiculous, not that they are unattractive. Those whose ideas are forged in un-reason are more familiar with un-reason and will, therefore, often be better in battles of un-reason.

I have already passed twice the size of Mao’s original pamphlet. There is much more to be said – and much of it already has been said, much better than I could. I recommend George Orwell’s “Politics & the English Language” and Emmi Bevensee’s “The Conversations We Can’t Have.” The first expands on the insidious dangers of imprecision in political discourse, and the second engages seriously with the noxious environment created by petty social games in activist communities.

Illiberalism, in whatever form, is extremely harmful to any emancipatory movement. It is a process of melting that first eats away openness, undermines cohesion, and causes apathy, and then it re-solidifies to create stagnation. It replaces robust and diverse orders with the weak ties of strict discipline. It kills the potential of meaningful action and spreads ignorance. It is a deeply destructive tendency.

Illiberalism stems from the yearning for identities based in conflict; it replaces self-actualization with slavish devotion to floating abstractions, and this gives rise to political, economic, and organizational illiberalism.

Illiberalism is a manifestation of opportunism and conflicts fundamentally with both libertarianism and anarchism. It is negative and has the effect of creating enmity where none previously existed; that is why pre-existing enemies welcome its preservation in our midst. Such being its nature, but it has no place in the process of liberation.

We must use liberalism, which is positive in spirit, to overcome illiberalism, which is negative. Individualist anarchists should have an activeness of mind, finding their own interests in harmony with others through the proper use of reason. This is what it means to be an individualist, and this is what it means to be an anarchist.


[1] A friend who studies social capital has voiced annoyance with the way that the term gets thrown around the internet in these discussions, especially among radical liberals. To be clear: “social capital” of the kind studied by sociologists and economists, taken on its own, is a good thing. It is better for people to have connections that allow them greater opportunities. However, the sharp centralization of social capital in a way that makes others reliant upon its monopolists is highly dangerous, and creates relational inequalities that are deeply destructive towards living a life worth calling “free.” The right analogy here is with economic capital. Economic capital, taken on its own, is a good thing. It is better for people to be able to have greater resources with which to create better goods. However, the sharp centralization of economic capital in a way that makes others reliant upon its monopolists – what free market anti-capitalists mean when they say “capitalism” – is highly dangerous. Our goal is not to destroy capital, of either the social or economic kind. Rather, we want to free it up by removing barriers and enabling contestation, so that it will be distributed widely and not create destructive relationships of power.

The Anatomy of Escape
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
Free Markets & Capitalism?
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist