Sunday, December 12, 2010

Government Fans the Flames of Prejudice

In Issue 11, the feature article is written by Carl where he discusses how war, in particular World War I, affected the anarchist movement. He focuses on Peter Kropotkin, a Russian exile and anarchist, who decided to forgo an anti-war stance and instead call for the support France.

In his mind, the prospect of German rule was much worse than supporting a State so he thought it was important to defend the nation and support the alliance between England, France and Russia.

In response a fellow named Errico Malatesta spoke on behalf of other anarchists and pointed out that:

“An Allied victory would simply mean the domination of Europe by England and Russia, which was little better than German domination.”

Malatesta and others thought Kropotkin was letting his prejudices take precedence over principles. In another article, Malatesta wrote:

“For us, national rivalries and hatreds are among the best means the masters have for perpetuating the slavery of the workers, and we must oppose them with all our strength.”

Carl uses this to make a point about ends and means which you can read more about in the article.

What I’d like to address here is how government promotes “rivalries and hatreds” even within a nation, even when there is no outright nation-state war at stake.

The political process itself promotes “war” between the people of a nation. Political parties work to create and identify “enemies,” which leads to the idea that we are “fighting” and “at war” with our neighbors. Political parties have to create an enemy in the form of a group of people so that another group of people will be energized enough to go to “war” in the form of political activism and voting against the enemy.

Government itself benefits by this promotion of prejudice.

Even people who think of themselves as free from prejudice can end up being susceptible. It even happens in factions within parties. Pay just slight attention and you can hear the prejudice in language every day as people talk politics.

This is sometimes the hardest part about moving outside the government box. If a person always strongly identified with a political party, it’s difficult to suddenly consider someone who comes from “the other side” as a friend now and not “the enemy.”

This may be one benefit of Voluntaryism. Voluntaryism does not promote a prejudice against any group of people. Yes, there is an inherent prejudice against aggressors but that is an action any person can do, not an existential state. So since Voluntaryists have figured out that politics is not the answer, we can’t fall for the prejudices political parties try to promote in order to gain votes.

This means we can focus on what we all have in common instead of what we don’t. We can interact voluntarily, and even if we do harbor irrational prejudices against certain groups of people, those prejudices can’t be fanned by those who want to control others through government force.

And that’s what’s really important.


Joe said...

Your comments about political parties bring to mind the People's Front of Judea from The Life of Brian (warning: language).

Longshot said...

As Albert Jay Nock wrote in Our Enemy the State, there are really only two ways that people can go about interacting with others to achieve their goals: economic means or political means. Political means involves using force to coerce or compel others to act as you wish. Economic means involves offering something in exchange for what you want.

Violence is always inherent in the political means, while the economic means is always the result of voluntary cooperation.

Less Antman said...

Debbie, I wish your statement about Voluntaryism were true, but as one of the few LP people treated kindly by the Voluntaryist in the early years, I see it differently. As you've already documented, much of the space in early issues was devoted to condemnation of members of the LP, and the V movement in general acknowledges little or no moral distinction between those who vote to increase aggression and those who vote to decrease it.

Anti-political movements ARE political and just as prone to divide people as political movements. I watched as the V movement did just that in the early 1980s.

Anonymous said...

@Less - how's that voting to decrease aggression working out for you? If you've been around the LP since the 1980's then you should be aware that that strategy is a deadend.

To each their own. If you're into beating your head against the wall, year after year, have at it.

Debbie H. said...


If some in the LP were not treated so kindly by the Voluntaryists, isn't that making my point about politics?

I mean if those people were Voluntaryists, then they wouldn't be using politics as a means to the end. They would understand that you can't really vote to decrease aggression because they are at the same time legitimizing aggression, aren't they?

The "condemnation" that you speak of came directly from the fact that these people were using politics as a means so naturally it would lead to condemnation, just like it does for republicans, demoncrats, greens, constitutionalists, as well as the libertarian party.

It's the political process that is causing the conflict isn't it?

Less Antman said...


So if X attacks Y, that proves Y is divisive? Not X?


The issue was the morality of voting, not its strategic value. And your snark could be used against the entire movement: we're not free yet, so we must failures.

In any event, I'm arguing AGAINST exclusivity, give most of my time and money to non-political libertarian activism, and would be more appalled if the libertarian movement were entirely political than were it entirely non-political. I just can't stand the venom with which some libertarians attack other libertarians with energy that could have gone to persuading others, and was there in the early days of the V movement as I watched it do just that.

Joe said...


I've read the first three issues of The Voluntaryist, in particular, George Smith's "Ethics of Voting" series and Wendy's editorials. I don't see them as trying to be divisive, but rather trying to be persuasive. In fact, the one who attacked was Murray (as described in the fifth issue).

I joined the LP when I heard about Harry Browne's candidacy. I wish I would've re-read Harry's "How I Found Freedom" back then (which I first read in the '80s) or seen the admonitions to Harry from the Voluntaryists. It would've saved me a lot of time, wasted effort and false hopes.

Anonymous said...

@Less - Yep, I decided to respond to your disingenuous and snarky comment with snark of my own.

You said, "As you've already documented, much of the space in early issues was devoted to condemnation of members of the LP...". I don't recall Debbie documenting anything of the kind and I don't recall reading anything of the kind in The Voluntaryist. What I have read is a discussion of ideas and attempts at persuasion, but no ad hominem attacks directed at any individual LP member(s).

Then you said, "the V movement in general acknowledges little or no moral distinction between those who vote to increase aggression and those who vote to decrease it." You might as well argue that Tolkien's Lord of The Rings trilogy doeesn't make any distinction, moral or otherwise, between those who would use the One Ring to 'increase aggression' and those who'd use it to 'decrease aggression'. Do you really miss the point that the nature of the State, like the Ring of Power, is evil and regardless of the intentions of those who vote, or of those who wield the Ring, the result is to strengthen the State and give it more power and legitimacy? Do you really find fault with Voluntaryism because it does not award brownie points for the good intentions of those who "who vote to decrease" aggression or do you really find fault with it because it rejects minarchism the ritual of voting?

Debbie H. said...

Less, you wrote:
So if X attacks Y, that proves Y is divisive? Not X?"

Actually, what it proves to me is that government and politics is divisive. Which is what I was saying in the first place.

Less Antman said...


I don't believe George & Wendy were trying to be divisive: I believe they were motivated by a desire to bring about a free society. We saw each other regularly back when the first issues of The Voluntaryist were being published (you'll find a direct mention of me in the second issue), Wendy actually wrote for my publication, Caliber, during this period, and at George's birthday party in 1982, I wore a campaign-style buttons saying PARTYARCHS FOR SMITH. They are great people and I remain friendly with both.

Still, their goal in the early days was to bring down the LP, this was not a hidden agenda, and moral condemnation was a key part of the strategy. I spoke with George in 2008 about those early days, and he confessed to having been unnecessarily abrasive. So at least he thinks I have a point. You're right, though: Murray was, indeed, extremely divisive.

The number of libertarians who trace their first contact to the LP is, in my view, the primary justification for its existence: it has fed the movement for decades. I don't view ex-members as a failure, unless they abandon libertarianism.


They morally condemned the choice to be a member of the LP as well as the choice of voting. I don't want Brownie points, and I'm an anarchist. But voting to abolish slavery resulted in slavery being abolished throughout the British Empire, and the more political approach taken there was accompanied by little or no bloodshed, which was a deep contrast with the American experience.


There are plenty of non-political libertarian organizations that haven't found it necessary to attack the LP. But I respect your point of view, and don't want to argue the point anymore. I'm enjoying the summaries a great deal.

BTW, so it is crystal clear how I stand on The Voluntaryist, I am a monthly financial supporter. Carl's writings are marvelous and he makes a unique and invaluable contribution to the movement.

Joe said...


I'm sure you've heard of Bastiat's broken window fallacy and the need to consider all effects, short and long term. Who's to say what would've happened to the movement if the LP hadn't been created? It is possible that the movement would've flourished in other ways. For example, I think the Perry Willis campaign to increase LP membership via mass marketing was disastrous for the LP and the movement in general, since it brought in people who didn't understand libertarianism (you could tell by reading the LP News Letters to the Editor) and probably viewed it as conservatism "light."

Debbie H. said...

No worries Less. I think this discussion is great! I was hoping this would happen. You have made some very good points, points I have wondered about myself.

Obviously one of them is whether I would have ended up here if the LP didn't exist. And the other point is what you say about the end of slavery. I have a lot of thoughts about that which may come up at some time.

I am very glad you are reading these posts because your viewpoint is certainly valuable as I move through these issues.

One last point to ponder about whether I would have ended up here without the LP is that I never heard of you when I was involved in the party. It was only when I moved out of that box to investigate voluntaryism that I ever heard your name. Not sure what to make of that. :)

Less Antman said...


Agreed, although one can make the same statement about any form of activism. Of course, since only individuals act, each of us has to choose where we want to devote our personal time, which depends in part on our skill set and in part on our preferences. I prefer one-on-one persuasion, and one reason I stay in the LP is that it gives me the opportunity to speak face-to-face with other LP members and persuade them to become libertarians. ;)


I'm nobody special: I've just been fortunate enough to personally know many special libertarians. My 5 minutes (well years) of fame were before you got involved (although they are simultaneous with issues of the Voluntaryist you are currently discussing). I burned out (and fell in love) shortly after winning the Karl Bray Award for Libertarian Activism in 1983, and stayed out of national activities until recently. Even now, I mainly ghostwrite (for example, this PR for the national party at