I think that “capitalism” is such a contested, misunderstood, misused, and vague concept that it is best to avoid when discussing political philosophy. But whether I like it or not… the word is often used. So what do people mean when they complain about “capitalism”? Sometimes the word means “corporatism” and sometimes it means “voluntary trade” and sometimes it means “the status quo”.
But there is another way that some people use the word…
The world is not utopia, and (unless you’re religious) then it wasn’t created for us, which means that there is no inherent guarantee that everybody is going to have everything they want. There is scarcity in the world… not just a limited number of cars or caves or cats, but perhaps more importantly a limited amount of time. Some people react badly to finding out that scarcity exists, and that they aren’t a special snowflake who can insist on getting everything they want.
There is an apparent contradiction at the heart of objectivism. Ayn Rand said that she opposed the initiation of coercion/violence, but she also rejected anarchism and insisted on having a government… which is defined as an institution that has a geographical monopoly over the initiation of violence/coercion.
That doesn’t add up. Either objectivists accept a government, and then they accept the initiation of some violence/coercion in some circumstances. Or they don’t want a government, which makes them anarchists. Those options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive; there is no other option.
Given the vehemence of Rand’s opposition to anarchy, I had previously thought that objectivists accepted government and that they were confused about the whole coercion thing. But in a debate this evening it seemed that my objectivist sparing partner was inadvertently advocating for no government (anarchy)… but with the assumption that people would voluntarily give money to a security provider that would protect everybody. The idea is that this benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider would be called “government”, despite not initiating violence or coercion.
If this is accurate, then there are two consequences. First, semantics notwithstanding, a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is not actually a government and it is totally consistent with anarchy — so such a position is really just another type of hyphenated-anarchy with a particular vision of how a free society might function. Second, it seems to me that the above approach to security provision is very reliant on the benevolence of one organisation and the people who will donate to that organisation, which means it is actually less stable than the system suggested by other market anarchists.
What do you say objectivists… are you secret anarchists living in denial, or are you people who oppose coercion all the time except for when you don’t?
Anarchy is a political philosophy, which answers the question of “what is the role of government” with the answer “nothing”. If you have no government, there is no scope for disagreeing about what the non-existent government should do.
There will still be plenty of disagreement about what should happen in society. Some people might choose to join socialist communes, or religious communities, or trading towns, or live as hermits, or whatever other options you can imagine. We can pontificate about what trends might be popular and we can argue about which community will be best… but these are not discussions of political philosophy. They are the equivalent of arguing about the best way a baker should bake bread. The beauty of anarchy is if we disagree about how to live, we can simply go our separate ways and voluntarily join different communities (or bakeries).
Therefore, hyphenated-anarchy is unnecessary. Whether a person self-describes as anarcho-communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-capitalist, anarcho-monarchist, etc… as long as the person actually is an anarchist, then these are not differences of political philosophy. They might describe personal preferences or predictions about the future, but they do not describe a disagreement about the role of government.
In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.
The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.
Not everybody agrees.
Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.
From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?
Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?
In the 2012 American Presidential election, one of the side stories was the unlikely campaign of the libertarian-Republican Ron Paul, who brought a new brand of politics to the country by advocating significantly smaller government, personal freedoms, and peace. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but his brand of politics is having an ongoing impact on political debate. In America, his son is now a leading Senator and contender for 2016 President. And in Australia on the weekend the people of NSW elected a libertarian to the Australian Senate in the form of David Leyonhjelm from the Liberal Democrats.
A lot has been written and said about this unlikely outcome, and one or two things were even true. Pretty good for the mainstream media.
The discussion about the Liberal Democrats on ABC’s “the drum” TV show was particularly hilarious. Beyond the words “hello” it was hard to find any comment that wasn’t laughably, embarrassingly wrong. One commentator said that Leyonhjelm chose the name of the party because it sounded serious, but the party was started in 2001 and Leyonhjelm joined in 2006. The reason for the name has been repeatedly explained — the Liberal Democrats believe in liberal democracy and wanted to portray that in the name. The AEC and all reasonable people don’t think that the Liberals should be able to claim a monopoly on a generic political word, especially when it isn’t even true in their case. If somebody wants to vote for liberalism, then the Liberal Democrats offers them that choice.
Another witless commentator said that Glenn Druery arranged front parties to funnel preferences to the Liberal Democrats in 1999… two years before the Liberal Democrats was even started. Fail. In fact, the Liberal Democrats were one of the only small parties that were excluded from the Druery coalition this year. Are facts even vaguely relevant for the ABC chatterati?
Last year, American funny-man Jon Stewart asked a series of questions to libertarians. Since then, plenty of people have responded, giving fairly comprehensive answers. I agree with some of those answers, but I thought I’d put together my own “short answers” anyway… only six months late.
1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
We need definitions. If “liberty” means people being allowed to act voluntarily with each other (as I define it) then the antithesis is involuntary behaviour — e.g. violence, coercion, theft, murder. The government certainly does all of that, but they are not the only example (eg mafia, rapists). Further, some libertarians will suggest that if a limited government is able to decrease “private” violence & coercion, then they might even be a force for good. (This idea is known as the “night-watchman government” or “minarchism”.)
It’s worth quickly noting that government does not mean “governance”. You would still have much governance in a libertarian society (for example, cricket rules).
I believe in free speech. I mean — I really believe in free speech.
That doesn’t just mean that I support Andrew Bolt’s right to say whatever he likes about aboriginals, irrespective of who gets offended. And it doesn’t just mean that I oppose all censorship, such as the banning of Mein Kampf in some European countries. It also means I oppose defamation laws, and I believe you should be allowed to say anything about anybody, whether true or false, for whatever reason. It even means I believe that tobacco companies should be free to advertise.
I believe attempts to limit speech “for the public good” will mostly do more harm than good, and that messy and imperfect freedom is better than neat and tidy (but even more imperfect) government control.
“He must die. John Humphreys must die so that this country can live. He has betrayed this country too many times and he must no longer live … This is too important a subject to let John Humphreys live. Where does the lying end. I’m convinced that it only ends when John Humphreys is cold and stiff … HE MUST DIE, FOR THE LYING TO END. AND THIS IS A LIFE OR DEATH MATTER … I am accusing Humphreys of being a knowing traitor … SO MY NEW CLAIM IS THAT HUMPHREYS WILL NEVER STOP LYING. THAT HE WILL NEVER BE A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS. THAT HE WILL ALWAYS BE A TRAITOR. WHILE HE YET LIVES.”
My first death threat. Now I know that I’m important. A few friends have suggested I take it seriously, and one kindly offered to call his federal police friend who would call Graeme… but I nixed that idea. For his part, Graeme says that it is not a death threat because he doesn’t plan on doing any killing himself. That’s good to hear. But another friend pointed out that the above sentiments might still be considered incitement to violence… which got me thinking about free speech.