VIDEO: Karl Hess and Robert Anton Wilson, “Subversion for Fun and Profit”

In this video from the 1987 Libertarian Party Nominating Convention, left-libertarians Karl Hess and Robert Anton Wilson take questions from the audience and discuss such topics as being the subjects of government monitoring, gun running, and even their favorite films. It was uploaded to YouTube by the good folks at

“The Death of Politics” by Karl Hess

This is not a time of radical, revolutionary politics. Not yet. Unrest, riot, dissent and chaos notwithstanding, today’s politics is reactionary. Both left and right are reactionary and authoritarian. That is to say: Both are political. They seek only to revise current methods of acquiring and wielding political power. Radical and revolutionary movements seek not to revise but to revoke. The target of revocation should be obvious. The target is politics itself.

Radicals and revolutionaries have had their sights trained on politics for some time. As governments fail around the world, as more millions become aware that government never has and never can humanely and effectively manage men’s affairs, government’s own inadequacy will emerge, at last, as the basis for a truly radical and revolutionary movement. In the meantime, the radical-revolutionary position is a lonely one. It is feared and hated, by both right and left — although both right and left must borrow from it to survive. The radical-revolutionary position is libertarianism, and its socioeconomic form is Laissez-faire capitalism.

Libertarianism is the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit: that all man’s social actions should be voluntary: and that respect for every other man’s similar and equal ownership of life and, by extension, the property and fruits of that life, is the ethical basis of a humane and open society. In this view, the only — repeat, only — function of law or government is to provide the sort of self-defense against violence that an individual, if he were powerful enough, would provide for himself.

If it were not for the fact that libertarianism freely concedes the right of men voluntarily to form communities or governments on the same ethical basis, libertarianism could be called anarchy.

Laissez-faire capitalism, or anarchocapitalism, is simply the economic form of the libertarian ethic. Laissez-faire capitalism encompasses the notion that men should exchange goods and services, without regulation, solely on the basis of value for value. It recognizes charity and communal enterprises as voluntary versions of this same ethic. Such a system would be straight barter, except for the widely felt need for a division of labor in which men, voluntarily, accept value tokens such as cash and credit. Economically, this system is anarchy, and proudly so.

Libertarianism is rejected by the modern left — which preaches individualism but practices collectivism. Capitalism is rejected by the modern right-which preaches enterprise but practices protectionism. The libertarian faith in the mind of men is rejected by religionists who have faith only in the sins of man. The libertarian insistence that men be free to spin cables of steel as well as dreams of smoke is rejected by hippies who adore nature but spurn creation. The libertarian insistence that each man is a sovereign land of liberty, with his primary allegiance to himself, is rejected by patriots who sing of freedom but also shout of banners and boundaries. There is no operating movement in the world today that is based upon a libertarian philosophy. If there were, it would be in the anomalous position of using political power to abolish political power.

Perhaps a regular political movement, overcoming this anomaly will actually develop. Believe it or not, there were strong possibilities of such a development in the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater. Underneath the scary headlines, Goldwater hammered away at such purely political structures as the draft, general taxation, censorship, nationalism, legislated conformity, political establishment of social norms, and war as an instrument of international policy.

It is true that, in a common political paradox, Goldwater (a major general in the Air Force Reserve) has spoken of reducing state power while at the same time advocating the increase of state power to fight the Cold War. He is not a pacifist. He believes that war remains an acceptable state action. He does not see the Cold War as involving U.S. imperialism. He sees it as a result only of Soviet imperialism. Time after time, however, he has said that economic pressure, diplomatic negotiation, and the persuasions of propaganda (or “cultural warfare”) are absolutely preferable to violence. He has also said that antagonistic ideologies can “never be beaten by bullets, but only by better ideas.”

A defense of Goldwater cannot be carried too far, however. His domestic libertarian tendencies simply do not carry over into his view of foreign policy. Libertarianism, unalloyed, is absolutely isolationist, in that it is absolutely opposed to the institutions of national government that are the only agencies on earth now able to wage war or intervene in foreign affairs.

In other campaign issues, however, the libertarian coloration in the Goldwater complexion was more distinct. The fact that he roundly rapped the fiscal irresponsibility of Social Security before an elderly audience, and the fact that he criticized TVA in Tennessee were not examples of political naïveté. They simply showed Goldwater’s high disdain for politics itself, summed up in his campaign statement that people should be told “what they need to hear and not what they want to hear.”

There was also some suggestion of libertarianism in the campaign of Eugene McCarthy, in his splendid attacks on Presidential power. However, these were canceled out by his vague but nevertheless perceptible defense of government power in general. There was virtually no suggestion of libertarianism in the statements of any other politicians during last year’s campaign.

I was a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 campaign. During the campaign, I recall very clearly, there was a moment, at a conference to determine the campaign’s “farm strategy,” when a respected and very conservative Senator arose to say: “Barry, you’ve got to make it clear that you believe that the American farmer has a right to a decent living.”

Senator Goldwater replied, with the tact for which he is renowned: “But he doesn’t have a right to it. Neither do I. We just have a right to try for it.” And that was the end of that.

Now, in contrast, take Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society. Writing in The Radical Papers, he said that his “revolution” sought “institutions outside the established order.” One of those institutions, he amplified, would be “people’s own antipoverty organizations fighting for Federal money.”

Of the two men, which is radical or revolutionary? Hayden says, in effect, that he simply wants to bulldoze his way into the establishment. Goldwater says he wants, in effect, to topple it, to forever end its power to advantage or disadvantage anyone.

This is not to defend the Goldwater campaign as libertarian. It is only to say that his campaign contained a healthy element of this sort of radicalism. But otherwise, the Goldwater campaign was very deeply in hock to regular partisan interests, images, myths and manners.

In foreign policy, particularly, there arises a great impediment to the emergence of a libertarian wing in either of the major political parties. Men who call upon the end of state authority in every other area insist upon its being maintained to build a war machine with which to hold the Communists at bay. It is only lately that the imperatives of logic — and the emergence of antistatist forces in eastern Europe — have begun to make it more acceptable to ask whether the garrison state needed to maintain the Cold War might not be as bad as or worse than the putative threat being guarded against. Goldwater has not taken and may never take such a revisionist line — but, among Cold Warriors, his disposition to libertarian principles makes him more susceptible than most.

This is not merely a digression on behalf of a political figure (almost an antipolitical figure) whom I profoundly respect. It is, rather, to emphasize the inadequacy of traditional, popular guidelines in assessing the reactionary nature of contemporary politics and in divining the true nature of radical and revolutionary antipolitics. Political parties and politicians today — all parties and all politicians — question only the forms through which they will express their common belief in controlling the lives of others. Power, particularly majoritarian or collective power (i.e., the power of an elite exercised in the name of the masses), is the god of the modern liberal. Its only recent innovative change is to suggest that the elite be leavened by the compulsory membership of authentic representatives of the masses. The current phrase is “participatory democracy.”

Just as power is the god of the modern liberal, God remains the authority of the modern conservative. Liberalism practices regimentation by, simply, regimentation. Conservatism practices regimentation by, not quite so simply, revelation. But regimented or revealed, the name of the game is still politics.

The great flaw in conservatism is a deep fissure down which talk of freedom falls, to be dashed to death on the rocks of authoritarianism. Conservatives worry that the state has too much power over people. But it was conservatives who gave the state that power. It was conservatives, very similar to today’s conservatives, who ceded to the state the power to produce not simply order in the community but a certain kind of order.

It was European conservatives who, apparently fearful of the openness of the Industrial Revolution (why, anyone could get rich!), struck the first blows at capitalism by encouraging and accepting laws that made the disruptions of innovation and competition less frequent and eased the way for the comforts and collusions of cartelization.

Big business in America today and for some years has been openly at war with competition and, thus, at war with laissez-faire capitalism. Big business supports a form of state capitalism in which government and big business act as partners. Criticism of this statist bent of big business comes more often from the left than from the right these days, and this is another factor making it difficult to tell the players apart. John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, has most recently taken big business to task for its anticompetitive mentality. The right, meantime, blissfully defends big business as though it had not, in fact, become just the sort of bureaucratic, authoritarian force that rightists reflexively attack when it is governmental.

The left’s attack on corporate capitalism is, when examined, an attack on economic forms possible only in collusion between authoritarian government and bureaucratized, nonentrepreneurial business. It is unfortunate that many New Leftists are so uncritical as to accept this premise as indicating that all forms of capitalism are bad, so that full state ownership is the only alternative. This thinking has its mirror image on the right.

It was American conservatives, for instance, who very early in the game gave up the fight against state franchising and regulation and, instead, embraced state regulation for their own special advantage. Conservatives today continue to revere the state as an instrument of chastisement even as they reject it as an instrument of beneficence. The conservative who wants a Federally authorized prayer in the classroom is the same conservative who objects to Federally authorized textbooks in the same room.

Murray Rothbard, writing in Ramparts, has summed up this flawed conservatism in describing a “new younger generation of rightists, of `conservatives’ … who thought that the real problem of the modern world was nothing so ideological as the state vs. individual liberty or government intervention vs. the free market; the real problem, they declared, was the preservation of tradition, order, Christianity and good manners against the modern sins of reason, license, atheism, and boorishness.”

The reactionary tendencies of both liberals and conservatives today show clearly in their willingness to cede, to the state or the community, power far beyond the protection of liberty against violence. For differing purposes, both see the state as an instrument not protecting man’s freedom but either instructing or restricting how that freedom is to be used.

Once the power of the community becomes in any sense normative, rather than merely protective, it is difficult to see where any lines may be drawn to limit further transgressions against individual freedom. In fact, the lines have not been drawn. They will never be drawn by political parties that argue merely the cost of programs or institutions founded on state power. Actually, the lines can be drawn only by a radical questioning of power itself, and by the libertarian vision that sees man as capable of moving on without the encumbering luggage of laws and politics that do not merely preserve man’s right to his life but attempt, in addition, to tell him how to live it.

For many conservatives, the bad dream that haunts their lives and their political position (which many sum up as “law and order” these days) is one of riot. To my knowledge, there is no limit that conservatives would place upon the power of the state to suppress riots.

Even in a laissez-faire society, of course, the right to self-defense would have to be assumed, and a place for self-defense on a community basis could easily be imagined. But community self-defense would always be exclusively defensive. Conservatives betray an easy willingness to believe that the state should also initiate certain offensive actions, in order to preclude trouble later on. “Getting tough” is the phrase most often used. It does not mean just getting tough on rioters. It means getting tough on entire ranges of attitudes: clipping long hair, rousting people from parks for carrying concealed guitars, stopping and questioning anyone who doesn’t look like a member of the Jaycees, drafting all the ne’er-do-wells to straighten them up, ridding our theaters and bookstores of “filth” and, always and above all, putting “those” people in their place. To the conservative, all too often, the alternatives are social conformity or unthinkable chaos.

Even if these were the only alternatives — which they obviously aren’t — there are many reasons for preferring chaos to conformity. Personally, I believe I would have a better chance of surviving — and certainly my values would have a better chance of surviving — with a Watts, Chicago, Detroit, or Washington in flames than with an entire nation snug in a garrison.

Riots in modern America must be broken down into component parts. They are not all simple looting and violence against life and property. They are also directed against the prevailing violence of the state — the sort of ongoing civic violence that permits regular police supervision of everyday life in some neighborhoods, the rules and regulations that inhibit absolutely free trading, the public schools that serve the visions of bureaucracy rather than the varieties of individual people. There is violence also by those who simply want to shoot their way into political power otherwise denied them. Conservatives seem to think that greater state police power is the answer. Liberals seem to think that more preferential state welfare power is the answer. Power, power, power.

Except for ordinary looters — for whom the answer must be to stop them as you would any other thief — the real answer to rioting must lie elsewhere. It must lie in the abandonment, not the extension, of state power — state power that oppresses people, state power that tempts people. To cite one strong example: The white stores in many black neighborhoods, which are said to cause such dissatisfaction and envy, have a special unrealized advantage thanks to state power. In a very poor neighborhood there may be many with the natural ability to open a retail store, but it is much less likely that these people would also have the ability to meet all the state and city regulations, governing everything from cleanliness to bookkeeping, which very often comprise the marginal difference between going into business or staying out. In a real laissez-faire society, the local entrepreneur, with whom the neighbors might prefer to deal, could go openly into business — selling marijuana, whiskey, numbers, slips, books, food or medical advice from the trunk of his car. He could forget about ledgers, forms and reports and simply get on with the business of business, rather than the business of bureaucracy. Allowing ghetto dwellers to compete on their own terms, rather than someone else’s, should prove a more satisfying and practical solution to ghetto problems than either rampages or restrictions.

The libertarian thrusts away from power and authority that marked the Goldwater campaign were castigated from the left as being “nostalgic yearnings for a simpler world.” (Perhaps akin to the simplistic yearnings of the hippies whom the left so easily tolerates even while it excoriates Goldwater.) Goldwater’s libertarianism was castigated from the right — he received virtually no support from big business — as representing policies that could lead to unregulated competition, international free trade and, even worse, a weakening of the very special partnership that big business now enjoys with Big Government.

The most incredible convolution in the thinking that attacked Goldwater as reactionary, which he isn’t, rather than radical, which he is, came in regard to nuclear weapons. In that area he was specifically damned for daring to propose that the control of these weapons be shared, and even fully placed, in the multinational command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, rather than left to the personal, one-man discretion of the President of the United States.

Again, who is reactionary and who is radical? The men who want an atomic king enthroned in Washington, or the man who dares ask that that divine right of destruction become less divine and more divided? Until recently, it was a popular cocktail pastime to speculate of the difference between the war in Vietnam under “Save-the-world-from Goldwater” Johnson, or as it might have been under wild Barry, who, by his every campaign utterance, would have been bound to share the Vietnam decision (and the fighting) with NATO, rather than simply and unilaterally going it alone.

To return to the point: The most vital question today about politics — not in politics — is the same sort of question that is plaguing Christianity. Superficially, the Christian question seems simply what kind of religion should be chosen. But basically, the question is whether any irrational or mystical forces are supportable, as a way to order society, in a world increasingly able and ready to be rational. The political version of the question may be stated this way: Will men continue to submit to rule by politics, which has always meant the power of some men over other men, or are we ready to go it alone socially, in communities of voluntarism, in a world more economic and cultural than political, just as so many now are prepared to go it alone metaphysically in a world more of reason than religion?

The radical and revolutionary answer that a libertarian, laissez-faire position makes to that question is not quite anarchy. The libertarian, laissez-faire movement is, actually, if embarrassingly for some, a civil rights movement. But it is antipolitical, in that it builds diversified power to be protected against government, even to dispense with government to a major degree, rather than seeking power to protect government or to perform any special social purpose.

It is a civil-liberties movement in that it seeks civil liberties, for everyone, as defined in the 19th Century by one of Yale’s first professors of political and social science, William Graham Sumner. Sumner said: “Civil liberty is the status of the man who is guaranteed by law and civil institutions the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare.”

Modern liberals, of course, would call this selfishness, and they would be correct with intense emphasis on self. Many modern conservatives would say that they agree with Sumner, but they would not be correct. Men who call themselves conservatives, but who operate in the larger industries, spend considerable time, and not a small amount of money, fighting government subsidies to labor unions (in the form of preferential tax and legal considerations) or to people (in the form of welfare programs). They do not fight direct subsidies to industries — such as transportation, farming or universities. They do not, in short, believe that men are entitled to the exclusive employment of their own powers for their own welfare, because they accept the practice of taxing a good part of that power to use for the welfare of other people.

As noted, for all the theoretical screaming that sometimes may be heard from the industrial right, it is safe to say that the major powers of government to regulate industry were derived not only from the support of businessmen but actually at the insistence of businessmen. Uneconomical mail rates are cherished by businessmen who can profit from them and who, significantly, seem uninterested in the obvious possibility of transforming the postal service from a bureau into a business. As a business, of course, it would charge what it cost to mail things, not what is simply convenient for users to pay.

The big businessmen who operate the major broadcast networks are not known for suggesting, as a laissez-faire concept would insist, that competition for channels and audiences be wide open and unregulated. As a consequence, of course, the networks get all the government control that they deserve, accepting it in good cheer because, even if censored, they are also protected from competition. It is notable, also, that one of the most fierce denunciations of pay TV (which, under capitalism, should be a conceptual commonplace) came not from the Daily Worker but from the Reader’s Digest, that supposed bastion of conservatism. Actually, I think the Digest is such a bastion. It seems to believe that the state is an institution divinely ordained to make men moral — in a “Judeo-Christian” sense, of course. It abhors, as no publication short of William Buckley’s National Review, the insolence of those untidy persons who today so regularly challenge the authority of the state.

In short, there is no evidence whatever that modern conservatives subscribe to the “your life is your own” philosophy upon which libertarianism is founded. An interesting illustration that conservatism not only disagrees with libertarianism but is downright hostile to it is that the most widely known libertarian author of the day, Miss Ayn Rand, ranks only a bit below, or slightly to the side of, Leonid Brezhnev as an object of diatribe in National Review. Specifically, it seems, she is reviled on the right because she is an atheist, daring to take exception to the National Review notion that man’s basically evil nature (stemming from original sin) means he must be held in check by a strong and authoritarian social order.

Barry Goldwater, during his 1964 campaign, repeatedly said that “the government strong enough to give you what you want is strong enough to take it all away.” Conservatives, as a group, have forgotten, or prefer to ignore, that this applies also to government’s strength to impose social order. If government can enforce social norms, or even Christian behavior, it can also take away or twist them.

To repeat: Conservatives yearn for a state, or “leadership,” with the power to restore order and to put things — and people — back in their places. They yearn for political power. Liberals yearn for a state that will bomb the rich and balm the poor. They too yearn for political power. Libertarians yearn for a state that cannot, beyond any possibility of amendment, confer any advantage on anyone; a state that cannot compel anything, but simply prevents the use of violence, in place of other exchanges, in relations between individuals or groups.

Such a state would have as its sole purpose (probably supported exclusively by use taxes or fees) the maintenance of a system to adjudicate disputes (courts), to protect citizens against violence (police), to maintain some form of currency for ease of commerce, and, as long as it might be needed because of the existence of national borders and differences, to maintain a defense force. Meanwhile, libertarians should also work to end the whole concept of the nation-state itself. The major point here is that libertarians would start with no outstanding predispositions about public functions, being disposed always to think that there is in the personal and private world of individuals someone who can or will come along with a solution that gets the job done without conferring upon anyone power that has not been earned through voluntary exchange.

In fact, it is in the matters most appropriate to collective interest — such as courts and protection against violence — that government today often defaults. This follows the bureaucratic tendency to perform least-needed services — where the risk of accountability is minimal — and to avoid performing essential but highly accountable services. Courts are clogged beyond belief. Police, rather than simply protecting citizens against violence, are deeply involved in overseeing private morals. In black neighborhoods particularly, the police serve as unloved and unwanted arbiters of everyday life.

If, in the past few paragraphs, the reader can detect any hint of a position that would be compatible with either the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the National Association of Manufacturers, he is strongly advised to look again. No such common ground exists. Nor can any common ground be adduced in terms of “new politics” versus “old politics.” New or old, the positions that parade around today under these titles are still politics and, like roses, they smell alike. Radical and revolutionary politicians — antipoliticians, if you will — should be able to sniff them out easily.

Specific matters that illustrate the differences would include the draft, marijuana, monopoly, censorship, isolationism-internationalism, race relations and urban affairs, to name a few.

As part of his aborted campaign for the Presidency, Nelson Rockefeller took a position on the draft. In it, he specifically took exception to Richard Nixon’s draft stand, calling it “old politics” as contrasted with his own “new politics.” The Rockefeller position involved a certain streamlining of the draft, but nothing that would change it from what it patently is — forced, involuntary servitude. Rockefeller criticized Nixon for having asserted that, someday, the draft could be replaced by a volunteer system, an old Republican promise.

The new politician contended that the Nixon system wouldn’t work because it never had worked. The fact that this nation has never offered to pay its soldiers at a rate realistic enough to attract them was not covered in Rockefeller’s statement. Nor did the new politician address himself to the fact that, given a nation that not enough citizens can be attracted to defend voluntarily, you probably also have a nation that, by definition, isn’t really worth defending.

The old politician, on the other hand, did not present quite as crisp a position on the draft as the new politician tried to pin him with. Nixon, although theoretically in favor of a voluntary military, was — along with the presumably even more conservative Ronald Reagan — opposed to trying voluntarism until after the Vietnam war. Throughout the conservative stance one sees a repetition of this position. Freedom is fine — but it must be deferred as long as a hot war or the Cold War has to be fought.

All should be struck by the implications of that baleful notion. It implies that free men simply cannot be ingenious enough to defend themselves against violence without themselves becoming violent — not toward the enemy alone, but to their own persons and liberty as well. If our freedom is so fragile that it must be continuously protected by giving it up, then we are in deep trouble. And, in fact, by following a somewhat similar course, we got ourselves in very deep trouble in Southeast Asia. The Johnson war there was escalated precisely on the belief that southern Vietnamese freedom may best be obtained by dictating what form of government the south should have — day by day, even — and by defending it against the North Vietnamese by devastating the southern countryside.

In foreign relations, as in domestic pronouncements, new and old politicians preach the same dusty doctrines of compulsion and contradiction. The radical preachment of libertarianism, the antipolitical preachment, would be that as long as the inanity of war between nation-states remains a possibility, free nation-states will at least protect themselves from wars by hiring volunteers, not by murdering voluntarism.

One of the most medievally fascinating minds of the 20th Century, that of Lewis Hershey, sole owner and proprietor of the Selective Service System, has put this unpretty picture into perfect perspective with his memorable statement, delivered at a National Press Club luncheon, that he “hate[s] to think of the day that [his] grandchildren would be defended by volunteers.” There, in as ugly an example as is on public record, is precisely where politics and power, authority and the arthritis of traditionalism, are bound to bring you. Director Hershey is prevented from being a great comic figure by the rather obvious fact that, being involved with the deaths of so many unwilling men, and the imprisonment of so many others, he becomes a tragic figure or, at least, a figure in a tragedy. There is no new or old politics about the draft. A draft is political, plain and simple. A volunteer military is essentially commercial. And it is between politics and commerce that the entrant into radical or revolutionary politics must continually choose.

Marijuana is an example of such a choice. In a laissez-faire society, there could exist no public institution with the power to forcefully protect people from themselves. From other people (criminals), yes. From one’s own self, no. Marijuana is a plant, a crop. People who smoke it do not do so under the compulsion either of physiological addiction or of institutional power. They do so voluntarily. They find a person who has volunteered to grow it. They agree on a price. One sells; the other buys. One acquires new capital; the other acquires a euphoric experience that, he decides, was worth allocating some of his own resources to obtain.

Nowhere in that equation is there a single point at which the neighbors, or any multitude of neighbors, posing as priesthood or public, have the slightest rational reason to intervene. The action has not, in any way, deprived anyone else of “the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare.”

The current laws against marijuana, in contravention even of all available evidence regarding its nature, are a prime example of the use of political power. The very power that makes it possible for the state to ban marijuana, and to arrest Lenny Bruce, is the same power that makes it possible for the state to exact taxes from one man to pay into the pockets of another. The purposes may seem different, but upon examination they are not. Marijuana must be banned to prevent people from succumbing to the madness of its fumes and doing some mischief upon the community. Poverty, too, must be banned for a similar reason. Poor people, unless made unpoor, will angrily rise and do mischief upon the community. As in all politics, purposes and power blend and reinforce each other.

“Hard” narcotics must be subjected to the same tests as marijuana in terms of politics versus antipolitics. These narcotics, too, are merely salable materials, except that, if used beyond prudence, they can be quite disabling to the person using them. (I inject that note simply because, in my understanding, there remains at all levels of addiction the chance of breaking or controlling the habit. This suggests that a person can exercise a choice in the matter; that he can, indeed, be prudent or not.)

The person who uses drugs imprudently, just as the person who imprudently uses the politically sanctioned and franchised drugs of alcohol or tobacco, ends up in an unenviable position, perhaps dead. That, rationally, is his own business as long as he does not, by his actions, deprive you of your right to make your own decision not to use drugs, to assist addicts, or, if you wish, to ignore them. But, it is said, by right and left today, that the real problem is social and public — that the high price of the drugs leads the addict to rob and kill (rightist position), and that making drugs a public matter, for clinical dispensation, would eliminate the causes of his crime (leftist position).

These both are essentially political positions and clearly inept in a society where the line between mind-expanders such as coffee or LSD is highly technical. By choosing the economic and cultural approach rather than a political one, the antipolitical libertarian would say, sell away. Competition will keep the price down. Cultural acceptance of the root ethic, that a man’s life and its appurtenances are inviolate, would justify defense against any violence that might accompany addiction in others. And what is there left for the “public” to do? Absolutely nothing — except, individually, to decide whether to risk drugs or to avoid them. Parents, of course, holding the purse strings of their children, can exercise a certain amount of control, but only individually, never collectively.

Incidentally, it is easy to imagine that, if drugs were left to economics and culture instead of politics, medical researchers would shortly discover a way to provide the salable and wanted effects of drugs without the incapacitation of addiction. In this as in similar matters — such as the unregulated competition from which it is felt people need protection — technology rather than politics might offer far better answers.

Monopoly is a case in point. To suppose that anyone needs government protection from the creation of monopolies is to accept two suppositions: that monopoly is the natural direction of unregulated enterprise, and that technology is static. Neither, of course, is true. The great concentrations of economic power, which are called monopolies today, did not grow despite government’s anti-monopolistic zeal. They grew, largely, because of government policies, such as those making it more profitable for small businesses to sell out to big companies rather than fight the tax code alone. Additionally, Federal fiscal and credit policies and Federal subsidies and contracts have all provided substantially more assistance to big and established companies than to smaller, potentially competitive ones. The auto industry receives the biggest subsidy of all through the highway program on which it prospers, but for which it surely does not pay a fair share. Airlines are subsidized and so protected that newcomers can’t even try to compete. Television networks are fantastically advantaged by FCC licensing, which prevents upstarts from entering a field where big old-timers have been established. Even in agriculture, it is large and established farmers who get the big subsidies — not small ones who might want to compete. Government laws specifically exempting unions from antitrust activities have also furthered a monopoly mentality. And, of course, the “public utility” and “public transportation” concepts have specifically created government-licensed monopolies in the fields of power, communications, and transit. This is not to say that economic bigness is bad. It isn’t, if it results from economic efficiency. But it is bad if it results from collusion with political, rather than with economic power. There is no monopoly in the world today, of which I could think, that might not be seriously challenged by competition, were it not for some form of protective government license, tariff, subsidy, or regulation. Also, there isn’t the tiniest shred of evidence to suggest that the trend of unregulated business and industry is toward monopoly. In fact, the trend seems in the opposite direction, toward diversification and decentralization.

The technological aspect is equally important. Monopoly cannot develop as long as technology is dynamic, which it most abundantly is today. No corporation is so large that it can command every available brain — except, of course, a corporate state. As long as one brain remains unavailable, there is the chance of innovation and competition. There can be no real monopoly, just momentary advantage. Nor does technological breakthrough always depend on vast resources or, even where it does, would it have to depend upon a single source of financing — unless, again, only the state has the money. Short of total state control, and presuming creative brains in the community, and presuming the existence of capital with which to build even modest research facilities, few would flatly say that technological innovation could be prevented simply because of some single source enjoying a temporary “monopoly” of a given product or service. The exceptions, to repeat, are always governments. Governments can be — and usually are — monopolistic. For instance, it is not uneconomical to operate a private post-office department today. It is only illegal. The Feds enjoy a legal monopoly — to the extent that they are currently prosecuting at least one entrepreneur who operated a mail service better and cheaper than they do.

Politics is not needed to prevent monopoly. Unregulated, unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism is all that is needed. It would also provide jobs, raise living standards, improve products, and so forth. If commercial activity were unregulated and absolutely unsubsidized, it could depend upon only one factor for success — pleasing customers.

Censorship is another notable example in which politics, and politicians, interpose between customer and satisfaction. The gauge becomes not whether the customer is happy, but whether the politician (either singly or as a surrogate for “the public”) is happy. This applies equally to “public” protection from unpopular political ideas as well as protection from pornography. Conservatives are at least consistent in this matter. They feel that the state (which they sometimes call “the community”) can and must protect people from unsavory thoughts. It goes without saying who defines unsavory: the political — or community-leaders, of course.

Perhaps the most ironic of all manifestations of this conservative urge to cleanthink concerns the late Lenny Bruce. He talked dirty. He was, therefore, a particularly favorite target of conservatives. He was also an explicit and, I think, incisive defender of capitalism. In commenting that communism is a drag (“like one big phone company”), Bruce specifically opted for capitalism (“it gives you a choice, baby, and that’s what it’s about”). There is no traditional conservative who is fit to even walk on the same level with Lenny Bruce in his fierce devotion to individualism. Lenny Bruce frequently used what is for many conservatives the dirtiest word of all: He said capitalism. When was the last time that the N.A.M. did as much?

Lenny Bruce wasn’t the only man to alienate conservatives by opening his mouth. In 1964, Barry Goldwater alienated Southern conservatives in droves when, in answer to a regionally hot question about whether Communists should be permitted to speak on state-university campuses, Goldwater said, flatly and simply: “Of course they should.”

Even anti-Communist libertarians have no choice but to deny the state the right to suppress Communists. Similarly, libertarians who are aesthetically repelled by what they deem pornography have no other course than not to buy it, leaving its absolutely unregulated sale to producer, purchaser and no one else. Once again, a parent could intrude — but only by stopping an individual, dependent purchaser, never by stopping the purveyor, whose right to sell pornography for profit, and for absolutely no other socially redeeming virtue whatever, would be inviolate. An irate parent who attempted to hustle a smut peddler off the street, as a matter of fact, should be sued, not saluted.

The liberal attitude toward censorship is not so clear. At this point, it needn’t be. Liberals practice it, rather than preach it. The FCC’s egregious power to insist that broadcasting serve a social purpose is both a liberal tenet and an act of censorship. In the FCC canons, social purposes are defined so that a station can get good points for permitting a preacher free time but no points — or even bad points — for extending the same gift of free air to an atheist.

It is partly in the realm of air, also, that differences regarding nationalism between the old left/right politicians and the libertarian antipolitician show up. If today’s conservative has his fervent jingoism for old nations, the liberal has just as fanatic a devotion to the jingoism of new nations. The willingness of modern liberals to suggest armed intervention against South Africa, while ignoring, even in terms of major journalistic coverage, slaughters in Nigeria and the Sudan, is a demonstration of interest only in politics — and in particular persons — rather than in human life per se.

Of course, conservatives have a similar double standard in regard to anti-Communist slaughter and anti-Communist dictatorship. Although it is not as whimsically selective as the liberal decision to be revolted or cheered by each particular blood bath, the conservative double standard can have equally tragic results. The distinct undercurrents of anti-Semitism that so obviously muddle many conservative movements probably can be traced to the horrid assumption that Adolf Hitler’s anticommunism excused his other, but comparatively minor, faults. Somehow, anticommunism seems to permit anti-Semitism.

I have met in my time many anti-Communists who view communism as simply a creature of Jewish plotting for world dominion. The John Birch Society’s separate chapter for Jewish members is a seriocomic reflection, I think, of such good old WASP anti-Semitism. The widely reported admiration of Hitler by the head man of the right-wing Liberty Lobby is a reflection, presumably, of the “you need a strong man to fight atheistic Communism” school of thought. There are, of course, notable Jewish anti-Communists. And there are many anti-Communists who condemn anti-Semitism. But the operating question for most of the full-time anti-Communists that I have met is simply: Are you anti-Communist? Being also anti-Semitic is not automatically a disqualification on the right, though it usually is on the left.

Conservatives and liberals alike hold in common the mystical notion that nations really mean something, probably something permanent. Both ascribe to lines drawn on maps — or in the dirt or in the air — the magical creation of communities of men that require sovereignty and sanction. The conservative feels this with exaltation when he beholds the Stars and Stripes. The liberal feels this with academic certitude when he concludes that Soviet boundaries must be “guaranteed” to prevent Soviet nervousness. Today, in the ultimate confusion, there are people who feel that the lines drawn by the Soviet Union, in blood, are better than the lines drawn, also in blood, by American foreign policy. Politicians just think this way.

The radical and revolutionary view of the future of nationhood is, logically, that it has no future, only a past — often an exciting one, and usually a historically useful one at some stage. But lines drawn on paper, on the ground or in the stratosphere are clearly insufficient to the future of mankind.

Again, it is technology that makes it feasible to contemplate a day in which the politics of nationhood will be as dead as the politics of power-wielding partisanship. First, there is enough information and wealth available to ensure the feeding of all people, without the slaughtering of some to get at the possessions of others. Second, there is no longer any way to protect anything or anybody behind a national boundary anyway.

Not even the Soviet Union, with what conservatives continue to fear as an “absolute” control over its people, has been able to stop, by drawing lines or executing thousands, the infusion of subversive ideas, manners, music, poems, dances, products, desires. If the world’s pre-eminent police state (either us or them, depending on your political point of view) has been unable to protect itself fully behind its boundaries, what faith can or should we, the people, retain in boundaries?

It is to be expected that both liberals and conservatives respond to the notion of the end of nationhood with very similar shouts of outrage or jerks of reaction. The conservative says it shall not be. There will always be a U.S. Customs Inspector and long may he wave. The liberal says that far from ending nationhood, he wants to expand it, make it world-wide, to create a proliferation of mini- and micronations in the name of ethnic and cultural preservation, and then to erect a great super-bureaucracy to supervise all the petty bureaucracies.

Like Linus, neither liberal nor conservative can bear the thought of giving up the blanket — of giving up government and going it alone as residents of a planet, rather than of a country. Advocates of isolationism (although some, admittedly, defend it only as a tactic) seem to fall into a paradox here. Isolationism not only depends upon nationhood, it rigidifies it. There is a subcategory of isolationism, however, that might avoid this by specifying that it favors only military isolationism, or the use of force only for self- defense. Even this, however, requires political definitions of national self-defense in these days of missiles, bases, bombers, and subversion.

As long as there are governments powerful enough to maintain national boundaries and national political postures, then there will be the absolute risk, if not the certainty, of war between them. Even the possibility of war seems far too cataclysmic to contemplate in a world so ripe with technology and prosperous potential, ripe even with the seeds of extraterrestrial exploration. Violence and the institutions that alone can support it should be rendered obsolete.

Governments wage war. The power of life that they may claim in running hospitals or feeding the poor is just the mirror image of the power of death that they also claim — in filling those hospitals with wounded and in devastating lands on which food could be grown. “But man is aggressive,” right and left chant from the depths of their pessimism. And, to be sure, he is. But if he were left alone, if he were not regulated into states or services, wouldn’t that aggression be directed toward conquering his environment, and not other men?

At another warlike level, it is the choice of aggression, against politically perpetuated environment more than against men, that marks the racial strife in America today. Conservatives, in one of their favorite lapses of logic — States’ rights — nourished modern American racism by supporting laws, particularly in Southern states, that gave the state the power to force businessmen to build segregated facilities. (Many businessmen, to be sure, wanted to be “forced,” thus giving their racism the seal of state approval.) The States’ rights lapse is simply that conservatives who would deny to the Federal government certain controls over people, eagerly cede exactly the same controls to smaller administrative units. They say that the smaller units are more effective. This means that conservatives support the coercion of individuals at the most effective level. It certainly doesn’t mean that they oppose coercion. In failing to resist state segregation and miscegenation laws, in failing to resist laws maintaining racially inequitable spending of tax money, simply because these laws were passed by states, conservatives have failed to fight the very bureaucracy that they supposedly hate — at the very level where they might have stopped it first.

Racism has been supported in this country not despite of, but thanks to, governmental power and politics. Reverse racism, thinking that government is competent to force people to integrate, just as it once forced them to segregate, is just as political and just as disastrous. It has not worked. Its product has been hatred rather than brotherhood. Brotherhood could never be a political product. It is purely personal. In racial matters, as in all other matters concerning individuals, the lack of government would be nothing but beneficial. What, actually, can government do for black people in America that black people could not do better for themselves, if they were permitted the freedom to do so? I can think of nothing.

Jobs? Politically and governmentally franchised unions do more to keep black men from good jobs than do all the Bull Connors of the South. Homes, schools, and protection? I recall very vividly a comment on this subject by Roy Innis, the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality. He spoke of Mayor John Lindsay’s typically liberal zeal in giving money to black people, smothering them with it — or silencing them. Innis then said that the one thing Mayor Lindsay would not give the blacks was what they really wanted: political power. He meant that the black community in Harlem, for instance, rather than being gifted with tax money by the bushel, would prefer to be gifted with Harlem itself. It is a community. Why shouldn’t it govern itself, or at least live by itself, without having to be a barony of New York City Ward politics? However, I take exception to the notion of merely building in Harlem a political structure similar to but only separate from New York City’s. And I may be doing Mr. Innis, who is an exceptional man, an injustice by even suggesting that that is what he had in mind.

But beyond this one instance, there is implicit in the very exciting undercurrents of black power in this country an equally exciting possibility that it will develop into a rebellion against politics itself. It might insist upon a far less structured community, containing far more voluntary institutions within it. There is no question in my mind that, in the long run, this movement and similar ones will discover that laissez-faire is the way to create genuine communities of voluntarism. Laissez-faire is the only form of social/economic organization that could tolerate and even bless a kibbutz operating in the middle of Harlem, a hippie selling hashish down the street, and, a few blocks farther on, a firm of engineers out to do in Detroit with a low-cost nuclear vehicle.

The kibbutz would represent, in effect, a voluntary socialism — what other form could free men tolerate? The hash seller would represent institutionalized — but voluntary — daydreaming, and the engineers would represent unregulated creativity. All would represent laissez-faire capitalism in action and none would need a single bureaucrat to help, hinder, civilize or stimulate. And, in the process simply of variegated existence, the residents of this voluntary community, as long as others voluntarily entered into commerce with them, would solve the “urban” problem in the only way it ever can be solved; i.e., via the vanishment of politics that created the problem in the first place.

If cities cannot exist on the basis of the skills, energy and creativity of the people who live, work or invest in them, then they should not be sustained by people who do not live in them. In short, every community should be one of voluntarism, to the extent that it lives for and through its own people and does not force others to pay its bills. Communities should not be exempted from the civil liberty prescribed for people — the exclusive enjoyment of all their own powers for their own welfare. This means that no one should serve you involuntarily and that you should not involuntarily serve anyone else. This means, for communities, existing without involuntary aid from other communities or to other communities.

Student dissenters today seem to feel that somehow they have crashed through to new truths and new politics in their demands that universities and communities be made responsive to their students or inhabitants. But most of them are only playing with old politics. When the dissenters recognize this, and when their assault becomes one against political power and authority rather than a fight to gain such power, then this movement may release the bright potential latent in the intelligence of so many of its participants. Incidentally, to the extent that student activists the world over are actually fighting the existence of political power, rather than trying to grab some of it for themselves, they should not be criticized for failing to offer alternative programs; i.e., for not spelling out just what sort of political system will follow their revolution. What ought to follow their revolution is just what they’ve implicitly proposed: no political system at all.

The style of SDS so far seems most promising in this respect. It is itself loosely knit and internally anti-authoritarian as well as externally revolutionary. Liberty also looks for students who rather than caterwauling the establishment will abandon it, establish their own schools, make them effective and wage a concerned and concerted revolt against the political regulations and power that, today, give a franchise to schools — public and private — that badly need competition from new schools with new ideas.

Looking back, this same sort of thinking was true during the period of the sit-ins in the South. Since the enemy also was state laws requiring separate facilities, why wasn’t it also a proper tactic to defy such laws by building a desegregated eating place and holding it against hell and high water? This is a cause to which any libertarian could respond.

Similarly with the school situation. Find someone who will rebel against public-education laws and you will have a worthy rebel indeed. Find someone who just rants in favor of getting more liberals, or more conservatives, onto the school board, and you will have found a politically oriented, passé man — a plastic rebel. Or, in the blackest neighborhood, find the plumber who will thumb his nose at city hall’s restrictive licenses and certificates and you will have found a freedom fighter of far greater consequence than the window breaker.

. . .

Power and authority, as substitutes for performance and rational thought, are the specters that haunt the world today. They are the ghosts of awed and superstitious yesterdays. And politics is their familiar. Politics, throughout time, has been an institutionalized denial of man’s ability to survive through the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare. And politics, throughout time, has existed solely through the resources that it has been able to plunder from the creative and productive people whom it has, in the name of many causes and moralities, denied the exclusive employment of all their own powers for their own welfare.

Ultimately, this must mean that politics denies the rational nature of man. Ultimately, it means that politics is just another form of residual magic in our culture — a belief that somehow things come from nothing; that things may be given to some without first taking them from others; that all the tools of man’s survival are his by accident or divine right and not by pure and simple inventiveness and work.

Politics has always been the institutionalized and established way in which some men have exercised the power to live off the output of other men. But even in a world made docile to these demands, men do not need to live by devouring other men.

Politics does devour men. A laissez-faire world would liberate men. And it is in that sort of liberation that the most profound revolution of all may be just beginning to stir. It will not happen overnight, just as the lamps of rationalism were not quickly lighted and have not yet burned brightly. But it will happen — because it must happen. Man can survive in an inclement universe only through the use of his mind. His thumbs, his nails, his muscles and his mysticism will not be enough to keep him alive without it.

Originally appeared in Playboy March 1969.

“The Coming White Terror” by Karl Hess

There is going to be a time of repression in this country. It may be quite harsh. For many, including libertarians, it may be frightening and discouraging. For the only vaguely committed it will be too much to bear and they will move back to safe positions in liberal-land or conservative-country, those establishment enclaves whose philosophically peripatetic borders seem now to overlap lovingly and lastingly on the American political landscape.

The facts of the repression are clear even if not overt. The Deputy Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, an old friend who, I can assure you, is more than capable of matching rhetoric to action, has been quoted in the Atlantic as saying that student dissenters would be “rounded up” and placed in “detention camps”. His subsequent denial of the quotation was not categorial but only complained that he had been, as politicians apparently always are, misquoted and that, ah hah, even if he had said something like that he hadn’t meant anything like that.

Mr Kleindienst, as with every one of his political associates with whom I have worked, is sensitive first and foremost to national mood. Although they may sometimes seem to buck it’s ordinary ebb and flow, they all turn and run in the face of it’s occasional floods. Such a flood is now evident, with more than 80 percent of persons answering recent polls saying that they approve of stringent crack-downs on student dissent. It is my notion that buried in these responses, and not by too much racist dirt at that, is an implicit desire also for a crackdown on black militants.

The Administration, with some of the most attentive political antennae we have ever seen–look at the power wielded in it by publicists!–is surely going to play the repressive mood for all it is worth. And how much it is worth is, in turn, clearly evident in the fact that Super Semanticist S. I. Hayakawa has become Puissant Politician merely and solely because he has bumbled himself, like the British at Balaclava, into a bloody, dumb, eventually disastrous position of pig-headed glory. The fact that merely cracking a few student skulls has been enough to propel this second-rate social democrat into a first rank of right-wing respect, equal to and possibly even in advance of that other pillar of West Coast educationism, Max Rafferty, must be lesson enough to Richard Nixon and his court that there are political riches in the blood of repression.

There is, however, a growing interpretation, even among some who call themselves libertarians but who probably would be more comfortable as conservatives, that the New Left has brought it all on themselves and, consequently, upon the rest of us and that, in a convenient application of what the Christians might call the Agnus Dei shift, it is the New left into whom all the daggers of recrimination may be thrust.


It is the libertarian instinct and interpretation that tells us that it is the state, and not those who attack or resist it, that is the guilty or most guilty party in the development of any repression and that to call repression merely reaction is to overlook or even deny the dynamics of state development.

In that dynamic development, the state, any state, always becomes more repressive over the long run rather then less. There are no exceptions to this in the development of any state where the power has been delegated by the people to the politicians, no matter how benign those politicians may seem at any particular point of the development.

Thus, the actions by the New Left, or even the Crazies, that have goaded the state into its current quiet frenzy, are hastened by but not created by those actions. The state must, sooner or later, become more rather then less coercive and repressive. That movement may be accelerated by people’s resistance but it is not created by that resistance. Has not, in fact, the structure of government, state, local, and national, actually become more repressive year by year in this country whether in times of peace, war, languor or riot? The answer is that it has and the very political party which now occupies (and occupies is just the word) the positions of power today is also the very political party which in past campaigns has documented and dealt with that onward course of repression in greatest detail. They are silent now, of course, because what it once called oppressive under Democrats becomes orderliness under Republicans.

Libertarians, who, throughout modern political history, have presented the only clear and consistent analysis of state power, know that the difference between the natural or spontaneous order of a free society, and the enforced order of a state system, is the very difference between the day of human liberation and the night of state coerciveness.

(Some details of that night as it now unfolds in Washington, appear to include the systematic arrest, on a vide variety of unrelated charges and as often as possible by local police, of student leaders and, subsequently, and perhaps depending upon the reaction to that, of non-student militants and radicals. The Black Panthers, of course, face a repression far more harsh and the key to it’s success very likely is simply to what extent local police forces, now frothing with a really rabid zeal, can execute Panthers without publicity. They will be helped, probably, by all of those liberal and conservative editors who feel  that Panther revolutionary rhetoric is a threat to the orderly development of their own political programs.)

Libertarians, have a rather clear-cut choice in facing the repression. They tacitly or otherwise support the state or they can remain with the Resistance. There is no convenient middle course such as simply opting out of the struggle. There may be an appearance of such an option but it is illusory. For instance, even if one is able to retreat to a position in which one has no contact with either the state or the Resistance, a reaction in regard to the state-resistence question is inevitable. For one thing there will be many times when a friend who has not retreated could use your help. By not helping him, and if he is resisting, the state itself has been helped. This is not to call for selfless heroics, but only for principled recognition of the fact that there are two sides in this struggle and libertarians, whose analysis is the most pertinent of all, should not contemplate being able to avoid taking one of those sides. Nor should they avoid the possibility–and I say it is inevitability–that a choice which does not support the Resistance, even if with grave reservations regarding some of its character or characters, actually opposes it and that any choice which does not oppose the state, actually supports it.

Not every libertarian should or could be found at the barricades resisting or in the tunnels undermining state power. None, of course, want to end up in jail. And now they will see the power of the state, awesome and even frightening, and they will see the jails eagerly eating the revolution.

Tactics may have to change. That is only wisdom. But direction? Never! The course is to liberty. The state is the enemy.

Originally published in The Libertarian Forum Vol I. No. V, June 1, 1969.

“Reform” by Karl Hess

Liberal reformers, among their many mystical rites, particularly are devoted to the rational use of the state’s taxing power. The most rational use, they seem to feel, is in the redistribution of income.

Thus, when Richard the Reformer Nixon recently announced that he too had seen the light and now was ready to smite the rich and relieve the poor, the pitty-patting of the vested ventricles could be heard loud in the land.

Alas, it is all nonsense.

Taxes can never seriously affect the incomes of the rich. Nor are there any known instances of the government actually transferring substantial sums of money to the poor regardless of its source.

Begin, if you will, with the corporations, those artificial, state-coddled economic monstrosities from whose especially privileged endeavors flow the major wealth of the very rich. Corporations cannot pay taxes. Customers pay taxes. Corporations merely collect them. The point is that corporations are not taxed like thee and me. The are taxed only on what they have left over after deducting all of the costs of making it in the first place. They do not pay taxes out of savings, the way individuals must. It is, therefore, apparent that tax increases, for corporations are paid simply out of price rises or, to repeat, by the customers.

The liberal zeal simply to increase taxes on the corporations is witless at best. It just shifts more of the heavy spending of the state into a relatively “painless” area where the dumb taxpayer, not realizing how the state happily encourages such fictions, growls about rising costs rather than about rising taxes which may, in fact, be what the price rise is about anyway.

But what about just taxing away all of the profits, wouldn’t that discourage price rises? Liberals just don’t know their corporations, apparently. The corporation is perfectly capable of declaring a zero profit at the end of any given year just by raising the bonuses, dividends or even salaries of its owning fat cats.

Conservatives, of course, have long since understood the invulnerability of the preferred position in which laws place corporations. They wouldn’t dream of blowing the whistle on them, however, because (1) conservative ideologues and muckrakers usually get their support from corporations, (2) they tend to be the relatives of corporate owners, or (3) they actually feel that the corporations represent some sort of countervailing power to the state.

That, on the conservative side, is as dumb a posture as the reform zeal is on the liberal side. Corporations in no way present a countervailing force to the state. The are, in effect, licensed by the state, they are treated in special ways (i.e. as though no one in them had any individual responsibility) by the state, taxed in special ways by the state, and so forth. They are either simply economic arms of the state or, to put it another way the state is simply the police arm of the corporations. Under the American system of state capitalism, as under the similar system in the Soviet Union, that’s just the way it is.

The liberal reformists, however, at least feel that they have been given a great lift by Richard the Righteous in that he has closed up a lot of loopholes through which the very rich have crawled without paying any taxes on huge incomes. The miss, in their mean little zeal for revenge, the big point about such people. The closing of one set of loopholes or, indeed, all loopholes, just means that the rich guy must shift his method of income. It is one of the concomitant strengths of being rich in a state-capitalist system in the first place that it supposes an ability to collect income in whatever form, whenever, and however desired. Only the poor must live pinned tightly to urgent weekly demands of wages and withheld taxes.

There are some loopholes, of course, that would cause pain if obliterated, such as the still scarcely scratched oil depletion allowance. On the other hand, it actually would be more productive of benefit to the poor if, instead of simply clobbering the oily ones, the notion of depletion simply was extended. Manual laborers, for instance, obviously are depleted faster than any damn oil well but the state obdurately refuses to acknowledge it.

Something similar may be observed in another liberal attitude toward the poor. The Nixon Administration’s decision to relieve the very poor of any tax payment at all is liberally viewed as government’s reasonable attempt to get more money into the hands of the poor.

The money belonged to the people in the first place! The government now is just refraining itself from stealing so much of it. But are the poor relieved of the war tax on telephones when they use them? Are they relieved of war taxes on other items? Are they relieved of the taxes and the tolls of the predatory local governments who prey on them? Of course not. In short, for every dollar that government boasts that it is getting into the hands of the poor, it is still likely–and there are no real studies on the subject–that the poor continue to pay more out in tribute to the state at all its wretched levels.

For instance, when government liberally boasts that the poor ‘get’ something from government they include in their bookkeeping the poor’s share of the monstrous defense budget or the lunatic lunar boondoggles. Those are programs the poor probably would be quite happy to fore go if only the government would get altogether off their backs.

The point of all this is that among the grandest mistakes reformers ever make is summed up in the attitude toward taxes and corporations and poor people. The state is simply a gigantic corporation, just like G.M., just as predatory, just as bureaucratic, just as “profit” (power) crazed, but with the added horror of having at its disposal the entire machinery of actual physical coercion.

To regard the taxes (profits) of the state as somehow more pleasant than the profits of the state-sheltered corporation, to think that the bureaucrats of the state have any more concern for the poor than the bureaucrats of the corporation, is one of the most fatal flaws in the reformist character.

Originally published in The Libertarian Forum Vol. I, No. XI, September 1, 1969

“Robin Hood Revisionism” by Karl Hess

When I was a wee conservative, counting bond revenues at my mother’s knee, it was the dear lady’s practice to frighten me to death with tales of that arch-bandit, Robin Hood. The conservative wisdom was and is that no more dastardly crime lurks in the heart of man than the infamy of taking from the rich to give to the poor. Entire sweeps of political philosophy, in fact, seem to have been motivated by little else than antagonism to poor Robin and his hoods. On the other hand, an entire sweep of political reality, in this nation, was and is motivated by the reverse proposition, that it is okay to rob from the poor to give to the rich.

The Democrats have done it through a welfare system in which the poor are “client” victims who get the crumbs from the bureaucratic table which is the system’s principal purpose. They also characteristically steal the poor blind through construction projects, licenses and franchises, and such other thefts as are most appropriate to men who have risen from precinct politics.

The Republicans have done it through, most lately, the warfare state of corporate liberalism, in which the lives of the poor are daily robbed of meaning or hope so that they may be used solely as cogs in the industrial machine which is the system’s principal purpose. They also steal through the total use of the state and it’s power, its credit, its regulations, to the end of special advantage for the corporate elite, a form of theft most appropriate to men who have gone to the best schools.

So much for the reverse. What about Robinhoodism, straight and unalloyed? Should we frighten tots with his image? Was his the worst of crimes?

Robin, after sober reflection, wasn’t a half-bad sort. He had one wretched notion that we shall discuss later, but his work, by and large, was healthy, useful, and quite impeccable politically–so far as it went.

Who did he rob? He robbed a bunch of rich churchmen, for one thing. Now what in the world is wrong with that? To hear the conservative diatribes against Robin Hood you would think that the mere fact of having riches is the only standard against which to judge the theft of those riches. In short, the conservative notion is that to steal anything from anybody is a crime–regardless of the source of the thing being ripped off or the nature of the owner’s position in regard to society in general.

The churchmen, whom Robin robbed, represented one of the great ruling classes of all time and, like every ruling class, their power and their pelf was the result of the sort of theft that becomes legitimized by longevity. Although much of the income being derived by churches today is from voluntary contributions, much of the capital upon which churches base their economics was extracted in times when the churches had real clout and could force contributions. The Roman Catholic church, of course, is the main user of such capital and is coming under increasing pressure from its priests to divest itself of what even a  rudimentary ethical sense should be able to identify as ill-gotten gains. Robin didn’t wait for divestiture. He helped out. So, on the count of robbing rich churchmen, Robin seems quite acceptable to a libertarian.

Robin was most noted, as a matter of fact, for stealing from government officials. Rich government officials. Now how do government officials become rich? How did the Sheriff of Nottingham make his? Or Lyndon Johnson? Or you name him. Politicians make their money by using their office; by, in an ethical sense, stealing advantages which lead to gains. I would say that such gains also are stolen. So, apparently, did Robin Hood.

It seems to me, as a matter of fact, that Robin Hood’s attacks against the militant arm of the state have been purposefully overlooked by conservatives in their attacks against Robin Hood. There has been a preoccupation, instead, with the technicalities of whose forest it was, whether the Sheriff represented a mere aberration in the divinely inspired order of Western civilization, and whether Robin wouldn’t have been better advised to press his case in a duly constituted court (presided over by the Sheriff of Nottingham!).

The reason for this oversight on the part of conservatives may not be innocent or merely myopic. Robin Hood’s main crime, you see, was against an established order, one duly established in accord with the laws, customs, etc., of the time. Robin, on the other hand, thought it was illegitimate. He was, it should be recalled, a very political cat. His gripe was–ah hah–against THE STATE. Those upon whom he preyed were lackeys or running dogs of THE STATE. It is possible that the specter of Robin Hood today haunts so many conservative dreams not because of their pure thoughts on property rights so much as because of the possibly impure origins of the property dearest to their own hearts. Otherwise, why get so excited about Robin Hood?

There is one reason. It is the only thing that I hold against the old boy and his gassy greenclad gang. They were hung up on King Richard. Now, being hung up on any king is a mistake, I feel. But, until Dick showed up, big as life and raring to get back in the king business, Robin was a beautiful guy. As often happens in life, he was the sort you could go along with wholeheartedly so long as he didn’t have the power he eventually wanted. When the king came back, of course, libertarians in the gang should have just gone back to the woods and started all over again and, by then, they should have had enough local support to stand a better chance than ever of success.

In short, while Robin was robbing, he was doing nothing that should offend libertarian sensibilities and the fact that  so much of what he was doing was aimed specifically against state authority should actually draw libertarian cheers. The subsequent fact that he took some of the loot from his anti-state forays and returned it to the people most sorely victimized by the state should draw not only libertarian cheers but humanist ones as well.

There is one other thing about Robin Hood. He apparently is alive and well in Latin America today. The inter-urban guerrillas in Uruguay seem to operate in his spirit but without that hang-up about kings. Good.

I bet you a monk’s bag of silver that conservatives line up with the Sheriff of Nottingham. But don’t worry, Robin, libertarians are on your side.

Originally published in The Libertarian Forum, Vol. I, No. XV, November 1, 1969.

“Desperate Character” by Karl Hess

Recently I received about 600 pages of material taken from the files of the various Government agencies that have bothered, over the past 20 years, to probe into my loyalty, my personal habits, and my political thoughts. My lawyer obtained this windfall under the Freedom of Information Act.

About half the material covered what some might suppose was the “respectable” period of my life, when I was a Republican, a very outspoken anti-Communist and a professional political propagandist for right-wing enterprises. The other half covers what seems to be the disreputable part of my life: when, after 1965, I ceased being a republican, protested the Indochina war and supported the neighborhood organizing work of the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society (and continued to be an anti-Communist, certainly in the anti-Stalinist and antiauthoritarian sense).

Initially, I felt anger that the Government should waste so much money investigating people who are clearly more idiosyncratic than dangerous. Then, oddly, I began to enjoy reading through the stuff. Part of it was romantically flattering, in the sense that the Government actually has viewed me as a desperate character–a role into which I fit approximately as well as Cuddles the Puppy, or Erwin the Troll. And part of it was helpful, revealing some things about my past, of which the Government has obviously kept far more careful track than I.

There is, too, a shocking aspect: It’s not so much that the material is significantly incomplete (making me wonder just how fully any Government agency can be made to comply with the Freedom of Information Act), but that it’s so sloppy. Much of it is fantastically inaccurate. The F.B.I. reports even describe me as having blue eyes. I have hazel eyes. Didn’t anyone even look me in the eyes long enough to know that?

The F.B.I. material is laced with spicy references to my advocacy of this or that Marxist position (when, of course, I have always voiced opposition to doctrinaire Marxism), and there is much talk of violence, which the F.B.I. reports say I encourage (yet I have maintained that violence, against a supremely violent government, strikes me as hopeless).

However, a serious omission from my Secret Service report is worth mentioning. There is a file, based on an anonymous call, which accuses me of harboring “weapons and dope” in the place where I was living. Well, yes: The weapons were three–dutifully registered, altogether legal target pistols. I have often fired them in police-department sponsored shooting matches! There was, admittedly, also some marijuana. But there is no information on what may well have been the most revolutionary activity in which I was ever engaged. For a time–while working at Newsweek magazine, and while being openly a champion of various right-wing causes–I ran guns to Cuba. This activity was undertaken on behalf of a pro-American, anti-Batista former president of Cuba named Carlos Hevia. My activity was known to the F.B.I.  Yet this altogether illegal enterprise, this support of armed violence, this dealing in lethal weapons, did not, apparently, stain my official record–as did, for instance, my speaking to students in opposition to the Indochina war.

Anger gives way to sadness, though, when for page after page, you see your name transformed to the word SUBJECT. To see your life transformed to rumors, tips, sly whispers, creepy glances around corners, and numbers in files (my F.B.I. file number was–is–643 496 H). To see all that is to see life itself reduced to mere machinery.

Page after page of investigative material is filled with reports of what I said in a coffee house, in a classroom, at a church, even at a police-academy training class where I was once invited. Why didn’t the F.B.I. just ask me to come and fill them in directly? I would have been pleased to do it then, and still would now. How wonderful if the political policemen and I could have discussed my political migration in person. But, no, their knowledge of SUBJECT must be filtered through a keyhole or an informant, in the dehumanized reportage of the dossiers.

You wonder what would happen to them if they discussed these dangerous ideas openly. Defending their own concepts. analyzing and arguing–rather than snooping and prying, and treating the immensely important discussion of how humans should or could live as a pornographic subject. You wonder if, really, they mistrust not the dangerous radical, but themselves.

How, I wonder, would the F.B.I. agents react if we could discuss, and not simply file away, the main, the amazing point that seems to permeate the entire dossier? The point is antagonism to institutional, nondemocratic authority.  As a Taft Republican, later a Goldwater Republican, my opposition to tyranny was reflected in vociferous, public opposition to the Federal Government itself, to its abuses of power, enlargement of power, intrusions of power, and it’s coercive powers.

But later, it is as though every such impulse had become suspect, tainted, different: because now there was such total opposition to tyranny that it even included the abuses of the military, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and I had turned from patriot to suspect. The F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the military intelligence agencies are not concerned with loyalty to the ideals of freedom, to the ideals of America even. The are concerned solely, specifically and fervently with loyalty to the State and, in an even more narrow sense, with loyalty to a particular regime of the State.

However, I would like to thank these faceless observers for a service. In its current coverage, the material notes that I have been active with several Jewish groups known for their opposition to totalitarian regimes (including the Soviet), and to authoritarian violence (including the undeclared war in Indochina). But there is no cross-reference to earlier reports in the files, where my mother had been suspected of being a Nazi–and I had been noted as having been anti-Semitic. There is no reference in the current file to the earlier anomaly. Perhaps nobody actually reads these dreadful files. They are just collected. Maybe only SUBJECTS read them thoroughly.

My mother’s early brush with the F.B.I. happened just before World War II. She was, when I was about 12 years old, manager of an apartment house in Washington, D.C. Some of the residents of the apartment house happened to be employees of the German Embassy; apparently, anonymous phone calls and denunciations put those facts together, and actually inspired an F.B.I. investigation. My. mother was, eventually, completely cleared.

Those early files suggested that I had made anti-Semitic remarks as a kid. And I had. Later, when I was granted a top-secret clearance in my Republican, or “loyal,” phase of life, agents conscientiously dug into that anti-Semitic business. A Government investigator spoke to our doctor, a Jew, who had ben very close to my family. I had always thought him to be one of the most wise and gentle people I had ever known. According to the dossier, he told the Government agent that the reason I had been mouthing off about Jews was in no way political. It was, he said, simply that I, a Catholic, happened to look quite Jewish, and obviously resented it. My reaction, the doctor explained, was a period of very boisterous anti-Semitim in order to prove that I wasn’t “one of them.”

Yes. Of course, I find that a moving remembrance, discovering it now.  It is a recollection of foolishness, but also the revelation of a good and patient man who understood–a man who was not moved from his love, or friendship, by that foolishness. How he towers above all that tattle-tale business. Perhaps some policeman also saw it. I hope that he might have been moved by such a thing, too. We are all, after all, very human, and not SUBJECTS at all.

Originally published in the The New York Times, November 7, 1976.

“The Wobblies and Free Market Labor Struggle” by Kevin Carson

At first glance, the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) might strike you as an odd subject for a consideration by libertarians. Most self-described free market libertarians and market anarchists are more likely to condemn unions than to praise them.

But in a stateless society, or at least in a society where labor relations are unregulated by the state, the Wobblies’ model of labor struggle is likely to be the most viable alternative to the kinds of state-certified and state-regulated unions we’re familiar with.

And for those of us in the libertarian movement who don’t think “God” is spelled B-O-S-S, or instinctively identify with employers and gripe about how hard it is to get good help these days, the question of how labor might negotiate for better terms is probably of direct personal interest. Some of us, working for wages in the state capitalist economy, have seen precious little evidence of marginal productivity being reflected in our wages. Indeed, we’ve been more likely to see bosses using our increased productivity as an excuse to downsize the work force and appropriate our increased output for themselves as increased salaries and bonuses. And many of us who are employees at will aren’t entirely sanguine about the prospect that our bosses will be smart enough to have read Rothbard on the competitive penalties for capriciously and arbitrarily firing employees.

In fact, I have a hard time understanding why so many right-leaning free market libertarians are so hostile in principle to the idea of hard bargaining or contracts when it comes to labor, in particular.

It’s not in the rational interest of a landlord, competing with other landlords, to capriciously evict tenants at will for no good reason. But I still like to have a signed lease contract specifying under exactly what conditions I can be evicted, and enforceable against my landlord by a third party. It’s probably in the long-term competitive interest of banks not to raise interest rates without limit on existing balances, if they want to get new borrowers—but they seem to do it, anyway, and if you don’t consider it a comfort to have contractual limits on the interest they can charge you’ve got a lot more faith in human nature than I have.

Contracts are accepted with little question or thought by libertarians, in most areas of economic life, as a source of security and predictability—in all areas except labor, that is. When it comes to labor, Hazlitt or somebody has “proved” somewhere that the desire for contractual security is a sign of economic illiteracy.

Likewise, the labor market is apparently the one area of economic life where bargaining by the selling party is not considered a legitimate part of the price discovery process. Apparently the dictum that productivity determines wage levels means that you’re supposed to take the first offer or leave it—no haggling allowed.

I doubt many of us who actually work for wages find the right wingers’ labor exceptionalism very convincing. Most of us, in the real world, find that the credible threat to walk away from the table gets us higher wages than we would otherwise have had. Most of us, in the real world, would rather rely on a labor contract specifying just causes for termination than to rely on the pointy-haired boss having the sense to know his own best interests.

And most of use who have some common sense can see how ridiculous it is to assert, as do many right-wingers, that strikes are only effective because of the forcible exclusion of scabs. Such people, apparently, have never heard of turnover costs like those involved in training replacement workers, or the lost productivity of workers who have accumulated tacit, job-specific knowledge over a period of years that can’t be simply reduced to a verbal formula and transmitted to a new hire in a week or two.

And when mass strikes did take place before Wagner, the cost and disruption of employee turnover within a single workplace was greatly intensified by sympathy strikes at other stages of production. Before Taft-Hartley’s restrictions on sympathy and boycott strikes, a minority of workers walking out of a single factory could be reinforced by similar partial strikes at suppliers, outlets, and carriers. Even with only a minority walking out at each stage of production, the cumulative effect could be massive. The federal labor regime—both Wagner and Taft-Hartley—greatly reduced the effectiveness of strikes at individual plants by transforming them into declared wars fought by Queensbury rules, and likewise reduced their effectiveness by prohibiting the coordination of actions across multiple plants or industries. The Railway Labor Relations Act, together with Taft-Hartley’s cooling off periods, enabled the federal government to suppress sympathy strikes in the transportation industry and prevent local strikes from becoming regional or national general strikes. The cooling off period, in addition, gave employers time to prepare ahead of time for such disruptions by stockpiling parts and inventory, and greatly reduced the informational rents embodied in the training of the existing workforce. Were not such restrictions in place, today’s “just-in-time” economy would likely be even more vulnerable to such disruption than that of the 1930s.

Far from being a boon to workers, or making effective unions possible for the first time, Wagner suppressed the most effective tactics and in their place promoted the kind of union model that benefited employers.

Employers preferred a labor regime that relegated labor struggle entirely to strikes—and strikes of decidedly limited effectiveness at that—and coopted unions as the enforcers of management control on the job. The primary purpose of unions, under Wagner, was to provide stability on the job by enforcing contracts against their own rank and file and preventing wildcat strikes.

Far from being a labor charter that empowered unions for the first time, FDR’s labor regime had the same practical effect as telling the irregulars of Lexington and Concord “Look, you guys come out from behind those rocks, put on these bright red uniforms, and march in parade ground formation like the Brits, and in return we’ll set up a system of arbitration to guarantee you don’t lose all the time.”

Bargaining with the boss over the terms on which one enters into the employment relationship is only a small part of the bargaining process, and is arguably less important than the continual bargaining over terms that takes place within the employment relationship.

In fact the labor movement’s dependence on official, declared strikes as the primary method of labor struggle dates only from the establishment of the Wagner Act regime in the 1930s.  Before that time, labor struggle relied at least as much on labor’s bargaining power over conditions on the job.

The labor contract is called an “incomplete contract” because, by the necessity of things, it is impossible to specify the terms ahead of time. As Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis describe it,

The classical theory of contract implicit in most of neo-classical economics holds that the enforcement of claims is performed by the judicial system at negligible cost to the exchanging parties. We refer to this classical third-party enforcement assumption as exogenous enforcement. Where, by contrast, enforcement of claims arising from an exchange by third parties is infeasible or excessively costly, the exchanging agents must themselves seek to enforce their claims….

Exogenous enforcement is absent under a variety of quite common conditions: when there is no relevant third party…, when the contested attribute can be measured only imperfectly or at considerable cost (work effort, for example, or the degree of risk assumed by a firm’s management), when the relevant evidence is not admissible in a court of law…[,] when there is no possible means of redress…, or when the nature of the contingencies concerning future states of the world relevant to the exchange precludes writing a fully specified contract.

In such cases the ex post terms of exchange are determined by the structure of the interaction between A and B, and in particular on the strategies A is able to adopt to induce B to provide the desired level of the contested attribute, and the counter strategies available to B….

Consider agent A who purchases a good or service from agent B. We call the exchange contested when B’s good or service possesses an attribute which is valuable to A, is costly for B to provide, yet is not fully specified in an enforceable contract….

An employment relationship is established when, in return for a wage, the worker B agrees to submit to the authority of the employer A for a specified period of time in return for a wage w. While the employer’s promise to pay the wage is legally enforceable, the worker’s promise to bestow an adequate level of effort and care upon the tasks assigned, even if offered, is not. Work is subjectively costly for the worker to provide, valuable to the employer, and costly to measure. The manager-worker relationship is thus a contested exchange.[1]

In fact the very term “adequate effort” is meaningless, aside from whatever way its definition is worked out in practice based on the comparative bargaining power of worker and employer. It’s virtually impossible to design a contract that specifies ahead of time the exact levels of effort and standards of performance for a wage-laborer, and likewise impossible for employers to reliably monitor performance after the fact. Therefore, the workplace is contested terrain, and workers are justified entirely as much as employers in attempting to maximize their own interests within the leeway left by an incomplete contract. How much effort is “normal” to expend is determined by the informal outcome of the social contest within the workplace, given the de facto balance of power at any given time. And that includes slowdowns, “going canny,” and the like. The “normal” effort that an employer is entitled to, when he buys labor-power, is entirely a matter of convention. It’s directly analogous the local cultural standards that would determine the nature of “reasonable expectations,” in a libertarian common law of implied contract.

If libertarians like to think of “a fair day’s wage” as an open-ended concept, subject to the employer’s discretion and limited by what he can get away with, they should remember that “a fair day’s work” is equally open-ended. It’s just as much in the worker’s legitimate self-interest to minimize the expenditure of effort per dollar of income as it’s in the employer’s interest to maximize the extraction of effort in a given period of time.

For the authoritarian “libertarians” who believe “vox boss, vox dei,” this suggestion is scandalous. The boss is the only party who can unilaterally rewrite the contract as he goes along. And it’s self-evidently good for the owner or manager to maximize his self-interest in extracting whatever terms he can get away with. Oddly enough, though, these are usually the same people who are most fond of saying that employment is a free market bargain between equals.

For most of us who know what it’s like working under a boss, it’s a simple matter of fairness that we should be as free as the boss to try to shape the undefined terms of the labor contract in a way that maximizes our self-interests. And most of the Wobbly tactics grouped together under the term “direct action on the job” involve just such efforts within the contested space of the job relationship.

Further, these are the very methods a free market labor movement might use, in preference to playing by Wagner Act rules.

The various methods are described in the old Wobbly pamphlet “How to Fire Your Boss,” and discussed by the I.W.W.’s Alexis Buss in her articles on “minority unionism” for Industrial Worker. The old model, she wrote—”a majority of workers vote a union in, a contract is bargained”—is increasingly untenable.

We need to return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8-hour day and built unions as a vital force….

Minority unionism happens on our own terms, regardless of legal recognition….

U.S. & Canadian labor relations regimes are set up on the premise that you need a majority of workers to have a union, generally government-certified in a worldwide context[;] this is a relatively rare set-up. And even in North America, the notion that a union needs official recognition or majority status to have the right to represent its members is of relatively recent origin, thanks mostly to the choice of business unions to trade rank-and-file strength for legal maintenance of membership guarantees.[2]

How are we going to get off of this road? We must stop making gaining legal recognition and a contract the point of our organizing….

We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation. Make them beg for it.[3]

And workers make bosses beg for cooperation through the methods described in “How to Fire Your Boss”: slowdowns, working to rule, “good work” strikes, whistleblowing and “open mouth” sabotage, sickins and unannounced one-day wildcats at random intervals, etc. The beauty of these methods is that, unlike regular strikes, they don’t give the boss an excuse for a lockout. They reduce the productivity of labor and raise costs on the job—rather than “going out on strike,” workers “stay in on strike.”

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss’ profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job. Direct action, by definition, means those tactics workers can undertake themselves, without the help of government agencies, union bureaucrats, or high-priced lawyers.

Some of the forms of direct action described in the pamphlet, especially—e.g. working to rule—there’s no conceivable way of outlawing ex ante through a legally enforceable contract. How would such a clause read: “Workers must obey to the letter all lawful directives issued by management—unless they’re stupid”?

The old Wobbly practice of “open mouth sabotage,” better known these days as whistleblowing, is perhaps the single effective weapon in the Internet age. As described in the pamphlet:

Sometimes simply telling people the truth about what goes on at work can put a lot of pressure on the boss….

Whistle Blowing can be as simple as a face-to-face conversation with a customer, or it can be as dramatic as the P.G.&E. engineer who revealed that the blueprints to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor had been reversed….

Waiters can tell their restaurant clients about the various shortcuts and substitutions that go into creating the faux-haute cuisine being served to them.

The Internet takes possibilities for such “open mouth sabotage” to a completely new level. In an age when unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector workforce, and downsizings and speedups have become a normal expectation of working life, the vulnerability of employer’s public image may be the one bit of real leverage the worker has over him–and it’s a doozy. If they go after that image relentlessly and systematically, they’ve got the boss by the short hairs. Given the ease of setting up anonymous blogs and websites (just think of any company and then look up the URL, systematically exposing the company’s dirt anonymously on comment threads and message boards, the possibility of anonymous saturation emailings of the company’s major suppliers and customers and advocacy groups concerned with that industry…. well, let’s just say that labor struggle becomes a form of asymmetric warfare.

And such campaigns of open mouth sabotage are virtually risk-free, and impossible to suppress. From the McLibel case to the legal fight over the Diebold memos, from the DeCSS uprising to Trafigura, attempts to suppress negative publicity are governed by the Streisand Effect (named after Barbra’s attempt to suppress online photos of her house generated publicity that caused a thousand times as many people to look at the photos than otherwise would have). It is simply impossible to suppress negative publicity on the Internet, thanks to things like encryption, proxies, and mirror sites. And the very attempt to do so will generate more publicity beyond the target’s worst nightmares. Consider, for example, the increasing practice of firing bloggers for negative comments about their employers. What’s the result? Rather than a few hundred or a few thousand readers of a marginal blog seeing a post on how bad it sucks to work at Employer X, tens of millions of mainstream newspaper readers see a wire service story: “Blogger fired for revealing how bad it sucks to work at Employer X.”

Some of the most effective labor actions, in hard to organize industries, have involved public information campaigns like those of the Imolakee Indian Workers’ boycott of Taco Bell and pickets by the Wal-Mart Workers’ Association.

Rather than negotiating on the bosses’ terms under the Wagner rules, in order to negotiate a contract, we should be using network resistance and asymmetric warfare techniques to makethe bosses beg us for a contract.

[1] “Is the Demand for Workplace Democracy Redundant in a Liberal Economy?” in Ugo Pagano and Robert Rowthorn, eds., Democracy and Effciency in the Economic Enterprise. A study prepared for the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University (London and New York: Routledge, 1994, 1996), pp. 69-70.

{2] “Minority Report,” Industrial Worker, October 2002 <>

[3] “Minority Report,” Industrial Worker, December 2002 <>.

Originally appeared in ALLiance Journal #5.

“Ethnicity, Skin Color, and Individuality” by Joe Peacott

Collectivist Thinking

In the united states, as in much of the rest of the world, people are frequently thought of in different ways depending on their skin color or perceived membership in this or that ethnic group. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people simply harbor a hatred for anyone who is a different color or ethnicity from themselves. Others have had a bad experience with another person and assume that all other people who share some superficial characteristic with this person will behave in a similar way. And there are people who are simply naïve and inexperienced and believe some inaccurate story that they have heard or read about people whose ancestry is unlike theirs.

Ideas, of course, lead to actions, and bigoted beliefs can result in discriminatory behaviors. These can range from some people’s unwillingness to befriend, do business with, or live near people whose appearance or language they do not approve of, to physical attacks against people the assailants see as somehow alien and undeserving of the freedoms other people enjoy. While few people’s prejudice is extreme enough to lead them to assault other people, great damage can be done to others when the bigotries of individuals are given a group expression through the state and the institutions it creates.

American governments have always practiced and promoted discrimination both directly and indirectly. They have legitimized, at various times, slavery, segregation, and prejudicial immigration practices. In addition, they have promoted unfair practices in the private sector by favoring businesses that practice discrimination while disenfranchising the targets of prejudice and preventing them from setting up alternative institutions of their own. It is nearly impossible, for instance, to start up an alternative to a bigoted store in one’s community if the banks refuse credit and a government monopoly of money prevents alternative financing arrangements. Over the years, government action has resulted in far more inequitable and harmful treatment of people than any bigoted individuals could ever hope to inflict.

Ethnic Preferences and Social Engineering: How Not to Fix the Problem

Many people, of all colors and ethnic groups, reject discrimination and would like to see a society free of prejudice. Unfortunately, it is common for those who seek to eradicate bigotry to share some of the outlook of those they oppose, both in their view of differences between people and in the means they favor to eliminate ethnic inequity. They tend to share an unwillingness to see others as individuals instead of members of groups and both camps favor the use of government action and coercion to promote their agendas. Until such attitudes are replaced with a commitment to individuality and a rejection of force, efforts to create an equitable society are doomed to failure.

Whether assigning people to groups is done with the intention of discriminating against or helping someone, classifying individuals based on the color of their skin or their parentage conflicts with the individualist idea that each person is unique. People’s beliefs and behavior are not determined by such superficial traits as ethnicity or primary language, and to assume that they are can only lead to misunderstanding. Individual personalities, desires, and habits are the result of an enormous number of different influences and people shortchange others when they try to reduce them to simply a sample of a larger group.

Viewing people as representatives of some ethnic “community” instead of as individuals leads opponents of inequity to support solutions to discrimination such as affirmative action. In such schemes, diversity is seen as more important than individual merit or fitness, and in order to make the ethnic numbers look good, institutions like colleges and corporations will give people “points” for their skin color when making admission or hiring decisions. Once upon a time, “tokenism” was looked down upon as a misguided “liberal” attempt to mask systemic discrimination, but now when a law school seeks out black students as tokens representing other black people so that the resulting ethnic mix “improves” the educational environment for others, it is seen by many as virtuous. If affirmative action programs focused on improving the lot of capable individuals by eliminating discrimination in hiring and admissions decisions they would be a worthy endeavor. Instead the emphasis is on how many tokens of how many different groups can be added to the mix to produce the right percentages to qualify as “diverse.”

The problem with such programs is that when someone is helped by assigning value to physical characteristics, others are necessarily disadvantaged. Discrimination is discrimination, and when people are judged and rewarded differentially because of their ancestry, not because of something they have done or achieved, a sort of injustice has been done. And anyone who holds an individualistic or any other humanistic outlook cannot but oppose such essentially illiberal behavior.

Some defenders of ethnic preferences in hiring and university admissions claim they are justified because non-white and non-asian-descended people are poorly prepared by horrid public schools1 and therefore perform poorly on conventional measures of ability. Clearly this is true. But this does not justify giving preferences to less qualified people just because they have been subjected to a lousy school system pervaded by bigotry. When people of one color are expected to perform up to a certain standard in order to demonstrate their ability to do a job or complete a course of study, so should all others. Any other means of choosing workers or students are discriminatory on their face.

To avoid this line of argument, other affirmative action supporters contend that conventional means of judging academic ability, SATs and such other old standbys, do not, in fact, predict either ability or future performance. If this is true, then such testing should be thrown out for all people since it is not a useful tool for evaluating differences between people or establishing whether someone is qualified for some job or educational program. Few recommend this, however, and advocates of ethnic favoritism instead propose to “race norm” such tests, so that people of latin ancestry, for instance, do not need to attain the same score as someone who is white in order to “qualify” on the basis of some exam. This method of discriminating between people based on their ancestry is, however, no better than any other, and holds no logical water. If a certain test is not a valid means of comparing a person of asian descent and a black american, it does not then become acceptable when used to compare individuals of the same ethnicity. Either hiring and admissions exams are valid assessment tools or they are not, and schools and employers should not pick and choose when to use them in order to promote what passes for “diversity.” Doing so simply substitutes one form of discrimination for another.

Historical Inequity and Reparations

In addition to other arguments by its supporters, some of the justification for affirmative action from the start has been that it is an inequitable, but necessary, remedy for the disadvantages black people were subjected to in the past. Advocates of this position assign the blame for the problems experienced by black americans on historical discrimination and the “legacy of slavery.” The thinking goes that there would be more integration and diversity today if slavery and other forms of now-outlawed discrimination had not existed in the past, and therefore the descendants of those who were once enslaved deserve special advantages now to make up for earlier mistreatment of their ancestors. Some of those who believe in this line of reasoning have taken their arguments even further, however, and propose that black american descendants of slaves should be given cash payouts as a reparation for the fact that their forbears were held in bondage.

There are a number of problems with such proposals. Most important, of course, is that none of the people who actually enslaved others are alive today, so it is not possible to obtain compensation from anyone who directly profited from slavery. Furthermore, many, if not most, americans are descended from people who never owned slaves. Recognizing the problems presented by these circumstances, those who support compensation for the descendants of slaves argue that non-black americans owe their present condition to an economic and social system created on the backs of enslaved black people, and therefore they owe something to the descendants of these slaves who generally are still less well-off than their non-black counterparts. But this argument is based on assumption that most americans, including millions of black people, are relatively affluent only because of the existence of slavery, an institution which ended in the united states nearly 150 years ago. Although slavery was key to the american economy for centuries in the past, attribution of the impoverished condition of some black people alive today to their ancestors’ status as slaves is based on shaky ground. It is difficult to argue, whatever discrimination or other problems they encounter in making their way in the world today, that any person’s state in life is “caused” by events that took place generations ago and involved other people long dead.

In addition to the inadequacy of the justification underlying the call for reparations, suggestions for the implementation of a system to make amends present problems of their own. Since any attempt to force money out of millions of people individually would be impractical and likely unsuccessful, reparations activists generally call on the government to make the payouts. Of course the state has no money of its own, so reparations would be paid out of tax revenues, which are extorted from working people of all skin colors and ethnicities. The people thus forced to payoff claimants would include black, eskimo, american indian, and asian-descended people, as well as white people, whether that is what was intended or not. Those calling for monetary compensation for the depredations of slave-holders against the ancestors of black (and many white) americans would force people, at least some of whose ancestors were slaves, to turn over their hard-earned money to make amends to other people they never harmed, and who may well be better-off economically than they are. This is nothing if not involuntary servitude.

Here again, the root problem is seeing people as group members and not as autonomous individuals. For those with this outlook, the calculus is simple: some people in the past harmed other people and therefore the descendants of the wrongdoers, or at least people of the same skin color as they were, must be forced to make amends to the descendants of the victims. Such a program would declare all white people responsible for, or at least the beneficiaries of, the hardships of all black people, without any need to produce any evidence that any of the parties forced to hand over the cash had ever done anything harmful to the recipients.

Diversity or Freedom?

In a world without ethnic discrimination, it is likely that many of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and social spaces would be far more heterogeneous than they are today. But the fact that people are not segregated in housing or occupation by color or language is not necessarily a sign that bigotry has been eliminated. It could just as well be accomplished by social planners who direct or manipulate people to live in certain places, enter specific lines of work, or pursue some course of study, while dissuading or barring others from doing so, because they are of one ethnicity or another which the experts have decided is too common or too scarce in some setting. Such meddling in people’s choices may well bring about a sort of diversity, but only at the price of individual liberty.

When people are truly free to choose, which is what anarchists seek, they may decide to associate with a variety of other people, or may seek to isolate themselves among others with whom they feel more comfortable because they share an ethnic background. There is no guarantee that opening up all areas of endeavor to all comers, regardless of color or ancestry would create the “diversity” sought by many who allegedly seek to root out discrimination. Living among people who differ from oneself in all sorts of ways may make life more interesting and satisfying for some, but will not suit everyone.

Equality of opportunity for all individuals regardless of skin color or ethnicity should be the goal of freedom-seekers. But it is far from clear that even if this was achieved, every group, occupation, or institution would be made up of various sorts of people in numbers that reflect the exact percentages of people of different ethnicities in the population of the region or city or world at large. And there is nothing necessarily wrong with this. Black people make up a higher proportion of players in the National Basketball Association than is true of american society at large, while white people are similarly over-represented among those in the National Hockey League. Since there is no evidence that this is the result of racism in the recruiting practices of either organization, their relative lack of “diversity” harms no one.

Anarchists and Ethnic Politics

Unfortunately, anarchists are not immune to the appeal of group-based identity politics. In the american libertarian movement today there are some who embrace the nonsense of “whiteness” theory and call for the abolition of the white “race.” Others recently organized a “people of color” conference which excluded white anarchists, while a forum this month in New York will present the case for a “black” anarchism. And though much is written in the anarchist press about discrimination and bigotry, all too often these writings, even those by people who reject separatism and anti-white bias, reflect the view that people fit into nice “racial” categories and that meaningful things can be said about people based on their ethnicity, without bothering to evaluate them as individuals. Such an uncritical acceptance of the ethnic politics so prevalent in this country is inconsistent with the anarchist traditions of promoting individuality and rejecting such manifestations of group think as ethnic bigotry, nationalism, separatism, and statism.

Being an anarchist and an individualist, I believe that people should be free to associate with or avoid whomever they like. While I prefer to live, work, and socialize among people of all sorts, if others, including some anarchists, want to live or do business only with others of the same ethnicity, there is no reason they should not be free to do so, as long as they do not interfere with the equal freedom of others to live differently. The fact that libertarians tolerate such voluntary discrimination, however, does not mean we approve of it, and those of us who seek to eliminate bigotry will continue to speak out against anyone who seeks to classify and divide people based on their ethnicity.

An anarchist society would encompass people of many kinds, some of whom would continue to harbor ethnic prejudices, but the lack of a coercive apparatus by which some could disadvantage others would make it unlikely that individuals’ bigotry would result in real harm to others. However, we do not yet live in a free society, and voluntary association or avoidance is not always an option. Many of the institutions we encounter today coerce people into participation in their workings and then proceed to treat them in discriminatory ways. Such bigoted practices should be strongly opposed.

Not surprisingly, the worst offender is the state. Government obtains its lifeblood, the taxes it imposes on working people, by threat of force, and does so whatever skin color a person has, their immigration status, or the language they speak at home. Since the state robs us all indiscriminately, it should not then be free to treat people differently based on some superficial characteristic. Nor should certain other enterprises and businesspeople, such as chartered banks, landlords, and monopoly businesses, since it is difficult or impossible to avoid doing business with these entities which owe their continued existence to the state. Thus, a bank that won’t loan to black people, a hospital that bars employees from speaking spanish, or a landlord that won’t rent to a person from the philippines are all practicing forms of discrimination that anarchists would oppose. But so is a law school which accepts government money and discriminates against white people in its admission practices, or a state-funded university which provides dormitories segregated on the basis of skin color.

It is ironic that so many who wish to end bigotry turn to government to accomplish their goal, when getting rid of the state would be the best means of solving much of the problem. Without government laws, regulations, and police, banks could not red-line, landlords could not deny people a home, and no one would work for a business that presumed to tell them what language they could or could not speak. In addition, universities would not be able to maintain their monopoly on training for certain lines of work, which allows them to pick and choose who they believe is worthy to pursue what career. And, perhaps most important, the loathsome public school system, which provides lousy and discriminatory education and lays the foundation for much of the inequity people face later in life, would be eliminated. As noted above, an anarchist society would not necessarily be free of people with bigoted ideas, but without a state to empower the haters, they would not be able to persecute those they dislike. If some institution in a libertarian community wished to exclude someone based on their skin color, those who felt differently would be free to create their own, non-discriminatory enterprise.

Although most of those who work for a society free of discrimination and bigotry turn to the state to fix the problem, it is, in fact, the state which allows ethnic discrimination to impoverish so many people and prevent them from improving their living conditions. Only by abolishing the state can we hope to abolish the harm caused by ethnic hatred and inequity. This is the insight that anarchists have to contribute to the debate about bigotry and its remedies.


1. In the US sense, i.e. schools run by the State.

Originally appeared in Anchorage Anarchy, No. 3, October 2003,

“How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis” by Roderick T. Long

Medical Insurance that Worked — Until Government “Fixed” It

Today, we are constantly being told, the United States faces a health care crisis. Medical costs are too high, and health insurance is out of reach of the poor. The cause of this crisis is never made very clear, but the cure is obvious to nearly everybody: government must step in to solve the problem.

Eighty years ago, Americans were also told that their nation was facing a health care crisis. Then, however, the complaint was that medical costs were too low, and that health insurance was too accessible. But in that era, too, government stepped forward to solve the problem. And boy, did it solve it!

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the primary sources of health care and health insurance for the working poor in Britain, Australia, and the United States was the fraternal society. Fraternal societies (called “friendly societies” in Britain and Australia) were voluntary mutual-aid associations. Their descendants survive among us today in the form of the Shriners, Elks, Masons, and similar organizations, but these no longer play the central role in American life they formerly did. As recently as 1920, over one-quarter of all adult Americans were members of fraternal societies. (The figure was still higher in Britain and Australia.) Fraternal societies were particularly popular among blacks and immigrants. (Indeed, Teddy Roosevelt’s famous attack on “hyphenated Americans” was motivated in part by hostility to the immigrants’ fraternal societies; he and other Progressives sought to “Americanize” immigrants by making them dependent for support on the democratic state, rather than on their own independent ethnic communities.)

The principle behind the fraternal societies was simple. A group of working-class people would form an association (or join a local branch, or “lodge,” of an existing association) and pay monthly fees into the association’s treasury; individual members would then be able to draw on the pooled resources in time of need. The fraternal societies thus operated as a form of self-help insurance company.

Turn-of-the-century America offered a dizzying array of fraternal societies to choose from. Some catered to a particular ethnic or religious group; others did not. Many offered entertainment and social life to their members, or engaged in community service. Some “fraternal” societies were run entirely by and for women. The kinds of services from which members could choose often varied as well, though the most commonly offered were life insurance, disability insurance, and “lodge practice.”

“Lodge practice” refers to an arrangement, reminiscent of today’s HMOs, whereby a particular society or lodge would contract with a doctor to provide medical care to its members. The doctor received a regular salary on a retainer basis, rather than charging per item; members would pay a yearly fee and then call on the doctor’s services as needed. If medical services were found unsatisfactory, the doctor would be penalized, and the contract might not be renewed. Lodge members reportedly enjoyed the degree of customer control this system afforded them. And the tendency to overuse the physician’s services was kept in check by the fraternal society’s own “self-policing”; lodge members who wanted to avoid future increases in premiums were motivated to make sure that their fellow members were not abusing the system.

Most remarkable was the low cost at which these medical services were provided. At the turn of the century, the average cost of “lodge practice” to an individual member was between one and two dollars a year. A day’s wage would pay for a year’s worth of medical care. By contrast, the average cost of medical service on the regular market was between one and two dollars per visit. Yet licensed physicians, particularly those who did not come from “big name” medical schools, competed vigorously for lodge contracts, perhaps because of the security they offered; and this competition continued to keep costs low.

The response of the medical establishment, both in America and in Britain, was one of outrage; the institution of lodge practice was denounced in harsh language and apocalyptic tones. Such low fees, many doctors charged, were bankrupting the medical profession. Moreover, many saw it as a blow to the dignity of the profession that trained physicians should be eagerly bidding for the chance to serve as the hirelings of lower-class tradesmen. It was particularly detestable that such uneducated and socially inferior people should be permitted to set fees for the physicians’ services, or to sit in judgment on professionals to determine whether their services had been satisfactory. The government, they demanded, must do something.

And so it did. In Britain, the state put an end to the “evil” of lodge practice by bringing health care under political control. Physicians’ fees would now be determined by panels of trained professionals (i.e., the physicians themselves) rather than by ignorant patients. State-financed medical care edged out lodge practice; those who were being forced to pay taxes for “free” health care whether they wanted it or not had little incentive to pay extra for health care through the fraternal societies, rather than using the government care they had already paid for.

In America, it took longer for the nation’s health care system to be socialized, so the medical establishment had to achieve its ends more indirectly; but the essential result was the same. Medical societies like the AMA imposed sanctions on doctors who dared to sign lodge practice contracts. This might have been less effective if such medical societies had not had access to government power; but in fact, thanks to governmental grants of privilege, they controlled the medical licensure procedure, thus ensuring that those in their disfavor would be denied the right to practice medicine.

Such licensure laws also offered the medical establishment a less overt way of combating lodge practice. It was during this period that the AMA made the requirements for medical licensure far more strict than they had previously been. Their reason, they claimed, was to raise the quality of medical care. But the result was that the number of physicians fell, competition dwindled, and medical fees rose; the vast pool of physicians bidding for lodge practice contracts had been abolished. As with any market good, artifical restrictions on supply created higher prices — a particular hardship for the working-class members of fraternal societies.

The final death blow to lodge practice was struck by the fraternal societies themselves. The National Fraternal Congress — attempting, like the AMA, to reap the benefits of cartelization — lobbied for laws decreeing a legal minimum on the rates fraternal societies could charge. Unfortunately for the lobbyists, the lobbying effort was successful; the unintended consequence was that the minimum rates laws made the services of fraternal societies no longer competitive. Thus the National Fraternal Congress’ lobbying efforts, rather than creating a formidable mutual-aid cartel, simply destroyed the fraternal societies’ market niche — and with it the opportunity for low-cost health care for the working poor.

Why do we have a crisis in health care costs today? Because government “solved” the last one. Δ

David T. Beito. “The ‘Lodge Practice Evil’ Reconsidered: Medical Care Through Fraternal Societies, 1900-1930.” (unpublished)

David T. Beito. “Mutual Aid for Social Welfare: The Case of American Fraternal Societies.” Critical Review, Vol. 4, no. 4 (Fall 1990).

David Green. Reinventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics. Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1993.

David Green. Working Class Patients and the Medical Establishment: Self-Help in Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to 1948. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1985.

David Green & Lawrence Cromwell. Mutual Aid or Welfare State: Australia’s Friendly Societies. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1984.

P. Gosden. The Friendly Societies in England, 1815-1875. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1961.

P. Gosden. Self-Help: Voluntary Associations in the 19th Century. Batsford Press, London, 1973.

Albert Loan. “Institutional Bases of the Spontaneous Order: Surety and Assurance.” Humane Studies Review, Vol. 7, no. 1, 1991/92.

Leslie Siddeley. “The Rise and Fall of Fraternal Insurance Organizations.” Humane Studies Review, Vol. 7, no. 2, 1992.

S. David Young. The Rule of Experts: Occupational Licensing in America. Cato Institute, Washington, 1987.

Originally appeared in Formulations, Winter 1993-94 issue.

“FBI and CIA” by Karl Hess

Washington power struggles are off and squirming. We note that H. E. W. and Agriculture are vying for control of the programs with which to feed, and also co-opt, the hottest current item among political constituencies, hungry Americans. We hear that the Army, sensing a danger that the endless ground war in Vietnam might not be endless after all and certainly can’t be victorious anyway, is looking for new frontiers on which to place its guidons and that chemical-bacteriological warfare may be just the ticket. (A ticket which, incidentally, may also gain it a better seat than ever at the game of riot control.) All the other services, of course, want their own bug battalions.

We sense, also, that the jet setters of the aero-space conglomerates are pitted in some sort of dinosaurian battle against the graying herd-elders of the industrial establishment for control of not only the available soul of the Administration itself but for the control of the more wordly [sic] goodies to be found in taking over government programs (at cost-plus) as we move from the vilified practice of a welfare state run from the White House to the now panegyrized practice of a welfare state, run for fun and profit, from corporate board rooms with the White House just signing the checks and setting the goals. There is little change in who pays the bills, of course.

Libertarians have every reason to view all of these matters with knowledgeable horror. They could predict any enormity of the state simply because they know that enormities are the nature of the state, enormities and crimes against liberty.

There is one area of struggle in Washington, however, that may be viewed with special horror. It is the struggle between the CIA and the FBI for covert control of the government, the world, the galaxy or whatever else comes along.

Talk of the rivalry between these two agencies, or baronies, is a Washington commonplace. Most comments on the struggle, however, reflect mainly from the exotic persons and bureaucratic principalities involved, with endless speculation, for instance, upon whether there were more FBI or CIA informers and paid provocateurs involved in our recent spate of political assassinations. Actually these arguments are rather like parsing scaldic verse, almost entirely academic, in that they concentrate on bureaucratic commas and semi-colons without attending much at all to content.

The content of the struggle mainly involves the weapons with which it is being fought, and the styles of the wielders of the weapons. There is no basic difference beyond that inasmuch as both factions are merely symptoms of an inevitable sickness of the State itself.

The CIA has far and away the greater edge in economic power and in freedom of violent movement. Assassination has been its business overseas all along. There are obvious restraints on its use at home. There also are obvious opportunities for its selective and discreet employment; particularly against the more obscure obstructionists in any situation, persons who mightn’t be widely missed but who might be the crucial difference between one policy or another in its early, intimate stages. The political murder of private citizens has never really caught on here but that is not to say that an imaginative man might not have a go at it anyway—particularly with the vast conspiratorial depths of the CIA upon which to draw.

When it comes to money the CIA has no equal. Although the FBI does have some special and very confidential funds to spend on informers and other covert employees, and even though some cynics might suspect that it could even keep for its own uses some of the vast criminal funds which it regularly, and pridefully, “recovers” when busting bandits, the Bureau has got to come in second. The Agency is not audited at all. There is a Congressional group that is supposed to supervise it but no one really imagines that they can do anything like a thorough job. For one thing, the personnel of the CIA is carried on the payrolls of other agencies and its continual involvement with “national security” means that official secrecy cloaks its daggers and its doings quite effectively.

It is from the CIA’s money-power that much of its realpolitik powers derive. Its subsidy of everything from publishing houses to labor organizations is now well known. No newsman to whom I have recently spoken doubts for a moment that this subsidized estate within a subsidized state is not still thriving. Even if the excuse for the subsidy is, as it always is claimed, exclusively for activities of the person or group outside of the country, these CIA subsidies provide a selective means of encouraging persons or groups who, despite international activities, almost invariably must have some domestic clout as well. This clout, do not misunderstand, is not used on direct behalf of the CIA. But it can be used on behalf of those policies of which the CIA approves and which ultimately will enhance its power.

Where the CIA uses dough, the FBI uses data. Its chief influence, as opposed to outright pressure, derives from the selective use of its files. It is not imaginable, for instance, that even a President could get an item from the FBI’s files if the Director specifically did not want him to have it. After all, it is employees of the Director, not of the President, who tend those files and everyone knows how easy it is for a piece of paper to either appear or disappear in a bureaucracy.

Thus, from President to legislator to syndicated columnist, the FBI can offer data not as something that may be demanded but as a boon which may be conferred—upon the helpful. President Johnson’s

notorious use of FBI data to persecute political foes is another Washington press corps conversational commonplace as is the mock dismay at the fact that J. Edgar Hoover should have found in or made of Lyndon Johnson one of his most eloquent supporters despite the fact that, at the outset of The Great Society, it was assumed that the President and the Director followed somewhat different muses.

Thus, in this modern Machiavellian melodrama, we see directly pitted against one another the old-fashioned money and muscle. Florentine intrigue, cloak-and-daggerism of the CIA and the more American, corporate-organizational, file-case, computer-card snoop-and-snitchism of the FBI.

Libertarians, for what small comfort it may bring to a group which probably occupies a special place in files of both the Agency and the Bureau, happen to have the only sure solution to the disease of secret-policism which is what both CIA and FBI represent in a germicidal sense: cure the disease by curing the cause, the State. Every State, sooner or later, has had an urge to defend itself against foes real or imagined, foreign or domestic. This has always resulted in some form of secret or political police organization. There are no exceptions to this iron law of the dungeon.

So long as nation states exist, so long will political police prowl amongst us.

All of which brings us to the remarkable story, recently revealed in the press, of how, according to Nikita Krushchev, the top cop of the Soviet Union, Lavrenti Beria, was done in.

Director Beria, it is now said, made the mistake of entering a Kremlin meeting without his bodyguard whereupon Krushchev, a genuine genius at getting to the nitty gritty of any situation, shot him.

It is predictable that conservatives, particularly, are still clucking and tushing about this latest revelation of the brutality of politics in a totalitarian state. It could not happen, they may exult, in a safe and civilized land such as ours.

And that is precisely the point.

In democratic America there has appeared no way to relieve the head of the political or secret police of his command. In short, what this great Republic lacks in vivid personnel relations, it more than makes up for in tenure.

Originally appeared in The Libertarian, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1, 1969.

“The Real Rebels” by Karl Hess

Now, officially, I am an enemy of the state. Now, technically, I am a fugitive from one of the state’s national police agencies. Now, fundamentally, I am convinced that in the confrontation between the state and freedom there can be no middle ground, no safe haven, no neutral corner, nook, or cranny.

My own situation is not offered as in any way an exemplary model. It is not a course to be recommended, but simply to be reported. I have for some time refused to sanction or support the state system of this or any nation by the payment of taxes. The Internal Revenue Service’s police force is, as a result, now in the process of attempting to seize all property belonging to me. Since my property consists of the tools and books needed to make a living, this action is not simply one of administrative punishment but involves an aspect of survival. I believe in self-defense. Therefore, I will surely attempt to thwart them. This is civil disobedience. Fine.

Also, wherever and whenever possible I have been speaking out against the state and attempting to rally opposition to it. One result has been that the Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently has given to various “conservatives” information from government files which they consider derogatory but which, frankly, I do not inasmuch as it simply attempts to make the point that I tend to be extreme in my political views. True enough. I do believe, as a matter of fact, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. (Incidentally, I am rather painfully aware of the technique in which the FBI uses its files to defame political dissenters because, when I was on ‘the right side’, I was given, as were many of my colleagues, substantial FBI data to be used against rebels, reds, and resisters.)

As a result of becoming a rebel in active fact as well as a rhetorical rebel, certain notions regarding resistance to the state have come into sharper focus for me. (Needless to say, I do not mean that a purely rhetorical rebel cannot be a real one also. It really depends on whether the rhetoric is, in fact, rebellious or merely windy. My colleague, for instance, is as true a rebel as you will find even though he has not, so far as I know, even been arrested for jaywalking.)

I am more convinced than ever that the state must be resisted, not just debated or evaded. The debate, which has raged in the legislature and even in the courts for generations, has achieved nothing but momentary changes in the velocity of state power development. The direction has never changed. Every year, regardless of the rhetoric of our supposed representatives, the direction of state power has been upward. This has proven to be a dynamic of the system itself and not merely a function of factions within the system. There is every reason to believe that the development of central power will virtually reach critical mass under the present highly defensive, repression-minded, centralist ‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’ Administration (which is supported, do not forget, by the Conservative establishment as well).

The simplest fact of the improbability of representational reform is that in order to get elected, as all agree, a man must promise to “do” something for his constituents. Then, to stay in office, he must actually do something, or at least appear to. This hardly makes it feasible for the man to resist the state. He must, instead, use it, curry favor with it, or so play the bureaucratic game as to even outpoint it, as in the case of elderly committee chairmen.

Some say, however, that the voters could be ‘educated’ to elect anti-statist candidates. Since all organs of mass media are either controlled by the state or its state-capital ‘partners’, and since almost all schools, also, are either owned or controlled by the state, from elementary grades through the university, the means of reaching, in order to educate, tens of millions of voters is obscure at the very best.

Others say that in a time of crisis, at any rate, people might turn to ‘anti-statist’ candidates for their own self-preservation. Skipping the fact that the notion of an anti-statist candidate is a contradiction in itself, it should be recalled that in this example it is the crisis, not the candidacy that would be the decisive factor. There may be a lesson in that for those who will struggle to learn it.

That I prefer resistance to reform does not, however, mean that I prefer a particular kind of resistance. My kind, civil disobedience and sounding off, might not be appropriate for many others. I certainly do not claim that it is the most effective course. It just happens to be what I can do, therefore I do it.

Would not retreat from government be just as effective? Perhaps so, if that is what one can do best, or all that one can do. It should be borne in mind, however, that all such retreat is done, ultimately, at the sufferance of the state and under the Damoclean sword of the state. When, or if the retreat irks the state, it will end the retreat. The same applies to those who feel that they can coexist with the state because they measure liberty purely in terms of personal property and profit and highly regard or at least tolerate the state so long as it protects that. The point to remember is the same: all property in a state system exists at the sufferance of the state. When it wishes to take the property, it can.

As a radical American politician once put it: “The state that is powerful enough to give you all you want is powerful enough to take it all away.” No better comment could be made upon the illusory hopes of having a state that is both powerful enough to protect you against all ills foreign and domestic and also somehow weak enough never to threaten you.

Finally, there is the matter of alliances. With whom does an enemy of the state make alliances? There may be a million answers of contentious detail. There is only one answer of overall principle: You do not make alliances with the state itself, you do not make alliances with agents of or supporters of the state—even though you may attempt to change them. The range of alliance, therefore, is restricted to those who also oppose the state.

Within that range there may be many variations of principle, many different goals. Those differences should and must determine future actions. Present actions, however, should be determined by present needs. No need is greater than opposition to the state and reduction of its power. Without that reduction of power all meaning of other differences must remain purely academic.

To refuse to oppose the state we have because we fear, for instance, the state we might have, is to refuse to grasp reality while trembling before ghosts. (Why not, instead, lay the groundwork for resistance to all state power even while resisting the one at hand?)

Today, everywhere in the world, it is established and coercive authority that is called into question, that is under siege. Literally, one cannot even go to the moon to avoid it.

How then neutrality here on earth?

The timeless revolutionary question is timely again: which side are you on? Are you an enemy or friend of liberty? Are you an enemy or friend of the state? Will you be content to act as an agent of the state, or hide as a refugee from it? Or will you resist it where you can, as you can, when you can?

It is liberty that is the idea most threatening to the state. And all men who hold it as an ideal are enemies of the state. Welcome!

Originally appeared in The Libertarian Forum Vol. 1, No. IX, August 1, 1969