Karl Hess’s brilliant article in this issue turns the spotlight on a new and curious phenomenon of “libertarians” and even “anarchists” who yet are strongly opposed to revolutionary change, and who therefore at least objectively stamp themselves as defenders of the existing state and the status quo. But this opposition to revolution is no accident; it is part and parcel of the entire world-view of these people—whom we may call “anarcho-rightists”. For the anarcho-rightist, beneath the veneer of his professed anarchism, still remains what he generally was before his anarchistic conversion: a benighted right-winger.
In a sense, it is heartwarming that the overwhelming logic and consistency of the anarcho-capitalist position has won over a large number of former laissez-fairists and Randians. But every rapidly developing movement has growing pains; anarchism’s growing pain is that this conversion has, in all too many cases, been skin deep. The curious conservatism and moderation of the Libertarian Caucus of YAF is but one glaring example of this defect.
Let us analyze the anarcho-rightist. In effect, he says: “O.K., I’m convinced that it is immoral for a government to impose a monopoly of coercion by the use of force, and it [is] possible or even probable that the free market could supply all services now considered governmental, including judicial and police protection. Since this is anarchism, I am an anarchist.”
But his anarchism is only an anarchism for the far distant future, to be achieved solely by patient education, the issuing of leaflets and pronouncements, etc. In the meanwhile, in his concrete, day-to-day attitudes, the anarcho-rightist remains fully as right-wing as he was before. His anarchism is only a thin veneer laid on top of a moral of profoundly “anarchist” ["archist"] and statist views, views that he has not bothered to root out of his social philosophy.
Thus, the anarcho-rightist remains an American patriot. He reveres the American government as the “freest in the world”, he worships the Founding Fathers (failing to realize that the Constitution was a profoundly statist coup d’etat imposed upon the far more libertarian Articles of Confederation), he loves and admires the two major enforcement-good [sic] squad arms of the State: the army and the police. Defining the police a priori as defenders of person and property, he supports their clubbing, beating, and torturing of dissenters and opposition movements to the State. Totally ignorant of the American guilt for the Cold War and of the long-time expansionist nature of U. S. imperialism, he supports that Cold War in the belief that the “international Communist conspiracy” is a direct military threat to American liberties. Critical of Establishment propaganda in domestic affairs, he yet has allowed himself to be totally sucked in by the Establishment propaganda about the Communist bogey. Hence, he supports the American military. Even if he opposes the Vietnam War, he does so only as a tactical error that is not in American “national interests”. Although a self-proclaimed libertarian, he shows no concern whatever for the genocidal American murder of millions of innocent Vietnamese peasants. And, beset by a narrow, solipsistic desire to keep his university classes open, he actually takes the lead in defending the State’s brainwashing apparatus—the American schools and colleges (either State-owned or State-subvened)—against the rising opposition to that educational system.
In short, the fact that, in philosophic theory, the anarcho-rightist is indeed an anarchist should cut very little ice with those anarchists who are truly opponents of the American State, and who are therefore revolutionaries. For when it comes to concrete actions, actions in which he must line up either for the State or for the opposition to that State, he has generally lined up on the wrong side of the barricades—defending the American State against its enemies. So long as he does so, he remains an opponent rather than an ally.
A strategic argument has been raging for some time among revolutionaries whether or to what extent the anarcho-rightist offers prime material for conversion to the revolutionary position. Basically, how much time one spends working on any given rightist is a matter of personal temperament and patience. But one gloomy note must be sounded: there is a grave tendency among many rightists to be solipsistic: in short, to not give a damn about principle, about justice, or, in the last analysis, about liberty. There is a tendency for rightists to be concerned only with their own narrow monetary profits and immediate creature comforts, and therefore to scorn those of us who are dedicated to liberty and justice as a cause. For these ignoble solipsists, any form of dedication to principle smacks of “collectivism” or “altruism”. I had wondered for years why so many Randians, for example, place such great emphasis on combatting “altruism” (which has always struck me as an absurd social philosophy of little importance.) Now I am beginning to realize that for many of these people, “altruism” means any form of devotion to principle, to liberty and justice for all men, to any principle, indeed, which may disturb their own cozy accommodations to the statist evils which they recognize in the abstract.
Thus, when, many years ago, I raised a call for a revolutionarylibertarian movement, I was dismissed by these people as crackpotty and unrealistic. There could never be a revolution here, and that was that. Then, in the mid-1960’s, when, almost miraculously, the New Left revolutionary
movement began to take hold in America, these libertarians shifted to a new position: that a revolution in this country would never be libertarian, it would only be Marxist and dictatorial. But now, now when libertarian revolutionism has begun to spread like wildfire among the youth, now the anarcho-rightists have begun to display their cloven hooves: they have begun to reveal that they oppose even a libertarian movement. Several of such people have recently declared that I, or rather the revolutionary libertarian movement of which I am a part, am “more of a threat to them” than the State. Why? There appear to be two reasons. First, that any revolution will disturb their cozy accommodations, their petty profits, their lousy classes. In short, their dedication to liberty is so weak, so feeble, that they oppose bitterly any rocking of the boat, any disturbance to their cozy little lives. They don’t really oppose the State, certainly not in practice. They can “live with” the State quite contentedly. The second reason is that many of these people cringe from revolutionary justice, because they know that much of their income and wealth have derived from unjust State robbery.
And so these anarcho-rightists sit basely on the sidelines, hugging their petty comforts, griping and carping about the revolution while the New Left and other revolutionaries put their lives on the line in opposition to the very State which they claim to oppose but do so much to defend. And yet, should the revolution ever succeed, these people expect that the fruits of liberty will drop into their laps, that they will reap benefits which they have done not one whit to earn through struggle. And O the recriminations that they will heap upon us if liberty is not then handed to them, unearned, upon a silver platter. For their own opportunist sakes, anarcho-rightists might ponder the fact that successful revolutionaries, no matter how libertarian, tend to be very impatient with those who have opposed them every step of the way. As Karl Hess has eloquently written, the position of any revolutionary tends to be: “No voice, no choice; no tickee no shirtee; no commitment now, no commitments later.”
Originally appeared in The Libertarian Forum Vol. 1, No. 13, October 1, 1969