Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Advocates of individual liberty have gone through a lot of labels. "Liberal" was a good one, but despite some valiant efforts (pdf) to salvage it, the word is probably lost forever. "Libertarian" has been popular for a while now, but there is baggage with it. First is the political party. (Enough said.) Second is the not-unreasonable impression that at least some wings of libertarianism are tainted by pro-war, pro-business leanings. Too often libertarians (me included) ignore the wider context of what Albert Jay Nock called the "merchant-State"; that is, the reigning political-economic system, which at its core favors established business interests over everyone else. It's a system of privilege—regulations and taxes harm small and potential competitors to the advantage of established interests—which means that anything which happens within the system is distorted. When we say, "In the free market, businessmen can only make money by pleasing consumers," we imply that today we have a truly free market. But we don't. So the options of consumers (and workers) are artificially restricted and business does not have to be quite as pleasing as it would have to be if the market were truly free.

I am also beginning to think that any label with the word "market" in it (such as "market liberal") is misleading. It implies that the market is everything, that the ideal society would be one big market. We don't mean that, but we suggest it. That puts off lots of people who might otherwise be attracted to the vision of a fully voluntary society. In a free society people would be free to set up all kinds of nonmarket organizations: communes, co-ops, self-sufficient farms, whatever. Those arrangements would in no way violate my notion of individual freedom. "Anything that's peaceful," said Leonard E. Read, founder of The Foundation for Economic Education. We shouldn't convey the impression that only one way of living fits our criteria.

I've long thought that history did us wrong by depriving us of the word "socialism." Think about it: there is society and there is the state. People of my ilk want human affairs to take place in the social arena, rather than the political arena. The two great political-economic contenders, then, should have been Socialism and Statism. Of course, nineteenth-century individualist anarchists called themselves Socialists, but part of the reason was that they held the labor theory of value and believed that capitalism deprives workers of their full product. (I'll get to that at some point.) At any rate, “socialism” will not serve as a label for advocates of individual freedom. It’s too far gone.

Other candidates I've encountered also fail to communicate clearly and accurately.

For me, that leaves “voluntarist” (which I prefer to “voluntaryist”). It says what it means, and it sounds inviting. What more could one ask?

No comments: