portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

political theory

Critique on Contemporary Libertarian Rhetoric: Part 1

In the wake of the 2004 elections one of the most positive aspects has been the alliance between the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates in pursuing the issue of vote fraud. In the past several elections I have noticed that many "third" parties share a lot more in common with each other than they do with either than with the 2 dominant corporate parties. I have asked myself: could there be a movement toward a coalition of people disaffected and disgusted by the direction of the US? And if so, what policies could be agreed upon that could form a platform for such a coalition? I see insights being offered by many people, of many different political beliefs that could be integrated into something workable. I turn first, to some thoughts of what has been lost from the revolution that brought the United States into being and present it as a critique of what is missing from contemporary libertarian rhetoric.

The failure to recognize the tyranny of the corporation.

The American War of Independence was fought not solely because of the tyranny of the king, as it is often taught in schools today, but primarily because of the tyranny of the East India Company and the corruption it had brought to the government. As Rusticus wrote of the East India Company:

Their conduct in Asia for some years past, has given ample proofs, how little they regard the laws of nations, the rights, liberties or lives of men. They have levied war, excited rebellions, dethroned Princes and sacrificed millions for the sake of gain. The revenue of mightly kingdoms have entered their coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled barbarities, extortions and monopolies, stripped the miserable inhabitants of their property and reduced whole Provinces to indignance and ruin. Fifteen hundred thousand, it is said, perished by famine in one year, not because the earth denied its fruits, but this "Company" and its servants engrossed all the necessities of life and set them at so high a rate, that the poor could not purchase them.

And, in The Alarm which circulated the colonies prior to the revolution:

Are we in like Manner to be given up to the Disposal of the East India Company, who have now the Assurance, to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan, of enslaving America? Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. ... Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Rate that the poor could not purchase them.

Following the revolution, very strict laws were enacted to prevent corporate power from ever rising to that level again. Corporate charters were short, corporations had extremely limited privileges granted to them and possessed no rights, wealth was heavily taxed to prevent the formation of a new aristocracy, and members of corporations could not interact financially with members of government (which was a crime of bribery). Many of these policies would be repugnant to many so-called libertarians. But the ideas were simple: limit the tyrannies, as Jefferson and others saw them, of the king (government), the church, and the corporation. This would help ensure liberty for the people.

Now, this blindspot is finally being addressed by the some members of the Libertarian Party who are finally either beginning to understand or beginning to acknowledge that corporate interests are rarely beneficial to the citizens of a nation. That was one of the more positive messages from the Badnarik campaign in 2004. From his website:

Although free trade is a blessing, managed bureaucratic trade is not. It is a dangerous misconception to think of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international quasi-governmental structures as free trade organizations. They rely on thousands of pages of confusing regulations and corrupt agreements between multinational corporations and oppressive governments. True free trade the kind that fosters peace does not depend on such organizations and rules, but is actually hindered by them. Managed trade the kind that fosters resentment and poverty is all that these organizations have so far delivered.
The managed trade that we see today, where politically connected corporations and favored nations get special deals, is anything but free; it is no more and no less than mercantilism, the same economic system that Adam Smith railed against in The Wealth of Nations, when he saw the inefficiency and aggression of imperial governments endowing special privileges to state-sponsored cartels and forbidding those without power to exchange with each other in peace.
Libertarians want to see free trade between individuals, where people become less dependent upon their governments and the WTO and IMF, where instead they become connected in peaceful commerce, where the power and influence of governments and bureaucratic trade agreements diminish to make way for a world in which there are relationships between people, rather than alliances and arm-twisting between states.

And from his interview on Slashdot:

I don't oppose growth or success. I support unrestricted trade across international borders, and I support companies developing themselves internationally. But the fact is that corporate growth today isn't natural market growth. It's growth encouraged and enhanced by government-dispensed privilege. It's artificial, and it distorts rather than serves the market.
Corporations don't have rights and don't face consequences. People do. Tinkering with that has been disastrous. It's time to get back to full responsibility for individuals instead of government privilege for corporations.

While this is a positive development Badnarik, like most libertarians, is still unclear on how to prevent governments from gaining too much power. Many libertarians think that they will starve the government by keeping taxes low. And yet, if they don't follow the examples laid down by the founders of the United States what are the wealthy going to do with their accumulating money? They are going to use it to control the government (which includes the institutions of domestic and foreign repression), the corporations, and even the churches for the purpose of increasing the size, influence, and power of those institutions over the citizens. How can I be sure this will happen? Because it is what has happened in the United States.

Many criticisms can be made of the founders of the United States, but that is not the scope of this article. I would suggest that it is important to recognize that they were endeavoring to create a stable form of government and prevent the abuses of power that had driven them to revolution in the first place. Therefore, it stands to reason to look upon their experiment and determine which aspects worked to accomplish those goals. The idea of heavily taxing wealth and restricting corporations may be odious to many libertarians but I would argue that in doing so the founders of this country prevented any real accumulation of wealth, and the power and abuses of power that comes with it, for about 100 years. I would further argue that this changed as result of the myth that corporations were granted corporate personhood, leading to the systematic destruction on one of the checks in the system. Once corporations were given free reign in this country the new aristocracy arose, and through their corporate power seized control of the government and the churches leading directly to the tyranny that is now faced today.

add a comment on this article

Let's not forget 05.Jan.2005 13:21

U. Sam

The federal reserve(1913) and gold/dollar split(1971).

There are millions, including independents, that all agree to disagree on certain things, it's not a party issue.

Washington warned in his farewell speech:

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume."

"those who count the votes decide everything"-stalin
a tourist in Cuba
a tourist in Cuba

I can't work with people who tout the wonders of the free market! 05.Jan.2005 13:50

StevetheGreen

While coalition building is an essential part of any winning strategy, I can not in good faith align myself with people who refuse to "recognize the tyranny of the corporation."

Today's Liberatarian believes in the magic of the "free market" to solve all ills!
As if giving corporations more power and holding them less accountable is something we should be working towards!

If the Libs want to work with Greens on the legalization of industrial hemp or implementing IRV, let's do it! Beyond that, their refusal to address the world in a viable realistic way makes their approach one that I not only can not support, but detest.

Hey indy! 05.Jan.2005 19:11

The Secretary

Please promote this to the front!

catch 22 06.Jan.2005 04:26

party pooper

If industrial hemp was fully legal and the corporation sold industrial hemp and used proceeds to benefit society, would that work for you? Would you help make a corporation allot of money, so it can do that if you like the product? and if that corporation becomes big and lobbies as the soy growers do, corrupting politicians along the way, does that also work for you?

It's true what you say about keeping corporations in check, but that could be solved by making it illegal for corporations to mingle in government...the latter is, corporations can do what they want. But if they can't mingle in government and control policy, we might start seeing more ideas flourishing to meet the demands of the market. The only reason why we're at war is too stimulate the economy, because we have nothing else. No savings, no manufacturing, and we import most of our food. We have debt. Seperating government and business is part of the LP platform. Am I libertarian? No. Green? No. But I can recognize and read. Read the LP platform because you have skewed their views to match your own. www.lp.org (also read badnarik.org) for a better understanding of the "free market" and it's implications. It does not mean carte blanche for corporations to make governmental decisions. Seperation of government and business is what they say.

I don't agree with everyone all the time, but I don't "detest" anyone either, except maybe the corrupt politicians within our government. It just takes understanding one point of view to walk across the bridges that most people agree on. The greens and libertarians agree on limiting powerful corporations...within government, not on how much money they can make. It's the combo of business and government that sparks fascism.

All of this is intellectual garbage when you consider we have the equivalent to john gotti and his crew in power. If Cobb and Badnarik can get arrested together, speak together, and push together, along with certain democrats...then I can see past the politics. You won't have much of a Green party left and the libertarians won't either if we keep up the same crap that got us here in the first place. Read George Washington's farewell speech, over 1/2 of his speech is a warning to us about political factions and their agendas. No one party has the solution, but all of us as Americans do. We have been brainwashed into believing that hope lies in a political party, but it actually lies in the individual responsibility we have as American citizens, to keep these servants of the people in check. Politicians serve us, once they forget that, it's time to remove them. Read George Washington's farewell speech, see the power he and others gave us, find strength in his words, have you read the declaration of independence? It's basically an indictment for King George III. Read all the violations they list and you will shed your party politics very quickly.

A few to consider:

"He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

Also see this related thread 06.Jan.2005 07:00

MK


Another good read here 06.Jan.2005 09:25

MK

 http://www.lewrockwell.com/gregory/gregory54.html

The Lew Rockwell site has had several very interesting articles lately about a convergence of left and libertarian objectives. I highly recommend adding the site to your daily stops.

 http://www.lewrockwell.com

add a comment on this article