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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Online: A New History of Leviathan

You've may have seen this already--it's been announced by several people with less lead in their asses than me--but A New History of Leviathan is now online in pdf form at Mises.Org. That book is probably the single most monumental achievement of Rothbard's attempted alliance with the New Left (although there's also a hell of a lot of good writing in Left and Right and Libertarian Forum).

A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State was co-edited by Rothbard and Ronald Radosh. Radosh, these days a neocon, was a libertarian socialist at the time of his collaboration with Rothbard. As others have suggested, he's probably more embarrassed today by having once associated with an Old Rightist than at having been a commie. Here's a good quote from the Preface (courtesy Brad Spangler):

It is now widely understood that the United States in mid-twentieth century is a Leviathan Corporate State—a political economy dominated by giant multinational corporations whose extensive domain, operating with the levers of government, extends from the local retail outlet to firms negotiating for rights to explore oil deposits offshore of Saigon. But the corporate state, whose pervasive influence has recently been subjected to sharp critiques by Herbert Marcuse, Charles Reich, and Phillip Slater..., is by no means a new phenomenon. The corporate leviathan began to emerge at the turn of the twentieth century, after an era of substantial laissez-faire had proceeded to industrialize and urbanize the nation.

The essays in this book reveal how and in what manner the corporate state developed in twentieth-century America. They show how a sophisticated group of large corporate reformers managed to replace a freely competitive economy and make a new governing class, through the use of reform mechanisms to mold the government into a mighty instrument of monopolization and cartelization.

Of course I'd question the characterization of the nineteenth century economy as "substantially laissez-faire" and "freely competitive." The order-of-magnitude increase in statism in the twentieth century was a direct response to instabilities resulting from the state-engineered rise of the corporate economy in the nineteenth. But never mind--as an account of twentieth century corporate liberalism in its own right, this is priceless.

This is just the latest example of the countless volumes, many of them out of print for decades and gathering dust in special collections (like Tucker's Liberty, recently resurrected by Shawn Wilbur, PBUH). This stuff, previously mouldering away beyond the reach of anyone but academic specialists, is now readable at the click of a mouse by anyone with an Internet connection. More importantly, it is downloadable, and infinitely reproducible at zero cost, by anyone with a hard drive.

And now for a cranky tinfoil hat digression: If Peak Oil turns out to be serious business, it (along with the "crackup boom" and other terminal crises) may well lead to rolling blackouts of Internet servers and finally the Web going belly up. If that happens, every bit of this stuff stored on hard drives will be electronic gold. And the CD burner may be the New Dark Ages' equivalent of monks in a scriptorium.

In addition, if Homeland Security succeeds in putting the Internet under full lockdown, burning and physically distributing subversive libraries on CD may well be the 21st century version of Samizdat.

So for the love of God, please download, download, DOWNLOAD!

19 Comments:

Blogger camelCase said...

This Samizdat thing looks pretty cool

September 06, 2007 6:13 PM  
Blogger David Houser said...

"So for the love of God, please download, download, DOWNLOAD!"

And my tinfoil hat may be a notch tighter than yours, because I'd say print, print, PRINT! I don't think digital media storage is necessarily reliable at all. Though it is a godsend to have all this stuff available for now. I think the last time I looked for the New History it was something like fifty bucks...

September 07, 2007 1:22 AM  
Anonymous Aakash said...

It is neat how they make so much available for free, on the web.

My 'Remembering Rothbard' Antiwar Archive contains links to free essays of Dr. Rothbard, that were included in the anthology edited by Lew Rockwell.

Like I said, it's neat how so much is available for free, on the world wide web.

September 07, 2007 1:49 AM  
Blogger FSK said...

I don't think there will be a crackdown and destruction of the Internet.

If necessary, people would go back to the old BBS systems. If newer hardware doesn't support old files due to DRM restrictions, then there will be a black market for old hardware.

September 07, 2007 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FSK: Destruction wouldn't necessarily follow a crackdown. Check out Richard Stallman's essay "The Right to Read".

September 07, 2007 8:48 PM  
Blogger Nick Manley said...

I hear your plea, Kevin, and I had already started "responding" before you wrote it. I started downloading the giant bitorrent file of Ben Tucker's liberty to burn onto a DVD.

September 09, 2007 7:28 PM  
Blogger David Houser said...

I just came across a bunch of Tucker stuff I hadn't seen on-line before:

http://uncletaz.com/liberty/

September 11, 2007 12:49 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Excellent--that's a classic. When I take the mutualist library project off the back burner, I'll probably start with a web page with links to all the online etexts and uploads of the stuff I've got digitized. What with all the stuff Shawn Wilbur, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Ken Gregg, and others, have done to digitize classical individualist texts, it should extend to many hundreds of works.

September 11, 2007 10:33 PM  
Anonymous Foreign mutualist said...

Kevin:

Well, I'm not sure about where could I get information about the big corporations role in promoting public services.

I understand the interest of corporations in promoting other activities of the State. But public services (Health care, education ...) are usually promoted by the statist left (at least during the last decades). Or is there an occult agenda of the big corporations about it? What can be the interest of the big corporations in promoting the increasing of the State expenses in health care, schools, etc.? Don´t these expenses benefit mainly low and middle classes?

September 13, 2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger Nick Manley said...

Foreign Mutualist,

I can offer my two cents on your questions too. The state serves its corporate buddies via the provision of public services because they serve to blunt chances of lower class radicalism. A study on the American welfare state undertaken by Piven and Cloward concluded that the largest expansions of the welfare system had taken place when the chance of widespread discontent was greatest. I think the eras that saw the New Deal and The Great Society would count as the big expansion times. If people are having their basic needs met, then they will be less likely to revolt against the system that hampers them being able to obtain access to them. It also lets the state keep an eye on people so they won't get involved in "bad" subversive activities that may include going after the very existence of the corporate state.

http://www.amazon.com/Regulating-Poor-Functions-Public-Welfare/dp/0679745165

Another example would be the American public -- although, the same structure is often seen in many private schools too -- schooling system that was designed after the 19th century Prussian one to produce many pliable citizens. An interest was taken in it by industrial capitalists because they saw obedient individuals as necessary for a smoothly running factory system. This history has been documented extensively by a former award winning school teacher named John Taylor Gatto. He maintains a website at http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/.

As for healthcare, a point about why large corporations might want the state to take on the burden of providing health insurance is because it removes it from their ledger. It's no longer a competitive issue between firms so no business can get an advantage by not providing it or in lesser amounts than another firm.

Kevin was actually my introduction to this idea, and it strikes me as logical. I haven't refuted it yet ( :

He wrote about it in his book here:

http://www.mutualist.org/id84.html

There's an article on it here too:

http://www.slate.com/id/2086511/

My personal take is that while not ideal; the provision of some worthwhile services by the state is better than nothing. If I am forced to pay into its coffer via taxation, then I'll take a library or dollars to pay healthcare costs with over a new gun for the DEA man.

The statist left's problem is that it sees big government and big business as diametrically opposed to each other, yet the reality is far more complex.

September 13, 2007 8:05 PM  
Blogger Nick Manley said...

Kevin,

Have you ever thought about doing a Lewrockwell.com style site for mutualists? Daily commentary handpicked from ardent mutualists! Maybe the heading could read: "anti-state, anti-war, anti-corporate" or something.

The Mutualist Journal Club might already be the equivalent to it though.

I've thought about doing a bohemianliberty.com site that would be a combination of strong cultural radicalism or liberalism (of the SF variety), anti-corporate and mutualist, with a strong near pacifist anti-war bent.

September 13, 2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

You beat me to a lot of my answer, Nick.

A major wing of the capitalist ruling class supports social services because it's the least intolerable choice. When the economic system is distorted by privilege, the result is a compounding maldistribution of purchasing power that leads to overproduction and underconsumption and a destructive boom-bust cycle. The ruling class has to resort to a partial (only partial, otherwise what's the point of the whole system?) rectification of working class purchasing power.

It also has to remedy the most destabilizing forms of poverty--homelessness, hunger, and other absolute destitution--for the sake of social peace.

And finally, much social expenditure is actually supporting the reproduction of human labor-power.

There's a lot of good historical literature on corporate liberalism, FM, if you're interested in pursuing this. I'd recommend James Weinstein's *The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State* as a starter, and maybe some of Joel Spring's stuff. G. William Domhoff has a lot of good stuff on elites involved in formulating New Deal policy.

Nick, I think what you have in mind could be done through a feed site along the lines of Jeremy's left-libertarian.org. I try to pass stuff along in a more modest way with my Google Reader feed window.

I've got way too much on my plate to take on any other daily chores, though. As it is, I'm probably going to scale back radically on my discussion list participation. Just catching up on Google Reader every day with blogs that have more than ten new posts, and answering the email that absolutely demands an answer, seems to take up so much time I don't have much time to concentrate on writing.

September 13, 2007 8:42 PM  
Anonymous Foreign mutualist said...

Nick, Kevin:

Thank you very much. I'll try to read about it. I understand that big corporations promote public services for social peace but, from the point of view of the statist left, cannot it be seen as a victory of the worker class struggle (or a consequence of social progress)?

The main point is that the left is caught in some kind of trap. We can convince some people that -from a theoretical point of view- it should be far better for workers if, instead of promoting public services, we all try to promote mutualist/cooperative schools, universities, health services, etc.

But, meanwhile, which one should be the best strategy for workers? Trying to strengthen public schools and health system and, at the same time, making less interesting the mutualist options? Or promoting mutualist options and fighting against public services?

September 14, 2007 10:29 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

This isn't really off topic. I've just transferred to a new ISP, apparently successfully, and the link to me on this post will lead to my new pages (although I haven't loaded anything yet).

It's curious to see these suggestions about handling other people's related input; KC recently suggested that I should gather up my dispersed comments and other work in the same sort of way - but time and energy don't really permit.

On the main thrust of this thread, I'd like to make a couple of observations. One observation is that "buying off threats" has been a common theme to all welfare state type reforms; it is quite visible in Bismark's applied thinking on the subject (no bleeding heart lefty he), and I have heard that it was behind New Zealand thinking in providing old age pensions (so preventing dangerous older workers infiltrating the workplace). The other observation is that it has only been "corporate" interests buying off threats this way in recent times; the general pattern goes back to times when elite interests weren't corporate, or at any rate not this sort of corporate. You can trace it in the Elizabethan Poor Law response to Tudor-era vagrancy (following the earlier round of enclosures, that made sheep walks out of commons), and then again later in the 18th and 19th century responses to a later phase of this, culminating in the "New Poor Law" that spread costs between parishes in "parish unions" (thus the Dickensian Union Workhouse).

Oh, and there isn't any need to "rectify" working class purchasing power, except as a means to helping quell unrest. To the extent that the (corporate or other) elite interests are monolithic or act as one, they can replace that missing purchasing power themselves (maybe through arranging for government spending), and to the extent that they are a mindless blob, their individual members can cannibalise each other with no qualms. A mindless collectivity, a mere aggregate, provides incentives for its members to poach each other's markets and doesn't reward each one enough for individual sacrifices towards growing the whole market - the usual games theory thing.

I'll make a separate reply to FM's points later, as, when, and if time and energy allow.

September 15, 2007 2:12 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

FM,

"from the point of view of the statist left, cannot it be seen as a victory of the worker class struggle"?

Sure. Most such "reforms" under capitalism have a dual character. They're more of a concession than the ruling class would ideally like to make, and a result of pressure from below. And conceivably they can be built on and pushed further, if the balance of forces shifts sufficiently to permit. But the actual polcies are devised and implemented by the ruling class, and takes the form it chooses. Such a "reform" can serve a variety of interests, depending on who holds the power. But in the vast majority of cases, it's IMO a net benefit to the propertied classes, and remains firmly under their control.

PML,

Such "buying off" is usually a pretty good deal for the ruling class. The effect of privilege is that probably 85% of the population are net exploited. Only a small fraction of the amount by which this 85% has been disadvantaged must be used to buy off the absolutely destitute classes. The propertied can easily afford to throw a bit of HUD and food stamps and AFDC money at the bottom rungs, so long as they don't have to pay Joe Blow on the assembly line or in the cubicle what his labor is worth.

September 17, 2007 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Foreign mutualist said...

Kevin:

As History demonstrates, public services directly discourage mutualism movement. My point is:
Can workers understand a mutualist policy that fights public services? How can we convince the traditional statist left people? In most countries (may be not still in the U.S.A.) statist left is becoming more and more unhappy about public services, but they don't look able to open themselves to actively promoting mutualist policies. Which are in your opinion the main "political" reasons we should use with them?

September 18, 2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Actually, KC, the pros and cons of buying off can be a lot subtler than that. The Repeal of the Corn Laws was that sort of buying off - but it was the buying off of industrial worker unrest by their employers, at the expense of the landowners. There was a split in the elite, of the sort I commented on here and here. What is more, it was also at the expense of workers on the European continent, who found their food supply diverted, and of Britain's own strategic independence which bacame far more dependent on command of the seas (the convoy system was introduced only just in time to save Britain from the Firts World War U-boat campaign). The spread of industrialisation immiserated neighbour countries in this way in a spreading wave that led each to industrialise in turn until the wave reached a periphery with more spare agricultural capacity; I believe Marx noticed this but wove it into his own system.

FM, what you have been getting at isn't a direct threat to mutualism but an indirect one, from "crowding out" driven by an externality from the way the funding taxes are disconnected from what people choose to do and then benefit from. Short of capturing the system and undoing the biasses, the only practical courses involve building the new within the shell of the old, as KC has written about before. That just rephrases the problem though, even though it does tidy it up enough to be more tractable. How do we do that? That requires more thought and writing than I have time and space for just here and now. It's also important not to confuse ends and means; mutualism isn't the important thing, any more than strengthening public services, as such, is what counts. "Strong" here can slide between meaning more effective (delivering more), efficient (costing less per unit delivered), or simply becoming entrenched. The same risk arises when considering mutualism as the objective.

September 18, 2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

FM,

That's a tough question, and I don't know a completely satisfactory answer to it. The welfare state does benefit ordinary people to some extent, the managerialist New Class uses it as a base of power and knows exactly how to play it for propaganda advantages, and there would be real inconveniences and transition costs to eliminating it. Two imperfect answers:

1) At least demythologize the Upton Sinclair/Art Schlesinger history of it, so people are at least aware of what the real alternative was.

2) Approach the transition in baby steps, with control being decentralized and reorganized on more of a stakeholder basis, with the transition to cooperative funding as a long-term project to be pursued as the elimination of privilege leads to changes in wealth distribution.

PML,

Good point. The question is complicated by the existence of separate sub-interests within the ruling class.

September 20, 2007 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Man Versus The State, with Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom by Herbert Spencer


http://www.econlib.org/Library/LFBooks/Spencer/spnMvS.html

September 24, 2007 7:06 AM  

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