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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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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Paul Marks Implodes

Thanks to Jeremy, in the comments to a previous post, I learned that Paul Marks made a further "response" (if you can call it that) to my latest contribution in the contract feudalism debate. The "English mastiff's" increasingly shrill comments about me, right up to his final meltdown, can be found under the Libertarian Alliance Blog's post announcing the publication of my pamphlet.

As one might predict from his track record so far, Mr. Marks did not confine himself to anything so mundane as rebutting what I actually said. What with it being so much more dramatically effective to have a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, and all, he took the artistic license of responding not to what I actually said, but to what (had I actually said it) would be most gratifying to denounce.

For example, in the past I have repeatedly predicted (as did Benjamin Tucker) that some people would continue to choose wage labor in a market anarchy, even without special privilege or artificial scarcity. The difference would be that, with reduced dependency and increased alternatives, fewer people would accept it, and those who did would do so on far more favorable terms. Wage labor would cease to be the predominant feature in a "wage system" characterized mainly by absentee ownership and wage labor. Further, nowhere in either of my contract feudalism pamphlets did I assert that wage labor would completely cease to exist.

Contrast this to the position of my strawman doppelganger, which Mr. Marks prefers to refute:

It is not true that taxes and regulations and private land ownership are the only reasons that some people work for wages....

It is not true that either individual employers or corporate enterprises (religious or secular) automatically exploit employers by paying them wages. This is not true because the labour theory of value is false.

Note: I'd enjoy seeing Mr. Marks attempt a coherent description of exactly what he thinks the "labour theory of value" actually states, and his understanding of the actual arguments Bohm-Bawerk et al made to disprove it.

However, people who employ others are in no way acting in an antilibertarian way....

On justice in land titles, I cited no less an authority than Rothbard on the kinds of titles I regarded as clearly unjust. First, absentee claims to vacant and unimproved land, by which the "owner" can in the future claim tribute from the first homesteader and legitimate appropriator. Second, absentee claims to land which was developed subsequent to the state's land grant, in which the legitimate first appropriator or their heirs and assigns are still making rent or mortgage payments to the grantee (i.e., the large swaths of California real estate still held by railroad companies pursuant to federal land grants). Third, cases in which the land is currently worked by a peasantry descended from the rightful owners, and who pay tribute to a landed oligarch or latifundista whose title can be traced in direct succession from a state grant.

Again, compare this to the position Mr. Marks prefers to attribute to me:

As far as he is concerned, if he can prove (for example) that land was stolen (no matter how long ago) that means whoever owns the land now does not justly own it.

* * *

I doubt Kevin Carson (if he owns a house) will be rushing off to try and work out what Indian tribe once lived on the land it is built on - so he can give the house to some random member of this tribe.

What's more, Mr. Marks goes even further. He frankly and openly takes the liberty of refuting positions which he admits I have not espoused, but which he regards as my "real" (if secret) positions, the esoteric doctrines which I share only with my adepts.

First of all because Mr Carson would not hold a different position where the land was not stolen (as in the case of Iceland)....

* * *

Of course, AND THIS IS MY BASIC POINT, Mr Carson is just playing games anyway.

Even if every tax and regulation you are pointing at was done away with he would still hold that working for wages was “contract feudalism” (or whatever).

It is a confidence trick - under the cover of flowery writing (the style that Sean Gabb and co love) there is the same old Marxism.

It was known as “sugar coated shit”. The sugar coating is a lot of talk about freedom, liberty and other such - but the shit is still at the core. So it is unwise to eat it - unless one wishes to be a “shit eater”.

* * *

...I am not young, but I still have enough wit left to smell out an enemy under a bit of sugar coating.

I do not claim that Kevin Carson has a deep knowledge of Marxism (most Cong know very little about it), but he is a foe of large scale private property and contracts - that is enough.

This is nothing new with him. He made similar comments under a Samizdata post announcing the publication of his critique:

We both know that the union guys would be at the front gate (and Mr Carson and co would be denouncing contract feudalism) regardless of whether there was a government subsidy for the company or not.

It is an excuse, not a reason....

If the land could be proved to have been passed down (or sold) from the first occupyers (as in Iceland) Mr Carson and co would still find some reason to attack business enterprises over the "wage system".

Oddly enough, despite all this, Mr. Marks at one point displays some odd scruples about putting words into my mouth:

I can not remember whether Mr Carson is one of the “expand credit and we will be able to…..” or “interest free……” people or not.

So I will not write against these fallicies - as Mr Carson may not believe in them.

Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Although in my article I focused on responding to what Mr. Marks actually said, I confess I had similar suspicions about his motives: that under the thin layer of "free market" sugar, there was a core of shit (a reflexive defense of existing property titles, and of the interests of the wealthy, without regard to justice in acquisition). In response to his dark insinuations about my "real" motives, I wrote:

I am tempted, in similar spirit, to speculate on Mr Marks’ motivation. I am tempted to speculate that he is constantly on the lookout for “excuses” to defend the justice of property titles held by the existing propertied classes, to defend their profits as the result of superior productivity in the competitive marketplace, and to defend their wealth as the result of past superior virtue. I am tempted to speculate that he would “find some reason” to do so regardless of the facts of the case. That would be a reasonable assumption, given that one of the major constituencies of the Tory Party he has been elected to represent is the several thousand people who own most of the land of Great Britain. It’s tempting to suspect that he would “find some reason” to wax eloquent over the sanctity of “private property rights” even if the current landlords could be shown to have inherited the land in unbroken succession from one of William the Conqueror’s barons, and that their tenants could trace an unbroken ancestral line to the peasants who worked the land at the time of the Conquest. I could engage in such speculation--but, as Richard Nixon would say, that would be wrong.

But thanks to Mr. Marks, I am (unlike him) not reduced to ignoring his stated positions in favor of speculating on the "real" positions hidden under the sugar. In his ravings in the comments at the LA blog, he has himself done us the service of throwing off the sugar, and displaying the shit for all to see.

Quoting my challenge at the end of the pamphlet, he writes:

Kevin Carson, at the end of his recent article, asked if I would still support someone keeping their land if it could be shown that they were of the direct line of someone who came over with William the Bastard in 1066.

Of course I would, indeed the upholding of such property rights (in spite of their origins) is the DEFINING FEATURE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION....

Take the example of the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham (possibly the richest man in England in the late 18th century) - his estates were at the spearhead of farming improvment (vital both for feeding an expanding population and for the PROFITS that were invested in industry, both directly and indirectly - via banks).

This is somewhat reminiscent of utilitarian apologetics for eminent domain, is it not?

The Marquis’ name was Wentworth-Watson - but he was related to the Fitzwilliams (indeed his heir was Earl Fitzwilliam).

Fitzwilliam is clearly a Norman name.

If the Libertarian Alliance is against such folk as the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham and Earl Fitzwilliam then it is against not just economic development but also the whole Old Whig belief in limited government and civil liberties - freedom of speech, independent juries (and so on) that the Rockingham Whigs stood for.

Western civilization and in particular civilization on this island was built of the foundation of the very landed estates that this doctrine of “if there was no original just aquisition then the land is not yours” opposes....

Is the Libertarian Alliance a friend or a foe of what is left of Western Civilization?

This is a recurring theme for him:

I do not accept some sort of Lockian labour theory of property (although I accept that this is diferent from a labour theory of value). Someone can own something without working with it - and someone can work with something without owning it. AND THERE IS NOTHING UNJUST IN THIS.

This ignores the central question: can one justly acquire previously unowned land which is vacant and unimproved, without mixing one's labor with it, and subsequently force the first homesteader (and legitimate appropriator) to pay tribute? The wrong answer to this puts Marks not only at odds with me and other sugar-coated leftists, but with Mises, Rothbard, and the mainstream of the principled libertarian movement.

Actually “mixing labour” is not relevant (if I own some trees I do not have to chop them down - or indeed do anything to them) - as someone can own land without mixing labour with it . And someone can work someplace without owning that place.

So Mr. Marks draws a clear line between himself and principled libertarianism. Principled libertarians say, with Karl Hess, that

libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

Mr. Marks, in contrast, does "defend, will nilly, all property which is now called private." As I suggested in my reply, the primary constituency of his Conservative Party is the several thousand people who own most of the land in Britain. Throughout his comments at the LA Blog, he repeatedly stresses the fact that he is poor, although he doesn't go so far as to mention "good, respectable Republican cloth coats." That's too bad for Mr. Marks. I can't help thinking of Sir Thomas More's quip: "It profits a man nothing to lose his soul for the whole world--but for Wales?"

Jeremy Weiland aptly summarized Marks' position in a subsequent comment:

The Libertarian Alliance is clearly an enemy of what is left of Western Civilization.

You should have come out and said from the beginning, Mr. Marks, that what you were defending was not justice in property titles, or libertarianism, but “western civilization”. That makes sense: it reminds me of a recent article on the roots of conservatism that defines the philosophy thusly:

The conservative, in short, cultivates obedience to existing institutions.

You would have saved everybody a lot of time and effort if you had, from the beginning, said that what was important to you wasn’t justice per se so much as justice given the existing, unquestioned institutions, laws, and distributions. Nobody would have bothered engaging a reflexive defense of whatever traditions, norms, and practices have been handed down from time immemorial - indeed, if one holds such a position, there is no point engaging that person at all.


Sean Gabb stepped in to my defense at one point:

In the past, libertarians tended to defend actually existing capitalism because the most likely alternative model was much worse. Capitalists also were willing to talk about the value of free markets, even if they wanted protection - the reason being that they needed an apologetic that was not naked class privilege. With the collapse of orthodox socialism, however, the capitalists have dropped even their free market rhetoric, and we can start thinking about more free market alternatives. That is why people like Kevin Carson are so important. He reminds us that libertarianism is not the same as Tesco minus the State.

This, apparently, was the straw that broke the camel's back. The last fragile strands of Mr. Marks' sanity gave way under the strain. From this point on, he became increasingly rabid and hysterical (resembling, by the time it was over, Gorgan the Friendly Angel shrieking "Death to you all. Death to you all."). He continued to repeat, in ever more strident tones, his identification of "libertarianism" with the defense of existing property titles, and finally consigned the Libertarian Alliance to leftist hell. In the end, the "English mastiff" was yapping like a pomeranian.

“Naked class privilege”.

A “free market” rather than “the Capitalists”.

And (of course) snobish sneering at Tesco’s supermarkets.

"What further need have we for testimony?" the Pharisee crows. "We have heard it from his own mouth."

If this the modern line of the Libertarian Alliance then the difference between the L.A. and socialist outfits is of no practical importance. As the only difference will be a lot of talk about “free markets” without any support of anything less pure - indeed of anything real on Earth.

Saying “we will only support private ownership of land if the land can be shown never to have been stolen at any time in history” is much the same (in practice) as saying “we oppose the private ownership of land”.

And saying “we will only support a private manufacturing or service enterprise if there is no tax or regulation influencing the market in any way” is much the same (in practice) as saying “we oppose private ownership of manufacturing and service enterprises”.

It seems that the L.A. is evolving into just another socialist outfit - although of the commual anarchist (Black Flag) type.

Well at least this will mean that the L.A. is more popular in the “education system” and in the media. The key to such success depending on being anti business....

The L.A. used to be about reducing government spending, taxes and regulations - with either a minimal state or no state at all being the ideal.

It did not use to be about claiming that any ownership or contract before this ideal state of affairs was achieved was invalid.

* * *

Still I thank you - for you have answered my question.

The Libertarian Alliance is clearly an enemy of what is left of Western Civilization. You are just another leftist outfit.

Now I understand your likeing for Kevin Carson.

* * *

It need not be that way, and the Libertarian Alliance used to stand against those who were moved with envy towards those who were more fortunate in life.

But those days are over - now is the time of the wolf.

If Mr. Marks considers it an identifying mark of "socialism" to subject existing property titles to an objective standard of justice, then he can't stop at relegating the Libertarian Alliance to the leftist camp. Like George Reisman, in order to draw the line against me, he winds up putting Rothbard (and many other leading figures in the mainstream movement who adhered to the same principles) on the other side of the line, as well. He isn't expelling a few leftist heretics from the mainstream libertarian movement; he is, rather, exiling himself from it.

Mr. Marks has drawn the battle lines quite sharply: between the principled defense of free markets and liberty as such, and the defense (with a "libertarian" sugar-coating) of existing wealth and power. The Libertarian Alliance has repeatedly made it clear which side of the line it belongs on (and not, by any means, just by publishing my work). Mr. Marks has chosen to stand on the left hand (isn't it delicious?) and consigned himself, just as clearly, to the goats. Fortunately, there is a place prepared for him. Depart from us, you cursed, to the Adam Smith Institute.


Blogger Jeremy said...

Depart from us, you cursed, to the Adam Smith Institute.

How cruel of you! Nobody deserves that! ;-)

June 03, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Nathaniel Tapley said...

Excellent post!

June 03, 2008 5:29 PM  
Blogger Balls of Steel said...

Does this Paul Marks guy actually call himself a libertarian? That would be rather laughable. Good post, Kevin; you put him in his place.

June 03, 2008 11:57 PM  
Blogger quasibill said...

After Marks responded to Garner's queries about voluntariness, I was tempted to post a short comment noting that Marks has now proven that the Soviet purges and concentration camps in Nazi Germany were the result of voluntary transactions - after all, the victims all voluntarily accepted the food provided to them and in return accepted whatever consequences came.

But then I remembered the Marks is either dishonest or incapable of introspection, and that when I engage such people in debate, I tend to stoop to their level. This then carries over into my debates with people who are actually honest and capable of introspective thought, and I end up doing more harm than good.

I've become more and more impressed with the civility you and Jeremy show in dealing with such people. I'm not sure I can reproduce it - at least online. I'm not nearly so surly in face-to-face encounters. I'm thinking that perhaps that's an indication that I need to switch gears, so to say.

June 04, 2008 7:58 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks to everyone for the nice comments.

I actually thought I was being pretty uncivil, quasibill.

June 04, 2008 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Marks is not a libertarian. He is at best an old style Tory (he is a councillor in local government) and in practice that common creature - in UK libertarian circles anyway, a moaning miserabilist.

June 05, 2008 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, being called a marxist again! Well done! So far, we've had Block and Reisman and now this joker... And across a wide spectrum, from "anarcho"-capitalist to minarchist capitalist... Who will be next?

I do find it funny when people who expound a classical individualist anarchist position get denounced as "marxists" by those who seek to appropriate the label "libertarian" from its traditional home.

"However, people who employ others are in no way acting in an antilibertarian way...."

Well, yes, they are. They are governing said people, using the threat of punishment to get obeyed. "Do what I say or face the consequences" is hardly libertarian...

Sure, no one forces you to take the job or remain in it, but then again no one forces you to stay in any specific state or remain in it...

In a free society, I can see that some people may seek wage labour -- just as some may seek religious cults and authoritarian communities (such as hard-core fascists). Hopefully, they will be few in number. But it does not make the internal operations of said organisations remotely libertarian.

Voluntary hierarchy is still archy, in other words. And regardless of what Murray Rothbard thought, an-archy means without archy, including hierarchy.

An Anarchist FAQ

June 06, 2008 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL!!! I have to say, I'm going to miss these exchanges between you and Marks, with all his pompous references to Second Marquis of Nothingballs and Earl Blahbbybhlahs.

(See what I just did there, Carson? That was "uncivil." You were not "uncivil.")

Gosh, I'd just love to get Marks' take on the Irish potato famine.

June 06, 2008 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Since the potato blight struck more widely than in Ireland but famine wasn't so widespread because elsewhere crops were more diversified, the Irish famine was obviously the consequence of Irish peasants' own unwisdom in allowing themselves to become so dependent on that single crop. It only moves the problem back one to say that they only had enough land to feed themselves on if they only grew potatoes, even in good times, because obviously they should have thought of that before they started.

June 06, 2008 7:22 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks to everyone else for all the good words.


Even many left-Rothbardians who stress the principle of "thick libertarianism" (e.g. Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, Brad Spangler, William Gillis, Matt Mackenzie, among others) recognize that there's something unlibertarian about wage labor, even if it's formally permissible from the traditional libertarian non-aggression standpoint. Even if the employer commits no formal rights violation, the employment relationship itself promotes social roles and a cultural atmosphere that are not conducive to freedom.

And I would add that, even if some amount of wage labor would exist at the margin in a libertarian society, or even if a sizeable minority of wage-earners would exist (albeit with bargaining power radically shifted), the fact that it predominates to the present extent of determining the character of the system--and under terms dictated largely by the bargaining power of capital--makes existing wage labor unlibertarian.


As usual, you penetrate to the heart of matters. I expect one of our helpful friends at the Adam Smith Institute to point out any day now that the Irish starved because that was their best available alternative. Most of us in the West see death from starvation as an unpleasant thing. But clearly the Irish saw it as preferable to any of their other alternatives, or they wouldn't have chosen to stave. Q.E.D.

June 06, 2008 11:51 PM  

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