Saturday, January 19, 2008

My left-libertarian pedigree

Via the Freedom Democrats blog (and Brad Spangler), I have been tagged with the "left libertarian pedigree meme":
“What motivated you to start looking into Anarchist/Libertarian thought?”
Well, it all started as I was approaching adulthood and deciding what to do with my life. I had developed the general attitude that life is easy and that I could make a great life for myself if others would only get out of my way. I felt that others were constraining me both with their lifestyle laws, and by demanding tribute for access to natural resources. At this point, my vision of "the good life" was most influenced by Thoreau's Walden and Huxley's Island*.

Based on these attitudes, my political outlook developed into a very ideological form of geolibertarianism, though I had never heard of "geolibertarianism", nor had I read core works such as Agrarian Justice or anything from Henry George, or even heard of "wage slavery". At university, I discussed these ideas with friends and received two responses that helped define my political path:
  1. A friend involved with the local LP told me that my ideas sounded like Dan Sullivan's.
  2. Another (non-libertarian) friend called me an anarchist.
Following these exchanges, I started to study anarchism and geolibertarianism. I rejected anarchism at the time, and turned my attention to geolibertarianism in the Libertarian Party. I helped out with Harold Kyriazi's campaign for state senate, in which we were trounced.

That electoral defeat marked the beginning of the end of my activities with the LP and serious electoral activism. I developed a renewed interest in electoral reform, with a special focus on proportional representation and strategic voting. This interest had originally been seeded in high school by Lani Guinier's The Tyranny of the Majority. This shift in attention marked a more general shift from an ideological (top-down, wholistic, megalomaniacal) view of politics to a more organic (bottom-up, individualistic, practical) view of politics, in which I focused on the nature of power in society.

This realignment of viewpoint coincided well with my increased involvement with the Unitarian Universalist movement. Their emphasis on freedom of conscience always attracted me, but now I was also attracted by their grass-roots organizing and their "peer-to-peer" approach to solving social problems. I was excited when I found out that the UU movement had a history of involvement with Henry George's movement, but I was turned off when the congregation would take positions that called for increased state activism in society.

My most recent political transformation occurred in 2002-2003. I was in the San Francisco Bay area while Bush was pushing for war with Iraq. I checked out one of the early anti-war rallies (Oct 2002, I think), but was turned off by the Marxist/Leninist organizers. The rallies grew and became more mainstream over the next few months. My congregation and many of my peers were involved in these massive protests, but by that time I had concluded that no protest would deter the invasion; the logic of the state had taken over.

During this crisis, a woman addressed my UU congregation. I don't remember much of what she said, but she identified herself as an anarchist. Her witness persuaded me to reconsider anarchism. I rejected the common Democratic idea that Bush's presidency (and the invasion of Iraq) were an avoidable mistake. I knew that the "lesser of evils" problem delivered political power to a self-interested elite and we'd get crappy Presidents on a regular basis. Even more troubling, I saw how the vast majority of Americans felt compelled to march to war without a good justification; some simply decided to give the President "the benefit of the doubt", but even those who strongly rejected the war would never consider withdrawing from the war machine. At this point, I recognized what libertarians meant by "the cult of the state".

Following this, I reconsidered the numerous arguments underlying the ideology of hierarchy (the mother of all ideologies), and realized how weak they were. I realized that the problem of cheaters and fools within society is nothing compared to the problem of a cheaters and fools ruling society, and I realized that we did not have an effective way to prevent cheaters and fools from taking the top spots in our hierarchy.

With this, I became an anarchist. I decided that my (casual) activism would focus on combating the cult of the state. Somehow, I found Kevin Carson's blog, which fed my growing awareness that the state exists specifically to allow the cheaters to rule society. Carson directed me to Benjamin Tucker's work, which has provided the most recent revelatory reading: State Socialism and Anarchy.

So here I am.

*Island presents an interesting vision of "the good life", but it's a poorly written book, probably because it was written specifically to present that vision.

1 comment:

Daniel Owen said...

Nice post. I was born into an anarchist family. I first got interested in anti-capitalism because we were so fucking skint!

You and any other anarchists, syndicalists, libertarian socialists should visit my new blog at

- Cheers mate!