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Monday, February 14, 2011

Fatuous Anarchists Taunt the Egyptian People

I'm not sure if this letter is more cruel, pathetic, or humorous. If there was the slightest chance that more than a dozen or so Egyptians were paying the least attention to these folks, the letter would be extremely cruel. What the Egyptian people need right now, and the very best we have any rational cause to expect will happen, is for them to get a moderately decent government that can establish something vaguely like the rule of law and not loot them too much. If any Egyptians were actually listening, to advise them to reject such a government and hold out for the fantasy land of these theorists would be a vicious act indeed.

It's also kind of pathetic in the level of self-centeredness the letter displays. The Egyptians are going through a traumatic upheaval right now, but that's not what is important: what is important is the comic book fantasies of these twenty people sitting back comfortably on their couches in the United States.

And the letter is humorous if you try to imagine what the signatories are thinking: Do they really see the crowds in Tahrir Square circulating this letter, slapping themselves on the head, and saying, "Allah be praised: we do not need a government after all!"

19 comments:

  1. I'm not sure whether Gene is sincere or pretending in his fanciful description of our expectations behind our letter, but surely he has read this:

    http://mises.org/daily/1709

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  2. I must have read it at some time in the past. I just glanced at it now and found:

    "n the field of strategic thinking, it behooves libertarians to heed the lessons of the Marxists..."

    Yes, that about says it all.

    Here's two time-tested principles for you:
    1) Radical social change dos not occur, instead we get something that's just a modification of what came before; and
    2) Those naive souls who try to promote radical social change do a lot of harm.

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  3. Gene,

    You write:

    "Do they really see the crowds in Tahrir Square circulating this letter, slapping themselves on the head, and saying, 'Allah be praised: we do not need a government after all!'"

    No, we (or at least I) see:

    A few Egyptians hopefully noticing the letter;

    a few of the Egyptians who do notice the letter deciding that anarchism is worth further investigation;

    a few of the Egyptians who decide that anarchism is worth further investigation deciding that it's the ideology they're looking for; and

    a few of those who decide that it's the ideology they're looking for committing themselves to achieving it.

    Fatuous is as fatuous does.

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  4. The point of the Rothbard article I linked to, and of the Garrison quotations he employs, was that the aims of advocating immediate and radical change are not exhausted by the expectation of achieving immediate and radical change.

    As for your time-tested principles, (1) seems obviously false on even the slightest glance at history, unless you define "modification of what came before" so broadly as to make (1) tautologous. I suppose (2) is a matter of opinion, but do you really think William Wilberforce and Mary Wollstonecraft did more harm than good?

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  5. Well, I think the point of the Rothbard article is that anarcho-capitalists are harmful utopians just like Marxists.

    "As for your time-tested principles, (1) seems obviously false on even the slightest glance at history..."

    Fortunately, I have taken more than a slight glance at history, and so can assert it is true.

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  6. Gene,

    What's your definition of "radical social change?"

    Any social change, radical or not, is by definition a modification of what came before.

    If you're saying that "radical" can't be a mere modification, then all you're saying is that the term "radical" is meaningless.

    Radical refers to roots and causes. Is there only one variable that you consider root to society? And are you arguing that that root can't be modified, or some other root substituted for it?

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  7. A government is needed so that the people addressed in this letter do not kill journalists.

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  8. "And are you arguing that that root can't be modified, or some other root substituted for it?"

    OK, Tom, this is interesting, and I'd like to modify my statement. It IS possible to "strike the root," as Thoreau admonished -- and what happens when you do so is you kill the society in question. So I correct myself: there is at least one type of radical transformation that has taken place in history, and that is from living cultures to dead ones.

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  9. Gene,

    OK, so "radical social change" entails killing a society.

    Barring total annihilation of the people comprising the dead society, however, a new society of some sort will rise in the dead society's place. So while you may get a dead old society, you also get a living new one.

    I'm cognizant of the fact that the new living society won't necessarily be preferable to the old dead society (e.g. as bad as Tsarist Russia was, the Soviet Union was worse).

    Are you asserting that new living societies created through "radical social change" are necessarily worse than the old dead societies they replace?

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  10. Okay, I'll ask one more time: was the abolition of slavery

    a) not a radical change?

    b) a radical change that was socially harmful?

    c) a radical change that was socially beneficial?

    And ditto for the emancipation of women. I reckon nearly everyone thinks the answer in both cases is (c), but since you seem to think (c) is impossible, you must be plumping for (a) or (b). Which is it?

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  11. BserkRL, I choose A. Britain and the US were both already liberal societies with a strong tradition of individual rights. Abolishing slavery was a move in keeping with their "roots," not a radical hacking away of those roots.

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  12. Well, in that sense anarchists aren't advocating a "radical" change either -- which inclines me to think you're using the term "radical" in a much narrower way than most people use it.

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  13. "Well, in that sense anarchists aren't advocating a "radical" change either..."

    Oh, so incorrect, BeserkRL. We had plenty of experience of slave-free societies before 1800, and knew they could work just fine. We have zero experience of state-free societies in the modern industrial world, and no indication whatsoever that they would work.

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  14. "We had plenty of experience of slave-free societies before 1800, and knew they could work just fine. We have zero experience of state-free societies in the modern industrial world"

    But aren't you using a double standard? We can point to previous slaveless societies and previous stateless societies. They all work to some extent, None of them works perfectly. They're all similar to present society in some respect and different in others. Why do the respects of difference make the stateless examples not count when the slaveless examples do count?

    Calhoun justified slavery by precisely the same argument you use to justify the state.

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  15. You're also shifting the goalposts. You said abolishing slavery wasn't radical because it was a continuation and extension of existing values and traditions., I made the same point for anarchy, so now you shift and make the criterion for nonradicalism something different -- historical precedent instead.

    Also, once again: what about women's rights? What previous society of gender equality could have been pointed to?

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  16. "But aren't you using a double standard? We can point to previous slaveless societies and previous stateless societies"

    I don't think so. What we have are some examples of extremely primitive cultures like Iceland existing without something that looks like a modern state. I don't think we see any prosperous, modern societies without a state.

    "Calhoun justified slavery by precisely the same argument you use to justify the state."

    Since I have not offered here any argument "justifying" the state here, I find the claim that my non-existent argument is "precisely the same" as Calhoun's a little odd. But if it were true, so what? An argument can be used well in contexts where it does apply, and poorly in contexts where it doesn't.

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  17. "You're also shifting the goalposts. You said abolishing slavery wasn't radical because it was a continuation and extension of existing values and traditions., I made the same point for anarchy, so now you shift and make the criterion for nonradicalism something different -- historical precedent instead."

    These are, in fact, the *same* argument, as the continuation and extension implies historical precedent.

    "Also, once again: what about women's rights? What previous society of gender equality could have been pointed to?"

    We had a gradually increasing regime of women's rights that led to suffrage, etc.

    In the 19th century, we had a near approach to laissez faire. Then, given its disastrous consequences, we had a fierce backlash against it (no doubt overdone) and more than a century of increasing state intervention in the economy, often clearly at the behest of a majority of the populace. So a continuation and extension of existing values might give us Rawlsesian social democracy, and certainly not ancapistan!

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  18. "In the 19th century, we had a near approach to laissez faire."

    No, we had massive government intervention on behalf of big business -- as has been documented at length by Kolko, Carson, and others.

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  19. Good point, BeserkRL. Let me amend: "In the 19th century, we had the closest approach to laissez faire we've ever had, which wasn't that close at all, further demonstrating the irreality of laissez faire thinking."

    Better?

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