Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for the ‘Anarchism’ Category

Not Voting – In Defence of Russell Brand

In Anarchism, Libertarianism, voting on December 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

This post originally appeared at Harry’s Place on December 19th 2014, 10:28 am

Democracy has been described as two wolves and a lamb deciding what to eat for lunch. In this analogy, and given a choice, a rational lamb would not agree to a majority vote. If majority rule was imposed on it from above, the lamb might justly feel aggrieved. “Democracy isn’t fair,” the lamb might protest; “I don’t agree with your voting system and I want no part in it.” And who could seriously blame the lamb for refusing to vote? A challenge to the lamb that she could try and convince the wolves to have a vegetarian lunch is likely to be derided.

Last year, the comedian Russell Brand appeared on BBC’s Newsnight. He declared that he didn’t believe democracy was working very well and said that there was a “disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent, underclass” that were not represented by the political system. In his view, this underclass become the lambs in a country full of wolves.

There are many reasons for not voting. The simple one of “I can’t be bothered” is as valid as any other. Other valid reasons include not liking either the candidates from whom you can choose or the political parties that they represent. There could be a single issue that is of dominant importance to the non-voter. A standard example would be someone with a deeply held religious conviction that abortion is murder who cannot with good conscience vote for any candidate who holds a pro-choice position regarding abortion. If all candidates are pro-choice, then, if they are consistent, the citizen will stay away from the ballot box.

In his book, Revolution, Brand responds to his critics who argue that “People died so you’d have the right to vote.” His response is “No they did not, they died for freedom.” What people value is being treated justly – not the ability to vote in elections. It is laughable to suggest that people were prepared to die solely for the right to put a cross on a ballot ticket.  Brand states, “I don’t feel irresponsible for telling kids not to vote, I feel like I deserve a Blue Peter badge for telling them not to riot.”  Voter turn outs in many elections are quite low. It is difficult to know the exact reasons why this is so. Two further options on the ballot slip might assist matters. Firstly, there could be a box for “reopen nominations” for those who do not like the available candidates but do not reject the system. Secondly, there could be a box “Against the system” for those who think like Russell Brand or are opposed to “the system” for other reasons.

There will be a general election in the UK in a few months. There is a gulf of difference between Russell Brand’s political views and my own, but on one point I suspect we can agree. When the details of the rabble of assorted candidates are dropped through our respective letter boxes with associated campaign material, we will both shake our heads and ask, why bother. Really, why bother?


Kolakowski on progress: capitalism trumps Marxism

In Anarchism, From the Vaults, Marxism on May 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM

The late Leszek Kolakowski is missed. In 1985 he wrote a review of David Miller’s book, Anarchism for the TLS. Not only is it worthwhile reading for his views on anarchism: “a puerile utopia,”  it is also instructive for what he had to say  on Marxism: “Anarchists… are strongest when they criticize Marxism as an infallible prescription for despotism.”  However what struck me as particularly insightful were his comments on the market economy. I copy them below.

One cannot perhaps suppress the market entirely, it persists even in a concentration camp – which probably comes closest to what an ideal non-market economy would be in modem society. One can suppress it, however, to such an extent as to destroy all the sources of information which only the market can provide, to stifle the possibilities of innovation, to make the entire production system highly inefficient .and to organize a police state which is the sole owner of all wealth, of people, of the information and communication instruments and of human souls as well. It is remarkable that all economic reforms in communist countries, to the extent that they yield any results at all, go invariably in the same direction: towards a partial restoration of the market, that is of “capitalism.” Meanwhile, in the countries with mixed economies, if something goes wrong in nationalized industries or services, it is caused, according to.the standard Marxist explanation, by the fact that not everything is yet nationalized. If the education system is not satisfactory, this is because there are still private schools in existence; if the public health-service does not work properly, this is because private medical practice is still permissible, etc. And so the only way to. progress consists in forbidding people to engage in any socially useful activity unless they are ordered to do so by the state; the universal medicine for all social ills is more police, more bureaucracy, more control, more soles, more interdictions.

Source: Leszek Kolakowski, “For Brotherhood Or For Destruction,” Times Literary Supplement,  January 4, 1985.
Hat Tip: Paul Bogdanor.

Why there should be no such thing as society

In Anarchism, Libertarianism, Rothbard on May 5, 2013 at 4:57 PM

Murray Rothbard explains:

The individualist view of “society” has been summed up in the phrase: “Society” is everyone but yourself. Put thus bluntly, this analysis can be used to consider those cases where “society” is treated, not only as a superhero with superrights, but as a supervillain on whose shoulders massive blame is placed. Consider the typical view that not the individual criminal, but “society,” is responsible for his crime. Take, for example, the case where Smith robs or murders Jones. The “old-fashioned” view is that Smith is responsible for his act. The modern liberal counters that “society” is responsible. This sounds both sophisticated and humanitarian, until we apply the individualist perspective. Then we see that what liberals are really saying is that everyone but Smith, including of course the victim Jones, is responsible for the crime. Put this baldly, almost everyone would recognize the absurdity of this position. But conjuring up the fictive entity “society” obfuscates this process. As the sociologist Arnold W. Green puts it: “It would follow, then, that if society is responsible for crime, and criminals are not responsible for crime, only those members of society who do not commit crime can be held responsible for crime. Nonsense this obvious can be circumvented only by conjuring up society as devil, as evil being apart from people and what they do.”

Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, (Second Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006) pp.46-47. Available  free on line.

A Problem with Democracy

In Anarchism, Philosophy, Thought Experiments on February 23, 2013 at 7:03 PM

I have previously commented on my interest in thought experiments. Michael Huemer has posed a compelling one in his recent book, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.59. The term “tyranny of the majority” was popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville as he used it in his important 1835 book, Democracy in America. Michael Huemer provides a neat example:

Imagine the following scenario, which I shall call the Bar Tab example. You have gone out for drinks with a few of your colleagues and graduate students. You are all busy talking about philosophy, when someone raises the question of who is going to pay the bill. A number of options are discussed. A colleague suggests dividing the bill evenly among everyone at the table. You suggest that everyone pay for his own drinks. A graduate student then suggests that you pay for everybody’s drinks. Reluctant to spend so much money you decline. But the student persists: ‘Let’s take a vote.’ To your consternation they proceed to take the vote, which reveals that everyone at the table except you wants you to pay for everybody’s drinks. ‘Well, that settles it’, declares the student. ‘Pay up.’