Stephan Kinsella alerted me to a couple of choice Murray Rothbard quotes that are found in a book edited by David Gordon. The book is Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard. and contains memos written by Murray Rothbard in the 1950s and early 1960s for the William Volker Fund.
The first quote:
The spurious logic of the dialectic is not open to the left-wing anarchists, who wish to abolish the State and capitalism simultaneously. The nearest those anarchists have come to resolving the problem has been to uphold syndicalism as the ideal. In syndicalism, each group of workers and peasants is supposed to own its means of production in common and plan for itself, while cooperating with other collectives and communes. Logical analysis of these schemes would readily show that the whole program is nonsense. Either of two things would occur: one central agency would plan for and direct the various subgroups, or the collectives themselves would be really autonomous. But the crucial question is whether these agencies would be empowered to use force to put their decisions into effect.
All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrants. But then the first possibility means nothing more nor less than Communism, while the second leads to a real chaos of diverse and clashing communisms, that would probably lead finally to some central Communism after a period of social war. Thus, leftwing anarchism must in practice signify either regular Communism or a true chaos of communistic syndics. In both cases, the actual result must be that the State is reestablished under another name. It is the tragic irony of left-wing anarchism that, despite the hopes of its supporters, it is not really anarchism at all. It is either Communism or chaos.
It is no wonder therefore that the term “anarchism” has received a bad press.
I don’t recall having ever read this particular line of reasoning from Rothbard, but I have written much the same sort of thing in times past. I first realized that everyone just “cooperating” in a commune or in a jointly owned factory was ridiculous when reading histories of attempts to institute that very thing. There can be no society where everyone just works hard for the love of community and everyone just takes for themselves an equal and “fair” share. The evidence is all around us; it is a revolt against human nature to think otherwise.
If there is no private ownership of property then there will develop a need to allocate scarce resources among all the people. How is this to be done? Not by mutual consent as that can never occur. Heck, I can’t even get my wife to agree on where to go for lunch! So there will develop some political body that makes the decisions and this small group will end up having to enforce their rulings. The USSR is a prime example of “ownership by the people”. Socialism just can’t work in the real world; it will impoverish the common people and enslave them. Just because you call a communist program “anarchy” does not mean that real anarchy will develop!
How is it, then, that despite the fatal logical contradictions in left-wing anarchism, there are a highly influential group of British intellectuals who currently belong to this school, including the art critic Sir Herbert Read and the psychiatrist Alex Comfort? The answer is that anarchists, perhaps unconsciously seeing the hopelessness of their position, have made a point of rejecting logic and reason entirely. They stress spontaneity, emotions, instincts, rather than allegedly cold and inhuman logic. By so doing, they can of course remain blind to the irrationality of their position.
Of economics, which would show them the impossibility of their system, they are completely ignorant, perhaps more so than any other group of political theorists. The dilemma about coercion they attempt to resolve by the absurd theory that crime would simply disappear if the State were abolished, so that no coercion would have to be used.
Irrationality indeed permeates almost all of the views of the left-wing anarchists. They reject industrialism as well as private property, and tend to favor returning to the handicraft and simple peasant conditions or the Middle Ages. They are fanatically in favor of modern art, which they consider “anarchist” art. They have an intense hatred of money and of material improvements. Living a simple peasant existence, in communes, is extolled as “living the anarchist life,” while a civilized person is supposed to be viciously bourgeois and un-anarchist.
Thus, the ideas of the left-wing anarchists have become a nonsensical jumble, far more irrational than that of the Marxists, and deservedly looked upon with contempt by almost everyone as hopelessly “crackpot.” Unfortunately, the result is that the good criticisms that they sometimes make of state tyranny tend to be tarred with the same “crackpot” brush.
Even though that was written decades ago, it still sounds a lot like some of the recent debates I have had with my “left”-libertarians friends in recent weeks. I reject the notion that man’s nature will suddenly change if there is no government. It is the fact that man’s nature is not going to change that makes me reject the very idea of government in the first place. In any anarchy we will see the need for private property rights to be enforced via private “defense” firms along with private law firms. We believe that the absence of government will reduce violence by a tremendous amount since the state is the largest criminal organization in history, but there will still be some people who want to take things rather than produce things for a living.
There is no way to keep the peace between people other than strict defense of everyone’s property rights. That is just the way it is.