The Dangers of Decentralization? Words from a Reader

Some comments from a reader named “Jared”:

Totalitarian humanism is something that I agree is a serious threat and where I live in Canada, it has advanced into law where people can be incarcerated for expressing opinions that are deemed hateful.

[Keith: At present, the First Amendment and a journalistic class conscious of its own self-interest prevents the formal censorship that has emerged in the Western European countries and Canada. This could very well change in the future. Modern American liberals are still somewhat under the residual influence of classical liberal values regarding a number of issues, such as free speech and freedom of the press. But that could end as the PC ideologues gain ever greater power.]

When it comes to the far right and their criticisms of leftist authoritarianism, I think they are on the mark. In many respects I find the authoritarianism of managerial liberalism to be far more distasteful than the worst right wing small town authoritarianism. My reasons for this are that while the crude authoritarianism of the latter sort is laughable to most, the former is taken seriously by people in the cultural elite. Also, the right wing type is up front about it’s authoritarianism while the left often conceals it behind all sort’s of nice sound rhetoric such as, “we as a society,” we are the government” etc. That was one of the things that angered me so much about the way Ron Paul was treated when the whole newsletter scandal broke. The fact that people were so up in arms about Paul’s paper authoritarianism while the media darling, Rudy Giuliani, was never criticized in the mainstream media ( that I saw) about his real life authoritarianism while he was mayor.

[Keith: Yes! A socially conservative but libertarian Republican is far less acceptable to the liberal elite than a socially liberal but authoritarian Republican such as Giuliani.]

On decentralization, I think that the reasons for some of my concerns about what sort of societies might develop come more from what I have seen in both the contemporary anarchist and libertarian movements, from an the perspective of an outsider I might add.  As you have said that strategy is a primary concern, I think you would agree that these issues are important to any strategic considerations to be made.

In your past articles, you have discussed your experience with left-anarchist movement years ago and criticized many of the ridiculous elements in that movement. From what I have observed as an outsider, the same movement today of my generation is as bad as the movement was when you were involved, which is the reason that I have no interest in being involved with any of those groups. One thing that really bothers me is not just the fact that those various groups are uncooperative and engage in pointless feuds, but also what accompanies the interpersonal nastiness is a victim mentality that such people have when it comes to the state. Whenever protests occur such as at the recent G-20 in Toronto, invariably what will come out are all sorts of writings, blog posts, and videos full of people complaining about minor mistreatment at the hands of the state, such people give ammunition to the critics who charge that people involved in these anarchist groups are just a bunch of pampered, sheltered, and spoiled brats who are live in complete ignorance of the world around them.

[Keith: Many such protesters do indeed convey an image of “How dare that cop arrest me for throwing a rock through a window?” hooliganism.]

I realize that what I have just stated will seem pointlessly repetitive to you as you haven expressed similar sentiments in your own writings in the past. The reason that I am bring this up now is in the light of the kinds of communities that would exist in a decentralized system. If the current system fails in a sudden way, there will be many groups vying for power and most of them will be a lot worse then the current group of people that control our centralized system. While you have argued that authoritarian groups may gain control in rural areas, but that cities would be a different story, I still have many concerns regarding them. The reason is that in cities there gangs and other organized crime groups who would clearly seek an opportunity to grab more power and control if they saw an opportunity to, which they would have if the current system fell apart. Now if my analysis of most contemporary anarchists and for that matter libertarians (especially of the left types) is correct, it is clear that such people would be absolutely powerless in the face of those groups that would seek the fill the power vacuum left in the absence of the state. I would add that as critical as I am of the police, the fact is that in the current system they are bound by certain rules of conduct whereas the groups that I have mentioned are not.

[Keith: The key to the problems of decentralization is still more decentralization. Let’s say a predatory gang comes to dominate an urban region in an “Escape From New York” scenario. Surrounding communities might build a fence around it and essentially imprison and quarantine the offenders, which I think is the most preferable solution to violent crime anyway.]

One example of what I am describing is among the libertarians who make up the Free State project, which I been following for the past few years. I would invite you to check out some of the activism done there, and you would see many of the same sorts of silliness such as pointless civil disobedience acts, silly protests, and other absurd antics. On top of the fact that such acts do nothing to build a realistic alternative to the current system, the activists have also earned an extremely negative reputation among the people in those communities where they do their activism.

[Keith: That doesn’t surprise me a bit. PR and marketing never were the strong suits of anarchists.]

I suppose that given what I have written here, it isn’t surprising that you would break with both left wing anarchists and libertarians the silly and cowardly nature of so many in those movements. It’s clear that such groups have not improved with the times, but have in fact degenerated. If there ever comes a time when there is a serious movement against the empire, I would rather have this guy on my side ( than a thousand of the current crybabies that are rampant in anti-authoritarian movements today.

[Keith: I can only imagine what Antonio Baron would think of today’s anarchist movement. I have always said I would rather have five quality people in my camp than five hundred mediocrities or losers]

9 replies »

  1. Peer to peer alliances are another key strategy for defending against organized crime and mini-states vying for power. Sub-groups of larger ones would be natural allies. Left anarchists could come to the defense of other left anarchists in another region, for instance. Also, seemingly different groups of people may actually share a common interest, it just depends on how you approach any given situation. If you build a complex web of such alliances then you raise the cost of coercion.

  2. One of the major arguments against decentralization that I get is: “Won’t unpopular individuals or minorities be persecuted by intolerant local majorities?”

    I’ve never thought this argument carried much water. The massive leviathan that we have now oppresses everyone. It wrecks the economy through central banking, trade policy, fiscal recklessness, and other policies. It creates a system of plutocratic privilege through corporate welfare. It kills millions of people internationally. Ohio or Georgia or Detroit or Seattle would not have gone to war in Southeast Asia, Central America, or the Middle East. The federal police state is at least as bad as local police. The federal drug war is at least as bad as the localized versions.

    The classic argument against decentralization within the context of American politics is: “What about Jim Crow?” But that was a rather extraordinary set of circumstances. I’d see something like that as more akin to one nation occupying and oppressing another (like Israel in Gaza) rather than simply as a matter of local sovereignty. Rothbard had a similar analysis of race in the Jim Crow South:

    I like the idea of peer to peer alliances. I also like the idea of organizing groups to defend unpopular minorities and individuals in local areas. For instance, BANA represents the interests of “social conservatives” and ethnic whites in uber-liberal San Francisco. By the same standard, it would be good to have a similar means of defending the rights of, say, religious minorities like pagans or cultural minorities like gays in ultra-conservative Texas or Alabama counties.

  3. Decentralization itself I don’t think would be a problem because in Europe, most nations are a lot smaller than the United States and they have some very small micro-states, which are hardly bastions of right-wing authoritarianism, though they increasingly are of the pc sort. In the US, states like Oregon, Vermont, etc. would be far more left wing if freed from the federal government. I personally think the entire pacific northwest should secede from both the United States and Canada. From what I have read of the 2nd Vermont Republic movement, I am impressed by the quality of the movement.

    The strategies for dealing with defense given by Keith and Ravenwarrior are good, but the probem, which is what I was getting at, is that the majority of left-anarchists/libertarians would simply be incapable of making alliances in the first place, due to the amount of in-fighting, would not have the strength (physical and mental) to defend themselves. That’s why, as much as I hate to say it, conservative critics who charge that such people who complain about the police, and yet would be helpless without their protection, do make a valid point.

    That was the primary reason for my criticism of the protesters. I didn’t mean to imply that I sided with the state and the cops in most cases. While some protesters may be hooligans, I suspect those are usually a minority and from what I understand, when mass arrests at those events occur, many of the charges are dropped latter on anyways. The point I was making was that as much as those people are against the police, it’s clear that most of them would be utterly incapable of defending themselves without the state. My problem is with the whole protest mentality itself, the the silly crying about being oppressed, and masochistic nature of martyrdom for it’s own sake, such as those that get deliberately arrested. The sort of activism done by those in the Free State Project is interesting from my perspective because I agree with almost every cause that they do activism for, but the methods they have chosen are going nowhere and none of it is relevant to building real alternatives to the current system.

    My concern is not really with decentralization, as there could just end up being smaller versions of the current system, with some more liberal than others. I suspect, though that anarchists and radical libertarians want a far more significant change from the current system, but it seems that the most that the majority of these people can do are youthful antics which they will be embarrassed about in a decade or so.

  4. “the majority of left-anarchists/libertarians would simply be incapable of making alliances in the first place, due to the amount of in-fighting, would not have the strength (physical and mental) to defend themselves. That’s why, as much as I hate to say it, conservative critics who charge that such people who complain about the police, and yet would be helpless without their protection, do make a valid point. ”

    Well, I guess they will just have to improve themselves or deal with it.

    I agree with all of your comments here.

  5. “That’s why, as much as I hate to say it, conservative critics who charge that such people who complain about the police, and yet would be helpless without their protection, do make a valid point.”

    Whatever the character of anti-cop folk, the whole “you’d be lunch meat without cops” retort just comes across as a pro-police statist’s violent revenge fantasy, rather than any kind of accurate prediction; at least when it’s uttered by the usual suspects.

  6. I think some of the data I’ve posted here recently actually shows that police do very little to actually prevent or control crime. Two in five murders go unsolved in the U.S. and the majority of other crimes go unsolved. I think police are more about social, economic, and political control than about preventing crime per se. What they do is try to steer crime away from affluent or middle class areas towards poor areas, and contain it within those areas. A lot of urban ghettos in the U.S. are basically extra-legal no man’s lands where law really doesn’t exist other than the law of the streets. It’s a sub-society within a wider society where “anarchy” in the pejorative sense really does exist. The political function of the police is to provide physical security to the middle class in exchange for their loyalty to the state. That’s without even getting into issues like the role of the police in cultural conflicts like the war on drugs.

  7. Do you think that crime would be more spread-out and “egalitarian” if the state dissolved? Would the inner city areas actually be less dangerous in such a scenario?

  8. That’s a good question.

    It seems like it would depend on a lot of variables. Things like how well and how quickly alternative methods of protection were organized, economic conditions, a wide assortment of cultural circumstances, and so forth. Probably the best method I know to gauge that would be to study what has happened in situations when police have gone on strike, thereby eliminating or severely reducing police presence for days or even weeks or months on end. Studies of such situations show that crime rates are usually not significantly affected by such incidents.

    As to how it breaks down geographically or by class, that’s harder to determine, because so many other things the state does affects the outcome beyond the issue of mere police presence. In instances of police strikes, the rest of the state’s infrastructure and the economic arrangements created by the state remain in tact.

  9. MRDA,

    I certainly don’t agree with the conservative argument, What I was critiquing was the lack of development of serious alternatives to the present system, That critique would hold for other functions currently carried out the government as well. I agree that the sentiment “you’d be lunch meat without cops” is just a violent fantasy dressed up as an actual argument. It’s also absurd, because it implies that police somehow these super powerful creatures who fighting machines with powers far beyond the reach of the average person. The reality is that no one person can control or fight a large number of people by themselves, even that a person is the strongest in the world. I think when it comes to cops, there power comes more from their perceived legitimacy than from their ability to control with force. That’s significant because I think that the police-statist argument is given to people who are perceived to be at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, but to be consistent, it would have to be applied at the top. Consider older and frail heads of state, like Reagan when he was president, such people would be far more helpless than the majority of young people yet they will never be given the same threat because they are perceived as having legitimate authority.

    Keith’s post on the rate of crimes solved certainly challenges the objective case for being an effective deterrent to crime, the single-digit rate of solved murders in some areas is truly amazing. Keith’s response about the results of police strikes is interesting, a counterargument to that though is in the comments section of a post on Kevin Carson’s blog, about the Montreal police strike of 69. As well, there is idiot commenter trotting about the standard police line. I think that it could also be argued that in other situations of rioting and disorder, the police are often helpless such as the Los Angeles riots in 92.

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