LIBERTARIAN DEBATE: Adam Kokesh Vs. Ben Burgis

I’m neither an orthodox Libertarian like Adam nor a Jacobin socialist like Ben, though I’m peripherally influenced by both traditions. Having studied both traditions for decades, I’m somewhat of a hybrid of the two traditions (a “libertarian socialist” like the classical anarchists) but unlike most libertarian socialists I’m more interested in meta-politics than specific economic paradigms. Libertarians are pretty good at critiquing the state (to the degree they are actual anti-statists and not just pot-smoking Republicans). Socialists are pretty good at critiquing concentrated economic power (even if their solutions usually involve centralizing power to an even greater degree). The main problem I have with Adam’s views is the same one I have with most libertarians, e.g. his definition of “the state” is too narrow and largely limited to the political government only.

I think the perspective of “elite theory” has much, much more explanatory force concerning how power systems actually work. The main problem I have with Ben’s views is that true to his Jacobin influences, he’s deathly afraid someone, somewhere might do something “un-progressive” minus a central authority to enforce “progressive values.” Ben is generally much more intelligent and educated than Adam, and certainly has a much better knowledge of history. However, the weakness in his thinking is that he ignores the costs of what he is advocating. Historically, the defeat of the Confederacy paved the way for the expansion of the American Empire and its genocidal imperialism. The rise of the public administration state, welfare state, and regulatory story was paralleled by the rise of the military-industrial complex, imperialism, the corporate state, the police state, the therapeutic state, drug war, terror war, etc. All of these facets of ruling class power intersect with each other and mutually reinforce each other, and parallel other forms of centralization in finance, media, education, technology, etc. all of which also intersect with the Leviathan state complex.

The problem I have with the usual left/right libertarian/anarchist debates about “property rights” is that “property rights” is a culturally relative and socially constructed concept like table manners, public holidays, marital customs, religious rituals, musical styles and styles of dress, etc. not something that is a matter of scientific fact like physics, chemistry, or biology.  Minus concentrated power, “property rights” (i.e. resource allocation) would simply be a matter of localized agreements by localized groups based on their own norms, standards, and needs.

A problem with Ben’s discussion of “localized tyrannies” (a criticism of my own perspective that is often raised by left-anarchists) is the absence of nuance, conflation of concepts, and disregard for scale.  I could go on and on about the petty tyranny of local governments, zoning commissions, local police departments, homeowners’ associations, local chambers of commerce, local real estate oligarchies, cultic religious communities, local school systems (public or private), etc. But none of these things amass nuclear weapons, invade and subjugate other nations, commit genocide of entire populations, or have anything like the kind of power that, for example, the US federal government, transnational corporations, or global financial institutions have.

One of Adam’s weakest moments is when he starts in with the usual right-libertarian rhetoric about the planks of the Communist Manifesto have been established in the US. Ben replies to that pretty well. But Ben really loses me when he starts invoking John Rawls, who has always struck me as a quasi-theologian rather than a political scientist. And Ben’s take on the US civil war is about as cliched a representation of the American progressive tradition as it gets. Their discussion of “ethics” reveals the limitations of both of their thinking. That part of the discussion is essentially a theological debate with Ben invoking the theology of John Rawls and Adam invoking the theology of John Locke (or, really, Murray Rothbard). And Ben’s invocation of democratic majoritarianism toward the end is lame.

Neither of these guys seems to have an understanding of what I consider to be the essence of politics: Machiavelli’s recognition of the fundamentally amoral nature of statecraft,  Hobbes’ “state of nature,” and Schmitt’s “friend/enemy” distinction. “Politics” is simply the continuation of war by other means. “Society” is a collection of self-interested individuals and groups waging war on each other in order to advance their own interests. The primary political problem is the one identified by Hobbes: How do you keep different tribes from preying on each other to the degree necessary to actually have civilization, prosperity, and culture? And how do you keep Leviathan at bay? Ben’s neo-Jacobin progressivism and Adam’s neo-Lockean anarcho-capitalism are merely reflections of their own “religious” affiliations and “tribal” norms.  This is essentially the same as a theological discussion between a Protestant and Catholic or Sunni and Shia concerning whose religion and tribe should be hegemonic.

Libertarian political activist Adam Kokesh joins Ben Burgis for something we all enjoy: a debate with a Libertarian! Adam is a vet, having served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. He became an anti-war activist following his return stateside, as well as a radio host and an author. He also made a presidential run in 2020 as a Libertarian with a single-issue platform: dissolving the federal government. Hey, we’ve all been in a “dissolve the federal government” mood, am i right?!?!? It just usually has to do with down your taxes or whatever and then it passes. Not for some, and that’s what Adam is into.

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