Over at the Center for a Stateless Society, an outfit that is probably the most anti-ATS tendency there is (along with the neocons, of course), a writer named Eric Fleischmann makes an assertion which includes a jab at yours truly:
We are all thick libertarians now. The question now is what bundles of values we are to subscribe to: the reactionary values of Randroids, Koch-heads, and folks like Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Keith Preston (who somehow think allying with fascists will lead to a liberatory outcome) or the liberatory values of leftist libertarians—ranging from left-wing market anarchists to left-minarchists & bleeding-heart libertarians—like Long, Charles Johnson, Kevin Carson (although these days he considers himself an anarchist without adjectives), Philippe Van Parijs, Peter Vallentyne, and Matt Zwolinski. Thus, Sciabarra’s monograph serves as one of the centerpieces in the establishment of thick libertarian ideas.
I’ve never been a fan of Ayn Rand, and I’ve always been opposed to Koch-style corporate libertarianism. I’ve also written critically of Hans Hermann Hoppe’s “cultural conservatism” in the past as well. But those are side issues. What matters for purpose of this discussion is that this statement by Fleischmann inadvertently affirms what has always been one of my primary criticism of the anarchist and libertarian milieus in North America.
Way back in the late 1980s, I can to the view that the government of the United States of America needed to be overthrown. This conviction was rooted in my growing awareness of the impact of US imperialism on much of the rest of the world. I did not develop this conviction from scholarly study, as much as from conservations with newfound friends at the time who happened to be refugees from places like El Salvador, Cambodia, Lebanon, and Palestine, who were able to explain in considerable firsthand detail what the “American experience” is really like for many people around the world. My views on this question were cemented by reading the works of scholarly critics of US imperialism like Noam Chomsky, Mike Parenti, Alex Cockburn, and others. Then as now, it was abundantly clear that the way to abolish an empire is to overthrow the regime of its mother country.
From there on, it was just a matter of making it happen. At first, I tried anarcho-syndicalism because, by having an interest in anarchism and knowing that European anarcho-syndicalism had been the modern world’s largest anarchist movement, I figured the “workers struggle” might be the best way to go. However, two things eventually soured me on anarcho-syndicalism: 1) actually belong to anarcho-syndicalist organizations which, then as now, were mostly just all-purposes social reform and center-left do-gooder clubs, and 2) actually doing strike support for real-life unions and striking workers, and realizing that most striking workers couldn’t be bothered to even show up for picket duty, and preferred to stay at home, collect strike pay, drink beer and watch TV instead (the one exception was the Pittson coal strike in Southwest Virginia in 1989).
After anarcho-syndicalism, it was on to libertarianism, mostly because of their antiwar stance as well as their generally anti-authoritarian attitudes. However, I soon realized the market libertarians had the same basic problem as the socialist-anarchists, in the sense of being faux radicals who represented just another middle-class political faction. The bottom line was that too many libertarians had too many good words to say about Republicans (“muh tax cuts”).
By this point, the world was moving into the post-LA riots, post-Waco, post-Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City-bombing era, and the militia movement of the 1990s was in full bloom. And so, for a time, I went from going to anarchist meetings in the basement of dilapidated squats to going to what would now be called “prepper” meetings in rented storefronts of dilapidated strip malls. Of course, I thought most militia folks were idiots (more or less the same impression I had of the left-wing anarchists a few years earlier). Most militia/patriot rhetoric of the era was the usual “restore the Constitution” magic parchment hokum. It wasn’t true that the central thrust of the movement was white nationalism, although some of that was present on the movement’s margins. However, there were other factions of the militia movement that had a more radical approach. At the time, a leftist writer named Joel Dyer described the methodology of the more radical factions of the movement in this way:
“Following Ruby Ridge and Waco, the antigovernment movement focused on the creation of militias. With its military arm in place, the movement’s next push came in the form of common-law courts. As the sovereignty concept took hold across the nation, antigovernment adherents began to form organizations that encompassed all of these antigovernmental elements-sovereignty, courts and militias. The goal is that each organization should become self-sufficient, able to fully govern its membership with no assistance from the outside world. It’s as if there are thousands of independent countries operating within the border of the United States…Regardless of their differences, which are substantial, these groups realize that they must ultimately support each other to avoid being crushed by the federal government…These self-governing antigovernment bands range in size from a dozen people to several thousand…The actions of these supposedly sovereign groups are often in direct conflict with the laws of the United States, which they no longer recognize…The longer it exists, the stronger it grows, as more and more people are choosing to opt out of the federal system, whose taxes make the difference between a family’s eating or sending its children to bed hungry…”
A 1990s era militiaman described the tactical approach that was used at the time:
“Every militia has its share of idiots or informers. We’ll teach a basic defensive course for the whole group, where to shoot people when they kick down your door, guerrilla warfare, the tame stuff. The guys who are serious about changing things know that defense isn’t going to do the trick. Later, usually the next day, we have another meeting with a few of the leaders who understand what’s going on. We teach them offensive tactics-how a small force can take on a larger military force and win. You can call it terrorism, but it’s just being practical. If you’re serious about changing things, it’s the only option.”
The ideology driving these factions was also described by Joel Dyer in the 1990s:
“A new breed of other elements within the movement-representing perhaps yet another step in the movement’s evolution-is also seeking foreign funding. One of my contacts, whom I will call ‘Tom’ since he spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me that he is actively seeking money abroad. Tom’s antigovernment organization, which has established dialogue with Mexico’s Zapatistas, South America’s Shining Path guerrillas, and the Nation of Islam, is the antithesis of the Identity-driven groups. But don’t mistake Tom for a leftist-he’s not. His vision of America is similar to that of the sovereigns, with small pockets of self-governed individuals living in regions outside of any federal authority. ‘If blacks want to live separate from whites,’ says Tom,’they should have that right. I don’t think that’s necessary, but people should be allowed to choose how and where they live.’ Tom says that the American government is responsible for creating the conditions worldwide that have spawned the sort of radical organizations his group communicates with in other countries, so it’s only natural that today’s antigovernment movement should consider them as allies. In line with this vision, he says: ‘Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll have a standoff in Texas …and the Zapatistas will come to our defense. It could happen.”
At the time, this seemed to be both a far more radical and far more practical approach than anything that was happening on either the conventional left or conventional right. I began looking for other movements that had similar views, and found a wide range of tendencies, ranging from European “Third Position” factions to the Green Panthers, who wanted to form a marijuana-smokers homeland in Northern California (this was long before the wave of marijuana decriminalization that has occurred in recent years). ATS and related groups were largely created in the late 1990s and early 2000s for the purpose of promoting this viewpoint, with the objective of allying the radical antigovernment underground in all its forms with the then-nascent anti-globalization movement which came to prominence after the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999, and the subsequently antiwar movement that developed during the George W. Bush era.
Promoting this basic concept has been what much of the 20-year history of ATS has involved. The ATS approach has always had left-wing anarchism as its foundation, with liberal borrowings from a range of other sources from paleoconservatism to Maoism to the “sovereign citizen” tendencies described above, and under the much wider pan-anarchist/pan-secessionist/pan-decentralist umbrella. For this reason, we have often had an immensely diverse and seemingly contradictory audience. In 2011, leading leftist critic of ATS, Matthew Lyons, described the audience that ATS has attracted over the years with reasonable accuracy even if viewed through a narrow ideological lens:
Preston has established himself over the past decade as a respected voice in libertarian, paleoconservative, and “Alternative Right” circles. His “anarcho-pluralism” represents a sophisticated reworking of far right politics that is flexible, inclusive, and appeals to widely held values such as “live and let live.” Unlike most rightist ideologies, it also has the potential to serve as a bridge between a wide variety of rightist currents such as white nationalists, Patriot/militia groups, Christian rightists, and National-Anarchists — and even some left-wing anarchists, liberal bioregionalists/environmentalists, and nationalist people of color groups.
The ATS perspective has also attracted enemies, as might be expected. When ATS was first created, I expected that our main opponents would be the standard “America First! Love it or leave it! USA! USA!” hyper jingoistic types. After all, ATS was established in 2001, the same year as the “September 11” debacle. But, interestingly, we have rarely attracted the ire of that crowd, with only a handful of exceptions, possibly because a lot of those folks really aren’t smart enough to understand what we’re doing here at ATS. Instead, our primary enemies have been what might be called “professional rightwingophobes,” primarily including individuals associated with organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates, One Peoples’ Project, and leftist subcultures like Trotskyists, factions of left-wing anarchists, and, of course, Antifa. Ironically, a lot of “tankie” types (Stalinists, Maoists, Dengists, Nazbols, Duginists, Castroists, etc.) and other serious anti-capitalists (e.g. factions within the US Green Party) have reacted somewhat favorably to the ATS approach.
The principal basis of the conflict between ATS and various leftist factions, like the Center for a Stateless Society or Antifa, is between those, like myself, who view the actual US state, empire, and ruling class as the primary enemy, and those on the other hand who view the “far-right” as the primary enemy. For example, many of my former left-wing anarchist compatriots have now become liberal Democrats and Hillary/Biden/Harris supporters out of what can only be regarded as a particularly severe case of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Of course, to be fair, many libertarians and other right-wing “antigovernment” folks have actually become Trumpists in what can only be described as an appalling level of gullibility and lack of judgment.
This leads back to my main criticism of anarchists and libertarians in North America, which is their inability to withstand or rise above electoral or “culture war” biases that are engineered and led by various ruling class factions. Essentially, right-libertarians (along with most of the supposed “radical right” generally) function as a mere appendage to the Trumpized Republican Party. Recall, for example, how easily most of the “Alt-Right” fell into the Trumpist trap. Meanwhile, socialist-anarchists and left-libertarians function as an appendage to the Democratic Party, with their leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, adopting the “Vote Blue No Matter Who” line.
Interestingly, however, the ATS position seems to be winning. Noam Chomsky has observed that the US presence in Latin America is now at an all-time low. A few years ago, President Assad of Syria expressed hope for a similar recession of US presence in the Middle East, which now seems to be happening as well. Peter Zeihan, a centrist geopolitical analyst, notes that the number of US troops stationed overseas is now at a 100-year low. While I am neither a Sinophobe nor a Sinophile, but more of a Sinoskeptic, it remains true that the growth of China’s international trade network has provided nations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America with options beyond American dependency. As US power declines, the rise of regional powers imposes constraints on the ability of global power elites to fully consolidate their “New World Order” (an exaggerated euphemism for what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri correctly described as the global capitalist empire).
Meanwhile, the domestic US regime is also losing legitimacy, not so much through revolutionary conspiracy, as much as through internal fragmentation and collapse under the weight of its own incompetence. The fall of the US regime is probably going to look like the “Russian Revolution” of 1989-1991 than the revolution of 1917, which is probably better. The “pan-secessionist” actions favored by ATS have actually started to take place in recent years in the form of sanctuary cities, 2nd Amendment sanctuaries, state and local nullification of federal drug laws, the Cheyenne River Sioux defying the South Dakota state government in response to the pandemic, the creation of TAZs like CHAZ/CHOP, acts of militant direct action like attacking police stations, federal buildings, courthouses, and the Capitol in DC itself. Some of these actions have been carried out by the right, some by the left, some by libertarians, some by minorities, some by whites or predominantly whites, and some by a mixture of ideologies, cultures, and ethnicities. As is should be. And public sympathy for dissolving the USA into multiple countries continues to grow over time.
Probably the most common criticism that I have received in the 20 years that I have been doing ATS involves complaints from a range of political factions that I am not taking their side to a degree they find satisfactory in various “culture war” battles. Clearly, this is the most common complaint I have received from the left, but it’s also one I have received from various sectors of the right. I’m often viewed as “too left” by right-libertarians, “too liberal” by the Christian right, “too non-racist” by the white right, “too anti-American” by the patriot right, etc. All of which are true by the standards of the different factions issuing the complaints because what I favor is not hegemony by any one tribe or sect but a balance of power between tribes and sects where no one is able to achieve hegemony. It’s the same approach I would take to tribal-sectarian warfare in Iraq. Every tribe or sect has its own morality, myths, narratives, icons, totems, rituals, and taboos. Every tribe or sect has its own arguments as to why its own causes are superior to everyone else’s.
But the first question from a metapolitical perspective involves the need to maintain civil peace without political tyranny. As I wrote in a recent post:
We need an anti-authoritarian philosophy/ideology that is much broader in scope and much more grounded in a vast range of historic traditions and cultures than what gets passed off as anarchism and libertarianism today. Stoicism, Bushido, Taoism, indigenous traditions, we need to reclaim all of it. Resistance to authority doesn’t being with Proudhon declaring himself an anarchist, and it doesn’t end with Judith Butler attacking heteronormativity. What I am interested in focusing on is what would be it be like if anarchism and adjacent philosophies, movements, and ideologies were the world’s largest political paradigm, the same way Christianity is the world’s largest religion.
And as I have said elsewhere:
On a meta-paradigmatic level, I think the anarchist achievement of cultural and intellectual hegemony would rival the emergence of the Axial Age, the transition from polytheism to monotheism among world religions, or the Enlightenment in terms of world-historical significance. On a more intermediate or micro-level, we have prototypes like separation of church and state and the diversity of religion that resulted, the variations that are found in food customs, the diversity among indigenous cultures that are native to every region of every continent, music and fashion-oriented youth cultures, etc. And if anarchism achieved the hegemony Catholicism held in the middle ages or liberalism in the modern era, it would still have to share space with other philosophies (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, etc.) the same way that Christianity, while the world’s largest religion, has to share space with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. My viewpoint on this is as much predictive and speculative as it is normative or prescriptive.
Unfortunately, most supposed “anti-authoritarians” are still seeking to create a theocracy of their own rather than seeking separation of church and state. For them, it is still the early modern era and the Enlightenment has not yet happened.