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Right-Wing "Libertarianism" and the Restoration of Slavery January 9, 2004 by RedStar2000


Have you ever run into the disciples of Ayn Rand? She was kind of a "cult figure" back in the 1950s-60s.

They have some very odd beliefs...as you will see in this collection.


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I have, as it happens, read Ayn Rand and am loosely familiar with "libertarian" theory.

Its main problem turns around the concept of "free consent". It presents this as an "abstract value" that is de-coupled from the real material world.

Someone "consents" to work for a low wage because the alternative is starvation...this makes a mockery of the word "consent" in any meaningful sense.

Indeed, in the "Randian universe", one could literally sell oneself into slavery. It would be "consensual" and hence whatever minimal government existed would be prohibited from interfering.

In fact, you could even sell your kids into slavery--being minors, they have no "right of consent" and, again, the minimal government could not interfere. There might well be a law that the kids would have to be emancipated by their new owner when they reached the age of maturity...but it's fair to ask why the minimal government would bother to pass or enforce such a law?

It's common among libertarians--including Rand herself--to attribute the growth of "big government" to the "plots and schemes" of bourgeois liberals, socialists, and communists.

That quite ignores the historical and material causes of the rise of "big government".

The initial reason that capitalists required a "big government" was to protect themselves from each other.

Without regulation, the capitalist class creates a "Hobbesian" world of ruthless and unlimited predation. You need not "out-compete" your competitor if you can simply kill the bastard before he kills you. Late 19th century American capitalism and modern Russian capitalism was/is not very far removed from that...blowing up your competitor's factory was/is an "easy" way to "increase market share".

Marx referred to the modern state as "the executive committee of the capitalist class"...and I think that's pretty accurate.

Of course, the one thing that this "executive committee" agrees upon is the need to keep the working class powerless and exploited. They have their disagreements as to the exact mix of stick and carrot to be applied--Sweden and Nazi Germany provide the "polar extremes" of capitalism from a worker's point of view. Sweden was lots of carrots and not too much stick; Nazi Germany was the opposite, of course.

But either way, that "big government" is not present because of "bad ideas" or "moral turpitude"...it's there because the capitalist class needs it.

And it will get bigger.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 4, 2003
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I confess a bit of a dilemma as to how to respond to the posts by two of our "right libertarians".

One is a Randian and says my criticisms apply to "market anarchists" but not to Rand.

The other seems to suggest that my criticisms apply to Rand but not to "most libertarians".

Both seem to agree that Rand was personally obnoxious...and that seems to be a general consensus. (!)

It seems to be clear that the "right libertarian" part of the political spectrum have a "less government" bias with strict boundaries set to government functions and activities.

One of those functions, clearly, must be the "security of property" against any form of "un-consensual" alienation. "Thou shalt not steal" or take by force the property of another.

You may sell or trade your property...or even give it away, but no one is allowed to take it from you. If someone tries to do that, you may call upon the government to supply force in your defense...and/or you may hire specialists in the application of violence to defend your property.

At the base of the "right libertarian" approach is the idea that each individual "owns himself"...he may sell, lease, rent, or even give away any part of himself that he wishes, but no one may force him to labor for another or take from him the "fruits" of his labor.

Very well, under these circumstances, I don't understand why someone could not sell himself or herself into slavery.

It would be "consensual"--no violence or threat of violence would be involved. If you thought the price offered for you was "too low", you could freely refuse the transaction and the "buyer" would have to look elsewhere.

The contract could contain various terms agreed to by both buyer and seller. The new slave could insist on prior approval of any sale of himself to a third party, for example. A time limit could be set on his period of servitude...after which, ownership of himself would revert to himself.

Since we are speaking hypothetically here, I won't go into the reasons why someone would want to do that. But I can't see any principled objection that a consistent "right libertarian" could make. The fact that you would find such a "deal" distasteful does not mean that others could not freely "choose" this alternative. You are free, after all, not to buy slaves if the idea is repulsive to you.

Keep in mind, by the way, that a disobedient or rebellious slave would be in breach of contract and could be subject to fines or even imprisonment.

I can see that "right libertarians" would find it even more distasteful to witness the sale and purchase of children into bondage.

But legal traditions throughout all of recorded history have, in one fashion or another, treated parents as the rightful "decision-makers" for children until they reach whatever the legal age of adulthood is. (There are some modern exceptions--partial ones--to this doctrine, of course.)

Perhaps a "right libertarian" social order would not permit parents to sell their children into slavery...or perhaps it would insist that child-slaves be emancipated on their 18th birthday or 21st birthday or whatever.

But, if consistency were the only factor to be considered, it should permit such transactions. If the parents consent to the sale, that "counts" as consent "by" the kids...under traditional legal norms.

As to how "Hobbesian" capitalism in a "right libertarian" regime would be, I concede that I was speculating...based on actual historical events. The first Rockefeller was well known for blowing up his competitors' oil refineries if they refused to sell out to him, for example.

A large police apparatus and/or the maintenance of private security armies to protect industrial properties from sabotage or theft (or to engage in retaliatory attacks) would be features of a "right libertarian" society...to one extent or another.

Should the workers become unduly restive, private armies are also useful; consult the internet on the 1915 massacre in Ludlow, Colorado, for example.

A "right libertarian" regime could hardly intervene on the side of the workers...that would be "depriving" the owners of property of the "right" to do as they wished with their property.

It would be a tough life...unless you were pretty rich.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 4, 2004
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Here is a curiosity...

Neither of our "right libertarians" have disputed my contention that the right to voluntarily sell yourself into slavery is not inconsistent with the "right libertarian" world-outlook.

Am I indeed the first to raise this point?

Don't you guys have an answer for this?

One does say...

quote:

There is a big difference between sending a kid to school and selling a kid into slavery. You do not own your children.


So, at least in his view, you could not sell your children into slavery because you do not "own" them.

Very well, if they "own themselves", then would they not have the right to "sell themselves" into slavery just like adults?

Perhaps not; rules are different for children. They may technically "own themselves" but may not be allowed to "dispose of themselves".

But it must be noted that this is a marked inconsistency in the general outlook of "right libertarians".

quote:

Are you saying that the bosses own the workers?


Not at all. What I'm saying is that under the "right-libertarian" regime, workers would have the right to form a trade-union (it would be more like a guild, actually) and negotiate a collective contract with a capitalist. But should such a union attempt to strike, the capitalist would be perfectly free to fire all the members of the union and hire scabs...and any attempt by the union to stop scabs from working would be legally considered as "interference with the right of capitalists to use their own property as they see fit". Law enforcement--to the extent it exists--would intervene on the side of the capitalist (and on the side of the scabs).

Of course, if a capitalist freely decided to sign a contract with a labor union and then violated the terms of the contract, the union could sue under "breach of contract" laws. Capitalists would have little incentive to deal with unions as a result...and probably would simply fire summarily any worker who even showed interest in a union.

That was the general practice in the United States from 1830 to 1937.

I think it would make more economic sense for capitalists to "pick and choose" among the youngest, healthiest, and most desperate workers and buy them as slaves...perhaps for ten or twenty-year terms.

Of course, there are a lot of variables in this scenario. The purchase price could be invested by the new slave...so that when his contract expired, he would have the money to live in free retirement (there's no "social security" in the "right libertarian" era). Or, the purchase price could be paid directly to the slave in weekly or monthly installments...and the master could then charge the slave for his "room and board".

When you really start thinking like a "right libertarian", the implications are...staggering.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 5, 2004
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quote:

The individual has self-ownership, hence he can sell himself as a slave, though I don't see why you would do it.


Well, there might be many practical reasons to take that drastic step.

There's a guy in England who has a daughter suffering from some horrible wasting disease; he's selling one of his kidneys to some rich American to raise the money for the very expensive treatments that his daughter requires (apparently they are not covered by National Health).

There would be no "National Health Service" in the "right libertarian" era, so that's one reason someone might do it.

quote:

Technically it wouldn't be slavery since the individual voluntarily sold himself.


Well, I think this is a quibble. Once the "papers are signed" and payment takes place, the new slave must do his master's bidding...no matter what. Otherwise, he's in "breach of contract" and could be fined or even imprisoned, ordered to refund the purchase price (with interest), etc. He could even be flogged...unless he was careful to have a clause inserted in the contract prohibiting that particular form of servile discipline.

As I understand "right libertarian" thought, force is justified to enforce the sanctity of contract.

As I noted earlier, it's possible to construct a lot of different kinds of scenarios for the restoration of slavery under "right libertarian" ideology...after some experimentation, "customary terms" would be gradually established that might be more or less humane as chance would dictate.

Fortunately, the capitalist class itself will never accept "right libertarianism"...for good and sound material reasons. (For one thing it would create or at least threaten to create a "nightmare" of Hobbesian competition between capitalists...and they sure don't want that!)

But it is ironic (and amusing) that those who would provide for the possibility and likely the inevitability of the restoration of slavery would actually call themselves "libertarians".

Another one of history's little jokes, I guess.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 5, 2004
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quote:

Honestly Redstar, I am interested how we are going to reinstate slavery.


You're not, of course. I already explained your practical difficulty--real capitalists will flatly refuse to take the risks that your ideology threatens.

My point is rather an intellectual one: that were your system to come into existence, the restoration of slavery would logically follow from your concept of each human "owning himself" as a form of property that can be alienated--leased, rented, or sold.

Consider the practical example from my previous post. You might want to sell one of your "spare" organs (kidney, lung, testicle...) but unfortunately there are no buyers currently in the market for your tissue-type. Thus you must contemplate the grim alternatives--selling yourself into slavery or watching your daughter die.

Each capitalist would also be choosing the "best option"--hire wage labor or purchase slaves. If wages were very low, there might be only a few slaves; if wages started to rise, then purchasing slaves might be the better choice.

But unless government "stepped in" and said flat out "you cannot sell yourself into slavery"--and thus violated your ideological premise of self-ownership--then slavery would exist.

Q.E.D.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 5, 2004
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quote:

I am not afraid of an intellectual battle. But again I am always surprised at the examples. Yet I suspect that your premise is that workers are exploited this means that thus they are enslaved. So it will be just a change of view.


No, this leaves completely aside the matter of workers being employed by capitalists as they are now. Whether this is "wage-slavery" or simply a "free & unforced contract" is irrelevant.

I showed that logically the concept of "self-ownership" leads to the restoration of slavery. It wouldn't be a matter of "capturing slaves" or anything like that; it would be someone disposing of their property (themselves) in a voluntary act with no coercion of any kind except perceived economic advantage.

Under "right libertarianism", slavery would exist.

quote:

But, what's your view on the self-ownership issue?


I think it's metaphysical nonsense, of course. There are three collections of my posts on my site under the title People Are Not Property. They cannot be "owned"...by themselves or anyone else.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 5, 2004
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quote:

A form of slavery would exist...so be it.


That concedes the point I was making. The details would be a product of complex historical factors, as I suggested earlier.

quote:

You are talking of indentured servitude which has also been abandoned by western civ.


Well, there certainly are some obvious parallels...limitation of term being the most obvious.

But, as I understand it, indentured servitude was primarily a form of apprenticeship for the young--the young guy agreed to "serve his master" for a fixed period of time (7 years?) in return for room, board, and training in the master's area of expertise. (Actually, the young guy "agreed" to no such thing...parents made these arrangements for their sons.)

I also recall that poor young women agreed to indentured servitude as a means of immigrating to the English colonies in North America...though what they did after their 7 years was up, I have no idea. Married, I guess...there being a great shortage of women in the colonies.

I suppose one "dividing line" might be that of sale to a third party. An "indentured servant" cannot be "sold"--s/he is not property. A slave can be sold--though in "right libertarianism", the prospective slave could attempt to negotiate a clause in his contract of sale to the effect that he has the right to approve/veto his sale to any particular new master.

Professional athletes at the highest level have that clause in present-day contracts.

Whether an "ordinary slave" would be able to successfully negotiate that is questionable.

quote:

I am a libertarian that would tell you that the true ideal of libertarianism will never exist.


Yes, I said as much myself. There are too many and too wealthy "vested interests" in the existing kleptocracy-oligopoly to make the kinds of risks you would want to take acceptable.

quote:

Frankly, I don't see why there would be a demand for slave labor, as it is rather shitty...


There might not be, as such. Slaves might be seen as "status goods" by the rich rather than instruments of labor. Thus a libertarian version of "Bill Gates" might seek to purchase a dozen very attractive dancing girls rather than an ancient manuscript or a famous painting.

But don't let those "old plantations" fool you; there were indeed many "industrial slaves" in the old South (their "wages" were paid to their masters)...and presumably they were sufficiently productive as to justify the practice.

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I am gratified that "right libertarians" seem willing to admit that their ideology--if it could ever be implemented--would indeed result in the restoration of slavery.

But why do you then call yourselves "libertarian"?

And, just out of curiosity, do you guys read a lot from the works of John C. Calhoun? If not, I think you'd like him.
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First posted at Che-Lives on January 6, 2004
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