Monday, November 13, 2006

A Libertarian Critique of Decentralization

In an interesting post on Imperialism by Roderick Long; What Empire Does to a Culture he makes a note of this libertarian critique of decentralization. It is interesting because of course this comes from an American right wing libertarian perspective, or we could say individualist persepective.

In light of the Conservatives plans to decentralize the Canadian state in favour of the provinces this becomes an important critique from the right. PM eyes formal limits on Ottawa's powers

Never trust capitalist instutions whether business or government when they adopt the language of liberation and libertarianism like decentralization, self-management, or empowerment, these terms get turned on their heads and are then used to mean extending exploitation further.

Libertarian blogger Lady Aster offers the following critique of decentralization:

I've long been skeptical about decentralisation; what I fear is that societies with premodern, traditional cultural values will impose their local prejudices ruthlessly without a check from a larger, more cosmopolitan society. I'm very glad for Lawrence vs. Texas, and terrified by South Dakota, and while I would support reduction or elimination of the state power I also believe state power is less destructive when it precisely isn't in the hands of local, traditional social authorities. Historically, tolerance has been a value nurtured by education, leisure, and urbanity and made politically necessary wherever a polity comprises a variety of constituent cultures. My experience leads me to believe that the rights of minorities, including immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) would not be better protected under decentralisation. … True, there are cases where the local society would pass better laws than the centralised state … But even so, my reading of history is that the general tendency is for cultural tolerance to flourish in urban centers. With this being the case, localism seems an idea with which I can have some anarchistic sympathy but which seems in practice a deadly threat to minorities, dissidents, and nonconformists of all types.

Long takes issue with her comments however I found them insightful and am sympathetic, since to me anarchism is not against governance, but in favour of a democratic form of direct governance. Of course we live in decidely social democratic country so even our libertarianism is tinged with the sense of the need for social justice, and that government should serve the people, something our southern neighbours have an inherent historical distrust of.

And because the current revolt of fundamentalisms of the right whether in the U.S. or in the Middle East, all hate the Metropole, urban pluralist secular culture, ironically since it is a creature of the bourgoise enlightenment and capitalism.

The State is a function which arose from the needs of capitalism. As Marx points out the progressive aspect of Empire in India for instance was that overcomes the old patriarchical village structures, while at the same time not going far enough due to its own self interest being to create colonies. Long agrees;

The protection offered by imperial centralism should also not be overestimated. The vision of the British Empire as a universal guarantor of free trade looks like a bad joke when one considers the mercantilist system of economic privilege that Britain upheld in India, for example. And in the United States the federal government presided happily over slavery for nearly a century before doing much about it, and then presided happily over the Jim Crow system for nearly another century before doing very much about that; moreover, the struggle against Jim Crow was initially waged at the grass-roots level by private citizens with relatively little federal support, and it was only after the civil rights movement had begun to take on steam that the federal government moved like the Owl of Minerva to position itself at the head of the movement.

Where he disagrees with Marx, is that as an American Liberatarian from the right he sees politics as a matter of free will, rather than the outcome of the development of capitalism itself. Marx on the other hand looked at politics as determined by the economic needs of capitalism. And in that these two anti-imperialist solitudes would never meet. Except they do in the libertarian miluex, which is what gives our politics left or right the best chance of speaking truth to power.

A tip o' the blog to Liberator for this.





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Lady Aster said...

My greetings, and thank you for the mention. I would merely like to note that as an individualist anarchist/anarcha-feminist working girl who has been as strongly influenced by Emma Goldman, Benjamin Tucker, Ellen Willis, and Riane Eisler as Ayn Rand, I feel very uncomfortable with the term 'right-wing'- a term which does regretfully decribe too much of the American market libertarian movement. I am personally believe social justice and liberty are quite compatible goals. Roderick Long, incidentally, is a left-libertarian who likewise seeks a rapproachment between (market) libertarians and progressives.

Blessed be.

eugene plawiuk said...

I was quite impressed with your classical liberal defense of social good, which rightwing vulgar libertarians (to use Kevin Carsons phrase) toss out baby with bathwater.
And Blessed Be to you too.;)