Thursday, July 23, 2009

Of ways and means

Daniel G. Shorthouse @ FR33 AGENTS:

It should be self-evident that the attainment of condition x by action exclusive to condition x is a self-defeating philosophy. Unfortunately, many of those who share the same goals with [Agorists] do not recognize that fact. Minarchists, partyarchists and others who believe that freedom can be gained through the political process are no different from those Muste was criticizing by that saying: those who believe that peace could be attained by violent means.

First, I'd like to separate the categories "minarchist" and "partyarchist."

Minarchists do not share the same goals with Agorists. Minarchists define freedom differently than Agorists (and other anarchists) do. Their definition of freedom allows for the existence of a minimal state; Agorist and anarchist definitions of freedom do not. Minarchism doesn't treat the political process as a way to freedom; rather it includes includes the (or at least a) political process in its definition of freedom. The inclusion of minarchists in Shorthouse's argument is, in other words, a strawman (presumably an unintentional one).

Partyarchy, on the other hand, is a more complex phenomenon. Canon:

Partyarch: [T]erm coined by [Samuel Edward Konkin III] in 1972 to denote "anarchists" who had rejected the State (head of the octopus) only to embrace its tentacle, a political party.

I can't blame Shorthouse for incorporating a naive ipse-dixitism fallacy in his argument -- as far as I can tell, all of SEK3's arguments against partyarchy rested on the same fallacy.

The fallacy in question is the assumption that affiliation with a political party necessarily implies acceptance of the proposition that "freedom can be gained through the political process." As a matter of fact, the coining and usage of the term "partyarch" specifically as a pejorative seems to me to have that fallacy built into it.

In point of fact, I can think of at least two reasons for an anarchist or Agorist to join a self-described libertarian political party, neither of which in any way imply acceptance of that proposition.

The first reason is that a self-described libertarian political party is a prime recruiting ground. Even at its worst statist extreme, a party like the Libertarian Party is chock full of people who are already at the point of questioning the efficacy, and perhaps even the morality, of the state.

Yes, some of them will remain minarchists (or even "smaller-good-government" types), but they're dawdling just barely inside the door of the Temple of the Cult of the Omnipotent State. Some of them are bound to respond favorably to the guy who persuasively points them to the EXIT sign. Minarchist libertarians are low-hanging fruit for conversion to anarchism or Agorism -- and libertarian political parties are where minarchist libertarians gather. Anarchists and Agorists can reasonably join libertarian political parties for the same reason that military recruiters visit high schools ... because that's where the people they're seeking are to be found.

The second reason is that nothing makes for a better demonstration of the political process's inefficacy at securing freedom than ... well, a demonstration of the political process's inefficacy at securing freedom.

When an anarchist or Agorist joins a libertarian political party, dons a suit and tie (or pants suit), gets all the talking points down, puts in an honest effort, runs the best campaign for political office that he or she knows how to run ... and gets 2.4% of the vote ... what you have there is -- guess what -- a demonstration of the political process's inefficacy at securing freedom. And that demonstration takes place right there in front of all those aforementioned prospective recruits, the ones who've been knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes and buttonholing their neighbors.

And if the Agorist or anarchist actually wins an election? Even better! Now those recruits get to see that libertarian politician turned into a human lightning rod, fighting valiantly for a 1% reduction in the tax levy or a looser interpretation of zoning rules and coming away with metaphorical third degree burns over 80% of his or her body every damn time.

Nothing turns an open-minded minarchist into an outright anarchist faster than a window office over the floor of the sausage factory. If you don't believe me, ask former North Kansas City councilman Brad Spangler.

There may be reasonable arguments against "partyarchy" on grounds of strategy, i.e. that anarchists' and Agorists' time would be more productive if spent in direct counter-economic activity than in recruitment of new anarchists/Agorists from the ranks of libertarian political parties. The standard arguments -- of SEK3, and now of Shorthouse -- however, fail because a key part of their premise is fallacious.

[Update, 08/26/09: Shorthouse responds in turn, and it's quite an interesting one. I may come back at him again, but I'm going to want to chew on it for awhile first. Well done!]

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