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February 26, 2005



As long as leftism and statism are largely synonymous, anti-leftism and anti-statism will be largely synonymous. The only way to exploit the division between the anti-leftists and the anti-statists is for the left to become less statist.

Rich Puchalsky

"Leftism" is almost a meaningless word at this point, but "statism" is even more meaningless. The right has always used the state to pursue its goals, as has the left. Even libertarians want a very strong state when it comes to the areas dear to their hearts, such as contract enforcement.

There are very few stateless areas, and those that do exist do not appear to attract many immigrants -- I haven't heard of a rush to settle in Somalia. Nor can existing states be easily ranked from weak to strong without specifying which areas of strength one considers to be important. So the whole idea of statism seems to me to be merely a propaganda phrase. It comes as no surprise to me that those who disparaged the state really only wanted to turn it towards their own ends.

So I see no way for the left, whatever that is, to become less statist. The whole concept of a left, or a right, has no meaning outside politics. And since we don't live in an anarchy, politics inevitably means the state.

Abiola Lapite
"Even libertarians want a very strong state when it comes to the areas dear to their hearts, such as contract enforcement."

1 - This is false for many libertarians, namely those of the anarcho-capitalist variety.

2 - Not all uses of the state are equally legitimate, and if there is to be a state worth having at all, contract enforcement must be amongst its primary duties. That makes minarchists "statists" only in the same vacuous sense that accepting the necessity of an army makes liberals "warmongers."

3 - Accepting the legitimacy of one state function does not preclude one from rejecting others, and the fact is that liberals generally want a far more powerful and intrusive state than even minarchists are happy to live with. "Politics inevitably means the state" does *not* imply that it must mean a bloated state of the kind liberals defend tooth and nail.

In other words, your arguments do nothing to establish that "statism" is a meaningless term, and to the extent that those who call themselves "liberals" argue for redistributionism in the name of "social justice", along with all sorts of government intervention to correct the "excesses" of capitalism, it is perfectly meaningful to call them statists; they display a belief in the beneficial powers of the state that repels even those who grant its legitimacy as a necessity for defence and law-keeping.

Now, turning to the central point at issue, Yglesias' argument has a certain facile cleverness to it, I'll grant, but it is essentially content-free; the right may acquiesce to new spending and regulation in contravention of its stated principles, but at least it lacks the unabashed enthusiasm for these evils that the left retains, a reality that no amount of contradiction tweaking will blind anti-state types to. A Democratic Party under the leadership of Howard Dean certainly isn't the vehicle to lure disaffected anti-statists away from the GOP.

William S

Wouldn't 'Multitude' be an example of non-state leftism? Or does it need to be anti-state? I think it only needs to be anti-state as a favour to anti-left conservativies, to give their efforts and positions philosophical signficance. Maybe less statist means seeing the state as purely instrumental? I have no idea.

William S

And what happened to the comment threads where we all tore each other's eyes out?

Rich Puchalsky

Abiola, like any fringe group, libertarians have a multitude of tiny sub-species and factions. A favorite tactic of libertarians is to answer any argument with the claim that it does not cover sub-species X. In this case, you can hardly answer the claim that libertarians have their own favorite types of strong government by citing the anarcho-capitalists, who as their name implies are a type of anarchists.

"Not all uses of the state are equally legitimate, and if there is to be a state worth having at all, contract enforcement must be amongst its primary duties." That is a value judgement. If you are a libertarian, I can certainly see how you might believe it, but it isn't true a priori. There are certainly many people who think that the concept of MEN WITH GUNS (to use the standard libertarian phrase) carrying you off for nonpayment of redistributive income taxes is not as bad as MEN WITH GUNS carrying you off for nonpayment of your local water company's monopoly-empowered bill.

Your number 3 is just more of the same. You please yourself by describing the elements of the state that liberals favor as "bloated", while dismissing the monopolies that a libertarian state would empower as not equally or more bloated, despite their greater effect on people's lives. A libertarian state would only shift social power from one place to another, and in the process makes it less accessible to democratic social control. There is a reason that people gave up on the early 1900's form of state regulation of the economy.

But libertarianism is only functioning as a stalking horse for conservatism here, as it so often does. The conservatives have a host of affirmative uses of the state, designed to decrease class mobility and increase the control of the upper class.


Yes, whither eye-gouging?

I figure there oughta be a Koufax for best-mannered active comment section on a lefty blog and we ought to win. (Of course that would cause the trolls to pour in.)

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