"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on rather than off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day." - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why Noam Chomsky Is Wrong About Libertarianism

For a man so renowned for his work in linguistics, Noam Chomsky certainly seems confused about the definitions of "libertarianism" and "anarchy;" and despite his accuracy on foreign policy, he's completely lost on economics and social policy. It's actually incredibly disappointing to see someone who so correctly recognizes so many problems in the world but consistently comes up with awful solutions.

In an interview with Michael S. Wilson, Chomsky comments:
Well what’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power:  so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes.  The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society . . . and so well that kind of libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny.
As I've explained in a previous article, libertarianism is about the Non-Aggression Principle: No one can initiate force against another person or their property except in self-defense. It's the maximum amount of personal (and economic, if you insist on that false dichotomy) freedom for you and I to achieve our own purposes any way we see fit as long as we don't interfere with each others ability to do the same. Everyone owns themselves and the fruit of their labor. There are very clear boundaries: for example, my freedom to move my fist through the air ends where your face begins. In a libertarian society, people can choose not to associate with whomever they please for whatever reason, instead of being forced to pay taxes that pay for things they don't support or follow laws passed by politicians they didn't vote for. How a society based on every interaction being completely voluntary could possibly be bastardized into "a very high level of authority and domination," or "unaccountable private tyranny," is beyond me. The state is authority. Period.

In the same interview, Chomsky shows his true colors:
Anarcho-syndicalism is a particular variety of anarchism which was concerned primarily, though not solely, but primarily with control over work, over the work place, over production.  It took for granted that working people ought to control their own work, its conditions, [that] they ought to control the enterprises in which they work, along with communities, so they should be associated with one another in free associations, and … democracy of that kind should be the foundational elements of a more general free society.  And then, you know, ideas are worked out about how exactly that should manifest itself, but I think that is the core of anarcho-syndicalist thinking.  I mean it’s not at all the general image that you described — people running around the streets, you know, breaking store windows — but [anarcho-syndicalism] is a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none.
It turns out Chomsky doesn't believe in anarchy at all, and he says it right here. His version of "anarchism" is basically a utopian mask for democracy where no one disagrees with each other. He says there's "little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none," but then advocates for mob rule and tyranny by majority. He reinforces his views on democracy here:
How can we best proceed in that direction?  And there are lots of ways within the current society.  One way, incidentally,  is through use of the state, to the extent that it is democratically controlled.  I mean in the long run, anarchists would like to see the state eliminated.  But it exists, alongside of private power, and the state is, at least to a certain extent, under public influence and control — could be much more so.  And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power.  Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example.  Or insuring  that people have decent health care, let’s say.  Many other things like that.  They’re not going to come about through private power.  Quite the contrary.  But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures.  I think those are fine things to do. they should be looking forward to something much more, much beyond, — namely actual, much larger-scale democratization.
Here's an anti-capitalist "anarchist" advocating the use of government force to achieve an ends. Not surprising. Government is a monopoly of force. A business has to rely on voluntary contributions (purchases). If anything, government power is far more dangerous than private power simply because you can't say no to the government.

And workplace conditions are bettered by workers and consumers, not governments. The workers refuse to work in an awful environment and the customers refuse to support the company's products until they change. The company caves in because they don't want to have to go through a multimillion dollar court case (in a private court agreed upon by both parties, of course) when one of their workers gets injured due to those conditions.

No health benefits on the free market? Guess what? Just as workers have to compete for jobs, companies have to compete for labor. If Company A and Company B are hiring for the exact same job, yet Company A pays its workers twice the market rate, gives them a good benefits package, and promises advancement within the first five years. Meanwhile, workers at Company B work long into the night without any extra pay, receive no benefits, and routinely come home without digits, toes, limbs, and hope. Which company will get more applications? Which company will be able to keep the workers it invests in? This really isn't rocket science, yet it eludes people as smart as Chomsky all the time.

In the book Understanding Power, Chomsky displays his ignorance and dishonestly sets up a straw-man to attack true libertarianism again:
Man: What's the difference between "libertarian" and "anarchist," exactly?
Chomsky: There's no difference, really. I think they're the same thing. But you see, "libertarian" has a special meaning in the United States. The United States is off the spectrum of the main tradition in this respect: what's called "libertarianism" here is unbridled capitalism. Now, that's always been opposed in the European libertarian tradition, where every anarchist has been a socialist—because the point is, if you have unbridled capitalism, you have all kinds of authority: you have extreme authority.
He's just attacking "economic" freedom again, making the typical leftist mistake of separating economic from personal freedoms. "Unbridled capitalism" would really be a society based completely on the non-aggression principle, property rights, and completely voluntary association and exchange. I'm going to assume that he believes that the United States is a capitalist country, and that is where his mistaken idea of "capitalism" comes from. The truth is that the U.S. government does not practice capitalism - it practices military Keynesianism, which is really just a fancy word for corporatism or fascism. It's a union between the private and public sectors where those in big business get cozy with those in big government and use their influence to stifle their competition or get some kind of advantage. The Federal Reserve - a private cartel that couldn't exist without government enforcement of its charter - comes to mind. A far cry indeed from true libertarianism's "harm none; do what ye will."

While we're talking about the Fed... Considering Chomsky's anti-capitalist stances, it's incredibly surprising that he defends the Federal Reserve and it's Chairman, Ben Bernanke. Chomsky, a self-described anarchist, claims to be against  "concentrating private power," yet here he is, defending the Federal Reserve which places the entire monetary system - and therefore our entire economy - in the hands of a few elite bankers and their paid-for politicians. Brilliant!
If capital is privately controlled, then people are going to have to rent themselves in order to survive. Now, you can say, "they rent themselves freely, it's a free contract"—but that's a joke. If your choice is, "do what I tell you or starve," that's not a choice—it's in fact what was commonly referred to as wage slavery in more civilized times, like the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example.
By definition, if capital is private then everyone is able to acquire it: we can save our money, buy a house, farm, or factory, invest in a company, and so on. Capital itself is an extension of our labor. It's what our labor and our sacrifice has earned. Capitalism is private control of that capital. You own yours, I own mine. Combine that with the non-aggression principle. Is that really so bad compared to Chomsky's espoused anarcho-syndicalism or communism where everyone except you gets to decide what you do with what you produce? Calling it "wage slavery" is stupid, and he even says so (though he doesn't recognize it) because slaves aren't payed wages and it's not slavery if it's voluntary. If you're a human who wants to survive, you either need to produce your own food, clothing, shelter, etc., or produce something worthwhile to exchange for those things. Sorry, commies. It's a fact of life and will be for as long as humans are mortal. Those without the ability to produce can be voluntarily assisted by their families, friends, neighbors, churches, communities, etc.
The American version of "libertarianism" is an aberration, though—nobody really takes it seriously. I mean, everybody knows that a society that worked by American libertarian principles would self-destruct in three seconds. The only reason people pretend to take it seriously is because you can use it as a weapon. Like, when somebody comes out in favor of a tax, you can say: "No, I'm a libertarian, I'm against that tax"—but of course, I'm still in favor of the government building roads, and having schools, and killing Libyans, and all that sort of stuff.
Only three seconds? That's at least a little longer than took for every single socialist state in history to devolve into an oppressive dictatorship. As for his comments on what he calls "American" libertarianism, Chomsky seems to have forgotten ancient Ireland. And ancient Israel and its judges. Medieval Iceland, too, and the Taoists in China, and pre-Civil War United States. He also forgets to mention that what he disdainfully calls "American" libertarianism came from what was called in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, a liberal, now known as a classical liberal. Since the turn of the 20th century, the term "liberal" has been overtaken and bastardized by collectivists. John Locke, Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, and Thomas Jefferson preached personal liberty, free markets, and small government. It's no coincidence that the gradual introduction of even a few libertarian ideas into society led to an explosion of industry and the greatest increase in the standard of living of the average person the world has ever seen. It was called the Industrial Revolution. Likewise, with its free-market reforms, Britain became an economic powerhouse for several hundred years, eventually only being surpassed by the one country that could be argued to be even more laissez-faire at that time: the United States.

Chomsky is, for lack of a better phrase, talking about of his ass here.  No true libertarian is going to be in favor of the government building and controlling the roads and schools and invading other countries. He's dishonestly painting inconsistent "libertarians" as representative of libertarianism in general.
Now, there are consistent libertarians, people like Murray Rothbard . . .
Oh, good! he acknowledges Rothbard and comments on his consistency as well! Maybe he'll back off the baseless assertions and straw-man arguments now...
. . . and if you just read the world that they describe, it's a world so full of hate that no human being would want to live in it.
This is a world where you don't have roads because you don't see any reason why you should cooperate in building a road that you're not going to use: if you want a road, you get together with a bunch of other people who are going to use that road and you build it, then you charge people to ride on it. If you don't like the pollution from somebody's automobile, you take them to court and you litigate it. Who would want to live in a world like that? It's a world built on hatred.
I can't believe it. He actually pulled the "who will build the roads!?" card. Here is a man who claims to be an anarchist saying that without some form of control (he calls it "organization," which is effectively government),  people won't be able to cooperate together to build the roads. Maybe he should read up on how the first turnpikes in Britain and America were privately-built-and-owned alternatives to the awful government-manged road system. Maybe Chomsky should read about this guy, who built his own road on his own land in response to the long-term closure of a nearby government road his community depended on.

It's incredibly interesting that despite their utopian theories, almost every socialist has such little faith in humanity. Chomsky thinks that you and I - but certainly not he, I'm sure - would become violent savages if given a chance at a society based on voluntary interaction. But if people can't be expected to voluntarily cooperate with each other for their mutual benefit, then how on earth could Chomsky's naive anarcho-syndicalist utopia be attainable?

Lastly - and I can't believe I'm even asking this - does Noam Chomsky even  know what hatred is? What he described sounded like a peaceful society where people aren't forced to do things against their will. At the very least, it sounds much better than Chomsky's implied alternative: giving people the "choice" between jail or paying taxes to pay for something they don't need/want/support and using "democratic" state power to forcibly redistribute property according to the mob's will.
The whole thing's not even worth talking about, though. First of all, it couldn't function for a second—and if it could, all you'd want to do is get out, or commit suicide or something. But this is a special American aberration, it's not really serious.
 Couldn't function? Not really serious? That's especially hilarious coming from the guy saying "communism can work, guys!" Stay classy, Chomsky.

Related posts:

Recommended reading (click to purchase from Amazon.com):

by Noam Chomsky  
by Lew Rockwell

by Murray Rothbard

by Frederic Bastiat

by Henry Hazlitt

by G. Edward Griffin


  1. Noam Chomsky, yet another leftist "anarchist" that will drop everything and worship the state when it does anything even slightly collectivist. The state as a means to anarchy... what an idiot.

    Excellent article.

  2. Great article man! After looking into AnCom arguments it's really clear that they don't hold up under scrutiny at all, I didn't even know that Chomsky defended the Federal Reserve though, some anarchist... "If it wasn't for the central bank we'd be in a deep depression right now"

  3. The NYC subway and street cars were built by private entities and later taken over (and mismanaged) by the city.