Thursday, October 25, 2007
China Miéville, not a fan of Libertarianism
Via 3QD, China Miéville has a biting critique of libertarianism in In These Times. It’s an excerpt from a forthcoming book:
Libertarianism is by no means a unified movement. As many of its advocates proudly stress, it comprises a taxonomy of bickering branches—minarchists, objectivists, paleo- and neolibertarians, agorists, et various al.—just like a real social theory. Claiming a lineage with post-Enlightenment classical liberalism, as well as in some cases with the resoundingly portentous blatherings of Ayn Rand, all of its variants are characterized, to differing degrees, by fervent, even cultish, faith in what is quaintly termed the “free” market, and extreme antipathy to that vaguely conceived bogeyman, “the state,” with its regulatory and fiscal powers.
Above all, they recast their most banal avarice—the disinclination to pay tax—as a principled blow for political freedom. Not content with existing offshore tax shelters, multimillionaires and property developers have aspired to build their own. For each such rare project that sees (usually brief) life, there are many unfettered by actual existence, such as Laissez-Faire City, a proposed offshore tax haven inspired by a particularly crass and gung-ho libertarianism, that generated press interest in the mid-’90s only to collapse in infighting and bad blood; or New Utopia, an intended sea-based libertarian micro-nation in the Caribbean that degenerated with breathtaking predictability into nonexistence and scandal. . . .
A parable from seasteading’s past goes some way in explaining. In 1971, millionaire property developer Michael Oliver attempted to establish the Republic of Minerva on a small South Pacific sand atoll. It was soon off-handedly annexed by Tonga, and, in a traumatic actualized metaphor, allowed to dissolve back into the sea. To defeat the predatory outreach of nations and tides, it is clearly not enough to be offshore: True freedom floats. (link)
Though he is indeed merciless in slicing up libertarianism for dinner, Miéville is nevertheless interested in one of the recurring leitmotifs in much libertarian thought—the idea that true liberty must inevitably be landless, stateless, and therefore possibly afloat (in outer space, or at sea—same thing). The idea of the “floating utopia” is one he explored in his novel The Scar, which I briefly attempted to interpret here. In Miéville’s rendering, of course, a lived utopia is always going to be perilously close to its opposite.
I think that libertarians, transhumanism, and space colonizers overlap a lot. That type combines extreme technological optimism with absolute pessimism about the actual world we live in, combined with a purist rejection of all non-libertarian ways of coping and wistful dreams of Road Warrior chaos.
In other words: WOW!!1!!1!
How could anyone possibly write an article about floating utopias and not mention temporary autonomous zones? I read the online part of the article and didn’t see it; maybe Mieville writes about it in a section not quoted. But sometimes it feels like there’s still some kind of old-world disconnection between socialist and anarchist writing. What’s next, post-work without Bob Black?
But of course I agree with everything that Mieville writes in this essay.
I said this in another comments section, but it kind of bears repeating: It takes a brave communist to talk about an unfeasible utopia.
I hadn’t thought about TAZ! Thanks for reminding me about it, Rich. He did mention pirates but they stayed lurking on the edge of the map. I may have to pick up the book that has the extended essay to see if he elaborates on these any. And of course, his fiction, which I keep having recommended to me but have as yet not read.
If by “biting critique” you mean a series of clever insults, I agree with you. If you mean actual arguments against libertarianism as a political philosophy, I don’t see any in Mieville’s article. And if we’re going to judge ideologies by the worst of their adherents, socialism comes off far worse than libertarianism.
(To head off ad hominem attacks, I am not a libertarian nor a rightist, but I do think full-blown libertarianism raises questions worth pondering.)