Three cheers for anarchy — three reads, anyway

While everyone else was honoring dead soldiers by buying things, shooting off fireworks (dear neighbors: why?), and grilling out, I was in bed all weekend with a case of food poisoning. Naturally, I wound up reading books about anarchism and watching documentaries about Chernobyl.

It was accident, really. I was planning on reading Lysander Spooner’s No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority for Independence Day, in honor of the American tradition of telling the state to go boil its head. But when I began sampling Spooner, I found I couldn’t stop. The man’s a menace. A Boston abolitionist, writing two years after the War Between the States, he begins by announcing that the North had not freed the slaves; in contrast, it had made slaves of us all, by declaring that consent is not necessary for political authority; only brute force. Spooner is a marvel, condemning both the North and South in the same breath with the same arguments; he will go on to dismantle claims that Southerners were guilty of treason before arguing against the Constitution as an active contract. He gets a bit into the weeds on what constitutes an active contract, but as a pro-secession anti-Confederate pro-Union anti-Lincoln southerner, I was delighted to find an abolitionist pointing out that the moral horror of compelling men to obey tainted both sides. He gets in a bit of economic argument, too, suggesting that the North went to war more to protect their financial assets than out for moral principle. Definitely going to be reading more Spooner, particularly The Unconstitutionality of Slavery.

What happens when men don’t consent to their government, but they live in a place that would imprison or shoot them if they actively resisted it? Well…they could begin subverting it, denying its control over their lives by shifting economic activity out of its realm Enter counter-economics. Anything outside the state’s purview is countereconomics: if it’s untaxed, black market, illicit, whatever. (‘Aggressive’ activity, like stealing and murder, are not countereconomic.) Bartering, using an unlicensed barber, and buying verboten goods are all counter-economic, and nearly everyone engages in it to some degree throughout the world: the more intrusive the state, the healthier its counter-economy. The command economy, through its own inadequacies, creates the demand for the counter-economy. In Counter-Economics, Samuel Konkin III begins to explore the promise of countereconomics, proposing that if enough people moved enough activity outside the state’s realm, that we could effectively starve the state to death through want of funds and political relevance. Unfortunately, Konkin died not halfway through writing this volume (which was dismissed by six publishers as too dangerous for public consumption), so all that we get is the basic idea, a review of countereconomic activity in states like Soviet Russia and Red China, a chapter on the promise of cryptography, and then an outline of what would have been one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, ever. Alas, mortality.

Konkin’s ideas live, though — and in 1979 , they inspired Alongside Night, a SF title from an author who was a fellow traveler of Konkin. J. Neil Schulman here presents us a vision of an actively failing United States, one beset by crippling inflation, so much so that police and the military are on strike. Konkin’s counter-economy is booming, as people, regardless of political convictions, covertly begin dealing in gold, swapping services, etc. The story begins when a young man’s father disappears, presumably kidnapped or killed by the state for his outspoken criticism of their tyranny and fiscal stupidity, and the teenager is forced to seek the help of ‘the revolutionary agorist cadre’, an underground movement of anarchists/agorists/libertarians who are actively building a counter-society based on free exchange and voluntaryism, who are counting the minutes until DC collapses under its own weight. It’s a thriller doubling as an ideological novel, a bit like The Iron Heel but for a very different audience, given that that dystopia was London’s argument for socialism, using corporatism as his foil. The movie, which I saw before falling into a Chernobyl rabbit hole, had…limitations. A low-budget production, definitely, but with a curious lack of consistency in that regard: there were recognizable actors in it, and the film itself was in high-definition. The editing and writing were weaker, though, and the quality of props was hit and miss. The novel was fun, though, and I’ve got a few more like coming up. It helps that agorists, wanting to spread the word, have made a lot of their reading materials free-to-read online. I also have some…normal (for me) stuff coming up. War, classics, the science of poop…the usual.

“Ensign Kim, I do not understand you and Lieutenant Paris’ obsession with holonovels set in Old Earth. Why are we wearing these black turtlenecks to ‘smash the state’, as you said? These uniforms are most illogical.”

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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7 Responses to Three cheers for anarchy — three reads, anyway

  1. Marian says:

    I’m sure I’ve heard of Alongside Night, though didn’t know what it was about.

    I wonder about North Korea. They have a significant black market, but it doesn’t seem to be having a disrupting affect on their dictatorship. The problem there may just be an overall lack of resources, though. And of course, supported by China, the state has a massive advantage.

    Really interesting reads, looking forward to hearing more. 🙂

    • I didn’t think about the Kim cult, but they’re an unusual polity in many respects. I’ve seen a video on youtube that claims there’s a “Department 39” that generates revenue for Kim to spend personally, and its revenues are drawn from all kinds of black market trades, including drug distribution. I need to investigate that particular claim, though..

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    i take it you’d been to a BBQ? Been there, done that…..

    As you probably know I’m definitely sympathetic to the whole Anarchy thing. I actually used to get books (mail order back in the day) from an Anarchist bookstore in London – which, no doubt, got me put on a LIST somewhere! [lol] I think the book which really convinced me about Anarchy was ‘Anarchy in Action’ by Colin Ward (1973) which I’ve read multiple times – though not for years.

    • No, not this time! We had a big family grillout two weeks ago for my grandmother’s 91st, so we didn’t plan anything big this time. I had a cousin visiting from Texas, and we did grill steaks — but that was about it. The food poisoning came from an Indian restaurant earlier in the weekend, unfortunately. I’ve gone there numerous times without a problem.

      I originally twigged on to anarchism via the left — through Emile Carles and Emma Goldman. I think that was around the time we started following each other’s reading!

      • Cyberkitten says:

        Haven’t eaten out for over a year now… Soon though!

        I’ve had ‘Demanding the Impossible – A History of Anarchism’ by Peter Marshall on my To Read List for ages which I need to get around to. It’s reasonably modern (1992) and quite substantial [665pp] so you should find it interesting.

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