Why I am an anarcho-socialist.

I have noticed that people throw around the words “capitalism,” “socialism,” “state,” “government,” and “anarchism” without knowing what they are talking about, or using these words in some idiosyncratic way.

So, let me explain to you how I understand these words.

“Capitalism” — as I keep repeating — is a political stance which bars people from free access to subsistence land. It is a system which creates a class of proletarians. These are people who have to work for wages or become homeless.

“Socialism” is a political stance antithetical to capitalism; thus, it allows free access to subsistence land. [Granting everyone a basic income or, as Bertrand Russell called it, a “vagabond’s wage,” would compensate for not allowing free access to subsistence land.]

“State” and “government” are not synonymous. A government is a set of rules regulation social life — however formulated: either by informal agreement, direct or indirect democracy.

A “State” is a centralized government ruling over hundreds, thousands, or millions of people over some territory.

“Anarchism” is a government ruling over a small community of about 150 families through direct democracy or through a council (the Russian word for a council is “soviet.”

By combining the idea of a small community ruling itself with the idea of granting everyone in the community free access to subsistence land, we get the hyphenated idea of “anarcho-socialism.” It can also be called “libertarian socialism” since by “liberty” is meant the self-rule of a small community.

The idea of “anarcho-capitalism” is a contradiction caused by not knowing how to define capitalism. The usual idea given is that capitalism involves free-trade. But free-trade, although a necessary condition for capitalism, is not a sufficient condition — simply because free-trade has existed under slavery and feudalism. The other necessary condition is the barring of people from a free access to subsistence land. Yet, those who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” also want to grant everyone a homestead. But granting a homestead is equivalent to granting free access to subsistence land. Hence, a puzzling situation for the anarcho-capitalists. Does “ideal” capitalism really allow free access to subsistence land?

Below is the flag for anarcho-socialism. A red flag represents socialism. A black flag represents anarchism.

Land and Survival

My wife, Kathy, and I are addicted to the series “Naked and Afraid,” in which a man and a woman are paired, transported to various “raw” environments, stripped of all clothing, and given each a tool of their own choosing. Usually the choices are rational: a machete or a large knife and a flint firestarter. Sometimes, however, some odd choices have been made. Once a woman chose a magnifying glass, another woman chose a cooking pot, and still another chose a tarp.

Given that the couple is naked, a major concern is temperature — especially at night. And with the additional possibility of rain, hypothermia is a danger. So, a shelter and fire are very important. A machete will help in the construction of a shelter as well as for other uses, like making a spear, as well as preparing food. And a fire is needed for warmth, boiling water, and cooking. Let me point out that without a fire starter, people had to twirl sticks to create an amber — and sometimes this proved to be impossible.

It is said that without water a person can survive for a week, and with water but no food, for a month. Perhaps for this reason the producers of the show made the duration of coping with nature 21 days.

So, in the order of priorities: shelter, fire, water, food.

So, why is this show so fascinating? Because this show makes explicit the human needs for survival. And survival is the bare bones of human life. Everything else is luxuries and psychological quirks.

Other than making such mistakes as drinking unboiled water and eating the wrong food (e.g. green figs), or not knowing how to hunt and fish, the main obstacle for successful cooperation is an individual’s character traits. Some individuals cannot endure the physical discomforts or psychological distress; others cannot cooperate because of laziness or ignorance, or because of being too bossy or too needy — and some are downright mean.

What this show teaches is that humans can survive even in the harshest environments as long as they have access to these environments. However, modern States which favor capitalism, forbid such a free access to subsistence land.

Below is an example of the show:

Reflections on Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit”

I am reading Carl Sagan’s collection of essays, titled “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” (1995). I agree with everything in the book, except for two caveats.

The first is that although Sagan juxtaposes the findings of science against superstition and pseudo-science, his real intent is to recommend critical thinking. This becomes evident from two considerations.

The first. He tells us that while teaching at Cornell, the chairman of the astronomy department, Yervant Terzian, allowed him to teach critical thinking in a course titled “Astronomy 490.” (p. 435)

The other matter is that this critical thinking course was composed of what he described as “baloney detection kit,” described in detail in the essay “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” My point is that science and the methods of science are a subset of critical thinking, and this is admitted by Sagan himself in footnote to the essay “Science and Witchcraft”: “I do not wish to suggest that advocacy of science and skepticism necessarily lead to all the political or social conclusions. Although skeptical thinking is invaluable to politics, politics is not a science.” (p. 401) Exactly!

My second caveat is that Sagan’s skepticism and criticism is too narrow in this book. It should have included a wider political criticism as part of “baloney detection.” But, to be fair, he does express some political criticisms. One example is given in his “baloney detection kit” under the entry:

“weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”).” (p. 216)

Sagan also expresses moral disapproval of President Truman’s dropping of atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And he also criticizes the Alien and Sedition Acts.

But Sagan’s skepticism and criticisms are too narrow. He could have criticized the office of the U.S. President, as such. He could also have criticized the U.S. Constitution (as, for example, as inferior to that of Switzerland). And he could also have criticized the institution of capitalism. But he does none of this.

Why is the government of Switzerland invisible?

Most of the governments of the world have a person with whom we identify a country. The most visible and troublesome ones are Donald Trump, the President of the United States, and Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation. Then there is the motley crew of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany; Emmanuel Macron, the President of France; and Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Then there is Kim Jong-un, the Dictator of North Korea; Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela; Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. Also there are a host of — at least to me — peripheral leaders: Xi Jinping, President of China; Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary; Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada; Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine. Other leaders are, for me, at the margins — and I have to look them up or be reminded of who they are.

As to Switzerland, the government of Switzerland is basically invisible to me — even if I look up who’s who. Why? Primarily because they do not have a single leader, but a Federal Council consisting of seven individuals, who — unlike the nine-member Supreme Court in the United States who are often quite visible because of their individual identifiable controversial decisions — cannot be individually identified with any decisions because their individual votes are unrecorded and unknown.

Besides, whatever the Federal Council’s decisions are, they are neither controversial nor of international significance. The significant decisions of Switzerland are made through national referendums and national initiatives by the people; not by any leader. The result of this type of government is a prosperous, peaceful, and neutral country in times of war.

Viva la Switzerland!

Der Gesamtbundesrat 2020 (von links nach rechts): Bundeskanzler Walter Thurnherr, Bundesrätin Viola Amherd, Bundesrat Guy Parmelin (Vizepräsident), Bundesrat Alain Berset, Bundespräsidentin Simonetta Sommaruga, Bundesrat Ignazio Cassis, Bundesrat Ueli Maurer, Bundesrätin Karin Keller-Sutter. Foto: Annette Boutellier/Yoshiko Kusano

(3) Further commentary on Ian Shapiro’s course: “Moral Foundations of Politics”

The last four lectures are on democracy.

I agree with the idea of democracy as the claim that government, if moral, should be founded on the will of the people. However, Shapiro seems to use American Democracy, as if it were the paradigm of democratic government. My objection is that there are many different existing types of democratic governments, which Shapiro should have mentioned.

Shapiro mentioned Robert Dahl as being — according to him — the foremost current scholar of democracy. Because of this endorsement, I have read his book, On Democracy (1998). Dahl, in his turn, recommended looking at the freedom ranking of governments at the site: Freedom House. What is more interesting for me is the type of governments which exist in these “free” democracies. And for that answer — by Dahl’s recommendation — we should look at the studies of Arend Lijphart, whose most important book is Patterns of Democracy (1st ed. 1999; 2d ed. 2012). [available on the Internet]

Lijphart’s main classification of democracies is into two types: Majoritarian (also known as the Westminister model) and Consensus models. For example, the United Kingdom uses majoritarian democracy; whereas Switzerland uses consensus democracy.

I am not going to get into the details except to point out two features. In England the House of Commons is elected by a principle that whichever party gets the most votes wins, and then this party chooses the Prime Minister. Whereas in Switzerland, party members are elected by proportional representation, and the four parties with the largest number of representatives nominate the 7-member Federal Council.

Swiss Federal Council 2020

Arend Lijphart believes that Consensus type of democracy is preferable to the Majoritarian type.

My criticism of Ian Shapiro’s course boils down to this. He failed to tell the audience that there are different types of democracies in the world, and failed to consider which is preferable.

But that is not his only failing: i.e., the failure to differentiate and to grade democracies. Beside actual different types of democracies, there are also ideal and utopian types of democracies which are never mentioned by Shapiro. For example, Part III “Utopia” of Robert Nozick’s Anarchism, State, and Utopia points in this direction. [Contrary to Nozick, I would call his framework for utopias as the framework for anarchism] And a general description of anarchist proposals could be summarized as bottom-up federated democracies.

And without considering these alternative ideal democracies, there is no prospect for finding “the moral foundations of politics.”

Timothy Snyder and Gore Vidal on the American Imperial (“Tyrannical”) Presidency

Timothy Snyder, in the following video, notes that the Presidency of Trump has the earmarks of tyranny.

I agree with what he says, except for his praise of the Constitution. He thinks that the Constitution was designed to prevent tyranny through a division of powers. That may well have been the intention. But the Constitution is flawed in many respects.

Among these flaws, the most egregious one is in having created the office of a President, elected by an electoral college and mass democracy. A better system would have been to have a prime minister nominated and elected by Congress, and even better one would have been a system with two co-equal prime-ministers, nominated by two parties with each minister having veto power over the other, as was the case in ancient Roman Republic with their two consuls. But a still better system would have been to imitate Switzerland and have four political parties nominate a seven-member executive council and cabinet, which would then be confirmed by Congress.

The present system allows persons of low caliber to be elected as Presidents. Worse, once elected Presidents have enormous powers in nominating cabinet posts and federal judges, and they also have great discretionary powers as military commanders-in-chief to declare martial law, and send troops to quell uprisings. For example, the so-called American Civil War, was not a war against a foreign aggressor, but was taken to be a domestic rebellion, which did not require a Congressional declaration of war, but was entirely within the powers of the President. And President Lincoln decided to send troops to the south to squash this “rebellious secession” of the South — a mopping up operation, as it may be called, which cost over 600,000 lives.

Timothy Snyder does not seem to appreciate the fact that the exercise of power which Trump is exhibiting is granted to him by the Constitution, and the mechanism of impeachment is too weak to curtail his abuse of these powers.

The Constitution, as it exists, is geared to making sure that the rich are in control. How so? Well, given mass democracy it will be the rich who will predominate in Congress because of election expenditures. And, let’s not forget, the Senate, as originally established, was to be selected by State legislatures, which themselves would be controlled by the rich, and would elect Senators who were friends of the rich. Furthermore, the Senators were to serve six years which would outlast any temporary political upheavals.

Anyway, several years ago, Gore Vidal gave a very insightful analysis of the existing Imperial Presidency:

Why is the world enamored by the Leader principle (except Switzerland)?

A single person in any capacity of making decisions is subject to advancing his own self-interest, subject to bribery, and subject to threats. Let us call this “corruption.”

I advance the following claim.

If it is possible for a leader to be corrupted, he will be corrupted.

This is just a rephrasing of the old adage that power tends to corrupt.

The ancient world of the Greeks and Romans knew this, and called a single leader a “dictator.” To offset this evil, Sparta had two kings, while the Roman Republic had two consuls — with veto powers over each other.

So why is it that everywhere in the world, we democratically give power to dictators?