Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

By Murray N. Rothbard

For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals. A common view, for example, is that socialism is splendid “in theory,” but that it cannot “work” in practical life. What the Conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat. For if one side is granted ethics and the “ideal” from the start, then that side will be able to effect gradual but sure changes in its own direction; and as these changes accumulate, the stigma of “impracticality” becomes less and less directly relevant. The Conservative opposition, having staked its all on the seemingly firm ground of the “practical” (that is, the status quo) is doomed to lose as the status quo moves further in the left direction. The fact that the unreconstructed Stalinists are universally considered to be the “Conservatives” in the Soviet Union is a happy logical joke upon conservatism; for in Russia the unrepentant statists are indeed the repositories of at least a superficial “practicality” and of a clinging to the existing status quo.

Never has the virus of “practicality” been more widespread than in the United States, for Americans consider themselves a “practical” people, and hence, the opposition to the Left, while originally stronger than elsewhere, has been perhaps the least firm at its foundation. It is now the advocates of the free market and the free society who have to meet the common charge of “impracticality.”

In no area has the Left been granted justice and morality as extensively and almost universally as in its espousal of massive equality. It is rare indeed in the United States to find anyone, especially any intellectual, challenging the beauty and goodness of the egalitarian ideal. So committed is everyone to this ideal that “impracticality”—that is, the weakening of economic incentives—has been virtually the only criticism against even the most bizarre egalitarian programs. The inexorable march of egalitarianism is indication enough of the impossibility of avoiding ethical commitments; the fiercely “practical” Americans, in attempting to avoid ethical doctrines, cannot help setting forth such doctrines, but they can now only do so in unconscious, ad hoc, and unsystematic fashion. Keynes’s famous insight that “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”—is true all the more of ethical judgments and ethical theory.1

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By Murray Rothbard

Now that the New Left has abandoned its earlier loose, flexible, nonideological stance, two ideologies have been adopted as guiding theoretical positions by New Leftists—Marxism–Stalinism and anarcho-communism. Marxism–Stalinism has unfortunately conquered SDS, but anarcho-communism has attracted many leftists who are looking for a way out of the bureaucratic and statist tyranny that has marked the Stalinist road. Also, many libertarians, who are looking for forms of action and for allies in such actions, have become attracted by an anarchist creed which seemingly exalts the voluntary way and calls for the abolition of the coercive State. It is fatal, however, to abandon and lose sight of one’s own principles in the quest for allies in specific tactical actions. Anarcho-communism, both in its original Bakunin–Kropotkin form and in its current irrationalist and “post-scarcity” variety, is poles apart from genuine libertarian principle. If there is one thing, for example, that anarcho-communism hates and reviles more than the State, it is the right of private property. As a matter of fact, the major reason that Anarcho-Communists oppose the State is because they wrongly believe that it is the creator and protector of private property, and, therefore, that the only route toward abolition of property is by destruction of the State apparatus. They totally fail to realize that the State has always been the great enemy and invader of the rights of private property. Furthermore, scorning and detesting the free market, the profit-and-loss economy, private property, and material affluence—all of which are corollaries of each other—Anarcho-Communists wrongly identify anarchism with communal living, with tribal sharing, and with other aspects of our emerging drug-rock “youth culture.”

The only good thing that one might say about anarchocommunism is that, in contrast to Stalinism, its form of communism would, supposedly, be voluntary. Presumably, no one would be forced to join the communes, and those who would continue to live individually and to engage in market activities would remain unmolested. Or would they? AnarchoCommunists have always been extremely vague and cloudy about the lineaments of their proposed anarchist society of the future. Many of them have been propounding the profoundly antilibertarian doctrine that the anarcho-communist revolution will have to confiscate and abolish all private property, so as to wean everyone from their psychological attachment to the property they own. Furthermore, it is hard to forget the fact that when the Spanish Anarchists (anarchocommunists of the Bakunin–Kropotkin type) took over large sections of Spain during the Civil War of the 1930s, they confiscated and destroyed all the money in their areas and promptly decreed the death penalty for the use of money. None of this can give one confidence in the good, voluntarist intentions of anarcho-communism.

On all other grounds, anarcho-communism ranges from mischievous to absurd. Philosophically, this creed is an allout assault on individuality and on reason. The individual’s desire for private property, drive to better himself, to specialize, to accumulate profits and income are reviled by all branches of communism. Instead, everyone is supposed to live in communes, sharing all his meager possessions with his fellows and each being careful not to advance beyond his communal brothers. At the root of all forms of communism, compulsory or voluntary, lies a profound hatred of individual excellence, a denial of the natural or intellectual superiority of some men over others, and a desire to tear down every individual to the level of a communal ant-heap. In the name of a phony “humanism,” an irrational and profoundly antihuman egalitarianism is to rob every individual of his specific and precious humanity.  Continue reading “Anarcho-Communism”