Thursday, October 25, 2007

China Mieville, 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.

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Rohit Chopra said...

Hi Amardeep:

As it turns out, George Monbiot has also just published a scathing critique of Libertarianism (titled "Libertarians are the True Social Parasites") in the Guardian a couple of days ago. Here it is from his website.


3:45 PM  
Deane AKA ~CC~ said...

i fail to see how either pieces shown here is a 'scathing critique' of libertarianism.

i mean, who the hell is Matt Ridley?

its one thing to make floaty theoretical arguments, but in practice the movement seems to be more towards libertarian ideas - less government, freer markets,etc. even if these changes occur under different labels.


11:33 AM  

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