- I'm the out-of-court jester who won't settle, I up the vigilante, I'm a law unto myself but break it anyway! I made a forced landing on the Moebius Strip and now I want to know, which side are you on?
- The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1986), p. 14
The Libertarian as Conservative (1984)
- There are libertarians who try to retrieve libertarianism from the Libertarian Party just as there are Christians who try to reclaim Christianity from Christendom and communists (I’ve tried to myself) who try to save communism from the Communist parties and states. They (and I) meant well but we lost.
- My target is what most libertarians have in common — with each other, and with their ostensible enemies. Libertarians serve the state all the better because they declaim against it. At bottom, they want what it wants. But you can’t want what the state wants without wanting the state, for what the state wants is the conditions in which it flourishes.
- My (unfriendly) approach to modern society is to regard it as an integrated totality. Silly doctrinaire theories which regard the state as a parasitic excrescence on society cannot explain its centuries-long persistence, its ongoing encroachment upon what was previously market terrain, or its acceptance by the overwhelming majority of people including its demonstrable victims.
- To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst.
- If your language lacks poetry and paradox, it’s unequal to the task of accounting for actuality. Otherwise anything radically new is literally unspeakable.
- You might object that what I’ve said may apply to the minarchist majority of libertarians, but not to the self-styled anarchists among them. Not so. To my mind a right-wing anarchist is just a minarchist who’d abolish the state to his own satisfaction by calling it something else. But this incestuous family squabble is no affair of mine. Both camps call for partial or complete privatization of state functions but neither questions the functions themselves. They don’t denounce what the state does, they just object to who’s doing it. This is why the people most victimized by the state display the least interest in libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don’t quibble over their coercers’ credentials. If you can’t pay or don’t want to, you don’t much care if your deprivation is called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.
- Without even entering into the question of the world economy’s ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody’s productive activity, it’s apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is not the state but rather the business that employs him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.
- Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, “one can at least change jobs,” but you can’t avoid having a job — just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can’t avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters.
- Most work serves the predatory purposes of commerce and coercion and can be abolished outright. The rest can be automated away and/or transformed — by the experts, the workers who do it — into creative, playlike pastimes whose variety and conviviality will make extrinsic inducements like the capitalist carrot and the Communist stick equally obsolete. In the hopefully impending meta-industrial revolution, libertarian communists revolting against work will settle accounts with “libertarians” and “Communists” working against revolt. And then we can go for the gusto!
- Murray Rothbard thinks egalitarianism is a revolt against nature, but his day is 24 hours long, just like everybody else’s. If you spend most of your waking life taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life. Incapable of living a life of liberty, you’ll settle for one of its ideological representations, like libertarianism. You can’t treat values like workers, hiring and firing them at will and assigning each a place in an imposed division of labor. The taste for freedom and pleasure can’t be compartmentalized.
- Libertarians complain that the state is parasitic, an excrescence on society. They think it’s like a tumor you could cut out, leaving the patient just as he was, only healthier. They’ve been mystified by their own metaphors. Like the market, the state is an activity, not an entity. The only way to abolish the state is to change the way of life it forms a part of. That way of life, if you call that living, revolves around work and takes in bureaucracy, moralism, schooling, money, and more. Libertarians are conservatives because they avowedly want to maintain most of this mess and so unwittingly perpetuate the rest of the racket. But they’re bad conservatives because they’ve forgotten the reality of institutional and ideological interconnection which was the original insight of the historical conservatives. Entirely out of touch with the real currents of contemporary resistance, they denounce practical opposition to the system as “nihilism,” “Luddism,” and other big words they don’t understand. A glance at the world confirms that their utopian capitalism just can’t compete with the state. With enemies like libertarians, the state doesn’t need friends.
The Abolition of Work (1985)
- No one should ever work.
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost all the evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
That doesn't mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By "play" I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn't passive.
- These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.
- I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimun definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i.e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.
- Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it's forced. This is axiomatic.
- Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to the higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.
And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors; he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation.
- We are so close to the world of work that we can't see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position.
- Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at our watches. The only thing "free" about so-called free time is that it doesn't cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don't do that. Lathes and typewriters don't do that. But workers do.
- What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a "job" and an "occupation." Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their airconditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won't be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.
- No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater's problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is co-extensive with the consumption of delightful play activity. Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not—as it is now — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other's pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful.
If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work.
Workers of the world. . . relax!
Anarchy after Leftism (1997)
- Cleansed of its leftist residues, anarchy — anarchism minus Marxism — will be free to get better at being what it is.
- Although it is by definition a union-oriented ideology, there is no perceptible syndicalist presence in any union. A syndicalist is more likely to be a professor than a proletarian, more likely to be a folk singer than a factory worker. Organizers on principle, syndicalists are disunited and factionalized. Remarkably, this dullest of all anarchisms attracts some of the most irrational and hysterical adherents. Only a rather small minority of North American anarchists are syndicalists. Syndicalism will persist, if at all, as a campus-based cult in increasing isolation from the main currents of anarchism.
- Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism
- There is life after the left. And there is anarchy after anarchism. Post-leftist anarchists are striking off in many directions. Some may find the way — better yet, the ways — to a free future.
- Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism