February 28, 2006

Third Parties?, by Jerry Fresia

Again and again progressives step forward to remind us of how bad the Democratic Party, or at least its leadership, is. The point of the lament is to encourage the support of third party candidates and parties.

This type of analysis is troubling, not because its analysis of the Democratic party is incorrect, but because the analysis leaves unexamined the institutional arrangement that makes a vibrant 3rd party at the federal level impossible. Never in American history has a third party captured the presidency. The Republican success in 1860 was anomalous in that one of the two major parties was simply torn apart by the divisions that issued in the Civil War soon after.

The possible election of Bernie Sanders as an Independent senator from Vermont is also anomalous. Vermont, in terms of population is essentially a congressional district. Sander's Independent Party is not a national or oppositional party. In fact, it may be in virtue of Sanders' distance from progressive third parties - the nominal independence from politics - that wins him broad support in a small state.

So here is my point: our political institutions were designed to give the appearance of public participation while preventing its substance. The two party system is part of that design. Encouraging third party participation makes sense only if it is one element in a campaign to establish democratic institutions in the US. With that in mind, let's take a look at the three central institutional features of our political system that insures at the federal level that only two parties will ever have a real chance of governing. They are the Electoral College, single-member districts and plurality elections.

Electoral College

On four occasions in US history, the candidate with the most popular votes did not win the presidency. This is a feature of a republican form of government, a government that is intended to "check" popular participation and "leveling" or democratic impulses. The mechanism by which this is done is the Electoral College. The Electoral College also insures that the number of parties seriously competing for the presidency will always be and only be two.

Each State's allotment of electors is equal to the number of House members to which it is entitled plus two Senators (with the District of Columbia getting three). But here is the key element for our purposes: in order to win the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of electors.

By requiring that a candidate win a majority, the Electoral College guarantees that third parties must do one of three things. Let's assume a third party arises and is incredibly strong (the Perot candidacy that for a time was pushing 20 percent nationally), but has no realistic chance of wining a majority of electors straight out. Its first choice is to press forward, win a significant percentage of electors and deny either of the two major parties a majority victory. In this case, the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, already dominated by the major parties. Option 1: third party looses everything.

The second option, again assuming a strong third party, is to coalesce with one of the major parties in order to get something. Arguably the most powerful progressive political party was the People's Party during the late 19th century. In 1896, they had anywhere from 25 to 45 percent strength in twenty-odd states. Clearly unable to win the presidency as a third party, they felt compelled to coalesce with the Democrats and saw their more radical labor and socialist elements purged in a losing effort. Well, there you are. Option 2 puts you back inside one of the major parties.

The third option arises when a third party is not that strong, say a Nadar candidacy of 2000. We know what happens there. A weak third party, by taking votes away from the party closest to it ideologically will, in effect, help elect the major party most unlike themselves. Option 3: help the other guys win.

Single-Member Districts

Single-member districts simply mean that in any given district, the winner takes all. That is, if the Republicans get 42 percent in a congressional district and the Democrats get 36 percent and the Greens get 22 percent, the district will still be represented by a single member, in this case the Republican. This is not terribly democratic as you can see. The majority of voters (Democrat and Green or 58 percent) garner zero representation. Third parties loose, everything.

Single member districts, of course, stand in contrast to proportional representation which permits third parties to gain a foothold in proportion to their strength. Prior to 1842, we should note, single member districts in the House of Representatives did not exist in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In these states, the entire congressional delegation was elected at large by means of what was called a general ticket. A return to the election of state delegations at large might lend itself nicely to proportional representation. In any case, we can see that the current arrangement is not carved in stone.

At the city level, proportional systems of representation have encouraged greater popular participation. In New York City from 1936 to 1947, proportional representation resulted in the participation of the American Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Communist Party and the Fusion forces. In addition to a number of blacks, two Communists were elected to the city council. That did it. Business forces restored the two party system, the only true "democratic" form of party participation as they put it.

Plurality Elections

Plurality elections mean that the candidate with the most votes wins. Unless the third party candidate is about to out poll the Democrat or Republican, supporters of third parties get no representation. Zero. Moreover, with this in mind, we are often told that voting our conscience is tantamount to throwing our vote away or electing "the other guy." For example, if George Bush, Bill Clinton and Noam Chomsky were to run (and could) for governor of California, the odds are pretty good that Noam would come in third. And there would be a very intense debate over whether or not we should vote for Clinton or Noam. This is the curse of plurality elections.

However, there are numerous mayoral elections where "majority election" rules obtain. Majority elections (sometimes called the "double primary") require a second ballot if no candidate gets a majority in the first round. This scheme encourages third parties because you are encouraged to vote your conscience in the hope that your party might at least come in second, in which case there would be a second ballot or runoff between the top two vote getters. And if the progressive party didn't make it that far, then one could choose the lesser of two evils in the final round. Majority elections have resulted in many progressive candidate and third party victories at the local level.


There are many different ways of organizing elections throughout the world. The electoral system in the United States has been shaped to both reduce popular participation and advance business interests. The impulse to create third party oppositional politics is natural, positive, and will persist until space for oppositional politics is created. However, to assume that our system is democratic and that the creation of oppositional politics turns only on a matter of will as opposed to a reform of our institutions is to advocate moral victory and political failure.

None of our rights have been handed down; they have all been won through resistance. So let's call the bastards on their professed support for democracy. Dump the electoral college, push for proportional representation and adopt majority elections, already in practice around the country at the local level, for federal office. Third parties yes, but not without a corresponding demand for democratic elections here in the US of A.

February 22, 2006

Hating Arabs, Arab-haters target Dubai port company

by Justin Raimondo
In a repeat of the calculated insults to the Arab world coming fast and furious these days, Democratic politicians, including putative presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are raising a ruckus over a deal in which Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation, a U.K. company that manages the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia, would be acquired by Dubai Ports World, a Dubai-based international company that manages port facilities from London to Okinawa. Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Frist, have been quick to jump on the Arab-bashing bandwagon; Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama was the first to raise the "security" issue, ahead of even Hillary and the clueless Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who wants all "foreign-owned" companies barred from managing U.S. ports. (This presumably includes U.K.-based companies such as Peninsular, and others, which together dominate the international shipping and maritime industry.)

This outcry is phony from beginning to end, starting with the ostensible reasons for the alleged "security risk" involved in doing business with a company based in the Arab world. Phony reason number one: Two of the hijackers were born in Dubai. This is completely bonkers: Dubai is a city of over one million, a major financial and industrial center, and an increasingly popular international tourist attraction. Because two Islamist nutballs were born there hardly makes it a terrorist hive. Culturally, Dubai is the freest country in the Arab world. That doesn't matter to the Arab-haters who are driving this campaign, however: in fact, it probably just emboldens them.

The reality is that there are U.S. troops in Dubai, over 1,000 of them, and the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is a part) is one of our staunchest allies in the region. Indeed, Dubai is the one city in the Middle East that is the most like America in that it is a symbol – the symbol – of the Arab world's entry into modernity. The architecture of Dubai is a vision of futurity, and there are few urban centers in the U.S. that are cleaner or safer.

Dubai a hotbed of radical Islamist agitation? One would hardly think so, yet demagogues in both parties are now touting the factoid that the U.A.E. was one of three countries to grant diplomatic recognition to Afghanistan's Taliban government. What they don't mention is that the other two were Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two pillars of U.S. military and economic interests in the region. Should we stop doing business with them, too?

Phony reason number two is that the 9/11 conspirators funneled money through Dubai-based banks. But Dubai is the major financial nexus of the Arab world, and, indeed, is right up there with any city in the West in that regard: funds traveling from sources in the Middle East are more than likely to have come through the U.A.E. in some shape, form, or manner. Targeting DP World on account of this is like embargoing Wal-Mart because the 9/11 hijackers bought their box-cutters there.

An odd coalition of pro-union Democrats, who represent the interests of the International Longshore Workers Union, which fears dealing with non-unionized Dubai, and deluded Christian fundamentalists, such as Cal Thomas, have banded together in an effort to demonstrate that ignorance – of both economics and the rest of the world – reigns supreme in U.S. ruling circles.

This smear campaign against an entire country – indeed, against an entire region of the world – has nothing to do with the facts. The State Department reports: "In 2004, the UAE continued to provide staunch assistance and cooperation against terrorism" and "the UAE Central Bank continued to enforce anti-money-laundering regulations aggressively." Furthermore, the U.S. and Dubai have signed something called a Container Security Initiative Statement of Principles, the purpose of which is to do what we don't do here in the U.S., but ought to: all U.S.-bound cargo transiting Dubai ports is carefully screened. We have also signed a defense pact with Abu Dhabi, and the emirate has been used as a base from which to pre-position U.S. troops bound for Iraq. Our planes refueled at Dubai's al-Dhafra air base on their way to patrol Iraq's no-fly zone during the run-up to the invasion. Dubai has borne the costs in fuel and facilities maintenance of these U.S. military operations, and receives not a dime in "foreign aid." In addition to hosting over 1,000 U.S. troops at various air and naval facilities, the U.A.E. is contributing to the maintenance of U.S. military bases in Germany.

I've heard it said – on such Democratic Party sites as DailyKos.com – that it isn't the Arabic character of DP World that provokes security concerns, but the fact that the company is owned, in whole or in part, by the government of Dubai. This shows complete ignorance of the reality on the ground in the U.A.E.: if Uncle Sam doesn't like you in Dubai, you are history, as was discovered by the heir apparent to the throne of one of the emirates, Ras al-Khaymah, who was taken out of the line of succession in June 2003 because he was thought to be behind pre-Iraq-war demonstrations. The Gulf states are islands of U.S. influence in an Arabic-Muslim sea of Middle Eastern hostility: to insult them in so flagrant a manner would be to effectively sink the pro-U.S. governments that have so far remained our only faithful allies in the region.

Fearful of Iran, the U.A.E. has cozied up to the U.S. like no other country in the Middle East, except, perhaps, Kuwait. What's more, they have developed into precisely the model free market, modernized, relatively tolerant country, culturally if not politically, that we in the West have been urging on the region. In rejecting a Dubai-based company as unworthy, and raising the specter of terrorist-related activities or allegiances on the part of an internationally respected company with many Americans in top positions, the U.S. is saying that is doesn't matter how much the Arabs may kowtow to the West, adopt our ways, and try to enter the world of international capitalist finance and embrace globalization – we still don't want them because the whole region is poisoned by hate and therefore untouchable.

That is the message the warmongering Hillary and her allies on the Christian Right and in the Republican Party want to send to the people of the Middle East. And they have the nerve to wonder, "Why do they hate us?"

The answer is all too obvious.

The worst demagoguery over this issue is coming out of Sen. Chuck Schumer's mouth. The Democrat from New York avers:

"Just as we would not outsource military operations or law enforcement duties, we should be very careful before we outsource such sensitive homeland security duties."

Yet it seems as if the security-conscious senator isn't against outsourcing when Israel is the beneficiary: Israeli companies, as well as direct input from the Israeli government, practically dominate the burgeoning homeland security industry. And the newly installed congressional phone system is franchised to an Israeli company, yet no one is making much of a stink about the security concerns raised by people like Philip Giraldi, who writes:

"One of the more intriguing aspects of the federal investigation into the activities of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is his Israeli connections. His large $2.2 million bail is reported to be due to fears that he would flee to Israel, as some of his business associates have already done, to avoid prosecution. Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew and ardent Zionist, set up a charity called Capital Athletic Foundation, which illegally provided $140,000 worth of weapons and security equipment to hard-line Israeli settlers.

"Abramoff also allegedly convinced Congressman Robert Ney, House Administrative Committee chairman, to award a contract worth $3 million to a startup Israeli telecommunications firm called
Foxcom Wireless. The contract was for the installation of antennas in House of Representatives buildings to improve cell-phone reception. Not surprisingly, such equipment can be designed to have what is known as a 'back door' to enable a third party, in this case Mossad, to listen in. That an Israeli firm should be given such a contract through a selection process that was described as 'deeply flawed and unfair' is inexplicable, particularly as there were American suppliers of the same equipment, and it suggests that the private conversations of some of our congressmen might not be so private after all."

When Schumer starts questioning this sweet deal, I'll listen to him when it comes to DP World.

I have a suspicion that the current ruckus reflects the economic interests of not only the unions, but also Eller & Company, the Miami-based business formerly a partner of Peninsular that is now suing for being forced into an "involuntary" partnership with those feelthy Ay-rabs. The suit raises the security canard, and one wonders what sort of economic interests the smear campaign is intended to mask. A press conference held Tuesday decrying the ports deal was held in Miami, and the Miami-based nature of the smear campaign tells me that something is afoot in the land of the hanging chad. In any controversy like this, the first rule is to follow the money, and this AP report hints at the stakes:

"The lawsuit represents the earliest skirmish over lucrative contracts among the six major U.S. ports where Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations: New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia. The lawsuit was filed moments before the court closed Friday and disclosed late Saturday by people working on the case."

It wouldn't be the first time a corporate entity tried to take out the competition by raising a bogus threat to "national security." Led by a disparate coalition of mindless opportunists, anti-Arab racists, and warmongering politicians, an effort to scare the American public into making a few ruthless "entrepreneurs" obscenely rich by giving them a virtual monopoly on America's port facilities shows every sign of apparent success. The victors will be laughing all the way to the bank.

February 15, 2006

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People, by Sanford Berman

Why the cascading efforts to exclude homeless people from public spaces, deny them fair access to library resources, and treat them as pariahs? It seems to result from living in a plutocracy where money and wealth not only rule, but also determine status and social worth.

Homeless people sit outside the San Francisco Public Library adjacent to United Nations Plaza. Lydia Gans photo

Why the cascading efforts to exclude homeless people from public spaces, deny them fair access to library resources, and treat them as pariahs? It seems to result from living in a plutocracy where money and wealth not only rule, but also determine status and social worth.

The American Library Association (ALA) approved its policy on "Library Services for Poor People" (Policy 61) in 1990, 15 years ago. It should enjoy the same status as the "Library Bill of Rights," another ALA policy that establishes norms or standards for collection development and facilities use. But it doesn't. Unlike the immediately preceding policy on minority concerns, ALA units have never been canvassed on what they had done or would do to implement the Poor People's Policy.

Hundreds of institutions have formally adopted the Library Bill of Rights as their own policy and often frame and display it in the library itself. I know of no library that has similarly adopted and publicized the Poor People's Policy (PPP). Indeed, only weeks ago, a library board candidate in Minneapolis pointedly asked the MPL director about such an adoption. The answer: the library's for everybody. Why focus on one particular demographic?

Right now, according to WorldCat, Street Spirit and Mother Warriors Voice, two outstanding vehicles for poor people's news, opinions, graphics, and poetry, are held by exactly four and eight libraries, respectively.

In Denver, Colorado, an advocacy group for low-income communities charged that libraries in Denver's poorest areas are open fewer hours than those elsewhere, noting that fewer library hours contribute to learning gaps between low-income and more affluent students.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 20 branches were slated to become "express libraries," open only from 1 to 5 p.m. daily and staffed solely by clerks. That plan, conceived without consulting frontline staff, friends groups, or neighborhood associations; would -- say critics -- "underserve some of the city's poorest neighborhoods." (ALA Policy 61 advocates "equity in funding adequate library services for poor people in terms of materials, facilities, and equipment.")

Kansas City, Missouri, unveiled a new downtown library. It cost $50 million to renovate a 98-year-old bank building. A Kansas City Star columnist applauded the attractive facility, but added: "It should be just as open and inviting to homeless people as the old downtown library was. People on the street had always sought shelter, read books and periodicals, used computers and napped at the old library until it closed in January....

"The main branch was a midway stop for people walking from shelters east of downtown to the Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral for a free midday meal. Now the city's neediest people may be 'poverty profiled' and kept from the new library. Officials also are proposing a 'compassion campus' near shelters to keep homeless people away from downtown's new library and upscale condominiums and loft apartments.

"The compassion campus could include a homeless day center and soup kitchen. But people I talked with were outraged by plans to limit their freedom. One homeless man said the irony is people like him would be excluded from the area they've helped rebuild. Homeless people often are picked up as day laborers rehabbing old buildings for new occupants."

That same writer does an annual trek to some 20 libraries, dressed in an old army coat, black knit cap, faded jeans, and a frayed shirt. During his latest investigation, he found that "many libraries aren't keeping up. Branches could use some of the wealth sunk into the new downtown library. There were never enough computers. Libraries help bridge the digital divide between rich and poor." "I also found," he said, "that the downtown passersby should be the occupants of a 'compassion campus.' For yet another year, they treated me badly because of how I was dressed. They need to see everyone regardless of appearance as a human being. What's happening now adds to the misery of the homeless. 'Anybody can become homeless,' said Cindy Butler at the Grand Avenue Temple. 'Everybody falls down sometimes.' She's right. Everyone needs kindness and warmth, especially at libraries."

Shortly after that report, another columnist commented wryly on the Kansas City Public Library's "customer behavior expectations," brochures "handed out by library security at the entrance" intended "to thin the new library's down-and-out ranks." Said the writer: "Moses needed only ten commandments. Downtown KC's trendy new library has 33."

In San Luis Obispo, California, a new law explicitly bans "offensive body odor" and sleeping in the city-county library.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, a Deseret News report claims that "especially during the day, the library is filled with the homeless, who sometimes bother other library patrons with their odor, intoxication, or noise level. And while librarians stress they don't want to ban the homeless from the building, they also don't want leery residents to be fearful of enjoying the city's pristine new library.

"In search of a solution, the city library system is launching a new civility campaign designed to teach the homeless, children, and others how to behave while in the library."

(As another parenthetical aside, ALA Policy 61 specifically suggests seeking advice from poor people and antipoverty advocates, as well as sensitizing staff to issues affecting poor people and to attitudinal and other barriers that hinder poor people's use of libraries.)

To continue on the smelly theme, the Washington Times recently quoted an ALA official who reputedly said: "Body odor is an enormous problem." A branch manager in Maryland allegedly confirmed: "We have trouble with poor hygiene."

In Houston, Texas, the City Council passed a series of new library regulations that prohibit "sleeping on tables, eating packaged food, using rest rooms for bathing, and 'offensive bodily hygiene that constitutes a nuisance to others.'" It also bans "large amounts of personal possessions."

In Elgin, Illinois, on the four tables in the library concession room, a notice reads: "In consideration of all who may wish to use these tables, use is limited to one hour per day." There is no 24-hour shelter where homeless people can gather in Elgin.

In Wheeling, West Virginia, the Ohio County Public Library complained bitterly when an old Social Security building - coveted by the library for more parking space -- was instead transferred to an agency that provides treatment and support for homeless people. (Federal law required that homeless support agencies get first priority on vacant federal buildings.)

As an editorial gloss to this dismal litany: how can an ALA official proclaim "body odor" an enormous problem when the director of the San Luis Obispo Library himself has declared: "In 12 years, I can think of less than half a dozen incidents where people smell so bad that you can't get within ten feet of them"? And in calculating "enormity," isn't homelessness itself an "enormous problem," perhaps greater even than body odor?

Why, instead of declaiming against lost parking space and people coming into the library without first stopping at the spa, hairdresser, manicurist, and couture clothing boutique -- people perhaps coming with bags and maybe kids, people who may not have anyplace else to go (in Minneapolis, for instance, shelters are only allowed to open overnight), people who possibly don't look, smell, or "behave" like us, like folks with money, like solid middle-class persons, but who nonetheless pay taxes and even work (though not earning enough to afford housing), people who often need the library not solely for sanctuary, but also for job searching, education, entertainment reading, and e-mailing -- why aren't poverty, homelessness, and hunger the primary objects of our wrath, our discomfort?

Lest the foregoing seem like an absolutely unmitigated tsunami of insensitivity, stereotyping, callousness, and bourgeois arrogance on the part of our nation's librarians, here are some mitigating items:

In San Luis Obispo, a county government watchdog declared, "I think that rather than smelling bad and having no other place to go, we should look into shower facilities." He urged supervisors to approach the issue in a "kind and compassionate" instead of a punitive way. Subsequently, Cal Poly and local community service providers announced a forum and resource workshop on homelessness to be held at the library.

The Salt Lake City library director not long ago joined the mayor and a low-income advocate on a panel titled, "Helping Each Other: What Our Homeless Friends Teach Us." Said the director: "Dozens of homeless people frequent the library daily. Some come to escape the heat or cold, and others to read, access e-mail, or socialize. You see someone who appears to be a street person and they head for the Wall Street Journal and you learn something. These folks are not completely disconnected, and like most people want to be left in peace."

Noting that the safety net is getting weaker, she mentioned the need for more psychological care and other services. If nothing else, she said, the homeless have taught her: "When we treat people with respect, it comes back two-fold."

Remember Houston? One City Council member voted against the new repressive rules, saying, "When we have heat waves, they encourage people, including the homeless, to go into public buildings, including libraries. What is the plan now?" Some library users criticized the prohibitions, one observing that "when you're tired and do your work, of course you want to rest your head on the table, or you have a headache and just want to let go."

A DC Public Library spokesperson reported that "body odor is something we cannot regulate as a library." (A judge had earlier ruled that DCPL's "offensive body odor" policy was unconstitutional and could not be applied uniformly, stating that the smell of a heavily perfumed woman or a painter in overalls could also be considered offensive.) The DCPLer also remarked that many homeless people in the library are using computers to e-mail family members or doing research to find jobs.

In EIgin, Illinois, a local columnist and library board member stated that homeless people have always gathered at the library, but the board has not had to address any problems due to it. "They're there every day," he said. "I'm there regularly and I see them reading, not just hanging out." He continued; "Our library is made up of people from all walks of life and it's open to everyone. That's what a public library is all about." (Commenting on the one-hour table limit, Michael Stoops from the National Coalition for the Homeless wondered: "If a rich person in a three-piece suit were there, would he or she be allowed to stay in the vending machine area for more than an hour?")

So, returning to my main theme: Why this pronounced failure to adopt and promote ALA's Poor People's Policy? Why the rush to further burden and even criminalize people who already have next to nothing and certainly don't enjoy a level playing field? Why the cascading efforts to exclude them from public spaces, deny them fair access to library resources, and treat them as "problems," as pariahs?

I don't think there's a single, pat answer. Rather, it seems to result from a mix of factors, among them the reality of living in a plutocracy where money and wealth not only rule, but also determine status and social worth; the widespread, almost religious grip of the "American dream," that myth of unlimited mobility and opportunity and luxury; and an ingredient of the dream: old-time Calvinist predestination, which posits a divine, holy basis for owning property and being rich.

Poor people don't have the dollars to make influential campaign contributions. They can't afford memberships in politically powerful organizations. They have no access to the mainstream media, no way to tell their stories. And given the thesis of the American dream, if they're not prosperous, it must be their own fault, hardly the consequence of bad luck, racism, sexism, disability, downsizing, outsourcing, corporate greed, union busting, or an inadequate safety net. Worse, from the deeply ingrained Calvinist perspective, it's God's will. If they're poor, that's the way the deity wants it.

The hostility -- or at least lack of sympathy -- toward low-income people manifests in various barriers and kinds of discrimination. All together, the prejudice and what flows from it -- the belief and the acts -- can be called "classism": favoring one class over another, valuing middle and upper classes more highly than people at or below the poverty level.

If librarians and others can first recognize their own attitudinal hang-ups, understanding what makes them view welfare mothers and homeless people, for example, unfavorably, and ultimately grasping that poverty -- not poor people -- is the problem, that poverty can be reduced if not ended, and that the most vulnerable and dispossessed among us are citizens and neighbors who deserve compassion, support, and respect -- if we can do these things in our heads and hearts, then there's a real chance to overcome classism.

These are a few words of poor people themselves, culled from the pages of Street Spirit and welfare warriors' songs from the Mamas Movement:

Why Can't We Raise Our Families Up
(To the tune of "America the Beautiful")
Moms go to school to lift ourselves
Our "leaders" block our way
We're s'posed to work and go to school
But work they give don't pay
Why can't we raise our families up
This scapegoating's a lie
They blame the poor for poverty
Our "leaders" must be high

Bloated Big Business Has No Shame
(To the tune of "Old McDonald")
Old Sam Walton had a store
Ee aye ee aye o
And in this store he robbed the poor
Ee aye ee aye o
With a low wage here, no benefits there
Part time here, and no time there
Old Sam Walton robbed the poor
Ee aye ee aye o

General Motors built some cars,
Ee aye ee aye o
Yet many workers didn't get far
Ee aye ee aye o
With a lay-off here, and a downsize there,
Jobs gone south, the bosses don't care
General Motors built some cars
Ee aye ee aye o

by Joan Clair
In the bookstore's bathroom,
A woman has just washed herself and
Stoops down to get her possessions,
Enclosed in plastic garbage bags.
I don't look at her directly,
but what I see is an aura of beauty
Emanating from her face.
And the question is why?
How can the radiant sun
Be enclosed in a lotus of clouds?

A Wet One
by Michael Creedon
In the early morning light
Elmo rolls up his blanket
And climbs out of the bush
He slept under. He needs
A cup of coffee.
Elmo can see his breath
In front of his face; last night
Was a cold one. Today he has to
Try to get into the shelter.
The pain in his bones
Is getting to be too much.
He has 75 cents in his pocket
But he'll need more than that
For a cup of coffee.
He heads up to
40th and Broadway to hit
Someone up for a quarter.
An hour later
He's standing in front of 7-11
And he still doesn't have
His coffee. To top things off
It's starting to rain.
Finally a lady in a new car
Gives him a quarter,
Mostly out of embarrassment,
He thinks.
Now he can start his day;
It's going to be a wet one.

Okay. If we finally acknowledge poor people to be human -- like us -- and dedicate ourselves to evening that playing field, what can we actually do? These are four or five ideas:

1. Support with time and resources the agenda developed by John Gehner for the ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table Poverty Task Force, including an ALA-wide survey on Poor People's Policy implementation; fact-finding on what libraries are actually doing to service poor people throughout the country; creation of a curriculum and toolkit to aid in humanizing and extending poor people's services; and establishment of an online library/poverty clearinghouse for news and information, and of awards to help publicize and encourage outstanding individual and institutional efforts to seriously address poverty issues.

2. As individuals or organizations, support antipoverty legislation like BAHA (the Bringing America Home Act), living wage laws, national health insurance, and welfare payments sufficient to sustain persons and families in dire need.

3. Get local libraries to adopt and implement the ALA's Poor People's Policy.

4. Collaborate with shelter providers, food shelf operators, affordable housing groups, welfare rights organizations, and interfaith social justice networks with respect to library programming, producing bibliographies & webliographies, stocking resources useful to poor people, and effecting local public policy changes (e.g., decriminalizing sparechanging and "camping," and permitting shelters to remain open during daytime hours).

5. Recommend authentic books, magazines, and videos for the library collection in order to provide poor people with a voice and sensitize the "comfortable" to poverty as a critical issue.

6. Examine internal policies to determine whether they contribute to excluding or stigmatizing poor people: for instance, can library cards be issued on the basis of a shelter or the library's own address? What about fines and fees? (Although they unduly discriminate against low-income people, fines will continue to seem attractive, even essential, revenue sources in the absence of stable, adequate public funding. Everyone's priority should be getting public libraries financed more generously and continuously, perhaps through the formation of special taxing districts. Once achieved, better funding might permit libraries to abandon their dependence on fines and fees.)

7. Library school teachers and students can follow the stellar models of Mary Lee Bundy in Maryland, Fay Blake in California, Julie Hersberger in North Carolina, and Kathleen de la Pena McCook in Florida; researching and critiquing local library and information services, as well as intervening in public policy debates and interning with antipoverty groups and service providers.

Lastly, here are a few passages from Street Spirit writer Lydia Gans' profile of Dee Cornelius, a 48-year-old homeless woman in Oakland who sells Street Spirit on sidewalks to make a few bucks:

Dee was homeless for the first time back in 1997. She had been working at various temp jobs and acquired a variety of skills, but then she had a stroke. "Once I had that stroke, that kind of threw me for a loop," she explains. Dee describes how becoming homeless changed her life. "What a lot of people don't realize is that homelessness is getting a stigma. Everybody thinks that they can't get there. You just don't know. Some people are one or two paychecks away. When illness happens, especially if you (don't have) medical coverage, the rent man, your landlord, does not want to hear 'bout (why) you can't pay rent."

In spite of her poor health, Dee would like to have a regular job. She has experience and marketable skills. But, as she points out, "when you have nowhere to stay, it's hard to get a job because, first of all, you have to find somewhere that you're able to have hygiene, and a telephone, and somewhere to stay and somewhere to be able to iron your clothes."

She had a car at one time but it blew a head gasket so she couldn't move it and eventually it was towed. "Once my car was towed, I wasn't living out of that any more," she says. "I really was out of luck. It's hard. It's hard being homeless, it really is hard. Some people think it's a choice."

"Even standing here," she says, "I find a lot of people are nice to me, but then you're going to have some people that act like it's going to rub off. You don't have to give me money. Not everybody is able to give. But, you know, the acknowledgement, the smile, the speaking, being courteous, doesn't hurt anyone.

"Because whether you give to me or not, I'm always going to tell you, 'Have a nice day,' and they're telling you, 'No, not today.' That's because they've already preconceived that you're about to ask for something so they're not listening to what you're actually saying. Or even saying hello, or good morning."

Well, it's time for libraries to listen and to say "Hello."

Activist librarian Sanford Berman founded the Task Force on Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table and co-authored the 1990 ALA Policy on "Library Services to Poor People." The following essay was delivered as the ALA's sixth annual Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture at the 2005 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

February 08, 2006

We are All Complicit, by Noam Chomsky

Prospect, January, 2006
[Note: the published version is slightly truncated; the text reproduced below is Chomsky's unabridged original]

I turned with interest to Oliver Kamm's critique of the "crude and dishonest arguments" he attributes to me (Prospect, Nov. 2005), hoping to learn something. And I did, though not quite what he intended; rather, about the lengths to which some will go to prevent exposure of state crimes and their own complicity in them. His substantive charges are as follows.

To demonstrate "a particularly dishonest handling of source material," Kamm alleges that "[Chomsky] manipulates a self-mocking reference in the memoirs of the then US Ambassador to the UN...to yield the conclusion that Moynihan took pride in Nazi-like policies." Kamm wisely evades the statements of Moynihan that I quoted from his 1978 memoirs. The topic is Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, condemned by the Security Council, which ordered Indonesia to withdraw. But the order had no effect. Moynihan explains why: "The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." He then refers to reports that within two months some 60,000 people had been killed, "10 percent of the population, almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the Second World War" - at the hands of Nazi Germany, of course. His comparison, not mine, as Kamm pretends. And his clearly expressed pride: there is not the slightest hint of self-mockery, and the only "manipulation" is Kamm's, in his desperate effort to deny truly horrendous crimes of state; his state, hence his complicity.

Far more Timorese had been killed by the time Moynihan's memoirs appeared in 1978, thanks to immediate US military and diplomatic support (or as Kamm prefers, Ford's "indolence, at best"), joined by the UK in 1978 as atrocities were peaking, and continuing through the final paroxysm of violence in August-September 1999, until Clinton finally ordered a halt a few weeks later, under great international and domestic pressure. Indonesia instantly withdrew, making it crystal clear who bears responsibility for one of the closest approximations to true genocide of the post-war period.

A noteworthy performance on the part of someone who condemns the "amoral quietism" of those who do try to expose and terminate the terrible crimes of their own state, where their actions can have the greatest effect.

According to Kamm, I "deployed fanciful arithmetic to draw an equivalence" between 9-11 and Clinton's destruction of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, which produced half of Sudan's supplies. The equivalence is, again, his fanciful construction. Discussing the "horrendous crime" committed on 9-11 with "wickedness and awesome cruelty," I mentioned that the toll may be comparable to the consequences of Clinton's bombing of the Sudan, about which I said nothing further. This single phrase was a considerable understatement, judging by the "fanciful arithmetic," which Kamm again scrupulously ignores, and which, as he surely knows, I reviewed in detail in response to Kamm-style fabrications about this phrase. The review includes the assessment of the German Ambassador to Sudan in the Harvard International Review that "several tens of thousands" died as a result of the bombing and the similar estimate in the Boston Globe by the regional director of the respected Near East foundation, who had field experience in Sudan, along with the immediate warning by Human Rights Watch that a "terrible crisis" might follow, reporting very severe consequences of the bombing even in the first few weeks. And much more.

One might wonder whether Kamm would react with his customary "amoral quietism" if al-Qaeda had carried out a comparable act in a country where people mattered. And if some enthusiastic supporter of al-Queda then resorted to sheer deceit to dismiss it as insignificant.

It is instructive that none of the reports I cited aroused Kamm's ire when they appeared, and that he also fails to refer to prominently published conclusions that go well beyond the equivalence he fabricates, charging that the US bombing had "appalling consequences for the economy and society" of Sudan (Christopher Hitchens, Nation, June 10, 2002). The crimes of 9-11 were appalling enough, but plainly did not have such consequences.

Kamm claims that I provided no evidence to support the judgment that the US was bombing Afghanistan with the knowledge that it might lead to the death of millions of people. It takes real talent to miss the extensive evidence cited in the few pages I devoted to these matters.

The citations include the New York Times report three weeks before the bombing that Washington "demanded [from Pakistan] the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population," and the Times report that the numbers at risk of starvation were estimated to have risen by 50% a month later, to 7.5 million. Also cited are reports in the Times of the bitterness of fleeing aid workers who said that "The country was on a lifeline and we just cut the line" by threatening to bomb; the report by the UN World Food Program that the threat forced them to reduce food supplies to 15% of what was needed and later that the bombing itself caused them to terminate it entirely; warnings by major relief agencies of a likely "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in Afghanistan with 7.5 million short of food and at risk of starvation"; and a great deal more. Also included was the urgent plea by 1000 Afghan leaders in late October to terminate the "bombing of innocent people" and to adopt other means to overthrow the hated Taliban regime, a goal they believed could be achieved without slaughter and destruction; and the denunciation of the bombing by one of the anti-Taliban leaders who was most respected by Washington and Hamid Karzai, Abdul Haq, who described the bombing as "a big setback" for efforts to overthrow the Taliban from within, carried out because Washington "is trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world" but "don't care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose." I could not include the later warnings by Harvard's leading Afghan specialist that the bombing was leaving "millions of Afghans...at grave risk of starvation" (International Security, Winter 2001-02), though I did later, as Kamm doubtless knows.

Once again, much more instructive than the transparent falsification is Kamm's cold indifference to the reports he claims do not exist.

Kamm next refers to my critique of some of the arguments offered to give a retrospective justification for the bombing of Kosovo, which, as anticipated, led to shocking atrocities. The critique was based on a simple and accurate reductio ad absurdum: exactly the same logic should have led those who advanced these arguments to call for the bombing of Washington. For Kamm, this "gives an indication of the destructiveness of Chomsky's advocacy," because I failed to consider that some reader might call for bombing of Washington - someone with brain damage so severe as to be unable to comprehend an elementary reductio, perhaps.

To demonstrate further how my "political judgments have only become more startling over the past decade," Kamm cites my statement that the situation in Bosnia is "not so simple." For Kamm, it must be simple, contrary to mainstream scholarship; by doctrinal necessity, apparently. I deteriorated further as a "prophet of the amoral quietism of the Major government," in Kamm's rendition, by "depicting Milosevic's regime as a wronged party": namely, by documenting the fact that NATO "moved at once to violate" the agreements it had signed to end the Kosovo conflict. He again wisely avoids argument, knowing that what he quotes is fully accurate. Another illustration he gives of my "dubious arguments leavened with extravagant rhetoric" is my correct statement that Bush's "pretenses for the invasion [of Iraq] are no more convincing than Hitler's." He does not try to refute the statement, but rather offers it to show that I "liken America's conduct to that of Nazi Germany" and that my "judgment of the US" is that it is comparable to Nazi Germany, a "diagnosis [that is] central to Chomsky's political output." The inference is too ridiculous for comment, and he does not tell us of his objection to the actual, and radically different, statement.

Proceeding further to demonstrate my "central" doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that "We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent - or denazification." The context, which he again omits, is a 1968 report in the New York Times of a protest against an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry where children could "enter a helicopter for simulating firing of a machine gun at targets" in Vietnam, with a light flashing when a hit was scored on a hut -- "even though no people appear," revealing the extremism of the protestors. This was a year after the warning by the highly respected military historian and Vietnam specialist Bernard Fall that "Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity...is threatened with extinction ...[as]... the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size."

Apart from misquoting and omitting the crucial context, Kamm also fails to tell us how one should react to this performance, apart from his own standard reaction of tacit acquiescence to horrendous crimes and his dedicated efforts, failing with impressive consistency, to find something to criticize in the efforts to terminate state crimes for which he and I share responsibility, particularly so in a free society, where we cannot plead fear in extenuation for silent complicity.

February 02, 2006

The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America, by Murray Rothbard

Libertarians tend to fall into two opposing errors on the American past: the familiar "Golden Age" view of the right-wing that everything was blissful in America until some moment of precipitous decline (often dated 1933); and the deeply pessimistic minority view that rejects the American past root and branch, spurning all American institutions and virtually all of its thinkers except such late nineteenth-century individualist anarchists as Benjamin R. Tucker and Lysander Spooner.

The truth is somewhere in between: America was never the golden "land of the free" of the conservative-libertarian legend, and yet it managed for a very long time to be freer, in institutions and in intellectual climate, than any other land.

Colonial America did not set out deliberately to be the land of the free. On the contrary, it began in a tangle of tyranny, special privilege, and vast land monopoly. Territories were carved out either as colonies subject directly to the English Crown, or as enormous land grabs for privileged companies or feudal proprietors.

What defeated these despotic and feudal thrusts into the new territory was, at bottom, rather simple: the vastness of the fertile and uninhabited land that lay waiting to be settled. Not only relative freedom, but even outright anarchist institutions grew up early in the interstices between the organized, despotic English colonies.


There is a good possibility that for a couple of decades in the mid-seventeenth century, the coastal area north of Albemarle Sound in what is now northeastern North Carolina was in a quasi-anarchistic state. Technically a part of the Virginia colony but in practice virtually independent, the Albemarle area was a haven for persons chaffing under the despotic rule of the English Crown, the Anglican Church and the large planter aristocracy of Virginia. Roger Green led a Presbyterian group that left Virginia proper for Albemarle, and many Quakers settled in the area, which specialized in growing tobacco.

This semi-libertarian condition came to an end in 1663, when the English Crown included Albemarle in the mammoth Carolina land grant bestowed on a group of eight feudal proprietors. Little is known of pre-1663 Albemarle, since historians display scant interest in stateless societies.[1]


Undoubtedly the freest colony in America, and the major source of anarchistic thought and institutions, was little Rhode Island, which originated as a series of more or less anarchic settlements founded by people fleeing from the brutal politico-religious tyranny of the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay (who referred to the new territory as "Rogue's Land"). Unsettled and untouched by the land grants or the Crown, the Rhode Island area provided a haven close to the Massachusetts Bay settlement.

Providence, the first refugee settlement, was founded in 1636 by the young Reverend Roger Williams. A political and especially a religious libertarian, Williams was close to the Levellers – that great group of English laissez-faire individualists who constituted the "extreme left-wing" of the republican side in the English Civil War. At first, the Williams settlement was virtually anarchistic. As Williams described it, "the masters of families have ordinarily met once a fortnight and consulted about our common peace, watch and plenty; and mutual consent have finished all matters of speed and pace."

But this anarchistic idyll began to flounder in a tragically ironic trap that Williams had laid for himself and his followers. Williams had pioneered in scrupulously purchasing all the land from the Indians voluntarily – a method of land acquisition in sharp contrast to the brutal methods of extermination beloved by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. But the problem was that the Indians had erroneous theories of property. As collective tribes they laid claim to vast reaches of land on which they had only hunted. Not having transformed the land itself, they were not entitled to all of the land that they sold.

Hence, Williams and his group, by purchasing all of this unsettled land, willy-nilly acquired these illegitimate land titles. Thinking that he had been generous, voluntaristic and libertarian, Williams (and his group) fell into the trap of becoming a feudalistic group of landowners. Instead of automatically acquiring the land in Providence that they homesteaded, later settlers had to purchase or rent the land from the original Williams claimants. The result was that Williams and his original colleagues, who had formed "The Fellowship," found themselves in the position of being oligarchic rulers of Providence as well as Providence's land "monopolists." Once again, as so many times in history, land-monopoly and government went hand in hand.

While a libertarian, Williams never became an explicit anarchist, even though he established an anarchistic community in Providence. The honor of being the first explicit anarchist In North America belongs to Williams's successor, a leading religious refugee from Massachusetts, Anne Hutchinson. Anne and her followers, who had become far more numerous a band of heretics than Williams had amassed, emigrated to the Rhode Island area in 1638 at the suggestion of Williams himself. There they purchased the island of Aquidneck from the Indians and founded the settlement of Pocasset (now Portsmouth).

Anne soon became restive at Pocasset, seeing that her follower and major founder of the settlement, the wealthy merchant William Coddington, had quickly established his own theocratic rule over the infant colony. For Coddington, as "judge" of the settlement, based his decrees and rulings on the "word of God," as arbitrarily interpreted by himself.

Coddington, this time far more explicitly and consciously than Williams, founded his dictatorial power on his deed of purchase of the island from the Indians. Since his was the only name on the deed of purchase, Coddington claimed for himself all the "rights" of land monopolist and feudal lord, allotting no rights to homesteading settlers.

Anne Hutchinson, not yet an anarchist, now launched a political struggle against Coddington in early 1639 forcing him to give the entire body of freemen a veto over his actions. In April, Coddington was forced to agree to elections for his post as Governor, a position that he had expected to be his permanently by feudal right. Anne's husband, William Hutchinson, defeated Coddington in the elections, and Coddington and his followers left Pocasset to found a new settlement called New Port at the southern end of the island. The victorious Hutchinsonians adopted a new constitution, changing the name of the town to Portsmouth, and stating that (1) all male inhabitants were equal before the law; (2) Church and State were to be kept separate; and (3) trial by jury was to be established for all.

Immediately thereafter Coddington declared war upon Portsmouth and at the end of a year of turmoil, the two groups agreed to unite the two settlements. Coddington was once more chosen as governor, but with democratic institutions and religious liberty guaranteed.

From the point of view of social philosophy, however, the important consequence of this struggle with Coddington was that Anne Hutchinson began to reflect deeply on the whole question of liberty. If, as Roger Williams had taught, there must be absolute religious liberty for the individual, than what right does government have to rule the individual at all? In short, Anne Hutchinson had come to the conclusion of the "unlawfulness of magistry government."

As Anne's biographer Winifred Rugg put it: "She was supremely convinced that the Christian held within his own breast the assurance of salvation … For such persons magistrates were obviously superfluous. As for the others, they were to be converted, not coerced."

Anne persuaded her husband to resign as one of Coddington's major assistants in the colony. In 1642, soon after his resignation, William Hutchinson died. Deprived of her husband and disgusted with all government, Anne left Rhode Island to settle at Pelham Bay, near New York City. There, in the late summer of 1643, Anne and her family were killed by a band of Indians, who had been set upon by the Dutch of New York.

But while Anne Hutchinson was dead, her ideas lived on. Some of her followers, headed by Anne's sister Mrs. Catherine Scott, headed the new Baptist movement in Rhode Island, which, as we shall see, was later to erupt as a highly important movement of Baptist anarchists.

One of the most interesting individualists of the American colonial period was Samuell Gorton. An English clothier, his libertarian political and religious views and individualistic spirit got him persecuted in every colony in New England, including Providence and Portsmouth. An opponent of theocracy, and indeed of all formal religious organizations, Gorton opposed all transgressions of government against the rights guaranteed by English common law. Fleeing Anglican England, Gorton successively had to escape from Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Providence. In the Providence incident Roger Williams began to display that totalitarian temperament, that impatience with anyone more individualistic than he, that was later to turn him sharply away from liberty and towards statism. Williams agreed to the expulsion of Gorton from Providence, declaring that Gorton was "bewitching and bemadding poor Providence … with his unclear and foul censures of all the ministers of this country…"

Accused of being "anarchists," denounced by Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay as a "man not fit to live upon the face of the earth," Gorton and his followers were forced in late 1642 to found an entirely new settlement of their own: Shawomet (later Warwick) which he purchased from the Indians. There the little settlement was under continued threat of aggression by their mighty Massachusetts neighbor. While Gorton was not explicitly an anarchist, the little town of Shawomet lived in an anarchist idyll in the years that it remained a separate settlement.

In the words of Gorton, for over five years the settlement "lived peaceably together, desiring and endeavoring to do wrong to no man, neither English nor Indian, ending all our differences in a neighborly and loving way of arbitration, mutually chosen amongst us." But in 1648, Warwick joined with the other three towns of Rhode Island to form the colony of the "Providence Plantation." From that time on Warwick was under a government, even though this was a government far more democratic and libertarian than existed anywhere else. As a respected leader of the new colony, now considered "fit to live" in Rhode Island, Gorton managed to abolish imprisonment for debt, lower the term of indentured service, and even to be the first to abolish slavery in America, even though abolition turned out to be a dead letter.

After two decades of struggle against the aggressions of Massachusetts, Roger Williams was finally able, in the mid-1650s, to win immunity for Rhode Island, by gaining the protection of the victorious republican revolutionaries of England. At the time of winning its protection from Massachusetts, Williams described the colony as having "long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any people that we can hear of under the whole heaven." "Sir," Williams added, writing to his libertarian English friend Sir Henry Vane, "we have not known what an excise means; we have almost forgotten what tithes are, yea, or taxes either, to church or commonwealth."

Yet it was almost immediately after this triumph that Williams savagely turned on the liberty of the colony he had founded. Why the shift? Several reasons can be found: first, the inevitable corruptions of governmental power on even the most libertarian of rulers; and second, Williams's impatience with those even more libertarian than he. But a third reason has to do with the loss of liberty in England.

For two decades, Roger Williams had worked closely with the most libertarian and individualistic groups in the revolutionary movement in England; but now, just as the laissez-faire, individualist "left" seemed to have triumphed, England suddenly moved precipitously rightward and stateward under the new dictatorship of the Independent Oliver Cromwell. The shift away from liberty in England was embodied in Cromwell's brutal suppression of the Levellers, the leaders of libertarianism in the Revolution. With the mother country sliding away from liberty and into dictatorship, the aging Williams undoubtedly lost much of his previously firm grip on libertarian principle.

Williams's shift from liberty was first revealed in 1655, when he suddenly imposed a system of compulsory military service on the people of Rhode Island. It was in reaction to this violation of all the libertarian traditions of Rhode Island that a vigorous opposition developed in the colony – an opposition that eventually polarized into outright individualistic anarchism.

Heading this move toward anarchism was the bulk of the Baptists of Rhode Island. Led by the Reverend Thomas Olney, former Baptist minister of Providence, and including also John Field, John Throckmorton, the redoubtable William Harris, and Williams's own brother Robert. This group circulated a petition charging that "it was blood guiltiness, and against the rule of the gospel to execute judgement upon transgressors, against the private or public weal." In short, any punishment of transgressors and/or any bearing of arms was anti-Christian!

Williams's response was to denounce the petition as causing "tumult and disturbance." The anarchists thereupon rose in rebellion against Williams's government, but were put down by force of arms. Despite the failure of the revolt, the 1655 elections of a few months later, elected Thomas Olney as an assistant to the inevitably re-elected Williams, even though Olney himself had led the uprising.

Williams proceeded to aggrandize statism still further. The central government of the colony decided to bypass the home-rule right of the individual towns to finance the colony, and appointed central officials to levy general taxes directly upon the people. Laws against "immorality" were also strengthened, with corporal punishment to be levied for such crimes as "loose living." The anti-immorality laws were probably a part of an attempt by Williams to curry favor with the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell. Most ominously, after Cromwell had ordered Rhode Island to punish "intestinal commotions," the colony swiftly passed a law against "ringleaders of factions" who were thereafter to be sent to England for trial.

Baptist anarchism, however, continued to intensify in Rhode Island. One of the new adherents was none other than Catherine Scott, a leading Baptist preacher and the sister of Anne Hutchinson. In this way, Anne's lone pioneering in philosophical anarchism before her death had planted a seed that burst forth a decade and a half later. Also adopting anarchism were Rebecca Throckmorton, Robert West, and Ann Williams, wife of Robert. Finally, in March 1657, the crackdown on freedom of speech and dissent arrived. Williams hauled these four anarchist opponents into court, charging them with being "common opposers of all authority." After this act of intimidation, however, Williams relented and withdrew the charges. But Williams had accomplished the singular purpose of his repression: the frightened anarchist leaders lapsed into silence.

The formidable William Harris, however, could not be frightened so readily. Harris circulated a manuscript to all the towns of Rhode Island, denouncing all taxation and "all civil governments." He called upon the people to "cry out, No lords, No masters." Harris predicted that the State, which he called "the House of Saul," would inevitably grow weaker and weaker, while the "House of David" (namely Harris and his followers) would grow stronger and stronger. Harris also condemned all punishments and prisons, all officials and legislative assemblies.

William Harris was now hauled into court by the Williams administration. He was charged with "open defiance under his hand against our Charter, all our laws … Parliament, the Lord Protector [Cromwell] and all governments." Instead of quieting under repression as had Mrs. Scott and the others, Harris swore that he would continue to maintain his anarchism "with his blood." Persistently refusing to recant, Harris reiterated his interpretation of Scripture, namely that "he that can say it is his conscience ought not to yield subjection to any human order amongst men." The General Court found Harris guilty of being "contemptuous and seditious," and the evidence against Harris and his son was sent to England in preparation for a trial for treason.

The treason trial never materialized, because by good fortune the ship carrying the evidence to England was lost at sea. But Harris was finally sufficiently cowed to abandon his anarchism. He turned instead to a lifelong harassment of the hated Roger Williams through endless litigation of land claims.[2]


The third great example of anarchism in colonial America took place in Pennsylvania. This was William Penn's "Holy Experiment" for a Quaker colony that would provide "an example [that] may be set up to the nations." While religious liberty was guaranteed, and institutions were relatively libertarian, Penn never meant his new colony, founded in 1681, to be anarchistic or anything of the like.[3] Curiously, Pennsylvania fell into living and functioning anarchism by happy accident.

Lured by religious liberty and by cheap and abundant land, settlers, largely Quaker, poured into Pennsylvania in large numbers.[4] At the end of eight years 12,000 people had settled in the new colony. The first touch of anarchy came in the area of taxation. While low excise and export duties had been levied by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1683, Governor Penn set aside all taxes for a year to encourage rapid settlement. The next year, when Penn wanted to levy taxes for his own personal income, a group of leaders of the colony persuaded Penn to drop the tax, in return for them personally raising a voluntary gift for his own use. William Penn returned to England in the fall of 1684, convinced that he had founded a stable and profitable colony.

One of his major expectations was the collection of "quitrents" from every settler. This was to be in continuing payment for Penn's claim as feudal landlord of the entire colony, as had been granted by the Crown. But Penn, like the proprietors and feudal overlords in the other colonies, found it almost impossible to collect these quitrents. He had granted the populace a moratorium on quitrents until 1685, but the people insisted on further postponements, and Penn's threatened legal proceedings were without success.

Furthermore, the people of Pennsylvania continued to refuse to vote to levy taxes. They even infringed upon the monopoly of lime production, which Penn had granted to himself, by stubbornly opening their own lime quarries. William Penn found that deprived of feudal or tax income, his deficits from ruling Pennsylvania were large and his fortune was dissipating steadily. Freedom and a taxless society had contaminated the colonists. As Penn complained, "the great fault is, that those who are there, lose their authority one way or other in the spirits of the people and then they can do little with their outward powers."

When Penn returned to England, the governing of the colony fell to the Council of Pennsylvania. Although Penn had appointed Thomas Lloyd, a Welsh Quaker, to be president of the Council, the president had virtually no power, and could not make any decisions of his own. The Council itself met very infrequently, and no officials had the interim power to act. During these great intervals, Pennsylvania had no government at all – as indicated by the fact that neither quitrents nor taxes were being levied in the colony.

Why did the Council rarely meet? For one thing because the Councilors, having little to do in that libertarian society and being unpaid, had their own private business to attend to. The Councilors, according to the laws of the colony, were supposed to receive a small stipend, but as was typical of this anarchistic colony, it proved almost impossible to extract these funds from the Pennsylvanian populace.

If the colonial government ceased to exist except for the infrequent days of Council meetings, what of local governments? Did they provide a permanent bureaucracy, a visible evidence of the continuing existence of the State apparatus? The answer is no; for the local courts met only a few days a year, and the county officials, too, were private citizens who devoted almost no time to upholding the law. To cap the situation the Assembly passed no laws after 1686, being in a continuing wrangle over the extent of its powers.

The colony of Pennsylvania continued in this de facto state of individualist anarchism from the fall of 1684 to the end of 1688: four glorious years in which no outcry arose from the happy citizens about "anarchy" or "chaos." No Pennsylvanian seemed to believe himself any the worse for wear.

A bit of government came to Pennsylvania in 1685, in the person of William Dyer who was the appointed Collector of the King's Customs. Despite frantic appeals from William Penn to cooperate with Dyer, the Pennsylvanians persisted in their anarchism by blithely and consistently evading the Royal Navigation Laws.

It is no wonder that William Penn had the distinct impression that his "Holy Experiment" had slipped away from him, had taken a new and bewildering turn. Penn had launched a colony that he thought would quietly follow his dictates and yield him a handsome feudal profit. By providing a prosperous haven of refuge for Quakers, Penn expected in return the twin reward of wealth and power. Instead, he found himself without either. Unable to collect revenue from the free and independent-minded Pennsylvanians, he saw the colony slipping quietly and gracefully into outright anarchism – into a peaceful, growing and flourishing land of no taxes and virtually no State. Thereupon, Penn frantically tried to force Pennsylvania back into the familiar mold of the Old Order.

In February 1687 William Penn appointed five Pennsylvanians as commissioners of state. Assigned to "act in the execution of the laws, as if I myself were there present." The purpose of this new appointment was "that there may be a more constant residence of the honorary and governing part of the government, for keeping all things in good order." Penn appointed the five commissioners from among the leading citizens of the colony, and ordered them to enforce the laws.

Evidently the colonists were quite happy about their anarchism, and shrewdly engaged in non-violent resistance toward the commission. In the first place, news about the commission was delayed for months. Then protests poured into Penn about the new commission. Penn soon realized that he had received no communication from the supposedly governing body.

Unable to delay matters any longer, the reluctant commissioners of state took office in February 1688. Three and one-half years of substantive anarchism were over. The State was back in its Heaven; once more all was right in William Penn's world. Typically, the gloating Penn urged the commissioners to conceal any differences among themselves, so as to deceive and overawe the public "Show your virtues but conceal your infirmities; this will make you awful and revered with ye people." He further urged them to enforce the King's duties and to levy taxes to support the government.

The commissioners confined themselves to calling the Assembly into session in the spring of 1688, and this time the Assembly did pass some laws, for the first time in three years. The most important bills presented to the Assembly by the Council and the Commissioners, however, was for the reimposition of taxes; and here the Assembly, at the last minute, heroically defied Penn and the government, and rejected the tax bills.

After a brief flurry of State activity in early 1688, therefore, the State was found wanting, taxes were rejected and the colony lapsed quickly back into a state of anarchism. Somehow, the commissioners, evidently exhausted by their task, failed to meet any further, and the Council fell back into its schedule of rare meetings.

In desperation, Penn acted to appoint a Deputy-Governor to rule Pennsylvania in his absence. Thomas Lloyd, President of the Council, refused the appointment, and as we saw from the reluctance of the commissioners, no one in happily anarchic Pennsylvania wanted to rule over others. At this point, Penn reached outside the colony to appoint a tough old non-Pennsylvanian and non-Quaker, the veteran Puritan soldier John Blackwell, to be Deputy-Governor of the colony. In appointing him, Penn made clear to Blackwell that his primary task was to collect Penn's quitrents and his secondary task to reestablish a government.

If John Blackwell had any idea that the Quakers were a meek people, he was in for a rude surprise. Blackwell was to find out quickly that a devotion to peace, liberty, and individualism in no sense implied an attitude of passive resignation to tyranny – quite the contrary.

Blackwell's initial reception as Deputy-Governor was an augur of things to come. Sending word ahead for someone to meet him upon his arrival in New York, Blackwell landed there only to find no one to receive him. After waiting in vain for three days, Blackwell went alone to the colony. When he arrived in Philadelphia on December 17, 1688, he found no escort, no parade, no reception committee. After having ordered the Council to meet him upon his arrival, Blackwell could find no trace of the Councilor of any other governmental officials. Instead he "found the Council room deserted and covered with dust and scattered papers. The wheels of government had nearly stopped turning."[5]

Only one surly escort appeared, and he refused to speak to his new Governor. And when Blackwell arrived at the empty Council room, his only reception was a group of boys of the neighborhood who gathered around to hoot and jeer.

The resourceful Pennsylvanians now embarked on a shrewd and determined campaign of non-violent resistance to the attempt to reimpose a State on a happy and stateless people. Thomas Lloyd, as Keeper of the Great Seal, insisted that none of Blackwell's orders or commissions were legally valid unless stamped with the Great Seal. And Lloyd, as Keeper, somehow stubbornly refused to do any stamping. Furthermore, David Lloyd, the clerk of the court and a distant relative of Thomas's, absolutely refused to turn over the documents of any cases to Blackwell, even if the judges so ordered. For this act of defiance Blackwell declared David Lloyd unfit to serve as court clerk and dismissed him. Thomas promptly reappointed David by virtue of his power as Keeper of the Great Seal. Moreover, out of a dozen justices of the peace named by Blackwell, four bluntly refused to serve.

As the revolutionary situation intensified in Pennsylvania, the timid and shortsighted began to betray the revolutionary libertarian cause. All of the Council except two now sided with Blackwell. Leader of the pro-Blackwell clique was Griffith Jones, who had allowed Blackwell to live at his home in Philadelphia. Jones warned that "it is the king's authority that is opposed and [it] looks to me as if it were raising a force to rebel." On the Council, only Arthur Cook and Samuel Richardson continued to defy the Governor.

Blackwell was of course appalled at this situation. He wrote to Penn that the colonists were suffering from excessive liberty. They had eaten more of the "honey of your concessions than their stomachs can bear." Blackwell managed to force the Council to meet every week in early 1689, but he failed to force them to agree to a permanent and continuing Councilor from every county in Philadelphia. Arthur Cook led the successful resistance, pointing out that the "people were not able to bear the charge of constant attendance."

The climax in the struggle between Blackwell and the people of Pennsylvania came in April 1689, when the Governor introduced proceedings for the impeachment of Thomas Lloyd, charging him with high crimes and misdemeanors. In his address, Blackwell trumpeted to his stunned listeners that William Penn's powers over the colony were absolute. The Council, on his theory, existed not to represent the people but to be an instrument of Penn's will. Blackwell concluded his harangue by threatening to unsheathe and wield his sword against his insolent and unruly opponents.

Given the choice between the old anarchism or absolute rule by John Blackwell, even the trimmers and waverers rallied behind Thomas Lloyd. After Blackwell had summarily dismissed Lloyd, Richardson and others from the Council, the Council rebelled and demanded the right to approve of their own members. With the entire Council now arrayed against him, the disheartened Blackwell dissolved that body and sent his resignation to Penn.

The Councilors, in turn, bitterly protested to Penn against his deputy's attempt to deprive them of their liberties. As for Blackwell, he considered the Quakers agents of the Devil, as foretold in the New Testament, men "who shall despise dominion and speak evil of dignities." These Quakers, Blackwell charged in horror, "have not the principles of government amongst them, nor will they be informed…"

Faced with virtually unanimous and determined opposition from the colonists Penn decided against Blackwell. For the rest of the year, Blackwell continued formally in office, but he now lost all interest in exerting his rule. He simply waited out his fading term of office. Penn in effect restored the old system by designating the Council as a whole as his "deputy governor." Replacing vinegar with honey Penn apologized for his mistake in appointing Blackwell, and asserted, "I have thought fit … to throw all into your hands, that you may all see the confidence I have in you."

Pennsylvania soon slipped back into anarchism. The Council, again headed by Thomas Lloyd, met but seldom. When a rare meeting was called it did virtually nothing and told William Penn even less. The Assembly also met but rarely. And when Secretary of the colony William Markham (a cousin of Penn, who had been one of the hated Blackwell clique) submitted a petition for the levying of taxes to provide some financial help for poor William Penn the Council totally ignored his request.

Furthermore, when Markham asked for a governmental organization of militia to provide for military defense against a (non-existent) French and Indian threat, the Council preserved the anarchistic status of the colony by blandly replying that any people who are interested could provide for their defense at their own expense. Anarchism had returned in triumph to Pennsylvania. The determined non-violent resistance of the colony had won a glorious victory.

Penn, however, refused to allow the colony to continue in this anarchistic state. In 1691 he insisted that a continuing deputy-governor be appointed, although he would allow the colony to select a governor. The colony of course chose their resistance hero Thomas Lloyd, who assumed his new post in April. After seven years of de facto anarchism (with the exception of a few months of Council meetings and several months of Blackwellite attempt to rule), Pennsylvania now had a continuous, permanent head of government. "Archy" was back, but its burden was still negligible for the Assembly and the Council still met but rarely and, above all, there was no taxation in the colony.

But the virus of power, the canker of archy, once let loose even a trifle, feeds upon itself. Suddenly, as a bolt from the blue, the Council in April 1692 passed a new bill for the reestablishment of taxation and the revered Governor Lloyd concurred in this betrayal. The question now reverted to the popularly elected Assembly, always the political stronghold of liberty in the province. Would they too succumb? The freemen of Philadelphia and of Chester sent the Assembly petitions strongly protesting the proposed imposition of taxation. They urged the Assembly to keep "their country free from bondage and slavery, and avoiding such ill methods, as may render themselves and posterity liable thereto." Heeding these protests, the Assembly refused to pass a tax law. De facto anarchy was still, though barely, alive.

Anarchy, however, was by now doomed, and governmental oppression, even without taxes, quickly returned to Pennsylvania. This new outcropping of statism was stimulated by opposition from a split-off from Quakerism headed by the scholarly Scottish Quaker George Keith, the outstanding Quaker minister of the middle colonies and the schoolmaster at Philadelphia. He was religiously more conservative than the bulk of the Quakers, leaning as he did toward Presbyterianism, but politically he was more individualistic. Stimulated by the anarchism he found in Pennsylvania, Keith quickly concluded logically from the Quaker creed that all participation in government ran counter to Quaker principles.

The return of Pennsylvania to government in the spring of 1691 especially provoked George Keith. How, he asked, could a Quaker minister like Thomas Lloyd, professing belief in non-violence, serve as a governmental magistrate at all, since the essence of government was the use of violence? A telling point: in short, Keith saw that Quaker non-violence logically implied, not only refusal to bear arms, but complete individualistic anarchism.

Finally, in the fall of 1692, the Keithian "Christian Quaker" faction was expelled from the body of Quakers. And to their shame, the main body of Quakers, after having been persecuted widely for their religious principles, reacted to a split in their own ranks in the very same way. Keithian pamphlets were confiscated and the printers arrested; Keith himself was ordered to stop making speeches and publishing pamphlets "that have a tendency to sedition, and disturbance of the peace, as also to the subversion of the present government." Three Keithian leaders including Keith himself, were indicted for writing a book denouncing the magistrates, and the jury was packed with the friends of the Quaker rulers. Despite Keith's pleas that Quakers are duty-bound to settle all their disputes peacefully and voluntarily, and to never go to court, the men were convicted and fined (though the fines were never paid), and denied the right to appeal to the Council or to the provisional court. Government was back in Pennsylvania – with a vengeance.

Taxation would very soon be back too. William Penn, a close friend of the recently deposed King James II of England, was in deep political trouble at court. Angry with Penn, peeved at the anarchism and the pacifism of the colony, and anxious to weld the northern colonies into a fighting force for attacking the French in Canada, King William, in late 1692, named Benjamin Fletcher governor of both New York and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, no longer under the proprietary of William Penn, was now a royal colony.

Governor Fletcher assumed the reins of government in April 1693. As in other royal colonies, the Council was now appointed by the Governor. Fletcher convened the Assembly in May, and was able to drive through a tax bill because of his and the Council's power to judge all the existing laws of Pennsylvania, and of a threat to annex the colony to New York. Taxes had arrived at last; archy was back in full force, and the glorious years of anarchism were gone.[6]

But a flurry of anarchism remained. In its 1694 session, the Pennsylvania Assembly decided to allocate almost half its tax revenue to the personal use of Thomas Lloyd and of William Markham, whom Fletcher had appointed as his Deputy-Governor. Infuriated, Fletcher dissolved the Assembly. After a year of imposition, taxes had again disappeared from Pennsylvania.

Disgusted, Fletcher lost interest in Pennsylvania, which after all these years was decidedly a poor place for raising tax revenue. The colony returned to its old quasi-anarchistic state, with no taxes and with a Council that did little and met infrequently. But, meanwhile, William Penn was campaigning energetically for returning to his feudal fiefdom. He abjectly promised the King that Pennsylvania would be good: that it would levy taxes, raise a militia, and obey royal orders. He promised to keep Fletcher's laws and to keep Markham as governor. As a result the King restored Pennsylvania to the ownership of Penn in the summer of 1694, and by the spring of the following year, Markham was installed as Deputy-Governor under the restored Penn proprietary. But in the spring 1695 session, the now elected Council again refused to consider any tax bill.

The Assembly continued to refuse to pass a tax bill for another year and a half. With the exception of one year, Pennsylvania thus remained in a quasi-anarchist state of taxlessness from its founding in 1681 until the fall of 1696: fourteen glorious years. Governor Markham was only able to push through a tax bill at the end of 1696 by a naked usurpation of the powers of government: decreeing a new constitution of his own, including an appointed Council. Markham was able to purchase the Assembly's support by granting it the power to initiate legislation and also to raise the property requirement for voting in the towns, thus permitting the Quakers to exclude the largely non-Quaker urban poor from having the vote.

A libertarian opposition now gathered, led by Arthur Cook (Thomas Lloyd now deceased). It included a coalition of former Keithians like Robert Turner and old Blackwell henchmen like Griffith Jones. The opposition gathered a mass petition in March 1697, signed by over a hundred, attacking the imposed constitution, the increase in suffrage requirements in the towns, and particularly the establishment of taxation. When the opposition Councilors and Assemblymen, elected as a protest under a separate set of votes under the old constitution, were summarily rejected, Robert Turner denounced this threat to "our ancient rights, liberties and freedom." Turner particularly denounced the tax bill of 1696, and urged that the tax money seized from its rightful owners "by that unwarranted, illegal and arbitrary act, be forthwith restored." But all this was to no avail. Pennsylvania soon slipped into the same archic mould as all the other colonies. The "Holy Experiment" was over.


None of this material has ever appeared in any work on the history of individualist anarchism in the United States. James J. Martin's excellent Men Against the State (DeKalb, Ill., Adrian Allen Associates, 1953) does not go back before the nineteenth century. In any case, Martin's methodology prevents him from acknowledging these men and women of the seventeenth century as anarchists, since he believes Christianity and anarchism to be incompatible. Neither Rudolf Rocker's Pioneers of American Freedom (Los Angeles, Rocker Publications Committee, 1949) nor Henry J. Silverman's (ed.) American Radical Thought: The Libertarian Tradition (Lexington, Mass., D, C. Heath Co., 1970) touches on the colonial period. The only history of individualist anarchism that deals with the colonial period is the pioneering work by Eunice Minette Schuster Native American Anarchism (1932, rep. by New York, De Capo Press 1970). Schuster deals briefly with the religious views of Anne Hutchinson and the Quakers, but deals hardly at all with their political ideas nor with the institutions that they put into practice. Corinne Jacker's The Black Flag of Anarchy (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968) only sharply condenses Schuster.

[Libertarian Analysis, Winter 1970, Vol. 1, No. 1., pp. 14–28]

The author's bio in Libertarian Analysis read: "Murray N. Rothbard is a professor of economics at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He is the editor of the Libertarian Forum. His most recent book is Power and Market." Comment on the blog.

[1] The lack of recordkeeping in stateless societies – since only government officials seem to have the time, energy, and resources to devote to such activities – produce a tendency toward a governmental bias in the working methods of historians.

[2] He was one of the original band that had helped Williams found Providence.

[3] 1657 was the year that the first Quaker landed in Rhode Island from England. It is no surprise that within a decade this new individualistic sect had converted a majority of Rhode Islanders, including most of the former Baptists and Hutchinsonians.

[4] Particularly remarkable was the treatment of the Indians by Penn and the Quakers. In striking contrast to the general treatment of Indians by white settlers, the Quakers insisted on voluntary purchase of Indian land. They also dealt with the Indians as human beings, deserving of respect and dignity. As a consequence, peace with the Indians was maintained for well over half a century; no drop of Quaker blood was shed by the Indians. Voltaire wrote rapturously of the Quaker achievement; for the Indians, he declared, "it was truly a new sight to see a sovereign William Penn to whom everyone said 'thou' and to whom one spake with one's hat on one's head; a government without priests, a people without arms, citizens as the magistrates, and neighbors without jealousy."

[5] Edwin B. Bronner, William Penn's "Holy Experiment" (New York, Temple University Publications, 1962), p. 108.

[6] One reason for the failure of any Pennsylvania resistance to the new regime was that the unity of the colonists had foundered on the rock of the Keithian schism. One beneficial result of royal rule was the freeing of Keith and his friends. Keith, however, returned to England, and with his departure the Keithian movement soon fell apart. The final irony came in later years when Keith, now an ardent Anglican minister in America, his former Quakerish individualist anarchism totally forgotten, helped to impose a year's imprisonment on grounds of sedition against the established Anglican Church of New York, upon the Reverend Samuel Bownes of Long Island.

Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was the author of Man, Economy, and State, Conceived in Liberty, What Has Government Done to Our Money, For a New Liberty, The Case Against the Fed, and many other books and articles. He was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report.