David Iverson. Sydney Libertarianism 1965

A Reading List for Libertarians

Source: Broadsheet No. 39;
Transcribed: by Curtis Price.

In an earlier article (“Some Thoughts on Libertarianism,” Broadsheet No. 35), I argued that to define a position as “anti-authoritarian” is not, in fact, to define the position at all “but merely to indicate a relationship of opposition to another position, the authoritarian one. Just as describing a position as anti-communist does not give any indication of the positive content of the position (e.g., it could be fascist or anarchist to name but two possibilities), so describing libertarianism as anti-authoritarian does not indicate its positive content – compulsive bohemians and classical anarchists also describe themselves as “anti-authoritarian.”

I also suggested that the anti-authoritarianism of libertarians could at least be partly explained in terms of their empiricism – their concern for what is the case and their preference for objectivity (there are other grounds on which libertarians base their anti-authoritarianism). If occurrences are good enough, one rejects arguments from authority and looks for the facts (cf. R. Smilde, “Authoritarianism – a Reply,” Broadsheet No. 16); if one is interested in objectivity, in seeing what is the case, one rejects restrictions on enquiry in the form of censorship and the notion of the sacred.

Although this intellectual position is, I think, very important in the development of libertarianism, it is only a ground plan that has to be filled in. As G.M. indicated (“Libertarianism and Philosophy,” Broadsheet No. 35), the development of an empirical approach or critical apparatus is not the same thing as having specific theories about, e.g. social processes. To put it another way, libertarians are concerned with what is the case, but what do they hold to be the case?

Libertarians have, in the main, been trained in the social sciences and they have tended to be concerned with them and, in particular, with that area of social science where psychology and sociology meet. There has been a relative neglect of aesthetic theory and natural science but this is not surprising for, at least in one aspect, libertarianism itself is a form of doing social theory. That is to say, studies in philosophy, psychology, anthropology, political science, history, etc. are important for libertarianism not just because individual libertarians have been trained in these disciplines but because libertarianism is about these fields of study, because it is (among other things) an attempt to develop a consistent social theory.

What began as a critical examination of the work of Freud and Marx (e.g. S. Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, Nerv. & Ment. Diseases Pub. Co., N.Y. and Washington, 1910, “’Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness” in Collected Papers, Vol. 2, Hogarth Press, London, 1924, and Civilization and its Discontents, Hogarth Press, London, 1948; K. Marx & F. Engels, The German Ideology (trans. R. Pascal), International Publishers N.Y., 1960) developed into an attempt to combine psychoanalysis with the “pessimistic sociology” of R. Michels (Political Parties, Collier Books, N.Y., 1961),G. Mosca (The Ruling Class – ed. A. Livingston -McGraw-Hill, N.Y., 1939) and V. Pareto (The Mind and Society -trans. A. Livingston – Dover Books, N.Y., 1963).

One inspiration for this attempt came from Professor John Anderson (see, e.g., Education and Politics, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1931, “Art and Morality,” Australian Journal of Psychology & Philosophy 1941, 19, 253-266 and Studies in Empirical Philosophy, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1962). Anderson’s sources included G. B. Vico (see T.G. Bergin & M.H. Fisch – trans. & eds. – The New Science of Giambattista Vicot Anchor Books, N.Y., 1961) and Georges Sorel (e.g., Reflections on Violence, trans. T. E. Hulme – Free Press, Glencoe Ill., 1950).

On the psychoanalytic side, Wilhelm Reich (The Sexual Revolution, Peter Neville-Vision Press, London, 1951| Character Analysis, Orgone Institute Press, N.Y., 1945; and The Function of the Orgasm, Orgone Institute Press, N.Y., 1942) was preferred to Freud because, despite his own weaknesses – his Utopian tendencies and his eventual drift into “orgones” and “bions” – Reich laid more emphasis on the social conditions of mental events than did Freud (see, e.g., A.J. Baker, “Reich’s Criticism of Freud,” Libertarian No. 3, January 1960).

The pessimistic sociologists seemed more in harmony with libertarianism than the optimism of Goodwin and the anarchists, who appeared open to the complaint that if all that is needed is an education for cooperative living, then who is going to educate the educators to the right path? Libertarians are social pluralists not just in the sense that Laski used the term, of believing in the desirability of a plurality of foci of social power (although libertarians would be concerned to promote, e.g., movements independent of the State apparatus), but in the sense of holding with A. F. Bentley (The Process of Government , Principia Press, Bloomington, 1949) that it is the case that “society” is composed of a plurality of interests (see, e.g., P. Loveday in P. Loveday & I.. Campbell, Groups in Theory and Practice, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1962).

The view here is that this plurality is a feature, of any society and that libertarianism is just one special interest among many. Unlike machiavellians who realize the objective plurality of social interests but still, as a promotional device, claim a universal validity for their special interests, libertarians scorn to masquerade as a common good.

It follows that libertarians have no hope of reforming the world. They will remain a special interest group with no concern about promulgating policies for non-libertarians. Their concern is to maintain their own ways of going on against those of other interests which are hostile to them. This position has been linked by some people with that developed by Max Nomad (e.g. Apostles of Revolution, Collier Books, N.Y., 1961).

One thing libertarians have been concerned with is the development of connections between sexual and political theory of the sorts suggested by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World and George Orwell in 1984; the view here being similar to that propounded by John Anderson in “Art and Morality” and by Wilhelm Reich in The Sexual Revolution – that authoritarian social and political movements depend to some extent on a compulsive sexual life to keep their followers docile and conformist.

Now these connections between psychological, sociological, and political theory have not been worked out fully – and hence the perennial complaints of the intellectual laziness of libertarians. Perhaps more work has been done on the psychological side (more libertarians are involved in psychological research than are engaged in sociology) , especially in the critical examination of the work of T. W. Adorno et al. (The Authoritarian Personality, Harpner, N.Y., 1950) and of M. Rokeach (The Open and Closed Mind, Basic Books, N.Y., 1960).:

Anyhow, it is not the purpose of this paper to outline the present state of libertarian social theory (even if that were possible in one short article), but rather to indicate the sorts of materials with which libertarians ‘have been concerned, and to provide a source list of references which, while it is by no means complete, may furnish a basis for further study.