The governing ethos of the far Left at Wesleyan (and this is speaking relative to Wesleyan, not relative to the real world, where most of Wesleyan constitutes the far Left) is ably summed up by Mr. Jon Booth in his most recent columns. Now, Mr. Booth’s sincerity and willingness to follow his principles to their logical conclusions are not to be doubted, nor are his aggressively principled stances to be disparaged. In fact, to the extent that I can say that someone whose views I frankly view with the deepest contempt and almost instinctual repulsion is admirable, I think much in Mr. Booth’s advocacy is admirable, simply as a positive description of the passions and dedication underlying his cause.

But this dedication and passion can only to be taken as evidence of the integrity of Jon Booth, not of the aesthetic or ethical desirability of Jon Booth’s vision, which is why I take it upon myself to levy this critique against his work, with the understanding that it will engender some level of controversy more substantive than the almost comically one-sided “debates” which I am sometimes forced to engage in. The most easy accusation one could make against Mr. Booth is that he is an anarchist, but in his mind, this is doubtlessly as much an accusation of negative normative weight as the accusation that Charles Manson believes he is the Messiah. Neither Mr. Manson nor Mr. Booth would object to such an accusation, and it would be pointless to make it, just as it would be pointless to accuse the author of this piece of being a “reactionary” or a “right winger” (not that people who mistake belligerence for persuasiveness haven’t tried this particular “attack”).

But unlike the accusations levied against the author, the correctness of the accusation that Mr. Booth is an anarchist is worth investigating. Mr. Manson, as most of us know, was not the Messiah and Mr. Booth, for all his bluster and vigor, is no anarchist. Rather, he belongs to a species which easily conflates itself with anarchism because of its cosmetic similarities, while in fact its objection to authority springs not from the Satanic (I use this term in a non-pejorative sense) inability to bear all authority, temporal or spiritual, but rather from specific aesthetic objections to the placement of authority in certain hands. As to what one ought to call Mr. Booth, there is only one term – an obscure, but useful one – that can describe him: Mr. Booth is an ochlocrat. In other words, he is a supporter of rule by the mob within the doctrine of “might makes right,” at least if one assumes the honesty of his first blog entry. To put it still more controversially, Mr. Booth subscribes to a theory of social Darwinism which places the mob as superior to the individual, and therefore entitled to rule by virtue of political natural selection.

So be it. I do not intend to simply accuse Mr. Booth of support for mob rule and leave my accusation to rot among the ad hominem detritus. I do intend to suggest several pointed questions, however, about what his vision may entail, and then see if those Wesleyan students who find the vision attractive are not somewhat confused.

As we all know from reading his work, Mr. Booth supports the general strike and the student protest as the enforcing arm of the mob he seeks to empower. In his mind, at least, the students and laborers are something like J.M. Barrie’s “Lost Boys,” who continually fight a winning battle against the capitalistic Pirates. Unfortunately, the “Lost Boys” possessed a member who could suspend the laws of gravity, and Mr. Booth does not possess a leader who can suspend the laws of economics, but more on that later. The point is that Mr. Booth sees mob rule as a defensive move against people who perpetuate their authority through the cruel fictions of law and institutional, mechanistic rules systems. His attacks by the mob are simply the brutal mirror image of what the current State does under cover of darkness, and are intended to foster something of a realistic balance of power. Were Mr. Booth’s mob to gain control, one presumes “social justice” would triumph.

Now, suppose he is correct in the respect that the State is corrupt; one still has to know in what this corruption consists, and whether it is truly unavoidable. If it is unavoidable, then the obvious route to justice is to overthrow it for good, but this in itself raises a problematic issue: States have existed for the totality of human history, and it has never been more than a small tribe or minority that could survive without one. One of Mr. Booth’s intellectual heroes is obviously the leader of one such tribe, namely Comandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, but does he propose that we should all live like the Zapatistas? And if so, how can he reconcile this normative prescription with the fact that the Zapatistas have loudly declared themselves to be a voluntaristic organization? Moreover, if the argument against the State is that it is non-voluntary, than how can Mr. Booth justify the use of coercion in opposing a coercive entity? Is it merely a temporary solution, which will end once the revolution is over? And even if we set aside these questions, does not the persistent historical nature of the State suggest something in human nature which has either been socialized or hardwired into existence? How does Mr. Booth plan to undo this wiring or this socialization without the use of force? Moreover, how does he plan to persuade the disenfranchised Statist, who may still feel loyalty to the State at certain times, to side with him, without the use of violence?

There is an even more serious critique which can be leveled against Mr. Booth’s world view, which is that it is grounded in nothing but a romantic, aesthetic and irrational preference for the downtrodden over the well-off. Mr. Booth may counter by suggesting that the author has a romantic, aesthetic and irrational preference for the well-off over the downtrodden. The author denies two thirds of the accusation, as his preference for the well-off (or, to put it bluntly, the managing and producing class) is not grounded in romanticism or irrationality, though it is partially aesthetic. The author has good economic and historical reasons for preferring a society with orders and classes, as they are almost universally more successful and enjoy higher standards of living, more advanced technology, more artistically defendable artwork and generally people with higher levels of utility than societies without them. In both the author’s view and the view of Alexis de Tocqueville, this is largely due to the aspirational tendencies of a society with inequality. But in Mr. Booth’s case, both history (which has made mincemeat of socialist utopias, even in their voluntaristic forms) and economics (which has not considered socialism a viable alternative since Oskar Lange, a theorist of “market socialism”) are against him. It seems all he has to repudiate these powerful attacks are his beating heart and his moral urges, neither of which can sustain the stomach, defy historical necessity or even convince a majority of any nation of their correctness without engendering backlash.

But finally, and herein lies the critique of Mr. Booth’s self-avowed anarchism: his attacks on political authority are not grounded upon sincere desire for a world without a State, but merely for a world with a different kind of State, and a different kind of compulsion. He does not support pure freedom. If he did, he would not belabor the bandwidth of this website with attacks on truly voluntaristic organizations like corporations (which have no legal means to force people to work for them or buy from them), or with appeals for mobs to use institutional mechanisms against those who disagree with them. His world view may persuade him that neither exploitation nor inequality will persist in a world without a State, but what will happen when the smoke from the consuming conflagration of human selfishness begins to fog his rose-colored glasses? Advocating liberty as the highest political end of man requires a willingness to tolerate both the freedom to be good, and the freedom to be selfish and exploitative, so long as neither is done under the cover of psychopathic Statism, and Mr. Booth possesses only half of the equation. If he is “down and to the Left” (that is to say, Southwestern), than the author is very proud to be firmly in the Northeastern camp.

Mr. Booth can feel free to pursue his ideal world, probably located at the second star to the Left, and straight on til’ morning. For my part, I prefer to seek out not the first, not the second, nor even the third star to the Right, but the furthest star to the Right I can find, and then to follow it until there is Morning in America again.

About Andrew Dermont

Andrew Dermont organized the overhaul of the Argus website. He is now the Blargus Editor and oversees the publication of all online-specific content.
  • Jessica French Smith

    Your argument is unfounded, nauseatingly elitist and frankly racist. It is painfully clear you understand nothing of the anarchist movement, not have you critically engaged with an of its ideals. Without this engagement your writing is meaningless. You embody the kind of blind american statism he is writing against. I’m deeply saddened you believe so unwaveringly in imperialist propaganda. Start by reading Mutual Aid by Kropotkin and then see if you can vomit out something that resembles an informed argument.

  • Mytheos Holt

    Actually, I have read Kropotkin, and I think he exhibits much the same naivete I accuse Mr. Booth of displaying, though his arguments are at least consistent, and can be used in favor of an anarcho-capitalist worldview just as easily as a Left-anarchist worldview. Also, I fail to see any racism here, or even a mention of race anywhere in the article. Anarchist collectives have existed in every culture, across racial lines, and most of them have been failures, without respect to race.

    Also, I would suggest a dictionary definition of “ad hominem fallacy.” It may help you the next time you try to lecture someone on “vomit[ing] out something that resembles an informed argument.”

  • Laird

    you commit “ad hominem fallacy” all the time.

    oh shit. so did i.

  • Jon Booth

    for the record i am an anarchist. i dont want the mob to take over the state, which i guess is why im not a communist. i believe for many reasons, including environmental, that the centralized and capitalist world does not have a future and that we can and should build a better world on a more sustainable level made up of autonomous communities.

    call it anarchism, communitarianism, whatever. I dont really care.

    additionally i think its kind of funny that you accuse me of subscribing to “might makes right.” because i really think that the nation state (and corporations of you expand might to include wealth and political power) is the ultimate example of an oppressive force which believes it is always right.

  • Pam the Funkstress

    Mytheos, again your convoluted rhetoric and overdone exercises in esoterica fail to conceal how little you really understand about your subjects. I think JM Barrie would be really upset about having his good name associated with such a shoddy analogy in the context of a generally shoddy essay. Your comparison of anarchism and social Darwinism reveals how limited your understanding is of either topic. They are entirely incompatible and I think Herbert Spencer would have my back on that one.
    Further, as Ms. Smith pointed out, your use of “tribe” in reference to the EZLN is not only semantically/anthropologically inappropriate, it is also a totally Eurocentric posture.
    Finally, to suggest that states have existed for the totality of human history is absolutely ludicrous. Even Hobbes acknowledged that was not the case. Orthodox anthropology/archeology has established that any social construction resembling a state did not appear until the most recent 20th of human history, to be extremely charitable.
    The desert anarchist and iconoclast Ed Abbey hit the nail on the head when he noted that “anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.”
    Amen Ed Abbey. Amen Jon Booth.

  • Mytheos Holt

    Herbert Spencer would most certainly not “have your back” on that one. He wrote an essay entitled “The Man Versus the State” which is, if not a conventional Left-anarchist manifesto, at the very least an anti-State piece. Further, I did not compare anarchism to Social Darwinism – I compared ochlocracy to Social Darwinism, which is a statement which Oliver Wendell Holmes (the justice, not the professor) most certainly has my back on.

    The totality of human history may have been imperfect phraseology, and I most certainly did not mean it in an anthropological sense, but rather colloquially as “the entirety of recorded history.” I did not mean to suggest that States have existed since the dawn of Neanderthal man, or whenever the anthropological record begins. The same thing goes for my reference to the Zapatistas as a “tribe” – I suppose a “coterie” or “posse” or other phrase connoting a small group of people would have worked just as well. “Collective” works too.

    But more importantly, where and when have I ever argued for the management of our lives by kings, priests, politicians, generals or county commissioners? Haven’t you read my extended denunciations of the overweening State? My criticisms of Mr. Booth are not for being unrealistic, but for not being enough of an individualist, and for being inconsistent in his attitudes towards violence. My knowledge of anarchism, I assure you, is quite extensive, and if I don’t read the ideas of Malatesta, Bakunin, Proudhon, Godwin, Rothbard, Bookchin, Stirner, Abbey et al quite the same way you do, that does not mean that I am not familiar with their ideas. I simply reject them. If you disagree, feel free, but you will get nowhere impugning my knowledge of the subject, or my writing style.

  • Mytheos Holt

    And as one final note, I will say that that is the last comment I will respond to on this article.

  • Jesse Overall

    @Jessica French Smith

    Hi. I would really appreciate it if you and others would stop engaging in ad hominem attacks on Mytheos. I would especially appreciate it if you would stop throwing words like “racist” around. There is no mention of race anywhere in the article. How, therefore, can Mytheos be racist?

    Instead of engaging Mytheos on an intellectual level, you chose to attack him personally in a manner that I find needlessly vindictive and even gross.

    Before I get labeled a reflexive Mytheos groupie I’m going to point one thing out: your post does not make any coherent argument other than “anarchism is the only solution for the world and all other forms of political organization are evil in every way”. Let me revise that – almost every line of your post either a) relies on assumptions neither proven nor shared by the vast majority of the world’s political scientists, or b) is subject to factual inaccuracies. Let me know if you want me to point point these out to you one by one.

    Please, in future, do your part to elevate the level of debate at Wesleyan and don’t write these kinds of moronic diatribes calling people “nauseating” when, in all fairness, that’s a term which can more readily be applied to what you wrote. Mytheos took hours to write a well-considered article and you spent 1 minute dashing off a response that makes you look ignorant. For everyone’s sake, including your own, please don’t do it again.

  • Intellectual Historian


    What the hell is wrong with you? Hobbes didn’t mean the State of nature literally! it was a metaphor for fuck’s sake! And so what if States haven’t existed for ALL OF HISTORY??? Mytheos still makes a good point that a lot of people think they’re necessary.

  • Realism is cool

    Chill out, people. Yeah, Jon Booth is cool, but if you can’t even take criticism from a conservative college student without getting pissed off, you’re not gonna convince anybody. Also, dammit Mytheos, stop making me look up words.

  • Taylor

    Hahaha, fantastic article, Mytheos. This anarchist can certainly appreciate it; then again, I’m a “nauseatingly elitist and frankly racist” anarchist… Up with authority! Down with the State!

  • Phil

    Well written indeed. I really can’t respond to the plethora of ad hominem arguments made both in the article and its comments, but I do agree with Jesse. Well said.

    Also, I would like to second, very strongly, the comment by Realism is cool. I spend half my time reading these articles in a dictionary. And finally, yes, do play nice when you debate.

  • Matt B.

    Word up, jesse

    save political diversity at Wesleyan!

  • Mike LeVine

    Anarchists blow. Seriously, maybe anarchy would work if the general population was intelligent. Sadly, the human race just isn’t that smart. Do you think Americans would know what to do without the government telling them? Sheep don’t herd themselves, you know.

  • responsible citizen

    why can’t mike levine crawl back under the rock he was hiding beneath for the last few months?

  • intelligent citizen

    why can’t responsible citizen repute an argument with an intelligent comment rather than an insult which is in fact not even that funny?

  • Anonymous

    obnoxious, namedropping articles predicated on shoving words into an opponent’s mouth from Mytheos?

    unfounded truisms from LeVine?

    sounds like business as usual

  • Anonymous

    Along with the obnoxious comments from anonymous posters? Yeah, it sure does.

  • Friendly Neighborhood Anarchist

    While it’s clear that Mytheos does not understand Anarchism at all, or the left in general, I think there is a larger issue at play here. Jon Booth is not the left at Wesleyan and he’s certainly shouldn’t be the face of Anarchism. I think this needs to be said because Jon Booth has made a concerted effort to position himself as the voice of the left on this campus and has made an effort to have his name on as many activist projects as possible. In my mind, this is a very clear form of domination and runs contrary to my personal vision of Anarchism.

    I think it needs to be said very loudly that Jon Booth does not represent radical politics. Jon Booth represents self-absorbed, masturbatory, and generally counter-productive radical politics.

    In all honesty, Jon Booth and Mytheos Holt are two sides of the same coin. Both are more interested in being purely oppositional figures, playing into the stereotypes surrounding their political ideology and are so wrapped up in their own ego mania that they care more about publicly spouting their ideology than actually doing any work and actually helping people. (Although I guess Mytheos is pretty open about not caring about helping people.)

    I sincerely and whole-heartedly, and in the least confrontational way possible, ask Jon Booth to either take responsibility for his actions and come organize not as a vanity project but because he wants people’s lives to be better, or to stop sullying the name of the left.

  • responsible citizen

    re·pute n (formal)
    1. estimation or character according to what people in general think
    2. good reputation or standing

    why can’t intelligent citizen reFUTE a comment with the right words?

    It seems intelligent citizen’s credentials are not in good repute.

  • Jon Booth

    friendly neighborhood anarchist. if you have a problem with me talk to me about it, posting anonymous comments on an article by mytheos holt is probably the least effective way i can imagine to get me to change my behavior in any way.

    secondly, i was offered a column on the blargus, so i accepted.

    thirdly, i am involved with organizations and projects that i care about and that generally have solid tangible goals.

    fourthly, though i am involved in a number of groups i currently run none of them.

    so if you got a problem with me, talk to me about it.

  • Realism is cool

    @Friednly neighborhood anarchist:

    So because Jon Booth is enthusiastic about making his viewpoints known, he’s a dominating person who doesn’t care about people? Come on. You don’t believe that. Why not have a spokesman like Booth get some exposure for your cause, especially since even Mytheos has to admit he respects him (look at the first paragraph)? Having someone who can negotiate with the enemy is useful, you know.

  • Social Democrat

    Since when were anarchists the voice of the left?

  • Mancur Olson Jr.

    There isn’t really much to understand about anarchism, except that anarchism inevitably leads to a state. Under stateless conditions, there would still be competition for resources, and people would fear for their lives. Individuals would eventually band together into mutual protection associations to enforce their rights to life, liberty, and property against outside aggressors. The result would look something like the night-watchmen state of classical liberalism. Mutual aid as an evolutionary social process is necessarily important since it is certainly easier to agree not to harm one another and focus your resources on your own damn business rather than perpetual deterrence of aggression by other people. However, in a fight between cooperation and competition for, I don’t know, basic resources, there reaches a point where no sense of community or obligation or duty will prevent people from screwing their neighbors to get by, ESPECIALLY when the chips are down. Anarchy necessitates states; mutual aid will only take you so far.

    Look, we can get all hot and bothered about sexy principles like no mutual aggression, “loving thy neighbor,” and all other sorts of self-congratulating shit about how special humans are, but when it gets down to the practical process of LIVING OUR LIVES, no about of collective knowledge of wine or Spanish cuisine or postmodern economics is going to change the fact that HUMAN BEINGS ARE ANIMALS TOO WITH ANIMAL NEEDS.

    I support stationary bandits and nothing else. Anarcho-capitalism FOR THE LOSS.