PoliTree Dev Blog: Placement of Branches

The following is part of a series of blogposts in which I discuss my design decisions when making the PoliTree: an attempted political-compass killer which has been way too long in the making. To find out more, visit the introduction.

As the test has gone through multiple redesigns and myself a lot of personal development over the years, the contents of this post may or may not apply to the test in its modern form or my current views on its design.

As laid out in February’s update, I’ve begun work on the questions which filter leaves to branches. As of writing this piece, I am currently working on the filtering for the Proprietarian leaf, which includes the following branches:

  • Classical Liberal
  • Neoliberal
  • Anarchocapitalist
  • Mutualist

Of course, this process requires me to think carefully and thoroughly about the definitions and distinctions between each branch, and I was reminded of a decision I made a little while back (also February, actually). Since I use these posts to explain design choices that may be controversial, I figured it was worth doing the same here. In addition, it will also help shine light into my thought process when deciding which branch corresponds to which leaf.

For the sake of expedience, I will be explaining this in question/answer format as opposed to paragraphs as I normally do.

Placement of Mutualism

The specific decision I’m referring to was the choice to place Mutualism under the Proprietarian leaf.

Why is that controversial?

Mutualism is a form of left-wing anarchism, and historically there has been a divide between those considered left-wing anarchists/libertarians and the right-wing anarchists/libertarians. Considering the other three branches are very much right-libertarian, this may seem like a rather odd choice.

Here’s an excerpt from the Anarchist F.A.Q which does a pretty good job of showcasing the animosity:

Thus the “anarcho”-capitalist and the anarchist have different starting positions and opposite ends in mind. Their claims to being anarchists are bogus simply because they reject so much of the anarchist tradition as to make what little they do pay lip-service to non-anarchist in theory and practice. Little wonder Peter Marshall said that “few anarchists would accept the ‘anarcho-capitalists’ into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice.” As such, “anarcho”-capitalists, “even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists.” [Demanding the Impossible, p. 565]

It is important to note however, that the Anarchist F.A.Q. is written by social anarchists, not individualist/market anarchists. There are even two sections dedicated to providing the social anarchist rejection of individualist anarchism.

While praised for its detail in other areas, its handling of this subject has come under fire quite a bit.

Why didn’t you place it under anarchism?

This might seem like the obvious thing to do, however what stopped me at first (and prompted me to do more reading) was that such a placement would end up contradicting the model.

At the core of the dichotomy (the canopy), we have an intersection of focus and approach. In other words, one’s understanding of the world and what said person decides to do with it.

Referring to the Anarchist F.A.Q once again, we begin to get an idea of what the “focus” of the anarchist leaf would be:

Anarchists are anti-authoritarians because they believe that no human being should dominate another. Anarchists, in L. Susan Brown’s words, “believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the human individual.” [The Politics of Individualism, p. 107] Domination is inherently degrading and demeaning, since it submerges the will and judgement of the dominated to the will and judgement of the dominators, thus destroying the dignity and self-respect that comes only from personal autonomy. Moreover, domination makes possible and generally leads to exploitation, which is the root of inequality, poverty, and social breakdown. In other words, then, the essence of anarchism (to express it positively) is free co-operation between equals to maximise their liberty and individuality.

Key words (such as dominate, individual, autonomy, authoritarian, liberty, etc.) clue us in that anarchism is politically focused in the sense that issues of coercion, state, and rule seem to be at its very core.

Of course these issues are raised by mutualists, and quite often, but the important thing to note here is that those issues are not foundational to the mutualist analysis.

What is fundamental to the mutualist analysis, however, is of an economic/material nature. This passage from Proudhon’s What is Property? makes this very clear:

If, then, the State takes more from me, let it give me more in return, or cease to talk of equality of rights; for otherwise, society is established, not to defend property, but to destroy it. The State, through the proportional tax, becomes the chief of robbers; the State sets the example of systematic pillage: the State should be brought to the bar of justice at the head of those hideous brigands, that execrable mob which it now kills from motives of professional jealousy.

But, they say, the courts and the police force are established to restrain this mob; government is a company, not exactly for insurance, for it does not insure, but for vengeance and repression. The premium which this company exacts, the tax, is divided in proportion to property; that is, in proportion to the trouble which each piece of property occasions the avengers and repressers paid by the government.

This is any thing but the absolute and inalienable right of property. Under this system the poor and the rich distrust, and make war upon, each other. But what is the object of the war? Property. So that property is necessarily accompanied by war upon property. The liberty and security of the rich do not suffer from the liberty and security of the poor; far from that, they mutually strengthen and sustain each other. The rich man’s right of property, on the contrary, has to be continually defended against the poor man’s desire for property. What a contradiction!

A quick summary for those who didn’t want to read all that: Proudhon is saying everything comes back to property, the state acts in the interests of property, and it is property that divides the oppressor from the oppressed.

I consider this focus on property foundational as it is what underpins the rest of his analysis, it is central to mutualism.

Why not place it under communism?

The next place one may consider is to put it in the communist branch, after all, as we’ve established, mutualism is economically focused.

You could point to a few similarities, (namely the belief in the LTV and the abolition of private property) but ultimately, those are mostly superficial.

While both hold foundations that are economic in nature, there’s a difference in how that perspective is approached. Mutualism specifically targets the concept of property itself, while communism is mroe generally anti-economic.

This leads to differences such as mutualists supporting currency, markets, and the dedicated production of commodities. And even if we define communism as labor-focused, it’s important to note that the LTV is by no means central to mutualism; it’s not at all unusual to see a mutualist that abides by the STV.

Despite mutualists being considered socialists, they most definitely are not communists, as Proudhon can attest to:

Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property, &c. In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity, — they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labor, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task.

Aren’t mutualists anti-property? Can you really call them “proprietarians”?

It’s reductionist to say mutualists are outright anti-property. As anarchist historian Colin Ward points out, Proudhon assigned a double-meaning to the word property:

He became famous in 1840 by virtue of an essay that declared that ‘Property is Theft’, but he also claimed that ‘Property is Freedom’. He saw no contradiction between these two slogans, since he thought it obvious that the first related to the landowner and capitalist whose ownership derived from conquest or exploitation and was sustained only through the state, its property laws, police, and army; while the second was concerned with the peasant or artisan family with an obvious natural right to a home, to the land it could cultivate, and to the tools of a trade, but not to ownership or control of the homes, land, or livelihood of others. (Anarchism, a Very Short Introduction, 2004)

In this sense, mutualism is in favor of property, but specifically the forms of property it considers valid. Proudhon considers the “invalid property” to be theft because it comes into conflict with the legitimate forms of property.

The debate over the homestead principle is a great example of this. Here we see an issue where both right-anarchists and left-anarchists are dealing in the same terms, but have come to completely different conclusions; it all comes back to the question of what makes something property.

To the right-libertarian, whoever originally mixed their labor with a natural resource (such as land) now owns that resource, while to a left-libertarian, whoever is currently mixing their labor with that resource owns it.

What we end up seeing is that the basic focus (property) and approach (to protect it) is still there, but there is simply a different interpretation of what that truly means.

And what we are beginning to see is that major thinkers such as Kevin Carson (a mutualist) and Murray Rothbard (an anarchocapitalist) have begun seriously engaging with each others’ ideas. Sure, there is disagreements (rather large ones at that), but the important part is that there is engagement. Two fundamentally incompatible worldviews would not be able to engage like this because they would be dealing in completely different terms and assumptions.

Most right-libertarians are closet reactionaries, aren’t they?

This is why I consciously rely on academic and historical sources for the project. Yes, self-proclaimed internet “anarcho-capitalists” like Stefan Molyneux have more in common with the far-right than anarchists, but the reality of the matter is that internet politics should never be taken seriously.

It’s entertainment at best, and most of the “ideological lines” are almost entirely aesthetic in nature.

Then there’s the issue that you can’t really cite a source so amorphous as the general opinion of a group, no matter how apparent this seems.

Anyways, the whole point of this is to get people out of aesthetic meme politics and actually learning, so it’d be counterproductive to model it to accommodate this fact.

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