Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agorism in Wales

Every so often I make a truly serendipitous discovery, which nicely illustrates the idea of agorism in practice. My purpose in this article is to demonstrate how a bunch of Welsh non-conformists behaved in a manner very similar to that of modern day agorists.

Agorism has been described as: “the purest, most consistent, and revolutionary form of libertarianism. It can motivate and direct the underclass’s struggle against the overclass.” But how does one go about “motivating” and “directing” this struggle by the underclass to overthrow the overclass or ruling class? The agorist model is based on a non-violent resistance model, or what Benjamin R Tucker, the famous American individualist anarchist, calls passive resistance. Your modern day agorist would substitute the term counter-economics for passive resistance; nevertheless, the idea remains similar across time.

Counter-economics has been defined as follows: “All non-coercive human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy.” For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit myself to one aspect of the counter-economy, namely tax resistance against unjust laws. This is based on what Tucker calls “starving out Uncle Sam,” i.e., starving the parasitic state of resources by cutting it off from the flow of tax dollars.

The idea is certainly not new. For example, in Murray N Rothbard’s introduction to Étienne de la Boétie’s book The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, we see this idea being offered up in the year 1575:

The call for mass civil disobedience was picked up by one of the more radical of the later Huguenot pamphlets, La France Turquie (1575), which advocated an association of towns and provinces for the purpose of refusing to pay all taxes to the State. (18, bold emphasis mine)

What I found so fascinating is that Tucker, an American anarchist, when questioned about his idea to “starve out Uncle Sam,” responded to his critic by citing a historical example from Wales. Tucker, writing in an article called Passive Resistance, states that

the Balfour-clerical education bill, a reactionary measure, has largely been nullified in Wales by the refusal of its opponents to pay the school rates. (bold emphasis mine)

The story is rooted in an ongoing dispute between the Church of England and the Nonconformists. The nonconformists were still Christians because they were members of different Protestant denominations; however, they were not members of the Church of England. Most of the Nonconformists lived in the manufacturing areas and in Wales. I looked through an article on the Nonconformists, which you can access here. It seems to me that the Nonconformists launched their tax resistance campaign because of the State’s plan for them to pay Anglican taxes:

  • The Nonconformists did not believe in the teachings of the Church of England, i.e., they did not want to be forced to pay for something that they did not believe in
  • They complained about taxation without representation, i.e., they felt very underrepresented on the school board

With regard to the first objection, we read that “since the Anglicans had the great majority of church schools, Nonconformists argued that they would have to pay for religious education they believed was false.”

With regard to the second objection, about taxation without fair representation, the April 14, 1904 speech by Joseph Rice to the East Grinstead Urban Council provides a nice illustration. Rice mentions that the previous arrangement was fair, but the new arrangement discriminates against the Nonconformists in favor of the Church of England:

for over 20 years, East Grinstead had a School Board in town and Churchman and Nonconformists were fairly represented on it.

Now, gentlemen from Lewes, who know nothing about the circumstances of East Grinstead have appointed Robert Whitehead. The Committee, as chosen by the County Council, consisted of five churchmen and one Free Churchman, one-sixth only of the representation for Nonconformists, though 450 of the 800 children in the Board Schools had Nonconformist parents. (bold emphasis mine)

In other words, the Nonconformists have one-sixth or 16.67% of the votes; however, 56.25% (450 of 800) of the children come from Nonconformist families. So the Nonconformists feel as though they are getting underrepresented.

As a result of these grievances, “John Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee and by 1906 over 170 Nonconformists had gone to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes” (bold emphasis mine). Our early twentieth century agorists in Wales suffered “numbers of prosecutions, seizures of goods, imprisonment, and disfranchisement” as reported here. As the BBC Wales History reports, “disestablishment became a distinctly Welsh national cause.”

Despite their attempt to overthrow the Balfour Education Act by refusing to pay their taxes and by going to prison in protest over the tax, “no change to the law was made.” It did lead to the Conservatives being overthrown in the next election as mentioned here.   The new Liberal government of 1906 attempted to repeal the earlier Balfour Act of 1902 but ran into problems in the House of Lords. See here. Consequently, I am not sure why Benjamin Tucker “declared victory” by boldly asserting that the tax resisters led to the “nullification” of the Balfour Act. Maybe, I can only guess at this point, he is referring to the fact that, as reported by the BBC Wales History article, “in 1920, after many vicissitudes, the Anglican Church in Wales was disestablished.”

As a young agorist research, I thoroughly enjoyed finding a non-American example of a tax resister campaign executed in real life. Actually, I worry that there are not enough examples in more recent history, at least not documented. Or maybe I am just not aware of them yet. Prior to this discovery, I only knew of one fairly recent tax resister campaign in Connecticut and it was more of a local campaign. I hope that my future research will find more examples of tax resister campaigns in action. I am curious to see if I can conclude something about an overall success rate of this non-violent tactic.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Antiharmonism and the Betrayal of Liberty

No! To tell you the truth, I’m never voting again. Like marriage, no matter who you choose it turns out bad. Unless you’re rich. They get everything they want—well, fine! One thing I know: we’re never going to win through the system. Voting has never been the American way.  

 –Al Bundy, the “Chicago Wine Party” episode of Married with Children

In the introduction to the Mises Institute’s edition of Ludwig von Mises’s Theory and History, the introductory preface contains Rothbard’s lament: “Austrian economics will never enjoy a genuine renaissance until economists read and absorb the vital lessons of this unfortunately neglected work (xix). Unfortunately for Rothbard, I think that Mises’s Theory and History’s discussion regarding the so called “philosophy of antiharmonism” undercuts Rothbard’s argument in favor of voting and engaging in political action as expressed in The Ethics of Liberty (186-87). It seems to me that attempts to bring about liberty “through the system” or “through government” can rather easily backfire on the libertarians.

Let me begin by presenting Mises’s treatment of the philosophy of antiharmonism:

As the antiharmonists see it, community of interests exists only within the group among its members. The interests of each group and of each of its members are implacably opposed to those of all other groups and of each of their members. So it is “natural” there should be perpetual war among various groups. This natural state of war of each group against every other group may sometimes be interrupted by periods of armistice, falsely labeled periods of peace. It may also happen that sometimes in warfare a group cooperates in alliances with other groups. Such alliances are temporary makeshifts of politics. They do not in the long run affect the inexorable natural conflicts of interest. Having, in cooperation with some allied groups, defeated several of the hostile groups, the leading group in the coalition turns against its previous allies in order to annihilate them too and to establish its own world supremacy. (Liberty Fund’s Edition of Theory and History, 28, bold emphasis mine)

Initially, I thought that I could explain this passage using the “bad/super-bad” explanation (maybe one could call this the “McLovin Conjecture” because of the “super-bad” component) provided by Étienne de la Boétie in his book The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. La Boétie mentions that within our ruling class we have a group of “favorites” (the bad) who form an alliance with the “tyrant” (the super-bad); however, this alliance is only ephemeral in nature because the “favorites” end up losing both their fortunes and their lives to the “super-bad” tyrant:

These favorites should not recall so much the memory of those who have won great wealth from tyrants as of those who, after they had for some time amassed it, have lost to him their property as well as their lives; they should consider not how many others have gained a fortune, but rather how few of them have kept it….Most often, after becoming rich by despoiling others, under the favor of his protection, they find themselves at last enriching him with their own spoils. (75)

But then I asked myself, what if instead of conceiving of the antiharmonist philosophy in terms of “bad/super-bad,” one were to consider it in terms of “good and super-bad.” After all, if Fogell or McLovin stands for “super-bad,” because he bought the alcohol with his fake I.D. and because he went on a wild joy ride with the out-of-control police officers, then I suppose it is safe to say that Evan’s character in the movie stands for “good,” because Evan was the responsible and mature one in the group of friends. But what then does this “Evan-McLovin Interpretation” of the philosophy of antiharmonism imply? I think that it implies quite simply that libertarians should not try to achieve liberty through the political system. Let me now explain how I came to this conclusion.

In his first ever treatise in the English language, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, Hans-Hermann Hoppe tells us a riveting story that nicely illustrates the “Evan-McLovin Interpretation” of the philosophy of antiharmonism in action!  In Hoppe’s rendition of the history of how absolutism emerged out of feudalism, the “super-bad” or “McLovin” component of the story is what he refers to as the creation of “super-feudalism” out of plain-old vanilla-flavored feudalism. The “good” or “Evan” component of this saga is played by the heroes of the story, namely, the inchoate agorists consisting of international traders and merchants who just happen to be audacious enough to defy the local feudal overlord in their quest for freedom.

The “Evan” component of traders and merchants forms an alliance with the “McLovin” component; the “McLovin” component just happens to be a geographically distant feudal lord. This “Evan-McLovin” alliance cooperates because it is perceived to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, namely, both sides will benefit by seeing the local lord overthrown. Without the existing local lord, the “Evan” component will benefit from this alliance by receiving “partial freedom” from the onerous requirements of feudalism. In other words, we are about to see the Janus-like nature of “McLovin.” To form this alliance, “McLovin” puts his best face forward by coming across as “magnanimous McLovin,” the lord who grants freedom! The “McLovin” component—this geographically distant feudal lord—benefits from this alliance because the feudal lord gets to extend his territory of control, at the expense of the other lord.

Now, following the philosophy of antiharmonism, what is supposed to come next in our feudal plot line? Naturally, a betrayal of one member of the alliance by the other member! This is precisely what happens. After the alliance overthrows the existing local lord, the “McLovin” component proceeds to show the “Evan” component its other much nastier face. The “McLovin” component earns the title of “super-bad” at this point by proceeding to transform itself into what Hoppe calls the “super-feudalist.” What this means is that the “McLovin” component of this tale betrays the “Evan” component by breaking the promise to grant freedom. Instead, the exact opposite happens because a new layer of exploitation is imposed on the “Evan” component. Now the “McLovin” component has achieved the ultimate goal of the philosophy of antiharmonism. Everyone, the existing local lord and the merchants and traders (the “Evan” component), is subjected now to the unquestioned lordship of this new “super-McLovin.” The alliance of freedom turned into the alliance from hell as everything retrogressed.

Just in case you think I am making all of this up, let me give you the stern and academic version of this antiharmonist philosophy story in the words of Hoppe:

In their endeavor to free themselves from the exploitative interventions of the various feudal lords, the merchants had to look for natural allies. Understandably enough, they found such allies among those from the class of feudal lords who, though comparatively more powerful than their noble fellows, had the centers of their power at a relatively greater distance from the commercial towns seeking assistance. In aligning themselves with the merchant class, they sought to extend their power beyond its present range at the expense of other, minor lords. In order to achieve this goal they first granted certain exemptions from the “normal” obligations falling upon the subjects of feudal rule to the rising urban centers, thus assuring their existence as places of partial freedom, and offered protection from the neighboring feudal powers. But as soon as the coalition had succeeded in its joint attempt to weaken the local lords and the merchant towns’ “foreign” feudal ally had thereby become established as a real power outside of its own traditional territory, it moved ahead and established itself as a feudal super power, i.e., as a monarchy, with a king who superimposed his own exploitative rules onto those of the already existing feudal system. Absolutism had been born; and as this was nothing but feudalism on a larger scale, economic decline again set in, the towns disintegrated, and stagnation and misery returned. (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, 86-87, bold emphasis mine)

One can further see this “Evan-McLovin Interpretation” of the philosophy of antiharmonism at work when looking at the history of the American Revolution. Just like the feudal example above, the American Revolution saw the emergence of an “Evan-McLovin” alliance against a common enemy, in this case Great Britain.  The “Evan” component of the American Revolution was lulled into an alliance with the “McLovin” component based on promises of liberty and freedom. “Magnanimous McLovin” makes his return! True to form, the alliance was followed by a betrayal since the promises of liberty did not materialize. What did materialize was just the replacement of one tyranny with another.

The nature of the “Evan-McLovin” alliance in the American Revolution is put tersely by Howard Zinn. The “Evan” component is played by the “substantial middle class,” and the “McLovin” component is played by the “upper classes”:

Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality. (A People’s History of the United States, 73-74, bold emphasis mine)

Just as the alliance feudal lord, the soon to be “super-McLovin,” promised freedom from the onerous feudal rules but eventually betrayed his “Evan” component in order to establish an indomitable lordship, so too the American upper classes, as soon as they got what they wanted, betrayed their alliance members and successfully established a new indomitable lordship. What do they, the upper classes, want? Paraphrasing Charles Beard, Zinn states that “the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates” (106). One can really see all of these points coming to a head—the phony liberty alliance followed by betrayal—by looking at what happened when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Boston:

When the Declaration of Independence was read, with all its flaming radical language, from the town hall balcony in Boston, it was read by Thomas Crafts, a member of the Loyal Nine group, conservatives who had opposed militant action against the British. Four days after the reading, the Boston Committee of Correspondence ordered the townsmen to show up on the Common for a military draft. The rich, it turned out, could avoid the draft by paying for substitutes; the poor had to serve. This led to rioting, and shouting: “Tyranny is Tyranny let it come from whom it may.” (A People’s History of the United States, 91-92, bold emphasis mine)

The people of Boston just got “cock-blocked” by “McLovin!” The alliance was formed under the assumption that it would bring about liberty and freedom for the “Evan” component. What actually happened is that the philosophy of antiharmonism kicked in; the “Evan” component was lured in to an alliance with the “McLovin” component, which just was rendered nugatory. Now the true face of the “McLovin” component has been revealed to the people causing them to riot. Not liberty but ordering people into a military draft is that true face. Not surprisingly, Zinn sagaciously observes, “new lords, new laws.” But the “McLovin” component got what it wanted. The Declaration of Independence had been read and so the British ruling class was formally out and the new ruling class was now in charge.

To conclude, I will be bold enough to state that the “Evan-McLovin Interpretation” of the philosophy of antiharmonism is probably one of the first lessons anarchists learned during the French Revolution. In what Peter Marshall calls “the earliest anarchist manifesto in continental Europe,” we read this brilliant passage from Jean Varlet’s work:

What a social monstrosity, what a masterpiece of Machiavellism [sic] is this revolutionary government. For any rational being, government and revolution are incompatible. (Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, 451, bold emphasis mine)

One cannot change the system by working with the government or ruling class elements, the “McLovins.” That is the point. I have tried to illustrate that alliances with the “McLovin” component with their promises of freedom and liberty are nothing but legerdemain, trickery, deception, prestidigitation, call it whatever you want. The “Evan” component thinking that it is getting liberty is actually enslaving itself by trying to work with some government or “McLovin” component. The merchants tried to work with the geographically distant feudal lord to get freedom but that blew up in their faces. Similarly, the middle class Americans tried to work with their colonial rulers in order to win freedom for themselves. “The men who engineered the revolt were largely members of the colonial ruling class” (A People’s History of the United States, 101). Again, this working with the government or existing ruling group backfired for the seekers of liberty in America too. One can find other examples of the preachers of liberty—the “McLovins” of history—turning into the barons of tyrannical hell the second they get the opportunity to enslave. They will turn on you in a heartbeat. One of my books on the French Revolution aptly put it this way: “Robespierre the apostle of liberty” in 1793 became “Robespierre the most infamous of tyrants.” Even in classical examples, we again see this betrayal of the seekers of liberty. The “Evans” of ancient Syracuse formed an alliance with Denis or Dionysius in order to save their city from the invading Carthaginians. Like all good McLovin’s, when Dionysius returned to the city victorious over the invaders, he transformed “himself from captain to king, and then from king to tyrant” (The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 54-55).

So what advice can I offer to Evan and McLovin, the two movie characters whom I used throughout my article? Well, when you head off to college next year, maybe that “alliance” plan of living together as roommates should seriously be reconsidered! Don’t do it Evan! For us, the lesson is don’t work through the system or with members of the ruling class because there is a high probability of getting stabbed in the back by the phony “liberty” alliance member. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Can Atheism Actually be Peaceful and Tolerant?

Background on the Existing Debate

In his book, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, Victor J. Stenger mentions what has become a standard riposte among religious apologists, namely, that despite the millennia of destruction and evil in the name of Christianity, these faux pas are trifling and relatively insignificant in comparison to the baleful nightmares perpetrated in the name of godless atheism. Stenger summarizes the fulmination against atheism hurled by sociologist Paul Froese: “the Soviet Union waged a relentless war on religion that he attributed to the ‘violence of atheism’ and, despite this effort, it failed to eradicate faith.”

If the monstrosity of the atheistic Soviet Union wasn’t bad enough, then, as is habitually pointed out, the world also suffered from another round of atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler and his allegedly atheistic Nazi Germany. Hector Avalos, in his article Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust, directly states the animadversion leveled against the atheists by a popular Christian apologist:

Dinesh D’Souza is able to charge atheism in Nazi Germany with some 10 million deaths, including that of 6 million Jews….altogether, D’Souza affirms that these big three atheist regimes [i.e., Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Mao Zedong’s China] have killed about 100 million people.

Avalos interprets D’Souza’s riposte to atheism as simply: Christianity may be bad, but atheism is a lot worse. “D’Souza is typical of many Christian apologists whose best response to the genocides committed by self-described Christians is that atheists have killed even more.”

Some of the atheist replies to these obloquies are as follows. Avalos, for example, turns things around by accusing Christianity of being the actual cause of the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany. “Nazism, indeed,” writes Avalos, “was very much at home in a long tradition of Christian anti-Judaism.” My favorite atheist author, Christopher Hitchens, blames these problems on men getting enraptured with delusions of their own cosmic grandeur. In his book God is Not Great, Hitchens claims that “the examples most in common use—those of the Hitler and Stalin regimes—show us with terrible clarity what can happen when men usurp the role of gods.”  It is as if the cosmic North Korea that Hitchens sporadically fulminates against has descended onto the earth in the form of these presumptuous madmen. It reminds me of what the economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Planned Chaos about Hitler. Warner Sombart argued that “the Führer received his orders directly from God, the supreme Führer of the Universe.” Apparently, tyrannical madmen have a proclivity to hearing voices and edicts from God himself.

Another defense of atheism that is often mentioned in discussions of Nazism and atheism is that of heavy Christian church involvement, which assisted Hitler and Nazism. Even the television Christian evangelist John C. Hagee in his tendentious work about why the United States ought to be a tool of the State of Israel points the blame for the Nazi atrocities at the Catholic Church. Hagee sees the Catholic Church as an interminable and implacable persecutor of his protagonists, the Jewish people. Writing with alacrity, Hagee says that

the world’s finest scholars have chronicled Hitler’s atrocities toward the Jews….I want you to see that church policy shaped the policy of the Third Reich. When Hitler signed the Concordant with the Roman Church, he said, “I am only continuing the work of the Catholic Church.”

The Plan for this Article

The plan for this article is to explore an alternative approach to addressing these charges of atheism being an inimical foe to peace, humanity, and civilization.

I first analyze what the Soviet Union is from an agorist or free market anarchist point of view. The essential point is that the Soviet Union is nothing but the monopoly problem coupled with an attempt to create some sort of godless religion imposed from on high for political purposes. Then I provide some recommendations for how atheists could go about achieving a workable atheism in the “real” world so to speak. At the very least, I hope that my recommendations will provide atheists with a useful way of defending themselves against apologetic accusations of the kind that say that atheism leads inevitably to violence and to tyranny.

An Agorist or Free Market Anarchist Interpretation of the Soviet Union, Its Ideology, and Its Quasi Religion

 The most striking comment made by Van Den Bercken is, with emphasis provided by me, this succinct observation: “The Soviet state is an ideological monoculture, and that is a modern variation on an old type of state: the theocracy.” According to, a theocracy may be defined as “a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.” To me it appears as though the Soviet Union is, in an anarcho-capitalist sense, nothing but a textbook example of the problem of the divine right of kings.

“The initial article of the young [Gustave de] Molinari, here translated for the first time as ‘The Production of Security,” writes Murray N Rothbard, “was the first presentation anywhere in human history of what is now called ‘anarcho-capitalism’ or ‘free market anarchism.’” And this story of the young Molinari developing the idea of free market anarchism is inextricably tied in with the history of the divine right of kings. Molinari writes so brilliantly and perspicaciously that I feel it would be a crime not to quote his book, The Production of Security, at length:

according to this system, which embodies the will of Providence in certain men and which invests these chosen ones, these anointed ones with a quasi-divine authority, the subjects evidently have no rights at all. They must submit, without question, to the decrees of the sovereign authority, as if they were the decrees of Providence itself.

Now returning to the Soviet Union, Van Den Bercken’s portrayal of the ruling class certainly sounds similar to an agorist ruling class theory analysis.  Just as Molinari’s book querulously attacks the idea of monopoly both in public and in private versions, so too Van Den Bercken pinpoints the problem of the Soviet Union’s “ideological dictatorship” in what he calls an intellectual monopoly. “The étatistic [i.e., statist] system of values in the Soviet Union,” he astutely observes, “strives, according to its nature, towards an intellectual monopoly in society.” This “intellectual monopoly,” just like all other monopolies such as central banks and public health care provision, engages in an immutable war against its most truculent adversary, namely competition. “As an ideological monoculture, the Soviet state cannot recognize any alternative or competitive ideologies…to do so would mean intellectual pluralism and the destruction of the essence of Soviet ideology.” In the Rothbardian analysis found in his book The Anatomy of the State, the ruling class circumvents any restrictions to its power by monopolizing the interpretation function. Speaking with regard to the American Constitution, Rothbard writes that “the Constitution was designed with checks and balances to limit any one governmental power and yet had then developed a Supreme Court with the monopoly of ultimate interpreting power” (bold emphasis mine). Similarly, in the Soviet Union, according to Van Den Bercken, the “interest [of the state] is determined by the political leaders—for it is they who have the right to interpret the ideology—they also determine the choice of the means. The state leadership, in addition to being the highest ideological doctrinal authority, is also the highest moral authority in the land” (bold emphasis is mine).

Let me now recapitulate. The Soviet Union is the zenith of the monopoly problem. I have stressed a few pertinent examples such as the intellectual monopoly and the interpretation monopoly; however, it should be trivially obvious that both an economic and a political monopoly existed as well. That is, after all, the essence of where I am going with this, namely, an all-encompassing dictatorship. The concluding part mentioned above rather religious sounding terminology such as “doctrinal” and “moral” with regard to the leadership of the Soviet Union. So let me close the circle and make clear how the Soviet Union—despite being atheistic of a very special kind—is actually theocratic by emulating the divine right of kings issue, which I raised at the beginning of this particular section.

The religious nature of the Soviet Union—this apparent paradox of an “atheistic religion”—is unexceptionably illustrated by both Van Den Bercken and by Paul Froese.  First, Van Den Bercken states explicitly that Lenin gave a “pseudo-religious character” to his strident anti-religion:

Since Lenin does not possess intellectual aloofness with regard to the religious question, his atheism has that consistently strong rejection of all religions, whether real or symbolic, theistic or secular, which meant that he was no longer able to see to what extent he gave a pseudo-religious character to his own anti-religion. (bold emphasis is mine)

To fully appreciate the religious-like nature of the Soviet system, consider some of the ways in which the Soviet leadership mimicked Christianity, as documented by Paul Froese in his paper Forced Secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an Atheistic Monopoly Failed. This was all part of a deliberate campaign: “as the anti-religious campaigns grew, so did their belief that religion could only be destroyed through a clever replacement” (bold emphasis mine). I have attempted to succinctly summarize some of the major points where the Soviet system is behaving like a religion (all bold emphasis is mine).
  1. “Red” weddings mimicked religious weddings with Communist officials donning robes and sanctifying the marriage. In other words, this sounds as if Communist officials are pretending to be clergy members. 
  2. They adopted “birth rituals” in order to mimic the Christian baptism ceremony.
  3. There was a godlike worship of the Communist elite. Many “mistook scientific atheism for a new religion and not an exit from religious belief altogether so that even those few who wanted to believe in the ideals of atheistic communism simply ended up praying to the gods of Lenin and Stalin.”
  4. The writings of Lenin were treated as sacred text from a prophet and became the final justification of any act. This seems to be mimicking the famous line from the pastoral epistle 2 Timothy 3:16, which says that “all scripture is inspired by God.”
  5. Stalin also promoted himself as the “Father” of his people, which seems to be mimicking the idea expressed in, for example, Philippians 4:20, which says “to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
  6. Soviets elevated political figures to transcendental status unbecoming the initial rhetoric of historical materialism. I suspect that this talk of the “transcendental,” which means “surpassing the natural plane of reality or knowledge, supernatural or mystical according to, is meant to mimic the idea that Jesus is supposed to be the supernatural creator of the universe as mentioned in the prologue to the gospel according to John.
  7. The Knowledge Society introduced a coming-of-age celebration called the “Summer Days of Youth” intended to mimic and replace church confirmations.
  8. Scientific atheists viewed any technology as evidence of atheism because it demonstrated that humans could work “miracles” that were not performed by God.
  9. Atheist preachers held “intellectual revivals” fashioned after religious revivals mimicking such things as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, which says “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
  10. Atheistic “science” in the Soviet Union became an ideology that avoided the scientific method altogether. This seems to mimic what Saint Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:7, namely, that “we walk by faith, not by sight.”
The inescapable conclusion is that the Soviet Union did create a mimicking pseudo-Christianity to function as a “replacement” religion for their enslaved subjects.

 The Implications of All of This for Achieving a Peaceful Atheism

Does the discussion above imply that atheism must ineluctably lead to violence, persecution, and a tyrannical dictatorship? It seems to me that the answer is simply that we can have a peaceful atheism despite what happened in the USSR, Nazi Germany or any of the other examples cited by Christian apologists.

The solution to this problem is irrefragably multifaceted; consequently, I do not claim to be providing exhaustive solution to the problem. Nevertheless, I do think that I can offer a respectable set of recommendations that will put atheists on the path toward achieving the goal of a peaceful atheism in real world practice.

It follows from Van Den Bercken’s discussion that two major types of atheism exist. If a person were to hold one type then he or she cannot hold the other type simultaneously. To attempt to hold both types of atheism simultaneously would inevitably lead to a situation in which this person would be holding two contradictory views of atheism. These two types of atheism are philosophical atheism and ideological atheism.

I have already covered ideological atheism at some length; this is because the Soviet Union is the textbook example of an ideological atheism. The other kind of atheism, philosophical atheism, as I will demonstrate momentarily, has a much better chance of bringing about a workable and peaceful atheism in practice. Let me summarize the two different types as presented in Van Den Bercken’s paper:

Ideological Atheism:

1.      Politically motivated
2.      Has a collective confession
3.      Categorical and intolerant of the beliefs held by others, i.e., only the “official” way of thinking is tolerated

Philosophical Atheism: 

  1. Not politically motivated; instead, scientifically motivated
  2. Does not have a collective confession; instead, is only an individual concern
  3. Not categorical or intolerant; instead, tolerant of the beliefs of others, i.e., favors intellectual pluralism 

The first recommendation, which flows naturally from the summary charts above, is to avoid the deleterious aspects of ideological atheism and to adopt the salutary elements of philosophical atheism. But notice what the defining characteristics imply. To me, the defining characteristics of philosophical atheism, which consist of science, the focus on the individual, and tolerance of contrary views while avoiding the political, the collective, and the intolerant, imply that atheism is feasible when combined with the mindset of individualistic anarchism. Consequently, my second recommendation is for atheists to embrace a non-collectivist and individualistic anarchism as the appropriate means for their desired end.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the bankruptcy of the ideological approach to atheism and to illustrate the advantageous nature of the philosophical approach is to cite a germane passage from Mohammed A. Bamyeh’s book Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity in which he states that Friedrich A. Hayek’s

central theme was “spontaneous order” a much more comprehensive view of how social order arises, in ways that include but are not limited to economic life. Hayek postulated that social life is made possible not by artificial large institutions that supervise society, but precisely in their absence, whence order develops spontaneously and becomes established, over time, as culture or expected patterns of behavior. These, in turn, work only to the extent that they are accepted, and they could be accepted, in turn, only if they have developed in conditions of freedom. (all bold emphasis mine)

Notice that, according to Hayek, the conditions that make social life impossible are also the conditions that describe ideological atheism. The first major characteristic of ideological atheism—Soviet atheism—is to politicize everything. Hayek mentions this when he says that society cannot work when it is supervised by “artificial large institutions”—he means government monitoring. In his book The Road to Serfdom, Hayek brilliantly cites Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin who says that “what has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven” (bold emphasis mine). The state becomes a “hell on earth” because man “tries to make” a heaven by means of using the total state. Notice that the idea of “trying to make something” through the state in a top down fashion is the complete opposite of the idea of spontaneous order. To put it tersely: collective planning does not work. The second major characteristic of ideological atheism is the collective confession. Hayek, on the contrary, does not want some “collective confession” to be imposed on people by some ruling class or quasi-priesthood class as was done in the Soviet Union; he wants the rules to emerge spontaneously and to be accepted by people freely. When I think of “collective confession” it reminds me of when I was forced to go to church as a child. The minister would read a short passage and the congregation was expected to recite back the correct response from the hymn book. This was called the “responsive psalm.” It always seemed to me to be a rather mindless way of acting, i.e., to just spout back perfunctorily what the official expected me to say. The third major characteristic of ideological atheism is intolerance. Hayek has implicitly ruled intolerance out of bounds by insisting that there be conditions of freedom.

Notice further that the conditions that do make social life possible are the conditions that describe philosophical atheism. The first major characteristic of philosophical atheism is that people are scientifically not politically motivated.  Hayek specifically says that he wants to get rid of the big brother approach of the surveillance society; hence, he is against politicizing everything. He wants to move decision making from the public or political sphere to the private or economic sphere. Moreover, if science is viewed as “thinking for oneself” then his idea of spontaneous order applies here as well. In a spontaneous order, individuals make choices by themselves using observable information such as prices combined with their own self-knowledge concerning their own personal tastes, their own personal preferences, and their own personal values. Notice how radically different this is from the Soviet Union’s ideological atheism. Under the Soviet model, the individual is deprived of a sense of self; the individual is deprived of the ability to make choices and is denied an individual conscience. As Van Den Bercken says of the depersonalized Soviet Union, “man has to relate his views of life, his ethical, epistemological and aesthetic systems of values to the interest of the state.” The second major characteristic of philosophical atheism is that the focus is placed on the individual not the collective. Again, Hayek’s idea is for order to emerge from the spontaneous ordering of individuals. The individual continuously adjusts his or her plan to the plans of others without institutions issuing orders from above. “It enables entrepreneurs,” Hayek writes in The Road to Serfdom, “by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, as an engineer watches the hands of a few dials, to adjust their activities to those of their fellows.” Finally, the third major characteristic of philosophical atheism is tolerance of the views of others. To me, tolerance is implied by the word freedom used by Hayek in his description of what makes for a viable social order.

Concluding Remarks

Michael Martin in his paper Atheism and Religion writes

in 1971 the prominent atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair argued that atheism was not the religion of the future since atheists, although numerous, were unorganized and complacent and were unwilling to fight the legal and political encroachments of Christianity in the United States. Christianity is gaining more and more political power, she said, and atheists are doing nothing to stop it.

I think that I have demonstrated that the solution is not to get atheists involved in the political process. Ideological atheism as practiced in the Soviet Union was a disaster. Or to put it even more starkly, the State is the cause of war in the first place; therefore, peace will NEVER be achieved as long as the state exists, regardless of who runs it, theist, atheist, agnostic, deist, etc. I think that I have shown that philosophical atheism is compatible with the values of individualistic anarchism. Since individualistic anarchism ensures that the State does not exist, it also ensures that war cannot exist. Therefore, to establish both peace and atheism in the “real world,” one should embrace individualistic anarchism. This can only happen by rejecting ideological atheism and by embracing philosophical atheism.