Samuel Edward Konkin III

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Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947–2004) was a libertarian theorist, writer and editor best known for his variation on anarcho-capitalism he termed Agorism. He was also a minor figure in science fiction fandom and writing.

His beginnings as a political activist were as an ultra-conservative in the Social Credit party of Canada but he said he was radicalized by the libertarian movement as it was starting to take form during the late 1960s. He became opposed to political parties, especially the Libertarian Party, because he was against voting viewing it as a coercive act that went against libertarian principles.

Konkin's most famous contribution to libertarianism, not to mention anarchism in general, came due to a response from Murray Rothbard who challenged the anti-voting and anti-party libertarians to come up with some path to liberty of their own. Konkin's answer was The New Libertarian Manifesto: a booklet published in 1980 that helped bring Agorism into being and popularized his philosophy.

The New Libertarian Manifesto[edit]

The New Libertarian Manifesto advocated the growth of the underground economy outside of government control which would eventually lead to a showdown where the government would attempt to initiate force against the black market to suppress it. However the black market would be too strong by that point and the government would wither away out of irrelevance.

Konkin termed this black market the "counter-economy" and the advocacy and practice of it, "counter-economics". Konkin included a rather broad range of activities under the heading of counter-economics. Examples of this included truck drivers who drove over the speed limit, yard sales where sales taxes were not collected, illegal/undocumented immigrants, workers crossing union picket lines, prostitutes, smugglers, drug users and drug dealers.

Konkin Vs. Rothbard[edit]

Despite describing his Agorism as "left-Rothbardian" and crediting its creation to Murray Rothbard, the said person panned the book. He claimed Konkin's counter-economy could only ever consist of marginalia such as gambling and prostitution, but would never be able to address vital needs of mass production and manufacturing. He said it was absurd to lump together businessmen and factory owners skirting regulations together with the underground/illegal economy as if they were all consciously part of the same mass movement. One example of an organized counter-economy mass movement, said Rothbard, was the Mafia which doesn't exactly follow the libertarian non-aggression principle. Furthermore the black market in such countries, like the Soviet Union, were no threat to the state at all but may have helped extend its lifespan.[1]

As was to be naturally expected, Konkin was not amused. Almost immediately Konkin took Rothbard to task for his comments. In a long reply Konkin meticulously addressed all the major points Rothbard made. He countered, in a nutshell, by saying Rothbard's points were incorrect, inconsistent, ignorant and, in some cases, stupid.

He even went so far as to point out holes in Rothbard's philosophy. His most notable criticism was in pointing at his hypocrisy in claiming to be for the end of the government yet still encouraging people to use the political process. Konkin was especially keen to point out that Rothbard's support of voting was misguided and illogical. It's definitely not something an actual, consistent anarchist would do when there are other options that don't help legitimize the government.[2]

Coincidentally, Konkin's consistent anti-electoral ideology and advocacy of it was one of the key reasons he was largely kept out of the mainstream libertarian movement during his lifetime. His battles with Rothbard and his mainly right-libertarian supporters didn't help matters either.

Even to this day many vehement right-Rothbardians still look down on Konkin and agorism. The Mises Institute especially has barely anything about Konkin and his agorism even despite the fact that both stem directly from Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism. If you do try looking, you'll not find much other than a few snippets, a stub on their official Wiki for both Konkin plus agorism and the lengthy reply Rothbard wrote to Konkin.

Influence in Sci-Fi[edit]

Originally from Canada, Konkin eventually settled in Long Beach, California where he lived in the same apartment complex with several libertarian-leaning science fiction writers. Besides Konkin this also included J. Neil Schulman, Brad Linaweaver, and Victor Koman.

J. Neil Schulman's novel Alongside Night is dedicated to Konkin and based on his theories. The novel posits a future world in which an alternative economy, complete with its own underground currency, flourishes while the government-sanctioned economy is collapsing amid hyper-inflation. A "free market" economist who is a dead ringer for Milton Friedman is eventually convinced to switch his allegiance from the collapsing government to the emerging stateless economy. Linaweaver's and Koman's sci-fi writings also incorporate some influence from Konkin's political theories.

Neologisms[edit]

Konkin coined several terms, some of which have entered the mainstream. His most significant and lasting contributions may well be the terms Kochtopus, which has since been adopted as a term of derision by a wide range of people critical of the Koch family's money and political influence, and minarchism, which describes a state of affairs where the state still exists but is power has been stripped down to its barest necessary minimum, which Konkin saw as serving as a neutral arbiter for the enforcement of contracts and the prevention of fraud, aggression, and the destruction of property. Other terms he coined that have not encountered much usage outside of his own circles include left-Rothbardianism (another term for his own theories, meant to highlight their derivation from Rothbard before his shift to the right) and partyarch (anarchists who are members of political parties, institutions which Konkin saw as inextricably statist).

Well, At Least He Was Consistent[edit]

The New Libertarian gave advertising space to the Institute for Historical Review, a Holocaust denial group founded by Willis Carto. Konkin himself rejected Holocaust denial, but supported the IHR out of the belief that their freedom of speech was under attack.[3]

Legacy[edit]

Konkin's philosophy has been recently experiencing a post-humorous revival since his death. A notable example of this is Bitcoin many of whose more fervent advocates view cryptocurrencies as a counter-economy finally emerging and believe such currencies will supplant the existence of the government.

What's more, the libertarian movement has noticeably been veering more to the left and back towards its historical roots in recent years. This is something Konkin worked hard to accomplish during his life but was a goal that never gained much leeway initially. Left-libertarian writer Kevin Carlson credits this direction change as being rooted in Konkin's activism and agorist philosophy.[4]

Another factor may lie in how much of a trainwreck right-libertarianism has become, its growing alliance with paleoconservatism and right-wing populism in the '90s and '00s eventually giving rise in the '10s to the alt-right and neoreactionary movements that abandoned libertarianism altogether.

Given that dumpster fire which is still continuing to grow, it's no surprise that those who identify as libertarians are going with Konkin's advice to ditch right-wing libertarianism in favor of going back to back to square one.

See also[edit]

  • Dana Rohrabacher, his libertarian mentor who has since become a conservative Republican
  • Murray Rothbard, his most adamant opponent but also one of the biggest influences on the creation of Agorism

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Konkin on Libertarian Strategy Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance May Day 1981
  2. Konkin's Reply to Rothbard
  3. Heider, Ulrike (1994). Anarchism: Left, Right and Green. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
  4. https://c4ss.org/content/28216