Samuel Edward Konkin III
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
| The dismal science|
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
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
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.
As was to be naturally expected, Konkin was not amused. Not long after Rothbard's attempt to discredit him and his ideas, Konkin took Rothbard to task for his comments. In a long reply, though notably not as long as Rothbard's initial verbal gambit, 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, just plain stupid.
In addition to taking some of Rothbard's right-libertarianism to task, one of Konkin's most notable criticisms was in pointing Rothbard's hypocrisy in claiming to be for the end of the state yet still encouraging people to use political processes it still controls and holds a monopoly on. Konkin was especially keen to point out that Rothbard's support of voting was misguided and illogical holding that actually bona fide anarchists wouldn't waste time "voting for masters" and instead seek out "the underground railway", or, put more simply, would seek out counter-economic tactics to undermine its power and self-interests. This he said would result in the state, not to mention the power elite who prop it up and depend upon it, will collapse enabling an opportunity for anarchism to become the norm.
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. The result being that Konkin for much of his life was made an obscure left-libertarian philosopher until his death in 2004.
Even after his death, many vehement right-Rothbardians carry on Rothbard's disdain for Konkin along with Agorism. The Mises Institute especially has barely anything about Konkin and his Agorism despite the fact that both stem directly from Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism. If you are game and 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 letter Rothbard addressed to Konkin. That's it really.
Influence in sci-fi
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 hyperinflation. 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.
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 its 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
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.
Konkin's philosophy has been recently experiencing a posthumous revival. 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 right wing of the libertarian movement has become a train wreck in recent years, 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 how that dumpster fire is still growing, it's no surprise that many of those who still identify as libertarians are going with Konkin's advice to ditch right-libertarianism in favor of going back to back to square one, veering more to the left in the process. 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 Carson credits this direction change as being rooted in Konkin's activism and Agorist philosophy.
- 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
- Konkin on Libertarian Strategy Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance May Day 1981
- Konkin's Reply to Rothbard
- Heider, Ulrike (1994). Anarchism: Left, Right and Green. San Francisco: City Lights Books.