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Monday, September 18, 2023

Rasa, and Jesse Walker, on RAW's politics

[This is a post by Rasa, on Facebook on August 8 in the "Robert Anton Wilson Group," on RAW's politics, that I thought would be worth sharing. The Management.]

Hilaritas Press is working on compiling a book of essays RAW wrote on politics. The working title is, "RAW Politics." We've been having a lot of discussions about the topic, and I'm making this post because today someone again tried to say RAW was a "Right-Winger."

That person posted a link to the 1969 article RAW wrote (or at least we think he wrote it. He used the pseudonym "Ronald Weston"), and the person asked, "Are you sure you are in the right group?" – implying that RAW was an anti-socialist (the guy's words) right winger. Not only did RAW change his opinions on a lot of things over time, but that article in particular was interesting for a number of reasons having to do largely with changing definitions and changing political realities.

It is useful to note that when interviewed years later, RAW had this to say...

• • •


Are there any existing political systems you admire?


Scandinavian socialism. I found the Scandinavians to be about the most admirable people in Europe. clean streets, a low crime rate, a general air of high civilization - luxuries for all and a total absence of slums, poverty, and ugliness. They seem very happy and productive, with one of the most way out futurist movements in the world. They're the California of Europe.

I hate to sound like a Marxist, which I'm not, but the reason you haven't heard about Scandinavian Socialism is because the media of this country is controlled by rich people who are scared shitless of socialism. They want Americans to think there's only one type of socialism, Soviet Communism, which is the kind of place where dissident scientists get thrown in lunatic asylums, all of which is true. Americans are paranoid about Russians but Scandinavians regard them with amusement; they're those backwards people who think that you can only have socialism by putting all the poets and painters in jail. The Scandinavian

• • •

In a discussion I had with RAW fan and Libertarian book editor for Reason Magazine, Jesse Walker, I asked him specifically about that "I am a Right-Wing Anarchist" article. Here's what he said:

• • •

So: Before Bob had a writing career, he went through Trotskyist and Randian phases. In the early '60s he mixed Tucker/Proudhon-style individualist/mutualist anarchism with ideas from Wilhelm Reich and other sources; he was a pretty doctrinaire anarchist at first, in ways that I suspect made him wince when he looked back later, and then he moved toward the more agnostic approach that became a big part of his general worldview. He mixed in other influences as well, from Fuller to Pound to Brooks Adams.

He stopped calling himself an anarchist for a while, then embraced the word again. He went through a period of supporting gun control, but eventually formed the Guns and Dope Party. In the '90s he presented anarcho-mutualism as his social ideal while suggesting that Scandinavian social democracy was the best real-world system available. (Around the same time, of course, the Scandinavian countries started adopting a bunch of market reforms. They're arguably more deregulatory than the U.S. now, but they also have a more generous safety net, which is a combination he'd probably appreciate.)

In one of his early Realist articles he called himself a "socialist." (A libertarian socialist, but he used the s-word.) In Prometheus Rising, he commented that "as indust-reality has spread, socialism has followed in its wake" and then noted in parentheses that "the author, being up-front about his prejudices, admits that he does not like it." By the end of the '80s, on the other hand, he was writing like a labor militant. (I can't help suspecting that the excesses of the New Left provoked a bit of an anti-left backlash from him, and then the excesses of the Reagan era pushed him in the opposite direction -- if not in his underlying philosophy than at least in who was annoying him the most at the moment.)

Through many of those shifts, from the '70s through the '90s (and maybe later), he spoke at libertarian gatherings. I ran into him at a Libertarian Party convention in 1993, where he was giving a talk and I was present on behalf of a now-defunct magazine. I asked him how close he felt to the party these days, and he replied that it depended on which segment of the party we were talking about. This particular convention, he added, was basically being run by the local chapter of NORML, so he was cool with them.

All in all, he wasn't that far from what people would call a left-libertarian these days. But that's an easy phrase to misunderstand, and it papers over the different ways he used "left" and "right" over a long career. If you want a single word to describe his politics, I think "mutualist" would be incomplete but accurate.

• • •

Here's a link to the full Dare interview:• • •

When I asked Jesse specifically about that article, "Why I am a Right-Wing Anarchist," he said,

As far as "Why I Am a Right-Wing Anarchist" goes, I agree that the title can mislead people -- the fact that it upholds pre-Columbian Native American societies as an ideal should indicate that this wasn't some sort of Randian argument. But I don't think he was making a joke when he used the word "right-wing"; this was, after all, just a few years before he wrote in SEX AND DRUGS that he was "a spokesman for an extreme right-wing libertarianism that prides itself on being more radical than left-wing anarchism.”… Better to figure that he had a quirky definition of "right-wing" in mind at the time and that he later discarded it.

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