RAW Week: "I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people," by Tom Jackson

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I never met Robert Anton Wilson, but after reading him closely for years, I like to think I know him pretty well. When I went to college in the 1970s, I encountered Illuminatus!, and it had a greater effect upon me than anything I learned in class. It's impossible to minimize the impact the book had on inspiring a new generation of libertarians, although Wilson was hardly an orthodox libertarian. (He wasn't an orthodox anything). Once, summing up why he didn't vote for the 1980 Libertarian Party candidate, he explained, "I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people." The attitude of wonder and skepticism toward what we can know about the world in llluminatus! is at least as important as the politics.

Partly because of regret that I never got around to interviewing him or even meeting him when he was alive, I started my RAWIllumination.net a couple of years ago. Decades of heavy reading in all forms of fiction and nonfiction have convinced me that Wilson is a major American writer who has not received the attention he deserves. This crops up on all sorts of ways. Years before Dan Brown wrote his best seller, The Da Vinci Code, Wilson covered much the same ground in a much better book, The Widow's Son. With help from other Wilson fans, I have used RAWIllumination.net to make available articles by Wilson and interviews with him that were not reprinted in his books.

I did get to meet Illuminatus! co-author Robert Shea once, and I would point out that his "solo novels" also deserve attention; they are available in cheap Kindle editions and in free versions at the official Robert Shea site, maintained by his son, Mike Shea. All Things Are Lights, a fast-moving historical novel set in the time of Saint Louis, is a thematic prequel to Illuminatus! which I believe almost any reader would enjoy.



  1. Perhaps the mystic triangles these RAW “Week” posts are dotted with should be replaced with  an Ouroboros?

  2. I don’t think most libertarians are ‘that kind of libertarian’ either, do some googling on ‘libertarian class analysis’ if you are curious what most (non-objectivist) libertarians feel about the poor and social classes.

    1. do some googling on ‘libertarian class analysis’

      Having done that, I now see that it’s not just the poor that are oppressed by those in power, the rich are also oppressed because they have to PAY TAXES.

      1. The very richest sliver of society benefits tremendously from the state. 

        The military industrial complex, the politically connected wall street bankers, big pharma, big oil with their free mercenary force called the ‘army’, etc. etc. In many ways, states act like reverse robin hoods.

        It’s possible to become a millionaire in America through hard work and inspiration. But most billionaires achieve that status in some way through the assistance of the state.

        We might consider a small manufacturer who has a net worth of $1M to be rich. But, when a giant politically powerful corporation that manufacturs overseas lobbys for a law that puts him out of business, he is indeed oppressed.

        So, yes, the state does oppress even the ‘rich’ – at the hands of the ultra rich.

      2. More generally, libertarian class theory has two classes of society: the productive and unproductive.

        Any productive are oppressed by the unproductive in many ways in the world today: patent trolls, organic and small scale farmers harassed by monsanto bullshit, businesses that maintain their market share by passing laws that hurt more productive but smaller businesses, taxpayers who pay for nonproductive enterprises such as war, etc.

        So what you say is true, but it misses the big picture.

    2. OK, so now you and your friend sasha can tell me how either of you address the problem of a Helen Keller without any family.

      This is usually when libertarians run screaming into the night, or say “somebody will provide charity, but not me” which is evasion that proves my point.

      Even in our current system, people with disabilities often end up living in the street, but at least there are a few programs available to them. If the charities can’t help them even with safeguards, how are they going to without it?

      The divide between productive and unproductive is far less moral at the bottom end of things, where even people capable of being productive are shut out of minimum wage jobs because employers demand desperation in their employees. How could it be less so without minimum wage?

      Would it really serve society to have no minimum wage, with the poorest slowly starving to death and homeless while working full time?


      1. Sorry, both are me, just quirks of disqus.

        Please note that I am not an Ayn Rand objectivist, and find something basically abhorrent about some of the places she goes (although I agree with her on some areas as well).

        There is strong evidence that people want to help the poor and create a good world for everybody. The continued popularity of voting for liberal social parties, for instance.

        Libertarians generally don’t believe that the state is a legitimate vessel for delivering social good, because it is too dangerous and prone to abuse.  If people want in their hearts to help the poor, why don’t they band together and help the disadvantages, instead of passing off that responsibility to assuage their consciences?
        The proper vehicle for helping those unable to help themselves are, basically, communities. People coming together to help each other on a personal level, in towns and cities. Also, families, churches, collectives, communes, etc. 

        The government taking a huge piece out of everyone’s money and pretending to solve the problem makes people much less likely to actually get together and help each other themselves.

        Listen to the RAW clip posted above. RAW is a voluntaryist, a market anarchist, an anarcho-capitalist, a panarchist, an anarcho-libertarian, a rothbardian, even a no adverb anarchist, etc. His views match mine very closely.

    1.  You don’t think presumptuously telling people what they believe is maybe not quite in the spirit of the OP?

      1. Heh, fair point I guess, but I still stand by the point that a libertarian with socialist leanings isn’t really a libertarian but an anarchist, if only because I find it far more concise to call myself an anarchosyndicalist than to have to say “Libertarian, but only in the sense that I believe the apparatus of government is fundamentally self-serving and is effectively used to perpetuate the problems that it purports to be trying to ease, and no I don’t hate poor people, quite the opposite in fact” every time somebody asks where I stand politically. It’s such a mouthful.

        1.  Yeah, that certainly is a mouthful.  I was just trying to say that political identity isn’t really a function of a series of binary choices, especially for people who identify as libertarians.  I think there’s a whole spectrum of views (probably more than one dimensional) that’s consistent with  “I’m not that kind of libertarian; I don’t hate poor people” and not all of them are necessarily oriented around socialism (depending on your definition of socialism I suppose).

  3. I haven’t been reading the RAW posts very carefully, so this is the first time I got the libertarian connection. Now I dimly recall that BB helped raise money for Mr. Wilson as he was dying in poverty. I’m sure he was a fine person, and I’m glad he didn’t hate poor people, but there are plenty of them dying in poverty without well-wired friends. Right now, with no time to wait for utopians to help them. Just sayin’.

    1. Of course it’s true, except that with most corporations it’s easier to boycott them, abandon them, choose alternatives, and have nothing to do with them.

      This is, by definition, impossible with governments.

    1. Libertarians aren’t anarchists – their entire philosophy disintegrates without a strong state that is able to rigidly enforce the property rights of individuals.  Some of them play at being anarchist, but those are the ones who mostly haven’t thought about the repercussions of their philosophy and how “no government” would cause havoc with their property rights.

      Libertarians just object to where the line for “what the state can do” is drawn.  They want it drawn where the state does as much as it possibly can to protect their own rights, but stops where protecting someone else’s rights interferes with their own rights.  Which is why libertarians often can’t even agree with each other on what libertarianism means – everybody draws that line differently because everybody has slightly different self-interests.

      1. Libertarianism is cut down the middle. Some are anarchists, some aren’t. 
        Those who are anarchists believe that it is possible to have property rights without the state to protect them; they see the state as giving a huge subsidy to rich people by protecting their property for free.

        The details of how this would work have been laid out by authors such as Rothbard and David Friedman.

        Many on the Koch/Cato/Reason side tend to be non-anarchist, and have a lot of influence; but the numbers of anarcho-libertarians are not insignificant.

    2. Many libertarians are very sympathetic the ideas of anarchism.

      For me, it just breaks down when you ask how a society might prevent markets from springing up without something resembling a state.

      If people want to trade and hold property themselves, what anarchist can prevent them from doing so?

      I have to admit, I don’t really understand leftist anarchism.

  4. This was a great troll comment by Wilson. There have been some good responses so far but I hope for more. The best troll will make you think twice.

  5. Yes, not all of us Libertarians are poor-hating Randroids. Some of us actually believe a freer society HELPS the poor. You can all commence fainting now.

    1. No, not all Libertarians are poor-hating Randroids. But the belief that people, “freed” from paying taxes, will easily fill the vacuum created by the elimination of government welfare programs is just as ridiculous as supersteel for train tracks.

      1. Rather that a society that allows people to pursue their personal economic goals without putting up too many barriers or threatening to ruin their lives over trifles is what helps the poor.

        As seen in countries such as India or China, when they actually allowed markets to work, poverty plummeted and living standards for all exploded.

  6. Here he makes an interesting observation about libertarian vs. anarchist labels, and gives a good explanation of anarchy:

    1. Great clip. he is basically saying he is not a Cato/GOP/LP Libertarian, but an voluntaryist/anarcho-libertarian of the Rothbard school, who are probably the most influential strain of libertarians today (the anarchistic Rothbard being a close personal friend and mentor of Ron Paul, for instance).

      As an side note, I saw Paul give a speech in Iowa back in 2008. He said almost the exact same words as RAW says there: “I have no problem with communism, as long as everyone has the choice to participate or not.”

      I think if he said he was an anarchist today, many more people would appreciate where he was coming from :)

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