Posts Tagged: Karl Hess


Karl Hess is now remembered as one of the founders of Anarcho-Capitalism, but in the 60s Hess allied with SDS and marched with the Black Panthers. Here he argues that the political economy of laissez-faire (let it be) and individual freedom mean nothing less than a revolutionary anarchism, allied with the peace movement, the New Left, and grassroots social organizing.

Unrest, riot, dissent and chaos notwithstanding, today’s politics is reactionary. Both left and right are reactionary and authoritarian. That is to say: Both are political. They seek only to revise current methods of acquiring and wielding political power. Radical and revolutionary movements seek not to revise but to revoke. The target of revocation should be obvious. The target is politics itself.

Radicals and revolutionaries have had their sights trained on politics for some time. As governments fail around the world, as more millions become aware that government never has and never can humanely and effectively manage men’s affairs, government’s own inadequacy will emerge, at last, as the basis for a truly radical and revolutionary movement. …

Support C4SS with Karl Hess’s “The Death of Politics”


Libertarians are in danger of forgetting a hero. In his lifetime, he had been the star of an Oscar-winning film, a writer whose best works appeared in Playboy, an outlaw who legally could hold no money, a children’s book author, a motorcycle enthusiast, and the most important member of the Republican Party. He was not a clean-cut, bow-tied, impeccably groomed academic. Instead, he was a hippy farmer and welder with a scraggly beard and thick wire-frame glasses.

The hero was Karl Hess.

Today, is proud to present never-before-seen footage of this iconoclastic freedom fighter. Recorded on VHS and 8MM tapes in 1987, the series captures Hess at his finest. A consummate idealist, he began as a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater before losing all faith in politics. His 1968 article “The End of Politics” was the beginning of what we know as modern libertarianism. His sympathies with the victims of police power and his anti-war outlook drove him to the New Left. His very close relationship with Murray Rothbard throughout the 1960s and 1970s left an indelible mark on both. Hess still has so much to teach us today about how liberty is not a policy or platform–it’s a life to live.

In the first of these five videos, Karl Hess (1923-1994) discusses the practical advancement of one’s own liberty. While he is quick to note the benefits of a political movement, Hess recognizes that an individual commitment to liberty is key. He recognizes the tension that libertarianism faces between the anti-political and Party activists, a divide that certainly persists today. …


U.S. Crisis Springs From Structural, Not Personal Failure

… Obviously, the problem with America does not derive from personality at all. We’ve had experience with too many different types to seriously believe that. Our trouble is more basic.

The American crisis is one of structure and scale. Our great leaders have not failed, but our great – and huge – institutions are failing, at this very moment. New characters in the same old roles will not solve our problem, for the roles themselves, not the players, are at fault.

Whether one approved or abhorred the war in Indochina, it is clear that the federal establishment, manned by “the best and the brightest” miserably misled the citizenry in conducting that war.

Everybody knows that the federal government promises a lot and delivers damn little, and pays for most of what it does deliver out of the earnings of individuals rather than the profits of great corporations.

Scale is not just a problem of the federal government. Indeed, a classic example of structural failure with which we are all familiar is the contemporary American city. In fact there is no major U.S. city which can point to an increase in governmental scale as ushering in a better life for its citizens. …


C4SS Feed 44 presents “Anarchism Without Hyphens” from the book Markets Not Capitalism, written by Karl Hess, read by Stephanie Murphy and edited by Nick Ford.

But anarchism is not an ideological movement. It is an ideological statement. It says that all people have the capacity for liberty. It says that all anarchists want liberty. And then it is silent. After the pause of that silence, anarchists then mount the stages of their own communities and history and proclaim their, not anarchism’s ideologies - they say how they, how they as anarchists, will make arrangements, describe events, celebrate life and work.

Anarchism is the hammer-idea, smashing the chains. Liberty is what results and, in liberty, everything else is up to the people and their ideologies. It is not up to THE ideology. Anarchism says, in effect, there is no such upper case, dominating ideology.

It says that people who live in liberty make their own histories and their own deals with and within it.

Feed 44:

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"Tactics may have to change. That is only wisdom. But direction? Never! The course is to liberty. The state is the enemy."



Ours is an era where the left has, in diametric opposition to Hess and Voltairine de Cleyre, become steadily more hostile to American culture — with their occasional attempts to invoke it coming off as insincere — while becoming wedded ever more intimately with its government, and anarchism seems to have difficulty remembering its anti-statism.

When the label of “libertarian” has become so diluted that a recent Playboy interviewee could in the same breath claim it while insisting he’s “not for” marijuana legalization, we need some public figures with Hess’s down-to-earth, plainspoken, yet unbending radicalism.



Karl Hess argues that defending individual property and freed markets does not mean apologetics for actually-existing economic arrangements or concentrations of wealth, which are dependent on colonial theft and state privilege. Quite the oppose, principles of individual property actually mean revolutionary redistribution of wealth away from state capitalists and towards workers and farmers, including support for militant reclaim-the-land movements, and the occupation of state-capitalist enterprises by organized workers and community councils.

Libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but … in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which is now called private. Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through
and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

[Genuine respect for property and marks] is a far cry from sharing common ground with those who want to create a society in which super capitalists are free to amass vast holdings and who say that that is ultimately the most important purpose of freedom …. Libertarianism is a people’s movement and a liberation movement.

This is the article that inspired Murray Rothbard’s Confiscation and the Homestead Principle, which was reprinted as All Power to the Soviets!

Support C4SS with Karl Hess’s “Property to the People! Expropriate the Expropriators!”


An Open Letter to Barry Goldwater

This is an article of Karl Hess’s, which appeared in the October 1969 issue of the New Left magazine Ramparts, pp. 28-31, was recently recovered and posted to the Fair Use Blog by C4SS Senior Fellow Charles Johnson. A point of historical interest, on page 131 of David DeLeon’s The American as Anarchist there is the following curious passage without citation,

“We should not disregard the perennial flowering of such criticisms of power and idealistic demands for a personal politics of individual fulfillment simply because (as Karl Hess remarked) the petals appear to be red and black instead of formally red, white, and blue.”

We think that we have tracked down, if not the source, at least a source for the sentiment found in the DeLeon passage. After reading the following article and being impressed by Hess’s impassioned plea for radicalism from his old friend Barry Goldwater, we at C4SS had republish Hess’s article here. Hess had been a close friend of Barry Goldwater during the early 1960s and had worked as the chief speechwriter in his 1964 presidential campaign.

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It probably isn’t the highest or hottest item on your agenda, but every now and then you might think about why we are now on opposite sides of the fence—or why the fence is growing more like a barricade every day. My side is what is loosely called the New Left, a position to which you will undoubtedly refer a thousand times in a thousand speeches but about which, if the present is an indication, you will know less and less the more often you mention it.

The thing that first attracted me to the New Left was the familiar ring of what was being said there. Decentralization. The return to the people of real political power—of all power. There was also something very attractive in the New Left’s analysis of the American corporate system and its use of political power to preserve and enlarge itself. The way the largest corporations had so strenuously opposed you and supported Johnson, for instance, certainly made it seem fruitful to ask why. Could it have been that you might not have played ball quite so well as he?

There was, of course, a seemingly dissonant sound in the New Left’s attitude toward American adventures abroad. You had championed, and I had fully seconded, the notion that, morally, American arms could and should be used anywhere to fend off incursions by THEM. The crucial question which I permitted, even forced, myself to ask—and which you must never face if you are to hold onto your position in regard to THEM—was simply Who are THEY? And, lo and behold, THEY turned out to be a lot of US. …


In this talk, Karl Hess discusses his break with the Right of America. The ethic of the Old Right as isolationist, anti-federal and anti-state was destroyed by the alignment against international communism. He surveys the struggles of the radical figures of the anticommunist right to connect their historical opposition to centralized power with a new philosophy which seemed to necessitate glorifying and reveling in it. With the rise of Nixon and Agnew, he sees the right-wing embrace of power fully realized, and that the Republican party had become nothing more than the American expression of Stalinism. 

Hess gains no comfort from the centralist liberals of the day, whose ideas of police reform involve teaching cops only to shoot straighter. Hess instead embraces the slogan of Power to the People and connects this tendency within the New Left to the embrace of full anarchism. The Right had grown tired of individuals, of people, of communities, saw the only true attainment of its goals through the institution of the nation-state. Hess saw the aims of the Left and of social revolution to be for “the people to be great and for the nations to be nothing”

Power to the People, Karl Hess Speaks at UCLA


"Yet Spain is a textbook illustration of two devastating criticisms of the consensus view made by anarchist Karl Hess in a July 1976 Playboy interview. First, when Hess denied “that the medieval monarchs were much different from our Presidents now,” and was incredulously challenged that “Surely, even as an anarchist you must be willing to admit that there are some differences between Presidents and kings,” he insisted: “Presidents achieve power by hoaxes and handshakes, while kings take the far less tiring route of being born. That is the only difference I can discern.” Second, while “Most analysts see the political spectrum as a great circle, with authoritarian governments of the right and the left intersecting at a point directly opposite representational democracy. But my notion of politics is that it follows a straight line, with all authoritarian societies on the right and all libertarian societies on the left,” with the opposite of both representative democracy and dictatorship being “a world of neighborhoods in which all social organization is voluntary and the ways of life are established in small, consenting groups.”"