Sharpton's Progressivism is authoritarian nationalism

Sharpton's Progressivism is authoritarian nationalism

By David S D'Amato

Sunday, May 10, 2015

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In his call for the nationalisation of police forces, Al Sharpton perfectly encapsulates the mainstream left -- frequently dead on target in the diagnosis, yet prescribing a remedy that would only exacerbate the infection. The problems Sharpton identifies, persistent police abuse, unaccountability, and distance between the police and the policed, are the results of a forced monopoly system, one in which arbitrary power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of law enforcement and court officials.

Nationalisation would compound these problems by even further centralising power, increasing the distance (both literally and figuratively) between policing decision-makers and policed communities, and eliminating the checks and balances generated by allowing people to "vote with their feet". Instead of municipal monopolies providing defence services, which have proven themselves dangerous enough, Sharpton would subject Americans to a single federal police force, echoing Barack Obama's ominous call for a "civilian national security" force back in 2008.

Sharpton's proposed remedy shows the mainstream left's true colours, rooted in the nationalistic, essentially fascist politics of the Progressive Era. The invocation of "fascism", in this context, should not be taken as mere name-calling. Rather, the ideas of the Progressive Era were self-consciously, even proudly fascist, a deliberate reaction against classical liberalism, calling for increased state management of the economy through bureaucratic expert oversight and collusion between political and economic power that blurred the supposedly hard-and-fast lines between the public and private sectors.

Professional police were very much a central feature of Progressive politics. Experts in government believed that professionalising police, creating a science of policing and separating officers from particular communities, would position officers above the vagaries of politics and place, thereby leading to safer, more effective policing. But reliance on ostensibly impartial expertise, allowing committees in remote seats of government to dictate rules to everyone, is just how we get the culture of impunity we see in police departments today. Held above competition and empowered by the militarisation and over-criminalisation of the war on drugs, municipal police departments have free rein to abuse the communities that they are meant to serve and protect.

Confronted with systemic problems created by the State's coercive interferences with and obstructions of human beings' natural patterns of life, Progressives like Al Sharpton call for more and stronger government. If Sharpton would look just a bit more closely, and question establishment reasoning just a bit more critically, he would see that the American Government has been the single greatest enemy of the poor and oppressed, especially black Americans.

The problem is not too little government power and centralised control -- it's too much. Market anarchists advocate a peaceful, decentralised society in which real competition is given free rein, no one possessing a legal monopoly to use force, no special group of armed men with badges given a monopoly. The State is the embodiment of legalised and legitimated crime holding itself above the basic rules that the rest of us have to follow. A less violent society in which individuals are held accountable requires vigilance against government overreach and the active devolution of existing government powers to individuals and networks of voluntary cooperators. The authoritarian reflex and its quick fixes are powerful, but they're neither genuinely progressive nor liberal.

David S D'Amato is the Benjamin R. Tucker Distinguished Research Scholar in Anarchist Economic Theory at the Center for a Stateless Society ( A Boston native, he is an attorney and now lives and writes in Chicago, Illinois.

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