The Politics    Friday, November 6, 2015

Property rites

By Eleanor Robertson

Property rites
David Leyonhjelm might not like the police but his ideal world can’t exist without them

“There is a saying amongst them that all cops are bastards,” said Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm on Tuesday. “The cops have earned that label, they have to un-earn it.”

Senator Leyonhjelm is here referring to interactions between fans of the Western Sydney Wanderers football club and police, which have become strained recently for reasons that differ depending on which side you ask. The comments sparked outrage from police, who labelled them “appalling”, and radio commentator Ray Hadley, who called Leyonhjelm “captain of the dills in the Senate”.

Regardless of whether Leyonhjelm’s judgement of the situation is fair, it was very amusing to hear a committed libertarian quote the radical anti-authoritarian slogan “all cops are bastards” (or ACAB) in an approving context. ACAB is shorthand for various anarchist critiques of police as an institution, which characterise existing arrangements as the illegitimate and coercive use of force to enact property-based subjugation of the working classes:

Anarchists know (or should know) that the police are not only the first line of protection for the maintenance of capitalist property relations … Outside of the realm of wage labor, policing has always been the primary way any authoritarian and class- based society informs those trying to survive in it that their lives are not their own.

Anarchists generally advocate wholesale abolition of the state, preferring to envision the ideal society as mutually beneficial, voluntary association based on collective ownership. This may be unrealistic, but their ACAB position is clear: the main function of state-sanctioned police is to protect the property rights of the ruling class by excluding everyone else, using violence if necessary.

Superficially, anarchists and Leyonhjelm are of the same mind here. The senator also believes the main function of the state is to protect private property, as he quoted philosopher David Hume arguing in his maiden speech to the Senate:

No one can doubt, that the convention for the distinction of property, and for the stability of possession, is of all circumstances the most necessary to the establishment of human society …

Of course Leyonhjelm, as a libertarian, believes this to be just, in contrast to anarchists and other hard lefties who see private property as theft from the commons and a violation of individual liberty. Accordingly, it is not Liberal Democrat policy to abolish the police; they must exist, in some form, to prevent the kind of arrangements anarchists wish to build.

The posture Leyonhjelm adopts when he rails against nanny-state coppers taking away our freedoms is one of anti-authoritarian defiance. He reminds us frequently that he’s in favour of our right to smoke and drink as much as we like, buy an embarrassment of guns and drugs, and be as racist as we please in public.

His inquiry into the evils of government overreach deals with all these topics, as well as the statist scourge of mandatory bike helmets and video game censorship. These freedoms, and the freedom of Western Sydney Wanderers fans to let off flares during matches, are the ones he considers to be urgently under threat. Smokers, cyclists and soccer hoons must be protected from the nanny state, which seeks to destroy their liberty under the spurious guise of reducing social costs associated with these activities.

But Leyonhjelm thinks very little of the idea that people should be at liberty to conduct their lives free of unreasonable racial offence. He wants the nanny state to monitor and regulate the impacts of wind farm sickness, a scientifically discredited phenomenon. He opposes the freedom of Aboriginal people to live dignified and materially secure lives by advocating for the elimination of all government support for Indigenous services.

And more fundamentally, the anarchists would say, Leyonhjelm opposes people’s freedom to move about the world without being restricted by coercive and involuntary regimes of private property enforcement. Leyonhjelm’s ideal society necessarily includes cops, no matter whether or not they’re bastards.


Today’s links

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Eleanor Robertson

Eleanor Robertson is a freelance writer and comedian living in Sydney. She writes for Guardian Australia, SBS Comedy and Daily Life.


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