Introduction: Charles Johnson is a web developer, a prolific left-libertarian writer and book author, a student of philosophy and sometime teacher of logic. He was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1981 and has lived most of his life in the South, especially in Texas and Alabama. He studied philosophy and computer science at Auburn University and spent about eight years living in southeast Michigan (Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) and Las Vegas, Nevada. He also spent a few summers teaching philosophy classes to gifted teenagers through the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. Today, he works on open-source web development, a number of individualist anarchist research and publishing projects and philosophical writing. He currently lives in Auburn, Alabama with his wife and has some interaction as weill with the Von Mises Institute located there. Some of this interview was provided in written form.
Daily Bell: You're quite prolific. Give us some background on yourself and your beliefs.
Charles Johnson: Sure, thanks. I'm an individualist anarchist writer, living and working in Auburn, Alabama, together with my beloved wife, Laura. I'm 30 years old; I've spent some time doing jobs from cooking pizza to teaching logic, and nowadays I make my living with a combination of open-source web development, freelance writing, and printing and publishing literature from the anarchist tradition. I've written columns appearing in libertarian and anarchist publications like The Freeman and Free Voices; I keep a long-running blog at radgeek.com, which has been in operation since 2001; and I recently co-edited a large anthology of market anarchist writing, called Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty, which brings together a lot of the themes that have run through my work on individual liberty, voluntary co-operation, social movements for liberation and structures of social and economic power.
As far as my beliefs go, I'm what you might call a left-wing individualist anarchist. My core political beliefs are based in an opposition to coercion, and government, and all forms of bossing and for a world based in free and creative ways of living. So I am a libertarian because I think that individual liberty and mutual consent are essential to any kind of humane and civilized social relationships. And I'm an anarchist because I think that any kind of government – no matter who runs it, and no matter how "limited" it may claim to be – is always going to mean coercion and social control. Both in itself (since coercion is the business of governments, even "limited" governments – taxes, borders, war, prisons and police), and also in the ways that governments use their monopoly on political control to protect themselves from challengers, destroy social or legal constraints on their unchecked power, and to amplify existing social inequality and immunize oppression from criticism. All of political life, as I see it, should be a matter of free relationships, voluntary participation, cooperation through free markets and civil society, not coordination coerced through political commands.
Now, in addition, I also think that the natural accompaniment of radical individualism, and of opposition to all would-be rulers, is an ethic that stresses spontaneous orders, social experimentation, horizontal or mutual relationships, rather than rigid institutions, authority, obedience, hierarchical or controlling relationships, in all social spheres – not only in political life, but also in civil society, culture, economic life, family and interpersonal relationships, in the ways we live and love and make a living together. I think that governments have a very strong propensity to actively encourage, and also to depend upon, other forms of social inequality, economic dependence, and oppressive social institutions, so libertarianism is as I see it naturally allied with the traditional goals of the anti-war, anti-authoritarian, and anti-statist wings of radical Leftism.
One important aspect of this is seeing that libertarian economics, while radically in favor of the free market, must be (therefore!) something other than the defense of actually-existing big businesses, or the predominant business practices of capitalists – because those business models and practices are themselves the product of a market which is anything but free. So, for example, as I've discussed in a couple essays (e.g. ), many of the most powerful symbols of American commerce and the corporate economy – Times Square and its advertising, the business models of the Fortune 500 corporations, and the personal fortunes of men like Bill Gates or Erik Prince – are really not the products of entrepreneurial talent or ruthless market competition, but rather of special zoning codes, government privileges, government-granted copyright and patent monopolies, and extensive tax-funded government contracts. Freed markets, without government control over money and credit, without trillion-dollar bail-outs to failing banks and their unsustainable business models, without for-profit eminent domain and government "development" grants and government-granted monopolies, without corporate welfare or the mass of regulations that crush small competitors and microenterprises and informal worker-run alternatives to corporate capitalism, would really look nothing like the corporate status quo, or the corporate economy of BP, Blackwater or Citigroup. Instead there would be far more small-scale and tiny-scale economic initiative, businesses that are smaller, more numerous, more local, and more often owned and managed by the people who work in them. You'd see a much greater dispersion of wealth and economic security, workers who are much more able to make a living outside of employment and the corporate economy.
Daily Bell: You recently co-edited a book with Gary Chartier (Markets Not Capitalism) – tell us about it.
Charles Johnson: Markets Not Capitalism is a collection of essays and articles that Gary and I had been working on for the past couple years, and which Autonomedia (graciously, and courageously) agreed to publish in November of last year. The book is intended as an extended introduction to the left-wing market Anarchist tradition – to the work of writers who defend market relationships, and who envision free markets, individual ownership and voluntary exchange as a central part of peaceful, uncontrolled economic life – but who also reject the common statist claim that market relationships must or should or will be accompanied by capitalistic patterns of ownership – by large-scale concentration of wealth or capital goods or social power in the hands of a select class of employers, landlords, or financial institutions.
We say in the introduction: "Market Anarchists believe in market exchange, not in economic privilege. They believe in free markets, not in capitalism. What makes them anarchists is their belief in a fully free and consensual society – a society in which order is achieved not through legal force or political government, but through free agreements and voluntary cooperation on a basis of equality. What makes them market anarchists is their recognition of free market exchange as a vital medium for a peacefully anarchic social order. But the markets they envision are not like the privilege-riddled 'markets' we see around us today. Markets laboring under government and capitalism are pervaded by persistent poverty, ecological destruction, radical inequalities of wealth, and concentrated power in the hands of corporations, bosses, and landlords. The consensus view is that exploitation – whether of human beings or of nature – is simply the natural result of markets left unleashed. The consensus view holds that private property, competitive pressure, and the profit motive must – for good or for ill – inevitably lead to capitalistic wage-labor, to the concentration of wealth and social power in the hands of a select class, or to business practices based on growth at all costs and the devil take the hindmost.
"Market anarchists dissent. They argue that economic privilege is a real and pervasive social problem, but that the problem is not a problem of private property, competition, or profits per se. It is not a problem of the market form but of markets deformed – deformed by the long shadow of historical injustices and the ongoing, continuous exercise of legal privilege on behalf of capital."
So the writers in the book argue, from many different perspectives, and in many different ways and on many different topics, that capitalistic patterns of ownership and economic centralization pose very real problems, but that the best way to confront the problems that come from these economic privileges is to challenge and ultimately to abolish the political privileges that prop them up – to undermine capitalism by removing politically-guaranteed monopolies, and freeing the market for grassroots alternatives.
The book is a big one – about 428pp – and a diverse sampling from a pretty mixed-up, experimental sort of conversation. Left-wing market Anarchists have generally been on the margins of a lot of movements, with their best insights coming from cross-pollination and conceptual experimentation, rather than from transmitting the views of the mainstream in their movements and social milieus. Part of the reason we wanted to put this book together is because other books on anarchism, libertarianism, or capitalism so often oversimplify, or simply neglect, this part of the conversation. So we have brought together historical pieces from the mutualist and individualist Anarchist tradition, including work by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker, Dyer Lum, and Voltairine de Cleyre; there are also more recent pieces from the "New Left" phase of the American libertarian movement – a really interesting pair of pieces by Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard on the question of property rights and the corporate empires that have accumulated wealth through the state and the military-industrial complex; as well a long essay by Roy Childs on the role of the state in the monopolization of wealth in "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism;" and finally, a number of articles by contemporary left-libertarian writers like Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, and some chapters by me and by Gary. The book covers some of the left-wing market anarchist conversation on the problem of deformed markets, the nature of capitalism and socialism, the ownership of property, corporate power and labor solidarity, neoliberalism, privatization, and redistribution of wealth, inequality and social safety nets, barriers to entry and fixed costs of living, and freed-market regulation, social activism and spontaneous order. Gary and I hope that book will help to provoke questions, and stimulate conversation among libertarians, anti-authoritarians, and social justice movements of all varieties about the sources of economic inequalities and most fruitful path towards human liberation.
Daily Bell: You also recently wrote a longer essay called "Toward a dialectical anarchism." Tell us about it.
Charles Johnson: Well, "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity" is one of my main attempts at an extended programmatic statement of my political approach, and the arguments in favor of it. The essay originally appeared in 2008 in Roderick Long and Tibor Machan's anthology, Anarchism/Minarchism: Is Government Part of a Free Country? (from Ashgate Press), and is now available as a standalone essay online and in print. The main purpose of the essay is to make an argument for individualist Anarchism – in particular, to show that any consistent commitment to libertarian principles entails opposition to all forms of government – anarchism, not "limited state" minarchism, and that arguments from Roy Childs and Lysander Spooner ultimately undermine the legitimacy of any form of monopoly government. Along the way, the essay argues that libertarian anarchism is best understood from what the neo-Objectivist scholar Chris Sciabarra has called a "dialectical" orientation in social theory, as part of a larger effort to understand and to challenge interlocking, mutually reinforcing systems of oppression – including statism as an integral part, but only one part among others. A close examination of the dialectical approach to anarchism will also, I think, show that libertarianism, properly understood, is not only logically committed to anarchistic conclusions, but also the natural companion of revolutionary Leftism and radical feminism.
Now, of course that's just a sketch of the conclusions of my argument, not of the reasons I give in order to make the argument. And whether or not you find that kind of claim compelling or counterintuitive or simply bizarre is of course going to depend on where you're coming from initially. I think there are some reasons why many libertarians have historically been very skeptical about this kind of approach – reasons which I explore in the essay itself – but also why they ultimately ought to find it convincing, all of which involves an argument that's somewhat more involved and complicated than what I can pot in this interview, and I can only recommend reading through the essay in order to get why I believe those things. But I hope that, whether or not you find those reasons ultimately compelling or weak, that it may offer some useful conceptual work in getting clear on some important conceptual issues in understanding libertarian political theory and its relationship to the Left – about the distinctive kinds of powers that sovereign states claim, the difference between Anarchistic theories of legitimacy and statist theories of legitimacy, the varieties of "equality" that might matter to a social theory, and how libertarianism can interconnect with other kinds of social and cultural commitments.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your family. How have things changed in the US for someone like yourself with an accomplished family?
Charles Johnson: Well, my mother is a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. My father is a professor of Political Science. Both my father and my grandfather were involved in the American libertarian movement in the 1960s – they were both friends and students of Robert LeFevre's, and my grandfather was closely involved in activism and writing for free-market medicine during the controversy over the adoption of Medicare. I originally came to the libertarian movement by a very route from my father and my grandfather – I was involved in radical activism as a college student, especially in feminist and antiwar groups, on abortion rights and work against rape and domestic violence and organizing against the Iraq War. As part of the class of '99 it was hard to avoid conversations about anarchism and Seattle and the counterglobalization movement. I became a social Anarchist and ultimately was drawn into an interest in market Anarchism from the Left – as a new way to understand the commitments I had always had as an anti-authoritarian Leftist, to bring those commitments into practice in a practical way.
I'm not sure I understand the question about how things have changed in the US for my family. Of course a lot of social and political changes have come and gone, or come and stayed. The end of the Cold War had a really big and formative effect on me – since I grew up remembering a world in which politics was all about a perpetual, suicidal showdown between superpowers, and in which nearly all of political life was channeled into questions of state allegiances and geopolitical strategies. But then witnessed, within only a few years of each other, the people-power movement in the Philippines, the wall falling in Berlin, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the breakdown of the Soviet coup in the face of mass resistance. All these imperial bonds, and geopolitical structures which everyone had believed would stand forever, or until they annihilated each other, suddenly collapsed, not because they were conquered by one or the other rival empire, but because they were abandoned and dismantled by grassroots social movements.
Daily Bell: You wrote an official statement for a secessionist republic of one. Tell us about it.
Charles Johnson: My website at radgeek.com is half-jokingly described as "official state media for a secessionist republic of one." That one being myself. My view, which I argued for in "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity," is that it's very important to recognize that the authority states claim is not just unjust, but actually fraudulent – when they claim the right to rule over you, to determine your associations and control your peaceful interactions with others – It is not just that they are doing something to you that they ought not to do (although they are). It's also that they are claiming to do something that they do not, and cannot do – exercising a binding authority and claiming an allegiance that they don't really have over you. As an Anarchist I believe that the only real form of sovereignty is individual sovereignty, and we are all tiny sovereign republics of one. Radgeek.com is, if anything, sort of an ongoing, sustained attempt to put that message out in a clear and convincing and hopefully entertaining sort of way.
Daily Bell: Why are you known as "Rad Geek?"
Charles Johnson: Well, "Rad Geek" is a signature that I use online, which is anchored in my website at radgeek.com. I use it in part because it's a joke about my personality and my interests (I've always been part of the geek subculture, fannish about computers and sci-fi and intellectual puzzles; and I'm politically radical; and in many ways I am not only a geek who is politically radical, but also radically, i.e., deeply and systematically geeky, and geeky about the history and thought of radical social movements). Also in part just as a way of differentiating myself. "Charles Johnson" is a name that a lot of people have, including a prominent ex-conservative warblogger whose views and attitude towards the political world are, well, very different from mine. So it helps sometimes to have a signature that's unique to me.
Daily Bell: You wrote an essay, "All I need to know about the Revolution is what I heard in Vegas." Expand please.
Charles Johnson: That essay is a sort of getting-to-know you talk that I gave on behalf of the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left, which is intended to introduce some of the basic ideas behind ALL, how it differs from electoral organizations like the Ron Paul campaign or the Libertarian Party, and how libertarians might go about trying to realize their goals through means other than electoral politics. Also how libertarian means are not necessarily in conflict with – should indeed be seen as the best means for achieving – a number of goals traditionally associated with the left – such as, say, economic equality, racial justice, feminism, gay liberation, ecological sustainability, or labor solidarity and a decent living for poor and working-class people. My view is that discussions have often started from the assumption that libertarian principles and these kind of Leftist social commitments are in conflict with each other – and I hope to challenge that assumption.
Daily Bell: You're a founding member of the "Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left." Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
Charles Johnson: Well, I hope not! But it is a name that's intended to provoke a reaction, and draw out a question. The question is this – whether libertarianism is really a conservative idea, or whether instead social freedom is the best way to bring about social goals traditionally associated with the left, whether a free society would tend in fact to help foster social solidarity with those who have traditionally been socially or economically marginalized, and to promote the kinds of institutions and cultural practices that decentralist leftists, feminists and green thinkers have tended to promote. The view in ALL is that we can and ought to struggle for left-wing goals through libertarian means – by challenging political privileges that prop up social inequalities, by identifying libertarian ideals with their radical anti-war, pro-civil liberties, pro-immigrant, and anti-authoritarian implications, and by making use of nonviolent, grassroots social activism (from public protests and pickets to boycotts to labor organizing and strikes to the development of mutualistic counter-institutions). We think that many of the things that leftists typically criticize – corporate power and social inequality, for example – are social privileges that are fostered by political monopolies and legal privileges. (So for example if you want to know why finance capital so dominates the economy, or why employers and large corporations have so much control over economic life, then the answer is going to have something to do with the way that government has suppressed smaller-scale alternatives, spent trillions of dollars bailing out failed banks, and propping up the corporate economic model at the expense of working-class alternatives.) So we are working for peaceful social equality together with – by means of – individual liberty from government control.
Daily Bell: You write for Anti-war and run an occasional blog of anti-war cultural artifacts, Dulce Et Decorum Est. Where do you stand on US wars and why?
Charles Johnson: I am opposed to war – whether by the U.S. or by any other government. I think this is absolutely central to any kind of libertarianism – War is the health of the State, as Randolph Bourne teaches us, and the most powerful, most vicious, and most violent States on earth are those that have gone to war. I protested the war on Afghanistan in 2001 and got involved as an organizer in the peace movement in 2002, when Bush started publicly ramping up for the War on Iraq. I think that these wars – as well as Obama's wars on Pakistan, Libya, et al. – are just like all the other wars that the U.S. Government has engaged in – brutal acts of mass murder, perpetuated by a senseless and unjust demand for global political control.
Daily Bell: Are there any good wars? Has the US participated in any?
Charles Johnson: I don't think so. When I say I'm anti-war, I don't just mean that I'm against The (Current) War here and now (although of course I am); I mean that I'm against all government wars, on principle, in every nation and in all ages. Most people who oppose this war or that have some underlying idea of a "Good War," which they think the current war fails to live up to – in America they usually have World War II in mind, or possibly the American Civil War. Usually because they think that what they imagine to have been the "goal" of the war was basically just, whether or not the conduct of it was on the whole the sort of thing that they would approve of. I think that this is a really grave error, a serious misstep right at the start of your thinking about war. Whatever the stated "goal" of a war, the government always has goals of its own, which have everything to do with power and nothing to do with the Cause that they claim the war is for. And government's conduct in the war – scorched earth, firebombs, internment camps, political prisoners, terror bombing, the capture and redirection of all life into the State and its war machine – are always an evil that even the best stated intentions could not justify, because there is nothing that could justify treating other people than that. In fact, I think that the wars that people tend to be most invested in passing off as "good wars" – wars like World War II or the American Civil War – are typically the worst, most ghastly wars in recorded history.
Daily Bell: What is war? Who promotes it and why?
Charles Johnson: The important thing to realize here is that war is something more than just the use of force. I think that in general we are much too ready to use force to settle political issues; but I'm not a pacifist or a non-resistant. I believe that when people are attacked – whether by random criminals, or by the organized efforts of an invading governmental regime – then they have every right to defend themselves against violent oppression. And they have the right to defend themselves by force if they need to.
But wars are not simply exercises of self-defense against invasion. War is the business of states; and states fund war by coercion (for example, by extracting taxes from people whether or not they consent to the war supposedly being carried on in their names, or by conscripting soldiers to fight in wars that they do not support). They wage war by means of massive, collective violence – by attacking the "enemy" country, and the people in it, in order to try to get at its government – even though this inevitably means maiming and killing masses of innocent bystanders, ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with the bad deeds of the government that rules them, and people who are, if anything, the primary victims of the government supposedly being attacked. States go to war over political interests – the defense of territory or diplomatic power plays or "vital national interests" – in ways that have little or nothing to do with defending the safety of any identifiable person. (The claim that a war like the invasion of Iraq, say, had anything to do with defense in any sense other than "the defense of the United States government's power" is, of course, absurd on its face. But I don't care about the United States government and I don't think its power is something it has any right to defend.)
I think there are as many different answers to the question of "who promotes war" as there are wars – history is a complex thing, and politics is the result of a lot of forces colliding with each other. Sometimes wars are fought by governing elites that have some basically economic stake in the conflict – in order to seize control over resources, or to break competitors, or simply to secure a steady flow of state contracts and the health of the military-industrial complex. Other times they have other stakes – diplomatic stakes, or simply an effort to maintain alliances or assert imperial strength. But it is clear that governments themselves benefit powerfully from waging wars – because of the power that war allows them to seize, both at home and abroad; a lot of reasons will do as reasons to go to war, because governments are structurally predisposed to go to war, and to enhance their position by waging war against each other.
Daily Bell: Why aren't you a constitutionalist?
Charles Johnson: Well, I am not a constitutionalist because I am an Anarchist, and constitutions are after all a way of trying to set up governments, and to get governments to act in one way rather than another. I don't think governments should act in any way, or that they should do anything at all; the only good government is an abolished one.
Now, written constitutions are often sold as an attempt to limit government. But they are, at the end of the day, just another attempt – as I see it, an attempt that is always useless or worse than useless – to restrain government through means of legal institutions, rather than social resistance.
As a matter of principle, I think that government constitutions are not necessary to protect people's rights or liberties: people have the rights that they have because we are human beings, not because of what a piece of paper or a government court says. And we can and should stand up for, and defend, those rights whether or not we can find them in a written constitution or a legal ruling.
Nor are they proper as a means of organizing social institutions. The main effect of a written constitution is typically to enable government, not to restrain it – to authorize and regularize the collection of taxes, the defense of government borders, and the organization of government law making. And that is I think an ultimately evil effect. Lysander Spooner's No Treason does a brilliant job of demonstrating how government constitutions cannot possibly satisfy any requirement for the consent of the governed. Real consent to a political compact would have to be consent that's given freely, individually, explicitly, and revocably. But government constitutions don't have that – they are not contracts that we are asked to sign, or agreements that we can refuse or revoke or withdraw from. They're political obligations that are, at best, imposed on all by a majority vote. (More often, they are imposed by a politically powerful minority – a ruling council or a victorious army after a civil war.)
As a matter of practice, even if written constitutions were a legitimate basis for government – which I deny – then it seems to me that they are actually useless for the stated reasons given for adopting them (e.g., to limit the scope and power of government).
Daily Bell: Why are appeals to the US Constitution futile, even harmful – as you have suggested?
Charles Johnson: I've discussed this somewhat at my blog, but in general, my view is that the nature of government makes it essentially impossible to limit, in any kind of long-term or practically effective way, by means of legal procedures. Government is, first and foremost, the nationalization of law – an institution that exercises a monopoly over legislation, legal judgment, and legal enforcement within the territory and on the issues it claims jurisdiction over. But that means that any legalistic means of trying to limit government power is always going to be interpreted and enforced by the very institution whose power it is supposed to limit. Not surprisingly, government constantly rules in its own favor, and the words in a written constitution hardly ever provide any serious check to their power-grabs.
Now, there are ways that people can constrain governments from outside to be stricter in their interpretation of constitutional limits. Most constitutionalists, don't think that written constitutions alone are enough to limit government power, but rather believe that you need a written constitution along with an activist populace. So if there is a strong resistance, culturally and socially, to overreaching government, if people are engaged and jealous of their liberties, if they are constantly putting social pressure on government to take a liberal view of people's rights and a very restrictive view of government powers, then they may well influence the kind of rulings that government judges are likely to make, and this can effectively place short-term roadblocks in the way of government power. But at this point I don't see what real role the Constitution is playing anymore. It's the social pressure that's doing all the work. A constitution without an activist populace does nothing to protect anyone's rights; but an activist populace can constrain government's actions and protect their own liberties whether or not those liberties are written into a paper constitution.
But given that that's true, I think that appeals to Constitutional protections are really not only useless, but often actively harmful, to developing that kind of activist culture. Because we ought to be focusing on moral and social demands for liberty and justice, whatever the law may say, not trying to fall back on legal formalisms and judicial interpretation. Legalistic arguments seem sophisticated but they are really just sophistical – a kind of quicksand where we sink further and further into arguing over trivia, like the intentions of long-dead politicians, or what "regulation" or "unreasonable" might have meant in the 1780s, or whether the comma in the Second Amendment is intended to make the Well-Regulated Clause merely prefatory to, or an ablative absolute related to, the operative Keep and Bear Arms clause, etc. etc. etc. This has nothing to do with building a culture of resistance; this kind of argument just bogs down the discussion, enervates social movements, and brutalizes political arguments. I think it's essential that we keep argument at the level of the social and ethical – the right way to treat your fellow human beings, what kind of obedience a government can or cannot command, how free and equal people ought to relate to each other – rather than conceding our liberties to historical treaties or lawyers' verbal duels.
Daily Bell: You've written about how "cops see themselves." Explain, please.
Charles Johnson: The way that government police are trained to see themselves, and the way they are continually pressuring us to see them, is closely connected with repressive violence at home, and with the violence of imperial foreign policy. In many ways we are increasingly pressured to discuss government police officers as if they were soldiers, and government police forces as if they were occupying armies patrolling hostile territory. This is in part because of the escalation of violent, militaristic rhetoric (as we are told over and over again that police are there to fight metaphorical or literal "wars" – a "War on Crime," a "War on Drugs," to serve as "Homeland Security" in a "War on Terror," etc. etc. – and that the rest of us are either the enemy, or at best helpless and defenseless "civilians"). And it's also due to the practical reality of who become police, what legal powers they are given, and what kind of equipment they are sent out with – the "War on Drugs" and the drive for incorporating police into "Homeland Security" have played a major role in ensuring that police are trained in a military chain of command, exempted from most civil accountability for the force that they use "in the line of duty," and increasingly heavily armed, equipped with powerful assault weapons, and even with tanks, helicopters, and other tools of mechanized warfare.
Daily Bell: You write about the violent ideals of masculinity and patriarchy. Explain please. Also, you describe yourself as Libertarian Feminism. Explain please.
Charles Johnson: I'll try to answer these two questions together. In addition to being a libertarian I am also a radical feminist. (It's actually, originally, because of my interest in radical feminism that I got interested in libertarian and anarchist political ideas – because of the criticism that feminist writing posed to the violence behind ideals of political control, military greatness, and the imperial state.) I think that if you want to understand why so much of human history and human culture have been so dominated by statism, and rigid institutions of power, and by the most violent, warlike states above all, then I think you have to look at the way that we men, in particular, have been brought up to view our identity as intimately tied up in our capacity for violence and mastery – our ability to act as warriors, bosses, and leaders. Feminists have done some really excellent work digging into the way that men have often cultivated violence and social power as a means of controlling women and children; and how the most violent, most powerful men then have formalized this power into governments and laws, by which all men can dominate women and children, and some men (kings, priests, presidents and warriors) can dominate all the rest. If we want to get out from under war and the warfare state, then I think we need to move towards a culture that is much less caught up in these ideals of force, ambition, power, sanctified violence and enforced control. Which will mean challenging some really deep aspects of how men, in particular, have been taught to think about ourselves and our relationships, and how we ought to relate to women, girls, and to each other as men. I talk a bit about these connections in , and also here: .
Daily Bell: You wrote an essay, "Women and the Invisible Fist." Explain please.
Charles Johnson: There have been several versions of "Women and the Invisible Fist" that I've presented in different venues – you can read a number of versions, some of them relatively breezy, and others more academic or technical, at . The essay is essentially an exercise in radical libertarian feminism – an attempt to get more clear on the concept of "spontaneous order," as developed by Hayek and frequently used in libertarian writing, and to see whether the concept can help us to better understand the claim that is being made by radical feminist theories about the role of widespread, systemic violence against women in upholding male power socially. (In particular, the essay focuses on an interpretation of Susan Brownmiller's writing about stranger-rape, as presented in her book Against Our Will.) I think that these theories are correct, but whether correct or incorrect, I am certain that they are very widely misunderstood, and caricatured, and unfortunately this happens pretty often in libertarian circles. For the details of the argument you'll just have to read the essay, but briefly, I think that trying to read Hayek's and Brownmiller's work together, and putting them in conversation with each other, may have some very important things to teach us something both about libertarian theory and about feminist theory – to see ways in which the insights of these thinkers can help clarify each other, how radical libertarians must consider whether there are extensive forms of political coercion (such as rape, battery, and other forms of violence against women) which operate alongside, but outside of, state policy. And how, on the other hand, libertarian theory may offer something of use to radical feminists, in articulating what is distinctive about feminist theories and the decentralized, grassroots, non-state responses that feminists have often urged to the challenge of male violence.
Daily Bell: Explain your views about unions. How do these fit into your leftist perspectives generally?
Charles Johnson: I think that unions, properly understood, would be an essential part of a flourishing freed market. This view seems odd, if not downright bizarre, to a lot of conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians. But I think that we need to look carefully at what a union is here and what roles labor associations have historically served. It's true that unions today are politically privileged in various ways, closely connected with the regulatory state, and usually dependent on the political patronage of welfare state liberals and social-democratic politicians. But that's because unions have been politically captured over the past century, not because unions per se are dependent on political privilege. People have a right to associate with each other, and they have a right to quit, either individually or en masse, and they have a right to pool their resources with each other in order to drive a harder bargain with the boss, or simply to gain ownership of their own shops, and develop alternative livelihoods that don't depend on having any employer at all. If you have all that, you have the core activities of a labor union, and I don't think there's any reason why a fully freed market would lack, or would punish, people trying to work together with each other in these ways.
Many libertarians are inclined to talk as if unions were the greatest enemy of economic freedom, and I think this is just a mistake. It's an interesting historical question how unions came to be so closely associated with the regulatory state. And I think the answer is that in the early 20th century, governments made a concerted effort to capture and domesticate the labor movement – by creating a structure of government patronage, with government strings attached to it. What happened here is not really any different from what happened, in other decades, to medicine or to education, which had been matters of free association and market relationships, but increasingly came under the control of political regulations, by means of "public" subsidies and privileges granted to doctors and to schoolmasters.
The tendency of economic conservatives to dominate discussions about unions and "free markets" has been really damaging to libertarian understandings of what a freed market might look like – because the attack on unions has generally led to a sort of default assumption that a market without government control would also be a market without any significant or powerful worker-run associations. So the model of a free economy tends to be overwhelmingly skewed towards a corporate economy, in which bargaining is dominated by take-it-or-leave-it demands from employers, and by centralized corporate ownership of most capital and most natural resources. I think on the contrary that a free economy might very well have more and stronger unions, with more radical demands and a much more prominent role in economic life. (Just as freed-market education would not mean that people would get less education; there would almost certainly be a dramatic expansion in the educational options available to ordinary people.) And the demonization of unions has had two other potentially really harmful effects: it has tended to lead many libertarians to ignore the extensive regulatory controls and limits that government regulation has imposed on unions (the strings that are attached to the government privileges; to keep your status as a recognized union, you have to give up on the most radical, and most important, demands and methods that labor organizers traditionally used before the NLRB, such as the use of wildcat strikes, sit-down strikes, "secondary" or sympathy boycotts, "hot goods" strikes, etc.).
And it has also tended to distract attention from the real beneficiaries of government intervention in the economy. Whatever benefits the UAW or the Teamsters may derive from state industrial policy, it seems to me quite obvious that folks like General Motors, General Electric, General Dynamics, or Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase have received a great deal more, and are in fact much – to the tune of literally trillions of dollars – and are more dependent on the power of the state for their ongoing survival. Under bailout capitalism, it is predominantly the large corporations and economic power players that benefit from, and drive the direction of, state intervention, not workers' organizations, and if we lose sight of that then we are going to spend a lot of time and energy chasing shadows, or trying to prune branches off of the tree of power, when what we really need to do is dig up and strike at the root.
Daily Bell: Is the US a failing empire?
Charles Johnson: I think it's unquestionable that the U.S. is an imperial state – the territory of the U.S. itself is the product of a long history of continental and overseas conquests; there are few governments in the world which have ever grown larger even in a purely geographical sense, and there is no state in the history of the solar system that has exercised a more sweeping form of complete global military dominance. Whether it is a failing empire is something that remains to be seen. Of course I think in an important sense all empires are failing empires – empire itself is a failure, an attempt to seize by force and take control over a certain kind of human life, sociality and prosperity, when these are ultimately not things that can be forced or controlled.
The conduct of an empire is always already destroying the very things that empire was supposedly aiming to get. And at a practical level this means that not only is empire itself a kind of failure in its stated goals, but also its internal mechanisms – the means by which it tries to maintain power and control – are always in a greater or lesser state of long-term decay. I think there are good reasons to think that the U.S. government's ability to project power internationally are being very seriously challenged right now – at times by other governments, at times by armed insurgencies, but really most powerfully in the economic limits that the government is increasingly running up against, and the grassroots social movements around the world which have spring up over the course of the past decade, and which have really intensified mostly by the grassroots social movements around the world which have sprung up over the course of the past decade, and which have really intensified in the past couple years (from Wikileaks to the Arab Spring to the Occupy network in the U.S.). Whether these represent just another crisis for U.S. power, which the regime may ultimately be able to adapt to, or whether they represent the beginning of a long-term collapse and transformation, I don't know – I have my hopes, but I think that almost everything important about what's happening now is something that we won't realize until we look back on it in years to come.
Daily Bell: Was the US healthier as 13 states? As a federation?
Charles Johnson: Well, I don't think it's possible for states to be "healthy," whether they are small or large. All states are invasive – whether they are focused on controlling and killing people abroad, or people within "their" borders. And the older, smaller United States certainly had its own forms of invasion, oppression and domination. (It was after all both a slave state, and a state that was based on the violent expulsion of native populations from their land.) But I do think it's true that many of the current forms of oppression and domination that we deal with today in the United States have their roots in a basically imperial impulse – as the U.S. government has expanded territorially, and reorganized itself to more and more effectively seize power on the world stage, a lot of what it has done to people is explained by the fact that the governors saw that kind of violence as the necessary means to expanding and shoring up their power. So the political problems we deal with are largely political problems that come from imperial priorities and the effort to project power and wage war abroad. If the U.S. had remained a coastal federation of 13 states, we would have had other, different political problems to deal with.
Daily Bell: Is smaller better?
Charles Johnson: My primary worry is not so much about size as it is about relations of power. There can be a lot of power and domination within very small spaces – as a feminist, of course, I worry about relationships of power within families and marriages and sexual relationships, about efforts to keep women from getting out into the "larger" world, etc. Having access to a big, relatively anonymous social space can sometimes be a comfort.
But I think it's true that in economics and in social life and in politics, there are many examples of huge, dysfunctional organizations that persist, not because people like them, or are willing to support them voluntarily, but rather because political force has been used to corral people into these big institutions (big businesses, big bureaucracies, imperial war machines), rather than allowing them to break off and develop more flexible or more responsive alternatives of their own. So I'd be very hesitant to make any kind of blanket statement that "smaller is better," but I think that questions of scale are definitely questions that have to be resolved by consensual processes, not by means of a political mandate to build everything bigger, faster, stronger. And in a free society there are many parts of life where we'd spend a lot more time interacting with smaller, more decentralized, more numerous, less formalized, less rigid, and more human-scale sorts of relationships, institutions, and organizations. (So think of the market relationships between folks at a flea market, not the kind of economic relationship you have with your employer, or your insurance company, or a mega-corporation like BP and Wal-Mart.) Bigness per se is not exactly the problem, but it is a danger, and it can become a problem in some contexts; and it's for precisely that reason that people should not be forced into it. See for example this: .
Daily Bell: Are you a Rothbardian anarchist?
Charles Johnson: I am not a Rothbardian. I've read Rothbard and I think that he has some important insights to contribute. But my anarchism is much more rooted in the work of an earlier generation of individualist Anarchists, like Tucker and Spooner, than it is in 20th century "anarcho-capitalism." Partly because I am not a pro-capitalist, and I didn't come to anarchism through pro-capitalist libertarianism, but rather through social anarchism and the radical left. But for other reasons, as well.
Let me start with some points of agreement. Like Rothbard, I believe in inalienable natural rights and I believe that these are essentially incompatible with the state (although that's something I largely came to independently of Rothbard's work). I appreciate some of Rothbard's writing on the economic role of price signals and on the question of property rights in the context of a state-dominated economy. (His essay, "Confiscation and the Homestead Principle," appears in our book Markets Not Capitalism.) His work on the nature of contracts is something that I've found useful as well, and tried to incorporate into my understanding of economic relationships in a free society. His work during his "New Left" days – in Left and Right, A New History of Leviathan, Libertarian Forum, etc. – is often intriguing and suggestive. His writing played a major role in reviving discussion about the individualist anarchist tradition, and the study of figures like Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, and others who are key to the conversation that we are trying to collect in Markets Not Capitalism. He also has some very important things to say about children's rights and a really admirable, life-long commitment to rooting out the interconnections between statism, war, and empire. But I have a lot of significant differences from Rothbard as well.
Throughout his career, even in his most "leftist" days, he consistently believed that market relationships would naturally tend to produce capitalistic patterns of ownership – conventional employer/employee relationships, large corporations, and a great deal of economic centralization, which left-wing market anarchists have been inclined to reject. I think that he failed to understand many of the points that earlier individualists, like Tucker, de Cleyre, or Albert Jay Nock, made about the state's role in propping up those kind of relationships, and in suppressing worker-owned or more mutualistic alternatives. Sometimes he simply ignored the issue; sometimes he nominally acknowledged it while failing to really take its far-reaching implications very seriously; and in other cases (such as his really embarrassingly bad review of mutualist views on land, money and banking, in "The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine") he simply attacked caricatures of the mutualist position, without much understanding of the possible non-capitalist or anti-capitalist alternatives that the older generation of individualists had discussed. I also disagree with Rothbard over the ethical status of so-called "intellectual property" protections (he defended the legitimacy of copyrights; whereas I reject all forms of "intellectual property" absolutely). I think his writing on intellectual history and the roots of statism is often oversimplified and polemically driven, in ways that really hurt his analysis. And I think a great deal of Rothbard's later writing, during his "paleolibertarian" phase, was frankly toxic – an embrace of many kinds of traditional social authority, and even trying to find "libertarian" excuses for overt state violence (by local police and by immigration enforcers), that libertarians ought to reject utterly and completely.
Daily Bell: You recently moved to Auburn. Are you working with the Mises crowd now?
Charles Johnson: I recently moved back to Auburn, after several years in other cities, but I'm from here originally; so my move was kind of a homecoming. I have been to the Mises Institute before (for events, and to make use of their library), and I have a cordial relationship with some of the folks there. I work very closely with Roderick Long, a former teacher of mine at Auburn, who does have an auxiliary position as a scholar at the Institute. But I'm not formally affiliated with the Mises Institute and I'd hardly want them to be held responsible for most or all of my views – or vice versa.
Daily Bell: Are you therefore Austrian economic oriented in a formal sense?
Charles Johnson: Like with Rothbard, I have a complicated relationship with Austrian economics. I've read a fair amount of the Austrian literature – in particular through Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and Kirzner. I think that there are a lot of important insights there – insights which are certainly missing from, say, more conventional neoclassical economics, and which are very important to understanding both economic method, and the dynamics of a free economy. So in particular I appreciate the work of Mises and Hayek on the nature of price signals, the Calculation Problem in planned economies, and the destructive effects of government inflation. Hayek's developments of the idea of spontaneous order are, as I suggested above, very important to my way of thinking about free societies and the emergence of anarchic social order, without the need for government force.
And I think that Rothbard has some really valuable insights into the role of money monopoly and inflationary policy in supporting the military-industrial complex and the permanent war footing of the modern state. Kirzner's work on entrepreneurial discovery processes is also I think very valuable. But on the whole I think that the Austrian tradition is relatively good on principles and much more of a mixed bag on questions of application. (My friend Roderick Long might call this a success in praxeology and a failure in thymology.) So while Kirzner is very good at discussing the importance of entrepreneurial discovery, or Mises and Hayek are very good in seeing how market processes can harness the dispersed information about preferences and scarcities that are tacit in our social interactions in order to achieve spontaneous solutions to social and economic problems that are far beyond the capacity of any centrally-planned system to address. But they tend to apply these principles only in a very limited way, to economic relationships that look more or less like the conventional corporate economy – they often fail to see entrepreneurial discovery and spontaneous orders only in conventionally "businesslike" organizations, and to fail to see how these same principles might apply to co-ops, worker-owned shops, informal economies or social projects that are based on mutual association and non-monetary, non-commercial forms of "profits" and "loss." I think that, if consistently followed through, Austrian economics would tend to have a lot of interesting things to say about the prospects for anti-capitalistic markets, and that their real insights into local discovery and dispersed knowledge desperately needs to be more consistently applied than the Austrians have applied it.
Daily Bell: Is there a power elite that seeks world government?
Charles Johnson: Governments are of course institutions that are dominated by an elite class. Governments are themselves an elite class – lawmakers and generals and presidents are, after all, not just your average Joe off the street. They are a very select class of people, and their high-profile jobs make them among the most powerful people in the world.
But I do not think that this kind of elite orientation of governments is the result of an elite that is particularly hidden, or that acts much "behind" the scenes. The orientation of government towards elite priorities is not so much a matter of hidden agendas as it is a matter of open actions. It's not any kind of secret that corporate players, high-powered lawyers, Congressmen, Senators, Presidents, high-ranking regulators, generals and media gatekeepers all tend to come from the same overwhelmingly privileged social class – that the U.S. Treasury Department is largely composed of folks who went to the same schools as, and often worked for the very same companies as, the people who they now are claiming to regulate in the "private sector." It's not a secret, but rather an overtly advertised fact, that U.S. Economic policy is overwhelmingly geared towards supporting the business interests of U.S.-based corporations, and the geopolitical position of the United States government; that any successful political campaign depends heavily on the cooperation of corporate media gatekeepers and the financial and social support of businessmen, financiers, and political rain-makers. This is not so much a matter of occult collusion, but simply of converging class interests, of people who use positions of social and political power to act openly and officially in pursuit of the interests of themselves, their friends, their classmates, their business partners, and other members of their socioeconomic class. The very worst things that government and big-time corporate players do are typically not the result of secret agendas, but simply things that are done completely in the open, reported in the newspapers, and simply taken for granted as business as usual in a corporate economy and a governed society.
Daily Bell: What do you see happening in the next decade?
Charles Johnson: I do not claim to have any great foresight here. What I can say is that overwhelmingly the most important question is the race between stateless social movements and the security state to see who can best incorporate, and best shape the direction of, new technologies and the social and cultural developments of the past 20 years. Technologies like pervasive video recording, instantaneous global communications, loosely-knit social networking, low-overhead media and trade outside of traditional channels are all of immense importance both to resistance movements like Occupy or the Arab Spring movements, and also to Homeland Security, police forces, and in general the security states that aim to surveil, contain, adapt to, and ultimately control these movements. So the question is essentially whether the technology and culture of liberation is going to win the race, or the technology and culture of control. I think there is a lot of reason now to fear; and also a lot of reason to have some hope; while we are seeing some really terrifying forms of pervasive state power and control, we are also seeing a real renaissance of nonviolent grassroots movements, social solidarity, and people-powered resistance to statism. Which of these can run the faster course, we have yet to see.
Daily Bell: What are you working on now?
Charles Johnson: I have the blog at radgeek.com and my usual mix of web development projects, which tend to focus on small-scale online publishing, social networking and open-source software for communicating and connecting over the web. I also have some ongoing research projects on the independent Anarchist press, and I print and publish monthly installments of historical and contemporary Anarchist literature for the Alliance of the Libertarian Left Distro … with a special focus on bringing out affordable, attractive booklet editions of market anarchist literature, which are affordable enough to buy in bulk and circulate easily as part of educational campaigns or outreach events, but which are attractive enough to be worth reading and enjoying on their own, as books in their own right. So we have two ongoing series, the Market Anarchy Zine Series (which is intended to highlight short, punchy articles explaining market anarchist theory and left-libertarian economic ideas as part of an accessible, ongoing conversation about liberty); and the Anarchist Classics Series (which is aimed at recovering lost classics, opening up conversations about anarchist ideas, and bringing more of the works of folks like Proudhon, Randolph Bourne, Spooner, Voltairine de Cleyre, and other radical figures back into circulation).
Daily Bell: Any websites, books you want to recommend?
Charles Johnson: I'd recommend Gary Chartier's blog, LiberaLaw , Roderick Long's wonderful blog Austro-Athenian Empire, and many of the writers – including but by no means limited to Kevin Carson, Darian Worden, and Daniel S. D'Amato – who are writing at the Center for a Stateless Society. Sheldon Richman at The Freeman has been putting out some really intriguing work – both his own writing, and the writing of many left-libertarian contributors – intended to open up the discussion about liberty and economic concentration.
Mary Ruwart's Healing Our World is a good general introduction to libertarianism, and in particular to forms of libertarianism that are closely connected with ecological and social justice concerns. (There's a short excerpt from one of Ruwart's chapters on free-market environmentalism in Markets Not Capitalism, but we hardly had the space there to do justice to the scope of her work.) Gary Chartier's recent book, The Conscience of an Anarchist is one of the best general introductions to individualist Anarchist thought that has been put out recently.
Randolph Bourne's classic essay "The State" (available in most collections of Bourne's work, as well as in independently published booklet editions from See Sharp Press and from the ALL Distro) and Albert Jay Nock's Our Enemy the State are real classics in the field, and a couple of the best general essays ever written on war, social control, economic privilege, and the ideal of the State.
Besides the essays we've collected in Markets Not Capitalism, Kevin Carson's books, especially his Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, are really excellent introductions to free-market anticapitalist economic thought. Gabriel Kolko's book on the Progressive Era, The Triumph of Conservatism, and Paul Buhle's book on the labor movement, Taking Care of Business, are very helpful and suggestive sources on the historical relationship between state power, organized labor, the containment of the radical labor movement, and the rise of monopoly capitalism. FW Ralph Chaplin's classic pamphlet "The General Strike" is one of the best statements of a direct-action, anti-governmental alternative to the conservative, pro-state wing of the labor movement.
Voltairine de Cleyre is one of the most brilliant writers in the 19th/early 20th century libertarian tradition – a really provocative and constantly experimental thinker about the nature of freedom, and the author of some really important essays on libertarian feminism. There are some excellent recent collections of her writing, in particular The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader (from AK Press, ed. A. J. Brigati) and Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre – Anarchist, Feminist, Genius (from SUNY Press, eds. Crispin Sartwell and Sharon Presley).
For those who are interested in some of the conceptual issues and background questions raised by the left-libertarian critique, I'd suggest a look at one of my own essays, "Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin."
For a general overview of radical feminism in the United States, I'd recommend Marilyn Frye's The Politics of Reality, bell hooks's Feminism is for Everybody, and Susan Brownmiller's movement history, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution – all books which, even when I disagree with them, are very thoughtful and immensely useful in understanding the context and the development of the movement. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and "Beyond Vietnam" are really essential and beautiful statements on the need to confront the state's claims of authority, to reject stale legalism and moderation in favor of nonviolent confrontation and what Dr. King calls "creative extremism," and on the interconnection of struggles against war and political oppression. Lynne Olsen's book Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 also provides an excellent, acute look at the Freedom Movement in the South from an unconventional perspective – focusing not on the (mostly male) organizational "leaders" who got recognition in the headlines, but on the work and ideas of movement women, who rarely got recognition in the headlines but often formed the backbone of the social movement. (One of the effects of this shift in perspective is some really valuable insights into the grassroots social activism – the boycotts and sit-ins and day-to-day forms of mutual support and social protest – that made for some of the greatest victories of the movement, and many of the greatest changes in everyday life in the segregated South, outside the high-profile politicking and legal battles.)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention J.R. Hummel's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, one of the best history books ever written about a war, and an important object lesson in how to think about war and history from a radically anti-statist standpoint.
Daily Bell: Thanks for your time.
Charles Johnson: Thank you for the invitation!
As there is little, in our view, that has been left unsaid in this interview, we shall not add much. What leaps out at us the most is Charles Johnson's utilization in some aspects of traditional leftist labels to describe his various libertarian positions.
From our point of view, this merely reconfirms what we have been pointing out in a larger debate we have been having over the definition of libertarianism and its impact on the larger society.
Just as we do not agree that Austrian economics is a kind of "Satanic church," as some have implied, so we do not agree there is just one kind of libertarianism … and that it is part of a dialectic to introduce elitist totalitarianism into the world.
Libertarianism is just as amorphous, definitionally, as Austrian economics itself. These are not ideologies so much as debates with some fundamental verities that are fairly easily apparent.
The base of these ideologies, from our point of view, partakes of neo-classical economics, marginal utility and a general appreciation that state power is a fiercesome tool and ought to be closely monitored.
Much of free-market thinking, though not all, revolves around the idea that monopoly central banking is a disaster and that competing currencies would be preferable. State monopolies in general tend to be destructive and ought to be avoided whenever possible.
None of this is, or should be, controversial. Charles Johnson enunciates much of it well. And so does conservative libertarian Congressman Ron Paul. There is a good deal of overlap in their views, and some areas of difference. This is as it should be.
Free-market thinking has had a huge impact on the Anglo-American West in the past decade. What we call the Internet Reformation has been responsible for some of this.
But success begets enemies. When you read articles that attempt to define libertarianism in one, certain way or make the argument that it is peculiarly rigid or Randian, beware. Enemies of freedom, in some cases, are surely at work, trying to undermine very sensible critiques of government power and warring.
The powers-that-be, frightened by the rise of 'Net information, are trying to build a new Western Security State very rapidly now. Thanks to information on the 'Net we can see its rise clearly. As we have analyzed for years, the battle is drawn between free-market thinking as revitalized by the 'Net and a kind of power elite that wants one-world government.
This is a huge human ideological and philosophical convulsion, and one that will not be resolved any time soon, in our humble opinion. But we know where we stand.
Even though we don't agree with him on everything by any means, we stand with Charles Johnson and others like him who are making an effort to define freedom and free-market thinking in an era that is both exciting and increasingly fraught with outspoken enemies of freedom.
This great battle of ideas has surely been joined in the 21st century, as it was not in the 20th, when the elites owned virtually all the major forms of communication. It should be clear by now they have lost a good deal of that control. Whatever the challenges, it's an exciting time to be alive and to discuss the important issues with such forceful, young minds as Charles Johnson's.