With the recent rise of the Seattle commune, I figured it’s finally time to talk about Libertarian Socialism real quick. An idea that many libertarians treat as “not real libertarianism.”
In my experience, there are three types of people who fall under the umbrella of American Libertarianism:
Economic Libertarian: Somebody who believes in free market capitalism over any other existing economic system.
Political Libertarian: Somebody who believes government intervention into creates more trouble than it’s worth, or somebody who believes government has no business budding into our lives as much as they currently do.
Philosophical Libertarian: Somebody who believes that government intervention is unjustified due to the use of force, often the kind of talk about how taxation is theft or the non-aggression principle.
All three of these people, for the purpose of this conversation, are libertarians. They believe in individual liberty and are against the state. While they may do so for different reasons, and all but the third one are unlikely to be anarchists, they all share enough similarities to be considered part of the same ideology.
The philosophical libertarian is the one we’re going to focus on regarding libertarian socialism. This is because it is the only one of the three that does not need the other two pillars in order to advocate for the most extreme form of libertarianism — anarchism. One can believe a social democracy is superior to a free market, or that government intervention can sometimes be useful, and still be an anarchist as long as they look at the issue from the lens of philosophical libertarianism.
Libertarian Socialists, therefore, can be philosophical libertarians in this sense. However, the issue comes about with how honest they’re being.
Shane Killian is fond of asking what would happen under libertarian socialism if he and his fellow travelers went off to the side and practiced capitalism peacefully. If the answer is he’d be allowed to do so, then the person in question is a true libertarian in the philosophical sense. If the answer is they’d be forced to stop or to practice socialism in some way, that person can not be considered libertarian in any sense of the word.
A libertarian socialist would, based on this, be someone who believes that in a stateless society people would naturally practice socialism and not capitalism. While that is a view that many American libertarians, myself included, would disagree with, denying that is libertarian is simply inaccurate.
Oddly, some of the people I’m most likely to call libertarian socialists do not identify as such — instead they identify as Marxists. Marx argued that a stateless society would form after a number of generations, however, early on a brutal dictatorship would first need to form. This is because Marx believed we had been “poisoned” by capitalism, as said dictatorship would take the “poison” out of us.
Libertarian socialists aim to skip the step of brutal dictatorship, instead believing that authoritarian rule is what causes capitalism in the first place. Again, while it is a view I disagree with, it is impossible for me to not call these people libertarian.
The way I view it, if you believe in getting rid of the state I’m willing to consider you a fellow traveler. If you promise to leave me alone after the state is gone, I do not care what you plan to do afterwards. We have bigger issues than the possibility of this or that group joining a movement to take down the state — for example, the state.