Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
How many libertarians have encountered a socialist online who disdainfully presumes to know more about libertarianism than libertarians know about libertarianism?
The author of these “Five Mistakes” is not just a socialist, but a self-identified Marxist with a Facebook page that proudly displays Vladimir Lenin, thereby presumably making him a Marxist-Leninist socialist.
First note that according to Wikipedia “Marxism has since developed into different branches and schools of thought, and there is now no single definitive Marxist theory.” (Much like libertarianism.)
Then note per Wikipedia that “Marxism–Leninism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of Marxism and Leninism, and seeks to establish socialist states…” In short, our “Five Mistakes” author is a statist authoritarian.
Dictator of the Proletariat
The single biggest problem that people of different ideologies have when they debate is that they continually—sometimes unknowingly and often uncaringly—use different definitions for the same words. The result is forever talking past rather than to each other.
Therefore, a definition: Many people use “government” and “state” interchangeably even though they are different: A state is a geographic entity while a government is a state’s political administration. Because they’re virtually interchangeable in the real world this article will use both terms interchangeably.
Following are the “Five Mistakes” and the responses to them are directed primarily to the author’s brand of socialism.
First mistake: you don't know the difference between personal and private property.
Apparently, socialists don’t know the difference either. Try Googling "difference between personal and private property" and you’re likely to get “About 11,800 results” and as many complicated, convoluted and contradictory definitions as well.
Socialists tie themselves into pretzel knots attempting to parse the definitional distinctions between two types of property in order to sustain their position that private property is evil by definition while personal property—“possessions”—is okay. But libertarians invoke Occam’s razor which holds that the simplest definition is the best definition: Both “property” and “possessions” refer to things that belong to someone. The more definitional hair-splitting the socialists come up with the more unlikely their explanations.
Some-socialists’ biggest gripe against private property ownership is that such ownership must be identified by laws enforced by governments. Since governments are social collectives, and socialists love social collectives, they choose to solve this conflict by keeping governments and rejecting private property.
Humanity vs. Collectivism
Free-market libertarians don’t like their laws being enforced by governments either but because they understand that without private property rights no other rights are possible they choose to keep property and throw out governments.
Governments meet the criteria of criminal enterprises since they openly, obviously and actively subjugate individuals, and that includes the statist socialist’s chosen means of “social existence” (see Second Mistake) due to the fact that states are run by small elitist groups who use coercion, intimidation and fraud against all others for the elitists’ own enrichment.
When statist socialists talk of “exploitation” it’s curious why they don’t place “government” at the very top of their list of exploiters.
So how would society protect people’s rights to personal and/or private property without government force? Even socialists conclude that it would be done in ways that society would develop itself, such as “peer pressure, etc” as proposed by one socialist website. Libertarians contend that when people are free from government constraints and able to think and act imaginatively there are an endless variety of answers to this question.
Second Mistake: assuming individuals exist outside of social existence.
This is a false issue. Aside from a vanishingly few hermits, recluses, exiles, lone shipwreck survivors and solitary Buddhist monks perched on mountaintops contemplating their navels the vast majority of people most certainly are social creatures.
The issue between libertarians and authoritarians is whether people interact in society on a voluntary basis or if some authority forces their interactions. Socialists who do not accept the non-aggression principle like to force people into collectives while libertarians respect people’s right to choose with whom they associate.
Third Mistake: society is not a collection of individuals but rather the relationships between those individuals
This is more Occam razor hair-splitting in an attempt to make something that’s simple into something that’s complicated. Yes, it’s certainly true that people’s relationships define how, where, when, why, in what way and with whom people interact with one another, but it doesn’t change the fact that without individuals there are no societies, no relationships and therefore no collectives.
Libertarians have no disagreement with socialists or anyone else with this, they only insist that “the relationships between those individuals” be—once again—voluntary rather than based on physical coercion, intimidation or fraud in all forms, whether from governments, states, or otherwise.
Whose Capitalism Is Whose?
Fourth Mistake: assuming capitalism which inherently is competitive and requires growth can coexist with other systems peacefully for any period of time.
This isn’t a mistake but several mistakes. First, it’s a perfect example of using different definitions for the same word.
When socialists say “capitalism” they mean the Marxist theory based on private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of workers enforced by big government, big bosses and big banking cartels. Libertarians call this “crony capitalism” or “corporatism” and also reject it.
When libertarians say “capitalism” they mean the Frederic Bastiat theory of the laissez-faire free society in which not just the economic marketplace of goods and services but absolutely everything that people care about are exchanged on the libertarian non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud.
So, with no government using its coercive powers to create winners and losers there is simply no reason why all people of all peaceful persuasions can’t coexist. There have been many examples of communes, commonages, kibbutzim, co-ops and other collective societies existing throughout Europe, America and around the world.
Capitalists may be “inherently competitive” but so are millions of other people in other walks of life. There is no inherent reason, without the government’s special interest laws, subsidies, protections, grants and aids, why capitalism “requires” growth. Small businesses from donut shops to nail salons to burger franchises to driveway contractors to lawn services make up the vast majority of for-profit non-governmental non-statist commerce.
According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council firms with fewer than 500 workers account for 99.7 percent of businesses and those with less than 20 workers make up 89.6 percent. These small businesses seldom grow.
(Further, most of these small businesses are owned by self-employed people who do most of the work themselves. According to Marxist orthodoxy since these people are both bosses and workers they’re exploiting themselves.)
Libertarians don’t ask socialists to exist in a Marxist-defined “capitalist” system but rather in a free libertarian society. With the NAP in place where coercion, intimidation and fraud have no legitimacy there is no reason why non-statist libertarian-socialist businesses and institutions cannot coexist with all other forms of laissez-faire free market style businesses and institutions.
There’s simply no reason why a worker-owned-and-run business can’t succeed right next door to a laissez-faire free-market business. It’s sad that The Five Mistakes Author is so negative about his beloved worker-owned businesses he thinks they can’t possibly compete against clock-punching employees unless they’re protected by a coercive collectivist government ruling class.
Fifth mistake: assuming that centralized private authority is somehow essentially better than centralized government authority
Once again the issue here is not about centralized vs. decentralized authority, or government vs. private authority, or even authority vs. non-authority. The issue is about coercion vs. non-coercion.
There are many examples in society where people voluntarily accept authority-subordinate relationships for the benefit of both: Parent-child, teacher-student, doctor-patient, lawyer-defendant, coach-player, owner-worker, preacher-flock, and many many others. As long as these relationships are voluntary it’s nobody else’s business.
While some socialists reject all hierarchical human relationships there are, again depending on definitions, no possible way to avoid them. Otherwise the very concept of “society” becomes meaningless.
And that brings us to the crux of the problem. The Five Mistakes Author is not a libertarian-socialist but a self-identified Marxist with a Facebook cover page that features dictator Vladimir Lenin and the red hammer-and-cycle flag of the brutish but thankfully defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ communist empire.
Again by definition Marxism–Leninism is a political philosophy or worldview that seeks to “establish socialist states.” “States” always inevitably require “governments” and “governments” inevitably require “centralized authority” and “centralized authority” absolutely means “coercion.”
What’s truly sad is that all people who believe in freedom from coercive institutions, groups and individuals have more in common than not. Creating a post-statist decentralized laissez-faire free society ought to be the goal of libertarians, libertarian-socialists, libertarian-communists, left-libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, voluntaryists, agorists, Objectivists and others.
Here’s the bottom line: A person has to grow up with an emotional-psychological predisposition toward valuing individualism, independence and responsibility in order to accept libertarianism. Without that basic self-confidence, people will naturally seek security and protection in collective groups and willingly trade their individuality for authoritarian social systems. There is no way of converting from one to the other without first overcoming, or losing, that initial predisposition.
Libertarians espouse a laissez-faire society in which individuals move voluntarily into and out of cooperative and individual pursuits whenever they wish with no reprisals for doing so.
Ultimately there are not Five Mistakes but one, and choosing any form of authoritarianism over libertarianism is the only mistake that matters.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2016 Garry Reed
Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on October 10, 2016:
Hi aasl, thanks for your comments. I don't really follow the realpolitic of libertarianism as closely as you since I'm more interested in big picture issues. I am both realistic and idealistic, meaning I will support real world libertarian success today in the form of minarchism like achieving more freedom and less government as long as I can view it as a "good start" towards the ultimate goal of a future voluntary free market society. Make sense?
The General Conservative from New Hampshire on October 10, 2016:
Outstanding article! A true free market is more compassionate towards those that are less than fortunate over a socialist leaning government. I think people such as the Bernie Samders supporters mean well, but a lot would be on board with the libertarians if they actually listened to some of their platforms. I really liked Austen Petersen, and I honestly think this election would be different if he won the libertarian primary instead of Gary Johnson. People don't understand their rights, and if they don't understand them, they don't know they're losing them.