Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Voluntarily Working for The Man or for Each Other?
From a Facebook discussion thread:
"So you concede that the modern American 'Libertarianism' symbolizes something completely unrelated to Libertarianism as recorded in history and its continued meaning everywhere else across the globe outside of the U.S."
Actually... (The long response)
The original Old World European definition of "libertarian" meant "anarchist" and was used in such phrases as "libertarian socialism" and "libertarian communism" to differentiate those philosophies from "state socialism" and "state communism."
The fundamental answer here is "So what?"
The Modern American Libertarian Movement definition of "libertarian" is premised on the non-aggression principle (NAP) that rejects physical coercion, intimidation and fraud and embraces voluntary interactions among all people. Simply put, libertarianism cannot be understood without reference to the non-aggression principle.
The contention in this article is that multiple definitions of "libertarianism" are used worldwide and that all words change over time. Take, for example, the word "gay" which historically meant "lighthearted and carefree," and "closet" which is defined as "a small room, enclosed recess, or cabinet for storing clothing, food, utensils, etc."
So if a person "came out of the closet" today and announced that he or she was "gay" would the majority of people think, "Hey, I'd really be lighthearted and carefree too if I got out of that small room"? The historical definition of "libertarian" is just as irrelevant to the modern American usage of "libertarian" as "gay" and "closet" are to the original meanings of those words.
So get over it.
Libertarianism for Beginners
The real problem isn't that American libertarians can't accept mutually voluntary collectivist institutions like worker-owned and directed companies—they can as long as they truly reject statism and comply with the non-aggression principle—the problem is that collectivists keep calling anarcho-capitalism an "oxymoron" because it conflicts with their own understanding of what the words "anarchy" and "capitalism" mean to them.
It's that same problem with "gay" and "closet" all over again.
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If "anarcho-," the combining form of "anarchy," means "no rulers" and "capitalism" refers to the Marxist class warfare concept of capitalism as bosses exploiting workers by ruling over them, then anarcho-capitalism (Ancap) would mean something like "non ruling rulers" which would definitely be oxymoronic.
But that's not how American Ancaps use those words. To them "anarchy" or "anarcho-" means "no state" and "capitalism" refers to the Frédéric Bastiat laissez-faire concept of capitalism as people voluntarily interacting in a free market of goods, services and ideas. Ancaps see nothing oxymoronic about that.
If all people who claim the "libertarian" label insist on dogmatically clinging to their own familiar definitions of words they'll just keep talking past rather than to each other. While individualist and collectivist oriented people may continue to deeply dislike and distrust one another the acceptance of the voluntaryism inherent in the non-aggression principle should bring them together in the common cause of rejecting statism.
As for the fact that the American style NAP-based libertarianism is not confined to the United States but has an international following—here are two examples.
One libertarian organization, Liberty International, the soon-to-be-former International Society for Individual Liberty, defines the NAP as "You have the right to protect your own life, liberty, and justly acquired property from the forceful aggression of others." They have been explicitly teaching the NAP form of libertarianism in seminars around the world in country after country since 1982.
The Libertarian International Organization (LIO) self-identifies as "Voluntary Governance, Rights, Progress." It very broadly defines libertarianism to a worldwide community but always in voluntaryist terms. The lengthy description of its "Libertarian Civic Platform" explicitly includes the phrase "non-aggression principle" and the E in its S.M.I.L.E. program includes "strict voluntarism, rights-based law and substantial non-tax proactive services" which sounds very closely aligned with the American libertarian use of the non-aggression principle. Nowhere on the page does it champion any definition of "libertarian" that includes any coercive collectivist philosophies.
LIO advocates a cooperative community-based approach that includes "Property rights protection" and "working to remove coercive laws against urban gardens, farms, and community garden co-ops." Americans might call this voluntary agrarian socialism, but if voluntaryist non-crony non-corporatist free-market libertarians (sometimes called anarcho-capitalists) and voluntaryist community-based agrarian libertarians can accept each other where is the problem? The former will create the "Machine / Management / Thought tools" recognized by the M in the S.M.I.L.E. program and exchange them with / sell them to the latter who produce "Garden Earth" food identified in the S part of S.M.I.L.E.
As an aside, LIO's definition of libertarian is neither Old European "anarchist-socialist" nor American "non-aggression principle." It's a third definition: "Please note the term Libertarian is derived from the Iberian for freeholder who championed justice and city rights--not liberty per se, but justice and free speech. Their voluntary Libertarian communities of old, many around the garden republic of Monfort Lemos--where all voted even in the Dark Ages--inspire many."
But some problems remain.
- Libertarian socialists tend to use statist "corporation" and free-market "private enterprise" interchangeably. In fact, the first is coercive since corporations are chartered by governments and the second is non-coercive so long as they're created through non-government voluntary interactions.
- American NAP libertarians reject the left-right political spectrum in favor of a libertarian-authoritarian spectrum which means that both "right libertarians" and "left libertarians" are simply "libertarians" while all statist philosophies are "authoritarian."
- Left/socialist libertarians reject corporate capitalism and state socialism—as American NAP libertarians do—and instead advocate that workers should create, own and manage their own workplaces. As long as all enterprises in all areas of society are truly voluntary and non-statist where is the problem?
- Some collectivists declare "property is theft" while libertarians insist "without property rights no other rights are possible." If that one can't be amicably resolved there will definitely be no peace between the two groups.
The bottom line is this: If people who espouse collectivist philosophies reject ALL forms of coercion and embrace NAP however it may be worded there's no reason why they should reject the Modern American Libertarian Movement or reject non-corporatist non-statist business enterprises; different folks, different strokes, same goals.
The only definitions that truly matter are coercive authoritarianism versus voluntary libertarianism.
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© 2016 Garry Reed