Libertarianism Is Not What You Think

I meet a lot of people who describe themselves as libertarian. When they learn I have socialist inclinations, they imagine that places us at either end of some political spectrum or other. That’s not the case.

The term libertarian comes from the mid 19th century and a French communist called Joseph Déjacque. It’s fair to say most self-styled libertarians are not, wittingly, taking their cues from French communists. People who, not to put too fine a point on it, are communists (egad!). And, let’s not forget, French (double egad!). So what’s going on there?

Propaganda, mostly. In the mid 20th century, some 100 or so years later, capitalists (and their enablers) looking for a legitimating philosophical framework for their activities (read: lobbying) co-opted the term from The Left™. Now we have left-libertarianism (OG libertarianism) and the equally clumsily named right-libertarianism (rich nonce libertarianism). But they call it simply libertarianism, naturally.

Right-libertarianism isn’t about the liberation of the masses any more than Christianity is about the canonization of the masses. Like left-libertarianism, right-libertarianism is anti-authoritarian but specifically from the perspective of someone who wants the liberty to make your children morbidly obese then sell them an array of poorly assembled assault rifles.

So why do people subscribe to right-libertarianism, thereby doing PR for the kind of people who’d kill their children for a few bucks? Because part of right-libertarian propaganda (and it is propaganda if it’s getting you to support something that isn’t in your interest) is to characterize liberty as fundamentally incompatible with socialism or communism. You either have liberty, and have to accept the cruel excesses of capitalism, or you have communism and the state controlling every aspect of your life. That’s what they say. Considering Marx envisioned communism to arise from the eradication of the state, this is some weapons-grade gaslighting.

Most libertarians I speak to are people who simply don’t want to be forced to do things they don’t want to do, by people who should have no authority over them. I’m 100% with them on that. But you have to consider the protagonists and the power dynamics involved when this sentiment comes anywhere near the realm of reality.

Diminished government for capitalists means diminished regulation, accountability, responsibility towards society. Where capitalism looms large, just fighting for a small government amounts to fighting for capitalists and their ability to take the piss out of you and the society you are a part of. They know this, hence their colonization of your notion of ‘liberty’. To use the current vernacular, they want to count on you being a useful idiot.

You are not a capitalist. If you are employed, even if you are self-employed, you are not a capitalist. Unless you are exploiting people and resources for personal gain at scale, you are not a capitalist. This is the first thing you need to understand.

The second part is this: supporting capitalism, or otherwise aligning yourself with it, is not a necessary step in claiming your individual liberty. Quite the opposite. That an ideology founded on slavery and profiting from mass incarceration has been able to convince so many people this is the case? It just goes to show they have far too much power over us already.

Most importantly, you have to understand that an “every man for themselves” idea of liberty—aside from being gender specific—is naïve. Bad actors will always fill the power vacuum left by a dismantled state. What left-libertarians (libertarian socialists; anarcho-socialists) have to consider is how we should co-operate and collaborate in such a way that we only empower each other.

In order to build democratic “proletarian power,” we need to build alternative, democratic institutions that reinforce one another and, more broadly, a democratic economic base. — Black Socialists in America

For the time being, if you are not interested in being arrested for either political dissent or someone’s bottom line, it’s likely your libertarianism is more to the left than you might have supposed.