What is Libertarianism? (Part 1 of 3)

Introduction and Knocking down dumb definitions

I’ve talked about market anarchism in depth enough, now I wish to discuss the backing of market anarchism which is libertarianism. But now we must get into the process of what is libertarianism, just as we did with market anarchism. Luckily many writers have done a lot of the sorting out for me and it’d be all too easy for me just to quote them and be done with. For example I could just say, “Libertarians are socially progressive and economically conservative.” But this would be a lame response to any question wanting specifics and as far as generalities go it’s not even a good one. For example then the words progressive and conservative must be given their proper context in conjunction with the next word. For example what does it mean to be economically “conservative”? Does this mean to save all of your money while socially “progressive” means advocating a never-ending line of evolutions in society until we’re in some future dystopia controlled by robot masters? (Ok that one was a bit far fetched but you get the point I’d think)

What about “hippies with a hard on for guns and isolationism?” Well this is not that commonly used as the old conservatives with more drugs and less government neither one are a good definition of libertarianism and completely destroys any legitimacy the ideology may hold before it’s even discussed. The same happens to anarchists when they try to discuss their ideas (libertarianism and anarchism are not necessarily the same thing and for this case I shall be using libertarianism as the ethical backing for anarchism instead of a term to be confused with it)

Finally, another definition of libertarians is, “The philosophy that all violence unless retaliatory is unjust and therefore aggression is inherently wrong” (There are many definitions of course but I’ll just use some I can think of, this last one actually being semi-common among libertarians themselves) and while this definition certainly spreads information on some of the ethical principles of libertarianism and what it is based on (which in turn can be used to justify anarchism which is why the two ideas are so closely linked together) it leaves much to be desired. For example is that all there is to libertarianism? A strict finding of violence being wrong except in retaliatory defense? (Which in the writer’s opinion is just a dressing up of violence, but that’s for another time…) Well clearly not or any philosophical pacifist (Opposing all violence morally as inherently wrong but thinking that retaliatory violence is necessary for survival, more on this problem of necessity and morality in a  later blog) or person who claimed such a thing could also claim to be a libertarian and so libertarianism should be more thick then that.

Libertarianism, Culture, and Property

For example in Charles Johnson’s Libertaranism through Thick and Thin he expresses discontent with standard libertarian options such as just opposing governmental oppression or just mainly focusing on that and other oppressive structures instead of ones that are built into society. Such ideas may include, racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia in general that are built into a society and therefore reinforce the oppression of the state and the power elite who are at large. This also alienates workers and separates them from showing solidarity with one another and deradicalizies them in some points because they feel their goals of autonomy from a boss may be too much on their own. Of course for such workers I’d recommend How to Sack/Fire your Boss: A Worker’s Guide to Direct Action passing out these pamphlets at your local factory would definitely help motivate some workers to find alternatives to the state solutions they may be so used to.

But why should libertarians worry about social justice and commitments to a better society, not only structurally wise but culturally wise? For the simple reason that a libertarian society would rest a libertarian culture and not just a sort of lack of central planning and so forth. Now by libertarian I mean anarchist society, it should be pointed out that when I refer to libertarian ideas I’ll generally be regarding a philosophy that advocates, “The idea of property being an inherent thing in each person and thus no one has a right to inflict damage on you or you to others except in retaliation of loss of self or property.” This is a much more conclusive definition, why? Well look at the start, as Stephen Kinsella notes in his essay,  What Libertarianism Is libertarians tend to view everyone as their own piece of property and a consistent libertarian outlook on life results in an anarchistic view, both opinions I agree on. (By the way you won’t find me quoting Kinsella much unless it has to do with general ideas of libertarian or Intellectual Property, this just happened to fall under the former)
Libertarians in that respect certainly has an emphasis on property most other ideas would find tough to beat to say the least and so should be said in the definition but shouldn’t be stressed to the point of absolutist propertarianism so warns Alex Strekal in his blog on Polycentric Order, Propertarianism, Voluntaryism, Freedom. and in his video on propertarianism which can be found here.

Libertarianism as a thick  philosophy

So, I have talked about thickness only quickly but in this section I’d like to go over it a bit more and develop what Johnson has said in his essay, first I’d like to start of with something, recently there has been debate over Rand Paul’s outcry about segregation and how he thinks people should be able to discriminate if they so choose in their own private property, and that’s fine with me. Except there’s a bit of difference between one’s own personal private property and one’s commercial private property and even if a right-libertarian saw no difference as I do it still makes no sense for business owners to be able to legitimately resort to force and violence when the  (for example) lunch-counter black student protesters  are harassed and sometimes beaten or killed by the police with little or not repercussions for the police or the property owner because they were dealing with “trespassers” . Whether right-libertarians want to admit it or not there is discrepancy to be made in the application of libertarian and the thickness of it cannot be unnoticed  by any libertarian for as Johnson says,

“…[F]eminists are right about the way in which sexist political theories protect or excuse systematic violence against women, there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be feminists. Importantly, the commitments that libertarians need to have here aren’t just applications of general libertarian principle to a special case; the argument calls in resources other than the non-aggression principle to determine just where and how the principle is properly applied. In that sense the thickness called for is thicker than entailment thickness; but the cash value of the thick commitments is still the direct contribution they make towards the full and complete application of the non-aggression principle.”

And so while this application of feminism may be not crucial to the NAP it can certainly compliment it and indeed helps libertarianism more consistently oppose oppression of any type, whether in the public or private sector. There are a whole host of things libertarians can be thick-minded in but my point in this blog post is to simply make the point that libertarianism is a advocacy of self-property rights and a thicker look at social justice then most other philosophies. If you wish to see the logical end of thick-libertarianism (which is a part of the broader movement of the Libertarian Left) then check out Johnson’s other essay Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Towards a Dialectical Anarchism.

In the next blog the issue of where libertarians specifically stand on the political spectrum shall be addressed.

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 30th, 2010 at 1:15 am and is filed under Uncategorized.

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(4) Responses to “What is Libertarianism? (Part 1 of 3)”

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