Why I **** Libertarianism
Part two of a short series
Libertarianism is a somewhat slippery beast to slay because there are many different types of libertarians. Originally, when the term was coined in France in the late 19th century, libertarianism was synonymous with anarchism. Today, we have right-libertarianism, left-libertarianism, and libertarian anarcho-capitalism. The social ecologist Murray Bookchin (his book, The Ecology of Freedom, influenced my thinking in How Soon Is Now) was a Left-libertarian anarchist. Bookchin argued for the elimination of private property: “The private ownership of the planet by elite strata must be brought to an end if we are to survive the afflictions it has imposed on the biotic world, particularly as a result of a society structured around limitless growth.”
Bookchin’s views are the polar opposite of libertarianism today. Right-libertarian philosophy considers property rights an extension of individual rights, which are “sovereign” and inviolable. While right-libertarians seek to reduce the power of government to the protection of private property via the ideal of the “night watchman” state, anarcho-capitalists wish to eliminate federal and state governments altogether. According to Wikipedia, anarcho-capitalism “seeks to abolish centralized states in favor of stateless societies with systems of private property enforced by private agencies, the non-aggression principle, free markets and the right-libertarian interpretation of self-ownership, which extends the concept to include control of private property as part of the self.”1
Under anarcho-capitalism, there would be associations of businesses and individuals who would hire or create their own security, defending their property while vying for customers in the global “free market.” This seems so ludicrous to me that I find it difficult to believe people take it seriously as a political ideal. It regresses us back to something like the Middle Ages. Inevitably there would be accumulations of military and political power. Everyone outside of these concentrations of power would be undefended prey.
Anarchy-capitalist tech types consider Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash a desirable model for a future anarcho-capitalist world. Snow Crash depicts life in a near-future dystopian hell where people struggle to survive both in the real world and the Metaverse, with no public sphere to protect them from gangsters or corporations.
I think we should simply cede the term “libertarian” to the right at this point, and not pretend there is anything left in it that is usable by the left. Perhaps libertarianism’s old leftist and anarchist associations still somewhat obscures the full awfulness of what it means and what it seeks, today.
In his essay “Against Libertarianism”, Dr. Robert Cox makes many good points. He writes: “The anti-statist ethos of the libertarian movement is sometimes embraced by young people looking for an ideology that can empower them to oppose US wars and occupations, as well as violations of civil liberties that are a product of a steady expansion of the US surveillance state.” This is undoubtedly true.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Daniel Pinchbeck’s Newsletter to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.