Misc

LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM?

As I suspected Samizdata, in the shape of David Carr, are none too happy at Paul Anderson describing his politics as ‘democratic socialism with a libertarian punch’.

Carr writes: May I humbly suggest a clearer alternative to that meaningless bit of cant? How about:Vegetarian cooking with just a hint of roast beef?

Mr.Anderson has clearly not yet been advised that he can either be a socialist OR he can be a libertarian but he cannot possibly be both.

Paul can define what his ‘libertarian punch’ is himself but I think what we are seeing here is an attempt by right-wing libertarians to claim the term purely for their ultra-capitalist utopian vision of the future. Like all evangelical ideologues, right-wing libertarians are motivated by a strong desire to present themselves as the one true way. But the idea that the phrase libertarian is their property alone is just wishful thinking and not born out by the history of the term.

Many anarchists would desribe themselves as libertarians, sharing the Samizdata crowd’s disdain for organised government. On the Marxist left there are the anarcho-communists and council-communists, who describe themselves as libertarians. There have long been people who use the term ‘Libertarian Marxist’ or ‘Libertarian Socialist’. (see this list of random links)

The Samizdata people will of course explain at length how these ideological visions are incompatible with their version of libertarianism – and apart from a hostility to the state that protects our liberty, freedom and rights, they are right. They have little in common. But that still doesn’t mean there is one accepted definition of libertarianism.

David Carr’s argument really is only about claiming the term not about whether socialists really pretend to have anything in common with turbo-Thatcherites – which they obviously don’t.

An area in which David and Perry are right is that the phrase libertarian has something of a buzz about it at the moment, particularly in the world of weblogs. In the real world of course you are as likely to meet a right-wing libertarian purist as you are to bump into a Maoist (a political tendency they have quite a few things in common with).

Personally I would never use the term libertarian to describe my politics because even if I felt the needed to add a buzzword to my political outlook (which I don’t) I wouldn’t choose one that has become associated with the militant minority on the far right of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

Nor does the ultra-left version of libertarianism, rooted as it is in anarchist opposition to the main parties of the labour movement in Europe, appeal much to me either. Let them both fight over the term – such battles over the rights to a political label are indicative of the fringe nature of the activists at hand here.

But perhaps what annoys the right-wing libertarians about people borrowing their title is that their ideas do have a use for the rest of us. Anyone serious about politics needs to constantly question how far the state should be involved in our lives. Also there are many people who would subscribe to social libertarianism (or lifestyle freedom) while not accepting the economic ideas of the libertarians. In contrast there are plenty of conservatives, like Margaret Thatcher, who reject lifestyle libertarianism but are quite attracted to radically de-regulated capitalism.

So people borrow bits they like from the libertarian outlook while not buying into the whole package as offered by the people at Samizdata. That process happens to all radical ideologies.

It is worth remembering when you come across the hardcore libertarian right in the ‘blogosphere’ that these people are a tiny extremist faction – interesting chaps as they might be.

I say good luck to them – if Samizdata’s brand of fundamentalist anarcho-capitalism gains ground on the right, maybe in the Conservative Party, it can only benefit the democratic left. The British people have always shown disdain for zealots and dogmatists of any colour.

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