Libertarianism and Broadscale Collaboration

One of the most attractive things about the libertarian “movement,” besides the obvious core values of liberty and individualism themselves, is the willingness to eschew dogma in favour of working in tandem with others that are also pursuing personal liberty, even when their personal end goals are radically different from our own. As I’ve been following the output of the Libertarian Alliance and Mises UK (formerly the other Libertarian Alliance), it’s been so encouraging to see a centre of non-partisan libertarianism that, whilst mostly concentrated on Austrian school (and related) economics and classical liberal thought, has a broad base of affiliates and allies that ranges from social anarchists to high tory traditionalists.

In stark contrast to the divisive and sectarian attitude I’m used to dealing with in socialist circles, the libertarian movement is not based on models and programmes but is simply an expression of a very basic axiom, namely “you do your thing, I’ll do mine, and so long one is not trying to subvert the other then we’re united in our pursuit of individual liberty.” That is not to say that libertarians are members of the get-along gang, just have a listen to the Q&A segment after a talk at virtually any libertarian conference. The point is that this variance is expected, welcomed; the contrast of ideas is not antithetical to libertarianism but actually defines the heart of it.

For as long as I’ve been interested in political theory and history, I’ve always been drawn to learning about radical and extreme ideas, even the most dangerous kinds (including the ideas of groups and individuals that I would never be willing to work with), out of a kind of propulsive curiosity and I always assumed that this was something morbid on my part, comparable to an obsession with serial killers or something of that nature. It only dawned upon me recently that I was simply mapping out my potential territory and trying to discover where the limits of my sympathy are. There are certain ideas and movements that I can see as clear as day are not for me, and in learning about these ideas I was simply seeing how close I could get to them without abandoning my principles, to discover where the proverbial line in the sand is.

The reason for this, I came to find, is that I have a natural enthusiasm for supporting or collaborating with anybody and everybody that agrees that we need more freedom than we have at this moment. Practically everybody that this applies to is a potential ally provided that their activity is consistent with two conditions:

  1. That they define freedom as negative liberty i.e. freedom from interference and restraint. This would exclude the sort of liberals that believe we need to increase welfare (and subsequently taxation) indefinitely in order to make everybody more “free”.
  2. That they are not violently disposed towards free trade and other people’s  individual liberty. This would exclude those sorts of “anarchists” that are incorrigibly opposed to any exchange of money or any discrepancy between property ownership (those ‘anarcho’-communists that believe in absolute material equality not just for their own voluntary community but on a global or national scale), as well as groups like the Vancouver 5 (Squamish 5) that became infamous for firebombing pornography stores because they personally found their products to be degrading to women.

Subject to these two conditions, I am willing to work alongside almost everybody that believes in furthering personal freedom within our society, and that extends also to independence movements and secessionists that seek autonomy from whatever state they are grudging members of, even if that state or empire purports to “grant” its members rights and privileges and professes to dominate local liberties “for their own good”.

Therefore, I’m a proponent of pan-secessionism as promoted by Attack the System and other anarcho-pluralist hubs. I will admit that I am skeptical of the feasibility of the sort of enormous coalition endorsed by this extraordinary document, which is more than overambitious in my eyes (still recommended reading), but nevertheless I think it’s useful to think in absolutes like this; “think radically, act practically.”

There are, of course, conflicts of liberty that do not have obvious resolutions. Consider the American civil war. On one hand this could be interpreted as a flagrant abuse of state’s rights, as the ‘Northern aggression’ instituted the federal government and compromised the original constitutional arrangements and state’s rights to manage their own affairs, leading to many oppressive governmental bodies that still retard liberty in the USA to this day. However, it would be an inexcusable oversight to ignore the slavery dimension: slavery being the absolute antithesis of personal liberty. If I was living in America 1861-1865 I hope to think I would be a zealous abolitionist giving my all to fight chattel slavery alongside the federalists, despite my preference for the confederate model of government over the federal model when slavery is not a factor. It is for this reason that I am glad that the slavery issue was resolved as it was (even if it was way too late) but at the same time am not opposed to seeing the confederate flag being flown in the deep South of the USA by those that have nostalgia for the confederacy without necessarily being sympathetic to slavery or segregation. The point I’m trying to make that should concern libertarians is that concepts of liberty do sometimes conflict, and there are those (admittedly rare) instances when certain liberties (in this case, state’s rights) unfortunately must be subverted in order to combat a greater threat to liberty (i.e. slavery).

I maintain that these conflicts are far and few between though. There are of course many contentions even within mainstream, centre libertarianism. Paleolibertarians often diverge on issues like abortion, left-libertarians are often wary of capitalism as a concept (some marking a contrast between what they see as capitalism and free markets), there is disagreement between minarchists and anarchists concerning whether or not we ought to privatise emergency services and the courts, as well as disagreement on the value of land and property rights (consider the contrast between Lord Elcho’s ‘Liberty and Property Defence League’ and georgists/geolibertarians) and the validity of intellectual property rights. Like I say, the libertarian movement is not the get-along gang.

The great thing is that most libertarians seem wise enough to acknowledge the fact that despite these differences, there is practically an infinite number of issues that we are in alignment on, and if we simply focus on eradicating these sources of suppression and agree to deal more seriously with our differences once our common enemies are overthrown, we’ll be happy to have that debate as we’ll be unequivocally more free than we are right now. When things are put into perspective, we have far, far more in common than we do in difference, and if we can set aside our quibbles about whether or not somebody has the right to replicate the design model of the iphone without paying dues until that actually becomes the prime issue then we practically have the world to win. Contrast this with the frankly pathetic state of the multitude of communist parties in the UK, that even with an ambitious project like Left Unity still utterly fail to collaborate in any meaningful way due to doctrinal differences and structural divisions.

Emile Armand summed up this sentiment well in an article he wrote on anarchist collaboration:

“In the current social milieu anarchism extends from Tolstoy to Bonnot: Warren, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Ravachol, Caserio, Louise Michel, Libertad, Pierre Chardon, Tchorny, the tendencies they represent or that are represented by certain living animators or inspirations whose names are of little importance, are like the nuances of a rainbow where each individual chooses the tint that most pleases his vision.”

Here’s to a future of solidarity and cooperation without comprise or conformity.


8 thoughts on “Libertarianism and Broadscale Collaboration”

  1. Be forewarned. I’ve generated a lot of hate for that “extraordinary document” and others similar to it over the years. At present, I would consider myself a “radical centrist pan-anarchist.” I’m a radical because I’m against the establishment. I’m a centrist (though a leftist in a historical sense) because I dislike the extremes of Left and Right. I’m a pan-anarchist because I reject the state but don’t adhere to any rigidly conceived conception of anarchism or libertarianism. I also think that before we can start winning significant political victories, we have to start winning in the war of ideas, i.e. the view taken by thinkers like Gramsci, Weber, the Frankfurt School, Hayek, Rand, Benoist, etc that culture and therefore intellectual culture precedes political culture.

    I am for promoting all forms of anarchism, libertarianism, anti-statism, anti-authoritarianism, or decentralism, along with single-issues associated with these philosophies and a multiplicity of strategies, and then letting the chips fall where they may. Most anarchists and libertarians seem to embrace whatever kinds of these philosophies are most compatible with their wider set of cultural, philosophical, ethical, identity, or religious commitments.


  2. I realise this is your position, I’ve been following your articles for a year or so now. Still, thanks for the clarification for folks reading this that are not familiar with your work (hope I didn’t misrepresent you somehow). That document should only inspire hate in people that aren’t willing to read the full thing through, I think it’s perfectly clear what your personal position on divisions like race is when taken in its entirety. In fact, despite your centrist position I’d say you still come off as left-leaning. I think I’m in a similar position to you, although I lean more towards minarchism at present so I use the term libertarian rather than anarchism, mostly because I don’t see anarchism as achievable in my own lifetime and find libertarian progress (or rather deconstruction) as a more personally motivating goal.


    1. I tend not to get to caught up in the anarchist vs. minarchist debate because that question is so far from where we are now, it’s somewhat pointless except as a mental exercise. Besides, a lot of that argument comes down to semantic questions anyway.

      You’re right that I’m essentially a far leftist on most issues. The exceptions would be issues that are considered right-wing in a contemporary context but which have precedence in an anarchist thought like the the right to bear arms (see the Spanish Civil War), secession (an old anarchist idea), anti-political correctness (which I see as anarchist opposition to authoritarian leftism-see Bakunin vs. Marx), anti-Zionism (which I see as anti-imperialism). I am also skeptical of the mass immigration being generated by neoliberalism and imperialsm though I favor Derriick Broze’s ideas of “decentralized borders” not conventional nationalism as the solution.

      There’s room for Galt’s Gulch, Tolkienesque anarcho-monarchist city-states, Catalonia, and Luxemburgian communes in “my” system.


  3. Another thing that makes me really controversial is that I am 100% in favor of traditional liberal rights like free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. I see the achievement of these rights as fundamental to the development of civilization and in need of expansion, not contraction, during the transition to anarchism or minarchism. This means that freedom of speech, religion, and association applies to everyone, including people that most contemporary leftists and anarchists do not like.


    1. Minarchism vs anarchism is definitely just a semantic issue. It just feels more natural orienting myself in this way when I’m explaining my position to people, but the end goal is the same: broad decentralisation and the right for individuals and communities to organise and govern their own affairs, whether they wish to live in a state of absolute lawlessness and spontaneous action or they want to be part of a system with rigid rules and a clear hierarchy.

      It may be to do with where I’m situated. There is of course a much bigger (and therefore more uniform and mainstream) libertarian tradition in the US, whereas its much smaller in the UK. So the types to gather around groups like the Libertarian Alliance seem to be composed much more of oddballs and dissidents. Meanwhile, there is not a lot in the various anarchist movements in the UK that inspires me very much. I’m sure there are just tendencies that I’m not familiar with, but whenever I see the black and red ancom flag over here it’s always associated with mobocratic, censorial, heavily-(intellectually-)policed (think Anti-Fascist News) and more than anything anachronistic and irrelevant groups composed more of students and left-wing “intellectuals” rather than the proles/lumpenproles that they apparently represent. Not a lot of radical thinking but plenty of protest culture and adventurism. Revolutionary activity tends to be limited to minor acts of vandalism against property and business rather than anything aimed at the state. For the most part, they also seem to be completely unwilling to collaborate with ancaps or ‘neither-left-nor-right’ types yet are more than happy to make comrades of Trotskyists and Maoists, go figure.

      Take freedom of speech for example. The sort of radical freedom of speech embraced by writers like Sean Gabb just seems quite absent in nominally anarchist circles. Libertarian groups over here also seem to include the most ‘neither left-nor-right’ types too. If I was living in certain parts of the US or maybe in some parts of the third world I’d probably call myself an anarchist. The goal is still the same either way, so it is just semantics. The far right in the UK has the same problem. They can actually be very vocally anti-PC, but only about issues that concern them. They still get outraged by flag-burning and minor acts of iconoclasm. As far as I’m aware, we don’t have much to compare to groups like the League of the South or the Northwest Front either, as all our major far right groups are very pro-empire, pro-protectionist and are almost always more concerned with forced repatriation rather than pushing for the right to separate themselves into their own communities. In the Scottish independence debate, the far right (including many lumpenprole elements, skinheads etc) almost always sides with empire and British loyalism, independence being represented by a centre-left socialist party. We have the national-anarchists of course, but they’re so few in number and not at all ‘far right’ anyway.

      There IS a small skinhead culture with some potential, but antifa-type groups are very good at breaking them up and shutting down their shows (see the article I wrote a few days ago, ‘Hands Off Close Shave’). They don’t pose a physical threat to skinhead bands (they tend to be pretty big guys which, to be fair, antifa usually aren’t) but they cause trouble for venue-owners and bar staff that end up “voluntarily” cancelling shows.

      The war of ideas is of prime importance, I absolutely agree. This is most important on university campuses as far as I’m concerned. And things are worse here than they are in the US, we’re like Canada in that regard, as the Marcusian mentality is creeping more into compelled speech now (gender pronouns etc). This sort of thing still isn’t accepted in the mainstream, most people ridicule the idea of multiple gender pronouns including popular TV hosts like Piers Morgan, but it’s a different story on university campuses. The university I will be attending in September has a student union (semi-official organ that wavers between official and independent whenever it suits the institution) even banned novelty sombreros on campus (along with 40+ other items) and stated EXPLICITLY that this was due to cultural appropriation. This might seem trivial but to me its a clear sign of a toxic mentality that has been accepted through British universities. There are also strong demands to remove statues of historical figures associated with colonialism (even Queen Victoria) comparable to the demand to remove confederate monuments in the US. I’m hardly offended by iconoclasm but it’s different when it’s done in this spirit, and organised by open Marxists, African studies students and radical feminist groups masquerading as liberal. I agree on all the contemporarily “right-wing” issues (gun ownership etc that you highlighted) which really ought to be anarchist issues but are not due to the influence of cultural Marxism and 60s new left ideas that have overwhelmed modern anarchism.

      Not familiar with Derrick Broze, will have to look up his work.


  4. “Meanwhile, there is not a lot in the various anarchist movements in the UK that inspires me very much. I’m sure there are just tendencies that I’m not familiar with, but whenever I see the black and red ancom flag over here it’s always associated with mobocratic, censorial, heavily-(intellectually-)policed (think Anti-Fascist News) and more than anything anachronistic and irrelevant groups composed more of students and left-wing “intellectuals” rather than the proles/lumpenproles that they apparently represent. Not a lot of radical thinking but plenty of protest culture and adventurism. Revolutionary activity tends to be limited to minor acts of vandalism against property and business rather than anything aimed at the state. For the most part, they also seem to be completely unwilling to collaborate with ancaps or ‘neither-left-nor-right’ types yet are more than happy to make comrades of Trotskyists and Maoists, go figure.”

    Yes, indeed.

    It’s interesting how libertarianism has a unique appeal in America, no doubt because of the classical liberal foundations of our revolution and our heritage as a frontier society.


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