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:
- 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”.
- 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.