The Uselessness of Isms Reply

By Chris Shaw

The constant need to define one’s philosophical and ideological beliefs through a convenient form of superstructure is something that can be found amongst all philosophies. The multiple libertarian ideologies are no different in this regard. Whether it be anarchism, left-libertarianism, classical liberalism or any other clique, fad or ism, they all share a common vapidity and a petty tribalism, which rather than allowing for a fluid, pluralistic movement which is open and understanding, prefers exclusiveness and minoritarianism.

Going into the socio-economic beliefs of these particular libertarian ideologies, we begin to see a general split into two particular isms, that of socialism and of capitalism. These are the two most useless isms that can possibly be introduced into these debates and ideological wranglings. Neither means very much in any particular way. Capitalism can be seen either as the private ownership of the means of production or as the dominance of the classes of capital over the dynamic efforts of the working classes and the potentialities of the entrepreneuriat. Personally I take the view that both of these are true as a pure socio-economic definition, and I see the state as the engine of this dominance of particular industrial and mercantile elites within markets and economies.

Socialism equally can be seen as another ideology defined in relation to the state. The dominant ideologies of socialism invariably come down to welfarist social democracy (which itself has a conciliatory approach to capitalist economics) or a Marxian dictatorship of the proletariat. Both are in effect creations of and related to the structures of the state.

However amongst libertarians there seems to be the determination to revive one of these two terms (depending on the libertarian camp you’re in) so as to create a coherent ideology of anarchism/libertarianism. Anarcho-capitalists are determined to show that capitalism is a synonym of free markets, rather than a complex system defined in historical symbiosis with the state. Left-libertarians on the other hand want to dredge up socialism as a coherently anti-statist ideology, going back to the debates of the late 19th century while ignoring those debates’ context. Frankly neither are really right or wrong. Where both argue for a radically free market system along Tuckerite or Rothbardian lines, they aren’t in massive disagreement. It is only when one or the other raises vulgar defenses of either existing capitalism or existing socialism that they fall into the trap of misconstruing definitions and making it up as they go along.

In their agreement, both ancaps and left-libertarians (as well as the milieu of other anarchist/libertarian schools) make their own partisan definitions completely irrelevant. Capitalism and socialism mean nothing in a radically free market system where any form of firm ownership, capital movement and economic activity is able to occur so long as it doesn’t infringe on polycentric forms of socially-agreed property. The only really defining system is the non-aggression principle, which itself has socially-defined dynamics. A truly free economy allows for the spontaneous development of all forms of non-aggressive activity, and for the righting of historical wrongs committed by states in their expropriation of resources and property of any type.

All libertarians do by defining their ideas and systemic theories into either capitalism or socialism is bring confusion into a much more generalisable idea, that of a free market defined by voluntary relations and pluralistic systems. As a result, the multiple ideas of anarchist and libertarian theory get sucked into minoritarian navel-gazing by particular anarcho-capitalists and left-libertarians. Who realistically believes this appeals to the wider groups of people who are needed to actually create anarchist and libertarian alternatives in the real world? How are potential entrepreneurs, the working and middle classes and the lumpenproletariat going to work with these messy, petty ideologies which confer liberties on one group and destruction on the other all the while having their useless debates over Twitter and Reddit. All anarchists do by shrinking into their own ideological schools and mischaracterising potential allies is become useful idiots for the huge state systems of which we are supposed to be opposed to. For libertarian anarchists to get anywhere, they need to get over their petty isms.

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