By Eric Fleischmann, Center for a Stateless Society
Two years ago, I gave a presentation titled “Prerequisites for Freedom: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective” to a philosophy discussion group, in which I talked about the connection between thick libertarianism and 19th century North American individualist anarchism and how progressive and liberatory values are necessary for genuine and necessarily anti-capitalist individualism. For the uninitiated, the ‘thickness’ in thick libertarianism is, according to Nathan Goodman, “any broadening of libertarian concerns beyond overt aggression and state power to concern about what cultural and social conditions are most conducive to liberty.”
This broadening takes a number of different forms as outlined extensively by Charles Johnson: for instance, there is “strategic thickness,” which holds that libertarians need to be concerned about problems like economic inequality because “[e]ven a totally free society in which a small class of tycoons own the overwhelming majority of the wealth, and the vast majority of the population own almost nothing is unlikely to remain free for long;” or there is “thickness from grounds,” which maintains that opposition to ostensibly non-violent hierarchy and domination emerge from the same underlying reasons as the libertarian non-aggression principle does. The cases go on, but in its general usage thick libertarianism is often understood as any libertarianism that sees ideas such as feminism, anti-racism, queer liberation, egalitarianism, and environmentalism as essential to any libertarian program internally and therefore desirable for external proliferation in a libertarian society.
I have written extensively about thick libertarianism: in my review of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, I claim that “[w]e are all thick libertarians now” and that it’s just a difference of whether that thickness is liberatory or reactionary; in my analysis of anarcho-capitalism’s relationship to anarchism, I argue that thickness is one of the defining qualities that places stateless left-libertarianism within and anarcho-capitalism outside of the anarchist canon; etc. However, I have yet to explicitly connect my endorsement of thick libertarianism with material analysis (in its dialectical form)—my favored lens when attempting to make sense of the world. I will therefore take an opportunity to do so with this piece.