Bloomberg recently ran a piece titled Libertarians Are the New Communists by Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu. As one would expect, to reach their conclusion–that these two diametrically opposed political philosophies both inevitably lead to societal collapse–the authors rely either on willful ignorance or deliberate prevarication. Since Liu was a speechwriter and policy advisor for Bill Clinton, you can guess which way I’m leaning.
First of all, they define “radical” libertarianism as “the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values.” Communism, on the other hand, is defined as the “ideology of extreme state domination of private and economic life.”
While these statements do reflect the real world consequences of these ideologies, the actual definitions of libertarianism and communism concern how each deals with private property.
Libertarianism is based on the idea that individuals own their bodies and their lives. Building upon the ideas of John Locke and others, libertarian property theory states that individuals have a natural right to life, liberty, and property. In a state of society, i.e. one involving other people, this means that no individual has the right to infringe upon another individual’s life, liberty, or rightly gained property without just cause. Libertarians call this “the axiom of non-aggression.”
Communism, on the other hand, is based on the abolition of all private property. It is the antithesis of libertarianism. According to its utopian theorists, communism was supposed to lead to a classless society and the ultimate form of egalitarianism. Unfortunately, the opposite always happens and society is quickly segregated into the rulers and the ruled.
From a purely economic standpoint, the reason that communism collapses is the absence of market prices as explained by Ludwig von Mises in his “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth.”
Strangely, Hanauer and Liu do not mention the issue of property when comparing libertarianism and communism.
Nor do they mention that libertarians believe that the State must be held to the same moral standards to which the individual is subject. Not only is it wrong for the individual to steal, commit fraud, and murder, it is wrong for the government to do these things as well.
In other words, a group of individuals–even one calling itself the government–cannot acquire more rights and authorities than each person within the group has as an individual. After all, it would be absurd to say that I have the right to take your car without your permission if only I could persuade enough people to join me. Sure, if this happens, you might still lose your car, but no one is going to argue that I have a right to take it.
When it comes to the State, such common sense evaporates.
The State, by definition, is an organization which claims the legal authority to initiate violence against peaceful individuals. This legal monopoly on coercion is what makes the State unique and not just another corporation. Even a communist like Mao Tse-tung recognized the nature of the State when he said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Hanauer and Liu never acknowledge this fact in their essay. To them, the State is warm and wonderful: the ultimate expression of societal cooperation. This attitude is pure fantasy. While the State may sometimes aim at noble ends, we must never lose sight of the evils means which it utilizes to achieve these ends.
Thus, while the authors claim that communism and libertarianism are “cousins,” they ignore the moral underpinnings of libertarianism. The entire libertarian philosophy is built upon peace and cooperation by means of the free market. Libertarianism is only “radical” in the etymological sense: the rejection of coercion–whether by the individual or by the government–is the root of the philosophy.
Of course, what really concerns Hanauer and Liu is the government’s control over the economy. They fail to see even the distinction between crony capitalists and true free marketers. Instead Hanauer and Liu lump them all together and slap on the label “nihilist anti-state libertarians.”
Meanwhile, “social libertarians” (folks who call themselves libertarian because they “support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance”) aren’t a source of worry. Here, Hanauer and Liu misstate the libertarian position on social issues. While all libertarians oppose government surveillance, the issue of same-sex marriage is not so clear-cut precisely because the State is involved. Depending on his religious affiliation or personal beliefs, a libertarian may support or oppose same-sex marriage. What we all agree on is that the State has no business regulating marriage.
Libertarianism, however, cannot be divided into social and economic categories such as “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.” To libertarians, there is no difference between economic and personal freedom. Without the one, you can’t have the other.
Hanauer and Liu’s smear piece is just the musings of would-be tyrants who think that they should be running things. Despite their warm and fuzzy rhetoric, progressives like Hanauer and Liu want to control your life through top-down programs backed by the implied threat of force.
Libertarians want you to be free to live your life as you wish so long as you extend that right to everyone else.
Which alternative sounds more like communism to you?