The new libertarianism: anti-capitalist and socialist

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In Kevin Carson’s Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated, we are informed that the true libertarian is anti-capitalist and socialist. Well, at least Hoppe’s magisterial treatise A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism still has a suitable title–if you just switch the terms. (Incidentally, the image at right is a postcard I bought in 1990 in Berlin, right after the Wall fell. The post-Wall Germans were under the impression that socialism was a bad thing.)

But words have meanings. Socialism means centralized control of the means of production–or, in Hoppe’s more essentialist generalization where he defines socialism as “an institutionalized interference with or aggression against private property and private property claims,” A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 2; also see pp. 12–which is clearly incompatible with libertarian principles, by both standard- and left-libertarian lights. If we ignore semantics, even “communism” could work–after all, we are for community, no? But words have meanings and fighting over semantics is futile. Hell, we’ve even lost “liberal,” though there is some hope we can regain that (I recall Objectivist David Kelley once in a speech said, if the leftists are done with the term liberal, can they please give it back?). But “socialism”? Too late. If we were picking a new term, I might choose Hazlitt’s tentatively proffered term “Cooperatism” (Foundations of Morality, p. xii), but I think libertarianism, or anarcho-libertarianism, works just fine. It’s not the term that is the problem: it’s what it stands for. (As Rand said when asked: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things that you mean?”” Her answer, as mine, was: “To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.””)

(As for “capitalism”–it is not at all incompatible with libertarianism, though it may not be the best descriptive or definitional term; but it basically describes a system in which the means of production are privately owned; this is indeed compatible with libertarianism, and an essential element of any libertarian society–and it is not “vulgar” to recognize this.)

12:51 pm on June 19, 2009