Libertarian Socialism: One of Many Libertarian Theories

In my recent defenses of "libertarianism" and classical liberalism, I have stressed that classical liberalism cannot be reduced to the economics of market capitalism. Although I happen to embrace Austrian economic theories and basic capitalism, I do not assume that capitalism is the only way to promote freedom. Corporatism and crony capitalism certainly do not promote or protect freedom.

While personal freedom and individual sovereignty delineate libertarian philosophical principles, there is no single "right" way to pursue these aims. I happen to believe that Austrian economists were more likely to be correct about social and political issues than many other thinkers, but if I don't consider other views then I might overlook an even better path towards freedom.

Libertarian socialism is a utopian philosophy, certainly, but it should be considered when we ask, "What systems promote individual freedom?" This raises questions about what is "freedom" (the negative vs. positive rights arguments, certainly) and whether or not individualism is compatible with social order. Of course, I embrace the (badly labeled) negative rights and individuals over centralized power.

The reality is that socialism tends towards strong central powers. When you believe, as I do, that strong institutions overpower individuals, then there's an understandable skepticism towards anything "socialist" in nature.

Let us consider how many "libertarianism(s)" there might be and how socialism might fit. A quick Web search finds the following topics listed within libertarianism:
  • Anarchism
  • Christian libertarianism
  • Civil libertarianism
  • Consequentialist libertarianism
  • Constitutionalism (United States)
  • Free-market anarchism
  • Green libertarianism
  • Individualist anarchism
  • Left-libertarianism
  • Libertarian Marxism
  • Libertarian socialism
  • Market liberalism
  • Natural-rights libertarianism
  • Objectivism
  • Paleolibertarianism
  • Right-libertarianism
  • Social anarchism

Libertarian socialism presents a rhetorical challenge, and a psychological challenge regarding human nature. First, the rhetorical challenge is that "socialism" is seldom associated with decentralized, individualistic anarchism. Yes, anarchy is the best way to describe libertarian socialism because the school of thought assumes that people, free of corporations, large institutions, and a domineering government, will somehow do the right thing while also enjoying near-complete personal freedom.

Here are some of the concepts of libertarian socialism:
  • Local government councils, instead of a central government, make most decisions;
  • Townhall-style debates, instead of representative democracy, when possible;
  • Employee-owned enterprises, with no outside stockholders or investors;
  • Individual liberty promoted by "positive rights" managed locally.
I am certain that any utopian ideal relies on a human nature that does not exist broadly. People are not going to stop using and abusing each other magically. Eliminating the formal structures of government and production doesn't eliminate human nature: some people will be leaders, some will be followers, some are intrinsically motivated, and some are extrinsically motivated. People are different, in ways that make such "pure" social theories destined for failure.

An entirely "free market" approach to business, for example, is destined to be ruined by the few people driven entirely by extrinsic, materialistic, and narcissistic motivations. The flaws of human nature that make an entirely unregulated market economy dangerous would make a utopian, anarchistic government dangerous. There are "bad" people and they will exploit the flaws in any socio-economic model. Political structure and economics structures don't matter to people driven to be at the top, no matter the price paid by others.

The argument of this post is that "libertarian" is not one-dimensional, represented solely neither by Rand-style Objectivism nor the Chicago school of economics. There are debates within "libertarian" circles, though many of those debates occur only on the fringes because one set of "libertarians" dominate political discourse in the United States and other Anglo-American nations.

Libertarians are generally classical liberals, shaped by Enlightenment ideals that we still believe offer better models for socio-economic models than what has been offered before or since.

I'm more pragmatic than most libertarian socialists, and more realistic than most of the free market conservatives leading the Libertarian Party in the United States. Balance is always key, everything in moderation.
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