In the last few years, and especially since the “Freedom Convoy” barged into Ottawa last winter, we’ve heard plenty about “Libertarians.” The term used to refer to anarchists, a nice way to phrase their rejection of a well-ordered society. Few use that expression any more, thanks to its most extreme elements.
These are the elements who broke the order of the old patriarchal societies before the world wars. They paved the way for the great revolutions of the last century, and they may do it again (a scary thought). The narodniks were populists in their time, holding a special place for the downtrodden classes who were thought to have gained an insight into reordering society on lines of equality. “Populism” is still used today and refers to a belief that ordinary people, especially those exploited and uneducated have a special insight from within their experience. It’s still difficult to make sense of this since their “inner wisdom” seems questionable, ignorant of history and economics and easily led into emotional snares.
The big attraction of libertarianism today is in for what libertarianism is not. It is not politics as usual, not rewarding of the elites, not manipulation of the media and of education, it is not promises continually unfulfilled. Or so it promises.
The big attraction is for what libertarianism is not
Today this political theory is a celebration of the Individual and of free will. So many people are suffering in today’s top-heavy inequality where 1% of the population owns almost everything and — especially — who can control even a democratic society (or one that seems so) by subterfuges and judicious funding of their own mouthpieces. Libertarians seemed less individualistic and more anarchistic in the sense of overthrowing the people who exploit much of the world. A class politics. Today libertarians seem all individualists, espousing a policy of “propaganda by act” where they try to spark revolt by terrorist acts. The occupation of Ottawa and January 6, 2021 in Washington were propaganda by act.
There’s a long history here, not something sprung upon us by Trump-like characters. The philosopher Nietzsche can easily be read as encouraging individual terrorism — this is Libertarianism as exclusively a single White person’s statement of principles.
There are many philosophers who endorsed Libertarianism as a social movement, favouring emancipation of the exploited as a class. French writers like Proudhon (who questioned the whole notion of property) and Fournier were hugely influential. Georges Sorel’s book “Reflections on Violence” helped create the atmosphere for World War 1.
He praised violence as a political act, the seeding of chaos in every area to make an exploiting regime impossible to maintain. This sounds familiar today. Except Proudhon, etc., felt that ordinary people could govern themselves best in group-managed collectives. No individualist anarchists! And there is some encouragement to be found in this — these are the people and the movements which destroyed the ancienne regimes, birthed the Russian Revolution, and ended the division of the world into colonial empires.
Today’s individualistic “Freedom Convoy” and “lone shooter” terrorism in the USA are essentially new. Ancient anarchists wanted to dismantle government and rebuild a just society; today’s anarchists want to end all government of any sort, all social norms, all mutual support and self-defense programs. Individual terrorism, not united, class-wide revolt. The law of the jungle will automatically bring the best to the top.
So …. today’s libertarianism is not a new thing. It is strange it still has currency when it has not solved any of society’s inequalities and exploitation, ever. What may be new is that the people chanting Freedom! are in fact absolutely free to do almost what they wish (witness the unopposed occupation of downtown Ottawa); these people appear well fed, many overweight, well dressed, driving machines valued in the hundreds of thousands …. hardly Russian serfs, Chinese farmers, or Cuban sugar cane workers.
Those impoverished people achieved radical social change when they organized much of the exploited classes, a communitarian sort of libertarianism, not individuals expressing their personal disgust with communities working together. Otherwise, isn’t it Nazism?