Two Lanes on the Road to Freedom

The divisions in the various “freedom movements” around the world are, in a word, byzantine. “Purist” versus “pragmatist.” “Radical” versus “moderate.” “Anarcho-capitalist” versus “agorist” versus “libertarian socialist.” You name it, we’re divided on it.

The deepest and most obvious chasm upon which self-described libertarians of various persuasions split is probably the “anarchist” versus “limited government” divide. I trust there’s no confusion as to which side of that one the Center for a Stateless Society comes down on.

Another split, or at least point of distinction, is “right” versus “left.” For many years, many in the American libertarian movement worked to erase, or at least minimize the importance of, that distinction, but recently it’s begun to move to the fore.

I consider the distinction valid, and place myself firmly on the “left” side of it, but I also believe there’s plenty of room in the movement for “right” and “left” wings pulling society in the same direction.

Defining “left” and “right” is itself an exercise fraught with peril. The terms derive from seating arrangements in revolutionary France’s parliament and their usage has evolved in various ways over the two centuries and change that they’ve been in use. So please, feel free to take my definitions with a grain of salt. I think they stand up to historical scrutiny, but your mileage my vary.

The “left” tends toward a dynamic approach to building a better future. “Leftists” may or may not believe in the perfectibility of man, but they do believe that constant change — innovation, the destruction of old institutions in favor of new ones, a constant re-evaluation of what we’re doing, with an eye toward doing it better or doing something different — is the key to making things better.

The “right,” on the other hand, tends toward a more cautious approach. “Rightists” may or may not believe in Murphy’s Law, but they do take a dim view toward hasty, sweeping realignments of the social order. Rather, they believe that longstanding institutions which have evolved over time are best suited toward continuing that evolution in the right (pun intended) direction for the society which those institutions inform.

The problem on both “left” and “right” is that government is a tempting instrument for getting what one wants.

“Left” supporters of the state believe that they can use its power to re-make society in their ideology’s image without brooking any interference from a gaggle of doubting rightists.

“Right” supporters of the state believe that they can use its power to prop up existing institutions, protect those institutions from the destructive visions of a bunch of harebrained leftists, and let those the slow, organic evolution of society proceed unimpeded.

In an environment of monopoly government, there are obviously good reasons for “left” and “right” to duke it out. If one side holds power, the other loses.

On the anarchist side of the question, not so much. There are good reasons for “left” and “right” libertarians to cooperate on the project of transitioning from the Age of the Nation-State to the Age of the Stateless Society … and for “limited government” libertarians to reconsider their position.

In the absence of the state, the social order becomes a market. Its customers — the individuals composing society — are free to choose between lefty “innovative ideas” and rightist “proven ideas.” They’re also free to change their minds, and to take their business elsewhere — even to the point of developing completely separate social groupings which isolate themselves one from another to avoid “contamination.” Not only does this make it easier to figure out “what works best,” but it allows everyone to choose “what works best” for them.

Yes, there are problems with the whole idea, chief among them the likelihood that one or more social groupings would metamorphose into states and attempt to forcibly annex the other groupings. That argument isn’t without merit, but it’s not terribly different from arguing against chemotherapy because the cancer might come back. It’s just a bridge to cross … when we come to it.

If you’re a “liberal” or a “conservative” or even a “limited government libertarian” — in other words, if you have a vision of the society, “left” or “right,” that you’d like to live in — ask yourself this:

What’s your priority: Building that society for yourself and with others who want to live in it? Or waging an eternal battle to seize monopoly power and impose your unrealized vision on everyone?

There are two lanes on the road to freedom, but the state is an off-ramp, leading to a dead end.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory