Rudolph Rocker once said that there is a definite trend in the historical development of human civilization which strives for the “free, unhindered unfolding of the individual and social forces of life.” This is indeed an accurate account of human history — we strive for the beautiful ethic of liberty.
Liberty can be described, rather simply, as the state of being free from domination and oppression, imposed by an authority, on one’s way of life, behavior or worldview. This idea means many different things to different people, but the fundamental idea of liberty is individual agency. This libertarian tradition notes that all human beings deserve to be free and equal in dignity and rights. Slavery, on the other hand, can be understood as the absolute domination of the individual — it is the end of agency. Slavery bucks the trend of human progress, it cages liberty. Slavery is unjustifiable and thus illegitimate — it has no place in a democratic society.
To obtain and protect liberty, all illegitimate authority must be abolished. When we tear down systems of domination and oppression, when we liberate humanity from illegitimate power structures, we find the true beauty of human nature. Liberty, then, requires active participation from the populace. Liberty is the product of labor. If a population is passive or apathetic, then systems of power and domination can spread like a cancer throughout society.
Because of this, those dedicated to the principles of liberty and democracy should be very concerned about a recent report, from the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO), that says forced labor (read slavery) generates a $150 billion annual worldwide profit. Even worse, $99 billion, (two-thirds) of this total profit, is generated through the sexual exploitation of men, women and children. The rest of the revenue comes from forced economic labor in agriculture, construction, mining and domestic work.
This fundamental evil, forced labor, the unwilling utility and exploitation of another must be abolished. To accomplish this abolition, it is necessary to look at the pre-existing conditions that give rise to such authoritarian systems — poverty, violence, poor education, class struggle, racism, sexism, etc – and confront the mechanisms through which these social forces subjugate human beings. This begs the questions: Where does power come from? Who should posses it? Who is responsible for our lives? These questions should lead to inquiry into our social organization and how to better the rights and welfare of all individuals — the common good.
Our collective libertarian tradition can answer these questions and progress the common good by dismantling power structures from above and building, only when needed, from below. When accomplished, labor will be inclined and liberated. In absolute liberty society will change, as America philosopher John Dewey notes, “from a feudalistic to a democratic social order,” respecting all workers as genuine human beings as opposed to resources for economic exploitation.
Luckily, folks continue to labor for liberty so that all may labor in liberty. The emerging open source, networked order, of autonomous individuals and civic sector groups, is advancing Mutualism and working for emancipation in ways traditional command and control governance is incapable of. This new order is stigmergic – decentralized in the freed market. Groups such as Women at Risk International, International Justice Mission and many more are liberating enslaved individuals in both local and global campaigns.
The New Mutualism is coming. May every individual one day live in liberty — until then, and ever after, let’s labor for the common good.