Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Libertarian?

I am not ashamed to call myself a libertarian anymore.

Two years ago this month, a friend of mine suggested that I write an article for the Center for a Stateless Society, a group I had very little knowledge of, aside from said friend posting a few of their writings per week on Facebook. At the time, I was young and in college, a (embarrassingly, lapsed) member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and just starting to find myself in my new role as an opinion columnist and journalism student.

At the time I leaned very heavily toward the most straight-forward version of anarcho-syndicalism I could muster: I believed that political revolution could be fomented solely by worker action, won solely by worker action, and a new world created in the shell of the old – all exclusively by worker action. The post-revolution world I envisioned was vaguely communist, but there were still questions I couldn’t answer and discrepancies I couldn’t readily avoid.

I was wary, at first, being an anarcho-syndicalist, of being thrown into the lion’s den of what I thought were a bunch of Ayn Rand-loving criminal capitalists, but James Tuttle, the Center’s new director and a Fellow Worker, convinced me to write my first op-ed for them, concerning Todd Akin’s incredibly terrible “legitimate rape” comment. It was, as far as anarchist opinion pieces go, fairly weak, and the first draft actually included a harebrained message of support for a Democratic political candidate in the upcoming election as a means of getting Akin away from public view.

Luckily, Tom Knapp, one of the Center’s Media Coordinators, put a stop on that first draft, forcing me to look at what I was writing and ask myself, “Is this something an anarchist would actually advocate for?”

In other words, you can talk the talk, but can you commit to walking the walk?

This was the first time in my life that an editor challenged my very convictions. At first, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Was I angry? Was I disappointed? Did I just lose what might be my only chance to write for an anarchist website because I was subconsciously still a statist? Noam Chomsky, for all the good work he did on syntactic structures, behaviorism and foreign policy, had never prepared me for this.

Instead of backing down and forgetting about that stupid Center for a Stateless Society, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. I opened the draft document and wracked my brain for several hours while neglecting school work and taking up study space in the university library. I scoured anarchist reference websites, looking for anything I could find that would be able to tie in the article’s specifics with both anarchism and feminism. In the research stage for that first op-ed, I tried to pack as much Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman and pamphleted versions of random anarcha-feminist material from The Anarchist Library in my head as I could before I remembered:

Keep it simple, statist.

The best writing is often the least convoluted. Getting to a point and putting an exclamation mark on that point quickly is much more effective than throwing excessive quotes and stats at the reader. I cut about 300 words from that first draft and added, at most, another 100 that got to the point I wanted to make much better.

Looking back on that first article from the place of growth that two years and a handful of other writings affords, I can see that it still has its share of issues. But by forcing me to think like an anarchist instead of just positioning myself as one, Knapp, Tuttle and the whole of C4SS taught me something incredibly valuable – not only about writing, but about having courage in my convictions.

I’ve learned a lot since I was accepted into C4SS, first as an Op-ed contributor, then as a Fellow. I’ve been exposed to mutualism, critiques of intellectual property, critiques against the prison system, the benefits of stigmergic networks and more. Behind all of this was a group of men and women who challenge each other not to stick themselves into an ideological rut. By helping each other grow, they themselves grow.

The point of this essay is not to blow sunshine up the posteriors of the people I write with. There’s plenty I disagree with them on – some topics I’ve made my differing opinion known; others, not so much. I still identify largely with anarcho-syndicalism, and I’m still mostly not convinced by the propertarian arguments some of my colleagues espouse. And yes, I am aware that in the libertarian movement more broadly, there are problems with racism, misogyny, homophobia and other social diseases. But the same can be said about more than a few movements and organizations on the Left. If all we do is accuse each other’s movements of moral impurity, not only will there never be any chance of a dialogue between us, there will be no way for us to address these concerns separately with any efficacy.

This is why I don’t shy away from the “libertarian” descriptor. I see genuine promise in a lot of what libertarianism has to offer, and I legitimately believe that the left can add to that canon and create something in synthesis that is more powerful than either milieus can create separately. The Alliance of the Libertarian Left, college organizations like Students For Liberty and our own Students for a Stateless Society, and the growing number of people who are already combining social-left concerns with libertarian theory – and talking about it publicly – are beginning to make it possible for an even newer libertarianism to emerge.

It is indeed possible for someone like me – someone who identifies as an anarcho-syndicalist, an anti-capitalist and a feminist – to be a libertarian.

This is something that entrenched pundits and Quixotic windmill-tilters who write nothing but smear jobs on the people they think are in charge of the libertarian movement fail to understand. We’re no longer solely defined by what Lew Rockwell’s stable of columnists write, or what the Ludwig von Mises Institute publishes. It isn’t accurate to pigeonhole libertarians to “devotees of Ayn Rand,” or “followers of the Chicago School of Economics” anymore, if indeed it ever was. Libertarianism contains multitudes, and the tides are shifting.

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