The Center for a Stateless Society represents a diversity of views and approaches toward our shared goal of eliminating coercion in political, economic, and social spheres of individual life. Many of us brand ourselves as anti-capitalists because of the popular associations that the word “capitalism” has in contemporary discourse. Rejecting capitalism as the way to describe what we are really interested in – free association, free movement, and free exchange – does not undermine our commitment to those values. In being more precise with our language we’re able to engage in meaningful conversations with people who would be put off by association with the ideas of capitalism or capitalists because they ascribe to a definition that uses capitalism to describe the political-economic status quo.
There is also something to be said for how anti-capitalism informs our approaches to ideating about free societies. Recognizing that truly free markets and free cultures have never existed makes it difficult to defend the forms of ownership, exchange, and social norms that exist or have existed historically. In this way our approaches to anarchism look a bit different from those put forth by anarcho-capitalists and other right-libertarians. Many of us believe that free societies would experiment more with different forms of ownership and some might be less hierarchical as a result. If anything, this pluralistic approach to free societies should appeal to those who appreciate radical individualism and spontaneous order.
But how do we communicate this nuanced approach to libertarianism to other libertarians? Tabling at the International Students For Liberty Conference this weekend was a refreshing and challenging exercise in doing just that, and our experiences give us hope that the values of radical individualism are becoming more appealing to the broader libertarian movement. About a third of the people who visited the C4SS table took one look and said “now this is what I’m into.” A well-respected economist and lecturer dropped by to peruse our wares. Seeing the title of C4SS’s published anthology, “Markets Not Capitalism,” he said, “that’s awesome! I’m going to use that.” Further discussions that weekend seemed to indicate that libertarians want to be more precise about the way they discuss their commitments. Talking about freedom led us to individualism; talking about violence led us to domination. To commit to an honest and open dialogue means daring to reconsider commitments and find the radical common thread at the core. We saw a lot of people taking that step, and it gives us hope for the future of libertarianism.
Maintaining relationships with the broader libertarian movement is especially important now as it faces threats of being co-opted by alt-right elements. Some might say that a left-libertarian presence in the student libertarian movement justifies that of those who are more conservative in their approaches to the ideas of liberty. However, this is only true insofar as those groups and individuals place liberty as their highest value rather than holding it in a secondary position to values like tradition and stability. This is not the case for those of the traditional or alt-right who believe in using the violence of the state toward their goals. There is value to having big tent libertarian organizations like Students For Liberty, but lines must be drawn somewhere, and, unlike national borders, they ought not to be arbitrary. Rather they should be rooted in fundamental commitments to liberty for all persons, everywhere, at all times. We applaud the decision of SFL staff to not associate with Richard Spencer and his acolytes, and we sincerely hope that other liberty-oriented organizations will do the same.
Thank you to all of those who donated to bring C4SS to ISFLC this year. We could not have been there without your support.
Meg Arnold is a contributing writer for C4SS. Cooper Williams is the Great Plains Regional Director for Students For Liberty.