3 Reasons Not to Use the “Libertarian-Socialism is an Oxymoron” Argument
As libertarianism expands as a respectable philosophy and political approach, it is important to dispense with terrible, and frankly cheap, dismissals of our interlocutors’ positions. One position that we libertarians dismiss is libertarian-socialism. It is often dismissed as an oxymoron, at least online where it is posed as a serious argument. Why, even Being Libertarian has posted this as an argument:
Not only is this argument false, but detrimentally so. There are three reasons why this argument should be avoided like the plague.
1. It betrays a lack of historical understanding
Libertarianism and anarchism began as leftist movements, and for the longest times were considered as such. This isn’t historical revisionism, as even Murray Rothbard recognized this fact:
“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy. Other words, such as ‘liberal,’ had been originally identified with laissez-faire libertarians, but had been captured by left-wing statists, forcing us in the 1940s to call ourselves rather feebly ‘true’ or ‘classical’ liberals. ‘Libertarians,’ in contrast, had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over, and more properly from the view of etymology; since we were proponents of individual liberty and therefore of the individual’s right to his property.”
– Murray Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, p 83
Granted, words change and I’m happy to use the term libertarian to describe myself, but the point remains it would be odd that the progenitors of term didn’t notice the inherent contradiction present in the term.
2. Libertarianism is compatible with socialism
Socialism doesn’t mean “the government does it”; that’s statism. All socialism entails is that the means of production is, in some sense, in the hands of the masses. Capitalism means that those means of production are in private hands. A socialist could be a libertarian, provided that they live in a commune, or agree to sell their labor and productions to a labor council.
As long as it is done voluntarily, who cares?
Some might object regarding those who would then decide to engage in a capitalistic exchange. However, if one agrees to abide by the rules of a contact not to, then that socialist community’s contract would be violated.
3. It takes attention away from good arguments against socialism
There are plenty of good arguments against socialism that deserve far more attention because they reflect the inability of the system to distribute goods. One such example is Ludwig Von Mises’ economic calculation problem. This argument points that one comparative advantage of capitalism to most systems is that capitalists can adjust prices, and allocate goods, based off of the demand for the products. Socialists have to explain how their economic systems can account these necessary mechanisms.
This is not the only argument we have against socialism, but it’s far more of an interesting one that encourages economic discussion. These are the types of arguments we should be having, not mere dismissive retorts that anyone with a simple understanding of history, and a drop of critical thinking skills can refute.
* Edouard Karam is a Lebanese-Canadian Catholic, aspiring philosopher, and libertarian (following in the political tradition of John Locke). He has a bachelor of arts, and a master’s degree in religious studies; and is looking to contribute those academic skills to the libertarian movement.
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