Introduction: Defining Terms
We all know it’s the most cliché thing in modern literature to start out your work by citing Merriam-Webster, but…
(We are sticking to dictionary terms here, as this is a political conversation, and with political discussions, defining meaning is critical. As most who engage in such debate rely on formal literary definitions such as those provided by Merriam-Webster, we will rely on that for our source of definition)
Merriam-Webster defines socialism as:
1. any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3. a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Merriam-Webster then defines Libertarian as:
1. an advocate of the doctrine of free will
2. a. a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.
b. capitalized: a member of a political party advocating Libertarian principles
For the sake of this article, we are going to go with definition 2B of the term Libertarian: A member of a political party advocating Libertarian principles – as we know this party to be the “Libertarian Party.”
In deciding to anchor to this definition, with that comes the understanding that within the definition of the term “Libertarian,” we will be adhering to the Libertarian principles as they are presented on https://www.lp.org/platform/
Proposed question: Is Socialism compatible with the Libertarian Party?
Now that we have established definitions for Libertarianism, let’s take a more detailed look at the definitions provided for Socialism.
Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.
“When we call a capitalist society a consumers’ democracy we mean that the power to dispose of the means of production, which belongs to the entrepreneurs and capitalists, can only be acquired by means of the consumers’ ballot, held daily in the marketplace.”
– Ludwig Von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
The argument for incompatibility:
Platform Position 2.0 – Economic Liberty (Libertarian Party Platform)
“Libertarians want all members of society to have abundant opportunities to achieve economic success. A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by the government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.”
Libertarianism promotes a limited/minimal government so that naturally eliminates the opportunity for government ownership or administration of any industry’s means of production.
One could argue that a collective of individuals could, in fact, own a business, and this isn’t something I disagree with. However, owning a business is not the same as owning an industry. Any free business owner, as according to Libertarian principles, should be free to run their business however they please just so long as no one’s rights are being infringed upon.
However, the moment this transcends singular businesses and becomes the standard for an industry, the entire premise becomes very un-Libertarian – as it does not allow for the economic freedom of individuals in that industry who do not favor socialism. Furthermore, socialism does not refer to a small group of people sharing ownership of a business, nor has it ever. Socialism is used to define the community as a whole, sharing and dictating the use of ownership of industry.
“Socialism is a wonderful idea. It is only as a reality that it has been disastrous. Among people of every race, color, and creed, all around the world, socialism has led to hunger in countries that used to have surplus food to export…. Nevertheless, for many of those who deal primarily in ideas, socialism remains an attractive idea — in fact, seductive. It’s every failure is explained away as due to the inadequacies of particular leaders. ”
– Thomas Sowell
Verdict: Primarily Incompatible
This is something that can be compatible at a very small level. A business can run in a socialist manner, where all the workers to decide they voluntarily owned the company, and if they had all worked together to put in equal parts of creating it. The other possibility is if a business owner would voluntarily forfeit his percentages of ownership to the collective, to create a business where the collective itself owned all available shares of the business and decided what allowances or distributions of the goods are made possible.
However, due to the statement of the principle listed here: “All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society” – once this construct is made broader and placed on top of an entire industry, if a monopoly of any good is created with this type of ownership, it instantly becomes incompatible with Libertarian Party principles. Not because it is a monopoly, but because it is a collective central body dictating the allocation and management of trade for said good.
Lastly, the Libertarian Party is a political party. Socialism has a very definite term in the world of American politics, and that commonly accepted definition is not one that leads to compatibility with the Libertarian Party. To classify one’s self as a Libertarian socialist in the Libertarian party is to set one’s self up for far more explaining than should be necessary for an already difficult to sell political party.
“Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation. This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat: these two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other.”
– Frederic Bastiat
a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state”
The argument for incompatibility:
Libertarian Party Platform
2.0 Economic Liberty –
2.1 Property and Contract
“As respect for property rights is fundamental to maintaining a free and prosperous society, it follows that the freedom to contract to obtain, retain, profit from, manage, or dispose of one’s property must also be upheld. Libertarians would free property owners from government restrictions on their rights to control and enjoy their property, as long as their choices do not harm or infringe on the rights of others. Eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, governmental limits on profits, governmental production mandates, and governmental controls on prices of goods and services (including wages, rents, and interest) are abridgments of such fundamental rights. For voluntary dealings among private entities, parties should be free to choose with whom they trade and set whatever trade terms are mutually agreeable.”
For the question on item b, please refer to platform position 2.0: Economic Freedom.
“a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done”
The posting of platform principles is not necessary for this refutation. No form of Marxism is or ever has been compatible with any form of libertarianism.
While there is a debate to be had over individualism, socialism, or syndicalism being compatible with Libertarianism as it is referred to on the popular political spectrum that is commonly shared amongst individuals when discussing politics, I do not believe the same opportunity exists for the Libertarian Party if every actor is being intellectually honest.
The Libertarian party promotes a big tent; however, I believe it’s important to establish the limits of exactly what that tent entails. With the entrance of individuals into the Libertarian Party who believe in industrial equal social ownership of the means of production, the result is not a group of individuals who are who are similarly aligned to meet common goals. It is rather a group of individuals who disagree over core principle until those of the socialist mind become focused and driven to change the core principles to fit the preferences of their socialist political theories.
Property rights are the core of the Libertarian Party principle for good reason. The existence of property rights is widely seen as the focal point of liberty, and the core foundational concept that holds together any arguments for Natural Rights. Property rights blur as the individual begins to lean left, the question of prior use (first use) comes into play and creates a rabbit hole of social justice and reparation as we attempt to undue the sins of the past. We cannot change the past, and every present moment we experience builds the past further. All we can do is attempt to influence the future, and ensure that the effect we have through our actions, is one that promotes, enables, and creates a construct that is compatible and fluid with individual freedom and liberty.
Socialism is the antithesis of individual freedom, as it removes liberty from the individual, sacrificed for the greater good of the collective. The entire axiom that socialism operates from is counter to that of the Libertarian Party. I leave you with this, a quote from Friedrich A. Hayek, from his work “The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism”
“Morals, including especially, our institutions of property, freedom, and justice, are not a creation of man’s reason but a distinct second endowment conferred on him by cultural evolution – runs counter to the main intellectual outlook of the twentieth century. The influence of rationalism has indeed been so profound and pervasive that, in general, the more intelligent an educated person is, the more likely he or she now is not only to be a rationalist, but also to hold socialist views (regardless of whether he or she is sufficiently doctrinal to attach to his or her views any label, including ‘socialist’). The higher we climb up the ladder of intelligence, the more we talk with intellectuals, the more likely we are to encounter socialist convictions. Rationalists tend to be intelligent and intellectual; and intelligent intellectuals tend to be socialist.
One’s initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialist diminishes when one realises that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilisation offers to deliberate design rather than to following traditional rules, and likewise to suppose that we can, by exercising our reason, eliminate any remaining undesired features by still more intelligence reflection, and still more appropriate design and ’rational coordination’ of our undertakings. This leads one to be favorably disposed to the central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism… And since they have been taught that constructivism and scientism are what science and the use of reason are all about, they find it hard to believe that there can exist any useful knowledge that did not originate in deliberate experimentation or to accept the validity of any tradition apart from their own tradition of reason. Thus [they say]: ‘Tradition is almost by definition reprehensible, something to be mocked and deplored’.”