Often we’ll hear about the concepts of “Right unity” or “left unity” as a way to express putting aside the differences between the libertarian and authoritarian sides of the social debates to focus on the commonalities between them. It’s done to direct their attention against their economic opposition. Even in libertarian circles, we see the push for bottom unity ever increasing, as well as the resistance against the idea as well. In this week’s Bad Arguments I’m going to tackle some of the key issues in both the “for” and “against” camps of bottom unity to hopefully clear up some of the confusion around this, and get rid of some of the bad rhetoric surrounding the idea.
Those For Bottom Unity
A key issue I’ve seen from the supporters of bottom unity, quite frankly, is the hypocrisy that many seem to have about it. A lot of supporters (usually belonging to more leftward ideologies) will push for the idealized concept of unity between all libertarians so that we can tackle our true enemy: the state. The issue is that it’s hard to win over support to the idea when one says “we need to unity despite our differences to combat the state” in one place, then follow it with “all of you capitalists are boot licking swine” in the next. If the idea is to gain any actual traction then it needs to be applied consistently. The same thing goes for the capitalist supporters that make a few too many starvation and helicopter jokes about the left. “You win more flies with honey than vinegar” as the saying goes. It’s practically impossible to keep a movement together if all involved are holding and actively expressing such direct disdain for the other ideologies involved.
Another issue with the pro argument is the practicality of it. Even if someone’s leanings are more panarchic (more on that later) we will not realistically be jumping directly into any form of anarchy with a libertarian movement. As such, it follows that our actions, and bottom unity aims to improve our success at this, will mainly serve to reduces the functions and involvement of the state in our lives. The issue with this is that when we are hoping to advocate for policy and make political changes of that nature we need to have a direct agreement on what those changes will be. Furthermore, not everyone even in the same ideological camps agrees on everything. What happens if a socialist libertarian is elected (libsoc) and while they might support 2A rights and the like, but they also support voting for additional welfare for the sake of economic freedom? Or provisions to knock down private property protections? Just the same I doubt a libsoc in favor of bottom unity would find themselves cheering for a libertarian candidate that votes to remove consumer protects in order to make the market freer. Before there is a push for this type of unity, these are core issues which would need to be corrected, though the likelihood of that happening is, in my limited opinion, tiny at best.
Those Against Bottom Unity
One thing this crowd possesses something almost as damaging as they perceive ideological unity would be: Puritanism. Many of those in the “against” camp rarely make their arguments for practical or pragmatic reasons. The arguments are closer to the No True Scotsman Fallacy. “You can’t be a libertarian because you don’t believe in private property!!” or other such claims. The issue with this notion is, as above, there are those even in the same ideology that disagree on certain aspects. It also ignores that the word “libertarian” is an umbrella term. There are pro-state libertarians, pro-violent revolution libertarians (despite the love of the NAP), and even libertarians that think pineapple goes on pizza. All of these are still considered libertarian, regardless of whether they’re further left or right. To argue against bottom unity on these grounds isn’t just a bad argument; it’s an empty one.
Another issue again is the functionality aspect. If we still have the state option then we either need to complete the impossible task of converting massive swaths of the public to the side of our version of libertarianism, or we need to court those outside our core supporter base. While the function issues from the other section would be an issue, this is rarely a part of the argument put forward by the crowd that is against this idea. They’re willing to court democrats and republicans, but not other libertarians that are willing and wanting to help out against the state? This is the same as shooting yourself in the proverbial foot.
If we had an anarchy situation though the argument against comes completely to an end. If we understand and acknowledge that 1) people would truly be free to act and organize as they please in anarchy, and 2) people today and throughout history haven’t always believed the exact same things, we need to conclude that anarchy will be inherently a type of panarchy. Communists will go form communes, mutualists will go build factories, and capitalists will start saving up for the recreational McNukes. We will all be free to organize and act as we see fit. In such a society, having established a form of unity despite differences would not only be beneficial, but it would also practically become necessary.
I personally don’t have any strong feelings for or against the notion of bottom unity. While the idea itself holds merits both practically and on principle, I find that the bad actors in both camps make it a topic that’s both tiring and distracting to be dragged into. My suggestion instead would be to look for unity within our own ideologies first, find like-minded people, and push for liberty through whichever means and methods become available to us. If someone wants to help a libsoc win an election despite being a capitalist more power to them. If someone wants to stay in an echo chamber away from other forms of libertarians but finds ways to push their message out to the public then great. I’d say the bad worst argument about bottom unity is the fact that there is an argument over it at all. We’re all supposed to believe in liberty. As such, we can align ourselves with whomever we please in whichever way we like to accomplish whatever it is we wish to. Let’s not miss the trees for the forest here.
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.