“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” -Thomas Sowell
Philosophy matters! Shocking, right? So many different ideologies are emerging in today’s political climate. This is due in part to a decaying duopoly unfit to satisfy the minds of those they claim to represent. We are seeing a political shift towards Anarchy, Communism, unfettered capitalism, and ideologies which have been out of the mainstream for ages. Inside this Renaissance of philosophies is a melting pot of confusion as to what they mean, or what their core principles are. We have those that follow these ideologies supporting them by reading the literature and spreading the platform to those who are uninformed. We also have those who support what they believe the philosophy to be without reading the literature and therefore spread constant misinformation as to what these philosophies truly mean. Then, we have those who are on the outside looking in who hear words like “Anarchy” and immediately envision a chaotic society in which wars are started over stepping on the wrong person’s property (I am looking at you, Kyle Wagner).
This is simply untrue. It isn’t what the philosophers of these ideologies envisioned when they wrote things like…
“I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.”– Murray Rothbard in “Society Without A State’ (1975)
Indeed, Anarchist philosophers such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman call for the abolition of the state, but in calling for it, they called for the individual to police and govern themselves. They called for them to mix the earth with their own labor and capital to acquire property and they rejected aggressing on the natural rights of others to do the same. This is a far cry from calling for chaos and terror. As such, many other philosophers are commonly misunderstood.
And, thus, we find the problem with the current arguments seen throughout the internet, rallies, and protests: The lack of knowledge of these philosophies. It is no secret that there is a constant debate going on between Anarcho-Communists, Anarcho-Capitalists, Mutualists, Egoists, Statists, etc.
But, do they truly know what they are arguing for or against?
“All things are for all. Here is an immense stock of tools and implements; here are all those iron slaves which we call machines, which saw and plane, spin and weave for us, unmaking and remaking, working up raw matter to produce the marvels of our time. But nobody has the right to seize a single one of these machines and say, “This is mine; if you want to use it you must pay me a tax on each of your products,” any more than the feudal lord of medieval times had the right to say to the peasant, “This hill, this meadow belong to me, and you must pay me a tax on every sheaf of corn you reap, on every brick you build. All is for all!” -Peter Kropotkin in “The Conquest of Bread” (1892)
When we learn of our ignorance, the best course of action is to read. One can never read too much philosophy, as this will be the basis for the ideas you champion and by which one claims to live. This includes reading that with which you are likely to disagree.
For instance, I am staunchly anti-communist. The idea has failed the people who supported it at every attempt and communism flatly rejects individualism. However, I have read Marx, Engles, Bakunin, Bookchin, and Kropotkin. I understand the philosophy enough to know that it wasn’t the basis of the philosophy that has failed the people, it was the implementation. You can’t argue against that which you don’t understand.
Libertarians, both partisans, and philosophical purists must recognize machine gunning comments about Communism being an authoritarian philosophy portray a shallow-at-best understanding of the idea. A brief skim of Kropotkin’s “Conquest of Bread” or Bakunin’s “Statism and Anarchy” show Communism is, in fact, an Anarchist philosophy which rejects authoritarianism. But, as with any collectivist idea, the implementation fails because it is individualism, not collectivism, which produces maximum liberty.
But enough about long-dead and well-bearded Russian philosophers.
Consider American current affairs.
Consider, just for a moment, in the minds of Trump and Clinton supporters; in the minds of those who have yet to break free of the duopoly’s chains. Republicans who truly believe Trump’s brazenly unconstitutional attacks on Syria are copacetic with liberty. Democrats who argue Clinton would have led an inclusive and tolerant regime despite opposing marriage equality until 2012. Those without knowledge of the philosophies upon which their beliefs are founded will stay ignorant of the tools needed to build the society for which they yearn.
It is important for us in the liberty movement to not just understand these various philosophies ourselves but to also teach others. The liberty movement has many fronts and each squadron of Liberty soldiers must be better read than our opponents. We must understand our rivals’ philosophies better than they understand the philosophies themselves.
And we must be patient with newcomers to the movement. We were all once uneducated and we all still have much to discover.
You can read more from Joshua Smith on Think Liberty here.