Are libertarianism and socialism diametrically opposed? The libertarian socialist would say no.

The political philosophy of libertarian socialism categorically rejects state interference in social affairs and instead proposes the abolition of authoritarian institutions that inhibit freedom and justice.

The rejection of state socialism and the current mixed economy define libertarian socialism. Instead, the libertarian socialism project calls for decentralized institutions that use direct democracy or voluntary associations to break up centralized institutions and institutions captured by rent-seeking capitalists.

What is a Libertarian Socialist?

The libertarian socialist believes in a free society, where individuals do not have to worry about being coerced by corporations or oppressive states. The political philosophy is focused on freedom and the individual’s quest to break free from institutions that shackle human thought and creativity.

Unlike their state socialist counterparts, libertarian socialists do not push central planning, state-owned enterprises, or outright nationalization. However, they do not reject the idea of collective ownership of property. The ability for free individuals to determine their own property-holding arrangements is crucial for socialist libertarians.

If people band together and collectivize the ownership of private property ona voluntary basis, this is perfectly in line with these precepts. There are numerous cases where private property is acquired through dubious means and is used by elites to cement their economic status and lord over the working classes.

A social libertarian stresses the importance of defending civil liberties, which made them staunch opponents of totalitarian socialist regimes throughout the 20th century. Since Vladimir Lenin successfully led the Bolshevik Revolution starting in 1917, Communism and its socialist cousins have been directly associated with totalitarianism.

What Is a Libertarian Socialist Approach to Governance?

Libertarians of all stripes never approved of one-party states. Communist regimes and totalitarian socialist adjacent political movements were marked by such arrangements. Ironically, these regimes banned many dissident socialist parties, which validated the initial libertarian socialist skepticism towards these kinds of regimes.

Instead, libertarians with socialist inclinations favored voluntary associations, economic democracy, and local governance. One of the contradictions they spotted with regards to 20th century communist experiments was how wealth inequality still persisted thanks to the concentration of power in the state.

This was a sign of how centralized political structures can allow for massive wealth and power consolidation. Which is why political decentralization is key for ensuring equality of political and economic opportunities. In sum, states have a tendency of centralizing and creating benefits for parasitic individuals, thus requiring a new way forward.

Unlike conventional free-marketers, libertarian socialists are concerned about economic inequality. A society marked by wealth inequality is oppressive and socially unstable. By phasing out the state, individuals would be free to live up to their economic potential now that they’re no longer shackled by the state’s laws and regulations.

Similarly, being free from excessive corporate power allows for people to chart their own economic paths free from sub-optimal employment arrangements. Additionally, individuals and communities would then be afforded the opportunity to set up economic institutions that provide real value to consumers while providing dignified work.

Although market interactions would be respected, many socialist libertarians called into question a number of economic assumptions and offered alternatives at the local level to address certain inequalities and worrisome social problems that corporate capitalism generally brought about.

Origin of Libertarian Socialism

It’s often forgotten that the word ”libertarian” had a different meaning in the 19th century. Anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, and other forms of left-leaning anarchist movements of that century were often described as libertarians. These movements thoroughly opposed the state, as well as dominant business entities.

This stands in contrast to modern libertarianism, which focused more on economic freedoms and private property. This 20th century philosophy of liberty drew more from classical liberalism and generally held market activity in a much higher regard. There was much stronger emphasis on individualism and respect for private property.

In the 19th century, advocates of private property and free markets would generally be categorized as liberals. Broadly speaking, libertarian describes a pro-liberty outlook on politics, while socialism describes an economic system where wealth is distributed on a more equal basis.

Libertarian socialists try to fuse these concepts together to form a unique philosophy. Liberalism would be critiqued from a socialist perspective, while state socialism would be critiqued from a libertarian perspective. The goal was to create a new way of dealing with the problems of industrialization while protecting individual freedoms.

This unique philosophy tried to make political discussion more nuanced by recognizing the merits of both socialist and liberal thought. Political discourse tends to get stale at times, and often what’s needed is to recognize that certain competing political schools have valid points that can be combined to form news ways of thinking.

The rapid industrialization of the 19th century caught many people by surprise and required novel strategies to address its many unforeseen consequences. Socialist libertarians firmly believed they had the right answers to the many problems present during the industrial era.

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