The Community of Individuals: Libertarians and Utopias

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Humans always function in some kind of community – and libertarians, armed with their utopias, are willing to rebuild those communities after the damage done by the social democracy.

There are no individuals if there are no communities. One of the major libertarian arguments against modern political systems is the fact that the bottom-up communities are often being crushed by the impersonal powers of the state. Hence, protection of the individual against the state needs to include protection of the community as well. No individual is able to make full use of their skills without interaction with others. Libertarians need to figure out the foundations on which freedom, which advocate for, could be realized. And the basis for this foundations is obviously a community – all interactions that bind each person with those, the loss of whom would be immediately realized and felt by them.

Dare to Think the Unthinkable

The individual is not autogenic and cannot be perceived outside the community context. Having a libertarian utopia – be that in the particular visions of the best normative social structure presented by different philosophers or in the Nozick’s claim that libertarianism is merely a foundation for a utopia – does not relieve anyone from the task of attempting to change the social democratic dystopia into a world that is (even slightly) less statist and in which people have a bit more freedom. Even if this world is still imperfect. Although not a libertarian himself, Friedrich August von Hayek inspired many to take action based on changing the climate of this idea and going toward an established destination marked clearly on the map of ideas.

The Intellectuals And Socialism presents the condition of the freedom movement – including libertarians as its integral part – of the 1940s very accurately. Much like the aftermath of a long and unfavorable change, it was filled with a combination of tiredness and lack of dreams. Hayek suggested that it was having a dream – a kind of utopia, inevitably an abstract one – that would allow people to face the ever-growing social democracy, and which after many years could enable them to fight it as equals. A utopia, as an ideal destination on the edge of the history, even if unrealized, is very important since it provides us with the azimuth for our actions. It has a significant function in the process of changing the reality – it acts as a lighthouse showing us the most desirable path.

However, in order to make even one step towards the libertarian idea of freedom, it is worth to cooperate and gain capital – both financial and social. This is what libertarians of both approaches should do and what they are obviously doing. The narrow libertarianism, as explained by Dariusz Juruś, is a stance that refers mostly to protection of private property – this is its absolute feature. Libertarians in the broader sense focus mainly on the affirmation of liberty. Nowadays, the differences between the two approaches are often philosophical. It is common for the representatives of these stances – different as they may be – to cooperate in the pragmatic sense. Libertarian movement is not yet in the phase, in which the two branches could afford to cross each other’s paths and fight one another in the sphere of practice.

A Functional Utopia

Libertarians already have their utopia. It’s anarcho-capitalism – a system based on free trade, in which the market is responsible for meeting the demand for all goods, including those traditionally provided solely by the state, e.g. army, police or justice system. The advocates for libertarianism in the narrow sense, who believe that this utopia is attainable and moral, are called anarcho-capitalists. Communities in such a system are exclusively voluntary and are not limited to a common, global market (from which one can dissociate and build one’s own utopia based on autarky).

While writing his essay, Hayek did not realize that the utopian thinking would soon help libertarians – and more broadly, all liberty-minded people for whom libertarianism would be an ideological weapon – retain their intellectual bravery. However, it is important to note that the anarcho-capitalist utopia is unique in its nature. It does not promise happiness and immortality to everyone, but only unburdening people of those problems that are the result of the very existence of the state. Hence, it is anthropologically optimistic – it does not predict a war in which all people are fighting each other. It is also closer to John Locke’s claims, who could imagine a society without the state, than to that of Thomas Hobbes’s. Contrary to Locke, however, the advocates for anarcho-capitalism do not consider the minimum state an interesting alternative. It would, of course, be attractive – if only it worked. But if the state is sooner or later bound to expand and threaten its citizens, why shouldn’t one dream of a completely stateless world?

Such a utopia has its community dimension as well. Even two. The first one is the free market perceived as a community – however, it would be a highly depleted understanding based solely on the element of profit the individuals could obtain owing to the very belonging to the community. The second dimension is much closer to what we understand as a community. In a world organized by the rules mentioned above, the state would not interfere with the life of families, parishes, nor neighbor relationships.

A utopian world of people living without the states is simultaneously the world of communities functioning without the states. Our natural tendency to live among others or to distance ourselves from those communities and individuals, whose company is not valuable to us, will not be organized coercively by the exuberant state forcing inclusion or exclusion on particular individuals or communities. There would be one exception to this rule, though – as the political community’s fate in the stateless world seems to be obvious.

However, there is one essential problem inherent to every utopia – its achievability. It might be even true that the movement itself is more important than its goal, that it is all about going toward a certain point – which most likely will always stay somewhere beyond the horizon. From the short historical perspective of libertarianism (which started to be shape into a coherent ideology as a reaction to the New Deal policy) it is unobservable. But it is safe to assume that this is, in fact, the case and what we should care about is the unachievable goal which, as a result of well-organized action, seems to get a bit closer.

A Modern Dystopia

Different kinds of social democracy, which, on the surface is inherently based on community, in fact substitute it with proceduralism that alienates individuals. They turn social groups against one another, they encourage them to fight over resources controlled by the political decisions, they become a mock community, a caricature of a genuine one. Individualism of people uniting in communities is replaced with atomism of people dependent on the state, for whom it is more difficult to find a community in the bodies that act as mediators between themselves and the state since they struggle with the erosion caused by the state gaining power over them.The bottom-up community is substituted with assigning oneself to a particular voting group and common pseudo-competition for resources – resources taken from some other group.

What is more, modern social democracies are drowning in an insignificant goals policy, which is basically the only thing they can focus on. Today, the utopia of brotherly equality is overpriced and so it is now being bargained on the market of the ideas. It can be observed on the example of the European Union, which was supposed to be the realization of such a community of equals. Nowadays, especially in the light of Brexit, hardly anyone believes in this utopia. On the horizon, we can see the return of the utopia of self-sufficient national states. At the stage of its implementation it would be disturbing – to say the least – for liberals, not to mention libertarians.

From the libertarian perspective, we can see the following ideological vista. Somewhere beyond the horizon, there is an ideal. We will probably never get there, but it is worth trying. We are now in the land where throughout time the ideological leaders not only have successfully negated a community, but also lost their own map and so their ideo-polis is beginning to lose its -ideo complement. This is what gives libertarians an advantage. Although they are weaker in terms of organization, they are placed lower on the ladder of distribution of opinions and younger as a whole movement – they still do have a certain strength. It is the ability to think bravely. Including their view on the communities which would be perfectly able to organize independently with the bottom-up approach. Just like individuals building these communities.

This article was originally published in Polish by Teologia Polityczna (www.teologiapolityczna.pl)

Marcin Chmielowski