I have been feeling sort of ideologically lost since my delusionment with the libertarian left, a delusionment whose reasons were actually more than what I mentioned in my previous post. I learned more about current and historical examples of supposedly successful “libertarian” socialist societies and found that they were not nearly as anti-authoritarian as I had in my ideological fervour imagined. It’s a really long topic to cover but if it interests you there is for starters an essay by Bryan Caplan about revolutionary Catalonia and why it wasn’t what many proponents of libertarian socialism claim it was.
Another reason was that I began to question if radical economic democracy, even in a decentralised form, really would booster individual freedom. If it’s up to the collective to vote on resource distribution then what stops the collective from voting against certain individuals or minorities getting their share? What guaranty is there, for example, that a lesbian would be treated fairly by a homophobic collective? Or a black man by a predominantly white and also racist collective? An atheist by a Christian one?
Just as auhoritharian communism puts the individual at the mercy of the state and laissez-faire capitalism puts the working class individual at the mercy of the rich, wouldn’t the individual under decentralised socialism be at the mercy of the group?
It feels like wherever I look, there are these chains around the individual and I don’t know how to break them.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. After realising that by embracing libertarian socialism, I had in fact promoted another form of oppression I went into kind of a depression. I’d become something I had always sworn never to become: a person who wants to put chains on other for the sake of their ideology
I’ve started to look at different possible political solutions to the problem of individual liberty, trying my best this time to stay rational and not get swept away by idealist hopes.
I’ve asked myself: disregarding the goals of every ideology, what do they lead to in practice?
Because these are two very different things. Many people for example do not know that one of Karl Marx’s most important goals was individual freedom. But Communism when tried has always led to an absolut crushing of liberty. So what politicians and revolutionaries attempt to do can vary greatly from what they end up doing.
When looking at it through a pragmatic and not ideological lens, there is no question that social liberal societies have little competition in terms of level of individual liberty. So I decided to read up more on social liberalism from thinkers like John Rawls, John Stuart Mill and L. T. Hobhouse.
The goal of social liberalism is to balance out the free market with social policies so that although things are not completely equal between people (which it can only be in theory anyway), everyone gets a fair chance. For that the state must be the arbitrary between the public, private and what is called the third sector. In a sense, the state under social liberalism is supposed to be the guardian of the individual’s liberty from the different forces who would wish to oppress it.
But is that really what the state does? The answer is that what the state does depends greatly on who controls it. A state government by Leninists is going to do wildly different things than it would do if controlled by neo-liberals.
As someone who has until very recently called themselves an anarchist, it is obvious that I am highly sceptical of the very idea of the state. But with every ideology I have looked at, I keep running into the same problem: who will stand up for the individual? A state focused on doing just that might be the answer that was in front of me the whole time.
I am not calling myself a social liberal yet, or anything else for that matter. My complete disillusionment with libertarian socialism has made me cautious and I’m not ready to sign under any specific ideology yet. But the notion of a social liberal state as guardian of personal liberty is an idea I want to explore further.