I’ve noted in recent posts that while some left-libertarians seem to oppose standard libertarians’ positive endorsement of “capitalism” for semantic or strategic reasons, for others they actually oppose the substance of what libertarians mean by (non-crony, non-corporatist) capitalism (see, e.g., Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism, and links in that post; see also Wirkman Virkkala’s post A capital ism?). An example of those with a more semantic or strategic concern would be Sheldon Richman, who is concerned about the “baggage” associated with the word, which will hamper our getting our pro-property rights, libertarian message out. Thus he favors using “free market” instead, but as far as I can tell this is similar to what we mean by “capitalism”–a libertarian society with a market based on respect for property rights, which of course includes private ownership of the means of production (and everything else). (See also Sheldon’s comment to Should Libertarians Oppose “Capitalism”?) Another would be Jock Coats, who notes here that while the baggage of the term “capitalism” might have turned him off had he not also seen the term “free-market anti-capitalism,” now that he understands the term he is “quite happy to be identified as an Individualist Anarchist/Mutualist and at times an Anarcho-Caplitalist,” and is “for keeping ‘capitalism’ as a word in our lexicon.”
To be clear, I think the semantical and strategic debate is one we can have, but it’s different than a substantive disagreement–and we can have that discussion too. But these are separate discussions and should not be intermingled. This leads to confusion at best and equivocation and dishonesty (on the part of leftists) at worst.
In my view there is little doubt that libertarians who have concerns about the appropriate words to use or strategic matters are of course libertarians. We just differ on the best way to convey and spread and communicate about our ideas. But those who disagree on substance may simply not be libertarians. This should not be masked by conflating the discussion with more mundane issues of semantics and strategy.
Now some of the left-libertarians more concerned about terminology and strategy deny or downplay the charge that at least some of them have much more than a mere lexical disagreement with us. So it is good that some of them are willing to explicitly admit this. Take, for instance, one Roman Pearah, who writes in Hmmm…No, Sir. I Don’t Like It.: [Keep reading…]
Sheldon Richman, one of the best libertarian writers of the last decade and an all around excellent human being (I’m a grateful person and as my teacher at FEE in 2003, I must say he was by far the most fun and persuasive of the lecturers in an already very good set of speakers) has jumped on the wagon of the Left-’libertarians’ latest initiative to decry and abandon the use of “Capitalism” as a term by our movement.
Hereby I would like to address his post at The Freeman but also his subsequent retorts on Facebook to my objections on such a linguistic and strategic initiative, by asking him and others including Gary Chartier, Roderick Long and Kevin Carson these four questions:
Since words are not doomed to be deformed when born deformed in the same way they are not free from bad usage even if their origin is noble (see “Liberalism”).
- Well then, what do we want it to mean from now on?
- Is there another word that describes the full and complex system that is the real promise (and hope) behind a free society?
- Yet another unanswered question is: why won´t the next term be hijacked or deformed by the (socialist/statist/authentic) Left?
- And the last question Sheldon, Chartier, Carson and others haven’t addressed is: how will be keep a word pure when no social system is pure nowadays (if ever) unless we coin a term only when we have a pure system so it corresponds to a pure reality and cannot be misconstrued? Of course we need a term for an ideal so we walk towards it, unless I’m missing something here.
Stephan Kinsella keenly added to the discussion:
“What some left-”libertarians” oppose is the economic order most standard libertarians favor and expect to accompany an advanced free society–whatever word you slap on it. Thus they go on about mutual aid, wildcat strikes, the workers, localism, self-sufficiency, they condemn the division of labor, mass production, factories,employment, firms, corporations, “hierarchy,” international trade, not to mention “distant” ownership, landlordism, “alienation,” industrialism, and the like. Their agenda is not required by libertarianism–most of it is not even compatible with it, I’d say, so is unlibertarian. But this is a debate we can have–it’s on substance. I think this is a large motivation for their hostility to the word “capitalism”–they mean capitalism like we do, and dislike it. I don’t mean crony capitalism–but actual libertarian-compatible laissez-faire capitalism. They want libertarians to stop saying capitalism because they want us to adopt their substantive unlibertarian, Marxian agenda. Yet they pretend it’s just for strategical or lexical concerns–which it’s not. This is yet another reason I think we should dig our heels in and not give in: they will then count it as a substantive victory for unlibertarian, leftist ideas.”
This bit of course is completely relevant when an attempt (some bona fide would be a requisite for it) to answer these four questions is made.
Anti-capitalists: the ball is now on your side of the court.