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Libertarianism, Communism and Anarchism

Carried to their logical ideal extreme, communism and libertarianism lead to anarchism.

Written by johnleemk on 4:06:48 pm May 14, 2007.

It is commonly presupposed that libertarianism, communism and anarchism are three different and unrelated systems of government. But taken to their natural extreme, libertarianism and communism both lead to anarchism.

Libertarianism is basically the idea that the individual should be given freedom to act in both his personal life and in his economic life. In short, it is classical liberalism — the idea that the individual should be free.

It is normally assumed that communism is about the oppression of the individual by the state, ostensibly for the greater good of the collective. But this erroneous belief stems from the fact that this has been the result of communism wherever it has been implemented as a state ideology.

The true spirit of communism is closer to the short-lived Paris Commune. The communist state has no place for the state, so to speak. The people are meant to govern themselves, to deal with each other freely.

Now, doesn't that ring a bell? Both libertarianism and communism, taken to their logical extremes, are ideologies preaching maximal freedom as an ideal. That doesn't mean that that is their end result — probably the closest thing we have to a libertarian state is the United States, and even then, it is far from the ideal bastion of libertarianism, while all the communist states we have seen turned out to be dictatorships in reality.

Both extreme libertarians and communists, were they given free rein to implement their ideas, would create basically an anarchist society. Now, anarchy generally has negative misconceptions attached to it, since it is basically the absence of a government.

However, anarchists generally have a very optimistic opinion of the individual — that he will not act to suppress his fellow man, or that his fellow men will be able to stop him. Anarchy is not about chaos and disorder or the law of the jungle, if you listen to its proponents.

Instead, both anarcho-libertarians and anarcho-communists insist that an anarchy would create a better life for all. Where they beg to differ, of course, is how this would be achieved — anarcho-libertarians believe that there would still be private property, while anarcho-communists would insist on everything belonging to everyone as a collective.

The problem with this vision of the world, however, is its reliance on the individual being able to put the needs of the collective over himself. Anarcho-libertarians would insist that this is not true for their society, but they overlook the reason governments exist in the first place.

Economically speaking, the government exists to provide services which benefit everyone as a collective, but would not exist if funded solely by individual effort. For instance, who would pay for national defence? The collective society derives great benefits from being able to defend itself, but the individual would not see any point in paying for a standing army, because hey, everyone else is already paying for it. This tragedy of the commons is why the government exists at all — to enforce such payment.

At this point, the anarchists often turn to tenuous-sounding arguments which all continue to revolve around assuming that the individual always acts in good faith and has the greater good at heart — and won't be able to muster a sufficiently organised group of likeminded greedy people to subvert the anarchic order.

Does this mean that all libertarians and communists are crazy? I don't think so — I'm not sure about the communists, but I certainly think that the libertarian ideology has its merits. I would classify myself as a moderate libertarian.

What worries me is that people often allow their ideologies to determine what they think is best, rather than using any sensibility or rationality. Abandoning their faculties of reason, they turn to ideals to determine what is best.

I am firmly an utilitarian — my ideal is upholding policies which will accomplish what is best for society and the individual. It just so happens that libertarianism is an ideology which often works best.

Allowing ourselves to be carried away by ideals is the wrong thing to do. Libertarians and communists who unthinkingly condemn government, reasoning that if something does not jibe with their philosophy, it must be wrong, are not doing their society a favour, and are setting down the road to anarchy.