Libertarianism and Anarchism: Definition and Connection


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Throughout history, countless political philosophies have emerged, shaping generations of people’s beliefs and values. Libertarianism and anarchism are ideologies that have been experimented with in various countries such as England, France, Russia, Canada, and America. Both are major political philosophies, with characteristics which classify them as synonymous to each other, but have attributes that oppose each other’s main political beliefs and aspects. 

Libertarianism states that individual liberty, God’s given human rights and autonomy overpower governmental control, but that there is a purpose of the government to help protect these rights. Whereas Anarchism also believes that every person should have individual liberty and rights, but opposes a hierarchical state, any form of control and that societies can naturally be self-governed. Both of these intertwined political philosophies contradict each other on their views on capitalism, the extent of governmental influence and acts of violence. 

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The connection between libertarianism and anarchism goes back through history when anarchists saw and claimed themselves as libertarians. This ranges back to 1857 when Joseph Déjaque, an anarcho-communist, was the first to claim himself as a libertarian, in an anarchist journal called “La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social”. Anarchists began using the term “libertarian” and “libertarian socialist” as synonyms to anarchism. In “Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements” by George Woodcock, he states that “By rejecting government and the nonworking proprietor, by advocating economic equality and free contractual relationships between independent workers, What Is Property? contains the basic elements from which all later libertarian and decentralist doctrines have been built”. In this quotation, Woodcock defines Libertarianism with anarchist traits and merely uses it as its synonym. He compares Libertarianism traits to “What is Property?” which is a book written by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who is known to be the “father of anarchism”.

 Stating that “By rejecting the government” and “advocating economic equality”, contradicts the principles of libertarianism known in the present day, and is rather about anarchist viewpoints. Until the 1970s, anarchism and libertarianism were thought to be equivalent to each other, due to the similarities that the two ideologies shared. One of the major similarities between these two political philosophies is, that they both believe that individual liberty, equality and freedom are the fundamental traits that should be followed in society. 

The key point to individualism in these two ideologies is that they believe that each individual’s desires and passions are more important than the desires of groups, societies and systems. People are able to control their own needs for them to be able to have autonomy, and not to be restricted by higher governmental powers. William Godwin, who believed in anarcho-individualism supported extreme individualism. He mainly believed that people should not be manipulated by higher classes societies and tyrannies, and should be rather left to see things in their own ways. This manipulation from higher powers does not allow each individual to follow what makes them happy and what is right for them. He was so opposed from that idea that he wrote “everything understood by the term cooperation is some sense an evil” in his book “Political Justice”. This meaning that any group that influences an individual’s thought process is “an evil”. 

Although libertarianism does not believe in individualism in extreme measures, it follows the same basic principles and anarcho-individualism and William Godwin’s viewpoints. The belief of God-given human rights, equality and individualism is the primary similarity between libertarianism and anarchism and is what makes both of the ideologies synonyms to one another. Furthermore, another coinciding trait between libertarianism and anarchism is the belief that one may do whatever one wants, but whatever they do has to be moral. In libertarianism, one is allowed to feel, think and do whatever they think is best for them, but they must have moral responsibility. Immanuel Kant, an early liberalist wrote in “Critique of Practical Reason” ‘So distinctly and sharply cut are the boundaries of morality and self-love that even the commonest eye can in no way miss the distinction whether something belongs to the one or the other’ (Kant 53). The distinction between the boundaries of “morality and self-love” is what drives libertarianism and its principles. People are given the opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts and are allowed to live freely under “God’s given human rights”, rather than being fully controlled by unjust laws from the government. However, if their actions are immoral, the government will take them in control, and protect the people. 

Anarchism has the same set of beliefs regarding morality, though their belief on the extent of governmental control and protection is different than libertarianism. Anarchists rather believe that humans “natural” morals such as group life, sympathy and sharing with one another, is what can control and build a society. Therefore governmental control is nonessential, because of unnatural morals created by higher powers, such as laws and religion. Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarcho-communist, stressed this idea in his book “Anarchist Morality”. He came to the conclusion that the key to acting morally is to “Do others as you would have others do to you in the same circumstances”. It is expected that the population is able to understand this idea, and for there to be equality between all people. This principle in both libertarianism and anarchism relies on the people to understand what is ethical and unethical, and that basic morals in humanity are the key to an autonomous civilization.

 Although their similarities, libertarianism and anarchism have opposing ideas, such as their opinions on the significance of government. Libertarians believe a government should exist in a society, and that its purpose is to protect individuals and their given rights. The government should have some extent of power, but it should not be enough for an individual’s freedom to be restricted. It is considered that there is a need for a limited government to exist, mainly for one’s safety, but also for there to be order in a society. 

However, libertarians believe that issues in a society can be solved through “spontaneous order”, which is an unplanned gathering of thousands of people that advocate a certain idea or belief and therefore order naturally occurs through time and evolution. Despite this, the idea of any governmental control, even if it’s limited, strictly opposes anarchist beliefs. The idea of any government is opposed in anarchism, and it is believed that it is unnecessary and should be abolished. It is thought that the government and other higher powered systems and individuals are unjust, limit personal freedom, create monopolies and exploit people in immoral ways. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon emphasized on this idea “To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so.” (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293. Therefore, anarchists believe that people are able to naturally self govern themselves, and create peace and stability between one another. A hierarchal state is seen as something that would create chaos, rather than order, which is what differentiates between these two philosophies. Unfinished: In addition, libertarianism and anarchism’s political ideas clash on their views regarding capitalism. 

The libertarian belief is that capitalism is a system that provides a free market and as quoted on “The modern libertarian movement overwhelmingly tends to define capitalism simply as a system of free competition and exchange, in which private owners order their own property and contractual agreements are strictly voluntary”. This meaning that Finally, the necessity of violence is viewed differently between the two ideologies. As stated in Britannica, libertarianists follow a principle called “nonaggression axiom”. This principle opposes type of aggression or violence and sees actions taken by this way “unethical”. In this way, people have protection and rights against their individual opinions and property. Herbert Spencer’s law of equal freedom “Every man has the freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man”, shows that for a libertarian system of freedom and equality, with limited government to function properly, every person has to respect each person’s beliefs and values equally. On the other hand, violence is seen as unquestionable, if used for the “right” purposes, in anarchist beliefs.

The government is seen as a system that only creates violence through police force, borders and penal systems. Therefore in anarchist belief, hierarchies should be overthrown through revolutions. Throughout history, there have been various anarchist violent terrorist attacks such as the bombing of Wall Street. This took place on September 16, 1920, killing around 30 people, and suspicions arose that this was the act of anarchists and communists.

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