Love is a many-splendored thing. So is the liberty movement.
As discussed in a few previous pieces, libertarians aren’t a huge percentage of the United States population. And not all those libertarians are even in the Libertarian Party. And regardless of what party we are in (if we are in one at all,) we tend to squabble and fight with each other incessantly to the point that people generally don’t like us and we often don’t even like each other.
Part of the reason for this chaos within the liberty movement is that we are, by definition, individualists. We are not monolithic. The one thing we all share is a serious distrust (if not outright hostility) to government at all levels. But how we go about distrusting that government, or being hostile to it, is hardly a settled question.
There are a dizzying number of subgroups within libertarianism. Let’s talk about some of them. (This is not an exhaustive list; I’m sure I’m going to miss someone’s favorite sliver of liberty.)
I know, anarchy is not the same thing as libertarianism. But they are definitely related; perhaps kissing cousins. The philosophies are quite similar once you get past the argument over whether one should have no government at all or just a tiny one.
At face value, anarchy means the total lack of a government. But wait, there’s more!
As it turns out, there are many subgroups within anarchist philosophy. Perhaps the best depictions of these subgroups are in the various Anarchyball cartoons. In them, you will find:
If anarchy has an Amish flavor, this is it. These folks reject industrialization, civilization, domestication of animals, and maybe even the wearing of clothes. (!) Henry David Thoreau is commonly associated with this line of thought.
You just thought of Thoreau buck naked, didn’t you? You’re welcome.
The closest anarchy variant to mainstream libertarianism, this philosophy values property rights and individual rights above all, along with fairly strict adherence to the non aggression principle (“NAP.”) The father (and heaviest hitter) of this philosophical strain was Murray Rothbard.
While “anarcho” and “communism” may seem contradictory, it’s a real thing. In fact, it’s the philosophical end goal of most modern communist states. The problem is, in real life, those states always get stuck in the “dictatorship of the proletariat” stage. They never reach their truly stateless (and property-less) nirvana.
This one’s a little out there, but the gist of it is that human beings can perfect themselves through science and technology and thus become more free. I, for one, look forward to becoming a cyborg. This is closely related to the concept of libertarian transhumanism and technolibertarianism (see below.)
(Sarah Connor unavailable for comment.)
This particular brand of anarchy advocates the use of computer technology and cryptography to ensure privacy in communications and transactions, thus (hopefully) making the state unnecessary. Or, at least, keep most important things under the state’s radar and thus rendering the state superfluous.
A newer kid on the block, this school of thought originated in the 1970’s and is closely related to Voluntaryism (see more about that below.) It encourages counter-economics, voluntary acts and associations, and frowns upon intellectual properties.
This is similar to several of the other flavors listed above, but with an explicit underlying reliance on non-violence. Big names here include Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.
There are several other varieties of anarchism out there, including anarcha-feminism, queer anarchism, anarcho-mutualism, ego anarchism, and even red market anarchism. (You have to read up on that last one if you want your mind blown for a few minutes; you can wipe your ass with the NAP. Among other things. Somewhere, Anton Chigurh is smiling.)
Broadly, these are folks who focus more on the “social” part of libertarianism than the “economic” part. If you have a lot of libertarian friends and acquaintances, then you know some of these; they tend to come off as SJW’s (social justice warriors) sometimes.
Conversely, these folks tend to focus more on the “economic” side of libertarianism than the social. This seems to more common.
Similar to Agorism noted above, except that under this system, pretty much anything goes once everyone consents to it. Things can go left, they can go right, nobody knows, but at least it’s all voluntary.
Proponents of a small “night watchman” state that does the bare minimum (military, police, courts); the majority of American libertarians probably fall into this category. They are aware of the slippery slope that this entails, but tend to ignore it, or just hope for the best.
Closely related to crypto-anarchy, focusing on a free/libre internet (free of cost and censorship.) Julian Assange falls into this category.
Another seemingly contradiction in terms, this is a cousin of anarcho-communism. Perhaps best described as “left libertarianism on steroids”, this flavor eschews government and capitalism in favor of direct democracy and labor unions. It’s a bit of a hot mess. The primary name associated with this bunch is Noam Chomsky, which tells you pretty much all you need to know.
Georgism and/or geolibertarianism
This one goes way down the rabbit hole. Also known as the “single tax movement”, these folks believe (in a nutshell) that land and natural resources are commonly owned (or “unowned”) and persons should pay tax for the “rental” value of whatever land they are occupying or improving. The downside: this sounds pretty pinko to me. The upside: that’s the only taxes anyone pays, and otherwise you’re free from government nosiness.
Even within the Libertarian Party, there are several divisions:
For what it’s worth, this is probably the most influential organized group within the party. As the name suggests, they are fans of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian school of economics. This puts them fairly close to an anarcho-capitalist alignment.
I don’t even know if these cats are still around, but they were fun when they were. They advocate a harder line approach to core libertarian values and downplay the idea of incrementalism.
LPedia says this caucus exists, but the links provided are dead. Which is a shame, because I would totally join this if it was still around. (In fact, the working title for this weekly column before it got underway was The Libertine Republic. Which still has a nice ring to it sometimes.)
As far as I can tell, this “caucus” exists only as a tongue-in-cheek Facebook page. Which is a shame. But it doesn’t matter.
Where do I fall within this kaleidoscope? I’m just your garden variety right-libertarian minarchist with anarcho-capitalist sympathies, who also has interests in anarcho-transhumanism, crypto-anarchism, and technolibertarianism.
Y’know, pretty boring stuff.