Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hyphenated-Libertarians - Searching for meaning.

The Facebook discussion forum that is associated with the political party (Ontario Libertarian Party) that I lead, must be one of the more active in Canadian politics. People who do not even live in Ontario join up because our discussion threads are often long and heated. If you are ever in need of an argument not unlike Monty Python, you'll get it in this group.

I mention this because one of the former members of that Facebook page, proclaimed the other day that she was a "communist-libertarian." This person was known to be one of the more opinionated on the page, often coming out with statements that are counter to the regular fare that might be expected when libertarians interact. As many people pointed out in the ensuing discussions on Facebook, communist-libertarian seems oxymoronic, I believe it is.

At Dictionary.com, the term libertarian is defined as: (noun) "a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct." And I would agree with each of the 5 definitions of "liberty."

A communist advocates communism, and communism is defined as: "a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state."

A libertarian advocates libertarianism, and interestingly, there is no analogous definition of libertarianism at Dictionary.com. Why not?

This is where the problem occurs, there does not seem to be a consensus on the meaning of libertarianism. Here is what I found in Wikipedia: "Libertarianism is variously defined by sources. There is no consensus on the definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category. There is general agreement that libertarianism refers to the group of political philosophies which emphasize freedom, individual liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with little or no government power."

So while communism is a system of "social organization" that, by definition, removes the right to property from individuals (as stated above), libertarianism is "voluntary association" that emphasizes individual liberty. Individual liberty implies the right to property, because the most important possession one can have, is their very own life. In communism property is ascribed to the community or the state, so what is "yours" really belongs to everyone, including your life, I guess. In communism, everyone has a claim on your life, or at least the fruits of your labour, and all your possessions. If you own nothing, and have nothing, and can create nothing for yourself, well, I hope you can see where that leads. It's not liberty.

To me the differences are stark, communist-libertarian is an oxymoron. Anyone who claims to be one really has not thought it through at all.

What about other hyphenated-libertarians? Again, there are many others and all likely exist because defining libertarianism is like nailing Jello to the wall.

One of the commonly seen hyphenated-libertarians is the "conservative-libertarian." I'm not sure what that means because the meaning of conservative, liberal etc. in the political context has become so fuzzy. I've written about this before.

Then there is the Bleeding Heart-Libertarian, note the link following, because they actually exist in the blogosphere and part of their "About" is: "Bleeding Heart Libertarians is a blog about free markets and social justice. All of us who blog at this site are, broadly speaking, libertarians. In particular, we are libertarians who believe that addressing the needs of the economically vulnerable by remedying injustice, engaging in benevolence, fostering mutual aid, and encouraging the flourishing of free markets is both practically and morally important."

I have some sympathy for that one, but their very existence implies that libertarians don't care about the economically vulnerable, and somehow they are not benevolent individuals. The implication is also, that libertarians are devoid of empathy and charity, and of course that's not true. Maybe that is the point of their blog - to show it's not true, I'm not sure. But the blog is very philosophical and not easily accessible to casual readers. It seems to me they spend much of their time and space searching for who they are. Nothing wrong with that I guess.

So, what is libertarianism and does it really need to be hyphenated? For me, if the word 'libertarian' is a part of the name of a group like: Ontario Libertarian Party, and that group has defined itself (like this), then the meaning is clear for all to see. As for hyphenation, I don't like it because it always diminishes the concept of libertarianism.

As a postscript for those interested, here is one libertarian's view of the different kinds of libertarian in the US context:

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