Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my pejorated name

Kevin Carson has an interesting article at the Center for a Stateless Society about the assorted meanings of the term “socialism,” which at one point was self-applied not only by statists but by individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker. Among the left-libertarians, there has been some effort to reclaim the term and use it in this sense.

I sympathize with this desire. I’m still bitter about the loss of the term “liberal”; my frequent practice of referring to the American mainstream Left as “left-liberalism” instead of just “liberalism” probably has as much to do with spite as it does with terminological precision. That said, rehabilitating the word “socialist” seems like an even greater lost cause than “liberal,” which still has at least some pro-freedom connotations in everyday English.

It’s too bad since, as Carson points out, “socialism” would be a pretty good term for libertarianism were it not already taken. Instead, perversely, the defining trait of people who are today called “socialists” is the desire to minimize or destroy the power of people in communities willingly working together for mutual benefit and replace it with a system of control and compulsion through the threat of force. When people speak of “socializing” an industry, they mean removing it from the control of society and giving it to an elite.

Once you cease to identify the society and the state, it really is quite bizarre. Such an ideology deserves the name socialism only if your idea of “society” is something along the lines of a prison farm.

It’s frustrating that many of the terms that have been used for libertarianism- liberalism, capitalism, individualism, anarchism- are so thoroughly poisoned by widespread association with ideas hostile or antithetical to it. “Libertarian” itself may suffer this fate, given the continuing abuse and distortion of the term by opponents of the free market. When I consider the fact that the machinery of public opinion is largely controlled by people whose ideology depends on confusing terminology and distorting the difference between economic freedom and economic statism, I suspect it may be unavoidable in the long run.

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1 comment:

Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, John.