For some time now, I have studied Anarchism, Marxism and Left Communism. There seem to be particular ideologies like "Libertarian Socialism", "Anarcho-Communism" and "Anarcho-Capitalism". They call themselves Libertarian but when I talk to other people about Libertarianism they always seem to refer to a kind of Free-Market society. So what is the difference between Libertarianism used in an Anarchist context and Libertarianism used in a general context?
Both Anarchism and Libertarianism oppose compulsion and formal hierarchies in human society.
Anarchism says that the state is always bad, in every time, place and situation. It will always be used to control and harm others and so should never be permitted.
“[n]o one should be entrusted with power, inasmuch as anyone invested with authority must ... became an oppressor and exploiter of society.” [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 249]
Libertarianism, by contrast, is minarchist and asserts that the prevention of harm to individuals by others through force or fraud is the only legitimate purpose for a state. Thus, the state is a necessary evil so long as it serves that purpose and no other:
To protect rights, individuals form governments. But government is a dangerous institution. Libertarians have a great antipathy to concentrated power, for as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
- Libertarian with a big L is an official political party in the United States that seeks to get candidates elected similar to Democrats and Republicans.
- Libertarians with a small l are people with an ideology of libertarianism that believes in small monopoly governments. They tend to believe that some government is necessary to protect life, liberty, property, civil rights, national defense, and provide mediation service through courts.
- Minarchists are a subset of libertarians that believe in the absolute minimum level of government: police, courts, and representatives (and possibly army or militia), but not much else.
- Anarcho-capitalists are a subset of libertarians that believes all government leads to tyranny, as the United States started as a small limited government with a constitution and eventually grew into a government that routinely kills its citizens and violates their civil rights. Anarcho-capitalists are also a subset of anarchists. Anarcho-capitalists share a belief in NAP (non-aggression principal), property rights, and the system of capitalism with libertarians. Anarcho-capitalists believe in competition and choice among police/security and courts/arbitrators, similar to a polycentric legal system, and that the free market will produce the most efficient security and order with the best service.
- Anarchists are a superset of anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists who only share a believe that governments are illegitimate. Anarcho-capitalists believe in private property rights and capitalism, while anarcho-communists believe in shared property and communes.
Libertarianism is more of a philosophy about how the government should be run. While it holds personal liberty as its highest ideal, its only shared goal with Anarchists tends to be less government (emphasis mine)
Libertarians seek to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing freedom of choice, voluntary association, individual judgment, and self-ownership. Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power. However, they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or to dissolve coercive social institutions.
In true anarchy, only autonomy is maximized. Property rights and lack of safety tend to be the downfall of anarchy. Ownership is impossible if you are weak. For that reason, anarchy doesn't survive very long because anarchy eventually resolves into a dictatorships/totalitarianism (where the strong rule the weak). This a concept that is often explored in post-apocalyptic movies, where the government is long gone. Most often, Anarchists either
- Don't like the government/leaders
- Don't like some subset of rules
Inevitably you'll find some overlap with Libertarians there, but the overlap will be minimal.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy with the goal of maximizing liberty. The original use of the term dates back to 17th century France. It was one of many branches of liberalism that arose during the Enlightenment. The term was used as a self label by anarchist socialists.
During the progressive era, in the United States, the term liberal was co-opted by progressives after the PR nightmare caused by progressive policies such as the prohibition and eugenics. A combination of classical liberals and the old right began referring to themselves as libertarians.
Some were anarchists but most were constitutionalists, objectivists and minarchists. The anarchists within this new libertarian movement were individualists rather than socialists. While they advocated the abolishment of government, they did not view capitalism with contempt like socialists did. They saw government as an illegitimate monopoly on the use of force and a source of distortion in the market. Anarchists of this view sometimes refer to themselves as right-anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, autarchists, voluntaryists, agorists or rational anarchists. There are small distinctions between each label but all are in favor of a society based on free market individualist anarchism.
Since the 1970s, the number of anarchists within the Libertarian Party has dwindled due to marginalization. You'll occasionally hear someone refer to themselves as a small 'l' libertarian. This usually means they are an anarchist who sees the political route as fruitless. While anarchists representation within the LP may be small, the percentage of anarchists within the libertarian movement is quite large. Many of the most prolific libertarian authors and speakers are anarchists. If you're interested in learning more about the free-market anarchism there are a number of books on the subject.
Modern libertarianism is rooted in a foundational philosophy based on a theory of private property rights and a legal system based on non-aggression. The theory includes a non-aggression principle (NAP) which holds that it is bad (immoral, destructive, etc.) to initiate the use of force against a person or their property, and this is generally regarded to be a core part of the philosophy. This principle is held to be applicable to every individual, including in their capacity as an actor within an institution, which includes ex officio acts as an agent of the State. Hence, the principle has implications for the allowable scope of activities of the State, and whether the State can legitimately exist at all.
Broadly speaking, libertarians are seeking to reduce aggression in society (i.e., the initiation of force), but they differ in how far they take the non-aggression principle, insofar as it circumscribes the activities of the State. There are many varying positions, but they can be grouped roughly into the three classes shown below. The anarcho-capitalists argue that the non-aggression principle precludes all the basic defining characteristics of the State ---e.g., it precludes monopolisation of arbitration and defence services (i.e., police, courts, military) and it precludes taxation to fund these by force. They therefore argue that there cannot be a State under full implementation of the libertarian theory, and thus, that their position is "anarchist" in the sense of being against the existence of a State. (Note that they still would allow governance by institutions that do not violate the non-aggression principle.)
A good foundational introduction to the anarcho-capitalist position can be found in the works of the economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard, particularly his books For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty. The anarcho-capitalist libertarians differ tremendously from the "anarchists" of the Left (and indeed, they argue that the latter are not anarchists at all). Whereas the anarchists of the Left would curtail private ownership of property (they make a distinction between personal property versus forms of private property that can be used to obtain rents), the anarcho-capitalists seek to build their entire system on it. They argue that the positions of "anarcho-communism", "libertarian socialism", etc., all inevitably require the creation of a strong State to enforce the curtailment of private property rights and trade, and are therefore statist rather than anarchist systems. If you would like to learn more about this, I would suggest starting with the books I have linked to.
It is said that Anarchism is a super-set of "anarcho-capitalism"; this is absolute rubbish! Anarchist refute this oxymoron "anarcho-capitalism" is not anarchism. Any form of capitalism is anathema to anarchism. Capitalism is the accumulation of wealth, and wealth in its definition is to have more than others, to benefit from the miser of others, to accumulate more than you need. Based on that is the need for a state system to protect the methods and means of accumulation of wealth/capitalism. These "anarcho-capitalists" want a minimal state to protect their ability to accumulate wealth but do not want a government to be able to intefere at all with their accumulation of wealth. Anarchist (as opposed to someone above who corrected someone above and said that anarchist do not want to see the withering away of the state - they do!). Anarchist see the state is power of other, of a minority over the masses to control or coerce - the state is at the heart of the problem for anarchist and they wish to see the total removal of the state). Till we remove the state and its arms of law and church to enforces its powers then we will never have true anarchy. So "anarcho-capitalism" is a travesty of description. It is not anarchism - it is the exact opposite of anarchism. And anarchists do want to see the end and removal of the state as it is at the centre of the problem and the centre of exert power over others and the lack of freedom! I refer you to AK books "An anarchist FAQ" who give a very good taking apart of the travesty called "anarcho-capitalism". And I also refer you to Proudhan's critique of Government (and government is the expression of the state): "“To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality." General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, translated by John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293-294.” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/14649-to-be-governed-is-to-be-watched-inspected-spied-upon
Left-libertarian vs right-libertarian
quoting from this answer:
First, we have to decide on what we mean by "libertarianism". While in the USA, the word has a connotation of laissez-faire capitalism (perhaps mostly due to the Libertarian Party), in Europe it mostly associated with anti-authoritarian socialism.
From the Wikipedia article on libertarianism:
Libertarianism originated as a form of left-wing politics such as anti-authoritarian and anti-state socialists like anarchists, especially social anarchists, but more generally libertarian communists/Marxists and libertarian socialists. Those libertarians seek to abolish capitalism and private ownership of the means of production, or else to restrict their purview or effects to usufruct property norms, in favor of common or cooperative ownership and management, viewing private property as a barrier to freedom and liberty.
In the mid-20th century, right-libertarian ideologies such as anarcho-capitalism and minarchism co-opted the term libertarian to advocate laissez-faire capitalism and strong private property rights such as in land, infrastructure and natural resources.
Claim to the name
You will find that some right-libertarians call themselves anarcho-capitalists. You will also find that virtually all anarchists strongly feel that anarcho-capitalists are not anarchists at all. To illustrate this point, here are some references taken from the Wikipedia article on anarchism and capitalism:
From the perspective of the anarchist movement:
"In fact, few anarchists would accept the 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice, Their self-interested, calculating market men would be incapable of practising voluntary co-operation and mutual aid. Anarcho-capitalists, even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists."
Marshall, Peter (1993). Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
From a theoretical perspective:
"Out of the history of anarchist thought and action Rothbard has pulled forth a single thread, the thread of individualism, and defines that individualism in a way alien even to the spirit of a Max Stirner or a Benjamin Tucker, whose heritage I presume he would claim – to say nothing of how alien is his way to the spirit of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and the historically anonymous persons who through their thoughts and action have tried to give anarchism a living meaning. Out of this thread Rothbard manufactures one more bourgeois ideology."
Wieck, David (1978). "Anarchist Justice".
This also goes for minarchism:
"It is important to distinguish between anarchism and certain strands of right-wing libertarianism which at times go by the same name (for example, Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism). There is a complex debate within this tradition between those like Robert Nozick, who advocate a 'minimal state', and those like Rothbard who want to do away with the state altogether and allow all transactions to be governed by the market alone. From an anarchist perspective, however, both positions—the minimal state (minarchist) and the no-state ('anarchist') positions—neglect the problem of economic domination; in other words, they neglect the hierarchies, oppressions, and forms of exploitation that would inevitably arise in a laissez-faire 'free' market. [...] Anarchism, therefore, has no truck with this right-wing libertarianism, not only because it neglects economic inequality and domination, but also because in practice (and theory) it is highly inconsistent and contradictory. The individual freedom invoked by right-wing libertarians is only a narrow economic freedom within the constraints of a capitalist market, which, as anarchists show, is no freedom at all".
Newman, Saul (2010). The Politics of Postanarchism.
For a short blog post on the matter, see Sabatini, Peter (Fall/Winter 1994–1995). "Libertarianism: Bogus Anarchy"