By Manuel Armenteros
“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.”
With these famous words, the father of historical anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (the word ‘anarchism’ can be used interchangeably with ‘libertarianism’) stamped into the annals of history the general sentiment of all libertarian thought: that all authority needs to be challenged, and if proved to be inadequate, ought to be dismissed. The history of libertarianism, real libertarianism (as opposed to only ‘market-libertarianism’) can be traced way back in history to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu, who claimed that:
“the more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become. The sharper a man’s weapons, the more trouble in the land. The more ingenious and clever men are, the more strange things happen. The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.” Therefore the sage says “I take no action and people are reformed. I enjoy peace and people become honest. I do nothing and the people become rich. I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life” (Tao te Ching, chapter 57).
Similar anti-authoritarian sentiments were echoed by the Ancient Greeks through the philosophy of The Cynics, whose outstanding figure, Diogenes of Sinope, when once approached by Alexander the Great, and asked for whatever he wished, famously replied to the emperor simply “Stand less between the sun and me.”
Through historical events like the British Civil War and French Revolution there have been groups of people with radical views concerning the nature of the political system, the use of parliaments and governments in general, a general questioning of the functioning and legitimacy of all forms of authority contained in any situation of power structures and power relations, this is a dense and often obscured area of political history.
Real libertarianism has a complex and rich history that has roots all over the world, and while different libertarian strands differ towards the specific nature of how a society ought to be organized the single outlying theme is best expressed by arguably the most influential contemporary libertarian from the left, Noam Chomsky, says that:
“Power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled. Authority for its own sake is inherently unjustified.”
There is a wide spread miss-conception that “anarchy” (real libertarianism) simply means “absence of laws and/or chaos”, but in political philosophy the word actually refers to an organized political system that emphasizes a society based on mutual consent, a lack of hierarchy (or at an insistence in having legitimate hierarchy) and freedom from oppression.
Historically there have been many small-scale examples of free communities, voluntarily organizing in order to form an organic society. These small communes became popular in Russia, Poland and France. Larger examples of libertarian societies occurred in the Ukraine and most notably in Spain.
These communes in Spain where short lived, as the fascist forces of Franco crushed these rebellions as he ascended to power in 1938, but George Orwell describe a lively, equal and voluntary society in Barcelona in his book Homage to Catalonia. Despite the tragic events in Spain, there still exist famous communities in Israel, known as Kibbutz, which follow libertarian ideals of actual democracy.
However, it would be a big mistake to assume that libertarian societies have only existed in European or European-influenced countries, just as it would be a mistake to assume that libertarianism is mostly a left-wing view, even if its origins are leftist.
There has also been interesting right-wing libertarian (market-only) examples, as is the case of Hong Kong, especially before it re-integrated into China. Aside from government control of land-use, economic mobility used to be quite high, while more examples of market-based societies would further boost right-wing libertarianism, seeing a society grow and develop with less government authority or intervention than other societies are interesting in terms of political alternatives.
It should also be noted, however, that right-wing libertarian ideas need not stay focused on entire countries, as certain ideas, such as the emergence of Bitcoin, also signals a move in the direction of a government-free market system.
Although original libertarians (or anarchists) ranging from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikael Bakunin to religiously oriented people like Leo Tolstoy, or secular activists such as Bertrand Russell to more contemporary and varied thinkers like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Daniel Guerin, Michel Foucault, Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, Aldous Huxley and Noam Chomsky disagree significantly on the nature of necessary authority, on the need of a minimal state, on the use of violence to achieve revolutionary ends, they all agree on some basic tenets.
These basic tenants are freedom in society, the elimination of illegitimate hierarchies (markets, governments or aspects of both) and the achievement of, in as much degree as possible, real meaningful democracy by the members of society.
One can see recent teachers strikes in the US, or the protests of the Greens in the Dominican Republic (and hundreds, if not thousands of examples all over the world) as pre-libertarian or at the very least pointing towards libertarian ideals: getting authority to do what the people demand of it, in a democratic manner. It is the job of citizens to force the government to listen to its demands when the government does not do so after successive elections.
Exactly what shape this future society will take and look like remains unknown. What is clear is that contemporary society is lacking in democratic credentials and more worryingly still is that it is simply not sustainable. The time for exploring alternatives is now, before it is too late to try any alternative.