Being a good libertarian

There are a few passages is Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed where he talks about (or is translated as talking about) libertarian education.  For example:

The raison d’etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.

Gnome Chomsky  Image by Thomas Le Ngo

Gnome Chomsky Image by Thomas Le Ngo

Margaret Thatcher at Reagan's funeral. Image by Tech. Sgt. Scott M. Ash [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Thatcher at Reagan’s funeral. Image by Tech. Sgt. Scott M. Ash [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was troubling me, as I associate libertarianism with the neoliberalism of Reagan and Thatcher (and we Scots really, really do not like Thatcher).  But then I realised (see my earlier post from today) that it was also possible to be a left libertarian, and further that this was actually where my political sympathies already lay – and that although I’d always called myself an anarchist, libertarian socialist was a much neater way of describing my political beliefs.


The term “libertarian” has an idiosyncratic usage in the US and Canada, reflecting, I suppose, the unusual power of business in these societies. In the European tradition, “libertarian socialism” (“socialisme libertaire”) was the anti-state branch of the socialist movement: anarchism (in the European, not the US sense). (Chomsky, interview from the Leiter Reports)

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4 Responses to Being a good libertarian

  1. Maha Bali says:

    This is going to get me to think really deeply (I know we’ve had part of this convo on email) because I’m writing my blogpost reaction to Deschooling Society and trying to figure out where my ideology is (not that I need to “fit” anywhere but I need to know where I’m at, you know?). I love Chomsky so I’ll look for these aspects in his work…

    So here is the thing. I get how someone can continue to oppose and reject and criticize Capitalism but also critique the authoritarian state. What I’m feeling from Illich is that he is also critiquing the benevolent powers of the state for making the poor ever more dependent on the state, if that makes sense.

    My problem is this: I want to trust individuals or collectives to be able to empathize with the poor and be socialists themselves without a state imposing this. In fact, I probably trust the indiciduals more than the state. But not all the individuals. We can see how the very rich are often not willing to work on reducing income inequality, not in real, sustainable ways. We can also see how poor the state is at doing so, whether conservative/republican or labor/democrat. But surely – states taking some responsibility for healthcare is better than not?

    I mean… if we’re going to have a state ANYWAY, shouldn’t it hold some responsibility for something other than traffic and security?

    Again, I’m confusing myself, because in my REALITY, I work COMPLETELY outside the system in order to reach what I want because the state, and smaller institutions are too bureacuratic, slow to change and undemocratic, for me to have enough of an influence.I’ll have to think some more… and also about Islamic views of socialism because I actually think that’s where the ideology leans as well (though I need not subscribe to it) – libertarian socialism… lots of think about…

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      I think I might make a distinction between an authoritarian state and institutions set up by us, as members of society. So rather than the state ruling us, we make the rules for ourselves. That is what I want to believe we can do, when I am feeling optimistic about human nature. I am going to look at Islamic socialism, coz the tiny bit I know about it makes me agree with you that it might fit.

      • Maha Bali says:

        The problem with our own institutions is that we can create tyrannies of majorities… not that states are not tyrannical in their own ways, but… things like gay marriage in the US might never get any support if the majority had the right to stop them… if that makes sense?

        • NomadWarMachine says:

          Yeah, it assumes an awful lot about how altruistic humans can be. Rousseau thinks that because the state sets the laws our moral faculties have withered away, but without the state they would grow back. I think now we have the state we are stuck with it, but we should still try our hardest to rail against it when it is unjust.

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