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comment on Kevin Carson’s post “Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated”

comment on Kevin Carson’s post “Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated”: (see also my post The new libertarianism: anti-capitalist and socialist):

Brad, the dispute over “capitalism” and “socialism” between the left- and standard-libertarians is partly semantic, though not completely–but the semantic part is a time-waster and muddies the water about the substantive debate. For instance it might well be right that it would have been better to name our view “socialism”–but so what? The term has been taken, and has a meaning. It clearly means state ownership of capital.

Likewise, you say, “it’s not hard to trace the vast bulk of its perceived economic injustices to the state-driven monopolization of capital (i.e. “capitalism”).” This seems to me to be a very idiosyncratic view of the term’s proper definition. Of course, we libertarians are all against “the state-driven monopolization of capital”. But is this properly called “capitalism”? I think not; the term is much more close to a synonym for (or maybe a metonymous expression for) libertarianism. The dictionary defines it as: “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.” Now this definition does NOT include, or even imply, “the state-driven monopolization of capital”; in fact, it is very close to, certainly compatible with libertarianism, or an aspect of a society following libertarian principles. So you guys are just being idiosyncratic and stubborn, it seems to me, in your pet definitions of socialism and capitalism. Look, I understand the appeal–the bastards took liberalism from us (sort of). But our fight with the statist enemy is not over the right word. It is over the underlying ideas.

Shirley, you agree.


nskinsella on Jun 20, 2009, 3:00 am:

Brad: “If presently accepted definitions”

Speaking of misuse of words: I think you mean currently, not presently. Presently means “in a little while; soon: ‘They will be here presently.’”

“contain implicit falsehoods, one’s allegiance to truth demands their inconsistencies be addressed.”

There is no “falsehood” in the term “libertarian” used to denote what we believe in. In the end, all symbols are arbitrary. They just stand for concepts. There is no “falsehood” in the use of “socialism” to describe the system of state ownership of the means of production–we need some word to stand for this concept. It is not relevant that the word “socialism” could have been used differently and acquired a different meaning. And while we can mount fights over terminology, in my view this is futile; we need to fight about what matters–substance.

“The corporatist right and the authoritarian left both found it in their interests to pretend that those who have grown fat on stolen loot earned it through production and exchange.”

Then it is best to challenge this by dissecting their substantive and argumentative mistakes, not by getting in distracting side-arguments about what term to use.

“Yes, Stephan, the meanings of the words changed. Liberty was caught between two sides in a linguistic version of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Time to change them back.”

Persuading people to use the sounds that come from your mouth when they pronounce s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m to associate with the concept “an untrammelled property rights order” will not do anything to make them accept it. If you succeed in equating socialism with libertarianism, then people will just start hating “socialism”. Big victory.


nskinsella on Jun 21, 2009, 2:31 am:

Gary: “If “socialism” means “collective ownership of the means of production,” I am at a loss to see how anyone who’s read Kevin’s work could characterize him as defending “clearly pro-socialist positions.” On the other hand, if “socialism” can have a sufficiently broad meaning that it makes sense to say that Kevin does defend such positions, then it is unclear why his use of “socialism” should be objectionable.”

Exactly. This all depends on what a word means; so it’s semantical confusion.


nskinsella on Jun 21, 2009, 2:51 pm:


“2) I strongly disagree with both that socialism “clearly” means state or collective ownership.”

Let’s say you are right. You could argue similarly about any word, it seems to me, if you go back far enough and find some semantic “mistake” in its chain of meaning. The point is you, and I, are opposed ot state ownership of the means of production (whatever we label this), and some others are in favor of this. You are free of course to have a semantical crusade, but in my view this is not compelled by libertarian principles, but is your own private project.


nskinsella on Jun 21, 2009, 10:50 pm:

Jesse: I agree; which is why I use anarcho-libertarian mostly.

Gary: “1. Using the “socialist” label provides the occasion for a clear distinction between the genus “socialism” and the species “state-socialism.””

okay, but this begs the question. If “socialism” means state ownership of the means of production, then… there is no separation. And it is this meaning that we say is unlibertarian.

Apparently you guys think of socialism as something other than the state ownership of the means of production–that is “state socialism,” some kind of corruption of real socialism (which sounds suspiciuosly similar to how “socialists” (of the state-socialist kind) always try to distance themselves from Soviet Russia’s implemenation of it by saying communism etc. is not “real” socialism.

“2. Labeling a particular sort of market anarchist project “socialist” clearly identifies its emancipatory intent: it links that project with the opposition to bossism and deprivation that provide the real moral and emotional force of socialist appeals of all sorts.”

Gary, comments like this make me wonder if some of our left-libertarian brethren realize that some of your standard-libertarian allies have no idea what you are talking about when you talk like this. Bossism? Deprivation? Qua libertarian I am not against “bossism,” unless someone can coherently define this and show me that it is some species of aggression.

“3. Thus, identifying one’s project as “socialist” is a way of making clear one’s opposition to “capitalism”—as that term is understood by an enormous range of ordinary people around the world. The “socialist” label signals to them that a market anarchist project like Kevin’s is on their side and that it is opposed to those entities they identify as their oppressors.”

Let me get this straight. You are saying that real libertarianism (”market anarchism”, i.e. anarchism) is against state-corporatism (”capitalism”), and is for anti-bossist, non-statist “socialism”. Therefore, people who are also against state-corporatism, and against “bossism,” and who are for “non-statist socialism,” might be more inclined to look into libertarianism if they realize it is compatible with these positions.

Is this about right?

Okay… but in this case, 2 pionts: (1) I see no difference to similar argumentative strategies when we point out countless other ways in which freedom is really the best way to attain any number of values people hold–religious freedom, prosperity, harmony, on and on and on. and (2) it is quite obvious to me that libertarianism is against state-corporatism (which you guys seem to want to call “capitalism”–more semantics) b/c we are against the state (so the “vulgar” charge falls flat and is attributable to the left-lib’s equivocation re the term “capitalism”). But whether a private property order supports “non-state socialist” values, or “anti-bossism,” depends on what these nebulous, murky terms mean. If “non-state socialism” is compatible with freedom, then sure. If “anti-bossism” is compatible with libertarian-Lockean property rights, then sure. But then, it’s just one among thousands of peaceful, valued, private institutions that can benefit from a private property order. I see no special reason to single these things out, but everyone is free to pursue his particular interests.

“4. Suppose a market anarchist like Kevin points out to the state-socialist—by sincerely owning the “socialist” label—that she or he shares the state-socialist’s ends, while disagreeing radically with the state-socialist’s judgments about appropriate means to those ends. This simultaneously sincere and rhetorically effective move allows the market anarchist to challenge the state-socialist to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s emancipatory goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer.”

Yes, I understand this general notion; but as noted above, (a) I don’t see why it’s different than any other similar rhetorical attempt to win someone over; adn (b) I still am not sure what socialism is without “state”–since to me, socialism just means “state ownershp of the means of production”–or, to generalize, institutionalized aggression with (Lockean) libertarian ownership rights. If the “non-state socialists” are avowedly opposed to “institutionalized aggression with (Lockean) libertarian ownership rights” (and are willing to loudly and clearly say so) then whatever their private project or interest is, I support their right to pursue it, and of course this is compatible only with libertarian ethics.

” It sets the stage for the market anarchist to highlight the fact that purported statist responses to bossism create more, and more powerful, bosses, that the state is much better at causing deprivation than curing it.”

I am really not sure waht “bossism” is; as a libertarian, I oppose aggression. I only oppose “bossism” as a libertarian, if and to the extent it’s aggression.

As for deprivation–if you mean impoverishment.. this is just the standard libertarian argument that only voluntary exchange results in prosperity. Sure. Point it out.

” And it therefore creates an occasion for the state-socialist to ask her- or himself, perhaps for the first time, “Am I really more attached to the means or to the end?””

…. which are you saying they should be more attached to? Which is the means and which is hte end, as between state-socialism and “real” (?) socailism?

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