What exactly is libertarian socialism
"The state makes people's lives more insecure"
Libertarians would like to abolish the state and its institutions: this was shown by the No Billag initiative. But are libertarian ideas always right? And how do the ideas of anarcho-capitalists differ from the tradition of anarchism? An interview with the philosopher Daniel Loick.
Interview: Daniel HackbarthMail to AutorInTwitter profile of the author
WOZ: Mr. Loick, would you describe yourself as libertarian?
Daniel Loick: That depends on what you mean by "libertarian". The German term “libertarian” has a different meaning than what is called “libertarian” in the USA. I would want to relate positively to the libertarian tradition if the term is used in the sense of the German discussion, where a term like "libertarian socialism" does not constitute a contradiction. It is based on a social concept of freedom. At the same time, the attribute “libertarian” expresses a distance from authoritarian concepts of socialism.
How exactly is American libertarianism defined?
Here freedom is understood in such a way that the social component plays practically no role. Instead, the focus is on the individual - which is why all forms of state regulation are viewed as problematic because they restrict the freedom of the individual. There is then no longer any reference to the community. This in turn implies problematic ideas about human coexistence.
This strong individualism is also one of the reasons why people in the USA hold on to the right to own guns so doggedly, isn't it?
Yes, the idea is firmly anchored in the USA that the “Second Amendment” - the right to bear arms - means protection from tyranny. Interestingly, however, it has only been the case for a few years that this right has been understood as an individual one. Before that, the right to bear arms was understood as a right to become part of a militia. But it's true, in the United States, individual-centered ideas are very common. That can also be positive, such as the emphasis on unconditional freedom of speech. On the other hand, individualism is also reflected in a blanket criticism of the taxation of citizens by the state. This explains the strange-looking idea that the introduction of compulsory health insurance is a violation of the freedom of the individual.
Has this type of libertarianism become more widespread in Europe in recent years?
In any case, there are such currents in this country too. But I cannot say whether this is a general trend in Europe. Rather, we can observe the advance of reactionary community ideologies that propagate a return to the "people" - and here individual freedom is not the focus. Overall, a heterogeneous picture emerges on the right: There are movements that argue in the style of American anarcho-capitalism, that is, would like to abolish the state and leave everything to the free market. At the same time, ethnic community ideals and a sense of sovereignty are propagated, as was the case with Brexit, for example.
In an interview with the WOZ, a right-wing libertarian from Basel recently said: “Better to be a mafia baller now and then than a highly armed state. Only states have armies and instigate world wars. " In your introduction to anarchism, you describe the state as the “greatest security risk in human history”. So do anarchism and libertarianism agree in the rejection of the state?
I do not know the context from which the quote from the Swiss libertarian comes, but I would counter that the aim of anarchist criticism of the state is to overcome violence as such. This criticism is based on the fact that the state claims to end pre-state violence by monopolizing violence. The anarchist criticism puts its finger on the ironic effects of this state claim: the monopoly of violence leads to people becoming more insecure.
For example, because the police themselves tend to commit legal violations. A particularly blatant example is the atomic bomb: The fact that there are such extreme means of violence, in which the continued existence of all humanity is at stake, is only conceivable under the conditions of statehood. It can now be seen from this that the argument that the state is ending violence does not work - on the contrary: the state makes people's lives more insecure.
This is exactly how the legal libertarian argues ...
The aim of anarchist criticism is not to legitimize the mafia ball, but to find new forms of human coexistence that renounce violence. So the point is not to fall behind the state authority, but to go beyond it. Precisely this is a criterion for differentiating between individualistic ideas of anarchism and socialist or communist anarchisms, in which one is just thinking about how one could develop new forms of cooperation in the community.
That is why socialists have always criticized the liberal view of man, which is focused on the individual ...
Yes, the socialist answer to this liberal view of man has always been the idea of man as a social being who is capable of sympathizing with other people. If one tries now to intensify these social ties and builds on the fact that new potentials arise from community cooperation in order to settle conflicts, this could also lead to the fact that one can increasingly do without external coercion.
But aren't anarchism and socialism contradicting each other? Socialists, and especially Marxists, have always branded anarchism as a "petty-bourgeois ideology".
Anarchism is an extremely diverse current. In fact, some of these currents are anti-socialist because they are anti-community. Mention should be made here of the philosopher Max Stirner, a contemporary of Karl Marx, who did not call himself an anarchist, but is often cited as an exponent of these trends. However, anarchism has always become socially relevant where it has understood itself as part of socialism and as a social movement. This is what all famous names stand for.
For example Proudhon or Bakunin ...
... or Kropotkin: They were all socialist to communist. They separated themselves from Marxism rather because of its conception of the state. These different anarchist currents are divided along the lines of the concept of freedom: is it assumed that the other person represents the limit of my own freedom - as liberalism does? That would correspond to the so-called negative concept of freedom. Or is it assumed that the other is not the limit, but the condition of my freedom - that freedom consists in participating in social practices and feeling at home in these practices that we share with one another? Marx, who was not an anarchist, aptly expresses this with the sentence that the freedom of all is the condition for the freedom of the individual and vice versa.
Right now, the question of how exactly freedom should be defined seems to be very controversial: For neoliberals, freedom is also a central value, only that of the entrepreneur is meant by it.
In any case, this is also a political conflict. Personally, of course, I find the concept of social freedom much more sympathetic than the liberal one, but at the same time it is undoubtedly the case that the concept of social freedom is strongly on the defensive. Socially prevailing at the moment is the neoliberal idea that freedom lies in the self-realization of the individual. But with this you regularly get certain ironic effects, which then again undermine freedom.
The sociologist Luc Boltanski and the sociologist Ève Chiapello have described how ideals that were originally intended to increase freedom suddenly become new constraints. Then it says: You should be creative! You should realize yourself! Which in turn can psychologically lead to phenomena such as burnout, depression or the like. All of this results from a misunderstood, namely abstract and empty freedom.
Perhaps that also explains why nationalist ideologies in particular are enjoying so much popularity ...
Yes, that is an interesting dialectic: Actually, “people” and the individual appear as a contradiction. But in fact, I also believe that the popularity that right-wing community offers can only be explained in this way - namely as a reaction to the real atomization of society. People no longer experience in their everyday lives, in their real life, that they are connected to one another. That is why one then falls back on abstract ideals such as “fatherland” or “people”, that is, concepts that cannot be concretely experienced, but are intended to create cohesion between the isolated.
The socialists' response to this has always been to propagate solidarity - also with the aim of abolishing the particularist restrictions on the individual, but not in a national or even ethnic framework, but with a universal claim. This means that everyone belongs to the community created in this way, that this community is open and offers space for plurality.
Do you see any concrete examples in the present where social freedom can really be experienced?
Promising approaches can already be found. In some countries there are left-wing social democratic movements: Bernie Sanders represents this in the USA, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. In both cases the idea of solidarity is at the center. Also more anarchistic phenomena like the Occupy movement. Squatting is also interesting, since it calls into question the right to property, i.e. the core of the liberal legal concept, through joint action. In addition, there are many forms of emancipatory politics that can be observed locally, which do not appear on the big radar, but enable such community experiences.
They always refer positively to the term “community”. The word sounds a little scary.
That's right, you have to be careful with this term, especially in German, where "community" can have a reactionary or even ethnic note. I would also be referring to the American “community”, an important term for People of Color in the USA. It is about a form of community that allows or even requires heterogeneity.
If you look at practical attempts to live together beyond the state and capital: In the Zone à défendre in Nantes, France, a large left-wing occupation, there is no police, conflicts are resolved by mediators, and this also in blatant cases. for example when it comes to rape. Doesn't that sound a little creepy too?
In these cases, too, the motto applies: You have to go beyond the state-run forms and not fall behind them. Then to what extent this succeeds, one then has to judge the respective attempt. In some communities of color in the USA, which are dependent on solving their conflicts without the state authority because they would never get the idea of calling the - regularly racist - police themselves, there are creative attempts to use force in dealing with one's own communities. These include concepts such as community accountability and transformative justice, which focus on the specific needs of the women concerned, but also include the perpetrators in the process. Of course, these methods are not perfect. Nevertheless, I would initially show solidarity with such projects.
Isn't a naive idea of man sometimes the problem, too, that one simply assumes that the human being is essentially good and says to oneself: Now I'll move to the commune, and then freedom and fraternity will rule?
I too would have my problems with many anarchist projects because I don't necessarily want to live in a rural commune. Historically, such projects often featured problematic notions of back-to-nature, conformist community ideals or a strong moralism that branded deviant behavior of the individual as egoism. And insurrectionalism, that is, rebellious anarchism, is far too heroic for me in its propagation of an apocalyptic struggle, as it were.
One should therefore try to incorporate certain ideas and ask how they can be updated under the current conditions. And I would say: today's commune has to be a form of community that incorporates computer technology.
Speaking of insurrectionalism: Many left-wingers also come across the fact that the authors - an anarchist collective from France - refer to violence in such a positive way when reading the “Coming uprising”. How do you judge that?
Historically, there have been violent debates in anarchism, for example about the «propaganda of the deed», which was about rousing the masses through spectacular actions by individuals - for example, assassinations. This strategy was quickly abandoned because it didn't work. One could also discuss what is included under the catchphrase “direct action”: sabotage or strikes, that is, forms of action that at least advocate violence against property.
As far as the “Coming Uprising” is concerned, I consider the imaginary horizon that is attached to it to be a problem. This reflects an almost apocalyptic idea of social change, according to the motto: First of all, everything has to collapse before something happens. Social transformation, however, has more to do with establishing new relationships constructively than with clearing old ones.
If you look at how quasi-military the black bloc sometimes appears - isn't that almost on the right?
I wouldn't sign it like that. There are certainly dangers in the idea of the Apocalypse as a quasi-necessary transition phase to liberation. But still, anarchism has other reserves that distinguish it from fascist ideas. There is a significant difference in how the common subject is composed: The black bloc is always internationalist from the outset - people from all countries come together. Nevertheless, certain masculinist ideas of militancy have long been criticized by anarchist-feminist side as Mackerscheiss - and rightly so.
Couldn't this militant demeanor also be a kind of substitute act, because anarchism no longer has a mass base today?
I do not really want to join the complaint about the militancy in the Black Block. Of course, it is far too easy to define left-wing violence simply as "counter-violence" and thus consider it to be justified. But still: if you look at the debate surrounding the G20 summit in Hamburg and at the same time realize that Trump, Erdogan and Putin were all there, it seems strange to me to discuss burning cars in particular. I think it is very important to first turn back to the real prevailing violence. After that, however, you have to discuss your own counter-strategy - that is, whether it is wise to appear as a black block or to throw stones. And I would say that this is usually not a good strategy.
There are also alternative action concepts, such as the Clown Army.
Or the pink block. I think that's nice. The question is to what extent such concepts really work in all situations.
At present, the left is often in the position of even having to defend the state from neoliberal attacks. What impulses could anarchism provide in this situation?
It must be about developing a third, emancipatory perspective alongside neoliberal criticism of the state and social democratic state defense. In relation to the example of “Billag”: What would a civil society, democratic - that is, neither state nor private - media public look like? Important impulses could come from the debates about the commons, i.e. goods that are neither privately nor state-managed, but are available to civil society. In the immaterial area, the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia would be an example of a project that is made by everyone and is freely available to everyone, but is not under state leadership.
At the same time, there are battles in many places over the commonization of urban infrastructures - for example, when attempts are made to make cultural institutions or public goods in general available under collective ownership: free wifi, for example, free bicycles, freely accessible museums.These approaches need to be sharpened and expanded to other areas.
Do you really think such approaches could develop sufficient social impact?
That is always the counter-argument. But take Greece as an example: there was an attempt to achieve changes by means of a party - Syriza - which failed terribly. In the slipstream of Syriza, however, numerous social practices arose: from occupations and exchange rings to free medical offers. An alternative economy has emerged here.
If the principle of collective production and free availability underlying these projects were also applied to the material economy, then things could get really interesting. That may sound utopian. But it is particularly important today to bring such alternatives to the status quo into play.
The philosopher Daniel Loick (40) is visiting professor for critical social theory at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and has been dealing with theories of radical state criticism for several years.
In 2017 he published the volume “Anarchism for Introduction” in Junius-Verlag.
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