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Libertarianism = Anarchy

We are for private enterprise with all its ingenuity, thrift and contrivance, and we believe it can flourish best within a strict and well-understood system of prevention and correction of abuses.

Winston Churchill


From Roget's International Thesaurus, sections 762.23-762.24, here's the exact sequence of words considered synonymous with "libertarian":

.23  ...uncurbed, unchecked, unbridled, unmuzzled, unreined, reinless, uncontrolled, unmastered, unsubdued, ungoverned, unruly; out of control, out of hand, out of one's power; abandoned, intemperate, immoderate, incontinent, licentious, loose, wanton, rampant, riotous, wild, irrepressible, lax.
.24  nonrestrictive, unrestrictive; permissive; indulgent, lax, liberal, libertarian....

And from sections 740.5-740.6, the exact sequence of words considered synonymous with "anarchic":

.5  lawless; licentious, ungoverned, undisciplined, unrestrained, insubordinate, mutinous, disobedient; uncontrolled, uncurbed, unbridled, unchecked, rampant, unreined, reinless; irresponsible, wildcat, unaccountable, self-willed, willful, headstrong, heady.
.6  anarchic(al), anarchial, anarchistic, unruly, disorderly, disorganized, chaotic, antinomian, nihilist, syndicalistic.

The words in common in both lists:

licentious, ungoverned, uncontrolled, uncurbed, unbridled, unchecked, rampant, unreined, reinless, unruly

With this many synonyms in common, it's fair to say "libertarian" and "anarchic" are synonyms also. The only difference seems to be that anarchists oppose political authority and libertarians oppose authority, period.

No doubt Roget's was compiled before Ayn Rand's books came out and the Libertarian Party debuted. Since then libertarianism has become a political position as well as a philosophical one. We can characterize the position in a few words: unruly, ungoverned, and unchecked.

In other words, anarchy. The law of the jungle. Survival of the fittest.

Definition of conservative/libertarian
The pure libertarian is rare if not nonexistent. Most "libertarians" pay lip service to legalizing drugs and have nothing to say about such typical anti-government causes as the right to abortion, gay marriages, or increased immigration. Instead, they concentrate their energy on their cherished causes: eliminating government and, more important, their taxes. And on the corollary cause of freeing business to enrich them at the expense of others.

Because these "libertarians" spend roughly 90% of their time championing the same causes as right-wing conservatives, a better term for them is conservative/libertarians. I've used this term throughout this site to distinguish these "libertarians" from the semi-mythical true libertarian.

(True libertarians tend to vote the Libertarian Party ticket, which is why Libertarian candidates never get more than 1% of the vote. This is good evidence of how many so-called "libertarians" are really libertarians.)

Here's a good summation of the conservative/libertarian in today's America. From "Talk Radio's Not Only for Dittoheads" by Mike Newcomb. In the Arizona Republic, 7/20/03:

Many in the conservative movement hide behind the cross and cloak themselves in the flag. Yet they are perhaps the most un-Christian and un-patriotic group we have ever seen. As a Catholic, I can't imagine Jesus Christ telling someone born into welfare that he must pull himself up by his bootstraps and that the path to salvation is through tax cuts. Yet this social Darwinism and free-market fanaticism pervades the conservative agenda.

Conservative ideology seeks to undermine the values and principles upon which this country was founded. The opening of the Constitution reads, "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union," but when seen through the lens of a conservative reads, "I the individual, in order to form a more perfect Me." It is this rugged individualism and callousness toward our fellow brothers and sisters that conservative radio and ideology espouses.

Michael Moore nailed the selfishness of the conservative/libertarian ethic in his Bowling for Columbine DVD:

I believe that if we were able to get rid of all the guns in America and have strong gun control laws, that we would still have the central problem, the central problem of being afraid of the other. And being manipulated so easily by politicians, by corporations, by the media as they appeal to our baser instincts.

We need to change our ethic, and as I hope I've pointed out in the film, to aspire to be more Canadian-like. What is the Canadian ethic? The Canadian ethic is "We're all in the same boat. We're all Canadians." And we don't have that ethic in America. Our ethic is "It's every man for himself. And to hell with you. Me. Me, me, me, me. My, my, I, I, I. I. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

This selfishness manifests itself in how we treat others: from the poor in this country to those brown-skinned "foreigners" overseas: From The Republicans: Winners or Perpetrators? by Jane Smiley:

The conservative caste of mind is different from the liberal caste of mind, and much of what we believe is dictated by temperament. For example, I've noticed that for most liberals, the greatest sin is murder. Liberals recoil at harming others. The fact that the Iraq war has physically harmed tens of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention many thousands of American soldiers, is the red letter immorality that defines that misadventure for liberals. If they reluctantly supported the war, those deaths and injuries are the hardest sticking point; if they never supported the war, those deaths are the most unforgivable horror.

Conservatives, though, don't really mind doing harm to others, even murder, especially if they add the phrase, "for your own good." After all, people get harmed all the time—the world, to a natural conservative, is a harmful place and a vale of tears. To a conservative, the greatest crime is betrayal of the tribe, and if worst comes to worst, better that those outside the tribe (often not even defined as human) come to grief (get injured, get raped, lose everything, get killed, let's be honest) in preference to oneself or one's allies. To a true conservative, it doesn't matter that Jesus's number one rule was to do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they somehow read this as do unto others before they do unto you. Conservatives, I think, have a stronger flight/fight response than liberals. They are both more fearful and more aggressive. It shows in their religion (God is someone to fear), it shows in their child-rearing techniques (beatings, whippings, spankings are to be administered, not avoided), it shows in their attitude toward marriage and sexuality (conforming to one's own strict moral standards isn't enough—others must conform, also, or the whole society is in danger). To the conservative mind, harm may be justifiably done to others who do not conform. Doing harm to others is a relative evil, not an absolute one. It is, you might say, an aspect of winning.

Libertarian vs. liberal
Ironically, "libertarian" and "liberal" come from the same root word. Today, conservative/libertarians are almost the opposite of liberals. Let's compare and contrast the two philosophies:

Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.

For the real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is a democracy.

Aristotle, Politics I.8

The C word and the L word have been bandied about rather casually these days indeed. A person who may have a few conservative views on economy or family may pronounce them selves a conservative and plaster bumper stickers on the rear window of their SUV. But if they found themselves living in a truly conservative society they'd be tempted to slash their wrist. By the same token I've met many a gay, black, feminist, ecoterrorist, etc. that claims to be liberal but in their heart lives the soul of Barry Goldwater. The true political science definition of conservative/liberal is one that will never be uttered from the lips any politician. However as private citizens, it would behoove us to understand the difference. Both have to do with the stability and support of the bedrock foundations of civilization, religion and family.

There are 5 institutions in all civilizations, 1. religion 2. family 3. government 4. education 5. economy. The political definition of conservative/liberal has to do with a persons opinion in the relationship of government to the other 4 institutions of society.

A conservative believes that religion and family are fragile institutions and must be supported (i.e. controlled) by government. They believe that economy and education must be available only to the portion of society that possess the values that are beneficial to that societies advancement.

A liberal believes that religion and family are institutions far more established than government and needs no direction nor interference unless called upon (i.e. child abuse). They believe economy and education should be available to as many members of society as possible in order to have a economy that is stimulated by the constant influx of new ideas.

Vickie King, posting on Salon, 7/8/01

liberal adj. 1. Having, expressing, or following social or political views or policies that favor non-revolutionary progress and reform. 2. Having, expressing, or following views or policies that favor the freedom of individuals to act or express themselves in a manner of their own choosing.

American Heritage Dictionary, New College Edition

That seems clear enough. Favoring freedom is the essence of liberalism. Conservative/libertarians favor freedom only to the extent they embrace the liberal agenda. The "freedom" they really want—the Darwinian freedom of the jungle—permits only the wealthiest and most powerful among us to choose.

Links on "libertarian" beliefs
Are taxes "theft"?
Democrats are better money managers
A well regulated militia...
The myth of American self-reliance

Related links
America the conservative
Origin of the culture wars
Right-wing extremists:  the enemy within
America's cultural mindset

Readers respond
"The conservatives have articulated what they claim they're for: small government, judicial restraint, family values."
More evidence that libertarianism = anarchy:  "Online Bullies Give Grief to Gamers"
"[Libertarians] should be given a territory in the US where they can practice and develop their own ideal form of society."
"At the time of Jefferson, leftist meant Libertarian...."

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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