Egalitarianism VS Freedom

Black and Red Star of Anarcho-Syndicalism

In my recent conversation with a…err…”political moderate”, a fundamental difference in opinions surfaced which I think is what caused most of the friction. Specifically it is the classic collision that occurs between a free market libertarian and a Libertarian Socialist.

Our conversation started with me explaining if I am a supporter of personal freedoms and very soon I was being drilled on why I support them but I don’t support the freedom of people to amass capital. Even as I was explaining that such freedom creates inequality and exploitation I was indirectly being accused of hypocrisy (which was incidentally a trigger point to take this publicly).

There was a tacit understanding by my opponent that I was somehow as supportive of (the same type of) freedom as he was and thus, by not supporting economic freedom I was being hypocritical. Indeed, thinking about the way this conversation took place I get the impression tha Oolon was attempting to make me realize this perceived dissonance in my opinion and thus abandon such views.

However what Oolon and generally libertarians do not understand is that for me (and I guess for the rest of the left-libertarian movement – feel free to correct me on this) it is not liberty (or more accurately, negative liberty) that is my highest value or priority, it is egalitarianism or positive liberty and while I do consider negative liberty as a worthy goal and will be willing to cooperate with free market libertarians to achieve it, it will definitely take the back seat when it conflicts with egalitarianism.

Libertarians love to scream “bloody oppression” when such views are expressed and this is what really gets me annoyed. I can only take so many accusations that “I am trying to force my morality on others” or that I am trying to take away freedoms when I am attempting to achieve the exact opposite: Promote the most freedom for the largest amount of people.

Thus our fundamental difference once again comes down to the classic Egalitarianism VS Freedom or Positive VS Negative Liberty and if we are to have any meaningful discussion, it is this part that we need to argue for the rest of our argument stems from it.

There is no point in expressing my opinion on one policy and have the libertarian exclaim “Aha! But you’re taking away my freedom.” I.Don’t.Care. By allowing you that freedom it would mean that inequality would once again occur and people would suffer as a result. I do not care for your repugnant beliefs that the people are not entitled to escape suffering and if you call me authoritarian one more time I will smack you.

Our freedoms need already to be curtailed in some aspects in order to have a working society. Thus, among others, you do not have the freedom to pay people below the minimum wage and you do not have the freedom to freely pollute your own property. And finally, you do not have the freedom to relinquish your own freedom.

Incidentally this is similar to the classic disagreement between the BSD Licenses and GNU GPL. The BSDs are always accusing the Free Software movement that they are not as free as them because they do not allow the freedom to take away the freedom. GPL is about providing positive freedom while BSD is about proviging negative freedom. The type of freedom that BSD espouses is what enabled Microsoft to get and then grip the market with their Active Directory implementation of LDAP & Kerberos.

It is in a similar way that negative liberty is abused, even without the initiation of force. This is what free market libertarians fail to consider. Things like monopolies, worker exploitation etc are the results and they end up hurting everyone.

On the other hand, what Egalitarianism is about, is not making all people achieve the same (which is again a misunderstanding of the concept) but allowing all people the same freedoms no matter their abilities or social standing. Egalitarianism is not about putting overachievers down, but rather in making sure that inequality is not created because of it.

For example, it is of not unfair if a person making 1M a year is taxed at 80% in order to enable people making 20K to be taxed 10%. The former is still filthy rich and the later can have a comfortable life without struggling for subsistence.

But why is egalitarianism of higher priority than freedom? Because through egalitarianism people truly have a choice in their lives. It allows people to do what they do best even if under capitalism that is not profitable. It makes people happier and it allows people to discard fear which further serves as a catalyst for discarding religion. And most importantly, it is self-sustaining.

When people learn to cooperate in this manner it is difficult for it to change. Cooperative people have already the necessary mentality to unite and oppose creeping inequality and authoritarianism. Free Market Libertarians OTOH, classically with a “Every man for himself” mentality, are doomed to play the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

So dear libertarians and political moderates, if you’re going to debate me on such issues you’re better trying to convince me why Negative liberty is superior to Egalitarianism. Anything else can only end in frustration.


About this entry