Freethinkers tend to progress in 2 distinct political directions as a rule of thumb. Socialism and Libertarianism. But nobody notices how they are part of a bigger picture.
I’ve written in the past on what the obvious trend for freethinker’s political orientation is but the more I talk and interact with libertarians online, the more I notice a second, more passive trend which seems to be present in the political history of those people. The Libertarian Socialist Pull.
This means the general tendency to move towards the left or, to put it a bit more practically, start giving more weight to concepts of justice, mutual aid and equality, as well as the tendency to move towards liberty which means to start demanding the right to manage all aspects of your own life without a higher authority and prioritize direct action. The first part then expresses the empathy all humans possess for others, while the second expresses the individualism which allows each human to naturally distinguish themselves.
It is no wonder then that the more someone experiences, the more they start to notice all the aspects of our current existence which limit those expressions and if this is coupled with thinking freely about them, that is, when someone does not have any irrational beliefs which would prevent them from looking at and judging the underlying causes, (eg “Goddidit”) then it is only natural that the truth will be found and lead to some uncomfortable conclusions about all the things we’ve considered normal until now.
This is by no means an easy process and can be as difficult as a deconversion if one is to start from a point of heavy indoctrination ((In fact, deconverting from a patriarchal or otherwise authoritarian religion would be rightly considered just one step in the greater process of the Libertarian Socialist Pull as the causes of such a deconversion are most likely the free thinking about the differences between the theory of faith and the experience of reality)). As such, it is a gradual progression, with people slowly discovering the puzzle pieces which just don’t seem to fit right, no matter how you turn them and then discarding them, only to discover that a whole chunk of the puzzle has now become disconnected and can be discarded as well.
From what I’ve observed, it seems that there are generally two paths towards Libertarian Socialism, one from Socialism and one from Libertarianism and which one people start walking depends on their upbringing and general circumstances and experiences. But in broad strokes, I would say that we can talk about two types of human personality which are more susceptible to either pull: Empathetic – which is positive towards Socialism and Individualist which prioritizes Libertarianism. Why? Because the personality one has will define which difficult questions the freethinker will choose to investigate first.
Where one starts in the current political spectrum is not so important but it generally also correlates to one’s personality as well (although of course irrational beliefs one has not yet discarded play a large role). However as one asks the pointed questions and discovers that the easy answers are unfulfilling or just do not stand the light of reason so do the answers one discovers pull them more towards the Libertarian or Socialist pathways. You’ll notice I’ve split these two for now because it may very well be the case that one may initially move away from the other side as the initial answers which make sense, feel like a breath of cool air among stagnating fumes, and as a result are accepted with less rigor as one strives to investigate the whole spectrum of thought these ideas originate. In fact, I would say it’s rare for one to move simultaneously towards socialism and libertarianism at the same time.
EDIT: I realize that there is something I probably should have mentioned ((h/t to redditr commernie)) as it is quite important: What is it that causes some people to be empathetic while others to be individualistic? The answer to this is the material conditions one lives in. For example, wage-workers are quite unlikely to be individualists as the constant interaction with fellow human workers and the actual experience of the dreadfulness of wage-slavery is sure to fan the flames of empathy and mutual aid as they seek to collectively improve their lot and resist against the bosses. On the other hand, those lucky few who get to be entrepreneurs have the uncommon chance to experience liberty of action and control of one’s own destiny which make all interventions by a state seem as a horrible violation of rights. For them then, individualism becomes the primary basis of ethics. It is in fact for this reason that the individualists are always so outnumbered compared to socialists as there’s far more wage-slaves than there’s entrepreneurs or rich people.
As a general observation, the Socialist path will usually lead one towards Social Democracy while the Libertarian path will lead someone towards Liberalism (“Liberalism” and “Libertarianism” respectively for all you Yanks) but sooner or later one will discover the inability of the state apparatus to perform the tasks one expects from it (Protect public interests or Protect private property respectively for each path) and will take anti-reformist turn to revolution or anti-statism.
Thus we end up with something like this (Where “|>” symbolizes the break with reformism) :
Empathetic: Apolitical > Social Democrat |> Socialist > Vulgar Marxist (eg Stalinist, Maoist etc).
Individualistic: Apolitical > Free Market Minarchist |> Liberal > Vulgar Libertarian (eg “Anarcho”-Capitalist).
Now it is very possible that someone will progress all the way to the far side of this path and stay there, or be brought up with such a ideology in the first place and just stay there ((Which I attribute to them investing too much of their life to accept that they might be wrong, or on groupthink)). But what I’ve noticed happening more often than not, is that after the break with reformism, freethinkers reach a dead-end and start noticing the impassable barrier posed by the following fact:
You can’t have equality without liberty and you can’t have liberty without equality.
The reasons for this have been explained many times by lots of anarchists so I won’t go into much detail other than to say that the practical implications of it make themselves known by the actual experience of everyone who has had their rights trampled by the state (even the “worker’s state) or their lives disrupted or ruined by the capitalist bosses.
Once this is noticed, then the second part of the freethinker’s journey begins as Libertarians and Socialists move towards their converging point. Anarchism.
My own experience of course has not been much different. I started profoundly apolitical but very empathetic. As soon as I linked the huge societal and environmental issues of our time to the economic system we live in I started moving towards a State Socialist direction, taking a break with reformism once I read the arguments against the failure of the parliamentary process and finally rejecting the need for a state in socialism as something counter-productive.
On the other side, I’ve seen and heard of many examples of Individualists, even at the extreme end of “Anarcho”-Capitalism coming to reject that ideology and start espousing more leftist concepts to the point of passing into the anti-capitalist camp altogether. The best historical example of this is of course Voltairine de Cleyre while in own online circles I’ve noticed (among others) Francois Tremblay and just yesterday Sean from the Skeptical Eye, both of which started from Objectivism no less.
In fact, the latter was what triggered me to write this post as it’s something that I seem to notice almost monthly lately. This was because we had quite clash a while back when both of us were more in our respective polar ends so when he explained that he’s almost abandoned his pro-capitalist ideas, it was just a very powerful real-world example of what I was thinking already.
None of this of course is meant to imply that one is not a freethinker unless the progress towards Libertarian Socialism anymore than one can expect a freethinker is always right. Of course I think people who have not yet embraced Anarchism are wrong but this is only logical, this does not mean that they are close minded. However I do have the impression, backed by experience, that the Libertarian Socialist Pull is in fact real for freethought.
And that is a cause for hope.