It is interesting to observe the shifting positions and alliances of those with a history of online involvement in libertarian youth culture, as well as the general growth of libertarianism online. You look now and almost any socially awkward teenager with an internet connection can be a radical libertarian. The libertarian youth culture online has definitely grown. Looking back from a perspective of being a libertarian before facebook existed and when youtube was but a budding community of autodidact non-professional vloggers stumbling onto each other’s channels (I can already anticipate the trolling accusation that I’m being a hipster in the libertarian-before-thou sense), it’s time to whip out my cane and bemoan: “things aren’t like they used to be”.
A number of developments happened. Radical libertarianism really started to coalesce into a visible online social circle. A decade ago, a lot of the early radical libertarian sites or their earlier versions were comparatively wonky and obscure (and some still are kind of wonky). The two biggest sources of largely overlapping people and material for me were probably LewRockwell and the Ludwig Von Mises Institute website, back when it actually had a functioning forum section. There was also the earliest version of Freedomain Radio, but it was a much smaller community then, when Molyneux was a start-up. Other notable sites were Strike-The-Root and The Molinari Institute. It was like entering an underground online social atmosphere with its own roster of pundits.
For the most part, the online youth culture coalesced together around these websites and out of general ideological comradery, and proceeded to take on the role of informal/small-time debaters and propagandists through social media and youtube. And things grew from there, with more and more people joining in over time. A series of clicks formed, with a certain hierarchy of popularity. Of course, young radical libertarians did end up having things to debate about among themselves, though for the most part to my memory nothing united everyone more than debating with radical leftists and traditional anarchists.
Things got more complicated over time when the left-libertarian blogosphere or the “alliance of the libertarian left” started forming more explicitly as its own distinct sub-group. This especially became the case with the establishment of C4SS as a kind of left-lib hub rather than a much more loose “blogosphere of the libertarian left” that involved a blogroll app you could attach to your blog. The forging of the left-libertarian thing created a lot more grounds for internal debates, which also splintered the community in some ways. In a sense, it was very much healthy and necessary for debate to happen. But as far as the coherance of libertarianism as a movement, it introduced confusion and grounds for conflict that is still playing out right now and has arguably spiraled to new proportions. And I’m not convinced the left-libs are always in the right in those kind of internal debacles.
Approximately simultaneous to the rise of left-lib (but also inflamed in reaction to it), there was also a certain segment of the young radical libertarians who established themselves as edgy right-wing reactionaries, especially in the form of racial politics. This lead to a lot of heated controversy about libertarian nationalism, libertarian racism, and just a variety of the uglier aspects that can be found in the most conservative segments of libertarianism. This included things like obsession with support for monarchy over democracy, fierce anti-immigration stances, and more or less explicit endorsement of rigid social heirarchies. Basically, the baggage of paleo-libertarianism.
In some ways (or at least for some people), this all occurred with the pretense of a shared political umbrella, even though the people involved had radically different interpretations of libertarianism on some issues. Some people expressed the sentiment that they hated the conflict and “we all support fiberty, right?”. In spite of in-fighting and controversy, the “anarchism without adjectives” sentiment and more broadly the social youth-culture element of the online community that transcends politics, managed to make libertarianism a confusing clusterfuck alliance of just about anything you want it to be as long as you pay lip service to the idea of being against the state.
But inevitably, the shared political umbrella had to break for quite a few people. Friendships and alliances shifted. People went in their own respective directions. The left-libs formed into their own distinct social circle, and some people continued to drift leftward of left-lib. A few people flirted with left-lib but got scared back into the right. The edgy right-wingers formed their own camp, and some of them likewise abandoned libertarianism altogether (only to dwell even more openly in the pastures of reactionary circles). The result is that we have a libertarian movement that is in some ways splintered between left and right (but also largely homogeneous in its basic content), and a smaller-scale group of assorted post-libertarian drifters.
Where do I stand in all this? It would be accurate to say that I was one of the people who became a post-libertarian drifter to the left. At the same time, I have formed a cynical and anti-political kind of position that has stopped me from moving on to formally associate with any particular political ideology or any kind of politically based social group. I refuse to play in to any broad expectations of conformity to group consensus, even on the left. While I have sympathies with social anarchism, I maintain the position that no one exactly has a solution to politics. But some analysis of the problem of politics are better than others. Libertarianism, while in some cases it may offer some insight, ultimately fails at this – and so do some of the theories of the radical left.
While this blog is geared toward criticism of libertarianism and maintains a ferociously anti-capitalist stance, if some libertarians are going to present us with capitalistic versions of erroneous ideas associated with the left, I think that deserves special criticism as well. I’m not even averse to occasionally acknowledging that a right-wing source might make an intelligent point or two with respect to what left-wing libertarians are saying and doing. That’s how one approaches intellectual questions without being an ideologue. Libertarians, whether of the left or right, are frequently some of the worst ideologues out there, as much as they might want to pretentiously think of themselves as above the short-comings of other political groups.
*Raises glass (of water)* May we clear our minds of the spook of freedumb.