There was some debate on another list I'm on about whether t's a good idea to use the term "socialists" to refer to people who want more government. Here are a few reasons I think it's not:
(1) What we're really against is the *initiation of force*, not
socialism. Voluntary socialism on a small scale is unobjectionable
and often even desirable; most families operate on a kind of "from
each according to his ability, to each according to his need" model.
It's when socialism is imposed by force or used as a model for
central planning in society that it becomes a problem. I prefer to
call the kind of socialism that we're against "state socialism" or
"top-down socialism" (as opposed to voluntary or bottom-up
socialism). When somebody tells me he supports socialism, I try to
ask something like, "Top-down coercive socialism, or bottom-up
voluntary socialism?" Or I may tell someone, "I have no problems with
socialism as long as it's voluntary, I just don't want it imposed on
people by force."
(2) Most people have libertarian views on some issues and state
socialist (or "statist" for short) views on others. If we call
someone a "socialist" based on his statist views on some issues, and
then somebody sees that person advocating a libertarian view on a
different issue, it can lead to confusion about what libertarians
stand for. For instance, if I tell someone Obama is a socialist, not
a libertarian, and then she later hears that Obama opposes the draft,
she might think, "I guess opposing the draft is a socialist position,
not a libertarian position."
(3) When we call people socialists, it can sound like we're just
engaging in ad hominem name-calling unless we have time to explain
what we mean. Even if we explain, using the label may still
unnecessarily alienate people who are in substantial agreement with
on many points, or who don't like to be labeled or to see others
labeled. It represents a kind of verbal closing of the door on the
type of single-issue alliances we should be open to pursuing even
with those who disagree with us on many other issues.
Instead of calling *people* socialists, I try now to only call their
*views or positions* socialist (or preferably, statist or state
socialist). For example, "Barack Obama takes statist positions on a
lot of issues like health care, trade, taxes, etc. He has libertarian
views on a smaller number of issues, like the draft."
For similar reasons, I have lately been trying to avoid saying
people are or aren't libertarians. Instead I will try to refer to
their views or positions as being libertarian or not, or I might
stretch to saying something like "Mary Ruwart is very libertarian
compared with Wayne Allyn Root." That might sound like it amounts to
the same thing as saying she's a libertarian and he isn't, but
actually there is a subtle difference -- I'm not saying either of
them "is" or "isn't" libertarian, just that they have different
degrees of adherence to libertarianism.
Sci-fi author L. Neil Smith, whose writings tend toward radical
libertarianism, defined the term as follows:
"A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right,
under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human
being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act
consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they
realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not
libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."
This definition used to bother me. El Neil's strong connection of
libertarianism to the Non-Aggression Principle seemed correct to me,
but I was troubled by the realization that virtually no one acts
consistently with the NAP 100% of the time. You'd have to be a saint.
(I don't see this as a unique shortcoming of the NAP or of self-
identified "libertarians"; Karl Marx probably wasn't a perfect
"Marxist" either.) Imagine that El Neil is stuck in a crowd trying to
get through the airport on the way to the LP convention, and hot,
frustrated and late for his flight, he pushes aside someone who is
standing and holding a casual conversation and obstructing the flow
of traffic with blatant disregard for the masses impatiently seeking
to get around them and move forward. Does this mean he is not, or no
longer, a libertarian? That to me seems like a ridiculous conclusion.
I think it would be fair to say that this particular hypothetical
*action* of his was not libertarian, but it hardly seems reasonable
to either say he as a person is not a libertarian, *or* that
initiating force by pushing someone *is* libertarian (although it may
be a completely *understandable* or even *reasonable* action in
Connecting political ideology to particular *views*, *positions*, or
*actions* rather than to particular *people* solves the dilemma posed
by El Neil's definition, and should help quell similar debates over
who "is" or "isn't" libertarian. It lets us define the meaning of
"libertarian" narrowly, but without assigning labels to an individual
as a whole or shutting anyone out.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))