The word “libertarian’ is a bit confusing. In it’s original iteration it was a synonym for “anarchist.” In the United States we usually use the word to the word “libertarian” to refer to someone who deems individual freedom an ultimate organizing principle, and reserve the word “anarchist” for violent nihilists like the Joker in Batman. Nothing could be further from the truth. The word “anarchist” originally meant “no leader” and was a rejection of all forms of co-ersion and domination.


In some parts of Europe the anarchist movement split into two camps, one based on individual liberty and the other, still anarchist, embraced the common good through socialism. Errico Malatesta was an Italian anarchist. His rejection of individualist anarchy is a nice expression of the problem I find with American libertarianism. I have not been able to make clear what I am trying to say, so hopefully Malatesta can say it better:


“However, I deny that that kind of individualism can be included among anarchists, despite their liking for calling themselves so.
If anarchy means non-government, non-domination, non-oppression by one human being over another, how can any call themselves anarchist without lying to themselves and the others, when they frankly claim that they would oppress the others for the satisfaction of their Egos, without any scruple or limit, other than that drawn by their own strength? They can be a rebel, because they are being oppressed and they fight to become oppressors, as other nobler rebels fight to destroy any kind of oppression; but they sure cannot be anarchists. They are would-be bourgeois, would-be tyrants, who are unable to accomplish their dreams of dominion and wealth by their own strength and by legal means, and therefore they approach anarchists to exploit their moral and material solidarity.
Therefore, I think the question is not about “communists” and “individualists”, but rather about anarchists and non-anarchists. And we, or at least many of us, were quite wrong in discussing a certain kind of alleged “anarchist individualism” as if it really was one of the various tendencies of anarchism, instead of fighting it as one of the many disguises of authoritarianism.”


Mikhail Bukunin was a Russian anarchist who made the same diagnosis of individual anarchism or libertarianism. He saw freedom and equality as equally binding on the human conscience. One without the other always meant tyranny.


“We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.

When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called “the People’s Stick.””


I would never argue with the value of freedom or equality, but when one of them is lifted up without the other, problems are never far behind. To paraphrase Bukunin, freedom without equality is just a fancy word for bullying, equality without freedom is just a fancy word for a herd.