June 18, 2003

Libertarian Socialists? (2)

The misconception that the word "libertarian" was originally used by socialist anarchists is apparently very widespread.

A brief account of the history of the word "libertarian" can be found here.

"The term "libertarian'' goes back at least to the 17th and 18th century religious debates regarding free-will versus pre-destination, and was used at that time to refer to persons who believed that individuals had full liberty to act as they saw fit."

"Around the end of the 19th century the term began to be used by some splinter socialist groups. The literature I have been able to find does not bother to define the term explicitly, so one has to divine the meaning from context and usage. However, it is very clear that the usage, even by those calling themselves "socialist", was very much anti-authoritarian and pro-individual liberty. This is consistent with both the words' origins and with the contemporaneous usage by various writers, as well as with the modern usage, so we can't fault the socialists too much. (Note that some "libertarian socialists" vociferously claim to be anti-authoritarian themselves, which is difficult to credit at best -- but to the extent that they really are against authoritarianism and favor individual free will, then of course they are libertarians.)"