Group Dynamics in a Free Society

My foray into group dynamics and social theory is recent, so I am not well grounded in the literature that may already exist on the topic.  Sociology and group dynamics, nevertheless, are topics I am interested in, especially as they relate to the market and anarchic society.  There are people who are ahead in the game, and one of them is Ankur Chawla.  Yesterday, on the Students for Liberty blog, Ankur posted on this exact topic: “Towards Libertarian Social Theory.”  Ankur gives an introductory case to why libertarians should not reject group politics and should instead embrace it and integrate it into a broader libertarian social theory.

I realize that this post is going to be all over the place since I do not have a clear thesis in mind.  This post is to a great extent an exploratory tool that I am using to clear my own thoughts on the topics.  I also realize that I might conflate terms; I am not an expert and I really do not have a formal education on the topic, so please interpret me charitably.

Why do some libertarians reject social groups looking to cause social changes that relate to specific grievances that these individuals might have as a group?  This includes groups such as feminists (whether radical, liberal, multiracial or whatever other subcategory they might consider themselves part of), ethic minorities, or even labor unions.  Why do people like Stefan Molyneux reject feminism as “socialism with panties?”  I think the issue is one of categorical rejection of an entire position on the basis of fault-finding.  This, in turn, leads one to conclude that these group dynamics and concerns are irrelevant and should not be discussed; or, at least, they are not relevant to libertarian social theory.

This leads me back to a point I have made before on social engineering.  We are all social engineers.  We are all looking to shape society in some way.  This becomes even more true of individuals who find themselves attracted to other individuals who share common problems, or even common goals.  These individuals form groups, which concentrate the influence of many people and therefore carry more power.  That some of these groups share an ideology that you may disagree with does not make the group any less real or relevant.  Individuals and group of individuals pushing an agenda cause social change, whether or not there exists a State.  Social change is a facet of all societies.  This is an idea that libertarians have accepted in some, isolated cases (libertarians, for instance, like to point out the transition from a society open to slavery to one opposed to slavery), but have not really integrated into some broad theory of society.

What does a more comprehensive and realistic “libertarian” vision of society look like?  I think the best place to start is with the libertarian movement itself.  There should be a recognition of the fact that at this point in time libertarianism is to society in general as social Marxism is to libertarianism.  Libertarianism refers to a minority group looking to instill change that will affect, and is oftentimes at complete odds with, the majority.  In other words, libertarians are like feminists, except we value different ends (with some exceptions, and not all libertarians value the same exact ends).  This leads us to an important question: how do libertarians see themselves changing society?

Libertarianism and the change it seeks to produce faces certain societal constraints.  One such obvious example of these constraints is the fact that most people do not agree with the broad objectives of libertarianism, such as a minimal state (or, no state at all even).  What sociological trends exist to even make libertarian ends possible?  How will a predominately “market society” be achieved?  How did some people even become “liberty-oriented” in the first place?  How has society, in some cases, gradually liberalized (contrast the authoritarianism that existed in some European countries one thousand years ago to the relatively liberal societies that exist today)?  Will this liberalization continue to the point that converges with the broad end libertarians seek?  Are all libertarian ends possible?

We can ask these same questions of other groups, as well.  Before asking these questions, let us assume that a market society has been established.  For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that there is no government at all, and individuals have established competitive means that have lead to the establishment of societal order.  Now, let us focus on radical feminism and let us assume that the objectives of all its members remain the same as they do in reality (our real world), including anti-capitalism (for some).  What constraints exist that will limit the pushable feminist agenda?  Certainly, no libertarian would consider it possible to push an agenda, in a market society, looking to socialize the means of production.  What means of change exist?

There is a tendency on all sides within the libertarian circle to over-simplify society.  Or, they seek an end and after that they prefer not to think about how society works or in what direction society might go from there.  Libertarians like Molyneux need to realize that while you can reject something intellectually, in the sense that you can reject the idea that parts of feminism are compatible with libertarians, this rejection does not make the rejected subject any less of a real part of society.  Radical feminist ideas will continue to exist and they will continue to influence the world around them.  Libertarians like Ankur need to realize that while there are parts of alternative world perspectives that are compatible with libertarianism, this does not make the incompatible parts any less relevant to society.  There are goals, for example, within feminism which are compatible with a market society, and there are some goals which are not.  The goals which are not may have just as much influence on society, though, as the goals that are.  This will influence what the “market society” will look like.

As such, I think the idea of a libertarian sociological theory should be rejected, because anything libertarian by necessity leaves out everything non-libertarian.  But, everything non-libertarian will still influence society in some way, and as such no society can be exclusively libertarian.

  • Pete Walker

    Hi Jonathan,

    On Ankur’s point “libertarians should not reject group politics…” I reply the very definition of politics is the use of coercion. To cautiously step through the label minefield, I observe libertarians splitting along four political conclusions: (1) The experiment of government isn’t over yet but so far has shown minarchy as the only remaining possibility; (2) activism is needed to rollback The State towards anarcho-capitalism; (3) activism is needed as self-defense but is not progress; (4) any activism at all is a compromise with evil. I consider myself an ally of persons holding all those conclusions because, to quote Ayn Rand, “It’s earlier than you think”. Philosophically I’m #3.

    The only problem I see with social groups, e.g., “feminists”, is the vulnerability of members to being stereotyped by the socially engineered collectivist world we all live in. Stef, as all of us, was born into that world. We all have similar emotional scars. I equate Stef’s comments about feminism with his comments about baby boomers: Both are rants, more emotional than logic; simply routine human error.

    I philosophically disagree with your statement “We’re all social engineers.” I consider myself a social un-engineer, meaning I do my best to communicate non-sophist philosophy, the axiom that non-sophist philosophy can only exist where self-ownership/nonaggression does, and the axiom that social engineering is toxic culture consisting of sophist memes.

    Thus I conclude the only “ism” we humans need to thrive is the unideology of individualism. For instance “capitalism” and “libertarianism” are simply expressions of individualism; the collectivist isms aren’t. So to me, your statement “…everything non-libertarian will still influence society…” is presently true because almost everyone is intensely socially engineered. Once social engineering goes the way of chattel slavery, the statement will only be true for a very small sociopathic and similarly congenitally disabled or damaged minority. I agree with Stef that routine childhood physicals will soon include brain scans to identify these disabilities and damages so they can be responded to as disorders rather than moral shortcomings.

    To summarize: (1) I repeat the phrase “label minefield” and conclude label abuse is the lifeblood of sophism. To quote Stef, “90% of philosophy is defining the terms”. So I only accept three labels for myself: Non-sophist philosopher, sovereign, and nonaggressionist. By focusing on these three I hope to keep their integrity intact; I surrender all other labels to the Orwellian division of social engineering making them unusable unless specific definitions are agreed upon in each conversation; most sophists refuse to do so. (2) Rather than “libertarian” or “free” society, I prefer “self-ownership/nonaggression society”. We humans will either go extinct or will achieve it for all; anomalies excepted. In the meantime “we” can choose, to quote Harry Browne, to find “freedom in an unfree world” as best as we can. I’m tempted to label “we” the socially unengineered, but that’s a negative; the positive is “non-sophist philosophers”.