I recently paid my property taxes, an annual reminder that public schools are costing me thousands of dollars a year despite the fact that I have no children in them. How do I feel about that? Great. I’m happy to be part of a community that is committed to educating all its children and am happy to share the cost of doing so. And if that makes me a socialist, so be it.
But I’m also concerned about what goes on in public schools, despite the fact that I have no children there. I no longer have to worry about my own children being indoctrinated, but I worry about the intellectual freedoms of all children and the parental rights of all parents, especially when the children attend schools run by the government. And if that makes me a libertarian, so be it.
Is it possible to be both a socialist and a libertarian? I thought it might be cool to be the first libertarian socialist but a quick perusal of the Internet reveals that libertarian socialism has been discovered by so many people before me that there have long been many different versions of it. People keep coming up with new variations, moreover, because they disagree with the previous ones.
But the disagreements among libertarian socialists concern matters well worth arguing about, such as how (not whether) public schools should be funded and how (not whether) student rights should be protected. And where libertarian socialists disagree with other libertarians or with other socialists I think it is generally the libertarian socialists who make the best case.
Libertarians believe in the liberty of individuals, as do we all. But libertarians value individual liberty above all else, even when other values, such as community welfare, must be compromised to achieve or maintain it.
Socialists believe in the welfare of the community, as do we all. But socialists value the collective welfare above all else, even when other values, such as individual liberty, must be compromised to achieve or maintain it.
In the absence of a socialist concern for community, libertarianism becomes anarchy or corporate oligarchy.
In the absence of a socialist concern for community, libertarianism becomes anarchy or corporate oligarchy. In the absence of a libertarian concern for the individual, socialism turns us into Captain Picard’s ultimate nemesis, the collectivist Borg.
Enlightened libertarians, however, recognize the role of the community in promoting and protecting individual liberties within it. Correspondingly, enlightened socialists recognize that consistent respect for individual liberties is crucial to the welfare of any community.
Libertarian socialism, then, combines the libertarian commitment to liberty with the socialist commitment to community. Libertarian socialists recognize that individual liberty requires community support but must also be protected from community control. Ideally, liberty and community complement and enhance each other.
With that in mind, let’s go back to education. Without public schools, many children would get insufficient education to function successfully in society, thus limiting their liberty and undermining the libertarian assumption that people are and should be responsible for their own success. For everyone to have equal opportunity to achieve success, everyone must have full access to education.
In offering free education to all children, public schools are socialist institutions. But the socialism of public schools is a libertarian socialism. Public schools serve the community purpose of enabling and furthering a society founded on individual liberty and opportunity.
Libertarian socialism also reminds us that public schools must be required to respect the liberties of individual students and their parents, including the intellectual freedoms of students with regard to belief, expression, and access to information and ideas. Without a commitment to liberty, education becomes indoctrination, which serves neither liberty nor social welfare.
Thus libertarian socialism explains why we should all support public education and why we must hold it to strict standards of liberty. And thinking about public education helps us see why we should all be libertarian socialists.