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Social Justice? Libertarians Want Justice; Others Want Control

Updated on November 8, 2017
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

Why would libertarians give up their individuality for a collectivist version of “social justice?” Libertarians believe in real social justice for everyone but too many liberals want “social justice” to disguise what they really want: Social control over everyone.

First, Libertarians believe in social relationships. It’s just that they reject imposed social relationships while accepting and seeking voluntary social relationships of all kinds at all levels of society.

Second, Libertarians believe in justice. That is what their concept of self-ownership and their moral/ethical Non-Aggression Principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud are all about.

Third, “justice” and “social justice” are not the same things even though some social justice advocates try to make it seem so. Virtually every fair, honest, decent human being in the world wants justice; only liberals, progressives, socialists and similarly-oriented people talk in terms of “social justice.”

So What is Social Justice?

“Social justice” can only be achieved through voluntary interactions among individuals within a given social unit. Stealing from some and giving to others through a concept of forced redistribution only creates control and therefore injustice; an unjustly created permanent victim group and an unjustly created permanent dependent group.

That’s not social justice, that’s social control.

The Oxford Dictionary offers this definition for “Social Justice:”

“Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

Then it offers this “example sentence:”

individuality gives way to the struggle for social justice”

So first we have to understand two words.

From the same dictionary “social” is an adjective “relating to society or its organization” while “society” is a noun meaning “The aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.”

Properly understood “society” is a concept, not a concrete “thing.” It requires two or more concrete “things,” in this case individual humans, to make up a human society. Without actual human beings there can be no human society.

Dipping back into the same dictionary again “justice” means (British spelling alert!) “Just behaviour or treatment” with “just” in this context as an adjective meaning “Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.”

Libertarians insist that forcibly taking from some and giving to others is not morally right and fair.

So now everyone should understand what “social justice” means, right? Well, apparently not. Key “social justice definition” into Google and you’ll get something like “About 86,000 results.” Do the same with Yahoo and you could come up with “1,130,000 results” while Bing might dish up “1,140,000 results.” (DuckDuckGo Don’tDon’tTell.)

Of course many of these are duplicates or not applicable to this context but you get the picture. This creates several problems.

Libertarian Nobel Laureate

"Social Justice" isn't "just," it's a mask for total social control by compulsory means.
"Social Justice" isn't "just," it's a mask for total social control by compulsory means.

Is “Social Justice” Really “Just?”

Even those who believe in and are deeply committed to the concept of social justice and talk as though they and everyone like themselves know what it means still don’t seem to know what it means. Sure, everyone has a vague idea about it but no one really seems to get it.

How can anyone who believes in social justice possibly have an individual definition of social justice when “individuality gives way to the struggle for social justice” Based on this “example sentence” there must be ONLY ONE definition of social justice and every properly collectivised individual must “give way” to it.

Who determines what social justice means and how does it become instituted? In a society like the United States with its population of 325.36 million or so, even after eliminating children and people with cognitive issues there is no way for every individual in society to agree on anything.

  • If these issues are determined by consensus what prevents the consensus from constantly changing?
  • If they’re determined by democratic vote then those on the 51% side are simply imposing their will on members of the 49% side. Is that “Just behaviour or treatment” for the 49%?
  • If they’re determined by a small cadre of so-called “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) who take over political and social control of the entire society and impose its will on the majority how can that be considered “Just behaviour or treatment” for the minority?
  • And perhaps the (Brit alert again) stickiest wicket of all is that very “example sentence” that states “individuality gives way to the struggle for social justice.” How can actual individual humans forced into “giving way” to the concept of “justice” within the concept of “society” possibly be considered “Just behaviour or treatment” for individuals?

Even people who believe in social justice are themselves individuals no matter how eagerly they may attempt to give their individuality away to the groupthink collective communal lockstep mentality that Social Justice Warriors demand.

Yet even they seem to be vastly unaware of how this could ever possibly work short of the use of outright top down coercively applied political power from hierarchical structures such as governments, nation-states and other power wielding-public institutions.

Another clue that "Social Justice" is not about society or justice but power. It is anti-people.
Another clue that "Social Justice" is not about society or justice but power. It is anti-people.

Individuals vs Individualists vs Socialists

Many self-identified socialists insist that they’re in favor of worker owned means of production with no hierarchical structures. So how can they justify political hierarchical structures such as a democratic socialist republic while simultaneously rejecting workplace hierarchical structures?

But then, all of that is their problem. While social justice people may be “individuals” they certainly are not “individualists.” In this context the Oxford Dictionary defines “individualist” as:

“An advocate of a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.”

And this definition also comes with an “example sentence:”

“radical individualists, committed to quality of life”

Many (most? all?) libertarians see themselves as “radical individualists” committed to quality of life issues. Unfortunately, there is also this:

“Alexandre Vinet, who claimed to have been the first person to use the term, defined socialism simply as ‘the opposite of individualism.’” – From the Wikipedia entry for “Types of Socialism” with a footnote pointing to the book “Christian Socialism” by John C. Cort.

So according to Vinet a person cannot be both an individualist and a socialist, meaning that individuals must give up their individual identity to become a socialist.

In today’s political-social-cultural-philosophical context libertarians are individualists who frequently go by such names as voluntaryists, agorists, ancaps, post-statists, anarchists, mutualists, minarchists, classical liberals and so on. None of them are likely to give up their individualism willingly.

Libertarians welcome and participate in voluntary social activism, not crybabyism
Libertarians welcome and participate in voluntary social activism, not crybabyism

Justice is Individual, Not Social

Ultimately then only individuals within a society can be just or unjust toward one another since justice depends on how people act towards one another; society cannot act, it is merely a neutral concept that refers to two or more individual actors.

So the original question remains: “Short of outright initiation of force, intimidation and fraudulent arguments what could possibly convince libertarians to give up their individuality for social justice?”

And of course a corollary question exists as well: What could possibly convince social justice advocates to give up their socialist society for individualism?

In the end social justice warriors will absolutely continue to insist on socializing every aspect of society no matter what their fellows or anyone else believes and libertarians will absolutely refuse to surrender their individuality to the world of groupthink socialism.

Because of their non-aggression principle libertarians would never employ the very persuaders against SJWs as they would ultimately have to apply against libertarians; initiation of force, intimidation and fraud.

With vanishingly few exceptions (like “voluntary socialism”) socialists insist that everyone in their society must “give way” to their rule. The best of the libertarian philosophies want only a peaceful, prosperous and open laissez-faire free society where all individuals own their own lives and live in mutual consent with one another.

"Social Justice" is Orwellian Doublespeak for "theft"
"Social Justice" is Orwellian Doublespeak for "theft"

The Modern American Libertarian Movement

Modern American libertarians, in short, are beginning to take seriously this observation by R. Buckminster Fuller from LibertarianQuotes:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” — R. Buckminster Fuller

Modern libertarians have only barely begun, in the last 50 years or so, to build that new model.

Collectivism is the old model. Here’s the Oxford Dictionary definition of collectivism followed by its “example sentence:”

“The practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it.”

“The Church has criticized the great emphasis placed on individualism rather than collectivism”

The Church, specifically Catholicism, not only sees the family as the fundamental unit of the church but as the fundamental unit of society, thereby marginalizing or outright ignoring the fact of reality that without individuals there can be no “family.”

This is consistent across all collectivist ideologies like progressivism, socialism, communism, communitarianism, egalitarianism, fascism, Marxism, Bolshevism, sovietism, etc. Even the Third Reich required “the subordination of individuals to a collective good.”

Karl Marx and his concept of Class Warfare may have had some validity in his Old World European 19th century world in which people were forced by the then monarchy-backed ruling classes into one of three other classes: Capitalists, bourgeoisie and Workers.

After all, it was the time of the first Industrial Revolution and swarms of dirt-poor peasants were leaving their dead-end futureless farmhand jobs to seek at least a chance for a better life in the new factory systems.

Does no one notice that today in 21st century America we are neither a primarily agricultural nor industrial society but an information society?

Does no one notice that today in 21st century America the old Marxist nostrums for organizing society are about as relevant as hunter-gatherer, slave system and feudalism concepts would be?

Does no one notice that today in 21st century America the majority of people have the freedom to move up, down, in, out and across many different “classes” during their lifetimes, and that maximizing that freedom by severely minimizing or abolishing the modern version of the monarchical ruling classes even more people will achieve that freedom?

Yet we still have people throwing around anachronistic Marx-speak jargon like comrade, wage slavery, proletariat, class warfare, the masses, planned economy and “Seize the means of production,” the latter because apparently no socialist can actually “create the means of production.” By definition the creators of the means of production are entrepreneurial capitalists, the bête noire of the collectivist classes.

In contrast today’s modern American libertarians reject “ruling class capitalism” as “corporatism” and instead define their free society in terms of laissez-faire, free markets, property rights, self-ownership, autonomy, choice, individual responsibility, antiauthoritarianism, non-coercion and decentralization.

Naturally hardcore socialists will claim that the cure for EVERYTHING is mandatory socialism
Naturally hardcore socialists will claim that the cure for EVERYTHING is mandatory socialism

Never “Give Way” to “Social Justice”

Yet some people want to surrender their personal identity to a group in the name of – what? Fear? Safety? Incompetence? Irresponsibility? In-group favoritism? Power-seeking? Clique fetishism? Or, ironically, because they’re antisocial?

If so, they’re certainly free to do so voluntarily; they just have no legitimate justification to force such associations on others.

Collectivism is the past, modern American style libertarianism is the future. Progressives with their beloved mandatory conceptualization of “socialist injustice” will still be swapping pieces of paper imprinted with presidents and patriots and one-eyed pyramids while free people will have long since moved on to Bitcoin and blockchain and beyond.

A Final word: Any attempt to call libertarians “antisocial” would be disingenuous in the extreme. Libertarians are not antisocial; they reject imposed associations but readily accept and even eagerly seek out voluntary associations.

The libertarian rallying cry might be characterized as “Be social, not socialist!”

References and Links

“A Libertarian Social Justice Warrior”

the author of this article insists “a really good case can be made for the social justice libertarian.” Lots of ideas and follow-up comments too.

What is the Meaning of the Red/Black Flag?
There are many different claims and/or opinions about this flag. Anyone can join the discussion here.

Think Nazism wasn’t or isn’t collectivist? Think again
Collectivism is neither left nor right. People need to understand what “collectivism” means in a political context and then rethink this whole question.

“Social Justice?” Know your Orwellian doublespeak
Doublespeak hides harsh words behind euphemisms, is deliberately ambiguous to hide the truth, or uses outright lies to state the opposite of the truth.

Progressives: Social Justice Means Compulsory Social Control


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    • soniarafiq profile image


      18 months ago from Pakistan


    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      19 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi Tamara, I belatedly saw your comment on my article and want to thank you for your comment. I too am (was, retired now) a technical writer and engineer (logistics engineer and supportability engineer) and live in Ft. Worth. I've worked as a freelance contractor (job-shopper) in many companies around the metroplex since 1979 so maybe our paths have crossed at some point or another.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      19 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi Paula, thanks for reading and welcome aboard. I hope as you read my other articles you'll see that libertarianism, and my interest in it, goes way beyond the Libertarian Party and deeper into the under-pinning philosophy of self-ownership, individual freedom and personal responsibility inherent in the non-aggression principle. Read widely and wisely!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      19 months ago from UpstateWestern,New York

      Garry.....Am I ever pleased to have discovered you! This is my first time visiting your site. I just followed you and intend to delve into your work as soon and as often as possible.

      This article must be the very BEST one I have chosen as an introduction to you and your plight. IMHO, there has never been a more opportune time to become active in learning of the Libertarian Party. The current status quo.....(aka the Outrageous American circus, looking to tear us apart forever).....

      I look forward to becoming educated. Peace, Paula

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 

      23 months ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Good synopsis.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi MizBejabbers, I'm glad you liked my article. To me libertarianism is far more than just a political position, it's a philosophy that touches on all aspects of human life and interactions so I'm not sure how middle-of-the-road applies to anything other than left-right politics.

      People I think who "qualify" as a libertarian are those who will not compromise on self-ownership and who embrace the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud. I'll even include people who insist that we must have some form of government limited solely to the protection of our lives, liberty and property but still see the non-aggression principle as the ultimate ideal.

      Hope that answers your question.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      2 years ago from Beautiful South

      Gary, I like your stuff. I think today you just described my dad and his way of thinking. He always claimed to be a Democrat, but I think he's probably rolling over in his grave at both parties. I've spent a couple of weeks on a student tour of a collectivist society. Thanks, I'll stay here and hope we wake up. Sincere question: Do you think a middle-of-the-roader qualifies as a Libertarian?

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Mama, you're mostly right about Facebook. I've been experimenting and find that most all "discussion" groups are infested with trolls who don't want to debate me but just want to bait me for their own ego purposes. They're a waste of time and cannot be converted.

      All committed libertarians I've ever encountered found their own way to libertarianism, they weren't converted by someone else. They first rejected both left and right authoritarianism on their own and then wondered where to go from there.

      So now I'm posting only on open-minded libertarian-oriented FB Groups where we all share a basic premise for meaningful debate. Libertarianism is a young, vibrant philosophy with many different schools of thought and it's definitely fun to engage and expand our understanding and possibilities for the future.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Hi Dr. Jerry and welcome aboard. Hope you keep reading.

    • Spikeme profile image

      Jerry W Morris DO 

      2 years ago from Southlake, TX

      Kudos, in rejection of social justice Warriors, in favor of individual responsibility.

    • MamaLiberty profile image


      2 years ago

      Say Garry... I got to thinking about my last comment here and decided I was indulging in hyperbole as much as any other idiot... I retract the part about FB being populated by sewer rats. Yes, there are many of them at FB, but not all. Sorry about that.

      Still wouldn't have anything to do with FB, of course... but that's just me. :)

    • MamaLiberty profile image


      2 years ago

      Why in the world would you waste a second at F@#$book? That bunch is not a kindergarten, it's a sewer with millions of diseased rats. How can you expect any positive response? There are actually a growing number of intelligent people who are looking for answers in lots of places. I'm so often amazed at the comments at PoL because I have always before assumed that nobody reads what I post. The numbers are not large, but they are growing.

      Many young people are waking up and trying to make sense of their world. I'm not sure how to reach them, but Fu%*book isn't one of them, and "twitter" has become a juvenile mess as well. sigh I'd urge you to make a serious search to find some of them.

    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      2 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Thank you Mama. You don't know how good it is to get positive feedback from a knowledgeable person like you. When I post in a Facebook "discussion" group I get nothing but angry kindergarten-level hate speech telling me that THEY absolutely know all about libertarianism and their ignorant version is absolute gospel. Trying to get through to such people is like expecting first graders to grasp advanced calculus. They just don't even know the most basic fundamentals of what they're talking about and don't even know they don't know it.

    • MamaLiberty profile image


      2 years ago

      Oh my, Garry! You hit this one out of the ballpark by a hundred miles. I think this is the best of the best you ever wrote. Congratulations and kudos.

      I am so stealing this one. (grin)


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