I’m late to this party, but I’ve been late to a lot of parties lately, and am trying to catch up, so….
This is a really excellent and thoughtful post. Thanks for putting it out there.
Of course you’re right that there are substantive, not merely rhetorical differences between the norms advocated by most libertarian socialists (as the term is conventionally understood) and anarcho-capitalists (Rothbardian or otherwise). And that these differences include difference over norms of just enforcement. (Not just what free associations would be best to make but also what even counts as free or unfree association.) If Spangler has leaned a lot on questions of rhetoric and semantic distinctions, I hardly think it’s because he wants to argue that there is no substantive difference. It’s because he wants to do a better job than the conventionally-drawn subcultural battle-lines have done so far in showing where those substantive differences really are. And (given Brad’s usual orientation towards activism in particular) I expect that a lot of the upshot is supposed to have to do with where the opportunities for alliance and cooperation in spite of real differences might be.
(In particular, if someone tends to believe, as many anarcho-capitalists do, that conventionally pro-capitalist Constitutionalists or minimal-statists are closer to the anarcho-capitalist position than conventional libertarian socialists are, then that’s probably one of the things that might need rethinking. Not because anarcho-capitalists and conventional Red-and-Blackers have the same conception of freedom or domination, but because anarcho-“capitalists” and limited-governmentalists don’t have the same conception either. And I expect that Brad thinks — anyway, I know that I think — that, purely verbal agreements and purely verbal conflicts to one side, when allowed free rein and carried through consistently, the syndicalist or anarcho-communist or anarcho-collectivist or mutualist conceptions of these terms, and the anarcho-“capitalist” conception, are plausibly closer to each other in theoretical structure, and definitely closer to each other in practical political effects, than either the libertarian socialist conception is to state socialism, or the anarcho-“capitalist” conception is to minarchism or Constitutionalism.)
In response to Alex Peak’s comments on economic panarchy, you write “Spangler isn’t exactly talking about that either – he’s claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between the groups, and I explained why I think that this is misleading.” I agree that Alex’s comments were off to one side of your concerns and of Brad’s original point. But I don’t know why you read Brad as “claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between” libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists. As I read Brad’s posts, his point was that (consistent, agoristic, whatever) Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is a species of the genus “libertarian socialism.” Certainly he explicitly says that there are lots of other kinds of socialists who are not left-Rothbardians; I think his argument also allows for there being lots of other kinds of libertarian socialists who are not left-Rothbardians. It’s a subset relationship, not an identity. The point as I understand it doesn’t have anything to do with claiming that Rothbard’s and Kropotkin’s versions of socialism are fully compatible, let alone identical; it has more to do with convincing people who are Rothbardians that they are one among many kinds of libertarian socialists — not really supporters of capitalism (as Brad thinks they should understand the term). Which presumably will have some impact on how they position themselves in debates about the political-economic status quo, and in their thinking about their political relationship to other anarchists, on the one hand, and “libertarian” state-capitalists, on the other.
You write: “Part of why I think that Spangler’s claims are misleading is that he seems to think that if you think that the state intervenes to uphold an unjust allocation of property and that the consequences of abolishing the state naturally lead to a redistribution of property, this makes you a libertarian socialist, but that’s not what libertarian socialism is defined by. It involves fairly specific notions about property at a different conceptual level, and it doesn’t entail a reduction of the issue to the pre-existance of a state.”
That’s a strong definitional claim, but I’m not sure where you’re getting your definitions of “libertarian socialism” from. Apparently not from Benjamin Tucker, who called his ideas both libertarian and socialist, but was also very emphatic that he didn’t share the “fairly specific notions about property” advanced by, say, Kropotkin or Bakunin. (Whether or not he was on the same page as Proudhon depends on how you read Proudhon; which is of course a contested issue within libertarian socialist thought.) People who nowadays call themselves “libertarian socialists” do tend to agree with Kropotkin more than they do with Tucker, but that seems like variation and changes in majority opinion amongst socialists; not a change in the boundaries of who counts as a socialist and who doesn’t. If Tucker is not going to be counted as a libertarian socialist, then I’d need to know why not; certainly he considered himself one and was commonly accepted as one at the time. If he does get counted, then I’d like to know what definitional criterion having to do with “fairly specific notions about property” would consistently accept him but turn out consistent Rothbardians. If there isn’t one, then it seems like your definitional criterion is either too broad or too narrow to consistently line up with the paradigm cases. In which case you would need a different criterion.