Punk and libertarianism have a lot in common. Both have an constant struggle to define what and who they are, both have a health contempt for authority, and both are relatively modern and heavily politically charged movements. By now I’m sure a few of people reading this are starting to point out all the differences between punks and libertarians, and they might seem worlds apart. And at first glance it really does look like they are entirely separated philosophies. But that’s not right. Punk and libertarianism are really the same thing. That’s a pretty bold statement, but at their core the two movements are they exact same. And I can hear the critics, punks say “but, fuck you, libertarians are just dumbass republicans who don’t want to be called republican. And punk is about music” and I can hear libertarians say “But punk is violent and advocates doing harm to others because they have long hair. And punk is about music.” Both couldn’t be more wrong. Both punk and libertarianism came from the same place. So if both came from the same place, then why do they seem so different? If they really are they same, then why aren’t they united? In the following I will be attempting to answer those questions. I’ll also be attempting lay the framework for a path to unity between punks, libertarians and society at large. But before that, it’s worth taking a look at both punk and libertarianism to see exactly what they are and what they are about. But more than just rant on about punk rock and libertarian politics, I want to identify a slow and methodical poison that will kill both movements. But first, a little bit of punk rock…
Who started punk rock? Who cares. Who started it is not important. What is important is what started it. Punk came from the results of a generation who desperately wanted to embrace classical liberal views but found resistance every step of the way. After WWII the western world not only proved to be economically and militarily superior, but morally superior to the “old” parts of the world. The western world owed its success to classically liberal principles of individual freedom and liberty that resulted in the wake of the Age of Reason. The Age of Reason sought to finish the job of the Renaissance and firmly pull the world out of the dark ages. After the American and French revolutions the proponents of liberty believed that victory had been won because the the spark they started seems to ignite a sustainable fire. Even though warnings of a tough road ahead to keep personal freedom were well known and well documented too many influential people became complacent.
The complacent attitude towards liberty and freedom that seemed to dominate the 19th century gave rise to a heavy resurgence of dogmatic religions and corruption It also allowed an unintended consequence of rational thought, the development of Marxism and the social progressive movement. This push back grew from the mid 1800s and culminated in the Temperance Movement gaining widespread political support in the early 20th century. At the same time millions upon millions of people immigrated to the US, all of which looking for a better life. And not just looking for a better life, actively taking risks and jumping on any opportunity to advance their station in life as an individual.
In the US, the common thread of everyone who came here was that cliched “American Dream”. And not the 2.5 kids, but the land of opportunity where an individual can live as he sees fit. From the first boats of Puritans escaping persecution to live the way they want, to contemporary families from South America, everyone coming to the US did not do it so they could embrace individual responsibility. They did it because they embraced individual responsibility in the first place. They gained their freedom simply by willing to act free and take that first step to do what they wanted, not what they were told to do.
The catalyst to this powder keg of conflicting ideologies came in the form of two wars of massive scale, WWI and WWII. Two entire generations had their mettle tested in the most extreme of ways. Veterans returning from WWI were faced with hardship after hardship. They came home, after giving the best parts of their lives a maelstrom of government corruption, Temperance zealots, the Dust Bowl and general irresponsibility that led to the Great Depression. It seemed the world tried to beat the hope out of them. Then came WWII, and it was the next generation’s time to be tested. Unlike WWI, by the end of WWII there was a very clear moral reason to fight and kill as many Nazis as they could.
The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany were permanently branded into the memory of the world. However, what became known in America as the Greatest Generation had learned from the treatment of returning vets from WWI. Armed with the moral high ground and unmatched tenacity, this generation of returning heroes set out to do what their parents were unable to, by making good on opportunities and carving out their own way. This lead to massive boom in productivity, industry and population. The success of the Greatest Generation turned out to be a double-edged blade, and one that cuts deeply. The Baby Boomers, as they are called, were provided for at an unprecedented level. They grew up only knowing of the hardships of their parents through stories. Yet out of this comfort eventually came punk.
To understand how children raised in this seemingly comfortable culture founded punk, a much closer look at the specific environment it came from. Almost drunk on the moral high ground following WWII, many were willing to follow the same nationalistic patterns that started Germany down it’s dark path. Dovetailing the moral stance was Progressive movement which had been slowly infiltrating both politics and the hardline religious groups left over from the Temperance movement. Progressives began to combine religious, political and moral arguments to push forward their control over society. And on top all of that sat a generation waiting for its big test, like their parents and grandparents before them. Due to the unfortunate arrogance caused by the success of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers would not stand for anything less that an even higher moral ground to base their generations test on.
But that great test never came.
There were a series of military conflicts, that held the “higher purpose” of combating the spread of communism. Then there was the social conflicts, taking a moral stance of peace and an idea about returning to nature facilitated by powerful chemicals now widely available. Around the world, the traditional, which kept slipping deeper into blind nationalism and returning to dogmatic religion, was fighting a counter-culture based on mood and mind altering chemicals, while both sides were being penetrated and molded by progressives. Somewhere in the middle was a small group fk Defineded up with the world, who wanted nothing more than be allowed to do their own thing. That just wanted to live their own life without being told which set of morals was correct. No one knows exactly who started it, but suddenly from the UK straight through the US down to Australia a small group of punks finally stood up and yelled “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
So then what exactly is Punk? Punk is a great many things, but what complicates matters is everything people think Punk is. Punk is about no longer wanting to feel disenfranchised, it’s about not wanting to be controlled. It’s about breaking through the frustration of being pulled from all directions and told what you should and shouldn’t be or do when all you want to do is your own fucking thing. It’s no longer giving a shit about what anyone else thinks and doing your own fucking thing for your own fucking sake because I’m me not you.
Punk is an energetic state of coping with the frustrations of political, societal or other systemic forms of perceived control that seeks to strip individuality and personal freedom.
That might sound a bit clinical, but it’s the most unambiguous way I have found to phrase it. More plainly, it means that punks don’t like to be controlled or told what to do, and they use the frustration they feel to escape that control and regain their independence. One of the very important ingredients to the explosion of punk culture is music. About the same time as punk ideologies began to develop a booming mainstream music industry started becoming strict, and new or untested styles had little hope of being supported. Because technology was progressing at an exponentially faster rate, it soon became possible for music groups experiment with new sounds to larger and larger crowds without the backing of a major music studio. Some of the new sounds being created embodied the punk frustration with faster-paced and less polished variants of rock and roll. Armed with newly available technology and ever-expanding reach, early punk musicians were able to reach other like minded individuals. It was the music of punks that really identify that punk was indeed a natural and shared experience around the world. In this way the culture of punk became permanently linked with punk rock. And although punk rock is the most well known and visible aspect of the punk movement, it is still only a component. Nevertheless, punk rock still remains the most effective and popular way to spread punk culture.
After punk rock, the next most visible features of punk is fashion and the perceived violence. Individual fashions in punk are probably the most difficult to explain, because they are so varied. A few things have eventually become popular enough, like colored hair, mohawks and sewing patches in clothing. However, when it comes to punk fashion anything that will make a statement that you are an individual, no matter how big or small that statement may be, is what counts.
Myth of Punk Violence
I want to cover something now that I feel has been largely misunderstood by the world, and even my many punks. Punk is not inherently violent. Never has been. I don’t think so anyway. How I’ve always seen punk is essentially a paraphrase of Stevo’s from SLC Punk: we did it harder, we did it faster, and we definitely did it with more love, baby. The history of violence in punk, especially the punk rock scene, is well known and even well documented, so it is not something I wish to cover here. I also don’t want dispute there have been a great many acts of violence committed by punks, because that would be false. I do want to explain why punk itself is not violent, and why it is surrounded by so much violence.
The problem of violence in punk has it’s roots in two issues. There is a confusion between punk and punk rock as a musical style, and there is also the results of actually being free. The difference being punk and punk rock as a musical style is something that has been a long standing problem in the punk community over the years. Most people know this as the fight between real punks and the posers and sellouts in the scene. Posers do it for any reason really, to try to be cool and fit in because maybe their friends are getting into the scene. Sometimes they’ll even do it as a way to make some money. Keep up appearances, put a band together and play whatever will sell the best. Then there’s the kind of posers that don’t even realize they aren’t even punks at all. Nazi punks, Christian punks, and hardcore nihilist and communist punks and the worst offenders of not even realizing they just posers. They found that they like the punk rock music style, or they liked the look of the fashion, or shared a lot of the same energy, or maybe they just like the word “punk”, either way they took hold of only the superficial aspects of the punk movement and claimed it for themselves. But why would punks tolerate posers, sellouts and Nazi punk idiots? Punk is about individual freedom, and part of individual freedom is that you don’t get to choose what the other guy thinks, says, does, dresses like or calls himself. If you don’t want to be told what to do then you can’t expect to tell anyone else what to do.
Strict adherence to this principle allowed a large influx of harmful extremist views, such as Nazi-punks and nihilists. Racism and hatred for anyone has certainly never been a part of punk ideology, so encouraging violence towards others or advocating self-destructive behavior is the work of misguided outside influences to the punk scene. Part of the coping methods punks use for frustration with domineering systems is the use of shock value to help others within a system experience that same frustration the punks feel, if even only temporarily. One test to differentiate between a real punk, and poser who thinks they are a punk, is to look at how that shock value is used. If that shock is designed to be temporary to the recipient, but also carries a message and is intended to educate, then chances are it’s being delivered by a real punk. But if the shock is harmful in some way and carries no other meaning than to cause discomfort, then chances are it was delivered by a poser who could give a shit less about anything. These are the reasons why there is so much violence carried out with the name of “punk”.
Punk is more than just a music style, it’s an all encompassing ideology that encourages individual expression and personal responsibility within a larger society. One of the more interesting facets of punk is that it doesn’t just tell everyone to do their own thing, and not just allow others to so, but actively seeks to create an environment where everyone ensures that everyone else can be themselves. It comes from combating the shared frustration everyone punk feels about being forced to be or do something they do not want to.