A crude overview, sure, but right in the broad strokes: the Marxist-derived Left was defeated, while social democracy reconciled to the neoliberal framework. “Anarcho-liberalism” sauntered in a weird middle ground between both camps. Its representatives had the modest ambitions of the social liberals of the center Left, but the flair for the dramatic associated with the most militant anarchists of the far Left. Take the talented Naomi Klein, the archetypical “anarcho-liberal.” At a panel hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society, Klein critiqued Milton Friedman on the peculiarly reactionary grounds that he was a “Utopian ideologue,” mentioning that she didn’t think that there was any great need for “grand projects of human freedom.” This is consistent with past statements to the effect that she wasn’t “a utopian thinker.” She continued, “I don’t imagine my ideal society. I don’t really like to read those books, either. I’m just much more comfortable talking about things that are.”
Klein is a pre-crisis social democrat, untainted by neoliberalism. But if she wants to restore the policies of “golden age” social democracy, she is going about it in an unusual way. Social democracy drew its strength from the institutions of the workers movement—parties, unions, programmatic platforms, and the degree of discipline and coherence that came along with them. But to quote from a New Yorker profile, “[Klein] distrusts centralization, institutions, platforms, theories—anything except extremely small, local, ad-hoc, spontaneous initiatives.” Small c conservative Keynesianism! Lyrical, creative, disruptive protests in pursuit of a localized variant of what the New Left considered a drab and conformist bureaucratic welfare state. The incoherence is baffling.
Some things were broadly shared by “anarcho-liberals”: an anti-intellectualism that manifested itself in a rejection of “grand narratives” and structural critiques of capitalism, abhorrence for the traditional forms of left-wing organization, a localist impulse, and an individualistic tendency to conflate lifestyle choices with political action. The worst of both worlds, the “anarcho-liberal” can neither manage the capitalist state nor overcome it, and aspires to do both and neither at the same time.