You don’t see many libertarian Esperantists. Well, you don’t see many political Esperantists, the language is strictly political neutral and aims to appeal to everyone regardless of political opinion. Even still, Esperantists are more likely to be left rather than right wing. It’s understandable why nationalists don’t like Esperanto, it’s a very un-nationalistic if not anti-nationalistic idea. Tearing down barriers between nationalities does not appeal to them and nationalists fear that Esperanto could undermine the national language and culture. However, I think there are several good reasons why Libertarians should like Esperanto.
The only times I’ve seen Libertarians mention Esperanto it’s been to dismiss it. They viewed it as artificial, as a top down attempt to force social change instead of a natural bottom up approach. I want to argue that this misperception of Esperanto is actually the reverse of reality. Esperanto is really the perfect example of natural bottom-up growth, whereas natural languages are top-down enforcement by the state. I’m not the only one, just last week I read an article (in Esperanto) arguing for Anarcho-Capitalism for Esperantists.
What is Esperanto?
If you don’t know what Esperanto is, it’s essentially the Bitcoin of languages. It was created by a single individual and is not controlled or regulated by any state. It has no home country and is completely international. The idea is for one universal language that the whole world speaks and can use to communicate. The hope is that this would promote mutual understanding and co-operation. It ignores national borders and allows global interaction on an equal level. It doesn’t aim to replace national languages, but instead be the second language of the world. To make it as easy as possible to learn, the language is very simple and logical. There are no irregular verbs or grammar rules. All the words come from European languages. Due to its system of affixes, if you know one “root” word, you can use it to build an additional ten words.
National languages are statist
All national languages get heavy state support, in fact none of them would have reached their size without state support. The national language is taught to all children usually as a mandatory subject and all public business must be conducted in the national language. People consent as much to their native language as they do to their nationality and citizenship (both are imposed on them when they are too young to think). Depending on the country, the national language might even have a monopoly on public discourse. Minority languages were traditionally discouraged and sometimes even banned (this policy is rarely imposed anymore but the damage has already been done). Languages are highly subject to network effects and economies of scale (they’re only worth learning if other people do) so state promotion was crucial to their success.
If you still don’t believe me, look at any language map and you will see that the linguistic borders almost exactly match state borders. A language without a state to promote and protect it usually goes into decline (Catalan and Basque are the main exceptions, but their supporters strongly believe that having their own state would boost the language). Making a language the official language gives it a boost that allows it to absorb and replace other dialects. France used to be home to a dozen different languages and dialects, until after the French Revolution when the state began to heavily promote the Parisian dialect of French which replaced all other languages. The others (like Breton and Occitan) are still alive but they are a shadow of their former self. This process has occurred in most countries as the state granted monopoly language pushed out other languages.
Esperanto depends entirely on the free market
Esperanto on the other is completely bottom-up language based on individual choice and private action. I never choose my native language or had any say in the matter. However, almost all Esperantists consciously choose the language (there are native speakers but they are a tiny proportion of total speakers). It was created by a single individual and has never received official support or recognition from any state. No one learns it because they were forced to in school or because they needed it for work. There is no coercion either overt or implied. Its success is based entirely on its own merits and actions, not on state subsidies or suppression of the competition. There have been other attempts at an international language (like Volapuk, Ido or Interlingua) but these debates ended without any coercion or statism. Instead they were resolved in the market of ideas and Esperanto triumphed because it proved itself to be more useful and valuable.
Esperanto classes and teachers are not public employees and don’t receive any subsidies. Nor do books written in the language, or music or events or any other part of the culture. All of these must survive on the free market. If a publisher doesn’t sell enough books, they go bankrupt. No state will bail them out because they are in the national interest. The main organisation for the promotion of Esperanto is based entirely on individual voluntary contributions, as well as goods and services that people deem valuable enough to be worth paying for. That is Libertarianism in practice.
Esperanto isn’t based on coercion
As an Irishman, the reason English is my native language is because Ireland was invaded and colonised by the British Empire. The Irish language was strongly discouraged and English was imposed upon the people. This was not a unique event, instead it was very common for Empires to force their language on their colonies and suppress the native languages. All the major languages of the world were spread by empires conquering other countries. Esperanto is the only language that has not been spread by the sword. Unlike others, Esperanto was not spread by coercion or by violating the Non-Aggression Principle.
National languages are regulated by the state
You see, most languages have governing bodies who decide how the language is used. They regulate the grammatical rules, use of words, introduction of new words and general structure of the language. The level of interference varies by language, English is relatively hands-off, France has its famous language academy and Slovak was codified by a single person, Ludovik Stur. Many languages have been reformed, sometimes drastically (for example in 1948 the spelling of Irish was changed and dialects were merged to create an official standard). In essence, there is a state body that makes arbitrary decisions and regulations. Not very libertarian is it?
Even where there is not overt regulation, languages like English are still influenced by state imposed standards. Official state bodies still decide how the dictionaries are composed and these are enforced in state schools (or private schools that must follow state curriculum). Many English speakers don’t realise how rigid the language is and think that it is also naturally changing. The spelling of existing words is essentially fixed by the state. For example, imagine if I decided to change the spelling of the word coat to koat. Straight away people would be confused and think I made a mistake. Trying to convince people it was deliberate would go nowhere as I would be perceived as uneducated. The spelling of coat is fixed and no amount of spontaneous action can change it. English is essentially frozen by the state and there is little room for innovation.
(I’m not saying that English doesn’t change, just far less than many suppose and most of the change is in the form of new words for new creations (like if I invented a new style of coat) or slang that is unacceptable in official settings.)
How does Esperanto compare? Well, it does have a language academy and an official foundation on which the language is based. However, the language is incredibly flexible which allows for much more innovation in what words are used. Esperanto words resemble Lego, you can construct them in a dozen different ways. If I don’t know a word, I can usually construct a word from the blocks I know. For example, I once forgot the word for umbrella, so I took the word for rain (pluv), a tool (il) and opposite (mal) to make malpluvilo, a tool that stops the rain.
Change must be voluntary and consensual
Another major difference is that Esperanto doesn’t have a state education system to enforce its rules. The language academy can’t just dictate a rule and have schools teach it to children, who will accept it without question. Any proposed change must convince the existing base of speakers in order to have any effect. For example, when computers were invented, the language academy decided that komputeko (a word without connection to Esperanto) would be the Esperanto word. However, the community didn’t like this and instead used komputilo (a tool that computes). As there was no state to use the official word and thus give it the first mover advantage, it was up to the community to decide and whichever word was used more would become the Esperanto word. In this case, the language academy eventually made komputilo the official word due to the community support.
Another example is how the community can introduce new words. In English, new words added to the dictionary are mainly teenage slang that die out quickly or technical words that describe new inventions. There’s no way to change the structure of English and any attempt would be laughed off. Instead, due to the flexible nature of Esperanto there are many ideas to change it. Crucially these changes can only come from the bottom-up. For example, in Esperanto, there is (as in English) a female suffix but no male suffix. So kelnero is a waiter, both a male waiter and a gender neutral waiter. Kelnerino is a waitress. So, there is no word for a male waiter, the neutral word is used to describe both. This has lead to proposals to use -iĉ as a male suffix so kelneriĉo would be a male waiter. This debate will be resolved by the community and only succeed if people change the way they use the language.
Both want to change the world
I can imagine some of the complaints and criticisms you might be thinking right now. That Esperanto will never become mainstream, that English is too strong in its role as the international language, that there are too few Esperantists, that the task is impossible. But can’t the same complaints be made about Libertarianism? That statism is just too strong, there are too few Libertarians, that completely changing society is impossible. But some dreams are worth having even if there’s slim chance they’ll come true. Some ideas are worth supporting regardless of their popularity. Both Libertarians and Esperantists want to peacefully change the world, even if it’s a long shot.
So if you’re a Libertarian, give Esperanto a thought, you’ll be surprised how much you already agree with.