Being a libertarian necessitates a certain level of narcissism that is juxtaposed by the sheer necessity of social interaction. Positing that one has the volition and right to determine their course in life also necessitates a realization of similar pursuits by everyone else in the world. Libertarians by virtue of being staunch advocates of individual rights are the highest of community advocates, the standard upon which the collectivist ideal rests. The libertarian ideal is most pronounced in the philosophy of Ubuntu, whose emphasis is on the social aspect of man’s existence but the ontological premise upon which such social existence rests is the individual, upon whom there are rights that make the social existence possible.
Individual existence, theoretically in the Nguni African philosophy of Ubuntu is a continual state, one rooted in the practical reality of man’s existence. Its emphasis on the obvious social necessity of man’s existence is oftentimes misconstrued for Socialism. This folly is most evident in our forefathers who liberated the continent from colonial overlords only to assume that title themselves by proclaiming that African communal philosophy was tantamount to a central planning and direction of an economy. Or even the famed socialization of the means of production, which is really nationalisation or the redistribution of wealth by the state to its various interests.
All these political philosophies which people try to attach to the noble African philosophy of Ubuntu are wholly opposed to it because they premise their analysis on the collective existence of man instead of individual. They do this to rationalize their use of force of course to direct society, the group, in whatever direction they deem fit, or as they would say according to the ‘laws of history’. Ramose makes the matter clear philosophically. The rights of life, liberty/freedom, property are what makes society possible, vested in the varied African individuals (M. Ramose, ‘Globalization and Ubuntu Philosophy’, African Philosophy Reader, pp 744-745). We disagree with the elder’s economic stance though but that is a matter for another day.
Ubuntu’s emphasis on the social existence of man, is only possible if man has freedom. Freedom to not acquiesce to said social standard during the course of his life. An example that illustrates this would be a saying “uZakhele akanabuntu” (Zakhele doesn’t have Ubuntu) or “uSamukelo uphelelwe ubuntu”? (Samukelo no longer has Ubuntu). This is an example of the inherent liberty of the individual and its corollary rights which make man’s social existence possible.
If one is said to have lost ubuntu then one’s existence and actions thereof have not measured up to the communal ethical precepts of Ubuntu. Generosity, kindness, being an upstanding citizen in the ethical sense as required by the philosophy of ubuntu, assumes freedom, for if its precepts could be coerced then they would hold no weight.
The assumption that this philosophy not only intimates but out-rightly justifies socialism, is mistaken. The living of one’s life and thus the existence of society to the standards of ubuntu, assumes freedom in the men of this great society. It assumes a rule of law, administered among free individuals who live continually striving for the standard of ubuntu. The philosophy from its principles is untenable with a coercive state to the extent that it determines ends and directs society to some goal as socialism posits. It is also untenable with re-distributive plunder, for if ubuntu could be enforced then how could it be said that ‘uZakhele akanabuntu” for his behaviour could just be ‘corrected’ through coercion of course to fit the standard of ubuntu.
Ubuntu is a social philosophy that encourages love for one another above all else. I think love expresses the concept more poignantly for English speakers. The philosophy in its various aphorisms ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ merely expresses the ideal that one’s ultimate existence is through kindness, compassion, servitude and love to another, for man is above all else a social animal, with the highest social existence being one filled with compassion, kindness and love. This cannot be enforced by a state or a government, when it is, the concept itself gets eroded and society degenerates. In their ‘primitive’ existence, our ancestors acknowledged this salient fact and reflected it in their philosophy, although like all humans, their actions were not always up to the standard of these values.
This servitude of others is represented by the free market economy and free enterprise, where one’s success is how much they were able to satisfy the different demands of their fellow man. The entrepreneur, the engine of the capitalist system, is a servant of the masses in a manner that would make the socialist green with envy. Any entrepreneur, who later grew to become millionaires or even billionaires, who did not leech from his fellow men by using the state’s funds, can attest to the inherent problem solving nature of his enterprise, from Disney or Amazon to the guy who sells iced guava juice at the robots, they all serve their fellow men. This servitude is what ubuntu sets as the standard for man in his existence on earth, in different aspects, and it all assumes freedom of the individual.
This standard of ubuntu is not opposed to capitalism. It encourages it. The norms of individual rights upon which this social philosophy rests are not equivalent with Socialism. Ubuntu is not the empty concept of Social Justice and its corollary of wealth redistribution as an imperative of the state. Ubuntu is love, and love is never forced, nor coerced. Instead of a liberty that focuses on the individual and the virtues of selfishness in the Objectivist sense, I hope Africa gives the world a liberty that encourages the virtues of compassion and community. Both versions are sides of the same coin. Being Umuntu, I prefer my liberty to be in the service of my fellow men. In whatever perspective though, the individual and their liberty are an imperative. Inkululeko enobuntu ngoba ubuntu buyinkululeko.
The Eloquent Peasant.