Monday, June 20, 2005

What's Left?

“At no time since the Vietnam era,” Tom Knapp wrote recently on his blog, “have we found ourselves more in need of a vital, active Movement of the Libertarian Left — and the intellectual infrastructure that [Samuel Edward Konkin III] worked so hard to create for one is not just disintegrating due to our failure to maintain its currency and relevance, but is under active attack, not least in the form of attempts to expropriate and alter the meaning of the proud title New Libertarian.”

Regularly, I’m asked by readers of this blog and of my essays elsewhere how I — a fierce supporter of laissez-faire and free markets — can call myself a “Left Libertarian, with roots in the liberal tradition.”

For many years, I’ve subscribed, as did SEK3, to the notion first suggested in the 1960s by Murray Rothbard in his seminal essay “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty.” Rothbard said libertarians historically belonged not on the Right but on the furthest Left. During the French Revolution, the despotic Old Order sat on the right side of the assembly hall, with classical laissez-faire liberals seated on the left. So from then until the rise of socialism in the mid-19th century, classical liberals were the Left, the party of liberty, peace, and progress. Then liberals allowed socialists to outflank them strategically and pose as “the Left.” Political terminology was turned on its head. Socialists became “liberals.” Liberals became “conservatives.” Rothbard said phooey to all that.

The once “conservative Republican” Rothbard exhorted libertarians to recognize their past and ally themselves with the New Left, from which had sprung the anarchistic, anti-imperialist “Port Huron Statement.” He and other libertarians shared podiums with Leftists like Paul Goodman and Carl Oglesby. At the end of the ’60s, many libertarians — most of them, like me, student members of the Young Americans for Freedom — followed Rothbard and former Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess out of the right wing to build coalitions with the Left. An exchange of interesting strategic and tactical ideas ensued, but the fusion didn’t hold ultimately.

The Movement of the Libertarian Left (MLL) worked to lay the groundwork for a day of reconciliation with the Left from 1978 until Sam’s sudden death last year. And they made inroads. MLL had this goal: to develop a coherent, long-term, non-political, anti-party strategy consistent with hard-core Rothbardian theory. Sam and other New Libertarians (aka Libertarian Leftists) interacted regularly with New Leftists like Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Oglesby, Jon Rappoport, and Noam Chomsky. And many libertarians continue to forge alliances with the Left. Take a look at MLL’s busy e-list and at Doug Fuda’s efforts to build a new Antiwar League.

As Knapp says, principled libertarians now stand at a crossroads. Both the Cato Institute and the so-called “Libertarian” Party and its “New Libertarian” faction, all front groups for the warmongering right-wing, have hammered a wedge into the libertarian movement. There is no better time than now for a libertarian rapprochement with not the “leftists” of the Democratic Party but the vital, rebellious, antiwar, anti-state Left of CounterPunch and other radical journals. We have a lot to talk about, and I look forward to the dialogue.

In the meantime, those afraid to make a sharp left turn and join us should heed SEK3’s suggestion to “wake up and smell the tear gas!” And to those courageous enough to shrug off the right-wing, unite with other staunch enemies of the State, and reclaim the Left for libertarians, I say, “Forward to liberty!”

Our politics? Anarchy!
Our economics? Counter-Economics!
Our style? Action!
Our flag? Black!
Our slogan? Agora, Anarchy, Action!

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9 Comments:

At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Waumpuscat said...

The slogans proclaimed at the end of the essay identify the writer's conception of "Left Libertarianism" as a religion with a doctrinal litergy. Certainly, no conceivable society of human beings, as they reveal themselves today with their economic conflicts and social posturing, could ever be persuaded to adopt it as an ethical principle. Could they be compelled, and who would compel them?

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger Kn@ppster said...

The slogans at the end of the article are the slogans of a movement, but not, apart from the first, the organizing principles of a society.

Tom Knapp

 
At 7:13 AM, Anonymous Bill Woolsey said...

"Both the Cato Institute and the so-called “Libertarian” Party and its “New Libertarian” faction, all front groups for the warmongering right-wing, have hammered a wedge into the libertarian movement."

The Cato Institute opposed the War in Iraq. I have seen no support for an invasion of Iran or Syria. I have seen support for an "exit strategy."

The LP opposed the War in Iraq. I have seen no support for an invasion of Iran or Syria. The LP has called for withdrawal from Iraq.

The self-described "neo-libertarians" lambaste the LP. They generally haven't come to grips with Cato and prefer to criticize what they call "paleo-libertarians." Most recently, I saw an "analysis" of Bergland's arguments in "Libertarianism in One Lesson."

I still think the most sensible approach for libertarians is neither left nor right.

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger Kevin B. O'Reilly said...

I've got to agree with Bill Woolsey. To call Cato and the LP warmongers is laughable. Is this because both supported the war in Afghanistan?

I strongly support working with the left, especially now that they are powerless to do real harm in D.C., but can still create public pressure in the right directions.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Vache Folle said...

I would appreciate your expanding on the concept of counter-economics.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Chuckest said...

I see the left right spectrum as 100% government on the left, and anarchy (no government on the right. I do not care what we callit. It would be nice if we all were speaking the same language. Call it anything you want. Just so long as the movement calls for a reduction in the number of decisions made for us by government.

 
At 2:42 PM, Anonymous William said...

I agree with Bill. These war mongers were the few voices of not going to war. In fact the Cato Institute has Liberty, Limited Government, Free Markets and Peace as its goals.

You are iterpreting the suggested ways to get out of Iraq as war mongering.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger freeman said...

I can recall reading some pieces from Cato that were against the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Then again, Tom Palmer of CATO is a full fledged supporter of those atrocities.

I think the most likely explanation here is that CATO probably does not have a set group position on the Iraq issue, allowing for their scholars to either be pro or against.

Regarding the LP, I know that Badnarik is anti-war, but his running mate in the election was pro-war. It seems to me that most of the party supporters are anti-war, but that there is a pro-war faction.

Chuckest - I think that there are many different interpretations out there as to what the left is and what the right is. Karl Hess, for example, had the exact opposite view of the spectrum as you do. He considered anarchists and other libertarians to be far left, with increased statism on the right. He considered Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. to be radical right wingers.

Additionally, there are people who associate themselves with either the left or the right who are anti-authoritarian in nature. Just because someone is a leftie doesn't mean that they support big government, or vice versa.

 
At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Bill Woolsey said...

"I can recall reading some pieces from Cato that were against the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Then again, Tom Palmer of CATO is a full fledged supporter of those atrocities."

Tom Palmer opposed the invasion of Iraq.

He argues against _immediate_ withdrawal from Iraq. It isn't clear to me what conditions he believes are necessary before the U.S. leaves Iraq.

 

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