Defining Left Libertarianism
The blogosphere has produced some wonderful discussion during the past few days about what’s Left and what’s Right in the libertarian cosmos. B.W. Richardson wonders, for example, if we all might be ambidextrous. “What is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’ seem to vary with the seasons,” he writes. “Maybe we’re all ambidextrous in the end. The real eternal theme seems the individual versus the state. I’ll trust the person next to me as opposed to the amorphous bureaucracy every time.” B.W.'s post is terrific, and I recommend you check it out.
Meanwhile, Roderick T. Long, editor of The Journal of Libertarian Studies, answers the question of why he calls himself a Left Libertarian (go directly to his post for the many links):
“First, on many of the issues over which mainstream libertarians are divided, I end up on what would generally be perceived as the ‘left’ side of the issue: anarchist, anti-militarist, anti-intellectual-property, anti-punishment (so a fortiori anti-death-penalty), anti-big-business, pro-immigration, pro-abortion, pro-secularism, pro-gay-rights, etc.
“But beyond that, I share a lot of ‘left-ish’ cultural concerns that are usually not thought of nowadays as libertarian issues (though historically they were), such as a concern for worker empowerment and an opposition to male supremacy.
“Plus, I think race and gender are largely social constructs; I recognise the existence of non-state forms of oppression (though I don’t advocate statism as the solution); I favour a Sciabarra-style ‘dialectical’ methodology; I’ve had some kind words for multiculturalism, postmodernism, political correctness, environmentalism, and collective ownership; and I regard libertarianism as properly rooted in egalitarianism.
“Yet for all that I’m probably a 90% orthodox Rothbardian, both about rights theory and about economics. (Indeed I sometimes call myself a ‘left-Rothbardian,’ though not specifically in Sam Konkin’s sense of that phrase.) While I draw a lot of inspiration from so-called ‘voluntary socialists’ like Benjamin Tucker, I’m not at all attracted to Tuckerite limitations on private land ownership (let alone Georgist ones); I don’t seek the elimination of wage labour (though I’d like to see more worker cooperatives available as a competitive alternative); I don’t accept animal rights (though I do think we have serious moral obligations to animals); and I have no patience with the philosophic relativism and/or materialism one sometimes finds among the academic left.”
In response to Long, James Leroy Wilson adds some points to his perception of the Libertarian Left:
“If the struggle really is defined as ‘liberty vs. equality,’ then I would always favor liberty and fall to the Right for that. But debating that is akin to debating ‘slavery vs. hierarchy.’
and equality are on the same side — the left side. They are both against legally-enforced and –protected hierarchy. Liberty vs. coercion, equality vs. hierarchy — either way it’s phrased, it’s the same battle. Equal liberty is the only real form of liberty, and the only desirable form of equality.” Liberty
I love all this philosophic talk about political labeling. I really do. But my reasons for counting myself a Libertarian Leftist seem much simpler.
I am “Left” because I believe that historically the “Left” first referred to our classical liberal forebears, that it has most often meant “anti-establishment” and “opposition.”
I am “Left” because my political ancestors included H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, John T. Flynn, Randolph Bourne, and George Orwell, all Men of the Left. I am “Left” because more contemporary Men of the Left have included the likes of Paul Goodman, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Alexander Cockburn.
And finally, I am “Left” because George W. Bush, William F. Buckley, Jr., Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Robert Novak, and Sean Hannity are Men of the Right.-----
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