Monday, August 29, 2005

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.’

Liberty 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.”

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 agree with Karl Hess’s designations of Left and Right, which expanded on Murray Rothbard’s definitions from the 1960s.

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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9 Comments:

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

To many of those who consider themselves on the "Left" "Left Libertarianism" would seem an oxymoron. This is because the right has hijacked the libertarian rhetoric of self-reliance, individualism, and free markets(and was enabled to do so by the statist turn the left took at the turn of the century).
In the mind of of your average unthinking Leftist,these principles are four letter words, synonymous with selfishness, indifference, privelage, and capitalism, for which the only remedy is the aggresive expansion of a Robin Hood government. These misinformed individuals do not understand that the evils of capitalism are not the result of an unregulated free market but of the absence of one. The massive power of big business would be non-existant without big government as its protector, if not its outright creator. The practice of state intervention on the behalf of capital is as old as capitalism itself.
But perhaps what makes a "Left Libertarian" is a strong sense of voluntary vs. coercive. While most Right Libertarians, even those intellectually honest ones who are vocally critical of state-capitalism as an affront to the free market, will defend, say, the wage system since on the surface it is simply a free market interaction. The Left Libertarian knows better, and will point out that the wage system as we know it can only exist when capital has secured privelages from the state to protect itself from competition. The Left Libertarian looks beyond the surface of the "free market" masquerade and exposes the apparatus of state coercion that lies beneath it. In this refined understanding of voluntary vs. coercive the Left Libertarian also realizes that in a truly free market a plurality of economic institutions could thrive, provided they did so peacefully, be they mutual banks, worker co-ops, syndicates, or collectives.
Incidentally, though, a fact that both left and right should be aware of: the term "libertarian" was originally just a euphamism for anarchist and therefore implied socialism of one kind or another. This is still largely the connotation it has in Europe. It always bothers me when right libertarians and "anarcho-capitalists" claim that individualist anarchists like Tucker are their forbearers. Tucker considered himself a socialist and he makes that abundantly clear.
Left Libertarians should do everything possible to educate the statist left. In addition to illustrating the horrors of Marxism and Communism, they should show them how the "social democratic" welfare liberalism of the Fabians, "Progressives," New Dealers and others has been for the most part a legacy of managerialism, paternalism, and social control, that has preserved capitalism if not strengthened it.

May Left-Libertarianism have a prosperous future!

 
At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Brad Spangler said...

@Nathan:

In response to this:

To many of those who consider themselves on the "Left" "Left Libertarianism" would seem an oxymoron. This is because the right has hijacked the libertarian rhetoric of self-reliance, individualism, and free markets(and was enabled to do so by the statist turn the left took at the turn of the century).

Then we must unceasingly attack the Right with those very tools, and when we have occasion to attack the fake-Left, we call them "right-wingers". Libertarians, don't be afraid to think of yourselves as extreme leftists -- and think, speak and act accordingly.

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Ron West said...

Your laast paragraph is enough for me:

"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."

That's enough right there. Seriously though, a very nice contribution. I think we could call Bob Marley a leftist libertarian.

--Ron

http://revolttoday.blogspot.com/

 
At 3:38 PM, Anonymous New World Liberty said...

I consider myself "Left Libertarian" because I don't believe in a complete free market when it comes to man's natural right to have a share of the land and natural resources.

To "pay for water" and to "pay for a place to sleep" just seems so blatantly wrong-minded.

That is why I'm a Left Libertarian.

I'm also pro-choice and pro-gay.

I'm somewhere between Democrat and Libertarian.

 
At 3:44 PM, Anonymous New World Liberty said...

Another important distinction. Right Libertarians generally believe in a gold/silver standard.

Left Libertarians with roots in Geolibertarianism view currency as a means of exchange rather than a commodity.

A natural resource should not be used. It is prone to outside manipulation because it is a commodity.

A true public fiat currency like the Lincoln Greenback would be preferred over our the current private monopolized debt-based currency, the Federal Reserve system.

 
At 8:07 PM, Anonymous h8thest8 said...

Um, I don't think left libertarians would favor any sort of "greenback" type monetary system because that would still require the existence of a national-level state that levies enough taxes to create considerable demand for the currency.

If the state produces a monopolized currency system it is prone to use that currency to line the pockets of the ruling class, engage in wars, etc.

Besides, most "right" libertarians aren't in favor of imposing a gold/silver/commodity standard - they argue that such a standard would emerge as a natural consequence of having no state (assuming they are of the ancap persuasion). I happen to agree with them on that point, although I think that a commodity standard might coincide with many local currency standards (also arising from the truly free market).

 
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At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a silly, pathetic attempt by "leftist-minded" 'libertarians' to try to "take back" what they think is "Theirs" from so-called vulgar libertarianism.

To try to "reclaim libertarianism", for god knows what foolish reasons...

GIVE IT UP

Libertarianism is now commonly associated w/ what you call "right"-libertarianism. so what... Quit pretending like left-libertarianism is "still relevant" in the world of libertarianism! NO ONE takes that sh*t seriously- neither "typical" libertarians like most of Reason's core readership nor the LP nor even LIBERAL PROGRESSIVES who are "statists".

Yes, I am something of a "liberaltarian", but that's far from a 'left-libertarian' nutcase who's DELUSIONAL as all hell on economics. What about during the 1700s and 1800s PRE-ANTITRUST LAWS, for example, when the markets were VERY MUCH unregulated, and crony capitalism was pretty 'light', more or less?

THAT. LIFE. SUCKED

Sure, the Industrial Revolution did a lot of good... but for A LOT of people, life was terrible, and the Progressives DID HELP quite a bit in mitigating the problems, you gotta admit! I mean, would you REALLY rather have LEGAL CHILD LABOR simply because, "Child labor laws interfere w/ the free market"? That's disgusting...

Sometimes we HAVE to properly regulate Yes, it's unfortunate that corporations, ultimately, get their power from governmental corporate charters (and that said charters are RARELY revoked, esp. nowadays)... but to pretend as though things would be "all hunky-dory without crony capitalism/corporatism" is nothing short of naive.

Stop it with this inane fantasy that "markets" are somehow "way different from capitalism", esp. in America. Or that we can somehow "craft a 'free market' that's way diff. from what we've known historically to be capitalism." You're LYING to yourselves to preserve this foolish notion that you're "still very much libertarian" and that you're, thus, "not dirty, old statists like hippies and Democrats and modern liberals."

Is using 'state power' FOR GOOD every once in a while so bad? Yes, the 'state' HAS done a lot of bad in history, and in a perfect world, THERE'D BE NO GOV'T! But... men (and certainly not corporations) ARE NOT ANGELS! Minimal gov't rules and regulations for things like, say, fighting force and fraud, FACILITATE markets! You can't have markets without em, and every economist worth his salt knows this, for christ sake.

You can waste time THEORIZING about bullsh*t systems that WILL NEVER COME INTO BEING FOR ANOTHER (at least) 500, 1000, maybe even TWO THOUSAND years...

Or you can FIGHT FOR REAL REFORM IN THE REAL WORLD and stop circle-jerking each other... Your choice

 

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