Three cheers for "southpaw libertarians"
Comrade Tom Knapp contributed a valuable post yesterday at the Unqualified Offerings blog about what he calls “southpaw libertarians,” libertarians on the Left. He wrote:
Libertarian ideas are picking up advocates on the Left, and “southpaw libertarians” are becoming an increasingly credible force in the libertarian movement.
Why? Well...I do have some quick thoughts.
Any history of the libertarian movement is going to have to start on the Left. Yes, I know that we have a long record of decrying the “Left-Right political spectrum” as inadequately descriptive, but it’s still there and it’s still used. Advocates of laissez faire sat on the left side of the aisle in the French pre-revolutionary and revolutionary governments. Anarchists contested control of the First International with the Marxists. 19th century American libertarians and anarchists allied themselves, to a large degree, with Left-anarchists and Left labor movements.
The first real period of identification of American libertarians with the Right was between the world wars — and that identification was specifically with the isolationist, often near-anarchist, “Old Right,” the ruins of which lie next to the USS Arizona beneath Pearl Harbor. Ever since, the association has been tenuous, tumultuous and periodic. Not to mention — in my opinion, of course — unjustified.
Libertarianism is a movement apart...but it’s going to identify with other movements, and other movements are going to identify with it, on the basis of two simple criteria:
(1) Radical movements oppose the party in power. It’s just that simple. If they don’t oppose the Establishment, they’d be part of the Establishment. And since the present Establishment is generally regarded as “Right-wing,” its opposition is going to be regarded as “Left-wing.” Libertarians are embracing (as they should) the label.
(2) Former Establishments in exile want to return to power. This makes them more willing to consider new ideas, or reconsider old ones long abandoned (or at least given short shrift). Left factions dominated the American Establishment for 70 years. They want to dominate that Establishment again. They need allies, and they need winning ideas. Thus, they are looking back to their own “classical liberal” past, and to the inheritors of the mantle of “classical liberalism” in American politics...the libertarians...for inspiration.
Both of which, of course, smack of grandiose “theories of history.” There are other, simpler explanations for the resurgent phenomenon of “left-libertarianism.”
For example, self-designated libertarian spokespersons who have never associated themselves closely with “the Right” have felt more free to take the lead in criticizing the “Right-wing Establishment” than “conservatarians,” and the movement is therefore taking on the flavor of those criticisms. Similarly, Lefties who were “progressive civil libertarians” — an opposition of sorts within their own faction — back in the days of Left ascendancy now have the high ground versus the “mainstream” Lefties who lost power when talking about how to regain power.
Join the debate here.