Saturday, April 14, 2007

An Inner-Libertarian Discussion (Or Not?)

Statement by left-libertarian:

From: Mike

"One of the most consistent questions I've been asked by libertarians and others would have to be, "What is left libertarianism?" There's enough confusion about just the word "libertarian" without the bizarre qualifier. Well, Richmonders interested in exploring that vein of thought have no paucity of opinions available to choose from. Of course, there's, a site where the best bloggers in the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left are syndicated. But in this post I thought I'd share some different personal statements on our philosophy from around the internet.

Joseph Van Hoven at Complicated Visionary is a good starting point, as he attempts to define the sociological distinctions within the libertarian movement, including the left-leaning variety, the special category in which he places himself:

Left Libertarians believe big, powerful government is as oppressive and bad as big, powerful corporations. They are anti-war (including the War on Drugs), pro-choice, and against government favors for corporations (or against large corporations altogether). They usually favor participatory action and mutual aid over government for social justice and environmental causes, as well as smaller, more local businesses and community-centered marketplaces. They may caucus with right-libertarians (“vulgar libertarians” is a commonly used phrase) for strategic purposes, which is the primary reason they are on the list at all. They are also likely to work with Green parties. Often Georgist on physical property and against extensive and restrictive intellectual property (and a major front behind Open Source), they are related to others of the broad libertarian left--agorists, mutualists, libertarian socialists, cyberpunks and anarchists; also “Buddhist Economics.”

Brad Spangler advocates for a left libertarianism in line with agorist revolutionary theory:

Among the variety of political labels I claim for myself is “Left Libertarian”. That should, however, be a redundancy and I believe that it will come to be regarded as such. Genuine libertarianism is very much left wing. It’s revolutionary. The long and tragic alliance of libertarians with the right against the spectre of state socialism is coming to a close, as it served no purpose after the fall of the Soviet Union and so-called “conservatives” have subsequently taken to letting their true big-government-on-steroids colors fly.

Longtime political blogger James Leroy Wilson at Independent Country was one of first left libertarian writers I encountered. His explanation of left libertarian themes, on which he further elaborates, identifies some of the key distinguishing traits of our adherents:

By being both anti-authoritarian and anti-corporate monopoly, Left Libertarians present a clean break from right-wing coalition of neo-cons, the Religious Right, and Big Business. In opposing the war, in promoting local control (which many Greens do), in fighting state-sanctioned corporate privilege, and in fighting to protect our civil liberties, the Libertarian Left has far more in common with the Left than with the Right as it is presently identified.

What this does not mean is that I prefer Hillary to Congressman Ron Paul. It does not mean outright partisanship in which liberals are my friends and conservatives my enemies. I still feel a sense of common cause with many on the Right, especially strict Constitutionalists. But historically the Right has been the party of the Establishment, of landed privilege. The Left has been opposed. Libertarianism ultimately belongs on the Left.

In a recent post on my blog, I identified many of the issues I think are wrapped up in my identification as left libertarian:

I don’t claim to possess any extraordinarily superior spark of insight, but I do think many libertarians suffer from a failure of imagination when applying libertarian principles thoroughly to these issues. Corporations are creations of government privilege which are granted limited liability, preferred access to our leaders, and constitutional rights as if they were living, breathing human beings whose interests were no different than ours. The power differential they exploit is not “laissez faire” economics, but rather the result of State intervention in the otherwise voluntary, human-scale economy, resulting in artificially bloated organizational behemoths. We are certainly not becoming freer, and direct government manipulation, while ever present, is only dwarfed by big business’s need for a rational, sanitized, intimidated customer base to dump junk on. Environmental problems go deeper than mere property rights issues and get down to the incentives and privileges afforded industry by the State. Poverty, suffering, and unfair labor practices here and around the world cannot be the result of a “free market” if what we have now is demonstrably not free. So why shouldn’t we oppose them on the same grounds that we oppose other side-effects of central planning and top-down command? What are the alternatives to the institutions, practices, and concepts that have created these

And finally, I just wanted to thank fellow Richmonder Robert Russo at for his perspective on left libertarianism:

I believe Alliance bloggers themselves will admit the term "left" is not to emulate the divisions of mainstream politics by calling other libertarians "right", but is a perspective on libertarianism itself. (The first time I heard a non-lib speak of our party they described us as being "on the far left". To anyone who has seen the world's smallest political quiz, libertarianism is actually "up".) Basically the material on these sites focuses on the achievement of our lifestyle, culture and philosophy in ways that don't appear in most party discussions because the electoral process is not the means (i.e. libertarianism within the home, in business and around the globe), and for those who feel unrepresented by the idea that the LP should stick to "party line" issues because it leaves many stones unturned, whereas this site is for a more general audience. Quelle difference insignifiante!

My only response to Russo's comments is that for many left libertarians, we feel that libertarianism is a radical tradition. We are seeking long-term social, organizational, even psychological change that will inevitably result from more freedom and less centralized control. And yes, in part our label is a reaction to the long-running libertarian alliance with the Right. If eight years with Bush is not enough to put those notions to rest, one wonders what kind of
empty philosophy "right libertarianism" must necessarily be."

My response:

I strongly disagree with the assertion that libertarianism is genuinely left-wing OR right-wing. It is genuinely neither. The modern conceptions of left and right are very misleading. My conception of ideal libertarianism is what Walter Block has deemed "the plumb line" - that is, libertarianism that is neutral to left and right, and goes straight for liberty. As for libertarianism being radical - of course it's radical. But left does not mean radical. Liberarianism is radical, partially precisely because it is not specifically left or right.

If I may offer a critique, the problems with left-wing libertarianism as I see it have been described by yourself, although some of the people you quote seem to be in support of these "deviations". The major deviation is this: many left-wing libertarians make the mistake of treating buisiness and government equally, as if they function the same and should be equally opposed. This is a fallacy that causes much trouble, because it fails to understand why government is a monopoly on force as compared to a private institution. It is a failure to understand that corporate monopoly is created by government.

This notion of buisiness being just like government they get from the left-wing anarchists, who would abolish both government and private property if they had their way. As you mentioned, there is a tendency for Georgism (communal land ownership, in a nutshell) on the libertarian left. I gave my critique of Georgism (now known as geolibertarianism) a few months ago here: Summary: Without land ownership, all other property rights dissapear, because all property derives from the land. It would seem to me that with left-anarchism and left-libertarianism, the ECONOMIC part of libertarianism starts to dissapear.

Also, there is a problem of what Rothbard called "modals". That is, people who are interested in libertarianism not because of philosophy, economics or ethics so much as they think that it's an excuse for them to be liberTINES. That is: there's a difference between neutrally supporting someone's right to practise, say, alternative lifestyles, and on the other hand, actively promoting those lifestyles and having the state promote them too. There's quite a difference bewtween "scrap the drug war because it's immoral and economic suicide" and "scrap the drug war because you should do drugs!".

If we are to use the SUPER OLD dychotomy of left vs. right, in which left meant the revolutionaries against the monarchal state, and the right meant the reactionary defenders of the old order, then it can definitely be said that libertarianism was always "left". However, this dychotomy has no relevance to modern conceptions of left and right. It's a different context altogether. It applies to 17th and 18th century Europe and America, not modern day Europe or America.

That being said, do not get the impression that I do not have equal troubles with those who champion themselves as "right-libertarians". I agree that the long-run libertarian alliance with the right has been a problem, because it has allowed libertarian circles to be infiltrated by neoconservatives to an extent. The strong, consistant libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Ron Paul have always been critical of these deviations on the right, and they have always been critical of plonky, pro-war conservatives who try to pass themselves off as libertarians.

The thing to realize is that these pro-war and pro-corporatism people you refer to are not libertarians, period. They are not even right-libertarians. They are conservatives who like to call themselves libertarians. To insinuate from this that all relationships with the right are anathema to liberty I find wrong. To quite an extent, what we could call the "old right" was MUCH MORE of an anti-war movement that the left has ever managed to be, even more anti-war than the left was during Vietnam. Further, the vast majority of people who founded this movement had at least some connection to this old right. Keep in mind that this old right had nothing to do with contemporary conservatism.

A particularly proper libertarian critique of the corporate state was made by a "left-wing libertarian" Gabriel Kolko. The thing to realize about this critique is that the state is the cause, not buisiness in itself. Those left-wing libertarians who think that we should be anti-buisiness in itself have been mislead and they have not adopted Kolko's analysis. Kolko showed how the new deal and the like was lobbied for by big buisiness and created to bestow privileges to domestic buisiness and cartelize the economy. He points out that much of the early "progessive" reforms were actually economic fascism, where the government merges with buisiness.

While Gabriel Kolko is a left-wing libertarian, he clearly sees that corporate monopoly results from government privilege, not from free enterprise in itself. It is a fallacy to attack buisiness in itself. The corporate state is an allyship between government and buisiness. People such as Kolko are rare gems on this type of issue (and he has some wonderful work on the warfare state as well). Austro-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists oppose the corporate state, for the right reasons, not because they think buisiness is evil, but because they realize that it is a market intervention by the government, a government-buisiness collusion, not free enterprise. Separation between buisiness and state is a necessity for true laizzes-faire.

To my understanding, libertarianism is defined by its opposition to government, not by opposition to all institutions or capitalism (a non-governmental institution that naturally formed and arose over time). To the libertarian, government is the most dangerous institution in a society. It is the institution that has historically done the most damage to people's rights and it is the institution with the most power over the widest territory in any society. But if we accept the view that government and buisiness function in the same way, or that government can be run like a buisiness, this libertarian outlook inevitably will dissapear.

Left-Libertarian Response:

From: Mike

"I don't know why you are harping on it. Most DO consider libertarianism specifically right-wing. Why don't you deal with THEM!!!! By the terminology the authors used, libertarianism would be left-wing. I guess it's all a matter of definition and interpretation. The author said much the same as you said. I guess you just see what you want to see! Also, I would hate to be under business surviellance as much as government surveillance. "Right-wing" libertarians believe that business should be able to do anything it wants, even those things government is prohibited from doing. I think that's a difference between right and left libertarians. Historically, anarchism was opposed to ALL forms of authority and hierarchy, not just governmental. I agree with them and do not believe business should be able to do anything it wants."

My Response:

I'm not seeing what I want to see. It's plain and clear:

"But historically the Right has been the party of the Establishment, of landed privilege. The Left has been opposed. Libertarianism ultimately belongs on the Left. "

I agree if we are talking about the 17th and 18th century terminology. But beyond that, claiming that libertarianism belongs to the left is silly. The modern contemporary left are very unlibertarian. The term "left" has no meaning or bearing on libertarianism, nor does the term "right". To claim that the left of the progressive era (around the turn of the century) and onwards is libertarian is absurd to be. They are no better, no more libertarian, than WWII and onwards right (post-WWII and the cold war really changed the American right alot), which is by no means libertarian.

"Historically, anarchism was opposed to ALL forms of authority and hierarchy, not just governmental".

Unfortunately, this viewpoint is precisely what I'm critisizing: the idea that all institutions are equally bad. The idea that we should oppose all institutions and all heirarchy is not libertarian. It has more to do with communism. Opposing all authority is silly and childish. It is utopian. It is impossible to get rid of all authority and all all inequality. Libertarianism does not support the notion of pure egalitarian equality, realizing that it's an impossibility and absurdity, and the attempt to create it is authoritarian, always, because pure equality requires uniformity. The anarcho-socialist viewpoint is nonsensical, and it falls prey to exactly what I mentioned: thinking that private institutions function the same as government, and therefore giving up their oppostition to government and becoming advocates of blind anti-capitalism.

From: Mike Date

"I agree that libertarianism is neither left nor right. Most people don't see it that way. Since I am a wage slave and not a rich business owner, my animosity against business will continue! Business has no more right to control my life than government!! PERIOD! Libertarianism opposes force to acheive not only political goals, but also social goals. If libertarianism is ONLY about abolishing government tyranny, but supporting business tyranny, brcause it is "private", then I'm NOT a libertarian!!!!!!!!!!!! Fuck PRIVATE tyranny. I've experienced it...OK!! So if I must settle for it to be a libertarian, then fuck libertarianism. DON'T FUCKING TREAD ON ME, NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE!!!"

My Response:

To be clear, perhaps putting it in terms of authority is a bad way to go. The libertarian opposes all forms of offensive violence or the threat thereof. I am in total agreement on that. I don't support "private murder" while opposing government murder, I oppose both. But I think you are making some inaccurate assumptions about how a private buisiness, free from any overt governmental connections, operates. Buisinesses do not inherently make people "slaves". Buisiness does not have the power of a government.

Austro-libertarians and Anarcho-capitalists do not believe that buisiness should be able to do whatever it wants, such as murder and steal. But neither do they believe in abolishing private property and that capitalism turns everyone into "wage slaves". Private property is not only impossible for you to truly abolish, but it's the foundation of civilization itself. No private property = no civilization. Austro-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists do not support privatizing governmental crimes, they favor abolition of those things. But it is simply insane to favor abolition of all institutions.

Left-wing anarchism is an oxymoronic ideology. On one hand, it favors the abolition of government. On the other hand, it favors the abolition of all private institutions. There is a failure to understand that the only way to even approach the 2nd option is through government force. We are no longer dealing with libertarianism. This is communism, which was pushed by certain anarchists from its very beginnings. What happens with communism is that, while adhering to the insane belief that once the means of production are "common" the state will wither away, you end up with a totalitarian state that owns most or all property, run by elites.

Left-We-Should-No-Longer-Be-Calling-This-Person-A-Libertarian-At-This-Point's Response:

"And please don't write me and correct me on doctrine. OK? I don't care what you believe and I don't agree with your "correct" definitions of libertarianism. You ARE a RIGHT-WING libertarian, that is why you are against left-libertarianism. That is now evident to me.

I was not supporting communist-anarchism. I was opposing private tyranny as well as government tyranny. If private tyranny is ok with you, fine, don't fucking waste my time. We disagree and thats that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My response:

I am sorry that you have fallen for the false left/right dichotomy of modern politics. I am not a right-wing libertarian. I'm not even right-wing. My father is a leftist with libertarian leanings and my mom is a "progressive". I was raised in a "liberal" household with an old hippie for a dad. No, I am not against left-libertarianism because I'm a "right-libertarian", I'm against left-libertarianism for the same reason that I'm against right-libertarianism: they are deviations in either direction.

I am against right-wing deviancy because it leads to support for the warfare state, legislated religion and government privilege to buisiness. I am against left-wing deviancy because it leads to support for the welfare state, primitivism and radical egalitarianism. It is you who has relied on a false left-right dychotomy by trying to lable me as "right-wing" for not being an anti-capitalist. In reality, you have characterized my unwillingness to budge from the plumb-line as being "right-wing", because you adhere to "far left wing" ideas with respect to buisiness and capitalism.

I oppose private crime as well as government crime too. The problem is that you assume that private institutions are inherently tyrannical, just as much as government. You assume that support for private property means support for private crime. The unspoken assumption is that support for capitalism or any buisiness is inherently supporting some kind of tyranny over everyone. This leads to a deviation towards radical egalitarianism, syndicalism and yes, eventually communism.

Final note: So much for this being a civil debate. It was at first.


kblair7 said...

That was a very fascinating conversation. I think that you were covering some very controversial talking points within the movement.


Brainpolice said...

He seemed to have the erroneous impresson that hardcore capitalist libertarians think that buisiness should be able to get away with doing anything to anyone. In reality, if we believe that government should not do X (such as steal land from people), we also believe that any private institution or individual should not do that. If we believe that private murder is wrong, we also believe that government murder is wrong.

It is precisely this kind of consistancy of applying the same principle to government as we would to an individual that makes libertarianism so radical. It's an error to insinuate that the libertarian would support privatizing the things that the government does that is wrong. Even anarcho-capitalists don't believe that - they would only privatize those governmental functions that are legitimate as services in themselves. They would not privatize the things that government does that they think is wrong, they call for abolition of those things.