Monday, August 18, 2008

A Critique of “Left-Libertarianism”

It seems that an increasing number of market anarchists out there are calling themselves “left-libertarians.” Their commentary can be found in the so-called Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left, and information on why they have chosen this label can be found on the Alliance of the Libertarian Left website. In this post, I hope to counter and refute some of their common arguments for this label.

Before I begin, I need to give my own interpretation of the left-right spectrum. Obviously, there is a lot of grey area, meaning that plenty of people are going to ask me, “But what about [insert person/ideology that doesn’t fit well]?” I will do my best anyway.

The “left” has generally stood for egalitarianism, collectivism, and democracy.

The “right” has generally stood for individualism, free markets, and private property.

Yes, there are other attributes that usually go along with both sides, but these are the core ones. Fascism and Mutualism both muddy the waters a bit, but they are the exceptions to the rule. And obviously, it goes without saying that politicians of both the left and right don’t actually believe in any of the principles I’ve connected with their side. But this is about as good a definition of the left-right spectrum as one can come up with. So let’s get on with the arguments from the “left-libertarians.”

Market anarchism is historically left-wing, because of classical individualist anarchism. Therefore, we should consider ourselves left-wing as well.

What made the classical individualist anarchists “left-wing?” Their belief in the labor theory of value and the Marxist exploitation theory. They held that profits are theft from the workers, rent is theft from the tenants and so on. This is the only thing that made individualist anarchism “left-wing.” That being said, it is a lesser known “leftist” philosophy: a rarity, and a bit of a political enigma. (How the hell can you buy into the socialist exploitation theory but still endorse the free market?)

Modern market anarchists--anarcho-capitalists--don’t believe profit, interest, or rent are exploitative. In other words, modern market anarchists reject the only belief that made classical individualist anarchists (just barely) left-wing. Many, if not most, radical leftists do/would not accept individualist anarchists as “leftists.”

We should call ourselves “left-libertarians” to show our leftist stands on cultural issues.

While the left and right are usually affiliated with different stands on culture, I do not think cultural preferences are enough to determine where someone lies on the political spectrum. I consider economics to be the single most important factor, as do most people. A racist, misogynistic, ultra-patriotic socialist is still a left-winger (e.g., Proudhon). A pro-choice, pro-gay, secular conservative is still a right-winger (e.g., Andrew Sullivan).

We should call ourselves “left-libertarians” to show we are open to an “alliance” with the left.

Creating an alliance with the left is a godawful idea. Why? For several reasons:

1) They believe that private property should be abolished. Is it not pretty stupid to create an alliance with folks who are dead-set against the foundation of your political philosophy? Rothbard found this one out the hard way.

2) All leftists, especially the leftist anarchists, support drastically expanding the state’s power and stomping on the free market, in the name of “social justice.” In fact, it barely even makes sense that I made a whole new point for this, since it flows logically from point #1.

3) Like it or not, most libertarians are converted from the political right. How do I know? Common sense and personal experience. Lefties are a bunch of brain-dead, hysterical thugs who will never give up their futile class-war, free-everything bullshit.

We should call ourselves “left-libertarians” to show that we oppose the current system, including its unjust property titles.

Sure, we oppose the current system--as do Nazis, Leninists, etc.--and its many unjust property titles. Here we will assume, for the sake of argument, that it is humanly possible to rectify every unjust property title (in reality, it isn’t).

“Left-libertarians” tend to assume that once the unjust property titles are smoked out, the result will be large-scale redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. They overlook the fact that much of the wealth would in fact be taken from the poor and given to the rich (Which group is always having its wealth constantly redistributed to the other, by the state? In every country?).

In some cases, the poor would get more wealth, and in others, the rich would get more wealth. Wealth would be shifted around, but it would not necessarily result in a more egalitarian society.

This is all really a semantic dispute. Left-wing anarchists secretly support the free market and private property. Sure, they may demand the abolition of the free market and private property. But that is only because they define the free market as an un-free market and private property as statist property.

Honestly, this has to be the single most retarded argument made by “left-libertarians.” Left-wing anarchists define private property in the exact same way that market anarchists do. They also define the free market the exact same way that market anarchists do. Nobody with even a basic, slapdash knowledge of their literature, FAQs, or history would say otherwise. This is most definitely not some tiny debate over “semantics.”

Mutualists are not the same as anarcho-capitalists either. They oppose interest, rent, and profit. Again, this is not a “semantic dispute.” It is a difference in ideology, and a gigantic one.

Don’t use the word “capitalism.” It just causes confusion!

The only “confusion” being created is by “left-libertarians.” Capitalism is consistently defined as private ownership of the means of production in a free market (or some variation of that). And yes, that is exactly what left-anarchists are railing against when they rail against “capitalism.” They aren’t talking about state-capitalism, you idiots. Get over it.


If anarcho-capitalism is anywhere on the political spectrum, it's the Old Right (or libertarian Right).

Left-libertarianism is a bunch of crap. The name doesn’t even make sense, because “left-libertarian” is a synonym for “libertarian socialist.” I get the feeling that they just want to be “hip” or something.

In conclusion, the whole thing is silly.


anarcho-mercantilist said...

It appears that you overgeneralize the definitions of left and right. The majority of Americans do not even understand the two terms. So you are pseudogeneralizing.

Edward Miller said...

While you may be correct in regards to a good portion of anarcho-syndicalists, I would say that at least the more perceptive mutualists and left-libertarians recognize that economic rent is the primary thing they are fighting against.

The vast majority of concentrated wealth comes not from the free market but from artificial scarcities, barriers to entry, monopoly access rights to the fruits of nature, and so on.

Mutualists are almost certainly correct that if that stuff went away we would see a far more egalitarian society.

Many are motivated by a desire for egalitarianism... though others are likely motivated solely by a love of individual liberty. Such people recognize the danger of concentrated wealth to a libertarian society.

Of course creeping corporatism is always a problem in any market economy, so maintaining a mutualist system would require constant vigilance. Socialists, on the other hand, irrationally hope for a perfect system in which such vigilance wouldn't be required.

What are your thoughts on economic rent? Who should own the fruits of nature? By what right? Under what terms? For how long?

Henry George is the only one that seems to have a rational answer to those questions.

Rothbard's answer to these questions was functionally akin to feudalism.

(Mutualists and believers in the Lockean Proviso also solve that issue in a non-vulgar fashion... though I am confused as to how such systems would work.)