James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, August 26, 2005

Liberty, Equality, and the Left

Roderick Long explains why he considers himself part of the Libertarian Left. Here's an excerpt, but please go to the original 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 (see Beyond the Boss and Platonic Productivity) and an opposition to male supremacy (see Beyond Patriarchy, Separate But Equal?, To Serve Man, and Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?).

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.

And then there's this,

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).

That's actually the one thing that nudged me over to the Left. But as Mr. Long writes, "surf through the other member blogs and you’ll soon see that there’s not much in the way of a common essence."

What made me reject the Left was that I didn't believe that equality is the highest political end of man, and I rejected the totalitarian implications of progressivism.

It has always been clear to me that whenever progressives appear to be for "civil liberties," they are, frankly, lying. Maybe lying to themselves, but still lying. There is not one freedom the progressive won't take away. They don't believe in a "woman's right to choose," they believe that women who don't get pregnant have to pay for the abortions of those who do. The whole gay marriage business is not about freedom, but of extending the role of the State in marriage still further. That's because their concept of equality - John Rawls's "Justice as fairness," is their highest politcal end. Not liberty. No wonder why the libertarian's best friends for 70 years have been the isolationist, pro-Constitution paleo-conservatives. (And they are still our friends!)

I wrote previously here of how I perceive the Libertarian Left. I just want to add a point or two.

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.

So here are other ways to state my libertarian principles which distinguish them from our perception of Leftists as statists. (I'll probably shorten and simplify them another time):

1. I reject the coercion and hierarchy of the State's centralized bureaucratic structure, including the military;
2. I reject monopolies of land, natural resources, and "intellectual property," created and preserved by the State, and the loss of opportunity and depression of wages that this form of inequality brings;
3. I reject any State-sanctioned disinctions between individuals for the purposes of either forced segregation or forced assocation based on race, ethnicity, religion, or gender;
4. I reject the use of State coercion to enforce or "protect" certain values or a "way of life" which wouldn't otherwise survive in the normal course of peaceful human relations.

The above points embrace the value that individuals have an equal right to be free. By rejecting coercion and its conceptual twin, hierarchy, I reject the Right and embrace the Left. Liberty and equality may be distinct concepts, but practically speaking they are inseparable.


  1. hey Jim -
    i dislike the labels of left and right intensely - prefering to look at the spectrum in butler shaffer's terms or chaos and order. It aligns the sides much better. Being chaotic, if prefer less people telling me what i have to do and more freedon to do what i beleieve i have to so.
    i noticed your donate blog had no comment section - i think that it's just like buying a newspaper. if i wasn't in a perpetual state of broke, i would make a contibution. but broke is a physical state, and mentally, i'll keep contributing. however - would you consider putting together an on-line class for the school i will be launching on Oct 1? Topic of your choice - high school level. cost/pay TBD

  2. boy am i suffering from fat fingers today. terms of chaos : what i believe i have to do :

    one question - given austrian economics - why are we even attempting to hold together the monetary system and the federal government? Would now be the time to Balkanize like the USSR did?