James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Monday, August 15, 2005

How is the Libertarian Left different?

In my post on the Libertarian Left, I noted four principles I felt put me on the Left:

1. Anti-war/anti-interventionism;
2. Radically decentralized to non-existent political institutions;
3. Anti-monopoly;
4. Individual autonomy.

To which Father Jim Tucker wrote, "Hmm, but wouldn't most centrist and rightist libertarians accept those four points, too? Just wondering."

Excellent question, and in my reply I'm only speaking for myself, not necessarily for others so self-described.

The Libertarian Left is one way to be, instead of "guilty by association," with the neoconservatives in Washington, rather "innocent by dis-association." Consider that there are many self-described libertarians who believe in:

1. Wars to advance liberty abroad, thereby permanently establishing a military-industrial complex;
2. Reliance on central institutions like the Supreme Court to protect individual rights from the tyranny of local majorities, thereby empowering and strengthening central government overall and placing our liberty at the mercy of government;
3. a)A utilitarian capitalist ethic which "encourages" arts and inventions through federally-protected patents and copywrights and the government protection of "limited liabiity" in which stockholders are not personally responsible, and therefore indifferent, to the actions of their companies so long as they are profitable;
b) An absolutism in the inviolability of private land ownership, no matter when or how the land was acquired or how large the estate. Even though land is of limited supply and is required by all to live. Hence we have libertarians who advocate "flat taxes" or sales taxes both of which punish human activity, but are offended by the possibility that they pay rent to the community for the privilege of excluding people from their land. Exclusive control of land is a form of monopoly that is endorsed by many libertarians.
4. "Drawing the line" at cocaine, or the automatic weapon, or polygamy, or the licensing of doctors, or...

And then there are "libertarians" who hate liberals more than they love liberty, which is why they support President Bush. Other libertarians who percieve tax cuts to always be the chief and overriding issue.

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.

I encourage those who don't already, to read Wally Conger's Out of Step blog, which often expounds on the Libertarian Left and has resources on it in his sidebar.


  1. Great description. Point #3 especially hits home for a former Chomsky/Nader type leftie such as myself. I was drawn to the left in opposition to corporate statism. I pulled myself away from there and became libertarian when I realized that:

    a)not all libertarians were pro-war and pro-big business types who were little more than "Republicans who smoke dope", and...
    b)that all of the problems spelled out by the left could only be ethically and effectively be wiped out through free market, individualist means

    #4 is a good point too. Many "libertarians" love talking about the free market, limited gov't, and all that, but wind up drawing the line somewhere based on various personal prejudices or whatever. Examples include many doctors who claim to be libertarian may steadfastly defend licensing for their profession and people who know drug addicts who are thus fine with marijuana legalization but not legalization of other drugs.

  2. Anonymous1:54 AM CDT

    G'day Jimbo Bwana! Greg 'ere in Oz. Excellent post, two things I have been wrestling with re Libertarianism (well three, what an ungainly word!). Firstly an insistence on some kind of economic Darwinism, whereby monopoly is the outcome, is not something I would favor, ever. The behaviour of the mega-corps is horrifying. I am TOTALLY in support of Small Business, although my government doesn't seem to be. Here in Oz 60% of employees work in smallbiz. Without regulating, perhaps tax incentives ie removal, can stimulate this area's growth. Ungainly multinationals do not look past next year's AGM so certainly don't give a damn for the long term management of resources. OWNERSHIP implies responsibility and pro-active improvement of property/resources etc. Secondly I am a bit freaked out at the EVANGELISM expressed by right wing Libertarians. It seems that the philosophy of Libertarianism (ugh again), in it's purest form, whilst ethical, lacks morality, and the Right feels it necessary to prozletize on the one hand and be ruthlessly darwinian on the other. I hope that makes sense! I view Morality as something imposed from without by the lieing NannyState whereas Ethics come from internalising a set of values that allows one to face the world without shame. Hair splitting perhaps but that is my take. Regards.

  3. Anonymous9:58 PM CDT

    I would suggest expanding from "anti-monopoly" to "more egalitarian." Consider the question of phasing out unneeded government. Do we start with welfare programs? Or do we start somewhere else?

    And how about taxes? Do we cut from the top or the bottom. (OK, the geolibertarian aspect answers part of that.) Which is worse: taxes or deficits? (Deficits are regressive; they subsidize those with money to invest.)

    Anyway, I hope you will consider adding holisticpolitics.org to your list of links. It is not a blog; it is long essays from a left-libertarian perspective.

    You might also look at freeliberal.com.

  4. Anonymous9:48 PM CDT

    Here's Rothbard on the subject of left-sectarian libertarians and what he calls right-wing opportunist libertarians, in discussing strategy for libertarian victory.

    He advocates the centrist position.

    Rothbard advocates a centrist position?

    The most RADICAL centrist position EVAR!!!111

  5. Carl: we don't get to choose the sequence in which political opportunities come; arguing over "what to abolish first" will only bring paralysis. Besides, we may find that abolishing X, even out of order, solves some problem that makes it easier to abolish Q.

    I'd say eliminating any tax is a good thing regardless of deficits, because it removes the rationale for whatever agency exists to keep track of the basis for that tax. Making such abolition conditional on balanced budget merely gives the statists one more reason to make sure the budget is never balanced.