Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Battlepanda warms to libertarianism

In two posts last month, "The Future is Orange" and "Two Flavors of Libertarianism", Battlepanda revealed that reading the blogs on the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left and the left-wing "egalitarian, compassionate, bleeding-heart libertarianism" espoused by them, she had changed her mind about libertarianism, realizing that not all of it was warmed-over corporate apologism:
I've also come across a lot of fine sites that totally refreshed my concept of what it means to be a libertarian.... The blogs that are championing Cory Maye's case have a decidedly different tenor to them that I also really like. One of them, Brad Spangler, even went as far as to say "Large corporations as they exist today are, in actuality, appendages of the state and not "free enterprise""! He's definitely not the kind pro-corporate market-worshipping libertarians I know and currently link to.
and
Those of you who read this blog regularly knows that hatin' on libertarians is a recurrent theme here at the Battlepanda blog.... So I thought I had made up my mind on libertarians, pretty much. Until I started reading this guy [Brad Spangler]. And this guy [Thomas Knapp]. "Free Market anti-Capitalism"? [a post on Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog] Whoa! It seems like there is a whole 'nother kind of libertarians out there (they even have their own webring). In fact, Kevin Carson refers to the kind of pro-corporate Ayn Rand lovin' libertarians as "vulgar libertarians". His excoriating description of vulgar libertarians is a perfect distillation of everything I thought I hated about libertarians...
This is good. It shows that us left-libertarians really can change minds—a task which sometimes seems hopeless given the marginalization of radical classical liberalism on both the left and right.

I must say that until pretty recently I also was dismissive of libertarianism, given that I'd seen only the corporate capitalism apologist "pot-smoking Republican" type. It didn't help that I'd also seen some truly extreme reactionary and cranky stuff going under the label—such as The Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray, "brownlash" anti-environmentalism (itself often containing heavy doses of apologism for environmentally irresponsible corporations) repeating stuff by the likes of Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg; and anti-feminism.

And so, at first I was leery of the left-libertarian stuff I read. But it didn't take me long to realize that the sort of libertarians who frequent the BLL have a genuine sympathy for left-wing causes (rather than using nice sounding terms like "liberty" to mask a reactionary "greedy Republican" agenda), and that there was a intellectual and historical continuity with the anti-authoritarian left in general (indeed in the 1960s libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess worked with and were deeply influenced by the New Left of the time; the article "Rothbard's Time on the Left" provides an overview of this period). In my case, the main blogs involved were Kevin's and Roderick T. Long's. (Long's stuff about the distortion and smearing of Herbert Spencer was the first stuff that I read by him, and Spencer's case is a paradigmatic example of the marginalization of the left-wing radical classical liberal tradition which forms the historical basis of the modern libertarian left). I was also previously familiar with the "single tax" ideas of Henry George and his followers — who had a very large movement in the late 19th century, and who based their critique on privilege on the classical liberal laissez faire economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Spencer.

As the quotes above show, Battlepanda was impressed by the role of libertarian blogs in bringing attention to wrongful conviction of Cory Maye, which she describes as "just about the ugliest nexus of race, civil rights violations, southern juries and our criminal justice system that I can think of". So, activism on real world issues is going to be essential: when libertarians roll up their sleeves and get to work supporting their local food co-op, union, community bookstore, listener sponsored radio station, free school, or whatever leftish alternative institution people would think that libertarians would never support because they're nice and community-based rather than greedy and corporate "market" organizations.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted, Battlepanda put up a response on her blog, saying that:
I remain a big, fat, cheerful statist despite "warming up" (or prehaps "wising up" would be a better way of putting things) to left-libertarians.

I find them an interesting, invigorating lot. I give them props for being more consistant than the right libertarians who yammer about big government then willingly bends over for the NSA. I agree with many of their ideas, share much of their sympathies, but the fundamental difference remains -- they want to abolish the government, and I don't.
I should've made it clearer in my original post that I wasn't saying that she was now libertarian, only sympathetic to it (my mistake; a reminder that I've got to pay more attention about avoiding such ambiguity in writing about these sort of things). That was pretty much the point: that, in contrast to the many examples of condescending or nasty dismissal of libertarianism, there's dialogue going on between left libertarians and the rest of the left, and that leftists don't have to be libertarian to agree on some points (and respect the left-libs' consistency in sticking to their principles).

Also, this post seems to have kicked off activity in the comments section ... there have been more comments on this post than on all other previous ones!

6 comments:

Sheldon Richman said...

Joel--Bjorn Lomborg is a left-winger, though not a left libertarian. All he did was scrutinze Simon's data and theoretical arguments and found them largely sound. His objective was to refute Simon, but he couldn't. Does that now make him a right-winger? That smacks of an ideological package deal. I say, Open all packages!

Anonymous said...

I must say that until pretty recently I also was dismissive of libertarianism, given that I'd seen only the corporate capitalism apologist "pot-smoking Republican" type.

It sounds to me like you don't really understand what libertarianism is. To paraphrase Walter Block, libertarianism asks one question, "What should the law be?", and answers it by saying "Everyone should keep their mitts to themselves". More specifically, it says that no individual can use violent force against the person or property of another, except in self-defense.

Now, on your characterization of many libertarians as "corporate apologists" - yes, many libertarians have been overly supportive of corporations, many of whom have colluded extensively with government (for example, Wal-mart routinely uses eminent domain to expand their business locations). However, the "left-libertarians" like Roderick Long and Kevin Carson are still libertarians, meaning they accept corporations in principle as long as the bosses and employees voluntarily agree to it. For a discussion by Long on this topic see this.

In short, a libertarian society won't be one where corporations are forcibly regulated in who they can hire, what wages they can pay, or what products they make or sell. If you're looking for something like that from libertarianism, look elsewhere.

Battlepanda said...

Well,
Just to be clear, I remain a big, fat, statist. But I certainly find the left libertarians an interesting lot. I agree with many of their ideas, share much of their sympathies, but the fundamental difference remains -- they want to abolish the government, and I don't.

At least I give them props for being more consistant than the right libertarians who yammer about big government then willingly bends over for the NSA.

Anonymous said...

Actually you can read about libertarians who do believe in government on Roderick's blog here.
They are called "minarchists". Both minarchist and anarchist libertarians accept the NAP (nobody has the right to violate the property of anyone by force), but minarchists believe some small non-zero amount of rights violations in the form of a government are necessary in order to minimize rights-violations overall (for example, to provide defense, or courts). Once again I want to emphasize the essentialy commonality between the two kinds of libertarianism under discussion: Both accept the same core ideology, the one just has a greater focus on women's rights and worker's cooperatives/unions than the other. In principle both camps should be able to agree on most politics, given of course that even libertarians who agree with each other on most issues still find things to disagree over (such as the legitimacy of fractional reserve banking for instance).

Sheldon Richman said...

As someone said, libertarianism (voluntarism) consists essentially of the same principles that good parents teach their children: Don't hit; don't take other people's stuff without asking; keep your promises. It is that simple.

Titanium Girl said...

Good post - I used to be one of the hard line "right" liberetarians - but I have moved from Rand to Rothbard and am looking forward to my progress.

Left and Paleolibertarianism makes MUCH more sense to me. It's much more humanitarian and fulfilling.