Tuesday, June 07, 2005


The Greatness asked earlier about references to left-libertarian thought, and wondered whether perhaps a lot of the proponents of left-libertarianism might not be just as far in the clouds as right-libertarians.

It's a fair question, and the reason I didn't deal with it right away is that it's very difficult to get into because the nature of left-libertarianism is that almost nobody agrees with one another closely enough to talk about a doctrine or a unified theory or anything like that. If there's one commentator in the discourse I track with most closely it's Chomsky, both with regard to his focus and his reasoning, but there are plenty of things we interpret differently.

The core principle of left-libertarianism is basically identical to the core principle of right-libertarianism, which is that the purpose of the government is to maximize the liberty of the individual while preserving above all the individual's right to life.

It's rather humorous that libertarianism, even if you add the right- and left- strains together, should be such a marginal point of view in the U.S., since the principle I just described is the stated mission of the government set forth in the United States Constitution. But presumably this is just some sort of misunderstanding.

Anyway, the differences between the philosophies of left- and right- libertarianism are subtle, but they lead to wildly different perspectives on the way the world works and how we can go about improving the condition of human beings.

A good place to start is with the writings of Rudolf Rocker (no relation to John) who was an anti-Nazi German who was basically the founder of Anarcho-syndicalism. You can probably get more than your fill of Rocker from reading his book online here.

But to get caught up in the high-level theory of anarcho-syndicalism is to miss what is the main modern current of left-libertarianism. Modern left-libertarianism as Chomsky exemplifies it is much more concerned with practical, moral matters than with a vision of an alternative society. This is naturally the case since left-libertarianism and anarcho-syndicalism specifically rejects the idea of imposing a top-down structure on society; thus the roots of a left-libertarian society must be planted within the existing society, and nurtured over many generations.

So while it might be fun to discuss the merits of anarcho-syndicalism as a theory in itself, it would be much more appropriate to talk about questions like: What would be the left-libertarian perspective on CAFTA?


Traveller said...

The marginalizing of libertarianism -- the most logical political position given our history -- most likely has to do with the personalizing of corporations way back in the 19th century. Libertarianism is mostly seen as anti-government but I think it's much less anti-government than anti-corporatist while while pro-small-business, pro individual liberties. Just a thought. Does it make any sense?

Adam P. Short said...

Well, I think you're hitting at the basic divide between right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism. To a left-libertarian, corporations and governments are in the same category and have to be evaluated on their specific merits in specific situations. To a right-libertarian, a corporate solution is always (or almost always) superior to a government solution.

BTW this is getting cumbersome. How about some orgo nomenclature here, perhaps R-Lib and S-Lib?

Anonymous said...


I agree with your comments about R-Lib and L-lib as it applies to corporations above, but a question: the R-lib people are in favor of corporations because they feel it is an extension of individual economic freedom to be able to form a corporation, put in place contracts with people, and grow it indefinitely as long as no laws are being violated. What's the thinking behind the L-lib position that they should be in the same category as governments? How would an L-lib respond to an R-lib saying that greatly restricting corporations is at odds with the stated goal of preserving personal freedom (which most understand to include economic freedom; getting a job, starting a company, putting in place a contract with another individual or business, etc)

Traveller said...

I don't think R and L lib are that closely related, but will think more about this (what is it about June and inability to think?). Meanwhile, Adam, this might interest you. "If we accept the value of diversity, then we must recognize that a lot of the 'flowers' that sprout up will not be to our liking."

uncle said...

Libertarians on both sides are merely anti-federalists. They go left and right depending upon whether they are concerned more with property rights or "civil" rights.

Traveller said...

Well, maybe I'm not a libertarian. I take libertarian as anti-authoritarian -- authoritarianism having increased tremendously in both the Dems and the Reps during the past forty years or so. I think it may be rooted in the development of corporatism and the close relationship between corporations and both parties. See this.
The page you want is "analysis." (My score is slightly left and slightly lower than the center of the lower left quadrant.)

Adam P. Short said...

I don't think much of the political-compass type tests. I can answer them truthfully (as Obi Wan said, from a certain point of view) and basically score whatever I want to on them.

I think you could probably design a test that asked specific policy questions with plenty of choices (including "this is not important to me") that would give you a pretty good picture of where you stood politically, but it would have to be really long, like the Myers-Briggs or other personality type tests.

Traveller said...

I think the test stinks but I think the development of the matrices works. Hope you got to the right page and didn't have to wade through that awful test to get there!

Anonymous said...

"To a left-libertarian, corporations and governments are in the same category and have to be evaluated on their specific merits in specific situations. To a right-libertarian, a corporate solution is always (or almost always) superior to a government solution."

Yes, but it is important to point out the the government can legally use force (the power of law enforcement or military) to achieve it's goals, whicle a corporation can not (unless they are in bed with the government, of course, and even in that situation, the government carries out the use of force). It is for this reason that most right-libertarians find the corporation solution superior. Both sides can screw you over, but the government can kill you.