Why I Am A Left-Libertarian

•11/28/2009 • 11 Comments

I am a left-libertarian. This is a position that seems contradictory to many, both libertarian and not; libertarianism is traditionally seen as being a movement of the Right, or even the farthest extreme of the Right, existing as an apologetic philosophy for corporatism and elitism. I believe that this is fundamentally mistaken. The Right, I think, is properly seen today as being the status quo of state-capitalism, dominated by an elite of bureaucrats and plutocrats, whose ends are power and authority at the expense of everyone else. Even modern day “liberals” and social democrats are rightist in this sense; merely reforming a fundamentally evil system is not enough, and the state-socialist means of compulsion and centralization contradict their declared “leftist” ends. Thus, the Left is properly conceived as being those whose ends are peace, justice, and prosperity, and whose means don’t conflict with those ends.

For libertarians reading this, it will probably help if I explain why I am a “thick” libertarian first, as opposed to “thin” libertarianism. Thin libertarianism is the position that politics is the ethics of the use of force; nothing more and nothing less. Political philosophy doesn’t and can’t have anything to say about society, other than that aggression is wrong. Any set of social and cultural norms is seen as being compatible with the political philosophy of liberty, as long as they are non-coercive. Thick libertarianism, on the other hand, is the position that liberty is fundamentally intertwined with other concerns. Politics is broader than statements about the permissible use of force, and justice is more than non-aggression. Note that left-libertarians are not the only thick libertarians; paleolibertarian conservatives and Objectivists also hold thick views on political philosophy.

I am a left-libertarian, because I am a thick libertarian who sees that the “leftist” values of anti-authoritarianism, mutuality, and equality are fundamentally entailed by the same principles that make me anti-statist. A society built on authority and hierarchy, where social evils such as patriarchy and xenophobia are widely accepted cultural norms, is not a just society, even if it is non-coercive. A just society is one where every individual’s flourishing is not subject to the arbitrary whims of others, one where people are not held back by society, but instead encouraged to become the best person that they can be.




Rothbard on Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean Applied to Politics

•07/27/2009 • 1 Comment

I was browsing through some old Rothbard articles on LRC, and I came across an old quote that I had been meaning to discuss for a while.  It comes from “The Heresy of Prudence”:

As Mr. Meyer has himself pointed out, the Aristotelian “golden mean” bears no relation to the attempt by hawkers for “moderation” or “prudence” to weaken high principle. Aristotle’s virtues properly apply to cases where more or less of a certain act changes its qualitative merits. Thus, “too little” food and “too much” food are both bad for the individual. But politics is an entirely different matter. For here we are dealing with acts that remain qualitatively identical regardless of number: e.g., the murder of 10 people is the same type of act as the murder of 100. In neither case do we abandon principle. In one, we uphold the rational principle of “optimum food”; in the other, the rational principle of “abstaining from murder.”

I think that, contra Rothbard, the doctrine of the mean can apply to this situation.  Using the Rothbardian defintion of politics, the proper use of force, there can be a deficiency of force: pacifism, by which I mean the lack of any use of force against people or property, even when one is being aggressed agaisnt.  The golden mean would then be self-defense, the use of force in response to aggression (this isn’t to say that abstaining from using force in self-defense is necessarily wrong; it depends on the context).

Of course, Rothbard’s formulation is correct as far as it goes; aggression is bad/wrong, and non-aggression is good/right.  But I think this dialectical reformulation is better for a non-axiomatic conception of the NAP; instead of being a dualism seperated from the rest of ethics, the proper use of force is better reconciled with the other virtues.

Instead of a Blog Post…

•07/20/2009 • Leave a Comment

“Human Flourishing as the Basis of Thick Libertarianism”, on the Mises forums.  Here’s the OP:

Given the debate occuring in the “The Libertarian Revolution: The Proletariat Revolution?” thread, I thought I would make clear, once and for all, why I think opposing non-aggressive social evils is a necessary part of a truly libertarian politics.

Fundamentally, what I value is eudaimonia, best translated as human flourishing.  It is the actualization of each person’s unique potential, living intelligently, fulfilling one’s natural end as a rational, social, and political animal.  Different goods and habits (virtues) make up one’s eudaimonia, including rationality, pride, productivity, benevolence, etc. (some of the major virtues) and health, wealth, honor, friendship, etc. (some important goods).  The individual weighing of goods and virtues, and what actually constitutes them, is ultimately up to one’s practical reason.

However, one must be in control of their actions for them to be truly good; if you aren’t making decisions for yourself, you aren’t flourishing.  This is because no one can have more knowledge of what constitutes your natural end than yourself; it is dependent on personal attributes that differ from person to person.  Thus, one must be autonomous and in control of one’s actions, just as a precondition (not a guarantee) of flourishing.

This is why aggression is wrong; fundamentally, it is the control of one person over another (you can think of property as being an extension of self in this situation).  By initiating the use of force, or the threat of the use of force, you are imposing yourself on a person and preventing them from flourshing.  What’s more, you yourself are impeding your own flourshing.  As  rational, social, and political animals, humans have the potential to communicate and interact peacefully, and without the use of aggression.  Given that this potential is uniquely human, and a universal part of everyone’s natural end, aggressors, to the extent that they are using aggression, are not flourishing.

However, there is more than just aggression that can comprimise one’s autonomy.  Manifestations of collectivism, such as racism and patriarchy, can also constrain one’s choices in a way that leads one to deviate from one’s natural end, through no fault of their own.  This, of course, cannot be solved through the use of force; that would be aggressive, and acting aggresively, as I stated earlier, is fundamentally not an instance of flourishing.  It can, however, be solved by non-aggressive means, including but not limited to education, economic boycott, and social ostracism.

There are also other related reasons why non-aggressive social evils should be opposed.  For one, they tend to encourage instances of aggression; racist attitudes encourage lynchs, patriarchy encourages rape, and so on.  For utlitiarian reasons, then, one should also oppose such systems.  Also, collectivism (which all social evils are ultimately manifestations of) is fundamentally irrational; by judging people by which arbitrary class they belong to, rather than the quality of their character or what they have to offer you in free association, you are going against your own natural end.

For more, see “A Groundwork for Rights: Man’s Natural End” by Douglas Rasmussen, “Aristotelian Liberalism” by Geoffrey Allan Plauche, and “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin” by Charles Johnson

An Apology and a Promotion

•06/17/2009 • Leave a Comment

First of all, I apologize for not posting for a while.  I have several pretty good starts at substantional posts, so I’ll try and get some of those up and ready soon.

Second, due to the recent nastiness involving Bureaucrash and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (here, here, and here for more), a new, post-Bureaucrash social network for liberty activism has been started, spearheaded by the (in)famous stateless agorist Mike Gogulski, FR33 Agents, so join today!  You may also notice that I have removed Bureaucrash from my links, and added FR33 Agents.

Gil Guillory on Private Security

•05/19/2009 • 1 Comment

A belated announcement:

Libertarian entrepreneur and Molinari Institute Research Associate Gil Guillory has an excellent podcast on private security start-ups (what he calls subscription patrol and restitution, or SPR) on the Libertarian Christians blog.  It is an excellent example of what could be called white market agorism (although perhaps a redefinition of grey market is in order…).  Required listening!

(more on SPR here)

Bob Barr On Why You Should Trust The State

•05/07/2009 • Leave a Comment

Over at Austro-Athenian Empire, Roderick Long writes about a recent article by Bob Barr, in which he bemoans the fact that people are losing faith in the US government.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Yes, he was the “Libertarian” Party candidate for president in ’08.  If this isn’t clinching evidence that the “L”P (at least the LNC) is now a mouthpiece for “free-market” conservatives, and that libertarian electoral politics is a bad joke at best and counter-revolutionary at worst, I don’t know what is.  Partyarchy for the fail.

A Meta-Defense of Mutualism

•05/06/2009 • 2 Comments

Often in ancap circles, one finds criticisms of the specific recommendations of mutualism, especially the idea of occupancy/use as being the basis of property.  However, I think that some of these criticisms somewhat miss the point, and I thought I would do everyone the pleasure of clarifying the debate.  I myself am not a mutualist, although my views are heavily influenced by Tucker and Carson, and I think that the principle of mutuality can be integrated within an Aristotelian liberal approach, as part of the virtue of justice.

A common argument against the occupancy and use standard is a reductio ad absurdum: one often finds the example of a man holding a piano.  He can do anything he wants with it, as long as he doesn’t put it down and leave, because he would have relinquished his claim to it.  I think that this misses the point, for several reasons.

First off, the mutualist approach to property is purely consequentialist; there is nothing inherent to mutualism that demands that occupancy and use is the only standard by with property is to be judged.  By contrast, most ancaps take a partially or completely deontological approach to property, and derive it from first principles (part of the issue also stems from the tendency of some ancaps to take property rights out of their proper context).  Thus, from the ancap’s perspective, it makes sense to use the reductio mentioned above as a condemnation of mutualism as a whole, while the mutualist will think it a strawman.

The actual mutualist position is that rules for property acquisition and abandonment will follow the general social consensus.  Occupancy and use is upheld because it is thought to be the best general standard (whether it is or not is another issue entirely), but the way that it is applied will follow what people think is fair and just.  Thus, a squatter who moves in to your house while you go out for groceries almost certainly won’t be considered the rightful owner; that’s not fair or just, and it wouldn’t have the best consequences for society in general.  (And to anyone concerned about the use of the word “social consensus”, just substitute “common law”.)

Also, the differences between occupancy/use and neo-Lockean property rules are often overblown.  They are differences of degree, not of kind; there are just different standards of what constitutes abandonment and acquisition.  In Anarchotopia, I would expect that different jurisdictions and communities would have different property rules, ranging from mutualist to neo-Lockean to proviso Lockean and geolibertarian, and mixes of them.  Roderick Long’s Land-Locked in the JLS issue on Mutualist Politcal Economy, and Carson’s rejoinders in the same issue, are good further reading.  Also, an old post of mine on the paralells between Douglas B. Rasmussen & Douglas J. Den Uyl and Kevin Carson on the philosophy of property rights.


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