Left-Libertarian FAQ

What is left-libertarianism?

Left-libertarianism is an umbrella label for mutualists, agorists, voluntaryists, geolibertarians, left-Rothbardians, green libertarians, dialectical anarchists, radical minarchists, and others on the libertarian left, united by an opposition to statism and militarism, to cultural intolerance (including sexism, racism, and homophobia), and to the prevailing corporatist capitalism falsely called a free market. There is also an emphasis on education, direct action, and building alternative institutions, rather than on electoral politics, as the chief strategy for achieving liberation.

Left-libertarianism first emerged in the 1960’s, with Murray Rothbard’s alliance with the Students for a Democratic Society and the New Left, although it has historical roots reaching back to the radical classical liberals, classical social anarchism, and American individualist anarchism.  Although this leftist tendency was eventually rejected by Rothbard, thinkers such as Samuel E. Konkin III and Karl Hess continued to develop left-libertarianism as a tradition, and founded the Movement of the Libertarian Left, which was centered around promoting agorism.  The Voluntaryist movement is another example of an early left-libertarian group.

As it is currently understood, left-libertarianism is best embodied by the Alliance of the Libertarian Left.  The ALL was formed in the wake of Konkin’s death; the executor of his estate (who has abandoned left-libertarianism) claims legal ownership of the term “Movement of the Libertarian Left”, so the need for a new organization, unaffiliated with the MLL, was felt.  The ALL also includes more than just agorists and left-Rothbardians; mutualists, geolibertarians, and others are also a large part.  The ALL continues the tradition started by Rothbard, Konkin, and Hess, and there has been a rough consensus on the subjects of historical capitalism, organization theory, social justice, and what a free society will look like.

Why is left-libertarianism “left”?

Many libertarians on one side and social liberals on the other ask this question.  Generally, both conflate leftism with an increase in state control and regulation, with libertarians obviously opposing this and social liberals supporting it, leading both to deny that libertarians can be “leftist”.

We think that this is a confusion between leftist ends and what means are used to achieve that goal.  The ends of leftism or liberalism, peace, prosperity, progress, and freedom, don’t have any necessary relation to the means that are usually called “leftist” today; legislation, regulation, and the buearacratic state.  In fact,  In “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty”, Murray Rothbard writes that those means are inherently conservative, and that state-socialists (and their milder social democrat and social liberal cousins) are a confused, middle-of-the-road group, trying to use conservative means to acheive leftist ends.  So it is then the libertarian who has the greater claim to the term “left”!

What’s more, left-libertarians explicity recognize the connection between libertarianism and leftism.  Leftist concerns such as anti-authoritarianism, mutual aid, equality of authority, and opposition to patriarchy and racism are seen as being a perfect fit with libertarian concerns about aggression and statism.  Both leftists and libertarians are also opposed to war, imperialism, and militarism, as seen by the variety of views behind AntiWar.com. Also, rather than seeing “free market” conservatives as allies, left-libertarians will more often look to the radical and revolutionary left, including the libertarian socialist and decentralist groups.

What is the Alliance of the Libertarian Left?

What is agorism?

What is counter-economics?

(distinguish between agorism and counter-economics)

(define, and give examples)

(show relation to leftist ideas, such as Proudhonian/syndicalist “building the new society” and libertarian Marxian “dual power” and “counter-institutions”)

What is mutualism?

What is voluntaryism?

What is geolibertarianism?

(needs to be edited)

Geolibertarians are libertarians who take the principle of self-ownership to what they see as it’s logical conclusion: Just as the right to one’s self implies the right to the fruit of one’s labor (i.e., the right to property), the right to the fruit of one’s labor implies the right to labor, and the right to labor implies the right to labor — somewhere. Hence John Locke’s proviso that one has “property” in land only to the extent that there is “enough, and as good left in common for others.” When there is not, land begins to have rental value. Thus, the rental value of land reflects the extent to which Locke’s proviso has been violated, thereby making community-collection of rent, or CCR, a just and necessary means of upholding the Lockean principle of private property. In the late 19th century CCR was known as the “Single Tax” — a term that was (and is) used to denote Henry George’s proposal to abolish all taxes save for a single “tax” on the value of land, irrespective of the value of improvements in or on it.

“When we tax houses, crops, money, furniture, capital or wealth in any of its forms, we take from individuals what rightfully belongs to them. We violate the right of property, and in the name of the State commit robbery. But when we tax ground values, we take from individuals what does not belong to them, but belongs to the community, and which cannot be left to individuals without robbery of other individuals” (George, The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It, p. 6).

But Doesn’t A “Tax” on Land Value Violate The Right to Property?

No. Private property derives its moral justification from the right of the individual to the fruits of his or her labor; but unlike houses, machinery, clothes, etc., land is (1) not the fruit of anyone’s labor, (2) in fixed supply, and (3) the literal foundation upon which any exercise of individual liberty must take place. Thus, while there is a right to private possession of land, the right to possession must be limited by the equal right of others.

Consider the alternative. If only some individuals “own” the earth, then only some have a right to live upon it. Consequently, those who do not own land do not have a right to the fruits of their own labor, since they are obligated at birth to pay title-holders a certain percentage of their earnings for mere access to the planet, as if title-holders are responsible for the earth’s very existence. It is thus private collection of rent, or PCR, that violates the right to property.

PCR is made possible when the State grants land-titles to a fraction of the population, thereby giving that fraction devices with which to levy tolls on the fruits of everyone else’s labor. Since these tolls are levied in exchange for a “service” (access to valuable land) that said fraction did nothing to provide, PCR is literally an entitlement scheme, i.e., a State-sanctioned transfer payment from those who produce to those who do not produce. In his essay, “The God’s Lookout,” Albert Jay Nock (author of Our Enemy, the State) explains how this particular form of welfare conflicts with the principles of laissez faire capitalism:

“This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour — nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times….People began to say, perhaps naturally, if this is what state absentation comes to, let us have some State intervention.

“But the State had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly, — the landlord’s monopoly of economic rent, — thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into the factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labour market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus.” [Emphasis Nock’s]

This is why merely reducing the size of government is not enough. In the late 19th century we had virtually everything that most libertarians of today claim they are fighting for — a tax and regulatory burden much lower than what we have now. Yet despite that fact, there was still an alarming rate of poverty amidst vast concentrations of wealth and privilege. And as Nock pointed out, this was due not to natural causes, but to the concentrated ownership of “economic rent.”

Thus, to secure a truly free and prosperous society, we must recognize and uphold both the exclusive right of each individual to the fruits of his or her labor, and the equal right of all individuals to the use of land. Abolishing taxes on production will uphold the former, while CCR will uphold the latter. Both Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, in whose names the Libertarian Party bestows awards, held essentially the same view:

“Men did not make the earth…. It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property…. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” (Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, paragraphs 11 to 15)

“Another means of silently lessening the inequality of [landed] property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed” (Thomas Jefferson, The Republic of Letters, p. 390).

Who are some thinkers who have influenced left-libertarianism?

Who are some prominent left-libertarians?

Roderick T. Long, Kevin Carson, Charles Johnson, Brad Spangler, Mike Gogulski, Arthur Silber, Shawn P. Wilbur, Jeremy Weiland, and William Gillis are some prominent left-libertarians.  Fellow-travellers include Chris M. Sciabarra, Wally Cogner, Geoffrey Allan Plauche,Stephan Kinsella, and Sean Gabb.

What are some of the differences between left-libertarians and other libertarians?

(thick vs. thin libertarianism)

(focus on social injustice)

(different freed-market predictions)

(property meta-systems)

(opposition to electoral politics)

(criticism of “big business”)

(alliance with social anarchists, libertarian socialists, and the revolutionary Left in general)

What are some of the differences between left-libertarians and social anarchists?

Contributors: Matthew Dawson, JosiahWarren; parts are based on passages written by Roderick Long for the ALL website


4 Responses to “Left-Libertarian FAQ”

  1. What Is Geolibertarianism?
    Geolibertarians are simply libertarians who take the principle of self-ownership to its logical conclusion: Just as the right to one’s self implies the right to the fruit of one’s labor (i.e., the right to property), the right to the fruit of one’s labor implies the right to labor, and the right to labor implies the right to labor — somewhere. Hence John Locke’s proviso that one has “property” in land only to the extent that there is “enough, and as good left in common for others.” When there is not, land begins to have rental value. Thus, the rental value of land reflects the extent to which Locke’s proviso has been violated, thereby making community-collection of rent, or CCR, a just and necessary means of upholding the Lockean principle of private property. In the late 19th century CCR was known as the “Single Tax” — a term that was (and is) used to denote Henry George’s proposal to abolish all taxes save for a single “tax” on the value of land, irrespective of the value of improvements in or on it.

    “When we tax houses, crops, money, furniture, capital or wealth in any of its forms, we take from individuals what rightfully belongs to them. We violate the right of property, and in the name of the State commit robbery. But when we tax ground values, we take from individuals what does not belong to them, but belongs to the community, and which cannot be left to individuals without robbery of other individuals” (George, The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It, p. 6).

    But Doesn’t A “Tax” on Land Value Violate The Right to Property?

    No. Private property derives its moral justification from the right of the individual to the fruits of his or her labor; but unlike houses, machinery, clothes, etc., land is (1) not the fruit of anyone’s labor, (2) in fixed supply, and (3) the literal foundation upon which any exercise of individual liberty must take place. Thus, while there is a right to private possession of land, the right to possession must be limited by the equal right of others.

    Consider the alternative. If only some individuals “own” the earth, then only some have a right to live upon it. Consequently, those who do not own land do not have a right to the fruits of their own labor, since they are obligated at birth to pay title-holders a certain percentage of their earnings for mere access to the planet, as if title-holders are responsible for the earth’s very existence. It is thus private collection of rent, or PCR, that violates the right to property.

    PCR is made possible when the State grants land-titles to a fraction of the population, thereby giving that fraction devices with which to levy tolls on the fruits of everyone else’s labor. Since these tolls are levied in exchange for a “service” (access to valuable land) that said fraction did nothing to provide, PCR is literally an entitlement scheme, i.e., a State-sanctioned transfer payment from those who produce to those who do not produce. In his essay, “The God’s Lookout,” Albert Jay Nock (author of Our Enemy, the State) explains how this particular form of welfare conflicts with the principles of laissez faire capitalism:

    “This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour — nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times….People began to say, perhaps naturally, if this is what state absentation comes to, let us have some State intervention.

    “But the State had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly, — the landlord’s monopoly of economic rent, — thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into the factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labour market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus.” [Emphasis Nock’s]

    This is why merely reducing the size of government is not enough. In the late 19th century we had virtually everything that most libertarians of today claim they are fighting for — a tax and regulatory burden much lower than what we have now. Yet despite that fact, there was still an alarming rate of poverty amidst vast concentrations of wealth and privilege. And as Nock pointed out, this was due not to natural causes, but to the concentrated ownership of “economic rent.”

    Thus, to secure a truly free and prosperous society, we must recognize and uphold both the exclusive right of each individual to the fruits of his or her labor, and the equal right of all individuals to the use of land. Abolishing taxes on production will uphold the former, while CCR will uphold the latter. Both Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, in whose names the Libertarian Party bestows awards, held essentially the same view:

    “Men did not make the earth…. It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property…. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” (Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, paragraphs 11 to 15)

    “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of [landed] property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed” (Thomas Jefferson, The Republic of Letters, p. 390).

  2. […] I’ve recently restarted work on the Left-Libertarian FAQ, after a long hiatus. Anyone who wishes to contribute, or has suggestions for edits or editions, […]

  3. I’ve been talking to some ansocs and reading their FAQ and I have a few ideas of what should go in the bit about social anarchism.
    The similarities are:
    We are both against the state and see all violence other than defensive violence as an act of exploitation. However we have different definitions on what counts as aggression. Many ansocs for example would consider an employment contract to be domination over the employee making force against the employer legitimate.
    We are both against dominant social classes in general (racism, sexism, concentration of wealth etc) as opposed to ignoring or even promoting them as some right libertarians are prone to do. What we disagree on is the means to achieve these ends.
    The differences:
    The main difference is a philosophical approach. Social anarchists’ opposition to the state is part of their ideas on class war in general whereas more individualistic forms of anarchism tend to start from an abstract concept of freedom and adapt it to real life. Of course the two don’t neccessarily have to contradict each other.
    Then there are the obvious differences on markets and property.
    This is relevant
    http://aaeblog.com/2009/05/15/anarcho-communists-for-private-property/comment-page-1/#comment-350882

    This is all written badly and basically just notes (probably incomplete ones too) so i’ll need to update it in a bit but it’ll do for a start.

    Other than that I have a couple of points to make about the FAQ.
    “This is why merely reducing the size of government is not enough. In the late 19th century we had virtually everything that most libertarians of today claim they are fighting for — a tax and regulatory burden much lower than what we have now. Yet despite that fact, there was still an alarming rate of poverty amidst vast concentrations of wealth and privilege.”
    This is surely a misrepresentation of the rest of the ALL.

    Also if I didn’t know much about left libertarianism I’m not sure the “what is left libertarianism?” section would explain much about what our ideas are.

    That said, keep up the good work. I’ll write a bit more when I next have some free time.

  4. Left-libertarianism is awesome.
    I’ve been looking for a way to combine my socialist opposition to statist capitalism and my love of classical liberalism into one big ideology for a while now, and I think I might’ve just found it.

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