What i do not mean by left libertarianism
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What I do NOT mean by “left-libertarianism”. The Vallentyne -Otsuka-Steiner (VOS) position that combines self-ownership with common resource ownership (dubbed “left-libertarianism” in the 1990s)

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What I do NOT mean by “left-libertarianism”

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What i do not mean by left libertarianism

What I do NOT mean by“left-libertarianism”

  • The Vallentyne-Otsuka-Steiner (VOS) position that combines self-ownership with common resource ownership (dubbed “left-libertarianism” in the 1990s)

  • The communist anarchist position (occasionally dubbed “left-libertarianism” in the early 1900s, but more frequently in the 1970s


What i do mean by left libertarianism

What I DO mean by“left-libertarianism”

A movement

  • growing out of the rapprochement of market libertarianism and the New Left in the 1960s and 70s, but

  • having roots in the individualist anarchism of the 19th century, and

  • emerging in its current form over the past decade.


Terminological prolegomena

Terminological Prolegomena

  • The term “libertarian” (as “libertaire”), designating a specific political position, originates in 1857 with Joseph Déjacqueas term for his own communist anarchism

  • By the 1880s it is also being used by market-oriented anarchists, e.g. in Benjamin Tucker’s journal Liberty

  • Nowadays French has two words for “libertarian”: “libertaire” (Déjacquean) and “libertarien” (market)


Terminological prolegomena1

Terminological Prolegomena

  • The term “left-libertarian” appears to emerge as a way of differentiating anarchist communism from market libertarianism

  • Hence “left-libertarian” becomes more common as “libertarian” becomes more common

  • Attested as early as 1917, it’s still uncommon before the mid-1970s


Terminological prolegomena2

Terminological Prolegomena

  • A new sense of “left-libertarian” (but still two decades older than the VOS sense) emerges in the 1970s

  • This is the most common sense within the libertarian movement itself

  • Unlike the Déjacquean and VOS senses, this sense refers to a form of, not an alternative to, market libertarianism: the “left wing” of the market libertarian movement


Terminological prolegomena3

Terminological Prolegomena

  • One early use of “left-libertarian” in this sense: Roy A. Childs Jr., “How Bad is the U.S. Government?,” The Abolitionist, May 1971

  • Samuel E. Konkin III’s “Movement of the Libertarian Left” dates from 1978


Usual features of left libertarianism

Usual Features of Left-Libertarianism

  • radical (usually anarchistic) commitment to freed markets, private property, and laissez-faire

  • opposition to hierarchical workplaces, corporate dominance, and gross economic inequality as evils both akin to and largely enabled by statism

  • opposition to forms of social privilege such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and cissexism, as evils both akin to statism and standing in relationships of mutual support with it


Usual features of left libertarianism1

Usual Features of Left-Libertarianism

  • orientation toward class analysis

  • opposition to militarism, nationalism, and intellectual property

  • support for environmentalism and open borders 

  • preference for restitution over punishment

  • strategic emphasis on education, direct action, and building alternative institutions, rather than electoral politics


Distinct from bleeding heart libertarianism

Distinct From Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism

  • BHL combines free markets with social justice concerns, as do left-libertarians

  • But BHL is broader; includes not only left-libertarians (whose leftism and libertarianism reinforce each other: fusing Rothbard with Graeber) but also liberaltarians (whose leftism and libertarianism moderate each other: fusing Hayek with Rawls)


Origins of left libertarianism

Origins of Left-Libertarianism

  • In one sense, left-libertarianism can be traced back to the English Levellers of the 1640s

  • But if we’re looking for a movement that is seen, and sees itself, as a) market-libertarian, but b) significantly to the “left” of other market libertarians, the early 19th century seems to be our starting point


Origins of left libertarianism1

Origins of Left-Libertarianism

  • First Wave: 19th-century individualist anarchists

  • Second Wave: the libertarian / New Left rapprochement of the 1960s-70s

  • Third Wave: the past decade


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

Crucial prehistory of left-libertarianism: the “Industrialist”: movement

  • leaders of authoritarian wing: Auguste Comte, Henri de Saint-Simon

  • leaders of libertarian wing: Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Augustin Thierry

  • journal of libertarian wing: Le Censeur (1814-1815) and its successor, Le CenseurEuropéen (1817-1820)


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class1

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

“Industrialists” anticipate Marx:

  • in seeing society as the scene of a struggle between an exploiting and an exploited (“industrious”) class

  • in looking forward to a social transformation that will end this class division forever


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class2

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

“Industrialists” differ from Marx:

  • in seeing differential access to political power rather than differential access to the means of production as the crucial enabler of exploitation

  • this class division cuts across that between capitalists and workers


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class3

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

“Industrialists” differ from one another:

  • authoritarian wing’s solution: replace aristocrats in the top political slots with representatives of the industrious class (anticipates Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat)

  • libertarian wing’s solution: dismantle the political hierarchy itself rather than merely changing the personnel (anticipates Marx’s withering of the state)


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class4

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

  • States are “monstrous aggregations ... formed and made necessary by the spirit of domination .... [The] spirit of industry will dissolve them [and] municipalisethe world [as] centers of actions ... multiply.”

    – Charles Dunoyer

  • “Federations will replace states; the chains of interest ... will succeed the despotism of men and of laws; the tendency toward government ... will cede to the free community .... The era of empire is finished; the era of association begins.”

    – Augustin Thierry


Before the first wave the industrialist theory of class5

Before the First Wave:The Industrialist Theory of Class

Liberals influenced by the Censeur group and their theory of class:

  • Adolphe-JérômeBlanqui

  • FrédéricBastiat

  • Gustave de Molinari

  • probably James Mill:

    “We must call to mind the division which philosophers have made of men placed in society. ... The first class, Ceux qui pillent, are the small number. They are the ruling Few. The second class, Ceux qui sontpillés, are the great number. They are the subject Many.”


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

“No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. ...


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class1

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

... What I did that was new was to prove:

  • that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production ...

  • that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,

  • that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class2

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

Marx’s claim that the “bourgeois economists/historians” did not anticipate an end to class conflict is:

  • incorrect if “class” is understood as they understood it (in terms of access to political power)

  • correct if “class” is understood as Marx understands it (in terms of monopolisation of the means of production)

    The Censeur group did not challenge the separation of labour from ownership


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class3

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

“When one casts a superficial glance at even the best organised societies, and sees, beside a large number of men who live off the products of their lands, a still larger number who have nothing to live on but the products of their daily labour, one is tempted to consider the former as clever usurpers and the latter as dupes or victims; one would readily demand that the division be done anew so that each might have his share. ...


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class4

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

... This apparent injustice disappears, at least in great part, when one admits in principle that every man is the proprietor of the values that he has created; when one observes the way in which property is formed and the way in which the various classes increase their numbers. Fortunes made by fraud or violence are the only ones that morality and justice may condemn.”

– Charles Comte


Marx vs the industrialist theory of class5

Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class

Here Comte

  • acknowledges the attractiveness of a Marxian-style means-of-production version of class analysis

  • nonetheless rejects it in favour of a Censeur-style force-and-fraud version

  • assumes that the division between propertied employers and propertyless workers is “at least in great part” legitimate, because NOT the product of force or fraud


Left libertarianism s first wave

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • For the Censeurgroup, political violence explains pre-capitalist economic divisions but not capitalist ones

  • For Marx, by contrast, the “historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production” is “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire”

  • The left-libertarian agrees with the Censeurgroup on property rights but with Marx on history


Left libertarianism s first wave1

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

For individualist anarchist Thomas Hodgskin, “the share claimed by the capitalist for the use of fixed capital” is “derived from the whole surface of the country, having been at one period monopolised by a few persons,” since the landlord is “the descendant of those who forcibly appropriated,” while the capitalist, by “obtaining from the landlord interest or profit on his property, shared his power.”


Left libertarianism s first wave2

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • Proper basis of property rights for Hodgskin: Lockean homesteading via labour-mixing, “ordained by nature”

  • Basis of capitalist property rights: violent usurpation “created and protected by the law”

  • Hodgskingrounds a means-of-production class theory in a political-power class theory


Left libertarianism s first wave3

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • Hodgskin both criticises and is criticised by other radical market liberals more favourable to capitalism

  • Hodgskin’sLabour Defended (a reference to James Mill’s Commerce Defended) includes Mill among those whose “notions of the nature and utility of capital” he aims to “refute”

  • Mill for his part says that Hodgskin’s “mad nonsense ... would be the subversion of civilised society; worse than the overwhelming deluge of Huns and Tartars”

  • Charles Knight adds that Hodgskin would give us “skins instead of cloth, hollow trees instead of houses”


Left libertarianism s first wave4

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • With Hodgskin a position emerges that is clearly identifiable as a) a radical form of market libertarianism, but b) to the left of mainstream market libertarianism

  • Similar ideas emerge slightly later, apparently independently, in France (P.-J. Proudhon) and the United States (anarchist-feminist-abolitionists Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews)

  • Their views are inherited by the American individualist anarchists, including Ezra and Angela Heywood, Lysander Spooner, William B. Greene, Benjamin Tucker, and Voltairine de Cleyre (many called themselves socialists and were members of the First International)


Tucker s four monopolies

Tucker’s Four Monopolies

  • land monopoly (use-and-occupancy as criterion for continued ownership)

  • money monopoly (mutual

    banking will free credit)

  • tariff monopoly

  • patent monopoly

    And underlying all four, the state monopoly


Tucker s four monopolies1

Tucker’s Four Monopolies

Spooner disagrees with Tucker on need for ongoing land use to retain property titles, but agrees that

  • much landed property has been established by legal privilege rather than homesteading

  • freer markets would undermine the wage system by increasing opportunities for self-employment (whether individual or collective); working for an employer would become an option, not a necessity


Left libertarianism s first wave5

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • Tucker condemns anti-market socialists like Marx, who thinks that the “only way to abolish the class monopolies” is to “centralize and consolidate all industrial and commercial interests, all productive and distributive agencies, in one vast monopoly in the hands of the State.”

  • Tucker also condemns right-wing libertarians like Herbert Spencer and the Manchester liberals for “believ[ing] in liberty to compete with the laborer in order to reduce his wages, but not in liberty to compete with the capitalist in order to reduce his usury.”


Left libertarianism s first wave6

Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave

  • “Liberty’s aim – universal happiness – is that of all Socialists, in contrast with that of the Manchester men – luxury fed by misery. But its principle – individual sovereignty – is that of the Manchester men, in contrast with that of the Socialists – individual subordination. But individual sovereignty, when logically carried out, leads, not to luxury fed by misery, but to comfort for all industrious persons ....”

    – Benjamin R. Tucker


Left libertarianism s second wave

Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave

  • During the early 20th century, libertarians drift into an alliance with conservatives against state socialism

  • Left-libertarianism becomes less prominent

  • In the 1960s, partly in response to the rise of the New Left (including historians like Gabriel Kolko’s), it is revived by Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, Robert Anton Wilson, and others

  • Rothbardian Carl Oglesby becomes president of the Students for a Democratic Society


Left libertarianism s second wave1

Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave

  • Hess defines the “left wing” as “the side of politics and economics that opposes the concentration of power and wealth and, instead, advocates and works toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.”

  • The abolition of slavery is a “great unfinished business,” since merely “setting slaves free, in a world still owned by their masters,” is unjust.

  • Libertarianism seeks to “advance principles of property,” but not to “defend ... all property which now is called private.”


Left libertarianism s second wave2

Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave

Rothbard likewise places libertarianism on the left and conservatism (the “polar opposite of liberty”) on the right, seeing state-socialism as a “confused, middle-of-the road movement” that accepts “the liberal goals of freedom, reason, mobility, progress, higher living standards the masses, and an end to theocracy and war; but [tries] to achieve these ends by the use of incompatible, Conservative means: statism, central planning, communitarianism.”


Left libertarianism s second wave3

Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave

  • “Regulations that present-day Rightists think of as ‘socialistic’ were not only uniformly hailed, but conceived and brought about by big businessmen. This was a conscious effort to fasten upon the economy a cement of subsidy, stabilization, and monopoly privilege.”

  • Rothbard even calls for worker takeover of government-funded corporations (e.g. military-industrial complex)

  • Does not challenge the wage system, but some Rothbardians (e.g. Konkin) do


Left libertarianism s third wave

Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave

  • With collapse of the New Left, Rothbard begins a retreat toward a more right-wing form of libertarianism

  • Konkin continues to develop an “agorist” libertarian left, focusing on counter-economic action to undermine the state

  • In the 1990s, Chris M. Sciabarra develops a left-friendly dialectical libertarian theory drawing on Marx, F. A. Hayek, and Ayn Rand


Left libertarianism s third wave1

Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave

  • In the 21st century’s first decade, a new left-libertarianism emerges, drawing on Hodgskin, Tucker, Rothbard, Hess, Wilson, Konkin, and Sciabarra, as well as on anti-market anarchists like Kropotkin

  • Leading figures include Kevin Carson, Charles W. Johnson, and Gary Chartier

  • Competition is seen as a levelling force; vast inequalities are hard to sustain if imitation is permitted


Kevin carson

Kevin Carson

Carson follows Tucker in defending

  • a subjectivised version of the labour theory of value (disutility of providing good sets lower price limit; competition sets upper price limit)

  • a use-and-occupancy theory of property rights (natural rights specify some form of private property but not what kind; pragmatic considerations specify more)

    But Carson stresses that his conclusions do not depend, for the most part, on these premises


Kevin carson1

Kevin Carson

Carson combines, updates, and extends:

  • Hodgskin’s and Marx’s accounts of the historical origin of the capitalist monopoly of the means of production in government intervention

  • Tucker’s, Kolko’s, and Rothbard’s accounts of the ways in which state privilege continues to benefit capital at the expense of labour

  • Rothbard’s and Hess’s calls for redistribution of property arising from state privilege


Kevin carson2

Kevin Carson

Carson’s terminology:

  • Vulgar libertarianism: treating the virtues of a free market as though they legitimised existing corporate capitalism (example: Ayn Rand)

  • Vulgar liberalism: treating the evils of existing corporate capitalism as though they constituted an objection to free markets (example: Noam Chomsky)

    These enable conservatives to pose as foes of big government and liberals to pose as foes of big business, when both in practice support business-government partnership


Kevin carson3

Kevin Carson

  • As firms grow larger and more hierarchical, diseconomies of scale overtake economies of scale – unless state privilege insulates them from competition

  • It is labour legislation, not the nature of unions, that diverts unions from being agents of worker empowerment to being labour cartels

  • What is called deregulation leaves “primary” pro-business regulations in place and removes only “secondary” alleviatory regulations, thus increasing state intervention


Gary chartier on capitalism

Gary Chartier on “Capitalism”

  • “capitalism1: an economic system that features personal property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services

  • capitalism2: an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government

  • capitalism3: rule – of workplaces, society, and ... the state – by capitalists”


Gary chartier on capitalism1

Gary Chartier on “Capitalism”

  • Three senses are frequently conflated but are actually incompatible: support for capitalism1 negates capitalism2 and thereby undermines capitalism3

  • The word “capitalism” suggests a system favouring capital owners over labourers and so should be abandoned by free-market advocates, since genuinely freed markets empower workers

  • Equation of markets with the cash nexus should also be resisted


Left libertarianism s third wave2

Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave

  • Left-libertarians also revive and extend the 19th-century individualist anarchists’ commitments to feminism, antiracism, antimilitarism, environmentalism, etc.

  • Like their 19th-century forebears, left-libertarians see statism, patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia etc. as mutually reinforcing forms of oppression, and thus as demanding a unified, activist, but non-governmental response


Charles johnson on hayek and feminism

Charles Johnson on Hayek and Feminism

“‘Spontaneous order’ can be used to mean a macro-scale pattern of social coordination which is:

  • Consensualrather than coercive (when ‘spontaneous’ means ‘uncoerced’);

  • Polycentricor participatory rather than directive (when ‘spontaneous’ means ‘unprompted’); or

  • Emergentrather than a consciously designed pattern (when ‘spontaneous’ means ‘not planned in advance’)”


Charles johnson on hayek and feminism1

Charles Johnson on Hayek and Feminism

Disentangling these usually conflated senses allows for the possibility of

  • polycentric and undesigned but nonconsensual orders (rape culture)

  • consensualand participatory but designed orders (Wikipedia, grassroots activism)

    The first shows why libertarians are wrong to think only state action is oppressive

    The second shows why feminists are wrong to think only state action can combat oppression


Charles johnson on thick vs thin libertarianism

Charles Johnson on Thick vs. Thin Libertarianism

Libertarians as libertarians must embrace certain values causally or conceptually connected with, even though not entailed by, the nonaggression principle (NAP)

  • grounds thickness: values entailed by the best reasons for NAP (anti-authoritarianism)

  • application thickness: values needed in order to apply NAP correctly (animal rights)

  • strategic thickness: causal preconditions for implementing NAP (gross economic inequality)

  • consequence thickness: opposing independently bad things caused by NAP violations (sweatshops)


Advantage of left libertarianism

Advantage of Left-Libertarianism

  • Should the baseline for mutual advantage be equality (Rawls) or natural entitlement (Nozick)?

  • Nozickian “historical” justice lays bare the causesof inequality in class domination and so does better, not worse, job than Rawls of condemning existing inequalities (despite Nozick’s intentions)

  • Rawlsian and Nozickian standards usually thought to conflict: means-of-production class theory à la Marx favours egalitarian baseline while Censeur-style force-and-fraudclass theory favours natural-entitlement baseline

  • But if means-of-production class theory can be grounded in force-and-fraudclass theory à la Hodgskin, Tucker, and Carson, we don’t have to choose but can accommodate the intuitions supporting both baselines


Advantage of left libertarianism1

Advantage of Left-Libertarianism

What of counterfactual conflicts between the baselines? Options:

  • choose property rights over economic equality

  • choose economic equality over property rights

  • forge a compromise through mutual adjustment

  • deny the possibility of systematic conflicts for beings like us

    These are the same options raised by conflict between consequentialism and deontology and so are no special problem for left-libertarianism


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