Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Clarification concerning the term "left-libertarian"

I feel as though I need to make such a clarification due to a certain usage of the term that has zero relevance to actual left-libertarianism. Certain libertarians of the paleo persuasion have referred to Beltway libertarians, the ones who are often overly PC and kissing up to the powerful at various cocktail parties in order to one day acquire some power themselves, as being "left-libertarians". I noticed it again a few minutes ago while reading the comments of this No Treason post. This is bogus.

First off, if you want to specify this group of libertarian with a certain label, there are many others to choose from. There is the one I already mentioned (Beltway libertarian), there is also "cocktail-party libertarian", "leashitarians", "establishment libertarians", or "regime libertarians".

Those who equate the likes of Tom Palmer or other Beltway types with "left-libertarianism" likely do so because they equate increased statism with the left. If this notion regarding the left were true, then wouldn't practically every politician not named Ron Paul be a leftist? Sounds pretty silly, if you ask me. Many of these Beltway types also happen to be supporters of US militarism and occasionally slip into vulgar libertarian mode by equating actually existing capitalism with free markets rather than statist capitalism. Not only are such traits not leftist in nature, but they also allow people on the left to mischaracterize all libertarians by saying, among other things, that "libertarians are just a bunch of pot-smoking Republicans".

Left and right have different meanings to different people. I remember reading a Playboy interview with Karl Hess where he made the following comment:
Most analysts see the political spectrum as a great circle, with authoritarian governments of the right and the left intersecting at a point directly opposite representational democracy. But my notion of politics is that it follows a straight line, with all authoritarian societies on the right and all libertarian societies on the left. So for me, the extreme right is an absolute monarchy or dictatorship. On the right, law and order means the law of the ruler and the order that serves the interests of that ruler: orderly workers, submissive students, cowed or indoctrinated elders. Hitler, Stalin, and Huey Long were all right-wingers because their regimes concentrated power in the fewest possible hands. The far left favors the distribution of money and power into the maximum number of hands.

Although Hess's view of politics, which is derived from the original conceptions of left and right, is most certainly a minority view today, it goes to show how left and right don't have a universal meaning. Additionally, there are plenty of people who call themselves "right-wingers" who are clearly authoritarian (like Republicans not named Ron Paul) and there are self-styled "left-wingers" who are anti-authoritarian. All this is despite the fact that many still equate increased statism with left-wing politics.

If people want to associate the left with increased statism, that's their business and I won't try to stop them. These people need to realize though that the term "left-libertarianism" does have a somewhat specific meaning, and that meaning does not encompass the likes of Tom Palmer or any of the other Beltway types who brag about having connections to scumbags like Dick Cheney or whomever. As Upaya's most recent post spells out, there are roughly three different types of libertarian who may fall into the category of "left-libertarian": geoists (georgists), mutualists, and left-Rothbardians (agorists). Aside from the georgists, the other groups are essentially anarchist in nature, although there are some people who apparently call themselves "anarcho-georgist".

*UPDATE: BK Marcus has chimed in with a post titled "neither Left nor Right", which consists of a lengthy quote from Leonard E. Read on the subject of libertarianism falling into neither directional camp. His comments on the subject are absolutely worth keeping in mind since they are ultimately true. However, I increasingly see the need to distinguish myself from those "libertarians" who promote things that I find objectionable. I explained this in the following comment that I left behind on BK's post:
I essentially agree, and I've blogged on this subject before (one such post was called "Up-wingers Unite"). Libertarians are ultimately above the factions of authoritarians who label themselves as "left-wing" or "right-wing".

Despite this, there's no denying the fact that there are many different types of libertarians, and some of them have opinions on certain matters that others may want nothing to do with. Because of this, certain groups may see some value in distinguishing themselves from the types of libertarianism that they find objectionable.

Those who are increasingly using the term "left-libertarian" fall into this category. Some of them don't want to be affiliated or otherwise lumped into the same category as the LP. Others may want to distance themselves from the "libertarians" who support US militarism.

If anything, the term "left-libertarian", in my mind, challenges the notion held by most people that all libertarians are radical right-wingers. I absolutely, positively, do not want to be portrayed that way! That is one of the reasons why I'm open to the term "left-libertarian".


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9 Comments:

Blogger Logan said...

I stumbled onto your blog through linking back from Upaya's blog through Kevin's Mutalist blog. Noticed I'm on your lengthy blogroll, I'll be sure to add yours to mind soon. If you're a semi-regular reader of Freedom Democrats you'll notice that I recently referred to this entry. I've been thinking a lot about labels recently for a book I'm writing and I wanted to thank you for pointing out the interview with Karl Hess. I'm using his definition of left and right in the book based on its original use and I didn't know that it still was used that was in somewhat contemporary times. I was wondering what you thought about definitions in general. The way I view left and right is that they deal with the question, "Who governs?" while libertarianism and its subsets are an answer to the question, "How do those that govern decide what to do?"

1:20 AM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

"The far left favors the distribution of money and power into the maximum number of hands." (Hess)

That's very cute. Adorable. It niftily dodges the matter of production (and its corollary: private property). It simply assumes the existence of "money" as a metaphysical given, thereafter to be "distribute[d]".

And what recourse to deal with dissenters who insist on keeping what they produce? "Blank out."

This asshole is seriously deluded, and so are you.

3:47 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

That's very cute. Adorable. It niftily dodges the matter of production (and its corollary: private property). It simply assumes the existence of "money" as a metaphysical given, thereafter to be "distribute[d]".

I believe that Hess's comments concerning left and right in general are based on the original definitions of left and right that came about during the French Revolution.

The issue of money is not one where I have much knowledge to speak of, but I do know that Hess (and many libertarians) are opposed to centralized banking. It is argued by some that central banking creates a money monopoly that results in the concentration of wealth. Authoritarian lefties may support central banking, but anti-authoritarian lefties do not.

And what recourse to deal with dissenters who insist on keeping what they produce? "Blank out."

I don't exactly understand what you're trying to say here, but it sounds as if you're referring to authoritarian lefties who endorse coercive wealth distribution and the welfare state. If that's the case (and correct me if I'm wrong), then either you are referring to a strawman or you honestly have no conception of anti-authoritarian left-wingers. Just because you are unaware of them and their ideas doesn't mean that they don't exist.

This asshole is seriously deluded, and so are you.

That's very cute. Adorable. It niftily dodges the fact that I never claimed that Hess's view on the subject are also my own. I was merely showing one instance where people having conceptions of left and right that differ from the mainstream notion, one that it seems that you adhere to (again, correct me if I'm wrong -- i'm not interested in attributing things to people that may not be true).

I also recommend that you take some time to actually read some of Karl Hess's writing. While I always could be wrong, your calling him an asshole based on the one quote I provided makes me think that you know nothing of the man and his work. I consider him to be one of the greatest libertarian thinkers of the 20th century.

7:08 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Logan,

I recognize that authoritarian ideas dominate both left and right, so I use those terms to differentiate between varying types of authoritarianism.

I personally like the idea of viewing things vertically. In other words, and up/down axis with libertarian ideas on the top with ideas below them being more and more authoritarian. That is why I used the term "up-winger" in my response to BK Marcus's post.

Since there are clearly different types of libertarians, labels become important if you want to detach yourself from libertarian who hold opinions that simply do not jive with you. Those who see value in the term "left-libertarian" are engaging in this sort of thing, and I'm assuming that references to left and right in this regard refer to cultural values and certain concerns that help to distinguish between the authoritarian left and right. In other words, you likely won't find any left-libertarians who criticize counter-culturalists, support militarism, and wax poetically about the virtues of Archer Daniels Midland.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

The original "definitions" of left and right arose from nothing more than where people sat in the assembly of 1791. The whole idea of a spectrum along this axis was arbitrary then, and it is, now. It's no accident that people use the metaphor: it's a lot less dangerous than actually explicitly identifying one's principles. And I must say that I find all this ostensible fidelity to history grimly hilarious in light of the fact that, along with its (righteous) revolt against the acient regime, the original "Left" also endorsed political constraints that nobody interested in freedom, sir, could possibly endorse. That's where this pious little historical choo-choo goes off its rails.

It's not for nothin' that I maintain that what is quaintly known as "the Cold War" was only merely a battle in a war that goes all the way back to 1789.

As for Hess' consideration of "central banking": he might stipulate that before he starts considering money to be something that just pops up from nowhere for the pleasure of his "distribution", but it still wouldn't matter. And you should get yourself squared away on the function of money in order to understand what he's really talking about.

That's because -- as you said -- you "don't understand".

As for not claiming that his views are not your own: they don't have to be. It's enough that you entertain his bloody nonsense as a "different conception". It certainly is that, and that's what makes it reprehensible.

I know who Karl Hess is. He lost his mind after the Goldwater debacle of '64. That's the way it goes, sometimes: some people just go skidding off the high-side.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Logan said...

freeman,

Are you familiar with the Sci-Fi author David Brin? For a while he occasionally commented at the older blog version of Freedom Democrats. He was very interested in building what he saw as a political alliance based on the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment against irrationalism. In addition to a spectrum concerning concentration of power, there might be another axis or binary yes/no that concerns an ideologies use of reason.

Political scientist Daniel Elazar identified three political cultures in America. The traditionalist culture put an emphasis on government enforcing morality on the individual, it clearly would be represented by the Republican Party today. The moralist culture put an emphasis on government enforcing morality on the society, like the utopian dreams of many liberal Democrats. His third category, the individualist culture, was the only one that focused on rational public discourse. I think this is the hallmark of classical liberalism and everything that has developed from it.

It's like Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species. The first division is between concentration of power and money and widely distributed power and money. You continue down into other categories, such as the political cultures above. Generic libertarianism might be a family or genus under a broader heading that pushes morality out of public discourse. And then you get more individual strains.

9:33 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Billy,

I understand what you're saying about the history of left/right.

I also understand how you can scoff at the original left for support of various political constraits that were anti-liberty. That's all fine and dandy. I have a similar reaction when exposed to "libertarians" who support US militarism or other forms of statism that don't jive with liberty.

As for not claiming that his views are not your own: they don't have to be. It's enough that you entertain his bloody nonsense as a "different conception". It certainly is that, and that's what makes it reprehensible.

I know who Karl Hess is. He lost his mind after the Goldwater debacle of '64. That's the way it goes, sometimes: some people just go skidding off the high-side.


Personally, I feel that Hess became even more clear headed after '64, despite an eventually unfruitful alliance with the New Left. I guess the time just wasn't right yet.

If that's how you feel about Hess, then I really have nothing more to say to you.

Logan,

That all sounds good and interesting. There's no doubt that most people within the American political landscape focus on forcing their version of morality onto everyone else through political means

I'm not familiar with David Brin. Hopefully he'll begin leaving comments again on your new blog.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

"I have a similar reaction when exposed to 'libertarians' who support US militarism or other forms of statism that don't jive with liberty."

I know what you mean. Every day, I run into dolts who call themselves "libertarians" and who cannot wrap their pea-brains about the idea that a campaign to kill the bad guys could be privately managed in order to leave out of it other pea-brains who can't grasp the concept that killing the bad guys is a good idea.

It's The Endarkenment. I'm tellin' ya. There're just abject dolts just about everywhere I look.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous BillG (not Gates) said...

freeman said...

"I do know that Hess (and many libertarians) are opposed to centralized banking. It is argued by some that central banking creates a money monopoly that results in the concentration of wealth. Authoritarian lefties may support central banking, but anti-authoritarian lefties do not."

I don't think it is the central banking that causes a "money monopoly" but rather the loaning of money by private banks into circulation and charging interest for it.

if you believe that currency is part of the social commons as a social construct along with limited liability, personhood, intellectual property - rather than a commodity (similiar to land) then it is the government granted privilege of charging rent that is the problem - not the central bank per se.

money can simply be spent into circulation rather than loaned via a citizens dividend that is capitalized from the full rental value of the commons...

11:23 AM  

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