Wednesday, March 29, 2006

asserting libertarianism as being a people's movement

There have been a number of discussions about the French CPE issue in recent days on various libertarian blogs. In response to those who signed the MLL letter of solidarity, many libertarians have been baffled at the sight of libertarians showing sympathy for the young French workers affected by the new law, while attempting to show how logic should compel libertarians to support the new law as a legitimate "free market reform".

To this day, none of those who have objected to the libertarian solidarity have influenced me to change my mind on the subject. Some of them may have some valid points to make, but it seems as if this issue is helping to reveal a more broad difference of opinion amongst libertarians that may help to shed additional light on why some have embraced the left-libertarian moniker.

Many like to criticize the American media and it's coverage of foreign policy and other international issues (and for good reason), and it seems as if the CPE issue is no exception here. I bring this up upon reading Sheldon Richman's latest blog post on the subject. He quotes a BBC article that explains what the new law is all about, and then offers his two cents:
Thus the controversy is about a government-written labor contract that is to be imposed on all employers and under-26 workers. The government is not repealing a restriction; it is merely tweaking the restrictions it imposes on all. Freedom of contract be damned! The new uniform contract may have some benefits for young people who cannot find jobs and for upstart firms that had a tougher time than large incumbent firms coping with the earlier, less-flexible contract. But nevertheless, this is no retrenchment of French fascism. (And that's what the French system is.) It is a continuation of corporativist social engineering. I can see nothing for a libertarian to do but to condemn the blasted system root and branch.

Even before those of us who are ill-informed due to the shoddy American press became aware of the specifics, many of us libertarians already rejected the new law as a faux market reform aiming at expanding state capitalist privledge. As Sheldon Richman points out upon reading the BBC piece, there isn't even any reduction of statism going on here, which should further show that there is nothing wrong with libertarian opposition to it.

To further elaborate on my mentioning of a difference of opinion amongs libertarians, I'd like to quote a passionate comment left by Lady Aster Francesca at Liberty & Power's CPE post:
Mark: "'Cutting welfare from the top down, and taxes from the bottom up.'" I guess that's as valid as 'cutting welfare from the bottom up, and taxes from the top down' but an implicit interpersonal valuation is present either way.... I suggest it involves some interpersonal valuations different from those that are inherent in mainstream libertarian doctrine."

Um... I think the 'interpersonal valuation' involved is that shifting the tax burden to the poor while favouring the rich will end up with the poor trapped in misery, squalour, and poverty, while a tiny elite benefits. Simply put, one way of reducing net societal technical coercion ends up with a much more awful situation in human terms. Cutting corporate welfare in a semi-statist society isn't going to destroy anyone's life; cutting welfare for the otherwise destitute, in a society where state favouritism still directly and indirectly walls off their choices and opportunities, it might.

If detesting this involves valuations at odds with mainstream libertarian doctrine, so much the worse for mainstream libertarian doctrine. Libertarianism may not logically require simple human compassion but 'tis my hope it would not make it controversial. Why exactly is cutting the the budget on the backs of privileges built up by the state, rather than those who've been ruined by it, a potential problem?

I could also point out that if libertarianism were to try to dismantle the state while selectively attacking social benefits for the poor while ignoring the structural advantages of the rich, the result would be that the working class would make one great rush for the local state socialist party's recruiting office while classical liberalism remained the party of a few intellectuals and middle-class eccentrics out of touch with social reality. I rather submit that this is what has been happening for the last 150 years or so.

The modern libertarian movement believes its politics are in the interest of everybody yet converts no one (except intellectuals). I suspect this has something to do with the fact that the poor don't see any reason to think libertarians take their perspective or interests seriously, while the comfortable are often regimented sheeple who don't object very much to having the state economically and culturally prop up their institutions. Do you desire libertarianism to succeed? I think there's no way to do that without a libertarian theory that resonates with the actual lives and struggles of human beings.

Too many people view libertarians as being cold-hearted, intellectually aloof and out of touch with social reality, and thus don't take their ideas seriously. What is serious about this is that many libertarians are not only unaware of this, but don't seem to mind all that much.

While reading Lady Aster's comments, I was reminded of this Uncapitalist post by Kevin Carson where he quotes Karl Hess referring to libertarianism as being a "people's movement". It seems long overdue for libertarians who wish to make their ideas more persuasive to become more assertive and promote a "people's libertarianism", if you will, to counter the various libertarian sects that have helped to shape the public's perception of libetarians as "cold-hearted" or "pot-smoking Republicans" or whatever.

The MLL has taken the initial step, and without resorting to statist apology, contrary to those who misunderstood the MLL solidarity letter to the French students. Rather than supporting further state intervention or whatever else the French may likely support, along with the needless and unfortunate destruction of property that has occured during the riots, the signatories of the letter merely wish to reach out and show support the plight of French workers who have to live in such an appallingly statist system, while showing them an alternative libertarian-based approach toward achieving a better life for all. Failure to do so or even supporting the CPE will only result in furthering the negative portrayal of libertarians while also, as Lady Aster correctly put it, resulting in masses of people embracing even more state socialism to counter the reforms carried out on behalf of the ruling class.

I'd also like to use this post to refer readers to this post by Adem Kupi. Adem links to three different Los Angeles Indymedia articles about the mobilization of people who are opposed to HR 4437. Immigration is another issue where libertarians differ in opinion, and one where I find myself agreeing with the sentiments expressed by those who are opposed to the legislation. I support the supposedly hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets and even interfered with various government offices in protest of the latest statist BS.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the damndest time debating the CPE issue at Catallarchy (
I had actually notified Sheldon Richman of the BBC article, in which it states employers will now have the RIGHT to fire without cause. How this obvious grant of privelege was lost on the Catallarchy boys I'll never know. Some argued that since employees are allowed to treat employment as an at-will situation, so should employers. Thus, giving employers the RIGHT TO FIRE, for whatever reason, was legitimate.
Though there may be more to the French issue than I'm aware of, the letter of the law seems pretty clear.


3:06 AM  

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