Left Against Left: Responding to Criticisms of Left Libertarianism from Further Left

There are some things you just know you should do. Regardless of whether you perhaps need more knowledge on the ins and outs of things or have every detail. Sometimes something bothers you enough that you want to do your best to deal with the situation and what will come will come. Such is the case here. I don’t claim to have all of the info in the world to debate the recent points made by Alex Strekal (AKA Brain Police) nor Scott Forester’s slightly less recent points. But I do think I know about left-libertarianism in my year or so within it. From all of the readings I’ve done, the conversations I’ve had, the people I’ve met, the events I’ve helped organize and so on. All of these things give me enough confidence to attempt to refute or at least bring some questions to the criticism in those two blog posts I’ve listed above.

Now why exactly are left-libertarians being criticized in this particular case? Well it seems to be the fact that some of us as left-libertarians aren’t left enough for some people. Is this a bad thing necessarily? Perhaps, perhaps not. It depends on definitions of “left” what values there are in following it, etc. And I can only speak for myself of course and my general impressions from the rest of the left-libertarians I’ve seen, read, etc. Are there problems with left-libertarians? Definitely. There’s problems with all sorts of movements, probably one of the biggest problems with left-libertarianism is that it’s still so disorganized. It’s decentralized, very pluralistic and sporadically organized and the people all have many differing opinions on many different things.

Is this completely out of the norm for a political movement, even a small one like the left-libertarian one is right now? I’d argue that such a case is only inevitable among interaction with people in such a complex mess that political discussion entails. It necessarily will become pretty complex as more people come in and have different opinions, ideas and different strategies and desired outcomes. So I’d say in my opinion that I don’t think that the Alliance of the LibertarianLeft  and left-libertarians in general are so widely different sometimes is a big surprise or even a necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion it’s not a good thing to all be marching in a line all wearing the same colored arm bands chanting similar salutes etc. I’m interested in mobilizing a powerfully radical and consistent liberatory message to the people, not the borg.

That being all said, perhaps that will give some insight on some of my own critiques and rejoinders to my own critiques on left-libertarians. I certainly don’t feel as if there are no problems or that some left-libertarians could be a bit more consistent in their cultural thickness or criticism of “sticky” property rights, voluntaryism and so on. But then again, for the most part I’d disagree with the extent to which Alex Strekal (From here on out referred as “BP” for Brain Police) has made his claims. The same goes for Mr. Forester (Scott Forester).

I shall start with Mr. Forester’s article seeing how it originated first, is shorter and may shed some early light on some of my opinions on BP’s blog post as well.

Addressing: “My Issues with Left Libertarianism”

Scott begins by citing an older BP article on left-libertarianism which I think will be worth addressing in its own separate section after this one. For now however, let’s investigate some of Mr. Forester’s claims:

“I mean Agorists like to think of themselves as something radical,original and ‘to the left of rothbard’ but really it’s just Ancap with a more developed anti-statist strategy.Agorism is not new.Anarchists have always carried it out in terms of counter institutions and Dual power.”

As an agorist myself I’d disagree with this summation. While it’s true agorism is largely just left-Rothbardianism I’ve seen many diverging opinions on what constitutes the correct sort of property rights. In addition agorists also have a class theory and a radical manifesto as well as the “more developed strategy” that Mr. Forester briefly mentions in it. They also generally devalue electoral politcs and favor more radically revolutionary methods of overthrowing the state. So I’d like to think that all of this plus perhaps some cultural thickness on the leftward side would make them different enough for Mr. Forster.

Now it’s true that agorists aren’t the most widely differential from anarcho-capitalists at times. Some see them interchangeable, others see them as merely a strategy and so they can fit them in even if they’re not an an-cap. I personally think that there a lot of elements from agorism that are worth taking from and that if agorism has to be anything it’s just a much more consistent application of what anarcho-capitalism tries and fails to be often times. And what it seems to me it tries to be is to reduce things into simple terms and rely heavily on Austrian economics and “sticky” property rights, Lockean stuff, etc. Agorists don’t necessarily buy the Lockean stuff or at least they’d allow for abandonment and for a non-universal application of property rights and some may even think having some collective property is a good idea. But again these are generalizations based on my own experience, perhaps Mr. Forster has had different ones.

I certainly do concede to Mr. Forester that agorists could be more radical sometimes but for the most part I think they’re certainly better than an-caps with a class theory, an idea for liberation and usually some leftist cultural thickness.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t ally with these people on an issue-by -issue basis but a wide gulf of disagreement remains.For them Ancap is only wrong because it lacks cultural thickness ,goes too far on property,knee jerk anti-leftism etc.”

Well these are all good reasons to reject the an-caps positions sometimes. But it’s also a lack of a coherent strategy, reformism with politics, a lack of a class theory or ideas on corporations at times too.

But let’s see what else Mr. Forester has to say,

“The position of people such as myself,is deeper.We reject Ancap because of it’s fetish of property and the market to the level of fundamentalism, the classist mentality,the worship of economic growth with no limits,the love affair with bosses and landlords, it’s post hoc use of economics as justifications of rent and interest..”

Well last I checked I haven’t seen many agorist fetshize the market place or worship it at some altar. If it’s been happening then I guess I just haven’t been getting invited. At any rate, the “classist” mentality is something I’m not familiar with, nor the “worship of economic grown with no limits” so I can’t comment on that until Mr. Forster decides to elaborate more. Insofar as bosses and landlords, rent and interest? I think some agorists don’t see these things as likely as “thriving” as they do now but I could be mistaken.

Agorists typically tend to favor small, decentralized businesses, some even like worker cooperatives or just cooperatives in general. And some seem to really strive towards more egalitarian structures and such. Now whether it’s achievable within their model I think is a case by case sort of thing. As for interest and whatnot I can’t comment much on that either since economics is certainly not my strong point, though I doubt agorists have much against rent, interest, etc. insofar as they come out of the free decisions of laborers.

To continue…

“Essentially because we view any system of capitalism whether with a state or ‘free market capitalism'(as if such a thing could or has ever existed which I think impossible) as unjust.I have no deep attachment to the market except where it is wanted and where it actually furthers human ends.If I was to discover it could not do this and was contrary to human ends I’d turn Anarcho-Communist.”

I actually agree with Mr. Forester on all counts here and I think most agorists would agree or at least some may. Again, generalizations are a bitch…generally speaking. I’m mostly speaking for myself and some self-identified agorists I’ve met both in real life and online and from the conversations I’ve had with them. But for the record I’d hope that if they discovered the market place wouldn’t further human ends that they’d drop it. In fact I don’t have many reasons to conclude that they wouldn’t.

Lastly,

“In closing,I’d say I’ve give up the label ‘libertarian’.It’s a shame really.It’s origins from an anarcho-communist mean it is not in of itself a dirty word but the way it’s been misappropriated by a bunch of capitalist shills and capitalist lite left libertarians disgusts me.”

I don’t have much to comment on here. If Mr. Forester feels so disgusted with the terminology herein then he’s welcome to. As Voltairine de Cleyre said, “I fear no bugaboos!”

“I am fundamentally opposed to the economic system of Capitalism:root and branch, it’s wage labour(and wage slavery),interest,rent ,absentee ownership,bosses,landlords,corporations,classism,the anarchist defined Profit(Surplus value),It’s economic inequality,It’s hierarchy and it’s safeguards which convince the Proletariat that it has their best interests at heart.”

Well again, certainly most agorists wouldn’t go this far and quite frankly I’m not sure what to do about that. A lot of the economics is still based on Austrian economics (of which I have not read much on so can’t really comment) so that’s gonna happen I guess. I think some agorists prefer equity in the workplace or at least would like to see it happen just like in the strain of the individualists in the 20th century like Benjamin Tucker, Josiah Warren, etc. As far as absentee ownership I’d say that’s a bit mixed, still confused on “classism” when agorists clearly have a class theory, profit is nothing I’m against if people decide surplus value towards certain people is acceptable, but again lack of economics here so I could be way off.

Well I won’t address the rest of Mr. Forester’s terminological problems, he can deal with that on his own. As for the problems he’s raised, they’re mostly fair ones I do have to say. The problems here seem to largely mirror the fact that him and BP both wish that left-libertarians would be more left and I’ve got to say that where we seem to differ most are real points of contention and I’m certainly not denying it.

However I think agorists (for the most part) are as left as it needs to be. We don’t need to oppose profit, interest, rent, hierarchy or whatever on any normative basis. We can recognize however, in my opinion, that all would be lessened and mostly out-competed due to the four monopolies being abolished and free competition being opened up. I don’t think that will solve all of the problems, the market won’t do that, the state can’t do that, individuals can’t do that nothing can. I think we need many different methods to get to and then maintain liberty. If it turns out (or I find reasonable evidence otherwise in my lifetime) that such things should be opposed in some nominal way and they just won’t either be phased out, ignored, out-competed and pose a real threat to a free society then I don’t see much trouble in disapproving of them. So where’s the proof?

Moving on to BP’s two blog posts on this topic.

Addressing: “Why I’m Not A “Left Libertarian”‘

I can’t exactly say I “like” BP’s article here since it’s mostly based on personal observations and vaguely correct ones if that. But still, I’d like to address it just to give myself and the audience a feel for what my opinion is on his second article.

I would also like to mention that I believe BP said explicitly that this was mostly a troll post and not a serious critique of it. However, for the sake of this blog I would like to say I do believe that there are a few somewhat legitimate critiques you can get out of this article that are worth addressing in of themselves, serious or otherwise.

He starts off by saying,

“Left-libertarianism”, as it is used by many of the people I’ve associated with, is a highly eccentric/idiosyncratic semantic clusterfuck clung to as a label by a fringe minority of a fringe minority (I.E. “market anarchism”).”

I’m unsure how this even matters; that is, whether it’s a fringe within a fringe, this doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove anything. Nor is anything really stated here to prove it’s a “semantic clusterfuck” so I don’t see what evidence I should debate here.

A somewhat intriguing but ultimately wrong premise BP makes is,

“They use the term “left-libertarian” in a context that is largely confined to a marginal phenomenon that occured in the late 1960’s in America, and somehow expect to be taken seriously by “the left” when they’re effectively defining the bulk of its history out of existence in order to claim that they rightfully occupy such an ideological space.”

While some left-libertarians like agorists, left-Rothbardians tend to do this to an extent that others on the libertarian left may not this doesn’t necessitate that they’re wrong to. For instance a resurgence of a left and libertarian coalition came out of the “new left” coming. And it’s not “defining history out of existence” if we make constant references to those like Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, Lysander Spooner, Proudhon, means we’re remembering and moving forward with our history. Left-libertarians such as mutualists can’t even be considered targeted by this remark due to how far back mutualism goes, the same goes for the georgists, voluntary socialists, etc.

“Brad Spangler’s posts claiming that anarcho-capitalism is a form of libertarian socialism (see here and here) is a prime example of this kind of semantic game that understandably will only get a hostile reaction from traditional anarchists. ”

Well for one thing Brad merely speaks for himself, I’m unsure how many left-libertarians really agree with such a diagnosis or whether Brad even still agrees with this. I know I recently (in the past few weeks or so) saw him say that he doesn’t refer to himself as an an-cap for both terminological and substantial reasons. However I could be wrong and in the end it’s best to ask him either way.

“It’s bad enough that capitalists and the political right have tried to appropriate the words “libertarian” and “anarchist” in general – now they’re doing it with “the left”! What a recipe for confusion.”

Well all of these terms are wonderfully imprecise and when Charles Johnson makes articles like this, and Gary Chartier has a good post along the same lines here I seriously doubt that they’re trying to or even are murkying waters. I’ve never really felt like Charles or Gary’s work has somehow murkied the waters, for me it makes perfect sense that there are different senses in which capitalism exists and is referred to as and thus can be opposed or proposed of simultaneously.

Which brings me to BP’s latest post…

Addressing: Capitalist Ideology With A Mask

I guess I’ve built it up enough, so what’s BP have to say?

To be sure, BP has a much more extensive and thorough look this time away, but is it any more accurate or fair? I’d first like to address this part,

“Many of them claim to be anti-capitalists, but often on the least substantive grounds possible, more or less reducing their anti-capitalism to anti-statism.”

I believe he’s referring to the major tendency within left-libertarians to be against the current market place phenomenons of hierarchy in the workplace, centralization, bureaucracy, capital accumulation in the hands of the rich, disparity in social relations and economic levels, etc. are usually the result of state-intervention in the market place. While I think relying on the state too much for the evils of the world is certainly a libertarian problem I’m unsure how widespread such a tendency is occurring within the left-libertarian movement. It was my understanding that it’s much less if not really present at all because we as left-libertarians also recognize that interconnecting systems of oppression can reinforce statism through such social phenomenons of racism, sexism, patriarchy and more. And as Charles Johnson has pointed out it can all happen spontaneously and non-aggressively. So if this is what BP is talking about I don’t see it being thin libertarianism at all or just relying on mere “anti-statism”. Perhaps his experience differs though. I’d be intrigued to hear it at any rate.

“And they do this while often espousing many of the common hallmarks of capitalist ideology: a commitment to a robust conception of private property rights, the extensive use of free market economics (especially Austrian economics) as a tool of analysis, and an atomistic form of individualism as an ethos.”

Three points:

1. I’m unsure of what’s wrong with valuing a “robust conception of private property” exactly. From a quick Google search it just means well structured or healthy…so what’s the problem? Even if you mean that you nominally oppose private property and the tensions in individual liberty you see it necessarily cause why not explicitly state them instead of begging the question of what’s wrong with that? At least it’s begging the question for me since I’m not totally familiar with your position on the matter.

2. Sure, Austrian economics is used quite a bit, though I don’t think it’s nearly universal and within left-libertarians I think a good portion of the insights come from them but it’s not as dogmatically or tightly held. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your interpretation of Austrian economics and since I haven’t read a lot of it I can’t comment much beyond that.

3. I’m completely baffled by this third claim. How do left-libertarians in inherently recognizing interconnecting oppressive systems, cultural thickness, going past the NAP and property rights, seeing social relations of being more than just voluntary and there’s more to your actions than just yourself (for example cultural norms you reinforce, the environment you may damage, etc.) how is that possibly a somehow atomistic viewpoint of human relations? I don’t think BP knows what he’s talking about quite frankly and would love to hear what makes him think I’m wrong, I’m willing to listen.

Continuing,

“The notion of occupancy and use is reframed as a tendency on an abandonment continuum with all of the assumptions of a normal propertarian left intact.”

Ironically this is largely where I stand. But that’s only because I haven’t done enough reading on property theory for my own liking to come to any other conclusions. I fully and readily admit that Lockean ideas are difficult and have their conceptual holes but then use and occupancy seem to as well. Is there a good middle ground? I’m unsure. Some people like Gary Chartier and Brad Spangler and I think even Charles Johnson though I could be wrong (and I’ve largely adopted this view) is that a multitutde of property rights systems would emerge in an a truly freed society. Whichever one works best in a certain context would most likely be used the most.

Does this mean relativism insofar as property use and rights are concerned? Well I think to a certain extent that’s possible. But on the other hand I also think that emerging systems will come through people deciding what is just or more beneficial towards individuals and the larger communities. So it’s a sort of emerging and evolving relativsm that has some thickness to it. I’m unsure if this is the big answer to it but I think it’s at least a decent start.

“Mutualism is interpreted as the individualist Benjamin Tucker’s position + Austrian economics.”

Is it now? I’ve heard Shawn P. Wlbur say that Tucker was hardly a mutualist to begin with and I don’t know many who think that it’s only these two. Then again Shawn wouldn’t call himself a left-libertarian anymore probably so take that for what it’s worth I suppose. Also Carson to my knowledge only takes some inclinations and such from Austrian Economics and while he’s certainly more influenced by Tucker it seems to me (I mean Tucker is on the front cover of his mutualist political studies so one would think anyways…) I doubt he hasn’t read Proudhon, Greene and the like and incorporated much more into his ideas than just Tucker and the Austrians. I think the same is for the mutualists I’ve talked to in the past.

“Socialism is understood to be a rosy prediction of the outcome of market forces after the fall of a state. Of course, this is all bogus stuff.”

All of these criticisms seem to be rooted in some truth but then that little truth is amplified to the point that it really becomes a bigger deal than it really is or BP tries to make it seem so. Such is also the case here I fear. For instance, I don’t think left-libertarians just see predication of market forces going towards their favor but also social relations being grown and developed in certain ways towards certain ends. It’s not just about the market place for left-libertarians, I was fairly certain that was one of the points of being a left-libertarian to begin with come to think of it. So it’s not just “rosy predications” but prescriptions and descriptions of what will most likely happen as well as how to make it possible and so on.

“A few months ago, “left libertarian” Sheldon Richman wrote a piece favoring Murray Rothbard’s notion of “the double inequality of value”…”

The rest of this is just BP saying that somehow because Richman buys a certain premise of Austrian economics and didn’t give a long response to Shawn that he somehow a “capitalist in disguise”.

I’d also like to point out that what Sheldon actually said was,

“I appreciate the discussion, Shawn. I’m not convinced that Proudhon’s account of exchange is superior to the Austrians’, but it gives me something to think about.”

Now of course, I’m unsure how sincere Sheldon was here, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he really did think about it and remains open to it. I think that’s an important point to consider and not just lambaste Sheldon for not going into a huge internet debate I mean…what sort of idiot would do that…?

Oh…right…

Anyways…

“And objections such as the ones that immediately come to my mind – that people can engage in economic exchange purely out of pragmatic necessity and under duress, that the social context in which economic exchange takes place can threaten to falsify “the double inequality of value”, and indeed the most common usage of the principle is as an apologetic for exploitation – are definitely not on the table.”

Really? I’m unsure of that. I know Roderick Long himself has explicitly stated that hierarchy is at best dangerous and should always be kept in check or under control if somehow possible. I certainly think there’s a tendency in the left-libertarian community to not be as specific as possible with what exploitation constitutes so I’d see that as a valid point in that light. But otherwise I’m unsure all of what you say is always completely off the table or that it should be. I definitely agree this is stuff worth discussing more in depth for the record.

“Most “left libertarians” either do not have a concept of exploitation or don’t have a very robust one, because they are blinded by what “economics” has taught them.”

Well perhaps, it could be Austrian economics, or it could be psychological reasons or perhaps something else, I’m unsure. I don’t feel as if I’m in a good position to judge here either way.

Now going back to Charles Johnson’s recent post BP says,

“Well, it’s because of how narrow or unsubstantive this ends up being if that’s the thrust of what constitutes the “anti-capitalism” and when one looks into all of the implicit and explicit assumptions made that are shared with your standard anarcho-capitalist. In its most narrow sense, the notion of “a truly free market” is not very substantive, since it just means “in the absence of state intervention”. Beyond the fact that an absence of state intervention by itself doesn’t necessarily equal freedom or point us to any particular useful norm for what constitutes freedom, the “truly free market” of the left libertarian is the same thing as the “capitalism” of the anarcho-capitalist. Their dispute is a semantic quibble at this level.”

I’m not sure how this is correct. Saying you support a “truly freed market” doesn’t just means a market place without government intervention. It also prescribes certain things such as more decentralism, horizontalism, equity in social relations, more evolving cultural and property based relativism and so on. At least, these seem to me to all be other things that left-libertarians favor. That and perhaps more inclinations towards communal property, keeping in place cultural freedom, reciprocity, and less disparity in wealth in a truly freed market.

So, again, I don’t see how we’re just an-caps engaged in some sort of smenatic quibble. We’re not only against the wage labor of the day, the corporations, the state-intervention, the four monopolies Tucker talked about and more but we also have radical anti-political ways of getting to a truly freed society.

And,

“Beyond the fact that an absence of state intervention by itself doesn’t necessarily equal freedom or point us to any particular useful norm for what constitutes freedom…”

I agree with this statement by the way. Just because there’s a lack of a state doesn’t mean there’s freedom but then you’d see any anarchist recognize this, even voluntaryists and an-caps do. So I once again feel as if BP is basing his criticisms off of valid concerns but then enlarging them to ridiculous heights just to make a basic point that is fine on it’s own, even if it’s usually a bit off.

“A left-Rothbardian” such as Roderick Long more or less holds the same view, but predicts a comparably egalitarian outcome of its application and makes a few modifications. In such a case, “left libertarianism” really is pretty much anarcho-capitalism with more of a social conscience, but the social conscience doesn’t negate the fact that the principles are basically the same. It is precisely these principles that the radical left and social anarchists reject, because they uphold capitalism as an economic power arrangement and justify dubious authority.”

So I think I get what BP is doing finally. He’s just cherry picking certain views of certain individuals within the left-libertarian movement, saying it’s somehow a bigger problem within it without really backing that hidden assertion up and then rinse, wash, repeat.

To be fair Alex’s critiques are largely fair in quite a few ways but again, I’ve found holes in them. For instance Roderick in that essay states:

“A crucial feature of libertarian political theorizing is the insistence that not just the precise nature, but the very existence, of political authority requires justification and cannot simply be assumed.”

So if he perceives better outcomes from similar principals perhaps he’s applying it in a better or more consistent/different way than you imagine. After all, if authority can’t be assumed as correct just because it exists then landlords, bosses and the like can’t just be assumed to be just. I do think some left-libertarians such as volutnary socialists, georgists, and mutualists all understand this point. Agorists to some degree and perhaps even left-Rothbardians do too, though they’re largely the same. In either event I don’t think left-libertarians from agorists to voluntary socialists would favor many of the things that uphold oppressive molds.

This is especially the case if things that harm the existence of a free society can’t just be limited to private property violations or aggression more generally speaking. And if we engage in this more thick analysis of social relations we can certainly find other things that occur culturally and socially that don’t necessarily meet the usual criteria of those who reduce social relations to the voluntary nature of it, etc.

I feel also that Roderick may be lambasted for his ideas of positive and negative rights but from my reading of it (it’s the first so I could be off) he seems to leave open the possibility of thickness:

“But what the libertarian is claiming is that the possibility of accepting the Positive Thesis while rejecting the Negative Thesis is precluded by the logical structure of the concepts involved. If people have a right not to be aggressed against, then people have a right not to be subjected to any initiatory use of force.”

I’d also like to take note that there’s no date on this draft so I have no idea when Roderick wrote this or how recent it is. So I’d like to say I’m unsure if he’s still with all of these opinions or what has happened to make him stop working on it. I’m merely adding some side considerations to keep in mind however, I’m not using this to try to weasel myself out of this discussion.

To extrapolate on the above quote however, I’d say that the initiation of violence or aggression isn’t just limited to physical damage done to people, or at least I’d like to think that how you define aggression and so on could leave for varying opinions on harm towards people. I’ve never known Professor Long to be thin in his analysis of rights violations so if he is that’s news to me. It may also be however, that rights issues are different than the thickness Charles Johnson supports…I’m unsure.

Briefly skimming over Professor Long’s property rights I don’t see any huge problems with it, the principles seem sound enough for me, which to be clear are,

“Libertarian property rights are, famously, governed by principles of justice in initial appropriation (mixing one’s labour with previously unowned resources), justice in transfer (mutual consent), and justice in rectification (say, restitution plus damages). It is easy to see how the right not to be aggressed against will be interpreted here: I count as initiating force against a person if I seize an external resource that she is entitled to by the application of those three principles. If she is not entitled to the resource under these principles, but is in possession of the resource anyway, then my seizing the resource counts as force, but not as initiatory force, so long as I am acting on behalf of whichever person is entitled to the resource; otherwise I am initiating force against that person.”

There’s nothing haphazard I see here, so I await the arguments I suppose.

Back to Charles’s article now,

“Substantive opponents of capitalism have never accepted anything like Rothbard’s views on property.”

Well so what? Why does tradition now matter so much to an anarchist? I don’t mean to say that no tradition is important to an anarchist being an anarchist but why does suddenly the fact that just because traditional anarchists (which is never really defined…anti-capitalist anarchists?) disagree with it doesn’t mean much if you don’t elaborate on why their opinion matters in the first place. This just sounds like a vague appeal to traditions to me. There are certain ways in which capitalism is tolerable to some and intolerable to others. Left libertarians don’t all agree with Rothbard (again, mutualists, voluntary socialists, geoists) nor do all agorists, left-wing market anarchists, etc. dogmatically hold on to Rothbardian views on property. Besides that stuff like Homsteading and the Confiscation Principle seemed to me to be pretty leftist but perhaps I’m just too “right” to really understand it either way.

“The outcome of applying a political ideology based on such notions will amount to what social anarchists oppose: heirarchical systems of control based on accumulated property.”

Well how so? You can’t just state things without backing it up or providing reasons why. At least give me an article to work with, an author, a particular strain of thought…something!

But I digress. Left-libertarians seem to me to be at worst thinking that hierarchy is dangerous but acceptable in some places, perhaps that’s where I put myself. But regardless I think a lot of us also don’t think hierarchy is generally necessary for human relations to flourish like they should. And accumulated property? Well it’d be tough to finance such accumulation without slave labor, a state to reinforce it, a culture a lot less full of imbalances in social relations and more. And all of these things I see left-libertarians working towards.

“This makes the fact that the left libertarian opposes the state meaningless, because if there’s anything that the left has always understood better than libertarians, it’s power relations. Left libertarians can argue that the state is the cause of bad things until they are blue in the face, but it is not a sufficient position from which to oppose capitalism.”

Sure, I agree…but since when have left-libertarians only opposed the state? I mean…all-left.net even explicitly states:

“The Alliance of the Libertarian Left is a multi-tendency coalition of 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
; as well as by an emphasis on education, direct action, and building
alternative institutions, rather than on electoral politics, as our chief strategy for achieving liberation.” (emphasis mine)

So what gives? Where’s the disconnect here? Am I just missing something?

“There is a complex network of interlocking power relations that can’t be reduced to the relationship between agents of the state and citizens. There are many forms of power, and economic power is one of them.”

I don’t think any left-libertarian would disagree.

“This is something that Charles Johnson of all people should understand, since he’s well known for being the guy to popularize the notion of “thick libertarianism”, which implicitly recognizes a kind of holism or intersectionalism as he describes it. Indeed, he tends to be quite good about this when what are commonly considered “social” or “cultural” issues are on the table. And yet it seems like when the whole discourse about capitalism gets going, things come back to anti-statist reductionism anyways.”

But how? Where? Where’s the evidence? I read his piece and I’ve read a lot of his other pieces and from his membership to the IWW, opposition to things like Walmart and the wage labor and pure skepticism of hierarchy in general I’m just not seeing it.

“What’s missing from all this is the understanding that market dynamics and property rights systems themselves can produce massive power disparities.”

Wait…we’re missing this? Because I’m personally not. I understand the market place isn’t perfect, that property rights can be fucked up as well…but how does the fact that some of us still have some sense of property rights mean we’re not “left” enough for you? I’m not interested in appeasing people per se’. I mean, I like good marketing and all and that’s a part of left-libertarianism but for me what the main thing is that it’s about consistency, radicalism and truly caring about others and trying to build the new society within the shell of the old.

“To take things to another level, I think that states form in large part from pre-existing power disparities.”

Charles Johnson argued the same thing in the article you linked about thick and thin libertarianism ironically,

“Thus, for example, left libertarians such as Roderick Long have argued that libertarians have genuine reasons to be concerned about large inequalities of wealth, or large numbers of people living in absolute poverty, and to support voluntary associations – such as mutual aid societies and voluntary charity – that tend to undermine inequalities and to ameliorate the effects of poverty. The reasoning for this conclusion is not that libertarians should concern themselves with voluntary anti-poverty measures because free market principles logically entail support for some particular socioeconomic outcome (clearly they do not); nor is it merely because charity and widespread material well-being are worth pursuing for their own sake (they may be, but that would reduce the argument to thickness in conjunction). Rather, the point is that there may be a significant causal relationship between economic outcomes and the material prospects for sustaining a free society. Even a totally free society in which large numbers of people are desperately poor is likely to be in great danger of collapsing into civil war.”

So…yeah…apparently Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson support such an opinion, as do I, and I think most others would as well. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to me personally at any rate.

“What we end up having to aknowledge is that capitalism is not just a problem of state intervention, that it is partly supported by certain ideas and norms, and that the power dynamics created by implimenting those ideas and norms are a pretext for state formation even in a “stateless society”. The left libertarians are so focused on “a stateless society” in the abstract that they don’t have the necessary tools with which to form and sustain one!”

The trouble is that BP doesn’t realize that left-libertarians largely do recognize this already. Ironically it seems to be in the very thinkers he’s only criticizing through cherry picking however.

“Until they make the leap in the direction of the kind of positions I’ve briefly outlined here or at least generally move further away from the residue of standard capitalist libertarianism in some meaningful way, “the libertarian left” will rightly be regarded with suspicion by most social anarchists, because to a significant extent they functionally are still capitalists. At their best, they are confused capitalists with good intentions. If they continue to fail to understand why the left opposes capitalism and always bring things back to the market vs. the state, I don’t see much hope for them.”

I guess this last paragraph really sums up BP’s biggest problems: confused criticisms, priorities, mis-identifications, artificially enlarging minor problems in the left-libertarian problems out of basic problems that stand better on their own and trying to make the left-libertarian movement what he personally wants to see. Now to be fair, all of us want that to some extent or another, but the way BP puts it out here he makes it (and this apples to Mr. Forester as well) that it’s somehow nowhere near what’s going on with what they want to see. I just think that if BP and Mr. Forester looked a bit deeper into the people and material they seem to like to criticize so much (and that I like to try to defend) that they’d find themselves making better arguments. Because left-libertarianism and the people who subscribe to such an idea have flaws, no doubt, but not to the level or sometimes not even how both BP and Mr. Forester frame it.

Conclusion

I have to say, it took me a while just to write this all out and I’m not sure if I’m satisfied. I still feel as if someone else could do a better job than I can. So I completely encourage other fellow ALLies to reply to me, reply to Mr. Forester, BP, anyone or anything on this topic really. I sincerely doubt I’ve changed Mr. Forester’s or BP’s mind but that largely was not the point. The point was to help clarify (again) some positions that may be, are already and should be suitable for a left-libertarian. I hope I’ve at least helped clarify my own positions (and lack of knowledge on certain ones) and perhaps this will help propel more and better discussion elsewhere by more well known and better read left-libertarians than myself.

I have my hopes, but then in this world I try not to get those hopes up too high. Suffice it to say I’m just glad I could get this out in the open and hopefully something good comes out of it. One final thing to note is that there is a suspicious lack of citations or articles backing up many of my claims and there’s a few reasons for this. First, I assume Alex has read most of the material I’d link to him. Second, I’d rather focus on our own disagreements than introduce new lines of it to further complicate the whole thing. Third, I think most of my arguments speak for themselves or it was my desire that they do so without using citations to back up my claims.

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(3) Responses to “Left Against Left: Responding to Criticisms of Left Libertarianism from Further Left”

  1. The Anarchist Township» Discourses on Liberty post for 8/26/11: Left Against Left: Part Deux! Says:
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    [...] Reintroduction  So this conversation started with a few posts being responded to at this post. BP then made a response here. This is my attempt to make some concluding responses to BP. [...]

  2. The Anarchist Township» An Ode to Wolff (Response to “Basic Political Principles”) Says:
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    […] protest and argue and so on. That’s fine. After all, we’ve gone back and forth before here . Unfortunately, in a move of symbolism of a sort I’m sure and one of real importance I […]

  3. Wherein I was Lazy and You (Almost) Bailed me Out: With Apologies to Alex Strekal | Abolish Work Says:
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    […] Alex, we’ve gone through this a bunch of times before (also see here) and I am hopefully not being too blunt when I say that I am not sure what either of […]

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