In this particular post when I ask this question I mean where is libertarianism on the political spectrum properly understood
Part two of a series, see part one here.
An introduction to the political spectrum, Left or Right?
Often times people need a reason to put people in certain categories and this can be done for many reasons, sometimes it’s for self-esteem either to lessen the other (You dirty capitalist!) or for the pride of one’s own (I fight for labor!) or it can be analytical and simply be used as a tool to ascertain how to react to other people’s statements. For example a person who supports the political construct called the state would necessarily immediately consider anything one who identifies as an anarchist as someone who is crazy, precisely because they oppose all that they stand for. This also works the other way around although the anarchists I usually see can make logical arguments and seem to keep in mind that the state-supporters are rational human beings like them just misguided from their own point of view. But what good is the current political spectrum? In one of his earlier videos Alex Strekal deconstructs the political spectrum of today and other spectrums like the Nolan chart and he also adds the terms capitalism and socialism and how their anti-concepts.
Now I would like to make a stab at the idea of political spectrums themselves, Strekal also did another video on the anarchist spectrum and concluded that most anarchists would avoid the extremes and always cling to some essence of the pluralistic attitude of “anarchism without adjectives” while also adhering to their own economic preferences. Now I have my preferences as well but I do consider myself a “left” libertarian or anarchist with libertarian ethics if you will but where does this put me on the common left right chart? Well, if we go back to the standard chart, communists on the far left, liberals right from that, centrists right from that, conservatives right from that and finally fascists where do the libertarians by themselves without a preference of right or left stand? Clearly as Strekal pointed out they do not stand anywhere on such a chart but ironically Strekal years later in a not too distant blog from the past said that there is use in the left-right spectrum, saying that:
“A left/right distinction, although things obviously get much more specific than these two terms, is useful insofar as the integrated social philosophies of particular libertarians are inevitably colored by different values or norms in a way that forms distinct views that simply cannot be reduced to a vaguely defined opposition to aggression or the state. Once one begins to disambiguate that, “thickness” of some sort is already at least implicitly entering the picture. The moment that one forms a libertarian philosophy that excludes certain norms from compatibility or defines freedom in specific terms, the alleged “neutrality” of libertarianism begins to dissolve.”
What Strekal means here is that the left-right paradigm is useful for attributing certain economic and personal preferences to people, for example when you say someone is “right” politically on a matter you think they’re conservative about it, you think about the nuclear style home (though you may not put it in such terms) you think of the church and you think of support for big business and poor support for the workers. When someone says they’re “left” you may think of more support for unions, bigger government, more public programs, more open polices on sexuality and rights for persecuted minorities and the poor etc. Now whether these attributes are right or wrong is irrelevant to the point being made, the fact that humans can make such notions about people before they even know them is a powerful thing. If misused like it is today it can also however lead to disastrous results, this is why some libertarians like using salesmen like rhetoric to gain the attention of both sides of the mainstream spectrum but this again leaves the libertarian in no-man’s land where do they stand? Right or left? Well since as I’ve already said the current “right” “left” political spectrum obviously does not take into account the libertarian or anarchist then how can it say to be a true spectrum? Of course then people can say more obscure political philosophies and claim they belong as well but I think the spectrum should be as modern as possible and anarchism and libertarianism are a very modern issue if the things like the Tea Parties (I’ll be it a poor representation of it in substance) and the Free State Project (It lacks substance in some areas but overall seems to be the best out there nonetheless) then the ideas of both philosophies. are still very relevant and should therefore still be considered.
So with some ideas of how the left and right work where do libertarians fit in? Once again not in the current chart, but what about The Nolan Chart as Strekal pointed out in the first video I linked of him deconstructing the political spectrum this is a slightly better choice for where libertarians may stand but this also has it’s flaws, for example do the far left really commit themselves fully to personal liberty and do the far right to economic liberty? And how do libertarians end up on the top anyways? It makes sense that they’d be at the polar opposites of statists, but here statist is being used as a term for maximum government and not just government at all which is really what a statist would actually be, someone who supports the political organization known as the state even in the slightest. So what are the libertarians? All right and left minarchists? This hardly seems like a fair assessment of libertarians when anarchists are apt to take the libertarian ethic and philosophy to it’s logical end and apply it to their own thought. And speaking of the anarchists where are they? At the top of the libertarian diamond? The left? It’s never pointed out. Once again this chart although slightly more useful should only be used with people unfamiliar to the ideas of political philosophy and not anyone who wants to seriously address the ills of society within the context of a political spectrum.
Capitalism or Socialism?
So where does this leave us? Well the next chart Strekal goes for is capitalism versus socialism and he proclaims that both are anti-concepts or as Roderick long put it in his lecture Rothbard’s “Left and Right”: Forty Years Later
“Rand used to identify certain terms and ideas as “anti-concepts,” that is, terms that actually function to obscure our understanding rather than facilitating it, making it harder for us to grasp other, legitimate concepts; one important category of anti-concepts is what Rand called the “package deal,” referring to any term whose meaning conceals an implicit presupposition that certain things go together that in actuality do not. Although Rand would not agree with the following examples, I’ve become convinced that the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” are really anti-concepts of the package-deal variety.”
Alex Peak of Little Alex in Wonderland also did a wonderful take on the issue of where libertarianism stands called Left: Against The Capitalistical Imperative in which he borrows a phrase from Immanuel Kant who spoke of an imperative in certain thoughts that necessitate due to the origin of the original though, Peak offers the idea that capitalism necessitates or rather contains an imperative for a state to push capital well past it’s means without it in order to dominate over labor and become the prevailing force in society. And if we look at papers like The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand by Kevin Carson or Joseph Stromberg’s The Role of State Monopoly Capitalism in the American Empire to help back us up I think they both do a stellar (Yes, I just said stellar) job of reinforcing such a belief. Of course I don’t expect anyone just to go on Carson’s words, although most libertarians may not like him much (And I don’t personally care for him either though I admit not to reading any of his works and only having a slight interest in Das Kapital) Karl Marx made good points in the way he said the ones with the property take advantage of the propertyless peasants, of course his remedies were all wrong from a libertarian or anarchist point of view but even so Marx had his moments which I think Carson used the most of in his paper that I just cited.
Regardless where do libertarians or where should they stand in terms of the debate on socialism and capitalism? Well I certainly agree they might as well be anti-concepts by now, I really don’t like to get into the debate as some of my fellow anarchists and libertarians like to about socialism and capitalism but when I have to I try to make my stance notable such as in the note where I explained Why I’m NOT a capitalist and shall always refuse to call myself such. Nevertheless I’d never call myself a socialist without some clarifications if I had to, occasionally I’ve played around with the term free market socialist but I don’t like to get into this debate so I just like to call myself an anarchist in favor of freed markets with a tendency towards the benefit of labor and not capital. Still this puts me in the individualist and anarcho-libertarian-socialist tradition and there I get into other problems with semantics but for now I’ll just reconcile my own belief system as left-market anarchism and leave it for my allies and opponents alike to figure out what that means.
Now, I personally if anywhere could see a libertarian embracing socialism but unfortunately what most do is embrace capitalism as a sort of end all trait which makes them somehow support markets and free markets at that even though the term started as a pejorative for bossism and control over workers by Hodgskin and Marx! But of course this isn’t reason enough to abandon a term, after all the term “anarchism” was used as a pejorative for chaos and lawlessness (and here the one’s supporting the state finally have good reason to call us that since it’s actually backed by history) before Proudhon and other thinkers used it in a more positive light meaning opposition to coercive authorities of any sort, state or otherwise. Now of course anarchism has many meanings just like any word, but one word it is not as I’ve mentioned earlier is NOT chaos and lawlessness, all societies need laws and order and it’d be foolish for anyone to have a serious philosophy advocating a lack of both. How do libertarians advocate capitalism? As Gary Chartier points out, Advocates of a freed markers should oppose capitalism and not embrace it, he makes the proper distinctions so why can’t libertarians just throw away the word capitalism once and for all? Well this is due to a lot of clinging thanks to the mess left by thinkers such as Ludwig Von Mises, Ayn Rand and even Murray Rothbard, who’s constant switching from left to right and back again made it difficult for his followers to have ascertain what was really the anarchist position. Now please do not think I do not find any three of these writers work undesirable in any way for this fact alone I’ve read some of Rothbard’s work here and there and heard some things from both Mises and Rand (mostly from Rand supporters and supporters of Mises and general quotes) but I realize they both have good things to offer but what they did with the word capitalism is what concerns me here and nothing more.
With Rand she made the word capitalism libertarians original friend (even though she hated libertarians and thought they “stole her work”), Mises added on to this by saying that the liberal who supported free markets enemy was the socialist and with all of Rothbard’s switching at times he was calling socialism the enemy and at others the bosses and the state and some intercepted Rothbard’s philosophy of “anarcho-capitalism” as a right one in the political sense. This all confuses the libertarian and leaves some like Walter Block to take the middle of the road approach and say that libertarians are neither left nor right but do support capitalism well I think once again terms must be clear and we must know what libertarians stand for and where they stand. So if anything libertarians seem to be left, but if you don’t believe me and my reasoning so far other libertarians such as Darian Worden proclaiming Libertarians are Left! And Sheldon Richman with his article on the FFF called Libertarianism: Left or Right? Charles Johnson also added to the discussion with his talk of how the revolution that libertarians should support would be one made of people and therefore a sort of revolution in the politically “left” sense of it. And finally Brad Spangler just plain out said we are socialists on his blog site here.
I feel confident with all of this plethora of knowledge behind me to say that I do not support capitalism or socialism but support a freed market place and whatever comes out of it so long as it comes out peacefully, voluntarily and cooperatively as well as through free competition.
In the end I think it’s easy to see how in his classic essay Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty Murray Rothbard made it seem like it was the left that the libertarians should favor and that’s what I also believe, as Charles Johnson pointed out:
“Freedom is not a conservative idea. It is not a prop for corporate power and the political-economic statist quo. Libertarianism is, in fact, a revolutionary doctrine, which would undermine and overthrow every form of state coercion and authoritarian control. If we want liberty in our lifetimes, the realities of our politics need to live up to the promise our principles — we should be radicals, not reformists; anarchists, not smaller-governmentalists; defenders of real freed markets and private property, not apologists for corporate capitalism, halfway privatization or existing concentrations of wealth. Libertarianism should be a people’s movement and a liberation movement, and we should take our cues not from what’s politically polite, but from what works for a revolutionary people-power movement.”
And I think this idea of liberty being a progressive a truly progressive idea with ties to the historical French Assembly left and historically more with leftist attitude of decentralization then this puts the Libertarians on the left with the statists on the right. From there it breaks down to a right and left view of libertarianism and from the left of libertarianism comes the left and right of anarchism which is the final spectrum to look at before I conclude this blog post.
Anarchists are Left-Libertarians in the sense that they have a need for social justice of sorts in society, favor decentralization, empowerment of the workers over bossism, opposition to xenophobia of all sorts, advocating the notion equal liberty in authority, against militarism and oppose corporations and what is falsely called the free market and I can say I agree with all of these points.
And therefore I deem myself a left-libertarian!