Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why Are So Many Market-Oriented Left-Libertarians Anarchists?

Of the thinkers and writers commonly identified today as market-oriented left-libertarians (that is, leftists—opposed to workplace hierarchies, cultural authoritarianism, arbitrary exclusion on the basis of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, and aggressive war—who are also market-oriented libertarians—opposed to aggression against people’s bodies and justly acquired possessions), almost all are anarchists; Chris Matthew Sciabarra is perhaps the only relatively visible one who’s not. The question is: how contingent is this connection?

It is possible, for instance, that many left-libertarians have been influenced by Murray Rothbard, and that they affirm both anarchism for something like Rothbard’s reasons for doing so and left-libertarianism on the view that it’s a logical extension of Rothbard’s views.

But this explanation wouldn’t cover those whose links with Rothbard are, like mine, pretty tenuous. And it would really just push the fundamental question back a step, in any case, since we’d still have to ask why the relevant views could be found in Rothbard’s own work.

Obviously, the answer will depend in part on just what one thinks might make a position leftist; I suggest that one intuitively appealing answer might be that a position is leftist if it opposes subordination, exclusion, deprivation, and war. I think there are at least four reasons why a version of libertarianism that is leftist in this sense would likely be anarchist as well.

The most important is the central role of libertarian class theory in left-libertarian thought. Since libertarian class theory tends to focus on the creation of the state through conquest and the dominance of the state apparatus by those who employ it to exploit, there really is a deep-seated connection between left-libertarianism and a suspicious view of the state that certainly might tend to dispose someone toward anarchism. Subordination and deprivation, on a typical left-libertarian analysis, are rooted in privileges secured by the state; exclusion is characteristically reinforced by such privileges; and wars are characteristically fought to create or extend such privileges and, in general, to advance the interests of the power elite who are the principal beneficiaries of these privileges. Opposing these privileges means opposing what the state is doing at present; but it also means opposing the characteristic tendency of state action for millennia. It would seem, at minimum, enormously difficult to cabin the options available to state actors in ways that would prevent them from seeking and conferring the privileges left-libertarians oppose. Thus, the simplest way to eliminate these privileges is to eliminate the state apparatus that has persistently secured them.

A further relevant fact is that leftism of the kind I’ve sketched above is radically decentralist, in favor of grassroots institutions and opposed to top-down control. The influence of the New Left is obvious. This sort of leftism naturally militates against centralized political authority—and thus, ultimately against political authority of any sort. (My sense is that when they talked about “neighborhood power” and similar ideas, New Leftists were talking first of all about reconceiving the state—as Bill Kauffman says, you can have your home town, or you can have the empire, but you can’t have both—though of course decentralizing worklife, creating “human-scale” workplaces, has also mattered enormously to both New Leftists and left-libertarians influenced by them.)

Roderick Long has, I think rightly, emphasized the centrality to his way of thinking of the idea of equality of authority—the idea that no one has any inherent or natural right to govern anyone else. This idea is simultaneously a source of support for anarchism—since it undermines the claims of state actors to rights others lack—and a source of support for (what an ugly word) leftism—since, as Charles Johnson observes, it would be possible but weird to support equality of authority while being concerned about subordination, exclusion, and deprivation only when they they result from aggressive violence while regarding it as unworthy of attention when people are pushed around nonviolently. Presuming most left-libertarians aren’t unduly given to weirdness, their commitment to equality of authority ought to be linked with a commitment to anarchism.

The basic libertarian opposition to war is also a factor. To the extent that one is opposed to state-made war (and to most violence more generally), especially if on moral rather than merely prudential grounds, it’s easy to see unavoidable state self-aggrandizement as the culprit, and so to see anarchism as a remedy for war. At the same time, obviously, while there have been lots of principled opponents of war who have been in some sense conservatives, the opposition to imperial ambition and concern for the vulnerable that mark opposition to war are often thought of as leftist positions, and a contemporary position that wasn’t pretty strongly anti-war would be hard for me to recognize as authentically leftist. Given the centrality of war-making to what the state does (and, indeed, its centrality to quasi-Hobbesian justifications for the state), it’s easy to see why opposition to war could provide considerable support for opposition to the state, since it is difficult to see how violence could be nearly as destructive absent the state’s ability to tax, conscript, misdirect research funding, and create fiat money to facilitate its war efforts.

Are other factors relevant? If so, which?