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?

16 comments:

Respectfully anon said...

Actually, the term "libertarian", historically and outside the US (and maybe UK) basically refers to left-wing anarchism. In 1840, the political term libertarian was coined by an anarcho-communist to evade a French ban on the term "anarchism", as I understand. A century later, some in the US used the term to refer to a pure form of capitalism, apparently in response to the term "liberal" changing meaning.

Gary Chartier said...

Yes, I understand that the word has multiple meanings. That's why I focused on the specific sub-set to which I referred at the beginning of the post and linked to the Wikipedia article that discusses the two current movements most common tagged as “left-libertarian.” The interesting question for me is why one of these groups consists of so many anarchists—something about which I’m pleased, but which is presumably contingent. Someone asked me about this a few months ago, and I’m floating my response accordingly.

James said...

Hmm, never really thought about it. I guess since so much of the history and theory is built around people who we're anarchists that when you learn about any given left-libertarian position you're probably learning it from an anarchist, which isn't neccessarily true of right-libertarianism, so you're exposed to the idea earlier and more often than most other people.
Or you might have arrived at leftism as the logical conclusion of libertarianism, or vice a versa, and see anarchism as just another part of this. If one of the defining aspects of left-lib is our views on thickness, which I think is true, then it's possible we discover these ideas in our exploration of thickness.

Anonymous said...

If you define a libertarian as someone who adheres to the non-aggression principle then a libertarian must either (a) be an anarchist or (b) believe a state can exist without employing aggression (in other words, be very naive).

It's hard to see how "left", "right" or any extra-libertarian prefix would effect this is any way.

Michael Wiebe said...

One reason is that left-libertarians support market-based, consciously organized movements to address social problems like racism, sexism, etc., so they're more likely to look for market solutions to the issue of law and order as well. For right-libertarians, on the other hand, the NAP is the only issue; because they don't have other goals that require market means, they might have less faith in market solutions.

Another reason is that anarchism is part of the leftist tradition, so left-libertarians have more exposure to the idea, and there's less cognitive dissonance in becoming an anarchist.

PhysicistDave said...

Gary,

Isn’t the answer fairly obvious?

A number of conservatives (e.g., Thomas Sowell) have written of the difference between “right” vs. “left” as being rooted in the opposition between a “constrained” vs. an “unconstrained” conception of social reality. In other words, rightists tend to be more concerned for the law of unintended consequences: pull out one strand of the social fabric, and the whole thing may come undone.

A century ago, when everyone who was anyone knew that the solution to social problems was more government, the “leftists” were willing to throw caution to the winds and go for full-blown Bolshevism. The rightist approach was more cautious – regulation, a gradualist welfare state, “Fabianism,” etc.

Now that the intellectual winds have changed direction a bit, the folks who would have been John Reed types a century ago may find themselves to be left-libertarian anarchists. Those of us who would have fallen out more with Mencken and Nock a century ago are not left-libertarians.

I’m an anarchist for moral reasons, a “Thoreauist” if you will. I recognize that the activities in which almost all governments routinely engage would be horrendous crimes if carried out by private citizens (theft, murder, etc.), and I am not willing to participate in or endorse those crimes. As the saying goes, “A government is an organization that carries out acts in broad daylight that common criminals tend to carry out under cover of darkness.” Even a minimalist government, which, following the Weberian definition, simply maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, will have to use force to prevent competitive “defense agencies.” Again, for a private gang to do this would be to commit obvious crimes (as in violent turf wars among criminal gangs).

So, moral consistency impels me to be a moral anarchist.

However, having the temperament of a rightist, I am also quite certain that there will be very serious, possibly devastating, difficulties in really instantiating anarchy as a social institution. Of course, I also doubt that limited government is stable: it seems to have an unavoidable tendency, for obvious “public-choice” reasons, to morph into “leviathan.”

So… I am willing to consider the possibility of really existing anarchy as a form of society, but I am none too sanguine about it, just as I am none too sanguine about any form of human society. A lot of things will go wrong with anarchy.

I have similar views on gender relations, child-rearing, GBLT issues, authority in industrial enterprises, drug legalization, and a whole host of other issues: while I certainly oppose state coercion in all of these areas, and while I can go on at length about how current attitudes and practices are less than optimal or just plain silly, I am none too optimistic about a radical transformation of human society in any of those areas.

Of course, “left-libertarians” tend to be not just optimistic but aggressively insistent about radical change, beyond simple legalization, on all of the issues I just mentioned (I have in mind Charles Johnson specifically, with whom I’ve discussed some of this in detail, but I think the point is generally true).

I think that considerations from evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics (within and across races), social psychology, etc. suggest that such changes are more problematic than leftists tend to think.
(CONT.)

PhysicistDave said...

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7257263697107031621&postID=6570527903291530873

Gary,

Isn’t the answer fairly obvious?

A number of conservatives (e.g., Thomas Sowell) have written of the difference between “right” vs. “left” as being rooted in the opposition between a “constrained” vs. an “unconstrained” conception of social reality. In other words, rightists tend to be more concerned for the law of unintended consequences: pull out one strand of the social fabric, and the whole thing may come undone.

A century ago, when everyone who was anyone knew that the solution to social problems was more government, the “leftists” were willing to throw caution to the winds and go for full-blown Bolshevism. The rightist approach was more cautious – regulation, a gradualist welfare state, “Fabianism,” etc.

Now that the intellectual winds have changed direction a bit, the folks who would have been John Reed types a century ago may find themselves to be left-libertarian anarchists. Those of us who would have fallen out more with Mencken and Nock a century ago are not left-libertarians.

I’m an anarchist for moral reasons, a “Thoreauist” if you will. I recognize that the activities in which almost all governments routinely engage would be horrendous crimes if carried out by private citizens (theft, murder, etc.), and I am not willing to participate in or endorse those crimes. As the saying goes, “A government is an organization that carries out acts in broad daylight that common criminals tend to carry out under cover of darkness.” Even a minimalist government, which, following the Weberian definition, simply maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, will have to use force to prevent competitive “defense agencies.” Again, for a private gang to do this would be to commit obvious crimes (as in violent turf wars among criminal gangs).

So, moral consistency impels me to be a moral anarchist.

However, having the temperament of a rightist, I am also quite certain that there will be very serious, possibly devastating, difficulties in really instantiating anarchy as a social institution. Of course, I also doubt that limited government is stable: it seems to have an unavoidable tendency, for obvious “public-choice” reasons, to morph into “leviathan.”

So… I am willing to consider the possibility of really existing anarchy as a form of society, but I am none too sanguine about it, just as I am none too sanguine about any form of human society. A lot of things will go wrong with anarchy.
(CONT.)

PhysicistDave said...

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7257263697107031621&postID=6570527903291530873

Gary,

Isn’t the answer fairly obvious?

A number of conservatives (e.g., Thomas Sowell) have written of the difference between “right” vs. “left” as being rooted in the opposition between a “constrained” vs. an “unconstrained” conception of social reality. In other words, rightists tend to be more concerned for the law of unintended consequences: pull out one strand of the social fabric, and the whole thing may come undone.

A century ago, when everyone who was anyone knew that the solution to social problems was more government, the “leftists” were willing to throw caution to the winds and go for full-blown Bolshevism. The rightist approach was more cautious – regulation, a gradualist welfare state, “Fabianism,” etc.

Now that the intellectual winds have changed direction a bit, the folks who would have been John Reed types a century ago may find themselves to be left-libertarian anarchists. Those of us who would have fallen out more with Mencken and Nock a century ago are not left-libertarians.

I’m an anarchist for moral reasons, a “Thoreauist” if you will. I recognize that the activities in which almost all governments routinely engage would be horrendous crimes if carried out by private citizens (theft, murder, etc.), and I am not willing to participate in or endorse those crimes. As the saying goes, “A government is an organization that carries out acts in broad daylight that common criminals tend to carry out under cover of darkness.” Even a minimalist government, which, following the Weberian definition, simply maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, will have to use force to prevent competitive “defense agencies.” Again, for a private gang to do this would be to commit obvious crimes (as in violent turf wars among criminal gangs).

So, moral consistency impels me to be a moral anarchist.

However, having the temperament of a rightist, I am also quite certain that there will be very serious, possibly devastating, difficulties in really instantiating anarchy as a social institution. Of course, I also doubt that limited government is stable: it seems to have an unavoidable tendency, for obvious “public-choice” reasons, to morph into “leviathan.”

So… I am willing to consider the possibility of really existing anarchy as a form of society, but I am none too sanguine about it, just as I am none too sanguine about any form of human society. A lot of things will go wrong with anarchy.
(CONT.)

Gary Chartier said...

PhysicistDave,

Your post ends with CONT. Were you planning to add more?

You've said lots of interesting and helpful things which deserve a more extended response. One immediate observation, though, is that, as a leftie, I find Nock very congenial. While I'm aware of the consistency with which he's identified as a key member of the "Old Right," I think that label is anything but helpful where he and Chodorov alike are concerned.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's entirely clear that CMS is not an anarchist.

Anonymous said...

David Brin non-anarchist who I believe identifies as a left-libertarian. But he might be better categorized as sort of a "liberaltarian", and that bunch is pretty much all non-anarchist.

Gary Chartier said...

Re. CMS: please do say more. He's certainly expressed some skepticism about anarchism, but perhaps he's just focused on particular aspects of the anarchist project?

Re. David Brin: can you point me to more info. here? If "liberaltarian" means what it seems to have meant lately, I'm inclined to yawn at the discovery that it might apply to Brin.

Anonymous said...

The answer is simple. In fact, there are a few reasons.

1. There so far isnt a 'left-libertarian' party. If there was, more Anarchists might take an interest in electoral politics, despite the contradiction with the beliefs of some branches of Anarchism....note, that not all branches of Anarchism reject reformism or electoral politics. Anarcho-Syndicalists use voting or even the election of delegates as a tactic, while supporting mutualism which is a market system that is also supported by egoists....and yet they are collectivists....this branch of Anarchism is the least opposed to voting within the system but ultimately wants revolution.

2. "Left Libertarianism" doesnt make sense to most 'right-libertarians' which have only existed since the creation of the libertarian party in the 1970s. In reality, most left libertarians are just Anarchists looking for a name with less baggage as the name in some peoples minds implies chaos rather than egalitarian order. In this sense, it is NOT an outgrowth of traditional liberalism, but an outgrowth of Anarchism which shares nothing more than a name and a few tendencies with right-libertarianism.....ie, not based on self ownership. You dont own yourself. You ARE yourself.

3. Left Libertarians have a much more evolved history of advocating anti-statism. While there are some reformist Anarcho-Syndicalists who may participate in electoral politics, on top of the ancaps who may endorse right wingers like the right-libertarians but who may not be Anarchists at all....most have always followed the writings of Proudhon and Bakunin who have argued against the existence of the state. Left-Libertarians have a real alternative to the state, while right-libertarians like rothbard also have an alternative to the state but should probably be called right-libertarians rather than left-libertarians....I mean, they are farther right than the right-libertarians, dont necessarily support egalitarian organization or oppose social hierarchy but only market intervention and aggression against their property rights....nothing about the ancaps is left of right-libertarianism. They are ultra right libertarians and not part of the left-libertarian tradition as they do not even have similar philosophical roots...they do have philosophical roots in classical liberalism though, just like the right-libertarians who believe in natural property rights, which are rejected by Anarchists.

Anonymous said...

To put it simply....few who use the name left-libertarian are based in natural rights or self ownership at all. This usually results in a right-wing philosophy. They are and always were Anarchists with DIFFERENT philosophical roots NOT rooted in classical liberalism or self ownership, as they reject private property in favor of possession. Its false to through Rothbard in with this tradition, and while Konkin or whatever may have views closer to left libertarianism, it was an outgrowth of classical liberalism towards the left, rather than an outgrowth from traditional left-libertarianism. The people calling themselves left-libertarianism never associated with the libertarian party to begin with but just wanted to reclaim the old use of the word which traditionally meant Anarchist before it was used for the libertarian party, which is capitalist while all libertarians before this were Anarchists.

There IS a minarchist branch of the Libertarian Left though, but you wont find them on forums run by Ancaps and Agorists.....the minarchist branch of the libertarian left would be groups like the Council Communists and Libertarian Marxists, and also the Autonomen pre-Situationist contact, and some branches of the IWW that were not taken by Anarcho-Syndicalism.....Libertarian Marxists for example support a 'dictatorship of the proletariat', but rather than taking that to mean having a dictator, they take it to mean that every single member of society should be part of a self governing organization.....there are a few ways which they are different from Anarchism, in many ways similar, but most importantly they are an outgrowth of Marxism that came to Anarchist conclusions, rather than an outgrowth of Proudhon or Bakunin who came to Marxist conclusions....

Rothbard in a similar fashion is not an outgrowth of traditional Anarchism, but an outgrowth of right-libertarianism and classical liberalism that came to some Anarchist conclusions, but was not really operating within the traditional Anarchist framework when coming to those conclusions....a big reason why there is so much contention between ancaps and the larger Anarchist movement.

Anonymous said...

Traditionally, before the libertarian party, there WAS NO right-libertarianism. There was only Libertarianism which was Anarchism....and Anarchism traditionally didnt have any capitalists, so it was a far left anti-capitalist movement that advocated mutualism or non-market systems. Anarchists rejected private property rights, while supporting stewardship and occupancy rights and "use", so they could not possibly be an outgrowth of traditional liberalism or "self ownership".

When modern Anarchists talk about Anarchism being a conclusion based on self ownership, they demonstrate extreme ignorance of the history of Anarchism. Only Rothbard used such terminology, but he was always contradicting himself and had different positions at different time periods without a logical progression between those ideas....at some points he admitted that what he believed was not really Anarchism, yet his followers like to omit that and pretend like he never said it....or disagree with him and claim to be Anarchists even as he would contradict them...even as we agree with Rothbard that ancaps are not Anarchists at all, but classical liberals who came to some Anarchist conclusions in being anti-statist, but do not support the full range of traditional Anarchist positions as they are still steeped in capitalist liberalism.

Rothbard is not the "libertarian Left", his views are not really Anarchist, right-libertarianism has completely different philosophical roots from left libertarianism, despite having a similar name....so they are not two branches of classical liberalism based on self ownership, but two different philosophies with contradictory positions on ownership and property, and the Libertarian Party pretty much stole the name from traditional Libertarians who were all Left Libertarians and pretty much every left Libertarian was an Anarchist because that is what libertarian meant.

I hppe that clears up some confusion for you.

NatashasGhost said...

"Those who have put out the people's eyes reproach them for their blindness"
John Milton-1642


I've always wondered if this pessimism of human nature that claims anarchism is impossible is really just an inability to question the very foundation of instituationlized thought patterns.

Down-top governance without down-top education?

We can address symptoms of maladaptive education and never address the fact that what we call human nature is really our perception of a bunch of humans who were not educated to rationally, or critically analyze anything using any relavant information...or to even be able to recognize relevant information.These people contribute to our sociological reality, their energy,usurped by centralized powers whatever their name is at the time, and used to create this reality, and this "human nature".

Most people I know from every country even speak in propaganda patterns. Not only have most of them now, and of course since the beginning of written history at least, not been taught about propaganda techniques they literally speak and think in propaganda.

I challenge this pessimism and I will dedicate myself to the education and promotion of rational, critical analysis.