Why I use the term “left-styled libertarian”

This has come up in C4SS, referencing a post in anti-libertarian blog Anti-Libertarian Criticism. Simpy put, the difference between left-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists is one of style, not substance. The left-libertarian definition of capitalism is exactly equal to the anarcho-capitalist (and also, increasingly, tea party) definition of corporatism, and the left-libertarian definition of free market is exactly equal to the anarcho-capitalist definition of capitalism. They both hold the so-called non-aggression principle not only as non-negotiable, but as the central feature of their ideology; the necessary and sufficient condition from which the rest of either left-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist theory can be derived.

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14 Responses to Why I use the term “left-styled libertarian”

  1. Ahem. Left-libertarians of the C4SS variety favour worker control of industry; anarcho-capitalists don’t. Left-libertarians also define “capitalism” not solely as corporatism but also as including the widespread separation of workers from ownership and/or management; ancaps don’t. The difference is substantive, not just stylistic.

    • n8chz says:

      Left-libertarians of the C4SS variety favor worker control of industry, but the way they (sometimes) frame the issue, I think, plays into the hand of right-libertarians. Consider proposition #55 in C4SS’ Find Your Philosophy Quiz (which I thoroughly enjoyed panning) (emphasis mine):

      People who work at a large corporation or non-profit should be entitled to take it over if it is primarily supported by tax dollars or if it is wealthy because of markets skewed in its favor by government-granted privilege.

      I can only see this as left libertarianism with right libertarian framing, or else left libertarianism on the defensive; trying to avoid the possibility of being accused of being moochers or something.

      Self-described anarcho-capitalists tend to be union-tolerant and sometimes even pro-union to the extent that it’s explicitly understood that we’re talking about private sector unions. Even anti-union ancaps, for the most part, have an attitude of “you’re welcome to try to implement trade unionism (or cooperative economics, or voluntary collectivism, or worker self-management, etc., etc.) on an unsubsidized basis.” Left-libs admittedly go a step further and endorse wildcat strikes and the like, so there are some substantive differences.

    • Julia says:

      But it’s not just the way LLs define “capitalism” that poses a problem; it’s also the way LLs seek to go about dismantling capitalism.

      I don’t think anyone – market socialist, anarcho-communist, Marxist, etc. – denies that capitalism requires a strong state apparatus in order to function. What we disagree on is the notion that merely dismantling the government and creating a free market in its place would ultimately give labor power over capital (which tends to be what many LLs have in mind).

      Ideology is live-practice. Most of us practice subordination to bosses and other hierarchical figures in the workplace every day – why would this go away immediately if the government were to disappear?

      There are hierarchical relations and separation of workers from management/means of production in actually existing free markets as well. A very good example are pimps/madams and other bosses who engage in modern-day slavetrading. Pimps are not protected by governments yet remain in control of prostituted women – why?

      Farmers who hire undocumented immigrants illegally maintain control of their fields without government there to protect them – why?

      See what I mean?

      • unperson says:

        I think you are talking past people who are making the same points you are. I’m not convinced that all LLs are in this naive state you describe. Activism and social justice can and will be forces in any economy, not just a ‘freed market’. Charles Johnson for example extols the values of trespassing private property to protest injustice as happened in the sit-in protest during the Civil Rights Era. I still hold the ‘freed market’ concept as valid, but one that should be discarded if the same harmful institutions end up taking hold, which they probably will.

        I’d argue the LL’s draw just as much from Marx as they do Mises.

        I like this blog’s concept of ‘polymacroeconomy’. THAT to me is what I’d call a real ‘FREED MARKET’… a market so free it’s not even constrained by its own market forces!

  2. Russ says:

    Hmm, one group’s ideology is to maximize corporate license, corporate welfare, intellectual property, and corporate violence, the other wants to abolish those things. Yes, that’s more style than substance.

    • n8chz says:

      There are plenty of examples of calls for the end of licensing restrictions, corporate welfare and intellectual property among self-identified anarcho-capitalists. The left libertarians distance themselves from “free market” advocates who also advocate working within the system (but curiously draw a lot of research and lines of argument from corporate free market think tanks such as Mises and FEE). Many self-identified anarcho-capitalists (I call these ones “principled anarcho-capitalists) make the same distinctions. The difference between those anarcho-capitalists and the left-libertarians is largely stylistic.

  3. Julia says:

    I read Petrova’s short piece on Alex’s blog, and it was very lacking. She basically cited Kolko as to why capitalism depends on privilege, but didn’t seem to go much farther than that.

    The major criticism both Alex and I make of left-styled libertarians is, while they try to come off as socially aware and concerned with social issues (which, I’m sure, they are), they really have no real means of dealing with the kinds of issues they bring up. That’s primarily because they have no real social theory/practice: they build the entirety of their philosophy on right-libertarian ideas about free markets being the ultimate state of society, and proceed to shoehorn any sort of Critical Theory into that model. For example, according to them, hegemony is solely caused by the State; without the government connecting other societal institutions (schools, media, family, religious institutions, medical apparatus, etc.) all of these institutions would function as islands completely disconnected from social context and would be influenced by nothing more than supply and demand from the free(d) market. “Competing ideologies” would arise due to this, so society would be pluralistic by default. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Markets demand specific cultural norms and ideology (i.e. that property rights are legit, markets are “natural”, alternatives are impossible, money is good, a strong work ethic, and so on). This is a complete misunderstanding of how society actually functions.

    I’m actually in the process of writing a very, very long article/blog post dealing with mutual aid in a commodified form vs. mutual aid in a gifting form (going back to the research I did last year for my senior thesis and all that). Using my new-found structural marxism, I’m going to argue that many of these market-based mutual aid institutions 1) do not provide mutual aid in the best way, 2) actually compliment capitalism rather than counter it, and 3) do not provide the space for resistance to the dominant system or ideology in the form of dual-power. I’ll let you know when it’s published.

  4. Brainpolice2 says:

    This is very well stated and nails big point of what I was getting at in my piece criticizing free market “left-libertarians”. The typical ancap will distinguish capitalism and corporatism. The left-libertarian in the style of C4SS typically serves a similar function in the way they try to distinguish “the free market” from capitalism. Because for the most part what the ancap means by “capitalism” is the same thing, loaded with much the same ideological stuff, as what the left-lib means by “the freed market”. Most people of both groups will still hold steadfast to the same basic principles: self-ownership and property rights, the market as the pursuit of self-interest creating mutual benefit and social good, the state as the aggressor on the market, and so on.

  5. Pingback: Left-Libertarianism as Enlightened Anarcho-Capitalism | Anti-Libertarian Criticism

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