What Left Libertarianism Is and What it Isn’t
Recently the topic of left libertarianism has become a popular point of debate on certain social media. Despite there being more left libertarians than at any time in recent memory, a lot of libertarians (and other people) are still using the term incorrectly.
Left libertarianism has historically been used to refer to a wide spectrum of political (or apolitical to be more exact) ideologies. I would like to clarify what the label most accurately means in contemporary discourse and where the people who identify as such are drawing from. I would also like to outline the basic views of modern left libertarians — despite it still being an extremely broad spectrum — and to dispel some of the most common myths.
What Left Libertarianism Is
Left libertarianism is the distinct version of libertarianism that integrates traditionally leftist values with libertarian anti-state values.
Those leftist values include, but are not limited to:
- Opposing restrictive cultural norms and advocating a tolerant and free society
- In this vein, left libertarians tend to align themselves with radical feminism, anti-racism,LGBTQ empowerment, and anti-xenophobia
- Promoting worker empowerment and supporting free market labor unions
- Rejecting imperialism
- Utilizing class struggle and opposing corporate power
- Supporting equality in the social, political, and economic sphere
Of course left libertarians are still libertarians, and historically libertarian values are also important. Those include, but aren’t limited to:
In this vein, left libertarians oppose all kinds of state taxation, regulation, subsidies, and embrace competition in all areas of the economy:
In this sense, left-libertarianism continues the tradition started by the 19th century individualist anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren,Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Voltairine de Cleyre, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Hodgskin, andothers. This strain of libertarianism is seen today by the likes of the Center for a Stateless Society and in the work of Gary Chartier, Roderick Long, Kevin Carson, Sheldon Richman,James Tuttle, Samuel Edward Konkin, Anthony Gregory*, Chris Mathew Sciabarra, Karl Hess, Charles Johnson, and others.
Left libertarianism is ultimately about rejecting authoritarianism: whether it is via the direct use of coercion like when a politician extorts people every April 15th; or whether it is via economic subjugation like when a boss yells inane orders at his employee who has no other viable option; or whether it is via cultural oppression like when a husband mistreats his wife and gets away with it.
What Left Libertarianism Is Not
There is no shortage of confusion and mischaracterization about what left libertarianism actually is. Here are some of the most popular myths set straight:
1. Left libertarians are not communists. As stated above, left libertarians support robust property rights, whether in the form of Lockean/Rothbardian rights or in the Mutualist sense. Either way, left libertarians are staunch advocates of private property and markets because of their perceived moral foundations and/or their good social consequences.
2. Left libertarians are not corporate apologists. Despite supporting the complete abolition of economic intervention by the state, left libertarians are strongly anti-corporation. In fact, it is because of their anti-statism that they are anti-corporation. Left libertarians identity modern corporate domination as being strictly tied to the state and without government granted privileges, corporations would be much less powerful and possibly go away completely.
3. Left libertarians are not “bleeding heart libertarians.” Though some of the bloggers over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians identify as left libertarians, not all left libertarians are BHLers. Historically, left libertarianism has been associated with the libertarian anarchist tradition. It would be a broad view of left libertarianism that included non-anarchists (there are a few BHL anarchists, however). In short, bleeding heart libertarianism can be a kind of left libertarianism, but they are not synonymous.
4. Left libertarians can be Austrian. There are many left libertarians, such as Roderick Long, that identify as Austrian school. There is nothing contradictory about embracing praxeology, the subjective theory of value, Austrian business cycle theory, etc. in addition to left libertarianism. They are not mutually exclusive.
5. Left libertarians are not statists. While left libertarians oppose certain cultural and social practices, that doesn’t mean they want to combat them with force. Despite aligning with radical feminism, left libertarians don’t want to use the state to combat patriarchy. In fact, they often view state power and patriarchy as reinforcing structures. Left libertarians are still ultimately anti-statist and embrace the non-aggression principle. Supporting something doesn’t mean advocating the state doing it. Left libertarians see lots of room for voluntary social pressure, protests, boycotts, mutual aid, and other forms of direct action in a free society.
I have tried to clarify and briefly explain the core components of the modern left libertarian ideology. I hope readers have found my summation useful and recognize the myths when they see them. For a more comprehensive, and much better written, essay on left libertarianism, see here.
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