Response to a criticism of left-libertarianism posted at The Libertarian Standard by Juan Fernando Carpio.
Juan Fernando Carpio at The Libertarian Standard has a problem with left-libertarianism with ‘libertarian’ in quotes. He umbrellas soi disant left-libertarians as “regressing to unsound, and thus, unfair economics”. I’ve never exchanged thoughts with him before, so I’ll apologize in advance if I make incorrect assumptions on (or straw man) his theories and rationale. But, after reading his post, I’m left with an all-too-familiar bad taste in my mouth of libertarianism regressing to pseudo-Beltway reformism, conservatism or maybe even vulgar social Darwinism—I’m not completely sure.
Left-libertarianism, according to Mr. Carpio, is a “trend among young and ‘eternally rebel’ types to try and conflate Capitalism and Interventionism”, ignorant of “the role that Murray N. Rothbard and others played in advancing Libertarianism by providing Austrian insights to the fundamental issue of value, and thus of ethics and justice; an International Relations analysis of the key role of war as a destructive force abroad and at home; and other key elements… when they ‘discover’ or regress to pre-Austrian individualist authors”.
He argues that Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand, “path-breaking thinkers, both could easily devise new or old-new terms for what they were describing, yet they both advocated Capitalism [as] a system of private property in the means of production, as opposed to Socialism (a system of public or State-owned property in the means of production).”
The initial reasoning flaw of Mr. Carpio is multi-facted:
- He concedes that capitalism was ‘devised’ in the early 20th century “as opposed to Socialism”.
- He misdefines socialism as Mises and Rand did.
The fact is that “socialism” wasn’t a concrete system and never has been. Lacking authoritarian measures meant lacking in dictatorial systems of ‘how things will happen’. These “pre-Austrian individualist authors” were socio-political commentators harshly scrutinizing what they saw to be wrong, authoritative and deviating for the liberty of the individual. They saw property, wealth and monopoly privilege trickling up to the elite. Though, we have enlightening criticism from these philosophers of the State, what they provided was unique—and in many ways, accurate—observations of how the State was exploited by capitalists as a tool indirectly dominate society.
What “anarcho-capitalists’ refer to as “mercantilism” was not misunderstood by these libertarians, free marketeers and collectivists. It’s what they called “capitalism”. It’s what capitalism was, is and always will be, to a large extent.
Capitalism is defined by Mr. Carpio as ‘private ownership of the means of production’ for basically no other reason than Mises, Rand and Rothbard said so. The definition before these philosophers was more true to the derivative, ‘capital’, and therefore, conventional wisdom is not so far off from its real meaning. Even if we’re to get abstract and question whether words are primarily defined by their derivatives or by common understanding, “capitalism” is just not equal to liberty or free markets. The derivative is materialistic, not humanistic; I would go as far as to call it an inherently dehumanizing system, based solely on being an ‘-ism’ based on capital. And the conventional wisdom is a system of domination forced on the masses by the powers that be—power and privilege bought by the wealthy capitalist oligopoly. At this point of understanding, it should be understood that we’re not just playing semantics; and clinging to ‘capitalism’ is “of course is not only a conceptual, but also a strategic mistake”. Not to mention, unjust “regressing to unsound, and thus, unfair” political philosophy.
Rothbardian ethics and theories of justice and activism were not “capitalist”. They were not “socialist”. If you want to attach a pre-existing ‘-ism’ to Rothbardian philosophy, it would be “humanism” or “individualism”. His analysis of ethics was first and foremost. From these, he analyzed the status quo, history and activism toward the future. Removing property from the hands of the State is Rothbardian ethics taken to logical conclusions. This covers a lot of land theft injustices throughout society, but once you get into the stolen land by non-governmental agents and free ideas to the commons from these agents, complete non-governmental ownership of the means of production is not a libertarian endgame.
Even under this extremely liberal definition of “capitalism”, adopted by Mr. Carpio—that property is simply not owned, rented or distributed by the State—it’s ignorant of Rothbardian ethics by shaping them into conservative platitudes. The ethics derived from the discovered sovereignty of the individual over all authority makes libertarianism, politically, a philosophy with justice as its center, not ‘out there’ on the periphery. Removing property from governmental and non-governmental criminals applies justice to the anti-social elements corrupting the moral fabric of individual sovereignty. The direct and indirect violence attached to the acquisition and maintained possession of this stolen property carries undeniable social costs via, what Rothbard called, “continuing aggression“.
Returning the stolen property to its rightful owners and holding the criminals liable for their damages, is not an act in the interest of rolling over capital, but primarily acts of applying social justice.
I agree with Mr. Cario that libertarianism is “unfinished and far from error-free”, but clinging to an socio-economic system defined by factors of production with the sole purpose of rolling it over and combining that with hating government is libertarian regression, not a ‘sounder grounding’.
I also accept the truism that “exchanges” are the “source of wealth”, but forced exchange through government privilege drives the excess of wealth concentrated into the hands of a relative few. Government-granted monopolies on land and ‘intellectual property’ force the direction of exchanges in order to eat, read, prevent and heal sickness, manufacture, distribute. Government applied fees narrows the marketplace to cartels while legislation curbs the free assembly of laborers. Government paramilitary forces overtly shut down resistance to curbing free association in the workplace, organizing, non-aggressive means of negotiating for increased bargaining power by force. Forget that these workplaces are already removed of bargaining power, largely due to the prior mentioned interventions by the State, in the interest of maximizing capital.
A principle “taken up, adapted and developed within libertarian left currents”—echoed by Prof. Noam Chomsky, a very conservative voice associated with the libertarian left, but a principle against which I see no argument consistent with libertarian ethics—is: “According to this anarchist vision, any structure of hierarchy and authority carries a heavy burden of justification, whether it involves personal relations or a larger social order. If it cannot bear that burden—and it sometimes can—then it is illegitimate and should be dismantled. When honestly posed and squarely faced, that challenge can rarely be sustained.”
I don’t speak for many interpretations among left-libertarians of culture, economics and title, but encouraging free association is not a “distrust of the vertical division of labor”. Scrutinizing every facet of hierarchy in the workplace is vital because the hierarchy exists, first and foremost, and hierarchy is authoritative. Is hierarchy and division of labor ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’ by themselves? No, but scrutinizing these concepts where they are practiced, to any degree, isn’t “misplaced antagonism”. Some institutions can meet the burden of proof that the authority asserted is ethical. Others can’t and when they can’t, dismantling them, holding the agents liable for damages, the distribution of restitution to the damaged, the criminals’ retribution and allowing for the institutions to be replaced in accordance with ethical will ought to be encouraged. Denying the right to any individual’s right to self-determination is to deny that person of liberty and deny one’s own liberty.
Demeaning this rationale toes a much more dangerous line between liberty and slavery than does maximum scrutiny. In accordance with Rothbardian ethics, Aristotelian virtue, objective morality and just being a decent human being, I feel it’s imperative to never accept a person’s received compensation for any act of labor as justified prima facie. I’m not applying guilt to the authority over the individuals because my parents could’ve been nicer to me, but because the burden of proof is on any person or collective exercising any form of authority to justify their role and invalidate the claim against them.
Personally, I encourage laborers, pencil-pushers and desk jockeys everywhere—who bear the majority of the burden in just about every culture for the sake of producing relatively less than those above them in the hierarchy—to scrutinize the authority over them. Where they find injustice, I encourage them to seek justice; and, yes, apply it themselves if necessary in ways that aren’t immoral or self-defeating, but steadfast in the pursuit of justice.
Why are capitalists so intimidated by cooperation among paycheck-to-paycheck types of people collectivizing their bargaining power, not only in a free market but as a means to free the market? Why are capitalists so knee-jerky to terms like “self-management”? Is it because the liberty of self-management doesn’t guarantee the preservation of what they prefer a free society to look like?
Isn’t this liberty taking a back seat to capitalism? Doesn’t this separate a free market libertarian from a minarchist capitalist?
Defining liberty and rulers solely within the confines of the State is “regressing to unsound, and thus, unfair” ethics.
It’s our workplace that largely rules: when we eat, when we sleep, when we read for pleasure, when we socialize for pleasure, when we see the new art exhibit, when we play with the children in our family, when we see the play that opened, when we actually get to watch that movie we grabbed form the Red Box a week ago, when we write, when we think to write, when we edit, when we read others, when we think with the least distraction about that, when we call our significant other, how often we cook, the clothes we have to buy, how often we have to walk them to the dry cleaners, when we can exercise, how we talk, when we talk, when we catch up with ourselves, when we cope, when we grieve, when we connect….
Is it so un-libertarian to step our on a limb and say it’s in a critical mass of individuals’ rational self-interest to maximize control over an external factor that governs the vast majority of each of our lives?