A facebook friend, Andrew Taranto, posted:
Ayn Rand was, at least rhetorically speaking, a capitalist and an anti-libertarian. Shouldn’t we, libertarians, regard this as significant when considering the value of the term “capitalist”?
To this, my knee-jerk hit & run response was:
Her biggest problem with free market libertarians was what she called ‘plagiarism’ because ‘no capitalist would plagiarize’. She was right in the sense that ‘intellectual property’ is a tenet of capitalism, only protected by the State. Which leads to her disdain toward free market anarchists—that she was uncompromising in the fact that the State is [an absolutely necessity] for capitalism to exist. She said she believed in the separation of State and economy, but this was a lie because her legal philosophy regarding corporations, ‘intellectual property’, land redistribution (a la “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” require the State to create, enforce and preserve these fictional entities to limit liability, fictional property rights that forcefully monopolize (steal) and protect immoral land possession.
She was indeed a capitalist, not a free marketeer and definitely not a libertarian. A key portion of the ‘conscience’ of a libertarian, for lack of a better phrase, is the harsh scrutiny toward all forms of hierarchy, domination, existing institutions which wield any degree of authority AND to support little less than the dismantling of these institutions when their authority cannot be justified. She never justifies the State, only that it is an imperative for capitalism and never scrutinized ‘non-governmental’ institutions which wield authority. If her logic connects anywhere in her conclusions—according to her excellent interpretation of metaphysics and epistemology—she subjectively never states belief that ex post facto justice be applied to capitalists. This conservatism of the status quo is an elitist categorical imperative (funny as she was such a militant opponent of Kant). This categorical imperative is the preserver of capitalism and the State.
She was right. Capitalism cannot exist without the State because the imperative isn’t justice or liberty, but preserving capital as the guiding force of interpersonal relations.
I like to clarify a couple of things because I wasn’t completely fair to Rand:
First, Rand’s argument with libertarians regarding the legitimacy of the State was that it is a necessary final arbiter. That even when it is immoral, it is immoral to dismantle it without replacing it with another monopoly of force. The State’s immorality, by her own definition of morality, leaves only her utilitarian argument to tolerate such injustice. Her ideal social system’s immorality was acceptable to her (for no other reason that I see than) to perpetuate capitalists’ status quo—the elite to have access to the State as a monopoly agency.
Second, she did scrutinize the status quo more often and accurately than most of her time and throughout history—irrational orthodoxy and institutions such as the Church, the State and the perception of the self. This includes the workplace in her fiction, but my comment was directed to when she zeroed in political science and economics later in her life.
Third, I don’t see a linguistic definition of “capitalism” worth using to describe a free market because it was already defined by pre-U.S.S.R. free marketeers as an unjust system. Otherwise. I don’t know how one forms an ‘-ism’ from ‘capital’. The derivation process just doesn’t work.
We can really only interpret the word as an ‘-ism’ through its historical usage or base a political philosophy on ‘capital’ as some sort of categorical imperative. I fully agree with Professor Roderick Long—who I trust well as a go-to on Rand, Aristotle, virtue ethics, liberal philosophy—that “capitalism” is an “anti-concept”, a term coined by Rand. From his lecture “Left and Right: Forty Years Later“:
Rand used to identify certain terms and ideas as “anti-concepts,” that is, terms that actually function to obscure our understanding rather than facilitating it, making it harder for us to grasp other, legitimate concepts; one important category of anti-concepts is what Rand called the “package deal,” referring to any term whose meaning conceals an implicit presupposition that certain things go together that in actuality do not. Although Rand would not agree with the following examples, I’ve become convinced that the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” are really anti-concepts of the package-deal variety.
In Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal, Rand doesn’t say that the status quo is capitalism to its ideal, but uses examples from her time and history to argue that the ‘benefits’ come from capitalism as it existed. It cannot be argued that she didn’t argue capitalism as an element of the mixed economy of private and government-owned property. It’s the government possession of any property that makes government antithetical to the free market, but a market freed from coercion is more than an economic system. Free market principles are rooted in morality and ethics, but that injustice is not to be tolerated from any and all institutions.
Rand’s book defines “capitalism” as—not as an economic science, but—a “social system” of property rights. (p.10) In Capitalism, Rand adds that “patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights” and the imperative that “government certifies the origination of an idea and protects its owner’s exclusive right of use and disposal”. (p. 130)
Instead of scrutinizing the privilege of ‘intellectual property’, she justifies it as “man’s right to the product of his mind”, but uses it to justify the existence of the State which violates her fundamental principle of morality—the non-aggression principle, which translates that the initiation of force is always immoral and ought not ever be acceptable means toward ends. She acknowledges and fully supports an individual’s monopoly of “an idea” and the State—which holds (her words) “a legal monopoly on the use of physical force”, not moral but legal—to enforce this ‘intellectual’ monopoly. (p. 130)
Rand concedes that the “nature of governmental action is: coercive action”—coercion being the threat of the initiation of force, therefore, antithetical to free markets. (p. 46)
Prof. Long makes the case against ‘intellectual property’ being a right in a manner which should be uncontroversial (emphasis added):
The objects of ownership in the case of intellectual property are supposed to be abstract objects; but what does ownership over an abstract object amount to? Ownership is supposed to solve conflicts over use, but there cannot literally be conflicts over the use of abstract objects; I don’t have to wait until you’re done thinking the Pythagorean theorem before I can start thinking it. Putative conflicts over the use of abstract objects are always really conflicts over the concrete items in which those abstract objects are embodied.
An abstract object, such as a design for a new kind of mousetrap, gets its foothold in concrete reality only by being embodied in, say, a mind that is thinking of it, or a sheet of paper that describes it, or an actual mousetrap built in accordance with it. But if those concrete objects are already owned—-the mind by the person whose mind it is, the paper and the mousetrap by whoever made or bought them—then the question of who has rights over those things is already settled, and there can be no further question of who owns the design itself. If the originator of the design were to claim exclusive rights over it, he or she would thereby be claiming, in practice, the right to control someone else’s property—someone else’s individual mind or individual sheet of paper or individual mousetrap. Intellectual property is thus essentially a claim of ownership over other people and the products of other people’s labor, and so is necessarily illegitimate; in forbidding the free circulation of ideas it constitutes a form of censorship as well.
A core tenet of Rand’s “capitalism” was forceful intellectual monopoly. Her straw manning of libertarianism aside, her disdain for libertarianism was largely based on two perceptions:
- That libertarians do not tolerate the “coercive action” inherent in the State’s nature; and
- That she perceived libertarians as ‘stealing’ her fictitious ‘intellectual property’.
Libertarians who scrutinized the privilege of ‘intellectual property’ morally oppose recognition of it. The concept is in support of slavery and a manifestation of State privilege, enforced by immoral aggression. Rand was a self-professed pro-capitalist anti-libertarian—in part—due to (and I feel she was correct here) ‘intellectual property’ privilege being a tenet of capitalism. A purpose of the State, then, is not to suppress capitalism, but necessary to preserve the ‘social system’ of it.
A proponent of markets free of coercion—by Rand’s own definition of the State’s nature—must be anti-State; but capitalism is a “social system” where “patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights” and the “government secures” the privileged entity the “exclusive right of use and disposal” of ideas. In this, she makes the case that it is the State’s duty to create and preserve monopoly by force.
Rand’s recognition of ‘intellectual property’ as a right is debunked by herself a couple of pages later where she concedes that “the question of their time limit is an enormously complex issue”, citing Great Britain’s Copyright Act of 1911 as the “most rational” time limit. Rand’s views on property and perpetuity would have her follow that ‘intellectual property’ has no moral, rational time limit. Her own views on property rights cite ‘intellectual property’ as a State-granted monopoly privilege.
The Capitalist: The Categorical Imperative
Her views on ‘intellectual property’ and the State seem sloppy when one is familiar with her extremely wise writings on metaphysics and epistemology until you understand the word “capitalism”. Her definition of “capitalism” is basically a regurgitation of incorrect reactionary definitions of her time. Rand wasn’t stupid. She was very aware of the historical usage of “capitalism” to pejoratively describe people who expropriated profit from laborers’ production; that capital was stolen wealth as non-labor related income.
Rand went as far as to call this an ideal in the title of the book I reference, which leads me to ask: were Rand’s inconsistencies in applying the non-aggression principle to economics and statism due to capital as an irrational categorical imperative?
The argument for “capitalism” by those who also call themselves “libertarian” is that the etymology of “capitalism” doesn’t change the objective meaning. But the objective meaning isn’t that which anti-Soviets used as a reactionary term to oppose Bolshevism and Stalinism. What do I mean by this?
Ayn Rand and capitalism:
- Ayn Rand is born in Russia in 1905, traveled to the U.S. after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1926 and vowed never to go back.
- Rand hated the Bolsheviks who called themselves ‘socialists’. They weren’t socialists, but it’s what they called themselves, so Rand called what she hated, ‘socialism’.
- The Bolsheviks called themselves ‘Marxists’. Marx hated the ‘capitalist’ who “develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the labourer”. (Das Kapital, Vol. 1, Chap. 15).
- Rand expresses her anti-Bolshevism as ‘anti-socialism’ and ‘anti-Marxist’ by latching onto to what Marx hated: “capitalism”.
It’s my contention that Rand did not see the social system she called “capitalism” as an “ideal” because it was truly the greatest extension of her philosophy, as she defines it heavily with ‘property rights’ that are inconsistent with her philosophy. The only explanation I can see is that she latched onto what Marx hated and called that what she loved employing capital “as the standard of rationality from which all moral requirements derive”, relating to economics.
I’ve discussed this with neither Roderick T. Long nor Charles Johnson, but upon this thought, I decided to do a little digging. My history with Rand began at 15 and my love affair lasted until I became a libertarian around 21, but I’ve always clung to and reviewed her writings pretty frequently. I still consider myself an Aristotelian in terms of ethics and find myself illuminated by Rand’s fiction—which she always claimed was the clearest expression of her philosophy, describing herself as a novelist first, then a philosopher.
Her non-fiction, especially where she dabbled in economics and political science was later in her life and I have a theory about her sloppiness and stubbornness that I won’t express here because it would serve as an ad hominem distraction. Prof. Long and Mr. Johnson make several points on her economic views with which I don’t contend that are extremely relevant to her subjective connection between free markets and capitalism.
Prof. Long, earlier this year (emphasis added):
Rand describes a “pyramid of ability” operating within capitalism, wherein the dull masses are carried along by the intelligent and enterprising few. “The man at the top,” Rand assures us, “contributes the most to all those below him,” while the “man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.” Rand doesn’t say that the top and the bottom always correspond to employers and employees respectively, but she clearly takes that to be the usual situation. And that simply does not correspond with the reality of most people’s everyday experience.
If you’ve spent any time at all in the business world, you’ve almost certainly discovered that the reality on the ground resembles the comic-strip Dilbert a lot more than it resembles Rand’s pyramid of ability. In Kevin Carson’s words: as in government, so likewise in business, the “people who regulate what you do, in most cases, know less about what you’re doing than you do,” and businesses generally get things done only to the extent that “rules imposed by people not directly involved in the situation” are treated as “an obstacle to be routed around by the people actually doing the work.” To a considerable extent, then, in the real world we see the people at the “bottom” carrying the people at the “top” rather than vice versa.
Rand’s notorious reference to big business as a “persecuted minority” (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, ch. 3) likewise jars with our real-world experience of “capitalism,” as we see the corporate elite lining up for tax-funded subsidies, protectionist regulations, bailouts, mandates, monopoly contracts, war profits, eminent domain giveaways, and other state-granted privileges.
But, Rand does understand that the persecuted are within every class. She’s sloppy in Capitalism, but Atlas Shrugged contains a wealth of heroes and villains from every economic class—expressing that producers and parasites are results of free will, not circumstance. The Fountainhead‘s villains are people who live by capital as a categorical imperative—Peter Keating, Gail Wynand. And Dominique Francon, the heroine, is someone who endures struggle with integrity instead of selling out. It’s the lack of moral standards (because she deplored Kant and the concept of the categorical imperative) that made the villans immoral, irrational, evil profit-seekers at the expense of others; and the adherence to morality over profit that defines her heroes. It’s part of why I love her fiction! Prof. Long wrote in 2007 (emphasis added):
Now the second, more left-wing reading is clearly the “official” one, both because the novel draws its heroes and villains from capital and labour alike (and even the über-hero John Galt is a proletarian of sorts) and because in her nonfiction works Rand always insisted that the greatest conflicts between producers and parasites occur not between but within economic classes. But the novel is nonetheless heavily and unmistakably flavoured with the first, more right-wing reading. Why so? Is it just because Rand the creative novelist couldn’t resist the attraction of what she would have called the “gimmick” of reversing the conventional picture of a strike? Surely it’s more than that.
What of class solidarity as an explanation? It seems to have something going for it: while Rand lived a proletarian life during her early years in the U.S., she had come from a bourgeois family (albeit more petit than grand) who had been expropriated by a proletarian revolution—so it might seem only to be expected that she would identify with capital rather than with labour.
Charles Johnson rationalizes that Rand’s view of capitalism was aptly not logically consistent with a free market, stating (emphasis added):
Rand knew perfectly well that the historical data underdetermined the question of whether predation or voluntary cooperation was essential to the capitalistic form of society: the rise of the societies we callcapitalistinvolved the liberation of many people and of the markets in many commodities; it also involved the escalation of many forms of predatory state patronage and the invention of new ones (it meant, for example, considerably more freedom in agriculture or textiles; it also meant considerably more government intervention in banking, land use, and transportation infrastructure).
You could describe the picture by identifying the growth in freedom as the capitalist stuff, with the new levels of predation as anti-capitalist deviations from capitalism marring its productive development. But you could just as easily describe it by identifying the growth in predation as the capitalist stuff, with the growth in freedom as a countervailing, non-capitalist or anti-capitalist development, which the capitalist stuff had an antagonistic, or often parasitic, relationship to. So which description should you choose? I think the best explanation why Rand chose the first picture instead of the second one has to do with what she would have identified with hersense of life—the degree to which her aesthetic and affectional imagination were engaged on behalf of actually existing capitalists, as she understood them, in the known reality of the mixed economy: that is, her view of the grand bourgeoisie — big industrialists, business-owners, money-men, the top tier of entrepreneurial inventors, and ultimately the wealthy broadly — as the heroic prime movers in business, and thus as theworld’s motor, driving the production of the material means of survival and human flourishing. (See, for example, Atlas Shrugged or America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.)
Though she’d no doubt fume at the description, one way of putting it is that she made her choices about what language to reclaim and what language to abandon on the basis of class solidarity. I have no quarrel with Rand’s procedure; but rather only with the particular class she chooses to stand in solidarity with. If Rand is right that the capitalist is the chief victim of the predatory state, and if the picture she draws of the archetypical capitalist is well-drawn, it makes perfect sense for her to reclaim the wordcapitalismfor the free market as against political patronage. If, on the other hand, the bosses are the chief beneficiaries of the predatory state, and if the picture she draws of the archetypical capitalist is ill-drawn—if the archetypical boss is a busybodying mediocrity, a cunning predator, or a petulant grafter, and if their role in the workplace is a drag on the productive labor on the shop floor rather than the animating force behind it as Rand claims—then it makes perfect sense to locate the essence ofcapitalismelsewhere from where Rand locates it, and to treatcapitalismas a term of criticism for political patronage as against the free market.
Rand’s views on economics were not consistent with the free market principles many derive from her morality, but pretty consistent with the descriptions of capitalism given by critics of capitalism—Marx, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker, Friedrich Engels. Rand was indeed a capitalist and not a libertarian, by her own admission, but we can prove this by showing her solidarity with capitalists over free market libertarians when she decided to become the armchair economist. Further proof that a free market libertarian is not a capitalist, Andrew? Sure.
I can get into why Rand’s fiction writing is special to me and objectively profound elsewhere. In a nutshell, it actually does apply valid objective metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics to scrutinizing all forms of hierarchy and domination in our culture. This is what makes her expression relevant to libertarianism. Her economics and conservative reactions to authoritarianism in the workplace expressed later in her life, on the other hand, are antithetical to libertarianism and why I agree with Professor Gary Chartier; that libertarians are inherently anti-capitalist.
A highlight of libertarianism is not punching numbers to produce the ‘greatest for the greatest number’ because—as the antithesis of authoritarianism—libertarians don’t only see authority as not self-justifying, but also the self-defeating aspects of central planning institutions to dictate such numbers. No one with half a brain will argue that the status quo or etymology of “capitalism” is libertarian. Linguistically, we can only objectively say that capitalism, as a social system, is one driven by capital. One can take this abstract to many levels, but this truism shouldn’t be controversial.
The liberty of the individual as sovereign over authoritative institutions has been wrongly associated with capitalism because capitalism is a hybrid of the two—private ownership of the means of production with a monopoly of force (the State) driving the direction of capital in society. Though Rand and other minarchists who call themselves ‘capitalists’ call for a separation of state and economy, their rationale is seldom rooted in the free, voluntary exchange of justly possessed property. It is usually to prevent the State from expropriating capital from the economy. For this reason, the scrutiny that minarchists apply to the top-down, bureaucratic, forceful domination of government is not applied to the workplace. The fact of the matter is that the workplace functions in the same way—expropriating capital from laborers.
The pyramid scheme of top-down organization is accepted as conventional wisdom for how to control the successes and failures of a corporation. Another truism ignored by minarchist capitalists is that governments are corporations and act like corporations. The evil it commits is heavily rooted in that it produces nothing and enabled by its monopoly of force intruding on the economy to extract capital, but a dysfunction of government is also its inner top-down bureaucratic structure—where those at the bottom do most of the work and best understand how to maximize without wasting resources, but they have no say. If you don’t believe me, just ask a schoolteacher. Every critic of the education system, especially those of public education, claims that their schoolteacher friend is one of the few great ones. You don’t hear people bragging about their friends in the administrative bureaucracy of the education system.
The beauty of Rand’s fiction is that heroes don’t strive for capital. They strive for eudaimonia. Yes, there is no virtue in sacrifice, but Rand contends that there is no such thing as ‘sacrificing capital’ in the rational pursuit of eudaimonia. A large part of this rational pursuit is not only to recognize your sovereignty as an individual, but that this recognition is meaningless (or in most cases, hedonistic, which she abhorred) without recognizing and respecting that sovereignty in all individuals. The libertarian applies this Aristotelian view on virtue by not only refusing to tolerate any authority which cannot justify itself with logical, moral consistency; but any social system where the pursuit of eudaimonia is curbed by aggression.
A common minarchist, austrolibertarian, “anarcho”-capitalist argument against the mixed economy concentrating wealth to privileged classes of cartels is that now the American family has to have two working parents or starve. Instead of applauding the capitalists’ use of child labor for “providing 15-year-olds with the training, life experience, and sense of self-worth that only a private job can bring“, as Lew Rockwell, Jr. did recently, libertarians should be scrutinizing the conditions that deter the child from acquiring an education, making quality friendships, participating in a sport, enhancing a need to feed the creative juices that flow through an adolescent or helping his mother and father care for his siblings.
The libertarian doesn’t value a social system guided by authority or capital, but by the free and non-aggressive actions of individuals within said society. Ludwig von Mises argued well that human action drives the marketplace and the most efficient market is one where human action is most genuine. Mises also argued for the State and in favor of the capitalist sacrificing his morality when it best serves the customer; not that there’s any virtue in it, but with capital as a categorical imperative, it’s in the capitalist’s best interest to obtain capital. Murray Rothbard’s treatise on ethics argues a natural law of individual sovereignty and defines libertarianism as a political philosophy with a rational framework of scrutinizing the legitimacy of institutions which threaten or violate individual sovereignty and the imperative that a libertarian seeks justice when they are illegitimate. Of the Federal Reserve I stated, loosely paraphrasing Professor Noam Chomsky’s words on the financial system in the 90’s, “When in the pursuit of justice, an inherently tyrannical institution stands in the way, you don’t ‘reform’ it. You get rid of it.”
Mises’ argument that the most efficient market is one where human action is most freely expressed isn’t an ideology; it’s a truism. The libertarian accepts that the State is illegitimate and understands justice is served only when this illegitimate authoritative institution is dismantled. The libertarian supports, not capital, but human action to drive the marketplace. Not top-down, highly centralized concentrations of capital to solve the problems in society or improve it to better fit our preferences, but voluntary participation of people to construct institutions and means to achieve common goals where they exist. Maximum liberty is achieved when institutions are controlled by the people who construct and maintain them, but also by the people who are affected by them or else the institution will always infringe on individual sovereignty.
I don’t mean to ‘straw man’ Misesean anti-Statists or Rothbardians here. Rothbard took Mises’ economic philosophy and the Aristotleian-Randian ethical philosophy to a more logical conclusion of free market libertarianism which he dubbed “anarcho-capitalism”. The problem with Rothbard’s self-diagnosis was that he using the flawed, reactionary interpretation of “capitalism” that Mises and Rand used.
Samuel E. Konkin III coined the term “agorism” as radical means toward a free market—understanding that without scrutiny of all institutions possessed by a government or ‘private’ hands, there could be no justice. And without justice, a market could not be reasonably called “free”. He responded to “anarcho-capitalism” and the way “Rothbardian” was used in a 2002 interview (emphasis added):
First and foremost, agorists stress the Entrepreneur, see non-statist Capitalists (in the sense of holders of capital, not necessary ideologically aware) as relatively neutral drone-like non-innovators, and pro-statist Capitalists as the main Evil in the political realm….
The “Anarcho-capitalists” tend to conflate the Innovator (Entrepreneur) and Capitalist, much as the Marxoids and cruder collectivists do….
Agorists are strict Rothbardians, and, I would argue in this case, even more Rothbardian than Rothbard, who still had some of the older confusion in his thinking. But he was Misesian, and Mises made the original distinction between Innovators/Arbitrageurs and Capital-holders (i.e., mortgage-holders, coupon-clippers, financiers, worthless heirs, landlords, etc.). With the Market largely moving to the ‘net, it is becoming ever-more pure entrepreneurial, leaving the brick ‘n’ mortar “capitalist” behind….
Agorists, as you have undoubtedly picked up, are revolutionary; we don’t see the market triumphing without the collapse of the State and its ruling caste, and, as I point out in New Libertarian Manifesto, historically, they just don’t go without unleashing senseless violence on the usually peaceful revolutionaries who then defend themseelves.
Whose Streets? Our Streets!
The workplace should not be the third rail of libertarian discourse. Seeing as we’re at work eight hours of our day and construct the remaining hours to comply with those eight hours, there’s nothing more libertarian than self-employment or the construction of institutions where people cooperatively organize to produce and possess a mutually agreed upon portion of the fruits of their labor. It isn’t in a human being’s best interest to dehumanize oneself or tolerate the dehumanization efforts of others. The imperative of capital over people as an ‘-ism’ is extremely dehumanizing and therefore, directly in conflict with liberty.
Is this socialism? The etymology of “socialism” ranges from stateless communism to the Soviet Union to everything I’ve just described. The historical usage of “socialism” is actually cloudier than that of “capitalism”. Linguistically, it makes sense—as Sheldon Richman made the point in a lecture titled, “Capitalism vs. the Free Market“—that if we designed an objective linear political spectrum, it would be socialism at the left polar opposite of statism because the far extremes visualize control of the means of production as either in the hands of the government or the people. I really can’t argue against this rationale with my contention that the State, like any corporation, is an inherently antisocial institution.
The primary objective of an entity is usually to preserve itself. No matter what other motives lie in the background, those cannot be met by the entity if it ceases to exist. The driving force of non-human entities controlled by humans is the same. The State doesn’t really own anything, justly; it only possesses and control that which is either stolen outright, acquired with the directly stolen production from laborers or with borrowed capital that becomes odious debt on the working class.
Rothbard rationalized applying justice to the wrongfully possessed land by the State of the Soviet Union in the article, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” (emphasis added):
The principle in the Communist countries should be: land to the peasants and the factories to the workers, thereby getting the property out of the hands of the State and into private, homesteading hands….
The libertarian sees the State as a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called “taxation” and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around. Therefore, any property in the hands of the State is in the hands of thieves, and should be liberated as quickly as possible. Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty…. Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners….
Alan Milchman, in the days when he was a brilliant young libertarian activist, first pointed out that libertarians had misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, he pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property. It is justice vs. injustice, innocence vs. criminality that must be our major libertarian focus.
Prof. Chartier calls this application of justice “libertarian redistribution” (emphasis added):
Libertarian redistribution is just because it employs voluntary or rectificatory means and because it is undertaken by non-state actors. It does not require any sort of global consequentialist justification. And it serves to empower ordinary people and compensate them for injustice….
Libertarians rightly reject statist redistribution as a variety of slavery. But they have every reason to embrace solidaristic, transactional, and rectificational redistribution. A libertarian commitment to redistribution helps clearly to identify libertarianism as a species of genuine radicalism that challenges the status quo, undermines hierarchy, exclusion, and poverty, and fosters authentic empowerment.
Because the State produces nothing but destruction, it actually preserves itself through capital forcefully expropriated from the labor of not only its citizens, but also the agents within the State—more-so as you go down the ladder to that schoolteacher, marine, firefighter. The reaction of many populist statists is to call for more ‘democratic’ structures to enter the political realm, but this never solves the problem inherent with existence of the State. Democracy, linguistically translated, is ‘people power’ and without the power to dismantle an authoritative institution, the people will never have power. For this reason, it’s always in any government’s interest to use its monopoly of force to preserve its viability by any means necessary. The State’s nature of being antisocial is that which makes it inherently anti-democratic.
How does a libertarian society ‘work’? Prof. Chomsky tells people over and over again that “anarchism is participatory, so that means you don’t wanna hear a speech about” how ‘society will work’. I won’t pontificate like a technocrat, but the best answer to the question of how a libertarian society would work is: that’s up to the individuals in said societies, how they cooperate to solve problems, raise production and maximize the standard of living when individuals have a direct stake in the culmination of actions within the society. This isn’t ‘socialist ideology’ to ‘enslave’ individuals to some abstract coercive collective.
The State is a coercive collective by any definition. Participation in society isn’t a mythical duty to serve arbitrary masters. It’s in any non-primitivist’s rational self-interest to engage in interpersonal relations. There’s no virtue in dehumanizing one’s self to live by an ‘-ism’ revolving around capital. This is just a basic truism that without the coercive collective of the State and the compartmentalizing workplace atmosphere governing our lives, it’s in our interest to have more control of our destinies within our own hands
Human beings are rational, social, pleasure-seeking animals with relatively infinite mental and emotional capacities. The extremely rare quality for a group in nature to have the capacity to create, innovate and revise material objects that improve the quality of life. The fact that these mental capacities are combined with the infinite beautiful ability to express, empathize and sympathize in our relations with one another to gut-wrenching degrees makes it in individuals’ rational self-interest to cooperate with one another to improve the quality of life of those who improve ours.
Limiting ourselves to the adherence to dehumanizing social systems based on force, materialism and domination is anti-liberty and therefore, anti-libertarian. The marketplace isn’t just an exchange of material goods at prices and this outlook has become a categorical imperative that inhibits people from scrutinizing the ethics of the systems which govern most of our lives: the workplace.
The market is culmination of the interdependent interactions of people within society. Capitalist ethics isolate scrutiny to exchanges inhibiting further exchange of capital. Libertarian ethics ought not be ignorant of the social costs forced upon non-capitalists and capitalists in all interpersonal relations, direct and indirect. These are the costs bankrupting humanity of eudaimonia.
The ‘Benjamin Tucker called himself a socialist’ argument is a lazy one by itself, I feel, that advocates of freed markets are socialists. Remember, the totalitarian, genocidal, authoritatively central planning Bolsheviks called their government the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”. Whose philosophy or direct action you prefer more shouldn’t dictate your definition of “socialism”, either way. Mr. Richman’s argument that that statism and socialism are existential polar opposites and the uncompromising scrutiny of the social costs expropriated by private tyrannies, where they exist, displays ‘socialism’ as an accurate classification of the libertarian left.
Left and Right
The usage of ‘left and right’ in the 21st century has been so dumbed-down that it doesn’t really mean anything. In America, the political sector has been so centralized, exclusive and demoralized that you can be a proponent of virtually unlimited government, with nationalism as a categorical imperative and be considered ‘left’ or ‘right’ based on the difference between whether you’re an incremental Fabian socialist or neo-Nazi extremist. What’s even weirder is that the extremists are viewed as the ‘right wing’ and the incrementalists are the ‘left wing’.
The fact is that a linear spectrum is relative. There is no objective ‘left’ and ‘right’, but an individual spectrum can be objective if what’s being gauged is clearly communicated. Adherence to a certain political party of amoral cynics provides absolutely no framework for an objective spectrum. Basically, those who identify Republicans as ‘right’ and Democrats as ‘left’ might as well be reading The Potty Book out loud. Then, they’d actually begin to make some sense.
The history of ‘left’ and ‘right as political identifiers is chronicled well enough by Prof. Long in the article I quoted earlier, but not so much relative to the question of what a ‘left-libertarian’ is.
‘Left-libertarian’ is not an objective classification. ‘Libertarian’ can be, but a ‘left-libertarian’ is only ‘left’ relative to what can be objectively defined as a ‘right-libertarian’. What distinguishes a libertarian in this spectrum better than any other description, politically, is the level of scrutiny applied to authoritative institutions. We can label those who apply minimal scrutiny to—-or scrutiny to the minimum amount of—institutions as ‘the right’ and those who maximize scrutiny and the institutions scrutinized as ‘the left’. ‘The right’ being the more conservative through their loyalty to existing institutions and ‘the left’ more liberal through the refusal to accept any existing institution on it face.
Establishing that the status quo is much closer to capitalism than to a free society, libertarians who identify as ‘capitalists’ would be within the further-right end of the spectrum and those who identify as ‘communists’ at the further-left. We can reasonably put Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and the Zapatistas as the extremists—philosophically speaking as Constitutionalist-incrementalists and revolutionary direct actors for abolition. As a libertarian becomes more radically defiant of the status quo, the libertarian is further left.
Mutualism seems to be the purest free market philosophy, as it incorporates individual sovereignty with the pluralism—or ‘mutual coexistence’—of diverse economic systems and institutions. One could very easily mistake this as ‘centrist’, but I contend that mutualists’ disdain for ‘change through the system’ which already exists as placing it left-of-center.
Though, agorism is widely misunderstood as a system or “‘anarcho’-capitalism’ by another name”, I contend this as incorrect. The disdain for ‘change within the system’ and the practices of active resistance against direct government intervention against the individual are too uncompromising for the ‘center’ of this spectrum. The direct action of non-capital, labor and innovation-based production widely separate the means from the social system of the status quo toward more radically liberal ends than the austrolibertarians who rarely scrutinize hierarchy within the workplace, let alone the Church. The agorist doesn’t really differ much from the mutualist and neither does the syndicalist. But the two are not ‘social systems’ in the sense of a political spectrum. They are means toward mutualist or communist ends.
As a syndicalist and agorist in support of a society of coexisting individuals within confederated institutions and communities, interacting within a market freed from coercion within itself and from any governing monopoly of force, where individuals own stakes in decision-making processes proportionate to the extent they are effected by said decisions, I am a left-libertarian.