The Left-Libertarian vs. Right-Libertarian Controversy



The general controversy and debate between left-libertarians and right-libertarians seems to have gotten more heated on the libertarian blogosphere recently, with people like Roderick Long andKevin Carson endlessly exchanging with people like Stefan Kinsella and Walter Block on questions such as the status and legitimacy of the corporate form, the degree to which state intervention benefits plutocratic interests and the role of unions in a free market. These exchanges have been rather instrumental in seeing some people’s true colors come out.

What I’ve noticed throughout the entire affair is that the right-libertarians have a tendency to argue against a left-statist strawman and repeatedly make quite explicit displays of vulgar libertarianism. The reply to Roderick Long by J.H. Huebert and Walter Block clearly does not address Roderick Long’s actual argument, it nitpicks at his use of language in order to argue against preconcieved “leftist” canards. And Stefan Kinsella’s exchanges with Kevin Carson reveals a zealous knee-jerk opposition to any “leftish” terminology or concepts on Kinsella’s part. At this point, Stefan Kinsella comes off to me as perpetuating an attack on left-libertarianism.

The reoccuring theme of the right-libertarians appears to reduce to a total indifferance to or denial of the degree to which the status quo of the economy is warped and exploitative in its nature. When the left-libertarian insists on rejecting the currently existing structure of the economy and accepting the anti-corporatist position that it entails, the right-libertarian knee-jerkedly acts as if the left-libertarian is defending state-socialism or mob violence. At best, the right-libertarians tend to be kind of ambiguous, granting that there are state interventions that may warp the structure of the economy in a corporatist or plutocratic way and simultaneously denying the exploitative reality of the economic structure itself and the relevancy of the synergy that may exist between the state and various “private” interest groups.

What is most strange about the matter, however, is that the left-libertarians are generally actually being consistant with Murray Rothbard, while the right-libertarians are not (or by the very least, they clearly selectively draw from Rothbard’s later, more conservative years). To my knowledge, while Murray Rothbard did defend a sort of contractual concept of limited liability, he didn’t support limited liability as a state construct or as it is today, and he largely diagnosed the status quo in the west as a sort of corporatist socialism. It is of course true that Rothbard changed his views later in life in a more conservative direction (click link for biased right-libertarian perspective on the matter), but from around the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s he was quite solid and full of ideas that are conductive to left-libertarianism.

The right-libertarians seem to attack the left-libertarians as if what they espouse is totally alien to libertarianism, while in fact many left-libertarians are left-rothbardians in their orientation and harken back to multi-century old traditions within libertarianism. For some left-libertarians, it is merely a logical extension of Rothbard’s work. Essentially all of the people who initially formed the left-libertarian alliance and constructed agorism knew Rothbard personally and/or were influenced by him, and Rothbard in turn was influenced by some of his associations with the libertarian left in his earlier years.

In either case, it is clear that there are some fairly fundamental irreconcilable differances between these two respective approaches to libertarianism, and hence I fear that maintaining cohesion between the two may become untenable, despite my general empasis on the pluralism of anarchism. The most formal right-libertarian alternative to a left-rothbardian perspective that has been put foreward is the perspective of Hans Hoppe, which I fear ultimately aschews the entire libertarian-left and potentially crosses the line into authoritarian conservatism. The Hoppean perspective is essentially that Hoppe is the logical extension of Rothbard and that libertarianism must be reconciled with conservatism to the point where the two are the same thing, while the left-rothbardian has concluded that conservatism and libertarianism are fundamentally irreconcilable.

Some of the irreconcilable differances between a left-rothbardian and Hoppean perspective (a perspective which has unfortunately become rather popular at the Mises Institute) are as follows:

1. The left-rothbardian views “public” property, I.E. stated claimed property, as having no current just owner and is theoretically homesteadable while the Hoppean thinks that state-claimed property should be regaurded as if it was legitimate private property, and it is simply assumed that a highly exclusive and culturally conservative policy with regaurd to that property is what inherently follows from something being regaurded as legitimate private property. Fortunately, despite having some right-libertarian tendencies(which is in spite of his somewhat respectable insistance on a centrist-libertarian perspective), Walter Block is on the correct side of this question (his position on voluntary slavery and corporations are another question entirely, however).

2. As a consequence of this, the Hoppean is likely to defend the idea of closed borders or immigration restriction, while the left-rothbardian sees that position as being inherently in contradiction with a whole slew of libertarian concepts, and likely to be motivated by either personal bigotries or protectionism. The Hoppean essentially envisions very strong ethnic or cultural exclusion and isolation as the natural outcome of freedom or as an imperative in and of itself, while the left-rothbardian is more likely to see economic incentives in a genuinely free society as breeding more inclusivity than that.

3. The Hoppean view on political systems is essentially that monarchy or fuedalism is vastly preferable to democracy, while the left-rothbardian is likely to be much more skeptical towards the practical nature of monarchy or fuedalism and see them as nonetheless very exploitative systems even if some of Hoppe’s economic arguments are granted. Hoppe seems to essentially suggest that a fuedal system is our most likely practical option once the state falls, while the left-rothbardian isn’t likely to see it that way.

4. The Hoppean view on strategy is to groom a “natural elite” of wealthy and culturally conservative individuals, while the left-rothbardian is likely to take a comparatively less elitist and monocentric approach.

5. Hoppeans advocate that “libertines”, which may as well be a buzzword signifying anyone who is not a cultural conservative, should be removed from society. This general sentiment is vague enough to give the left-rothbardian concerns about implied authoritarianism. In defense of this, the Hoppeans tend to make referances to the right to exclude as being part of private property, but they fail to explain how arbitrarily removing people they don’t like from society as a whole follows from this or can be done in a way that is consistant with libertarianism (keep in mind that we’re talking about an entire community here, and this sentiment can easily just be ad hoc communitarianism).

6. Hoppeans tend to think that left-libertarians are just people who advocate alternative lifestyles or counter-cultures, a mere extension of what Rothbard once called “modal libertarians”. The entire prospect of a libertarian left is essentially dismissed out of hand from a Hoppean perspective, and people who associate as left-libertarians are more or less assumed to just be another group of cultural marxists. In effect, the left-rothbardian is viciously strawmanned.

The tendencies that have been introduced and normalized through Hoppe is not the only thing that potentially creates a wide gulf between left-libertarianism and right-libertarianism, however. The right-libertarian who sticks to their guns inevitably ends up defending the corporation against the arguments of the left-libertarian, and generally expressing the sentiment that their vision of the economic structure of a libertarian society does not differ fundamentally from the economic structure of our current society. They’ve been approaching libertarianism from a right-wing perspective for so long that a libertarian criticism of the corporation or the concept of a cooperatively run firm in a free market is alien to them. The very slightest hint of such things produces a knee-jerk reaction to regaurd people as being Marxists.

I tire of this: the right-libertarians are getting on my nerves. I try to engage in discussion and debate with people who I had thought were in the same movement as me, and I get called a marxist and am treated as some kind of infiltrator or deviant. Meanwhile, I’m expected to passively accept the recurrance of various concepts which seem to be completely irreconcilable with libertarianism or by the very least not very healthy attitudes for a free society to have such as nationalism, ethnocentrism, closed borders, fundamentalist christianity and sympathies for monarchy. This double standard and clear bias towards cultural conservatism is common at the Mises Institute, which has become one of the main bases for right-libertarians.

The left-libertarian/right-libertarian divide has definitely made it to the point where this isn’t purely a matter of disagreement among libertarians anymore, as I am convinced that at least some of the right-libertarians are lapsing into right-wing statism or are using libertarianism as a sugar-coating for the right-wing authoritarianism that they wish to superimpose onto it.


Brainpolice said…

“Agreed. The Cato clan, imo, seem to epitomize the “pot-smoking Republicans” slur used by many non-libertarians – more culturally liberal than the Mises clan but also more vulgar from an economic standpoint.”

Right. The Cato/Reason vs. Mises Institute split has more to do with the Mises Institute’s dominant cultural conservatism than left-libertarian vs. right-libertarianism. The problem is that a lot of the people at the Mises Institute tend to disingenously use the term “left-libertarian” in such a way.

December 11, 2008 9:18 PM

Brainpolice said…

I think alot of the right-libertarians tend to misinterpret the claim that corporations are creations of the government by acting as if one is implying that the organizations themselves are created by the government, when the claim specifically means that the legal status that makes it a “corporation” (I.E. a legal entity independant of the individuals who make it up) is derived from the government. The idea that this legal status came about on a purely contractual basis is grossly inaccurate.

December 12, 2008 3:30 AM


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