Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Concerning Left-Libertarianism, Edited

Readable version. I finally found time to edit it. The past ten days at school I have tested 500 students. I'm tired. Pardon the repost, but this really is much more readable than before.


Most left-libertarian principles are hard to disagree with when you look at them as statements, say on a flier about why you should join the libertarian cause. On Anti-Statism: Who doesn't want to embrace anti-statist principles? It's a wonderful idea to be free from oppressive state ideological and legislative structures. On Labor: Who doesn't want to support labor? Not many people out there like the idea of sweatshops. On Corporate Corruption: Who doesn't want a society free from corporate corruption? I have yet to find someone who believes corporations are free to be as corrupt as they want to be. On Pluralism: Who believes in freedom and liberty who doesn't see the need for pluralism? Only the fundamentalist religious communities argue against pluralism. I could go on.

Again, there isn't a left-libertarian principle with which most of us would disagree.  It's ideological and political theories like these that we should distrust the most. In other words, I say, what is it then with this fabulous idea that is being hidden? And, Why aren't we doing that? Where's the weakness?

To accomplish left-libertarian goals insists that we maintain an in-the-free-market approach to thinking about and living in Nature. This is troubling because the free market is a capitalist and Capitalist's machine. More on that in a moment. The goal of left-libertarianism sounds great: to achieve socialist ideals within the framework of a free market. I don't think it's possible. It's only effective in service of a greater cause: for example, libertarianism or capitalism. Socialism doesn't really work that way. So, the use of it is suspicious. The idealism in it is the fuel to power cooperation within the capitalist free market.

Left-libertarian philosophy never rises above common sense. Common sense philosophies encounter problems handling paradoxes and complex mechanisms; actually, common sense tends to deny paradox altogether. It's practice is often antithetical to philosophical study. I think the common sense mindset helps shelter left-libertarians from exploring serious problems with their reasons for being libertarians.

A free market cannot exist, in the way we conceptualize it, without a capitalist state to regulate it. Freeing the market from government coercion (regulatory action in libertarianese) is not necessarily going to produce a truly free market. The apathetic adjective "free" to mean the things we mean when we say the noun "freedom" is awfully lazy. Moreover, anti-statist principles within a capitalist framework require a state. It's as if libertarians believe they can accomplish principles developed for a free state outside of that state.

This is ontological, I suppose. Very complicated stuff. And I don't want to oversimplify because I disagree. I've not got the time to write a chapter on this technical point. (I could do a better job than Hayek in his first chapter to The Constitution of Liberty where he frames the definitions for freedom and liberty to fit his ideological cause.) I have yet to see anything describing how to achieve anti-statist principles within a free market. However, we can allow our friends to have their ideals. I don't have a problem with ideals.

There's a bigger problem with left-libertarianism and its rather practical. They simply have no clue what to do with accumulated wealth and corporate power.  You'll hear a lot about rejecting wealth and rejecting corporations. You'll hear a lot about instilling the free market with a moral spirit.  Ok, good.  Reject immorality and corruption. Then what?

Left-libertarianism is not quite up to the task of coping with the social order in the free market. This is the linguistic and philosophical pretzel libertarian theorists developed for their anti-regulatory, anti-socialist beliefs. It's the main reason I'd argue that left-libertarians should give up libertarianism. It's untenable. For libertarians, a free market as such is proof that the natural order is a liberal social order in the free market and capitalism is that order as it functions. Freedom within a free market means being bound to do nothing on behalf of others. This is, in itself, a regulation and in a community would only function to form a state. You don't decide to form this state, it's there. And to wrangle its attitudes, directions, and machinations, you must regulate the state with rules. I sometimes think that libertarians believe The State has an address, one location, that can be smashed, trashed, done away with and that'd be that as long as we agreed not to build another one. But the state is actually bound up with culture, the spirit of place, not an actual place. (And we can read Ludwig von Mises whine about the failure of people to realize this important fact. Of course, his theory goes on to claim that consumers can steer the ship. So, he scolds people for thinking the market is a place and then asks them to think of it in the form of a ship at sea.)

The libertarian theorists and acolytes of Capitalism remind me of the characters in a scene in Wim Wenders' film Falsche Bewegung (Wrong Move) from 1975. The characters, none of whom are satisfied with their lives and are suffering from an inability to realize their desires, try to run from the camera itself. It's a valiant attempt, I suppose, to try to escape the social order. But they aren't permitted to escape and they simply cannot seem to want to do much to actually transform their social space. They merely want to escape. I'm taking the scene out of context to make a point, but it's worth thinking about. Are we willing to work to transform our lives, to produce a new social space, or are we simply looking for an easy escape?

Left-libertarians will say, Hey guys, morality matters. What good does that claim do when you've liberated us from our social contract? What interest exists in self-interest for morality based in a social contract that binds us to the welfare of others? The common sense in progressive libertarianism is not capable of answering these questions. What do libertarians believe morality is? I don't think they know. And I'd venture to claim that in the general scheme of libertarianism it actually doesn't matter.

Self-interest is not complex, not paradoxical. It's at work now. Capitalists understand self-interest. And I mean Capitalist in the Marxian sense: A Capitalist is a rich guy who own the means of production and has accumulated enough wealth to exploit labor. A Capitalist can cooperate with workers, pay them, to produce the means for him to make a profit. Workers understand self-interest, as well, in that it's in their self-interest to cooperate with Capitalists. This is not in itself moral nor an accurate description of the way self-interest should work according to libertarian idealism.

This is another place where left-libertarianism is on shaky ground. They say they support organized labor but only without state interference. It's in the self-interest of Capitalists to resist negotiating with organized labor. An insidious nature to left-libertarian discourse here: They insist that we shall agree to recognize that certain bad results of wealth accumulation and exploitation of labor are the results of state intervention. This is not the same as asserting that no state would lead to better negotiations and less exploitation. The entire "As we begin, let's agree to believe X" formula for their most important concepts is not philosophical nor scientific. It is, on other hand, what we could refer to as coercive regulation.

Left-libertarians created a category that is meant to assuage my concern. They created a category for the wrongly oppressed that strips individual oppressed constituents of difference and then refers to them as "the innocents". Left-libertarians say they oppose "aggression against the innocents". That's fine, but do realize that with that promise, we now have the initial formation of an involuntary social contract within a state.

To return to self-interest for a moment, more significantly, we do not live in a world where self-interest can be equated in any way to freedom and liberty as such. In other words, being able to be self-interested individuals without interference from, say, the state does not seem to me to guarantee more access to freedom and liberty. We do not have a definition for self-interest without capitalism. The word itself is tied up in the enfranchisement of the middle class and self-help literature. We have shaped the literary canon regarding self-interest in service of history as a process justifying capitalism and its conceptualization of the free market. See the pinnacle of this in Samuel Smiles' work on Character and Habit (self-interest as self-help) and Hayek's work on the principles defining the liberal social order of the free market. Both are disingenuous theories, by which we could say they are both self-interested.  Funny how that works, isn't it.

Libertarians, left or not, appear to reject any philosophical framework that moves beyond the free market, in other words capitalism. In my opinion, this makes their critiques of socialism, for example, completely inauthentic and hypocritical. Left-libertarians use the crutch of volunteerism and the crutch of opposition to crude, cold war, anti-socialist libertarianism to make an argument for reassessing libertarian principles.  It's like polishing a turd, in my opinion.

2 comments:

The Order of Marbles and the Mystery of Chickens said...

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Love x

Gary Norris said...

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