Class Theory is Central to the Coherence of Libertarianism

When plunder has become a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.
Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms

Gary Chartier, in his review of Anthony Codevilla’s book, The Ruling Class, leads off with this sentence:

Class is a libertarian issue.

To that, I will add that libertarianism is largely incoherent without class analysis being at the center of it’s critique. So, yes, class is a libertarian issue, but it should be emphasized that it is, in fact, the central issue. As Chartier reminds us, students of libertarian history should know that “class analysis” predates the Marxist expropriation and that it actually originates from the radical French liberal tradition. Here, I will only add that the historical context that, in part, underlined this tradition was the Napoleonic permanent war political economy. I don’t think this point is emphasized enough. The political economy of permanent war is what largely birthed bourgeois class theory. This critique of political economy arose despite the Ancien Régime being supplanted by the Napoleonic civil law code.

As we know, Marx expropriated class theory to root class conflict in market institutions, particularly in the institution of private property. For Marx, Capital, defined to be the surplus value of labor, was an artificial political economy construct. Today, we we would say Marx failed to properly distinguish between legitimate economic rent and artificial rent. Conceptually, the overthrow of the labor theory of value dooms Das Kapital as any “scientific” explanation of political economy. Empirically, the abolition of private property in Marxist political economy did nothing to ameliorate class conflict/exploitation. In fact, such conflict was much worse under Marxist terms. The Marxist prescription of “progressive government” and a “dictatorship of the proletariat” as political means leading to abolition of class conflict is recognized today by any sane person as a prescription for tyranny(as a side note: I distinguish between Marxism and communism, noting that libertarianism originally was a term coined and associated with communal property being the basis of a voluntary order; and in much of the world, outside the US, it still is).

My thesis is to adhere to the original application of bourgeois class theory: that is, liberal institutional failure in the context of permanent war. This leads us to a tradition that can be traced from Comte and Dunoyer, to Say, to bureaucrat–>Entrepreneur, to Political Economy–>l’industrie, to Bastiat, and finally to Molinari, who takes the radical French liberal tradition to it’s logical conclusion.

From such a thesis, it’s difficult to take seriously Codevilla’s recasting of class conflict into terms consistent with current communitarian categories. And I’m surprised by the number of “libertarians” libertarians(see comments) who apparently embrace Codeviall’s treatment. Here’s a sample below.

Greg Ransom
Don Boudreaux
Robert Higgs

My only conclusion is that there are a number of “libertarians” libertarians who so despise “left-communitarianism” that they are willing to embrace class conflict cast as a cultural war because one side gives lip service to “free markets.” But, returning to my thesis regarding permanent war, the nationalism of this so-called “country class” is the cultural enabler of the very thing that drives a catastrophic liberal institutional failure. It drives the permanent war.

My other operational thesis is that George Orwell largely got it right regarding the evolution of 20th century political institutions. If you study Orwell, you will know that he thought both Socialism and capitalism would “devolve” to roughly the same thing. Orwell’s literary works gave us the “socialist version.” In real life, we are getting the capitalist version. Orwell’s political geography is being replicated by corporate free trade agreements with permanent war centered on northern Africa, the Middle East, southern India and southeast Asia.

In the “capitalist version,” the United States, as Oceania, that operates it’s Police State under the diversion of left-right cultural war, doesn’t need to worry about re-writing history or controlling every bit of information. The cultural warriors, on the left and the right, will do it for them. Both the political left and right are busy rewriting history to de-legitimize the other side. We have our daily two-minutes of cultural hate. While we have government that is consolidating unaccountability by virtue of it’s expanding power to invoke secrecy, we are distracted by some religious wingnut who wants to burn Korans. As I have previously pointed out, the State as a civil detention regime has been legally formalized by mere virtue of being a State(justified by the psychological sexual pathology of the “detainees”…sound familiar?). We are legally approaching the point of State qua State. The likes of a Don Boudreaux might want to step back from worrying about which side will promise the lower marginal tax rates and look at the obvious, bigger picture.


8 thoughts on “Class Theory is Central to the Coherence of Libertarianism

    1. Gary:

      In discussing class theory, I don’t think it’s emphasized enough that class theory originates from the radical French liberal critique of the Napoleonic War economy. In our current context, which is permanent war rooted in some nonsensical justice of american exceptionalism, I think this point needs to be hammered home. Class theory is central to libertarianism, and the use of war by the ruling class is central to Class Theory.

  1. After making the long journey to individualist anarchism, I was surprised to find that, in your estimation, I am not even a libertarian, but only a “libertarian,” some sort of faker who cannot pass muster unless encased within quotation marks. Live and learn. I suppose I should have checked with you before imagining myself to be a libertarian, but after all these decades, I must have become careless.

  2. Dear Mr. Higgs:

    The “quotes” in this instance were not meant to imply “fake,” as in fake libertarian. Since you interpreted them to imply that, I have stricken them from the post.

    However, I would suggest that if you are going to take time here to comment, rather than nitpick about quotation marks or a slight misquote(note: which I am happy to correct, which I have done), you address the actual substance of the criticism.

  3. I am surprised, there is only one Libertarianism. As you know any libertarian communities would organize themselves the way they want *freely*

    It doesn’t preclude how each one would organize. I personally would only be in a true free one, that means social AND economical freedom. If you don’t want economical freedom and want it organized and restricted in whatever ways — That is fine.. as long as is in *your* community and *all* of you want it that way. Otherwise you would be using coercion over other individuals. That is socialism, not libertarianism.

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