The Libertarian Left: The Rediscovered Ideal

The worms will live in every host
It’s hard to pick which one they eat most

The horrible people, the horrible people
It’s as anatomic as the size of your steeple
Capitalism has made it this way,
Old-fashioned fascism liberty will take it away

The Beautiful People

The American Conservative has published a new Sheldon Richman piece, Libertarian Left: Free-market anti-capitalism, the unknown ideal. The tagline, of course, is a reference to Ayn Rand’s 1966 essay compilation, “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” which is often held up as the definitive libertarian apologetic for “laissez faire capitalism.” The “Libertarian Left” is a repudiation of this defense, and, really of the thing itself. It’s an attempt to tear asunder what Rand had tried to combine, namely: Laissez Faire and State.

My previous contributions on this topic:

The Decline of the Randian Influence on American Libertarianism?

Why I am a Left Libertarian

The “Trouble with Liberty” is that the Plutocrats write the History

Jesse Walker, the sole “left libertarian” at Reason, graced “Hit & Run” with a reference to Richman’s piece. It didn’t garner much sympathy from the “Reasonoids.” There was negative commentary at TAC as well, punctuated by claims that Left Libertarianism is merely a retread of Rothbard’s failed late 60s leftist experiment.

To summarize my sentiment on this matter: I have become dissatisfied with the typical definition of libertarianism that relies on a regurgitation of NAP. That’s because far too often this regurgitation is followed by a defense of the proper role of the State in enforcing NAP. NAP alone doesn’t enlighten one of the differences between, say, David Boaz and Jeff Riggenbach.1

If asked for a concise definition of libertarianism, one that could fit in a fortune cookie, I would give the following:

“It is governance by laissez-faire civil society.”

toward what end? “Anything peaceful is tolerated…”

What do you mean by “laissez-faire” one may ask? The Statist will object to the very term, ready to pounce. A simple initial response: You believe in separation of Church and State? Yes, of course. Well, you then ascribe to laissez-faire in religion. For better or worse, religion plays a significant role in shaping human values. To concede this separation of State from this aspect of civil society is a major concession. In liberalism, separation of church and state is seen as “mainstream.” But at one time, it was radical. Libertarianism just logically extends the “radical” into every other sphere of “civil society.”

Separation of Economy and State
Separation of Education and State

whatever else “X” one ascribes a necessary role for the State in regards to the functioning of society(that is, the need for “coercion” to effect a better outcome), libertarianism will argue the Separation of “X” from the State. And it will argue(via “class theory”) that the State’s involvement in “X” will muck up X just as it would,say, muck up “religion.”

This is the meaning of “laissez-faire.”

David Boaz: Licking Reagan’s Gonads
Jeff Riggenbach: Giving them a swift kick

3 thoughts on “The Libertarian Left: The Rediscovered Ideal

  1. Your Boaz link goes to Riggenbach’s article.

    I like using the disestablishment of religion as a starting point for arguing. I’ll have to remember to use that in the future.

  2. The problem I have with using disestablishment of religion as a starting point is that most of my target audience (ultra-progressives) would like to see the establishment clause used as a weapon to abolish religion rather than taking the laissez-faire, live-and-let-live interpretation here.

    They’re not concerned that a non-secular Government might “muck up” religion, but rather they think that in order to truly “muck up” religion you need a secular government as a baseline.

    (btw, I’m an atheist)

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