Left Libertarianism

Regarding Reason’s latest entry into the left-right libertarian alignment talk. If I understand Tim Cavanaugh correctly, he is saying that political judgements/preferences at a visceral level reduce to subjective moral judgements. The typical moral judgments of libertarians do not correspond to left/right moral judgements. Hence, there is a limit to the efficacy of any left(or right) libertarian alignment talk.

As a non-cognitivist, I would concur in part with Cavanaugh. However, I differ with his contention that libertarian moral judgements are equally foreign to liberal and conservative ones. The experimental evidence doesn’t necessarily support such an assumption. Will Wilkinson last year rang the bell over a study of the relationship between political ideology and moral judgements that accidently reached an adjuvant conclusion that libertarian moral psychology was more aligned with the liberal mind than the conservative one. Wilkinson summarized this finding to describe libertarians as “liberals who like markets.” But the more accurate description would be to describe libertarians as “low-sacrosanct liberals who are down with commutative justice.”

So, Cavanaugh’s “moral judgements” case against Long’s “left-wing libertarian evangelism” isn’t necessarily all that strong and may actually, instead, make a case for the pursuance of such an endeavor. And the “moral judgments” angle perhaps reinforces Long’s “evangelical distinction” between the “totalitarian liberal” and another class of liberal that has a low degree of sacredness regarding “Ingroup, Authority, and Purity” but a high degree of sacredness regarding “harm/care” and “fairness/reciprocity.”

In short, contra Cavanaugh, there actually is a “moral judgements” case for a targeted “left-wing libertarian evangelism.” However, there really isn’t any “moral judgements” case for a targeted “right-wing libertarian evangelism.” This is because conservatism is highly sacrosanct across all the moral foundations(as opposed to liberal, which is only highly sacrosanct across 2 of the moral foundations). The “totalitarian liberal” should be eschewed because this is a class that actually has a conservative moral psychology.

Cavanaugh ends his piece by claiming the left-libertarian dialogue boils down into one simple question: Are progressive policies producing the results progressives want? Here Cavanaugh might be missing the point that the rebirth of a American Left Libertarian movement is perhaps being motivated by another question: Are libertarians happy with the results of conceptually merging laissez faire with State–the 20th Century Randian Conception?


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