catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Left-libertarian synergies II

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In his Neo-confusion post, Don briefly mentions the tactical alliance that Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell formed with the so-called ‘paleo-cons’ culminating in the formation of the Mises Institute. As many libertarians would know, Rothbard himself had only come around to the position of attempting outreach to the traditionalist Right and in particular to Pat Buchanan supporters after a failed experiment with reaching out to the anti-war Left including the Black Panther party.

While all of this is esoteric ancient history probably of interest only to the followers of the arcane twists and turns of US libertarian politics, it’s worth noting that perhaps the tide may have turned yet again. Apparently Rothbard before he passed away had become disillusioned with his new allies and now the paleo-libertarian Mises has organised a Rothbard Memorial lecture by one of its senior fellows, Roderick Long, which essentially argues for a return of libertarians to the left. Now, while Long writes from an anarcho-libertarian perspective which I disagree with (he opposes education vouchers on the grounds that it would lead to more future regulation of education, for instance) there are some overarching themes in his talk which make great food for thought.

Here he is on the older historical allegiances of classical liberals and the redefinition of terms:

The great liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat sat on the left side of the French national assembly, with the anarcho-socialist Proudhon. Many of the causes we now think of as paradigmatically left-wing — feminism, antiracism, antimilitarism, the defense of laborers and consumers against big business — were traditionally embraced and promoted specifically by free-market radicals …

By “capitalism” most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by “capitalism” is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term “capitalism” as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market …

And similar considerations apply to the term “socialism.” Most people don’t mean by “socialism” anything so precise as state ownership of the means of production; instead they really mean something more like “the opposite of capitalism.” Then if “capitalism” is a package-deal term, so is “socialism” — it conveys opposition to the free market, and opposition to neomercantilism, as though these were one and the same.

And that, I suggest, is the function of these terms: to blur the distinction between the free market and neomercantilism. Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the statist establishment: those who want to defend the free market can more easily be seduced into defending neomercantilism, and those who want to combat neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into combating the free market. Either way, the state remains secure.

And here is Long on markets as a form of participatory democracy:

Many left-wing critics of the market, such as Elizabeth Anderson,[19] would reject the idea of any serious affiliation between leftist and free-market libertarian conceptions of participatory democracy. One of Anderson’s criticisms of the market is that it privileges exit over voice — that is, it gives people the freedom to act like consumers and withdraw from situations they oppose, but allows little scope for the freedom to act like citizens and shape their social situations through shared discussion. But this is a false dichotomy; for it is precisely the right of exit that is the strongest guarantee of voice. The complaints and suggestions of an equal partner who is free to withdraw his or her productive contribution are bound to be taken more seriously than those of a subjugated partner who has no choice but to put up with whatever develops. Putting an iron curtain around a cooperative venture does not make it more cooperative. The sort of participatory democracy that anti-authoritarian leftists favor is thus more closely affiliated, more naturally allied, with Misesian market democracy than with political democracy.

Ever since libertarians and leftists went their separate ways back in the 19th century, libertarians have specialized in understanding governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and the benefits of competitive, for-profit forms of voluntary association; while leftists have specialized in understanding non-governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and the benefits of cooperative, not-for-profit forms of voluntary association.

My own view is that each side has something valuable to learn about the issues in which the other side has specialized …


Written by Admin

April 11, 2006 at 10:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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