Translations of this material:
- into Russian: Либертарные левые. Translation complete.
Submitted for translation by anarchofront 06.01.2010
Published 7 years, 3 months ago.
Left-libertarianism (sometimes synonymous with left-wing libertarianism and libertarian socialism) is a term that has been used to describe several different libertarian political movements and theorists.
Left-libertarianism, as defended by contemporary theorists such as Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka, is a doctrine that has a strong commitment to personal liberty and has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is illegitimate for anyone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others. Some left-libertarians of this type support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources. Social anarchists, including Murray Bookchin, anarcho-communists such as Peter Kropotkin and anarcho-collectivists such as Mikhail Bakunin, are sometimes called left-libertarian. Noam Chomsky also refers to himself as a left libertarian. The term is sometimes used synonymously with libertarian socialism or used in self-description by geoists who support individuals paying rent to the community for the use of land. Left libertarian parties, such as Green, share with "traditional socialism a distrust of the market, of private investment, and of the achievement ethic, and a commitment to expansion of the welfare state."
In contrast, right libertarianism holds that there are no fair share constraints on use or appropriation. Radical right libertarians hold that individuals have the power to appropriate unowned things by claiming them (usually by mixing their labor with them), and deny any other conditions or considerations are relevant. Thus they believe there is no justification for the state to redistribute resources to the needy or to overcome market failures.
Differing from the above definition, some anarchists who support private ownership of resources and a free market call themselves left libertarian and also use a different definition for right libertarianism. These individuals include Roderick T. Long and Samuel Edward Konkin III Others, such as scholar David DeLeon, do not consider free-market private property anarchism to be on the left.
In analytic philosophy
Left-libertarianism combines the libertarian premise that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership with the egalitarian premise that natural resources should be shared equally. Left-libertarianism holds that unappropriated natural resources are either unowned or owned in common, believing that private appropriation is only legitimate if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if private appropriation is taxed to compensate those who are excluded from natural resources. This contrasts with right libertarians who argue for a right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as land.
A number of Anglo-American political philosophers argue for the validity and necessity of some social welfare programs within the context of libertarian self-ownership theory. Peter Vallentyne and Hillel Steiner edited a primer, The Origins of Left-Libertarianism: An Anthology of Historical Writings. This text places Hugo Grotius, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Spence, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Henry George in the left libertarian tradition. Steiner himself wrote An Essay on Rights, a pioneering look at rights and justice from a left-libertarian perspective.
Philippe Van Parijs has written extensively on what he calls "real libertarianism," an approach very similar to Steiner and Otsuka's, and usually subsumed under the rubric of left-libertarianism. More recently, Michael Otsuka published Libertarianism Without Inequality, where he argues for incorporating egalitarian ideas into libertarian rights schemes.
Though not left-libertarians themselves, G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, and Jon Elster have also written extensively about the notions of self-ownership and equality, which provide the basis for this branch of left libertarian thought. This self-styled left-libertarianism's historical roots in the school of analytical Marxism has cast a cloud of doubt over it for both leftists and libertarians of more conventional stripe.
Property and natural resources
Pro-capitalist libertarian theory is sometimes called "right-libertarianism." It places a very strong emphasis on private property. Unrestricted capitalism and free markets are advocated by all right-libertarians, with some of them believing that property rights are the most basic rights of all, or that all genuine rights can be understood as property rights rooted in self-ownership (right-libertarians can and do differ on the notion of intellectual property). However, Vallentyne and some other left-libertarian philosophers take a more moderate – and, in their view, realistic - approach. They differ from mainstream right-libertarians on the issue that Robert Nozick calls the "original acquisition of holdings". That is the question of how property rights came about in the first place, and how property was originally acquired.
Right-libertarians hold that "wilderness" is unowned, and that unowned resources are made into property by use. This is generally referred to as homesteading. According to John Locke, when a person "mixes his labor" with a previously unowned object, it becomes his. A person who cultivates a field in the wilderness, by virtue of "mixing his personality" with the land, becomes the rightful owner of it (subject to the Lockean proviso that equally-good land remains free for the taking for others).
Vallentyne and some other left-libertarians hold that "wilderness" is commonly owned by all the people in a given area. Since there is no predetermined distribution of land and (they argue) since there is no reason to believe that, all things being equal, some people deserve more property than others, it makes sense to think of resources as commonly owned. Thus this brand of left-libertarianism denies that first use or "mixing labor" has any bearing on ownership. As such, it argues that any theory of left-libertarianism must structure its social and legal system around enforcing this idea of common ownership. Different proponents of this school of thought have different ideas about what can be done with property. Some believe that one must gain some kind of permission from their community in order to use resources. Others argue that people should be allowed to appropriate land in exchange for some kind of rent and they must either pay taxes on the profits made from the appropriated resources or allow the products of those resources to become common property.
Historically, the Georgists were a leftist tendency within libertarianism. They believed that all humanity rightfully owned all land in common and that individuals should pay rent to the rest of society for taking sole or exclusive use of that land. People in this movement were often referred to as "single taxers," since they believed that the only legitimate tax was land rent. However, they did believe that private property could be created by applying labor to natural resources.
Mutualism emerged from early 19th-century socialism, and is generally considered a market-oriented part of the libertarian socialist tradition. Mutualists generally accept property rights, but with a short abandonment time period. In other words, a person must make (more or less) continuous use of the item or else he loses ownership rights. This is usually referred to as "possession property" or "usufruct." Thus, in this usufruct system, absentee ownership is illegitimate, and workers own the machines they work with.
Mutualism has reemerged more recently, incorporating modern economic ideas such as marginal utility theory. Kevin A. Carson's book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy was influential in this regard, updating the labor theory of value with Austrian economics. Agorism, an anarchist tendency founded by Samuel Edward Konkin III, advocates counter-economics, working in untaxed black or grey markets, and boycotting as much as possible the unfree taxed market with the intended result that private voluntary institutions emerge and outcompete statist ones. Geoanarchism, an anarchist form of Henry George's philosophy, is considered left-libertarian because it assumes land to be initially owned in common, so that when land is privately appropriated the proprietor pays rent to the community. These philosophies share similar concerns and are collectively known as left-libertarianism.
Rapprochement with the Left
The first attempt at rapprochement between the postwar American libertarian movement and the Left came in the 1960s, when Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard came to question libertarianism's traditional alliance with the Right in light of the Vietnam War. During this period, Rothbard came to advocate strategic alliances with the New Left over issues such as the military draft and black power.
Working with radicals like Ronald Radosh, Rothbard argued that the consensus view of American economic history, wherein government has stepped in as a countervailing interest to corporate predation, is fundamentally flawed. Rather, he argued, government intervention in the economy has largely benefited established players at the expense of marginalized groups, to the detriment of both liberty and equality. Moreover, the "Robber Baron Period", adulated by the right and despised by the left as a laissez-faire haven, was not laissez-faire at all but in fact a time of massive state privilege accorded to capital. Rothbard criticized the "frenzied nihilism" of left-libertarians but also criticized right-wing libertarians who were content to rely only on education to bring down the state; he believed that libertarians should adopt any non-immoral tactic available to them in order bring about liberty.
Rothbard's initial leftward impulse was maintained by Karl Hess. It has subsequently been developed in different ways by activists and theorists like Samuel Edward Konkin III, Roderick T. Long, Kevin Carson, Charles Johnson, and Gary Chartier. These left-libertarians—some themselves Rothbardian, some not—agree with Rothbard that actually existing capitalism does not even vaguely resemble a free market, and that most presently-existing corporations are the beneficiaries and chief supporters of statism. By this line of reasoning, libertarianism should make common cause with the anti-corporate left. Rapprochement with the left has led many left-libertarians to reject some traditional right-libertarian stances, such as hostility to labor unions and support for intellectual property, or even to limit valid real-property rights to use-and-occupancy.
Contemporary left-libertarians also show markedly more sympathy than mainstream or paleo-libertarians towards various cultural movements which challenge non-governmental relations of power. For instance, left-libertarians Roderick Long and Charles Johnson have called for a recovery of the nineteenth-century alliance between radical liberalism and feminism. Left-libertarians are more likely to take recognizably leftist stances on issues as diverse as feminism, gender and sexuality, sexual freedom, drug policy, race, class, immigration, environmentalism, gun rights, and foreign policy. Current writers who have significantly impacted or explored this aspect of left-libertarianism include Chris Sciabarra, Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, Kevin Carson, and Arthur Silber.
Criticisms of left-libertarianism have come from both the right and left alike. Right-libertarians like Robert Nozick hold that self-ownership and property acquisition need not meet egalitarian standards, they must merely follow the Lockean idea of not worsening the situation of others. Gerald Cohen, an Analytical Marxist philosopher, has extensively criticized left-libertarianism's emphasis on both the values of self-ownership and equality. In his Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cohen claims that any system that takes equality and its enforcement seriously is not consistent with the full emphasis on self-ownership and "negative freedom" of libertarian thought. Tom G. Palmer of the Cato Institute has responded to Cohen's critique in Critical Review and has provided a guide to the literature criticizing libertarianism in his bibliographical review essay on "The Literature of Liberty."
1 Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl. The Murray Bookchin Reader. Cassell, 1997. p. 170
2 Steven V Hicks, Daniel E Shannon. The American journal of economics and sociolology. Blackwell Pub, 2003. p. 612
3 "Libertarianism" entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Prof. Will Kymlicka "libertarianism, left-" in Honderich, Ted (2005). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 9780199264797. "It combines the libertarian assumption that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership over his person with the egalitarian premise that natural resources should be shared equally. Right-wing libertarians argue that the right of self-ownership entails the right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as unequal amounts of land. According to left-libertarians, however, the world's natural resources were initially unowned, or belonged equally to all, and it is illegitimate for anyone to claim exclusive private ownership of these resources to the detriment of others. Such private appropriation is legitimate only if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if those who appropriate more are taxed to compensate those who are thereby excluded from what was once common property." See also Steiner, Hillel & Vallentyne. 2000. Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1
4 a b Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran. 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. Sage Publications Inc. p. 128
5 Joy Palmer, David Edward Cooper, Peter Blaze Corcoran. Fifty key thinkers on the environment. Routledge. 2001. p. 241
6 DeLeon, David. 1978. The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 1978
7 Goodwin, Barbara. 1987. Using Political Ideas, 4th edition. John Wiley & Sons. p. 137-138
8 O'Hara, Phillip Anthony. 1999. Encyclopedia of Political Economy. Routledge. p. 15
9 e.g. Faatz, Chris, "Toward[s] a Libertarian Socialism." Available at .
10 Herbert Kitschelt, cited in Radical right-wing populism in Western Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 1994. pp. 180-181.
11 "Libertarianism" entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
12 Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller. Liberalism: Old and New. Cambridge University Press, 2007. p. 199
13 Long, Roderick. T. "An Interview With Roderick Long"
14 Konkin, Samuel. New Libertarian Manifesto New Libertarian Manifesto
15 "The individualism of the unregulated marketplace to be right-wing libertarianism." - DeLeon, David. 1978. The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978, p. 123
16 "sidebar Left-libertarianism" article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Prof. Will Kymlicka "libertarianism, left-" in Honderich, Ted (2005). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. City: Oxford U Pr, N Y. ISBN 9780199264797. "It combines the libertarian assumption that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership over his person with the egalitarian premiss that natural resources should be shared equally. Right-wing libertarians argue that the right of self-ownership entails the right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as unequal amounts of land. According to left-libertarians, however, the world's natural resources were initially unowned, or belonged equally to all, and it is illegitimate for anyone to claim exclusive private ownership of these resources to the detriment of others. Such private appropriation is legitimate only if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if those who appropriate more are taxed to compensate those who are thereby excluded from what was once common property."
17 The Origins of Left-Libertarianism: An Anthology of Historical Writings Palgrave MacMillan 2001 ISBN 0312235917
19 Lora, Ronald & Longton, Henry. 1999. The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America. Greenwood Press. p. 369
20 Johnson, Charles; Roderick T. Long. "Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?" (essay). Molinari Society. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
21 Tom G. Palmer. G. A. Cohen on Self-ownership, Property and Equality
22 Boaz, David. 1998. The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman. Free Press. p. 415-455. ISBN 0684847671
© Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.. License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License