A guest post from a self-described left-libertarian…have fun! 🙂
I’ve been going back and forth trying to think of an interesting “left-libertarian” post for Thoughts on Freedom. I describe my new blog, Civil Tongues Australia, as being in part dedicated to Left Libertarian political thought – but really, I’m no expert in this area.
Recently, on this blog, John Humphries wrote an interesting post about what might draw people to left-libertarian visions, and I thought in responding to that post, rather than taking a “foundational” approach and trying to define a left-libertarian theory I would instead write about what has drawn me, pragmatically, to “left” libertarian ideals.
Noam Chomsky, in a paper in the collection “Chomsky on Anarchism”, makes the distinction between ‘goals’ and ‘visions’.
Most people who identify with libertarianism share a fairly similar “vision”: that in order to flourish people must be free to pursue their life in a way that they see fit. No other person, or group of persons, has the right – or the ability – to tell them how to pursue their life or what their goals should be.
If we were omniscient beings who were planning communities, or revolutionaries who believed in wiping the slate clean, we may come up with fairly similar ways* of arranging society.
However, this is generally not our concern – instead, we seek to apply our libertarian principals within complex pre-existing societies. It is in these pragmatic goals that we tend to differ greatly.
In my case, although I would certainly fall on the “illegitimate authority ought to be eliminated if possible, whether it be corporate or government” side of the libertarian scale, I believe that libertarian ideals in the context of Australian/global society today also give a moral imperative to “left” rather than “right” libertarianism.
Can the libertarian in a modern society take as their highest goal the protection of property rights and the minimisation of government when so many of the resources and so much of our success in society is attached to historical (and in some cases continuing) repression of the rights and freedoms of others?
And when the success of a state is based on repression does not the state bear some obligation to redress the balance?
In my opinion, the libertarian cannot ignore the claims of those who have been repressed and continue to bear the burden of that repression. Furthermore, the libertarian cannot simply refuse to accept that the state should have a role in rectifying the problems that is has caused. To do so would undermine the very principles they seek to protect.
As I have said before on my blog, I’ve never really understood why libertarianism automatically leads to a desire for free-market capitalism above all else. For me, the desire should be for everyone to have free and fair opportunities to pursue their lives in the manner they see fit and have as much freedom from the domination of others as possible.
The left-libertarian, then, does not have an obligation to argue against all state intervention full stop, but to argue for a state that, when it does intervene, does so in a way that gives the power back to communities and individuals and allows multiple, flexible approaches that foster the creativity and problem-solving skills of the people they are affecting rather than simply imposing solutions from on high.
While our overall vision of the way society (or perhaps I should say ‘societies’) would certainly not include a big federal government down in Canberra running welfare programs, we cannot move forward without addressing the inequalities in liberty that are the legacy of our past. In order to be useful as well as just theoretically interesting libertarians must deal with the realities of the society they find themselves in.
*well, actually, when it comes to the various evils of power there would probably be quite a bit of disagreement about whether it is only state power that should be eliminated or whether power from corporations is an equal evil… but that’s another post.