Thursday, August 26, 2010

Libertarians and Socialists

I recently stumbled upon the "loving rant" of a left libertarian. I don't particularly agree with him, but it is worthwhile discussing his views.

Here’s the original video clip:

What “SelfOwnershipFTW” seems to talk about is libertarian socialism or left libertarian. Libertarianism has many currents and sub-currents. Simplifying, what they have in common is the rejection of state violence.

Left libertarians believe that in the absence of the state, collectives of workers, self-administering and running their own workplaces (co-operatives) should rise and fulfill that function. The problem I see with this approach is that it will obviously not work.

Here’s a few important figures of this current from wikipedia:

Parijs henry george hess[5]
Political theorist Philippe Van Parijs has contributed to the academic literature on left-libertarianism Henry George (1839–1897) proposed the abolition of all taxes except those on land value. Karl Hess

(May 25, 1923 – April 22, 1994)

I grew up in Stalinist Easter-European country and had the “chance” to experience first-hand the results of socialist demagoguery. The ignorance of basic economic rules and principles is highly destructive not only to the economy, but to people’s mentalities and mental health.

Co-operatives exist even within [more or less] capitalist economies and what we find again and again is that co-op members behave mostly selfishly, stealing and placing personal interests well ahead of the group. My experience with co-ops as well as my life in a Stalinist cleptocracy very similar to North Korea endowed me with a deep distrust of anything that smells like the LEFT.

The economic ignorance of left-libertarianism is quite well-exposed in the critique of Noam Chomsky (see below), who is perhaps the most famous left libertarian.

It would be intellectually dishonest of me to claim that my version of libertarianism works better than Noam Chomsky’s, but though I have certain reservations, I think it has a far better chance of success. The altruism that forms the basis of his ideas has a bad habit of devolving into dystopia and we have repeatedly seen that happen with numerous countries, which mostly ended their experiments. The excuses that the socialists make (“we are Trotskyites”, or “Stalinism is not socialism” or “Marx talked about socialism in UK, not in Russia; not even Lenin thought it can succeed there”) is hogwash. There may be an iron-fist behind the invisible hand for now, but that iron has been rusting more and more in the post-industrial era and it will soon disintegrate.

What we libertarians of all “sides” have in common is that most people do not know / understand what libertarianism is about, that most of these organizing principles are most likely non-viable and that we choose sides based on our personal experiences. As far as I can tell you will not find many left libertarians born in former “communist” countries before 1980, and that should tell you something.

Another big difference between left libertarians and right libertarians (anarcho-capitalists) is that – I suspect – the former get laid more than the latter in college, just like socialists beat objectivists at their bare bottom as well. I suspect this is the major reason that causes otherwise informed, intelligent individuals to embrace this hyper-utopian worldview. Yet a recent study suggests that “do-gooders” are universally despised:

Parks and Stone found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they “raise the bar” for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad. It doesn’t matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone’s unselfish behavior, Parks said. “What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad,” he said. The do-gooders also are seen as deviant rule breakers. It’s as if they’re giving away Monopoly money so someone can stay in the game, irking other players to no end.

Where we could unite our efforts is in understanding what we fight for better, crystallize our ideas and explain them to those interested. My own understanding of L and ideas are bound to evolve in time, but I am almost certain that they will not move toward the left. Personally, I also think that the key to opening minds is in education, but that is a subject best addressed by edutarian.

Sources / More info: twitter, wiki-left-libertarianism, wiki-libertarianism, iron-fist, wiki-mutualism, altruist-study


  1. Basically the video is only say that if we freed the marketplace and removed corporate privilege, many people would have a realistic option of organizing horizonatally which they don't really have now.

    If it worked, cool. If hierarchial forms of organization were deemed better in the marketplace, fine. But first we must end the state's subjugation of society and find out, but its very possible that non-state co-ops (unlike the Soviet blocs) may be more productive/just.

  2. I think some version of left libertarianism was tried by Tito's Yugoslavia with dire results - hyperinflation etc Arguably, there were many other factors that may have contributed to the failure of the experiment. A more "authoritarian" style worked wonders in the 50s and 60s, but strong liberalization and sharing of decision making in the 70s wreaked havoc in a thus far prosperous economy.

    Removing corporate privilege should be the goal of any system of governance, here I completely agree with the video. The problem is that corporate interests will always take over the state - see "regulatory capture"


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