27 Responses to Reaching Left

  1. Daniel G. April 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Seems like an exciting paper. Can’t wait to finish it.

    Anyway, when i first became a libertarian, I assumed it would be easier to reach out to right-wingers who already speak of “liberty” and “free markets.”

    Later on, I noticed that many on the left raise concerns about corporatism that sound quite similar to the libertarian objections. This led me to suspect that reaching out to the left is just a matter of pointing out that it is political connections and not free markets that lead to corporatism.

    • Gene Callahan April 16, 2011 at 12:35 am #

      “This led me to suspect that reaching out to the left is just a matter of pointing out that it is political connections and not free markets that lead to corporatism.”

      Yes, just like it was “state capitalism” and not communism that led to the Gulag! Let’s focus on the imaginary results of imaginary systems in our heads, and ignore the real results that occur when real world people try to follow our policy prescriptions.

      • David K. April 16, 2011 at 8:20 am #

        Yeah, that’s right, Gene: Politicians desperately “try to follow our policy prescriptions,” but somehow, due to honest mistakes, they always end up intervening into the market in favor of big business. E.g., Bush and Obama wanted to handle the financial crisis according to Austrian Business Cycle Theory, but they simply misunderstood Mises’s Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel (perhaps they used a bad translation).

      • Rad Geek April 16, 2011 at 7:18 pm #


        Which “real world people” would those be, and which of “our” policy prescriptions were they trying to follow?

        I mean, my core “policy prescription” is the abolition of the State as such. Or if you want a nice, gradualist program broken down by specific policy goals, we could start out with the complete abolition of all border laws, unconditional amnesty for all currently undocumented immigrants, the elimination of all standing armies, the dismissal of all government police forces, the abolition of all intellectual property restrictions, the abolition of all drug laws and the release of all nonviolent prisoners from government jails, the complete abolition of eminent domain, the elimination of all government monopolies in the issuing of money and credit, the opening of all government owned and long-term vacant land to free homesteading, the repudiation of all government debts, the dissolution of the IMF, World Bank, Ex-Im, WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, Federal Reserve, and the repudiation of all debts owed to government-owned or bailed-out banks. Also the repeal of compulsory school-attendance laws and the release of all involuntarily committed psychiatric prisoners, for good measure. I’ve left out a lot, but that’s a start; certainly, all of that is more important to me than whether or not ACTA stays on the books, say, or whether corporate tax rates go up or down. Perhaps you know of some “real world people” in positions of power or political influence who have been trying to implement these policy items, and yet somehow managed to come up with the prevailing monopolistic corporate capitalism. But if so, I’d like you to tell me who these folks are.

        Or maybe you mean some Republican dickhead who actually has no interest whatsoever in anything even remotely resembling my policy prescriptions, or those of most of the Anarchists around these parts, but does think that supporting a trillion-dollar war, a trillion-dollar bail-out, a massive border police state, and some fiddling around the edges with Medicare or NPR funding constitutes a principled defense of free markets. If so, it’s clear that those kind of policy prescriptions do lead to something like what we see around us (since they hardly prescribe anything different from the status quo at all), but it’s hard to see how those are “our” policy prescriptions. Maybe they are yours; but if so you should speak only for yourself.

  2. Brad April 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Excellent. I owe you and Carson an intellectual debt of gratitude.

  3. dennis April 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Both sides could be fertile recruiting grounds. It depends on why each individual identifies with the side they do. If someone is on “the left” because they are disgusted by “conservative” ideas about LGBT people or obscenity or drugs or “law and order” they can be convinced to see the light, particularly if one can show them why a truly free market is not only morally superior to a statist system, but also more effectively allows for the dignity, opportunity, and prosperity of everyone.

    If a conservative lacks the usual love of people in uniforms and the more brutal aspects of the state, and the ugly cultural politics, said conservative can also be made to see the light.

  4. Gary Chartier April 7, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    I agree completely with Brad on this—there’s no way I’d be where I am today without the insights I’ve gained from you. This is really good!

  5. Bob Kaercher April 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    I’ll see you there tomorrow, sir. I look forward to it.

  6. Mr Civil Libertarian April 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    You say on page 2:
    “I say they’re only “largely” with us on civil liberties because this group still tends to be bad on (at least) one civil liberty; gun rights”.

    Perhaps I hang out with the wrong liberal left, but they have always come across to me as being particular bad on civil liberties- including free speech, freedom of protest (I have seen many of the liberal left here acting as apologists for the police’s treatment at the UKUncut protests, for instance), and so on. Maybe this is a difference between the liberal left predominant in the UK and the one in the US, but I find that the liberal left are becoming less hard for libertarians to reach. Me and the mutualist blogger Jock Coats do have something planned which, we hope, will help reverse this- but it increasingly looks like a losing battle. Our only saving grace seems to be the reactionary anti-establishment force that always comes with being associated with the “opposition” party in Parliament (which, has a tendency to revert to authoritarian status quo apologetics once the liberal left are back in power).

    • ColonelRickey April 13, 2011 at 9:59 am #

      How would you describe the ideology of UKUncut? It seems to me that Long and others (myself included) would argue you’re seeing a battle between the anti-privilege Left and the more aristocratic Left.

  7. mstob April 10, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    The Mises Institue has a special place in my heart as it was the first group of thinkers that introduced me to radical liberarianism and eventually anarchism. I’ve moved to the left recently but I still view any effort to reach greater agreement between left libertarians and the not-so-left-libertarians at Mises as essential.

  8. Bob Kaercher April 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Roderick: Some of the comments coming from a couple of people in the audience re: immigration was a reminder of some of the challenges in reaching out to the Right as well. (Though I have no idea if those guys could really be described as consistently being on the Right, the reasons they cited in support of their closed border positions are characteristic of statist-Right reasoning on the issue.)

    BTW, I thought it went really well yesterday. All of you guys gave great speeches. It was really nice to see that kind of a turnout for a libertarian event in the heart of Obama country. And the venue gave it a nice sense of comic irony.

  9. LisaMarie April 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    I’m all for outreach to the left, but I’d be richer than the filthiest robber baron if I had a dollar for every time a leftist declared that the problem with advocates of free markets is that they are really just woefully ignorant and stupid about economics. I need to give the bleeding heart libertarians a close read soon.

  10. James Leroy Wilson April 10, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    Great piece!

    I think part of the “right-conflationism” isn’t an intellectual confusion so much as it is a defense mechanism. Didn’t Benjamin Tucker late in his life (80-some years ago) acknowledge that life under actual-existing capitalism was better than any of the actual-existing alternatives?

    It’s not a question of liking the status quo or assuming that it’s free, but preferring the status quo to even more statist proposals.

    It’s actually similar to arguments regarding foreign intervention. I didn’t like Saddam Hussein, but I wasn’t about to start a war to depose him. This was often construed as “defending” or “making excuses for” Hussein.

    Likewise, I do not like the statist methods that allowed Wal-Mart to get so huge. But I do believe it has the right branch out into new industries (such as health clinics and banking), and I believe politicians that keep Wal-Mart out of their towns are disgraceful.

    Does that make me “pro-Wal-Mart?” No.

    And opposing last year’s healthcare bill in no way suggests I’m a fan of the current health system.

    But if change in the direction of MORE peace and freedom is not immediately viable, and the alternatives are the status quo or MORE statism, I WILL defend the status quo. I’ll explain that Saddam in power is actually in America’s interests. I’ll show how Wal-Mart’s low prices are a good thing. I’ll show the current healthcare system has a lot of innovation and is doing a lot of good.

    The important thing is, if one must resort to defending the status quo, that it is good only to the extent that it is free, and that less freedom will make it worse than it already is.

  11. crossofcrimson April 10, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Looks like you’re getting some traction over at Reason’s blog – http://reason.com/blog/2011/04/10/sunday-read-if-i-wanted-accept

    • MBH April 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

      Holy shit! An organization called Reason says that left-libertarianism won’t work because people don’t base politics on rationality! Reason‘s main objection is that left-libertarianism is too rational for people! And then they accuse Roderick of “evangelizing”! From here on out, and for the sake of the movement’s coherence, can we all admit that those who say there is no difference between right and left libertarianism are themselves the evangelizers! They are the one’s that appeal to people’s raw emotions!

      • crossofcrimson April 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

        I’m sorry but if you read that as a hit-piece then I think your judgment is a little clouded.

        • MBH April 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

          I don’t read it as a hit-piece at all. I’m sure that the author intended it to be a nice review. But that doesn’t detract from basic assumptions that are in play. That’s what I’m addressing; not anything that’s said explicitly or anything against Roderick.

      • JOR April 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

        I think he wasn’t saying “left-libertarianism won’t work” and calling Long et al. evangelists so much as he was saying that the evangelistic efforts of left (and other) libertarians are a waste of time because people’s political philosophies are determined by non-rational factors.

        I agree. Libertarians shouldn’t shift left, if by shifting left we mean opposing sexism and classism and racism and homophobia and all the rest of that stuff, for the purpose of winning converts. They should shift left, in that sense, because those things are all worth opposing and striving against. This is to say nothing of the likelihood of actually winning said converts, especially among committed mainstream leftoids. Of course the chances of that are dismal. Not necessarily because political and moral philosophies are irrational, so much as because they’re based on lifetimes of reinforcing assumptions and values and tastes though both observation, theorizing, and conversation. This is, incidentally, why arguments over first principles or deeply held beliefs almost never get anywhere, at least in the short term. The philosophical battle is indeed like a nuclear war, in that it leads alternately to utter mutual ruin or a long standoff where no appreciable gains or concessions are made until one or both parties gets bored and goes home to play video games or something. Not because people are irrational, but precisely because they’re too rational to completely trash the worldview they’ve developed over the course of their lives because some snot made some arguments that might seem persuasive in the confusion and weariness of one moment. People take a long time to change worldviews for entirely good reasons.

        • MBH April 11, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

          The problem — primarily — is not that people rely on their gut to form their point of view. The problem is that so few (libertarian) educators think through the very perspective that they teach (or imply in their teachings). After all, the “gut” that folks go with is not some blind feeling. The society’s mode of thought determines the culture and the culture instructs the gut.

          To use the Mises Institute as a microcosm, the problem is that even LvMI scholars that pride themselves on methodological rigor are themselves unreflective slaves to some culture’s mode of thought. Consider this post.

  12. Kyle Trowbridge April 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Fantastic – I will be sharing this with IUPUI’s SDS group. Good work, Professor Long.

  13. Bob Kaercher April 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    “The problem is that so few (libertarian) educators think through the very perspective that they teach (or imply in their teachings).”

    Which is…?

  14. ColonelRickey April 13, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    A great piece! I’ve recently started blogging from my left-libertarian/liberaltarian/pragmatic libertarian/”insert more made up names here” perspective and I’ve posted my first thoughts on your essay on my blog here: http://shoomakers.typepad.com/blog/2011/04/read-roderick-long-part-1.html

    I used to be more active in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left under another name before getting more involved in traditional partisan politics. There’s a lot of philosophizing going on but I think the movement still grapples with an action plan.

    Also, as you were focusing on the idea of conflationism and the tendency of conservatives to see the economic status quo as a free market, I was scribbling “vulgar libertarianism!” along the margins of my print out. I think you should use Kevin Carson’s phrase as often as possible!

  15. Mr Civil Libertarian April 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Ok, this is interesting. I’ve just been handed an opportunity to put this into practice.

    The UK libertarian party has had a bit of publicity today for the wrong reasons. This has led to Sunny Hundal, editor of the UK’s largest centre-left website, Liberal Conspiracy, asking me for a piece on left-libertarianism.

    I said yes. Let’s hope I don’t screw this up.

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