Tag Archives | Left-Libertarian

Who Are the People In Your Neighbourhood, and How Can You Control Them?

I just came across this old letter of mine, which appeared in the Opelika-Auburn News on 9 February 2001:


To the Editor:

So local government officials in Alabama’s counties are upset because the state Constitution doesn’t give them the authority to impose zoning laws or to ban prostitution?

Thank about what that means. These officials are upset because they think they, not you, should have the right to decide what you are allowed to do on your own property or with your own body.

If they decide they don’t like you running a business on your property, they claim teh right to shut your business down. That’s what zoning laws mean. And if they decide they don’t like your choices about whom you have sex with and on what terms, they claim the right to interfere there too. That’s what anti-prostitution laws mean.

In other words, they think both your property and your body belong to them, not to you.

The United States was founded on a different principle: that your life belongs to you, not to the government. But we don’t think often enough about what that implies. If your life really belongs to you, then you have the right to make your own decisions about your body and your property, so long as you’re not interfering with anybody else’s freedom to do likewise with theirs.

Sunday’s Opelika-Auburn News quotes professor Wayne Flynt arguing that without zoning laws and anti-prostitution laws we “have no control over what happens right next door”to us. But since when are we supposed to have control over what happens next door to us? If we don’t like the way our neighbors are living, we have the right to argue with them, or to shun them, but not the right to impose our preferences on them by force of law.

Thats why I vote Libertarian.

Roderick T. Long



(But it’s now been a while since I voted Libertarian (or at all); Barr/Root drove me away in 2008, and it’s going to take more than Johnson/Weld to lure me back.)

If You Love Freedom, Thank an Anarchist

[cross-posted at BHL]

It’s often said – particularly on holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that Americans owe their freedom (such as it is) to u.s. military veterans.


This claim has always puzzled me. In what war in living memory was the freedom of Americans at stake? Without u.s. military action, were Japanese or German troops – let alone Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Panamanian, Afghani, or Iraqi ones – really going to be marching though Times Square? If anything, given the notorious ratchet effect whereby wars tend to produce permanent increases in government power, it seems more probable that u.s. military action has contributed to a diminution of our freedom.

Yet Americans do enjoy a greater degree of liberty, however inadequate, than citizens of many other countries around the world. To whom do we owe that fact?

Many people wear shirts that say, “If you love freedom, thank a veteran.” I wear a shirt that says “If you love freedom, thank an anarchist.”

So what have anarchists (and other fractious dissidents) done for the cause of freedom? In answer, I quote from two recent articles:

Anarchists have never taken power. We have resisted authoritarianism and oppression in every arena. From calling out Marxism long before its draconian aspirations became public record, to fighting and dying to resist Fascism, fighting Franco until he couldn’t afford to join Hitler and Mussolini and leading the resistance against the Nazis across Europe. We’ve fought the robber barons, the czars, the oligarchs, and the soviet bureaucrats.

And we’ve been extraordinarily popular in different regions at different points in history, although we have not yet had sufficient critical mass to completely transform the world. In every instance where anarchism surged to localized popularity with a few million adherents, as in Spain but also Ukraine and Manchuria, every surrounding power immediately put their wars on hold to collaborate in snuffing out the examples we provided of a better world, of better ways of interacting and settling disputes with one another, that do not turn to control but build a tolerable consensus for all parties when agreement is needed.

We’ve been at the forefront not just of technology like cryptocurrencies and the tor project, but we’ve also been at the forefront of struggles against patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, etc., etc. Since long before there were popular coalitions like “feminism.” We smuggled guns to slaves and ran abolitionist journals. We’ve coursed through the veins of our existing society, pioneering myriad social technologies like credit unions and cooperatives. We’ve consistently served as the radical edge of the world’s conscience, and played a critical role in expanding what is possible while developing and field testing new insights and tools.

Anarchism – as many commentators have noted – has served as the laboratory of the left, of social justice and resistance movements around the world. Even where we remain marginal, the tools we invent eventually become mainstream.

— William Gillis, “Transhumanism Implies Anarchism



[The] claim that our rights are something “given to” us, handed down from above by the government and its soldiers, is a pernicious, authoritarian, damned lie.

Who has given us our rights? Nobody. We have taken them. Every right we have, we have because we fought for it from below. We have these rights because we resisted violations of them, because we fought those who violated them &#150 sometimes fighting “the Soldier” – and compelled the state to recognize them. And the state recognizes them because it’s afraid that if it violates them we’ll damn well fight it – and its soldiers – again.

Rights have never been granted by authority. They have always been asserted against authority, and won from it. We don’t have our rights because the government and its soldiers are nice – but because we’re not. It’s not the Soldier – it’s the dissidents, the hell-raisers, the dirty flag-burning hippies, the folks with bad attitudes towards authority in general, who have given us our rights throughout history, by fighting for them.

— Kevin A. Carson, “No, It’s Not ‘The Soldier’



Molinari Review 1.1: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The Molinari Institute (the parent organization of the Center for a Stateless Society) is proud to announce the publication of the first issue of our new interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal, the Molinari Review, edited by yours truly, and dedicated to publishing scholarship, sympathetic or critical, in and on the libertarian tradition, very broadly understood. (See our original call for papers.)

You can order a copy here:

Print Kindle
Amazon US Amazon US
Amazon UK Amazon UK
CreateSpace Store

It should also be available, now or shortly, on other regional versions of Amazon. And later on it’ll be available from our website as a free PDF download (because copyright restrictions are evil).


So what’s in it?

In “The Right to Privacy Is Tocquevillean, Not Lockean: Why It MattersJulio Rodman argues that traditional libertarian concerns with non-aggression, property rights, and negative liberty fail to capture the nature of our concern with privacy. Drawing on insights from Tocqueville and Foucault, Rodman suggests that privacy is primarily a matter, not of freedom from interference, but of freedom from observation, particularly accusatory observation.

In “Libertarianism and Privilege,” Billy Christmas charges that right-wing libertarians underestimate the extent and significance of harmful relations of privilege in society (including, but not limited to, class and gender privilege) because they misapply their own principles in focusing on proximate coercion to the exclusion of more indirect forms of coercion; but, he argues, broadening the lens of libertarian inquiry reveals that libertarian principles are more powerful tools for the analysis of privilege than privilege theorists generally suppose.

In “Capitalism, Free Enterprise, and Progress: Partners or Adversaries?,” Darian Nayfeld Worden interrogates traditional narratives of the Industrial Revolution. Distinguishing between capitalism (understood as a separation between labour and ownership/management) and free enterprise, Nayfeld Worden maintains that the rise of capitalism historically was in large part the result of a suppression of free enterprise, and that thanks to state intervention, the working-class benefited far less from industrialisation and technological innovation than they might otherwise have done.

In “Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism,” Gus diZerega contends that libertarians misunderstand and misapply their own key concepts, leading them to embrace an atomistic vision of society, and to overvalue the market while undervaluing empathy and democracy. (Look for a reply or two in our next issue.)

Finally, Nathan Goodman reviews Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, an anthology edited by C. B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Goodman praises the book for its illumination of many aspects of the intersection between anarchist tradition and the LGBTQ community, with particular emphasis on the tension between LGBTQ activists who seek to dismantle oppressive institutions and those who merely seek inclusion within them; but in the area of economics, he finds its authors to be too quick to dismiss the free market or to equate it with the prevailing regime of corporatist privilege.

Want to order a copy? See the ordering information above.

Want to contribute an article to an upcoming issue? Head to the journal’s webpage.

Want to support this project financially? Make a donation to the Molinari Institute General Fund.

Remembering the Paris Commune

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Paris Commune by the French national government.

The Paris Commune remains a potent symbol for many people – though what exactly it symbolizes is a matter of dispute. To conservatives, the Commune stands for a reign of terror and mob rule. For many radicals, including anarchists and Marxists (even though at the time, Marx himself opposed the Commune as a “desperate folly” and urged would-be insurrectionists to work within the system), it signifies a community that importantly prefigures their own preferred social and political systems.


The Commune wasn’t quite any of these things. While it bears responsibility for some foolish decisions (such as trying to relieve bakers of their long hours by forbidding them to work at night, which is a bit like trying to cure a disease by punishing anyone who shows symptoms of it) and some wicked decisions (most notably, executing the noncombatant hostages), on the whole the Commune behaved in a rather moderate and restrained fashion, and was far from being the sanguinary monster of conservative nightmares. (To the Communards’ credit, they were reluctant to kill the hostages, and so waited until the last possible moment to do so. To their discredit, that means that by the time they did kill them, it was an act of pure spite that no longer had even the thin justification of a strategic purpose.) The invasion and massacre instituted by the national government at Versailles in May 1871 to put down the Communards’ insurrection has far more claim to be described as a reign of terror than anything the Commune itself did.

While it certainly has inspired anarchists and attracted their sympathy (Louise Michel being the most prominent anarchist figure to emerge from the movement), the Commune was not in any real sense an anarchist project. Yes, it was a working-class insurrection, but one aimed at establishing, and one that did in fact establish, a government. And unsurprisingly, that government did (as we’ve seen) some of the stupid and unjust things that governments tend to do (though the regime that ended up suppressing it was guilty of far worse).

Nor can the Marxists plausibly claim the Commune as a precursor. While generally statist-left-leaning in their policies, most leaders of the Commune had no interest in abolishing private property; as Marx himself noted, “the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist.” The term “Commune” refers not to communism but to the independent mercantile cities, called “communes,” that flourished in Europe at the end of the medieval period. In that respect, the Paris Commune was fundamentally a secessionist movement; the Communards sought to make Paris into a self-governing political entity separate from the rest of France.

What anarchists tend to like about secessionist movements is their thrust toward political decentralization; what anarchists tend to dislike about them is their frequent concomitants of nationalism, parochialism, and isolationism. By those criteria, the Paris Commune scores fairly well, in that it did not seek to sever economic or cultural ties with the rest of the world; on the contrary, foreigners were eligible to be elected, and were in fact elected, to the governing council, on the theory that “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”

For all its flaws, the Paris Commune deserves anarchist respect as an example of cosmopolitan secessionism and working-class revolution. In honor of the Commune, I’ve translated “Paris, Free City,” a piece by Jules Vallès (1832-1885), one of the intellectual leaders of the Commune, from the early days of the rebellion’s initial success. It appeared in his periodical Le Cri du Peuple (“The Cry of the People”) on 22 March 1871. As will be apparent, Vallès is no anarchist; what anarchist could speak so cheerfully of “mayors [being] named and magistrates elected”? But in his secessionism, his enthusiasm for commerce, his distinction between an exploitative and a non-exploitative bourgeoisie, and his selecting the Hanseatic League as a model to emulate, he seems closer to anarchism – particularly market anarchism – than to Marxism.

Paris, Free City

To the bourgeoisie of Paris

There exists the working bourgeoisie and the parasitic bourgeoisie.

The one that the Cri du Peuple attacks, that its editors have consistently attacked and are still attacking, is the do-nothing one, the one that buys and sells positions and makes politics into a business.

A herd of windbags, a crowd of ambitious men, a breeding-ground for sub-prefects and state councilors.

The one, also, that that does not produce, that plunders; [The translation in Voices of the Paris Commune has: “They produce nothing but froth.” This is a misunderstanding of écumer, which in this context refers to piracy.] that raids, by means of shadowy banking schemes or shameless stock-market speculations, the profits made by those who bear the burdens — speculators without shame, who rob the poor and lend to kings, who played dice on the drum of Transnonain or 2 December, [The author refers to the massacre of insurgents by the National Guard in the Rue Transnonain on 14 April 1834, and Louis Napoléon’s bloody coup d’état on 2 December 1851.] and are already imagining how to play their hand upon the cadaver of the bloodied fatherland.


But there is a working bourgeoisie, this one honest and valiant; it goes down to the workshop wearing a cap, traipses in wooden shoes through the mud of factories, remains through cold and heat at its counter or its offices; in its small shop or its large factory, behind the windows of a shop or the walls of a manufactory: it inhales dust and smoke, skins and burns itself at the workbench or the forge, puts its hands to the work, has its eye on the task; it is, through its courage and even its anxieties, the sister of the proletariat.

For it has its anxieties, its risks of bankruptcy, its days when bills come due. There is not a fortune today that is secure, thanks precisely to the clumsiness and provocations of these parasites who need trouble and agitation to live. Nothing is stable: today’s boss becomes tomorrow’s heavy labourer, and graduates see their coats worn to rags.

How many I know, among the established or well dressed, who are beset by worries as the poor are, who sometimes wonder what will become of their children, and who would trade all their chances of happiness and gain for the certainty of a modest labour and an old age without tears!

It is this whole world of workers, fearing ruin or unemployment, that constitutes Paris – the great Paris. – Why should we not extend to one another our hands, above these miseries of man and citizen, and why, in this solemn moment, should we not try, once and for all, to wrest the country, where each is brother to the other through effort and danger, from this eternal uncertainty that allows adventurers always to succeed, and requires honest people always to tremble and suffer!

Fraternity was queen the other day before the cannons and under the bright sun. It must remain queen, and Paris must take a solemn decision – a decision that will be a good one, and will have its day in history, only if it avoids both civil war and the resumption of war against the victorious Bismarck. [Voices of the Paris Commune gets this precisely wrong: “if it manages to avoid civil war and returns to the war against the victorious Bismarck.” This is not a possible translation of si elle évite la guerre civile et le retour de la guerre avec Bismark vainqueur; besides, if Vallès were calling here for renewed conflict with Prussia, why would he be proposing to “submit to everything” in the next paragraph, and why would he be advocating a negotiated peace with the Prussians a few paragraphs later?]

We are prepared, for our part, to impose nothing, to submit to everything, within the dolorous circle of fatality – on the sole condition that the freedom of Paris remains safe, and that the flag of the Republic shelter, in an independent city, a courageous populace of workers.

Denizens of the working-class districts and bourgeois alike: a few hundred years ago, in the very Germany from which came the cannons that have thundered at us, four towns declared themselves free cities; [The four founding members of the Hanseatic League: Lübeck, Brunswick, Köln, and Danzig.] they were, for centuries, great and proud, rich and calm: in every corner of the world one could hear their activity, and they cast merchandise and gold on every shore! …..

Well then! to undo, other than by the sabre, the Gordian knot in which our recent misfortunes have been tangled, there is but one message to give:


Let us negotiate immediately, through the intermediary of the elected representatives of the people, with the government of Versailles for the status quo without struggle, and with the Prussians for the settlement of indemnities.

No blood is shed, the cannons remain cold, the barracks close, and the workshops reopen, work resumes.

Work resumes! this is the inflexible necessity, the supreme desire. Let us come to an agreement in order that everyone, tomorrow, may recover his livelihood. Citizens of every class and every rank, this is salvation!

Paris, free city, returns to work.

This secession saves the provinces from their fear and the working-class districts from famine.

Bordeaux has said: Down with Paris!

We, for our part, cry at one and the same time: Long live France and long live Paris! and we commit ourselves never more to extend toward this France who calumniates us an arm that she believed to be menacing.

Between Montrouge and Montmartre [Southern and northern districts of Paris, respectively.] will always beat, come what may, the heart of the old fatherland, which we will always love, and which will return to us in spite of everything.

Moreover, some towns – precisely those that the moderates fear – will likewise be able to negotiate in order to live free, and to constitute the great federation of republican cities.

To those who fear that they should suffer from isolation, we respond that there are no frontiers high enough to prevent labour from crossing them, industry from razing them, commerce from boring through them.

Labour! – towns with high chimneys that spew the smoke of factories, with large workshops and long counters, fertile cities do not die! Even rustics would not kill their hens that lay golden eggs.

Paris, having a flag of her own, can no longer be defamed or menaced, and she remains the skillful seeker, the happy finder, who invents beautiful designs and great instruments, who will be forever implored to put her stamp on that this metal or that fabric, on this toy or that weapon, on this goblet or that basin, on the paste for a porcelain vessel or the silk for a gown!

She will remain the master and the king.


No more bloodshed! rifles at rest: mayors are named and magistrates elected. And then to work! to work! The bell sounds for labour and not for combat.


Questions and Answers on Workplace Democracy

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

My BHL colleague Chris Freiman has three questions for left-libertarians concerning how we reconcile our “commitment to workplace democracy” with the “other commitments that libertarians are inclined to have.” Here I suggest some answers.

Does workplace democracy really eliminate bosses?

Most libertarians, Chris notes, “would deny that granting all citizens a vote in a political democracy means that you are your own boss in a meaningful sense.” So in a workplace democracy, just as in a political democracy, isn’t it likewise true that “your single vote is unlikely to be decisive, meaning that you are exercising little to no real control,” and instead have simply “traded one boss for a thousand bosses”?


First: left-libertarians think that economic freedom will result in a much more competitive labour market. One dimension of this will be greater competition among different workplace structures, so that traditional hierarchical wage-labour employers will face more competition from workers’ co-ops on the one hand and individual proprietorships on the other. But another dimension will be greater competition among workplace structures of the same type; thus workers’ co-ops, for example, will face competition from many other workers’ co-ops. Just as traditional employers have to treat workers better when there are many other traditional employers competing for those workers, so co-ops have to do likewise when they face heavy competition from other co-ops. Thus in the kind of competitive market that we’d expect to result from the abolition of the current system of state privilege, it will be very hard for co-ops to maintain the kind of micromanaging, chickenshit control over their members that Chris is worried about.

Indeed, the ideal for many left-libertarians is for the situation of workers to become more similar to that of independent contractors. As agorist pioneer Samuel E. Konkin III noted, “independent contracting lowers transactions costs … relative to boss/worker relationships running the gamut from casual labor with annoying paperwork and records to full-scale Krupp worker welfarism.” And the transformation of wage labour into something approaching independent contractor status naturally results from a more competitive labour market, as the availability of other employment opportunities raises the cost of micromanagement, for co-ops and traditional employers alike.

Second: the reference to “a thousand bosses” suggests that Chris is envisioning workplace democracy as applying typically to vast firms with thousands of workers. I agree that in such large firms, the influence of any individual’s vote is likely to be negligible; but that is precisely why those who want more control over their day-to-day work situation will tend to prefer working for smaller co-ops rather than larger ones.

Chris anticipates this answer, and replies that workers’ co-ops “can’t get too small if they want to take advantage of economies of scale.”

Now I have to say, asking a left-libertarian “what about economies of scale?” is a bit like asking Cato the Elder “how come you never say what should be done about Carthage?” After all, one of the positions for which left-libertarians are best known is our claim that in a freed market, economies of scale would tend to be overtaken by diseconomies of scale at a fairly low point, and that the enormous firms that prosper in our present economy are made possible, for the most part, only by systematic state intervention that props them up by socialising the costs generated by diseconomies of scale while allowing the firms to pocket the benefits generated by economies of scale. (For details, see Kevin Carson’s book Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, available either in print or as a free download.)

Third: one of the most frustrating things about ordinary wage labor is the extent to which the commands of bosses are out of touch with the reality of what is actually happening on the shop floor; this is a Hayekian knowledge problem that predictably besets large, bureaucratic organisations. (Again, see Kevin Carson’s book on this point.) Consequently, often the only thing keeping a firm profitable is the fact that workers quietly disregard their bosses’ instructions.

I once taught at a university (I won’t say which; I’ve taught at five) where the administration, having read somewhere that no one can remember more than three points from a lecture, demanded that in future no lecture should contain more than three points. Following this rule would of course have made it impossible for the faculty to do their jobs, i.e., to cover in a semester the material their courses are supposed to cover. I suspect this requirement was also in conflict with contractually-mandated academic freedom, but in any case the problem was solved by the fact that most professors simply ignored it. (The rule was essentially unenforceable anyway, because who decides what counts as one “point”?)

In the words of an old anarcho-syndicalist pamphlet:

Every industry is covered by a mass of rules, regulations and agreed working practices, many of them archaic. If applied strictly they would make production difficult if not impossible. … If managers’ orders were completely obeyed, confusion would result and production and morale would be lowered. In order to achieve the goals of the organisation workers must often violate orders, resort to their own techniques of doing things, and disregard lines of authority. Without this kind of systematic sabotage much work could not be done.

Indeed, that is why actually following all the rules and instructions is considered a form of worker resistance – a “rule-book slowdown”!

One of the great advantages of workplace democracy is that workers actually know what workers do all day, thus greatly alleviating the familiar problems of information flow in hierarchies. And of course a rule that has to be followed by the people making it, as in a workers’ co-op, is likely to be less obnoxious, for both informational and incentival reasons, than a rule made by one group for another group, as in traditional firms.

Let me give a concrete example of these various points. Like most of my BHL colleagues, I myself work in an industry (university academia) that combines bosses (the administration) with some aspects of worker control (the faculty). Both groups regularly generate edicts that are completely insane, but in interestingly different ways. The insanity of administrative demands tends to reflect the extent to which administrators are completely out of touch with, and not especially interested in, what our work as faculty actually involves. (Hence the aforementioned three-points-per-lecture rule.) The insanity of demands from fellow faculty rarely takes that form, but is instead mostly ideologically driven. Which one is worse depends on the issue. I can certainly understand an academic worrying that workplace democracy would, in this case, involve faculty governance being extended to all the issues that administrative governance now covers; whether this would be better or worse than the status quo, it surely wouldn’t be much better. But under a freed market, what we should expect universities to look like is not very much like “just what they are now, only with more faculty governance.”

Thanks to government regulations, higher education is one of the most highly cartelised industries in existence. Accreditation laws make it extraordinarily difficult to start a university, or to run one in nonstandard ways; and this artificial shortage, together with the perverse incentives of government funding, boosts tuition prices ever higher (a situation from which administrators disproportionately benefit, at the expense of faculty and students; see here and here). In a freed market, higher education jobs (whether in a traditional university structure or something else) would be so much more plentiful as to constitute a salutary check on the irrationality of faculty governance.

What about rational ignorance?

Chris likewise wonders why libertarian critiques of political democracy that appeal to rational ignorance don’t cut against workplace democracy too. (Chris calls workplace democracy “economic democracy,” but that phrase seems to have a rather different meaning.) “If the vote I cast,” Chris notes, “is probably going to be inconsequential, then I have little incentive to make it a good one.” Given that rational ignorance on the part of voters is “a standard explanation for the poor quality of political governance,” why won’t workplace democracy face the same problem?

Well, there are several important differences between workplace democracy and political democracy. One is that, given left-libertarian predictions about average firm size in a freed market, the number of voters per firm will tend to be small, meaning that each individual vote counts more. In addition, in a small firm, workers can influence the final outcome not only through voting but also through trying to persuade fellow voters via argument.

Not only is the power of voice typically stronger in workplace democracy than in political democracy, but so is the power of exit. The only way one can exit a political democracy, ordinarily, is by moving to a different geographical region (and if your political democracy is the U.S., even that won’t do it). If moving to Denmark would be prohibitively costly to me (whether financially or otherwise), I don’t have much incentive to research the differences between Danish and American laws. But a workplace democracy can be exited just by switching jobs; given the lower cost, I have more incentive to become well-informed about the pros and cons of different firms’ policies.

Moreover, much of the information that participants in workplace democracy need is information they already have by virtue of working there, so the question of how much incentive they have to acquire the info is moot. I’m talking about, for example, Hayekian local knowledge about the production process – knowledge that often travels poorly up chains of command.

Are capitalist acts between consenting adults permitted?

By “capitalist acts,” Chris, following the Nozick quote, presumably means acts of market exchange. (Of course this is not what left-libertarians mean by “capitalist acts.”) Thus he asks: “Suppose a risk-averse worker wants to sell her shares to a second worker in exchange for a steady income. Is this transaction permitted?”

Permitted by whom? If the members of a workers’ co-op want to arrange things so that shares in the co-op are transferable, or if they want to arrange things so that shares in it are not transferable, those are both permissible private contracts – as is a traditional employment-for-hire contract, at least when it takes place against a background without state privilege. Left-libertarians are not interested in interfering in the details of private contracts (though many of us would insist that enforcement of service contracts be by damages rather than specific enforcement, for familiar libertarian reasons). We may regard some workplace structures as morally preferable to others, but we regard a peaceful combination of a) moral suasion, and b) letting economic incentives work, as the best strategy for implementing this preference.


What left-libertarians oppose is not wage labour per se, but the wage system – a system in which, thanks to the state-enabled monopolisation of the means of production (as well as the use of those means) in the hands of the ruling class, the working class has no choice but to perform wage labour for others. In a freed market, no doubt many workers would still choose wage labour – but they would not be forced to do so, given that rival options like workers’ co-ops and self-employment would no longer be kept artificially scarce (and the plentifulness of such rival options would also render such wage labour as existed much less unpleasant).

Ah, but if we allow workers to opt out of workplace democracy in the way described, Chris replies, then “we have reason to think that hierarchies will arise spontaneously from an initial condition of worker equality.” (This is what Marxists seem to think too.)

Okay, I’ll bite: what reason is that? Chris says there is one, but he doesn’t say what it is – unless it’s just the “risk-aversion” he mentioned earlier. But there are other methods of reducing risks besides wage labour – mutual-aid insurance, for example, which flourished until the state shut it down. Plus, in a more prosperous economy there would be less need for risk-aversion.

Left-libertarians argue that hierarchical workplaces are both unpleasant and inefficient; hence, while some may exist in a freed market, they are unlikely to predominate. The fact that workers will be free to work in hierarchical workplaces if they so choose is no reason to think that most of them will do so.

A Blast From 1837

Here’s an early (pre-Spencer) statement of the law of equal freedom and/or non-aggression principle:

[N]o movement can be permanently successful among progressive minds which stops short of a full and complete recognition of the entire liberty of the individual, so long as the action coming from such liberty trespasses upon neither the person or [sic] property of another.

Particularly interesting is its source: an 1837 publication of the First International; see details here. (The article is about Josiah Warren, but the quotation is not from Warren; in fact Warren wanted to make it less libertarian by including a right to one’s “reputation,” i.e., to the contents of other people’s minds.)


I am an idiot. Of course the First International didn’t exist in 1837. And so of course this quotation is from 1873, and so of course it’s not pre-Spencer.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes