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Comment on Left-Libertarianism on Roderick Long’s “Sub, Ex, & Dep” Post

Stephan Kinsella on July 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

I still think this whole leftism thing is confused. Subordination unless anchored to aggression is vague and not necessarily unlibertarian, for example. This is mixing the precise, narrow field of libertarianism with other concerns.


MBH: “There are so many bridges between leftism and libertarianism that I find it silly for either side to rule the other out.”

May be right but it’s amazing how some sides see it differently. Gene Healy, e.g., of Cato, today in an editorial writes, “What lessons can the GOP, nominally the party of limited government, learn from all this?”

The very question presupposes the Republicans are a more natural ally to libertarians. It also implies they are nominally for limited government–I don’t think they even nominally are. How can you favor social security and war and muscular gov’t and be for limited government? They are not.

When the Republicans are in power the left seems to have more potential to convert to our side: their sympathies seem better; and their biggest weakness seems to be economic ignorance (unfortunately, similar economic fallacies are also perpetuated by some “left-libertarians”). But when the left comes to power, the leftists–most of them, not all–show they are as bad as or worse than the Republicans in hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to–or favoring–tyranny. The right seems better when the left is in power, because it seems like they are a bit less dishonest when they give lip service to quasi-limited state mantras.

The left are emotivisit, dishonest, hypocritical, and economically illiterate. The right are nationalist, religious, insincere, pro-war, and more socialist than they’ll admit (socialist in the pejorative sense, that is!).

The truth is both are terrible. Equally terrible–who can say. They are terrible in different ways. Neither is a friend of liberty. Neither is libertarian. Left and right are both statist; and this is a classic problem with the left-right spectrum as pointed out by libertarians. It’s not that there are no distinctions; it’s that there are few relevant distinctions between them, from the libertarian perspective. From the libertarian perspective, both left and right are statist–both favor institutionalized aggression. Of course looking at it this way requires a clear-headed return to our libertarian roots: an awareness that what we are opposed to is, in fact, aggression–not “oppression,” not “subordination,” not “bossism.”

And for the same reason the left-right spectrum itself rests on unlibertarian presuppositions, there is little to be gained by confusion and distraction by the right- and left-libertarian subclasses. I am neither right not left qua libertarian. I don’t think most people here are either, despite protests to the contrary. To the extent someone is seriously leftist, to that extent they deviate from libertarianism, in my view.


Some more of my comments on Rodericks’ The ParALLax View:

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 13, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    You rattled my cage, Sir Roderick?

    I am not sure what the question is. You’re not completely right, or wrong. I poke fun; I use colorful examples; I mock things I think mockworthy; and when I detect ambiguity or confusion in a position caused by the person expounding it (and often used disingenuously by them), I sometimes select an interpretation of their cloudy views that he may or may not agree with–how would we know, if they are so murky and conflicted–to challenge them to clarify, deny, expound, etc. It’s a sort of Socratic way of getting people to reveal views that are for some reason kept hidden or unclear.

    In addition, sometimes when one makes a narrow point, as I often do, people leap to all sorts of assumptions, because they have difficulty with reading comprehension, or because they are reverse racists or cosmotards.

    I have trouble taking the left-libertarian program seriously; it is only because of the very few of them, like you, Roderick, who are serious, formidable, sound thinkers, and not dated caricatures, that I sometimes think it may be worthwhile to try to find common ground, correct misimpressions, etc.

  2. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 13, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    BTW I don’t “conflate” Marxists with left-libertarians; if anything they do this themselves by trying to use the word, um, socialist to refer to libertarianism.

    In my own view this whole debate is almost as confused as the one that plagues mainstream thinking about the left-right axis. I have always found that useless and engendering confusion; and I think a similar thing is at work in those who want to insist on the usefulness of the left-right libertarian “axis”; and this is exacerbated or linked in with the confusion surrounding the semantically confused and non-rigorous “thick” arguments, IMHO.

    But in my mind, the so-called “left” libertarians, such as Roderick, are just libertarians, and damn good solid ones, with a few different interests, research programs, insights, or emphasis. (And as far as this goes I myself might not inaccurately be called a “left” libertarian by some; if this had much utility.) And then you have others such as mutualist etc., who deviate so much from standard libertarian views that I think it is in many cases doubtful whether the libertarian label should be applied. And it is some of these who do explicitly praise Marx and whose thought is, excuse me, riddled with all sort of leftist-Marxian economic nonsense. One of them told me Mises and Marx are about on an equal plane for him; each had his own weaknesses and insights to draw from. I have not been persuaded that it is bad form to recognize connections to Marxian thought.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 19, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    MBH: “Stephan, I don’t know that I understand your position. Are you saying that what we mean by left-libertarian is not distinguishable from what we mean by right-libertarian, or that left-libertarianism isn’t libertarianism, or that left-libertarianism is a back-seat driver to right-libertarianism, or something else?”

    I’m saying there is standard libertarianism–the opposition to aggression in all its forms combined with the awareness that the state necessarily institutes institutionalized aggression–and it is neither left nor right. The original left-right spectrum is confused and anti-libertarian. If someone claims to be a left-libertarian, then to the extent their views are libertarian, they are not “left” but shared by all libertarians; to the extent they are not libertarian, then… they are not libertarian.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 21, 2009 at 11:59 am


    “‘If certain animals are claimed to be golden retrievers, then to the extent their characteristics are canine, they are not “golden retriever” but shared by all dogs; to the extent they are not canine, then… they are not canine.’”

    The problem is golden retriever is indisputably one type of dog, and golden retrieverness is not incompatible with or unrelated to its dogness.

    Whereas, libertarianism is a political theory concerned with the proper use of interpersonal violence, and holds a distinct view about when it is appropriate or legitimate. So to the extent leftish views are compatible with the libertarian focus and view on aggression, it’s either part of libertarianism already, or it’s just orthogonal to it, sort of like my love for riding dirt bikes is compatible with libertarianism but not part of it. And if the leftish views are incompatible with it, they are not part of it.

    “Likewise: the characteristics that make a libertarian a left-libertarian aren’t necessary to being a libertarian (otherwise all libertarians would be left-libertarians), but they aren’t merely extraneous add-ons like “liking jazz” (otherwise left-libertarians wouldn’t be a kind of libertarian).”

    Okay, I am with you so far–but the problem is that I think the “left-right” spectrum is both ambiguous and vague, and also rests on unlibertarian assumptions (as we libertarians should well know, as we have deplored the simplistic, inacccurate, confusing, statist left-right spectrum for a long time).

    It seems to me you leftish/thicker types want to have it both ways. You want to trot out the left- prefix as if it makes your libertarianism better; as if it does mean something; hence your comments about bossism and “exclusionism” (? are we now also against “discrimination” and “prejudice”?). But when pushed, you seem to reluctantly admit these views are not libertarian strictly speaking.

    I’m just a libertarian. I think we can learn something from some of the insights of leftists, as well as the insights of mathematicians, computer scientists, hunters, and convicts.

Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 16, 2009 at 9:02 am


“the use of the term “socialism” to refer to movements that favour radical worker empowerment by free-market/non-state/non-aggressive means has been around for over a century.”

That’s fine, but it has a different connotation now, so I think calling a strand of libertarianism “socialist” is confusing.

“I myself tend to avoid both “capitalism” and “socialism” as terms with too much confusing baggage.”

Me, too; though I think “capitalism’s” modern meaning is much closer to libertarianism–less confusing–than is “socialism.”

“Such as Rothbard, who described Marx as “relatively libertarian” and Lenin as “congenial to the libertarian”? Or Hans Hoppe, who maintains that “the theses that constitute the hard core of the Marxist theory of history” are “all … essentially correct”?”

Well played, Sir Roderick–well played.

“Well, there are connections between Marxism and Austrian thought too. A number of writers have pointed out similarities between Marx and Mises/Hayek on the business cycle. Sciabarra has written three books on parallels between Marx and libertarian thought generally. And George Reisman — no willing Marxist propagandist I presume — defends, and argues that Böhm-Bawerk held, a version of the cost-of-production theory of value.”

It is the adoption of his fallacious views that I oppose.


“‘I have trouble taking the left-libertarian program seriously.”

“But you do spend much time attending to it, no? And time is our most absolutely scarce commodity… there must be some reason you like reading us.”

As I have said, it is primarily out of respect for people like Roderick that I do.

“I’m more interested in Carson as a brilliant thinker than one whose specific program is necessarily systematically right.”

I can appreciate that. While I place more emphasis on getting it systematically right.

“I certainly think that the currently hegemonic formulations of libertarianism excuse classist heirarchies, corporate statisms, and neo-imperialism. These confusions are sometimes completely innocently intended, sometimes a symptom of unconscious privilege, and sometimes a culpable product of vile socioeconomic authoritarianism, with Hoppe being the most obviously demonic example. In such a context, the appearance of a powerful and original thinker like Kevin Carson is a blessing, and his work is a prominent part of a necessary correction whose time has come. Carson provides a shift in perspective to show us a libertarianism in which the working class gets to seriously sit at the table of radical individualism. This is good stuff, and his lesson of ‘vulgar libertarianism’ is invaluable.”

Hoppe is a wonderful person and significant libertarian thinker; applying the word “demonic” to him is insane.


“Stephan, I don’t know that I understand your position. Are you saying that what we mean by left-libertarian is not distinguishable from what we mean by right-libertarian, or that left-libertarianism isn’t libertarianism, or that left-libertarianism is a back-seat driver to right-libertarianism, or something else?”

I think the left-right spectrum is confusing and useless. I think it groups unlreated ideas and characteristics in an ad hoc, unprinipled way-and this is true for “right-libertarian/left-libertarina.” To the extent “left” really means something, it deviates from libertarianism, or is beyond it (bringing in the thickism debate). To the extent it means something that is compatible with libertariansim, it is not “left,” it is just part of libertarianism.

I think the most charitable spin I can put on left-libertarainism is either a useful reminder not to conflate modern corporatism with what would exist in a free market–that is, to not be too vulgar; and/or an activist emphasis. But the latter doesn’t interest me since I find this is what leads people to compromise, sell-out, rah rah boosterism, and self-delusion.


  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm


    “Left-libertarians believe that the product of your labor belongs to you. Right-libertarians believe that management owns the product of worker’s labor. Left-libertarians believe that “you get out of it what you put into it.” Right-libertarians believe that those hierarchically above you, get out of it what you put into it.”

    Does Roderick believe workers “own” the “product” of their labor–in a sense distinct from the way “right”-libertarians see it? Not to my knowledge. So is he a left-libertarian? Who knows. Yes? No? What does all this mean? Who knows. Nobody.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 19, 2009 at 10:46 pm


    “Roderick often references workers entering into agreements in which they sign the product of their labor over to management. After that point it’s hard to see the distinction between his position and the right-libertarian position (in matters of labor). But right-libertarians think the post-agreement is a default position. That is the distinction.”

    this is nonsense. Neither Hoppe, Rockwell, Rothbard, nor I would say that there is a default position. So is “right-libertarian” a straw man?

    “Roderick untangles these two positions. The left holds that workers necessarily own their labor and its production–to begin with–what the worker chooses to do with it is their decision. The right holds that management owns workers’ labor to begin with. The right sees it as a default position. The left sees it as a matter of choice.”

    Libertarians see it as a matter of choice, of course. If the left does, congrats to them–they agree with us on this. But given their support of unions, their ridiculous economic views on land and labor, I don’t think they do. But if they do–welcome to the libertarian cause. BUt it ain’t left, buster.

  2. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 20, 2009 at 7:14 am

    MBH: “Is one side or the other more inclined to support a organization managed by workers?”

    Support? What does that mean? All libertarians support the *right* of workers to (try to) organize. If they go beyond this type of support to some more active type of “support,” they do so not qua libertarians.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I’m not gonna have this ridiculous debate again, but will make 3 short points: first, this is a very short phrase and somewhat ambiguous, so it’s uncharitable to construe it so … uncharitably. Second, he is not necessarily advocating it but describing or predicting it.

    Third, he refers to intolerance for those *advocating* certain lifestyles–I do not think there is any way to confidently conclude he was referring to all homosexuals and in fact I firmly believe and know Hoppe is personally tolerant of all this and thinks that even such communities as he describes would tolerate homosexuals, as opposed to *advocates* of alternative lifestyles. I believe what he was getting at here was those who are hostile to the basic natural order that (he believes) is necessary for a private property order to prosper. A monogamous priest for example is tolerated even though if everyone were monogamous the race would die out; the priest does not advocate that everyone be monogamous or rail against the predominant reproductive mode in society. The gay person does not necessarily condemn the standard norms and private orders that (arguably) by and large underpin any successful community, merely by being gay; it is going beyond this, to adopt a stance hostile to this.

    My point is not to defend this here but to disagree with the proposition that it is obvious that *these* views are bigoted or anti-homosexual. They are not.

    For the record, I am personally horrified by anti-gay bigotry, and don’t like or associate with those kind of people–and Hoppe is one of my best friends. One of the things I love about him is his tolerance, sweetness and gentleness of soul. People who do not know him but caricature him based on out of context quotes or assaults on him by those with an agenda, um, should not do this.

    I’m done with this issue.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 17, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Aster, If someone were a homophobe I would agree with you that this should not be excused. However I am sure you agree that this kind of charge is serious and requires good evidence. I simply disagree–and strongly and sharply–with you, that you have a good reason to conclude this about Hoppe. For at least two reasons. First, I know him, and know this to be untrue. Second, I can read too, and know that it’s an uncharitable stretch to conclude this from the few snippets of information and tortured argument trotted out in a witchhunt against him by certain loathsome types.

    I disagree with you that Hoppe believes that you “should be thrown out of the social bonfire to die in the cold” for advocating the things you advocate. I think this is a tortured, uncharitable interpretation, not a serious one.

    You know the harm that can come from unfair classifications, assumptions, prejudices; I agree with you; but the same is true of accusing someone of bigotry. It’s a serious thing to do and utterly immoral, wicked, irresponsible, and despicable to do it, without damn good reason–and you sure as hell don’t have it here. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 19, 2009 at 4:07 pm


    “I agree with you that bigotry is a serious matter.”

    Not as much as I do, apparently, or you would not so callously or blithely hurl this accusation.

    “But Hoppe’s homophobia (and general authoritarianism) is so blatantly obvious that it requires a willful evasion of reality not to see it.”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. He is not homophobic or authoritarian in the sense meaningful to libertarian, in the slightest.

    “Which part of ‘removal from society’ is so difficult to understand?”

    I have given several tentative explanations for being reluctant to characterize it in this way. First, he was predicting, not advocating. Second, he was not saying removal by aggression, but perhaps by voluntary, peaceful means. Third, he was referring not to homosexuals per se but to certain *advocates*–those hostile to the institutions prerequisite to a peaceful order. Fourth, it was a brief passage, he is not a native English speaker, and perhaps he was exaggerating to make a point.

    One would think a genuine homophobe to leave an easy to trace trail of evidence, not ambiguous dense academic points that require philosophical parsing.

    ” He wrote it, not me. He is free to identify the nature of his statements and retract them at any time.”

    And you are free to be charitable and not to petulantly assume the worst until he satisfies your demand that he satisfy the PC hordes. I admire his ignoring the shrill cries of the intolerant left.

    “Hoppe is the philosophical weight dragging libertarianism to the right, and he ought to be discredited both in high philosophy and in public social life. Remove his credibility and the centre of libertarian discourse will shift, and we’ll have a movement to be proud once more.”

    I am somewhat proud of our movement, such as it is, though we have lost, and will continue to lose. Hoppe is not on the right.

  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on July 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Aster, “would you care to explain how Hoppe is not on the right?”

    He describes himself as being culturally conservative, but does this make one “right”? I don’t think so. What does culturally conservative mean? How one dresses? That one is employed or not in jail? That one has an education and a career, is not flamboyant, and enjoys some traditional things like western culture and food etc.? Does these things make one a “rightist”?

    I don’t think so. So what else is there? Hoppe is not, contrary to assertions otherwise, personally uptight or homophobic; he associates with all sorts and is very multicultural; as a radical libertarian he supports the right to be a cocaine seller or prostitute, opposes the state itself, and of course the state-church relationship; opposes outlawing sodomy, atheism, opposes a state religion; is pro-choice as far as I know, etc.

    The only substantive position I can think of that one might call him rightist on are his immigration views, but he is an anarchist who opposes the state and its immigration policy and apparatus, not a typically rightist view on immigration. I don’t think he’s a leftist (though some of his views might be characterized this way by some on the right), but I don’t think he’s a rightist. I certainly am not. I am neither. I despise both, since they are both statist, and I am a libertarian, which means something, to me.

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