Monday, March 17, 2008

The Rise of the Libertarian Left

It is unusual that I give kudos to Reason Magazine, with the exception that they got this right. There is a rise of the libertarian left going on. And it will impact and shape social policy in America. The actual mechanics of how that will play out are not known, but the process is underway and it is a productive force. Unlike the Rothbardian "anarchists" and ultra-right "minarchists" left libertarianism is predominantly a movement that see being libertarian as being fiscally conservative and socially liberal to ensure the maximum personal liberty and maximum economic liberty intertwined to serve a larger public good, the health of the overall society.

Unlike radical libertarians they do not reject the state outright, rather in this view governments are "secured among men with a utilitarian purpose. That is they are defined in their duties by their foundation." In our case that is the constitution.

The progenitor of this movement was none other than Thomas Jefferson, and it was carried on in American politics by Moorefield Storey and the Diplomatic writing of Thomas Nelson Page in the National Archives in both Washington DC and in Italy and in his 1920 memoir on Italy during World War I.

It is defined by Reason as a group who,

According to a December 2004 survey by the Pew Research Center, about 9 percent of the electorate —enough to carry a tight race—prefers candidates who offer the basic libertarian mix of fiscal conservatism and social tolerance. With Republicans apparently uninterested in pleasing the libertarian segments of their coalition, some liberals and libertarians—Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas, former Democratic National Committee press secretary Terry Michael, and Reason contributor Matt Welch among them—have suggested an alternative: the libertarian Democrat, the sort of liberal who favors both free speech and free trade, both the right to bare pornography and the right to bear arms.

It is interesting to think that both right and left meet on the grounds of libertarianism, can recognize a common foundation and amicably disagree about how to reach the goals of maximum personal liberty without an Ayn Rand-Atlas Shrugged cult like worship resting on anyone's ideological shoulder.

The movement is not something new, rather quite old in its heritage. According to prominent proponents it-

"combines the libertarian premise that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership with the egalitarian premise that natural resources should be shared equally. Left-libertarianism holds that unappropriated natural resources are either unowned or owned in common, believing that private appropriation is only legitimate if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if private appropriation is taxed to compensate those who are excluded from natural resources. This contrasts with right libertarians who argue for a right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as land.

A number of Anglo-American political philosophers argue for the validity and necessity of some social welfare programs within the context of libertarian self-ownership theory. Peter Vallentyne and Hillel Steiner edited a primer, The Origins of Left-Libertarianism: An Anthology of Historical Writings. This text places Hugo Grotius, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Spence, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Henry George in the left libertarian tradition. Steiner himself wrote An Essay on Rights, a pioneering look at rights and justice from a left-libertarian perspective.

Philippe Van Parijs has written extensively on what he calls "real libertarianism", an approach very similar to Steiner and Otsuka's and usually subsumed under the rubric of left-libertarianism. More recently, Michael Otsuka published Libertarianism Without Inequality, where he argues for incorporating egalitarian ideas into libertarian rights schemes.

Though not left-libertarians themselves, G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, and Jon Elster have also written extensively about the notions of self-ownership and equality, which provide the basis for this branch of left libertarian thought. This self-styled left-libertarianism's historical roots in the school of analytical Marxism has cast a cloud of doubt over it for both leftists and libertarians of more conventional stripe"

This movement, proponents argue, has nothing to do with being "progressive" as liberals have typically thought of it in statist terms but lays greater emphasis on the individual to take responsibility for himself and for others if he is blessed with the resources to do so, they do in a way similar to the way William Penn advocated in Chapter 3 of his Advice to My Children and combine it with the best of John Stuart Mill's essays, "Utilitarianism and On Liberty," which I recommend to everyone interested in these questions. It should neither be thought of as a form of analytical Marxism or deviant libertarianism, there is nothing "progressive" about it, it is a school of simple humane thought that is primarily derived from William Penn and the Quakers following the humane spirit, the letter and advocating the limitations of the government set by the Constitution in the Bill of Rights. The Difference is that a left libertarian will want to use his own wealth to care for his fellows who have through circumstance been disadvanatged as long as he has the resources to do so. And it is the hope of every left libertarian that a government should have mercy to be humane, and have humanity for its fellows to ensure the liberty of all in equality. There is a saying attributed to John Stuart Mill and I do not know if it is true or not, but it is apropos to our discussion that, "like men, for governments to work well they must be useful to each other."

This pretty much sums up the ideals of the rise of the libertarian left.

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