Thursday, June 18, 2009

Libertarians and the Left: especially for Dana Garrett and my friends at Delawareliberal

This is from Classically Liberal, as an aside explaining why a Libertarian should be remembering Harvey Milk in a positive light. It is also one of the best short explanations of the similarities and differences between Libertarians and Liberals that I have ever read:

There is a false assumption, a grossly false assumption, that libertarianism is some sort of Right-wing philosophy. I would assert most strongly, it is not. Properly understood libertarianism in its “classical liberal” incarnation was the original Left wing of politics. The Right wished to “conserve” the prevalent social order. Liberals did not. They wished to reform it in many different way including ending the feudal system, abolition of the church/state alliance and ending the government coddling of certain business interests through subsidies, monopolies and protectionism. There was very, very little which classical liberals though worthy of conserving. The advocates of conserving the social order were called conservatives and their method for doing so was the use of State force.

When the socialists arose they embraced many of the goals that true liberals were seeking. But these socialists thought it possible to achieve liberal ends through the use of State force, in other words while adopting liberal goals they clung to conservative means. As the socialist/communist movement evolved certain erroneous premises which they had embraced pushed many into a totalitarian camp. At that point these “Leftists” had ceased seeking even liberal ends and had become full-fledged conservatives preserving the political power structure through coercive means.

This created a crisis within the political Left. Many in the Left still passionately embraced the ends of the classical liberals. They opposed the totalitarianism of the conservative Left yet they were having problems giving up the idea that state power was the best method of achieving liberal goals. Most of modern Leftists, Harvey included, fall into this category. For the libertarian they are as confused as the modern conservative. Neither consistently advocates freedom yet neither consistently wants to undermine it. Whether their premises undermine such freedom is a different matter, but neither does so intentionally, with the exception of the more extreme elements.

Conservatives today want economic liberalism but shy away from social liberalism. Socialists and Progressives want social liberalism, and the results of economic liberalism but cling to State power. So, for the true libertarian, both the Left and the Right share similar flaws and have similar virtues. But many libertarians, who came from the Right, still cling to irrational hatred for the Left. This blinds them to the common ground that libertarians share with our friends on the Left.

Two observations:

1) Harvey Milk may have been a great guy, but he committed the awful post-death sin of allowing Sean Penn to play him.

2) Just in case you still think I am the longest-winded Libertarian you know, the extensive quotation above is only the set-up for the main body.

Read and comment quickly; Eric Dondero will happen by soon to slag me.

1 comment:

Miko said...

Every libertarian is long winded. It's what we do.

I'd also recommend Rothbard's analysis on this issue in his essay Left and Right. Key quotation:

"As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and [state] socialism, while to the 'left" of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means"

(To the best of my knowledge, Rothbard never said much about non-state forms of socialism, but based on some of his other works, I suspect he'd be much less critical and perhaps even supportive of them.)