Feeling a little frustrated at having to explain how I can be both libertarian and socialist or in fact, what on earth, as a leftist, am I thinking even subscribing to any kind of libertarianism!
I must be loopy. I must be completely out of touch. I must live outside reality and couldn’t possibly comprehend the NECESSITY(?!) of the STATE. In the same vein, I am preposterously absurd if I think SOCIALISM and LIBERTARIANISM might be compatible, afterall, what the hell could a socialist know about FREE MARKETS?!!
Ah, the criticism. Its all good. Except when its either plainly wrong or based on misconceptions perpetuated by those with a longing to retain this dystopia we inherited. My experience tells me that apparently, only Rawlsian Liberals can speak coherently about ANYTHING LIBERAL, Marxist Communists about ANYTHING SOCIALIST and Friedmanites/Hayekians about ANYTHING FREE MARKET. Yes, I’m done with the caps lock now. Its worth noting that there is some great irony present in each of those micro-statements.
Its no secret that in the past I’ve been an advocate for central planning. What changed? This:
an increasing dissatisfaction with party politics in NZ and abroad. Exposure to deeper critiques of State power. An increasing resentment of the function of formal law and its presumed superiority to other ways of recognising human rights and organising society.
There are many who despise the state of NZ politics but who are unaware of any alternatives. Why? Because along with the media, even our academic institutions readily dismiss the alternatives to the status quo as ‘utopic dreams’ preferring to dwell in our dystopic world. So for those readers, feeling lost in the political schema of mass hypocrisy, this is a potential alternative. It is by no means immune from critique, but it certainly provides a challenge to accepted political norms.
I particularly like Gary Chartiers summary of Left Libertarianism:
Commitments to the left:
- engaging in class analysis and class struggle;
- opposing corporate privilege;
- undermining structural poverty
- embracing shared responsibility for challenging economic vulnerability;
- affirming wealth redistribution;
- supporting grass-roots empowerment;
- humanizing worklife;
- protecting civil liberties;
- opposing the drug war;
- supporting the rights of sex workers;
- challenging police violence;
- promoting environmental well-being and animal welfare;
- fostering children’s liberation;
- rejecting racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, and national chauvinism; and
- resisting war, imperialism and colonialism.
And simultaneously, libertarian commitments to:
- affirming robust protections for just possessory claims;
- embracing freed markets and a social ideal of peaceful, voluntary cooperation; and
- crafting a thoroughly anti-statist politics.
The whole article on The distinctiveness of Left Libertarianism, is a good read, especially for those who might find themselves agreeing with the bulk of the above, but who subscribe to some other ideology. Here is a good post on Left Libertarianism that traces the roots of the movement.
A particular kind of Left Libertarianism that I find compelling (which is also a branch of anarchism) is Mutualism. Kevin Carson is probably the best contemporary to read on this topic. Carson writes that:
Mutualists favor a society in which all relationships and transactions are non-coercive, and based on voluntary cooperation, free exchange, or mutual aid. The “market,” in the sense of exchanges of labor between producers, is a profoundly humanizing and liberating concept. What we oppose is the conventional understanding of markets, as the idea has been coopted and corrupted by state capitalism.
Carson explains that mutualism promotes democratic control through collective action where necessary but does not favour collectivism as an ideal in itself. His brief exposition of mutualism is available here.
The past few years have drawn a lot of criticism and personal attacks from both left and right wing thinkers about the disarray of left wing politics in NZ. Previously held common or shared visions were replaced by the visions of the dominant voices in the movement, creating a dispassionate and bitter left. Where likely friends have become savage foes. The mutualist in me asks, whether this is the result of a reliance on hierarchical collectivism rather than direct collective action.
The point of this post was to (hopefully) extend the parameters of political debate beyond the rotting old box we are all stuffed into.
To conclude, I will borrow from Karl Hess:
Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.
Liberty, finally, is not a box into which people are to be forced. Liberty is a space in which people may live. It does not tell you how they will live. It says, eternally, only that we can