Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I offer “What is Left-Libertarianism?” written by Kevin Carson and published at the Center for a Stateless Society, A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center.  It is a well written summary of the background and historical basis for the “left market anarchist” political philosophy.

I will comment little until the end; I choose to leave Carson’s work (and explanatory comments from others) to do the heavy lifting.

We call ourselves left-libertarians, first, because we want to recuperate the left-wing roots of free market libertarianism, and second because we want to demonstrate the relevance and usefulness of free market thought for addressing the concerns of today’s Left.

The following paragraph came before the paragraph cited above, yet it offers historical background and context:

[…“left libertarian”…] was originally used as a synonym for “libertarian socialist” or “anarchist,” and also commonly included syndicalists, council communists, followers of Rosa Luxemburg and Daniel DeLeon, etc. Many of us at C4SS would consider ourselves part of this broader left-libertarian community, although what we mean when we call our position “left-libertarian” is more specific.

…is a type of proposed economic system, a form of socialism, considered a replacement for capitalism. It suggests that industries be organized into confederations or syndicates. It is "a system of economic organization in which industries are owned and managed by the workers."

Syndicalism…holds, on an ethical basis, that all participants in an organised trade internally share ownership of its production.

In syndicalism, unions exist independent of a state, and do not operate under state micromanagement and central planning.

Syndicalists state that society ought to be organised bottom-up based on direct democracy, confederation, workplace democracy and decentralised socialism.

Mises on Syndicalism (Human Action, Ch. XXXIII Scholars Edition):

The second meaning of the term syndicalism refers to a program of society's economic organization.  While socialism aims at the substitution of government ownership of the means of production for private ownership, syndicalism wants to give the ownership of the plants to the workers employed in them. Such slogans as "The railroads to the railroadmen" or "The mines to the miners" best indicate the ultimate goals of syndicalism.

…the idea of syndicalism as a system of social organization is a genuine product of the "proletarian mind." It is precisely what the naive employee considers a fair and expedient means for improving his own material well being. Eliminate the idle parasites, the entrepreneurs and capitalists, and give their "unearned incomes" to the workers! Nothing could be simpler.

The root of the syndicalist idea is to be seen in the belief that entrepreneurs and capitalists are irresponsible autocrats who are free to conduct their affairs arbitrarily. Such a dictatorship must not be tolerated.

The fundamental error of this argument is obvious. The entrepreneurs and capitalists are not irresponsible autocrats. They are unconditionally subject to the sovereignty of the consumers. The market is a consumers' democracy. The syndicalists want to transform it into a producers' democracy. This idea is fallacious, for the sole end and purpose of production is consumption.

It is a characteristic fact that the syndicalists in dealing with these issues always refer to management and never mention entrepreneurial activities.

Council communism (also councilism) is a current of socialist thought that emerged in the 1920s. Inspired by the November Revolution, councilism was characterized by its opposition to state capitalism/state socialism and its advocacy of workers' councils as the basis for dismantling the class state. Strong in Germany and the Netherlands during the 1920s, council communism continues to exist today within the greater socialist and communist movement.

Chief among the tenets of Council Communism is its opposition to the party vanguardism and democratic centralism of Leninist Ideologies and its contention that democratic workers' councils arising in the factories and municipalities are the natural form of working class organization and authority. Council Communism also stands in contrast to Social Democracy through its formal rejection of both the reformism and Parliamentarism.

From libcom.org:

…council communists argue that society and the economy should be managed by coordinations of workers’ councils, made up of delegates elected at workplaces and can be recalled at any moment by those who elected them. As such, council communists oppose bureaucratic state socialism. They also oppose the idea of a revolutionary party seizing power, believing that any social upheaval led by one these ‘revolutionary’ parties will just end up in a party dictatorship.

Rosa Luxemburg; (5 March 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist of Polish-Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen. She was, successively, a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

Due to her pointed criticism of both the Marxist-Leninist and the more moderate social democrat schools of socialism, Luxemburg has had a somewhat ambivalent reception among scholars and theorists of the political left.

The Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation was the central feature of Luxemburg's political philosophy, wherein "spontaneity" is a grass roots approach to organising a party-oriented class struggle.

In an article published just before the October Revolution, Luxemburg characterized the Russian February Revolution of 1917 as a "revolution of the proletariat", and said that the "liberal bourgeoisie" were pushed to movement by the display of "proletarian power." The task of the Russian proletariat, she said, was now to end the "imperialist" world war, in addition to struggling against the "imperialist bourgeoisie."

According to Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks' strategic mistakes created tremendous dangers for the Revolution, such as its bureaucratisation…. Bolshevik theorists such as Lenin and Trotsky responded to this criticism by arguing that Luxemburg's notions were classical Marxist ones, but did not fit Russia in 1917. They stated that the lessons of actual experience, such as the confrontation with the bourgeois parties, had forced them to revise the Marxian strategy.

Daniel De Leon (December 14, 1852 – May 11, 1914) was an American socialist newspaper editor, politician, Marxist theoretician, and trade union organizer. He is regarded as the forefather of the idea of revolutionary industrial unionism and was the leading figure in the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1890 until the time of his death.

The Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP), established in 1876 as the Workingmen's Party, is the oldest socialist political party in the United States and the second oldest socialist party in the world still in existence.

The year 1890 has long been regarded as a watershed by the Socialist Labor Party, as it marked the date when the organization came under the influence of Daniel DeLeon….DeLeon was a brilliant student — well versed in history, philosophy, and mathematics. He was also a linguist with few peers, possessing fluency in Spanish, German, Dutch, Latin, French, English, and ancient Greek, and a reading knowledge of Portuguese, Italian, and modern Greek.

As the historian Bernard Johnpoll notes, the SLP which Daniel DeLeon joined in 1890 differed little from the organization which had been born at the end of the 1870s — it was largely a German-language organization located in an English-speaking country. Just 17 of the party's 77 branches used English as their basic language, while only two members of the party's governing National Executive Committee spoke English fluently.

That covers the “broader left-libertarian community” as described by Carson; now for the more specific application regarding “what we mean when we call our position ‘left-libertarian.’”  Returning to Carson:

Classical liberalism and the classical socialist movement of the early 19th century had very close common roots in the Enlightenment. The liberalism of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the other classical political economists was very much a left-wing assault on the entrenched economic privilege of the great Whig landed oligarchy and the mercantilism of the moneyed classes.

…is an era from the 1620s to the 1780s in which cultural and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis, and individualism rather than traditional lines of authority.

From Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence:

Like the Renaissance, the age was confident that the new knowledge, the fullness of knowledge, was in its grasp and was a means of emancipation.  Confidence came from the visible progress in scientific thought.  Science was the application of reason to all questions, no matter what tradition might have handed down.

Before its realization a good many things had to be got out of the way, the principal one being Christianity – not its ethics of love and brotherhood, but its supernatural history, theology, and church. The Bible must be shown to be a set of fables invented by ignorant or designing people.

Adam Smith (16 June 1723 NS (5 June 1723 OS) – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher, pioneer of political economy, and key Scottish Enlightenment figure…. Smith is best known for two classic works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)…he expounded upon how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity.

I come now to a crucial point. I am not the first person to make this point; Tom Bethell is. Adam Smith began with scarcity as the heart of his economic analysis: the famous third chapter in The Wealth of Nations (1776). This was on the division of labor/specialization. He set the pattern for subsequent economic theorists.

He should have started with ownership. He should have made private ownership the bedrock foundation of his analysis.

The war between the various schools of economics is less about graphs and equations than it is between two fundamental definitions of property:

"This bread is mine." ~ Robert Lefevre
"Property is theft." ~ Pierre Joseph Proudhon

These twin sets of dividing issues are inescapably moral. They are not technical issues. Any attempt to build a science of economics by ignoring these polar opposites is an attempt to obfuscate the nature of the science of economics. Adam Smith’s chapter on the pin-makers was his first step in the deliberate obfuscation of economics. With this, he unofficially adopted the mercantilists’ methodology of value-free economics, and thereby abandoned his pre-modern methodology in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

…businessmen and free market advocates have long hailed Adam Smith as their patron saint.

On the other hand, Marxists, with somewhat more justice, hail Smith as the ultimate inspiration of their own Founding Father, Karl Marx.

The problem is that he originated nothing that was true, and that whatever he originated was wrong; that, even in an age that had fewer citations or footnotes than our own, Adam Smith was a shameless plagiarist, acknowledging little or nothing and stealing large chunks, for example, from Cantillon. Far worse was Smith's complete failure to cite or acknowledge his beloved mentor Francis Hutcheson, from whom he derived most of his ideas as well as the organization of his economic and moral philosophy lectures.

…for Smith the division of labour took on swollen and gigantic importance, putting into the shade such crucial matters as capital accumulation and the growth of technological knowledge. As Schumpeter has pointed out, never for any economist before or since did the division of labour assume such a position of commanding importance.

David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823) was a British political economist. He was one of the most influential of the classical economists, along with Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith, and James Mill. Perhaps his most important legacy is his theory of comparative advantage, which suggests that a nation should concentrate its resources solely in industries where it is most internationally competitive and trade with other countries to obtain products no longer produced nationally. In essence, Ricardo promoted the idea of extreme industry specialization by nations, to the point of dismantling internationally competitive and otherwise profitable industries. Ricardo took as a given the existence of a national industry policy aimed at promoting some industries to the detriment of others. For Ricardo some form of central economic planning was a necessity.     

Ricardo's most famous work is his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). Ricardo opens the first chapter with a statement of the labor theory of value.

The labor theory of value (LTV) is a heterodox economic theory of value that argues that the economic value of a good or service is determined by the total amount of socially necessary labor required to produce it, rather than by the use or pleasure its owner gets from it. At present this concept is usually associated with Marxian economics, although it is also used in the theories of earlier classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo and later also in anarchist economics. It is not accepted by contemporary mainstream economists.

Ricardo and Marx are joined at the hip on this point, at least in the subject article.

Classical economist David Ricardo's labor theory of value holds that the value of a good (how much of another good or service it exchanges for in the market) is proportional to how much labor was required to produce it, including the labor required to produce the raw materials and machinery used in the process.

While Ricardo formally admitted that supply and demand determine day-to-day market pricing, he tossed that aside as of no consequence. …In short, Ricardo abandoned any attempt at a general explanation of consumer prices. We have arrived at the full-fledged Ricardian — and Marxian — labor theory of value.

Prices of goods are determined by their costs, i.e., by the quantity of labour hours embodied in them, trivially plus the uniform rate of profit. Specifically, since the price of each good is uniform, it will equal the cost of production on the highest-cost (i.e., zero rent) or marginal land in cultivation. In short, price will be determined by cost, i.e., the quantity of labor hours on the zero-rent land used to work on the product.

…if value is the product solely of labor hours, then it becomes easy for Marx, who was after all a neo-Ricardian, to call all returns to capital exploitative deductions from the whole of 'labor's' product. The Ricardian socialist call for turning over all of the product to labor follows directly from the Ricardian system — although Ricardo and the other orthodox Ricardians did not of course make that leap. Ricardo would have countered that capital represents embodied or frozen labor; but Marx accepted that point and simply riposted that all labor producers of capital, or frozen labor, should obtain their full return.

An even stronger and more direct class struggle than that implied by the labor theory of value stemmed from Ricardo's approach toward landlords and land rent. Landlords are simply obtaining payment for the powers of the soil, which, at least in the hands of many of Ricardo's followers, meant an unjust return. …One of the greatest fallacies of the Ricardian theory of rent is that it ignores the fact that landlords do perform a vital economic function: they allocate land to its best and most productive use. Land does not allocate itself; it must be allocated…

But if Ricardo was too individualistic or too timorous to embrace the full logical consequence of the Ricardian system, James Mill characteristically was not. James Mill was the first prominent 'Georgist', calling frankly and enthusiastically for a single tax on land rent.

Despite the deep pessimism of Ricardo about the nature and consequences of the free market, he oddly enough cleaved strongly, and more firmly than Adam Smith, to laissez-faire. Probably the reason was his strong conviction that virtually any kind of government intervention could only make matters worse.

Again returning to Carson:

As the rising industrialists defeated the Whig landlords and mercantilists in the 19th century and gained a predominant position in the state, classical liberalism gradually took on the character of an apologetic doctrine in defense of the entrenched interests of industrial capital. Even so, the left-wing — even socialistic — strands of free market thought continued to survive on the margins of establishment liberalism.

Thomas Hodgskin, a classical liberal who wrote in the 1820s through 1860s, was also a socialist who saw rent, profit and interest as monopoly returns on artificial property rights and privilege. Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker and the other American individualists also favored a free market form of socialism in which unfettered competition would destroy rent, profit and interest and guarantee that “the natural wage of labor in a free market is its product.” Many individualist anarchists associated with Tucker’s Liberty group had close ties to radical labor and socialist groups like the Knights of Labor, the International Workingmen’s Association and the Western Federation of Miners.

Thomas Hodgskin (born 12 December 1787, Chatham, Kent; d. 21 August 1869, Feltham, Middlesex) was an English socialist writer on political economy, critic of capitalism and defender of free trade and early trade unions. (In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the term "socialist" included any opponent of capitalism, which was construed as a political system built on privileges for the owners of capital.)

During the controversy around the parliamentary acts to first legalise and then ban worker's "combinations", Mill and Ricardo had been in favour of the ban whereas Hodgskin supported the right to organise. He used Ricardo's labour theory of value to denounce the appropriation of the most part of value produced by the labour of industrial workers as illegitimate.

… Hodgskin's fundamental deist beliefs identified production and exchange based on the labour theory of value (freed from the supposedly illegitimate expropriations of rent, interest and owner's profits) as part of "natural right", the divinely ordained proper relations of society, contrasted with "artificial" contrivances—the source of disharmonies and conflicts.

Josiah Warren; (1798 – April 14, 1874) was an individualist anarchist, inventor, musician, and author in the United States. He is widely regarded as the first American anarchist…

In 1825, Warren became aware of the "social system" of Robert Owen and began to talk with others in Cincinnati about founding a communist colony…. He considered Owen's experiment "communism," which he rejected in no uncertain terms…

John Stuart Mill said Warren's philosophy, "though being a superficial resemblance to some of the project of the Socialists, is diametrically opposed to them in principle, since it recognizes no authority whatever in Society, over the individual, except to enforce equal freedom of development for all individuals." Warren's principle of the "sovereignty of the individual" was later taken up by Mill and Herbert Spencer.

According to Warren, there should be absolutely no community of property; all property should be individualized, and "those who advocated any type of communism with connected property, interests, and responsibilities were doomed to failure because of the individuality of the persons involved in such an experiment."

In his Manifesto Josiah Warren writes:

[T]he forming of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever committed by legislators and by reformers. That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property and responsibilities, to the government of the combination.

He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was exerted to produce them and bring them to market, instead of according to how individuals believed them to be subjectively worth…. To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was "cannibalism," according to him.

George Woodcock, the noted historian of anarchism…calls Josiah Warren "the first American anarchist"…Woodcock's opinion of Warren's importance in the history of anarchist thought is widely shared. Peter Marshall, the prominent English historian of anarchism, calls him "the first real American anarchist," and William O. Reichert, in his book Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism, describes Warren as the "chief architect of libertarianism."

Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (April 17, 1854 – June 22, 1939) was a proponent, in the 19th century, of American individualist anarchism, which he called "unterrified Jeffersonianism," and editor and publisher of the individualist anarchist periodical Liberty.

Tucker's contribution to American individualist anarchism was as much through his publishing as his own writing. Tucker was also the first to translate into English Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own – which Tucker claimed was his proudest accomplishment. Tucker also translated Mikhail Bakunin's book God and the State. In the anarchist periodical Liberty, he published the original work of Stephen Pearl Andrews, Joshua K. Ingalls, Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Victor Yarros, and Lillian Harman, daughter of the free love anarchist Moses Harman, as well as his own writing.

He also published George Bernard Shaw's first original article to appear in the United States, and the first American translated excerpts of Friedrich Nietzsche. In Liberty, Tucker both filtered and integrated the theories of such European thinkers as Herbert Spencer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the economic and legal theories of the American individualists Lysander Spooner, William B. Greene and Josiah Warren, and the writings of the free thought and free love movements in opposition to religiously based legislation and prohibitions on non-invasive behavior.

Barzun lays on Shaw and the Fabians the ideas that led to “The Great Switch,” and ultimately the Great War and the decline of western civilization.  Of Nietzsche he writes:

The present conception of what is evil will be replaced by other standards of right and wrong, contrary to both the Christian and the worldly virtues and vices of western civilization.  In ethics and the search for truth Nietzsche is a Pragmatist.

Returning to Carson:

Tucker said socialism was the claim that "labor should be put in possession of its own," holding that what "state socialism" and "anarchistic socialism" had in common was the labor theory of value. However, "Instead of asserting, as did socialist anarchists, that common ownership was the key to eroding differences of economic power," and appealing to social solidarity, Tucker's individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in an undistorted natural market, as a mediator of egoistic impulses and a source of social stability.

Tucker said,

the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.

He objected to all forms of communism, believing that even a stateless communist society must encroach upon the liberty of individuals.

He denounced Marx as the representative of 'the principle of authority which we live to combat.' He thought Proudhon the superior theorist and the real champion of freedom. 'Marx would nationalize the productive and distributive forces; Proudhon would individualize and associate them.'

Tucker argued that the poor condition of American workers resulted from four legal monopolies based in authority:

1. the money monopoly
2. the land monopoly
3. tariffs
4. patents

His focus, for several decades, became the state's economic control of how trade could take place, and what currency counted as legitimate. He saw interest and profit as a form of exploitation, made possible by the banking monopoly, which was in turn maintained through coercion and invasion. Tucker called any such interest and profit "usury" and he saw it as the basis of the oppression of the workers. In his words,

…interest is theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder.

Tucker believed that usury was immoral; however, he upheld the right of all people to engage in immoral contracts.

He asserted that anarchism is meaningless

…unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market – that is, private property.

Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as

…each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital....become[ing] a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.

Carson is mentioned in this Wikipedia entry on Tucker:

Tucker's concept of the four monopolies has been discussed by Kevin Carson in his book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Carson incorporates the idea into his thesis that the exploitation of labor is only possible due to state intervention.

Carson believes that Tucker's four monopolies, and transportation subsidies, created the foundation for the monopoly capitalism and military-industrial complex of the 20th century.

Apparently Tucker’s views changed over time:

Tucker abandoned natural rights positions and converted to Max Stirner's Egoist anarchism. Rejecting the idea of moral rights, Tucker said that there were only two rights, "the right of might" and "the right of contract."

He also came to believe that aggression towards others was justifiable if doing so led to a greater decrease in "aggregate pain" than refraining from doing so.

From David Gordon in the introduction to Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, by Rothbard, regarding Tucker:

[Rothbard] viewed with much greater tolerance lapses committed by the great individualist anarchists, Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker. In “The Spooner–Tucker Doctrine: An Economist’s View,” he gently but firmly criticizes the monetary fallacies of these individualist pioneers.

“The Spooner–Tucker Doctrine” is a critique of the nineteenth-century individualist anarchist creed from the point of view of a laissez-faire economist—with the differences found in the Spooner–Tucker ignorance of the politics and economics of money, their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of land rent, and their failure to see that private juries must adopt an objective code of libertarian law in order to make consistent or libertarian decisions.

Rothbard on Tucker, from the same book:

First, I must begin by affirming my conviction that Lysander Spooner and Benjamin R. Tucker were unsurpassed as political philosophers and that nothing is more needed today than a revival and development of the largely forgotten legacy that they left to political philosophy.

It was left to Spooner and Tucker to adumbrate the way in which all individuals could abandon the State and cooperate to their own vast mutual benefit in a society of free and voluntary exchanges and interrelations.

I am, therefore, strongly tempted to call myself an “individualist anarchist,” except for the fact that Spooner and Tucker have in a sense preempted that name for their doctrine and that from that doctrine I have certain differences. Politically, these differences are minor, and therefore the system that I advocate is very close to theirs; but economically, the differences are substantial, and this means that my view of the consequences of putting our more or less common system into practice is very far from theirs.

Politically, Rothbard identifies the rule of law and jury system, and the question of property rights in land title as areas of disagreement with Spooner-Tucker.

But my main quarrel with the Spooner–Tucker doctrine is not political but economic, not the form of our ideal system but the consequences that would follow after such a system is adopted. To that extent, the quarrel is not moral or ethical but scientific.

Some of their fallacies (for example, the “law of cost,” the labor theory of value) were embedded in much of classical economics; and it was their adoption of the labor theory of value that convinced them that rent, interest, and profit were payments exploitatively extracted from the worker. In contrast to the Marxists, however, Spooner and Tucker, understanding many of the virtues of the free market, did not wish to abolish that noble institution; instead, they believed that full freedom would lead, by the workings of economic law, to the peaceful disappearance of these three categories of income.

The two basic interrelated fallacies of Spoonerite theory (and the theory of all schools of writers who have unkindly been labelled by economists as “money-cranks”) are a failure to understand the nature of money and the nature of interest.

It should be remembered by radicals that, if they wanted to, all workers could refuse to work for wages and instead form their own producers’ cooperatives and wait for years for their pay until the products are sold to the consumers; the fact that they do not do so, shows the enormous advantage of the capital investment, wage-paying system as a means of allowing workers to earn money far in advance of the sale of their products.

…a system of free banking, such as envisioned by Spooner and Tucker, far from leading to an indefinite increase of the supply of money and a disappearance of interest, would lead to a far “harder” and more restricted money supply. … The nineteenth-century French economist, Henri Cemuschi, once expressed this very well:

I believe that what is called freedom of banking would result in a total suppression of banknotes (and also of bank deposits) in France. I want to give everybody the right to issue banknotes so that nobody should take any banknotes any longer.

North quotes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “property is theft.”  Tucker mentions Proudhon favorably.  He is worth a look:

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (15 January 1809 – 19 January 1865) was a French politician and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist and is widely regarded as one of the ideology's most influential theorists. Proudhon is even considered by many to be the "father of anarchism".

His best-known assertion is that Property is Theft!

If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder!, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to remove a man's mind, will, and personality, is the power of life and death, and that it makes a man a slave. It is murder. Why, then, to this other question: What is property? may I not likewise answer, It is robbery!, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

By "property", Proudhon referred to a concept regarding land property that originated in Roman law: the sovereign right of property, the right of the proprietor to do with his property as he pleases, "to use and abuse," so long as in the end he submits to state-sanctioned title, and he contrasted the supposed right of property with the rights (which he considered valid) of liberty, equality, and security. Proudhon was clear that his opposition to property did not extend to exclusive possession of labor-made wealth.

In the Confessions d'un revolutionnaire Proudhon further explained his use of this phrase:

In my first memorandum, in a frontal assault upon the established order, I said things like, Property is theft! The intention was to lodge a protest, to highlight, so to speak, the inanity of our institutions. At the time, that was my sole concern. Also, in the memorandum in which I demonstrated that startling proposition using simple arithmetic, I took care to speak out against any communist conclusion.

In the System of Economic Contradictions, having recalled and confirmed my initial formula, I added another quite contrary one rooted in considerations of quite another order—a formula that could neither destroy the first proposition nor be demolished by it: Property is freedom. [...] In respect of property, as of all economic factors, harm and abuse cannot be dissevered from the good, any more than debit can from asset in double-entry book-keeping. The one necessarily spawns the other. To seek to do away with the abuses of property, is to destroy the thing itself; just as the striking of a debit from an account is tantamount to striking it from the credit record.

Returning to an exposition of Carson’s earlier-cited paragraph:

The Knights of Labor (K of L), officially Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence V. Powderly. The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplift of the workingman, rejected socialism and anarchism, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the producers ethic of republicanism.

The International Workingmen's Association (IWA, 1864–1876), often called the First International, was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle.

The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was a radical labor union that gained a reputation for militancy in the mines of the western United States and British Columbia.

Returning to Carson:

This strand of libertarianism was also on the cultural Left, closely associated with movements for the abolition of slavery, and for racial equality, feminism and sexual freedom.

In the early 20th century, “free market libertarianism” came to be closely associated with right-wing defenses of capitalism by Mises and Rand. The surviving individualist tradition was stripped of its older left-wing, pro-labor and socialistic cultural traditions, and took on an increasingly right-wing apologetic character.

I think I need not introduce Mises or Rand to my regular audience.  In any case, the statement by Carson is somewhat confusing.  There was no “Rand” in the early 20th century, and I don’t believe Mises had any measureable influence (if you can call it that) until the 1930s (on Rand I am certain; on Mises I may be incorrect).  In any case, a minor point. (Per Rothbard, below, the transition occurred in the 1930s via Nock and his fellow radicals in opposition to FDR’s economic policies – joining the “conservative” opposition.)

Nevertheless, even then some remnant of the older left-wing tradition survived in American libertarianism. In particular Georgists and quasi-Georgists like Bolton Hall, Albert Nock and Ralph Borsodi straggled along through the mid-20th century.

Bolton Hall (1854–1938) was an American lawyer, author, and Georgist activist who worked on behalf of the poor and starting the back-to-the-land movement in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.

Hall was active on behalf of various progressive movements. He was an admirer of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French politician, philosopher and socialist, of Benjamin R. Tucker, editor and publisher of the individualist anarchist periodical Liberty, and Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, pacifist and Christian anarchist. He was opposed to Marxism and agreed with classical liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer, who called it "the coming slavery."

Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870 – August 19, 1945) was an influential American libertarian author, educational theorist, and social critic of the early and middle 20th century.

Describing himself as a philosophical anarchist, Nock called for a radical vision of society free from the influence of the political state. He described the state as that which "claims and exercises the monopoly of crime". He opposed centralization, regulation, the income tax, and mandatory education, along with what he saw as the degradation of society. He denounced in equal terms all forms of totalitarianism, including "Bolshevism... Fascism, Hitlerism, Marxism, [and] Communism" but also harshly criticized democracy. Instead, Nock argued, "The practical reason for freedom is that freedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fiber can be developed. Everything else has been tried, world without end. Going dead against reason and experience, we have tried law, compulsion and authoritarianism of various kinds, and the result is nothing to be proud of."

Rothbard on Nock, from Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays:

…one of the great libertarians of twentieth-century America—Albert Jay Nock.

Regarding Nock’s response to the policies of FDR:

It was perfectly natural for the radicals to form a united front against Roosevelt with the older Hoover and Al Smith conservatives who either believed Roosevelt had gone too far or disliked his flamboyant populistic rhetoric. But the problem was that Nock and his fellow radicals, at first properly scornful of their newfound allies, soon began to accept them and even don cheerfully the formerly despised label of “Conservative.” With the rank-and-file radicals, this shift took place, as have so many transformations of ideology in history, unwittingly and in default of proper ideological leadership…

It is fascinating that Albert Jay Nock thus followed the ideological path of his beloved spiritual ancestor Herbert Spencer, both began as pure radical Libertarians, both quickly abandoned radical or revolutionary tactics as embodied in the will to put their theories into practice through mass action, and both eventually glided from Tory tactics to at least a partial toryism of content.

And so the Libertarians, especially in their sense of where they stood in the ideological spectrum, fused with the older Conservatives who were forced to adopt libertarian phraseology (but with no real libertarian content) in opposing a Roosevelt administration that had become too collectivistic for them, either in content or in rhetoric.

Ralph Borsodi (1886 – October 26, 1977) was an agrarian theorist and practical experimenter interested in ways of living useful to the modern family desiring greater self-reliance (especially so during the Great Depression). Much of his theory related to living in rural surroundings on a modern homestead and was rooted in his Georgist beliefs.

Borsodi was influenced by the reformer Bolton Hall (1854–1938), a friend of his father's; Hall introduced Borsodi to the ideas of the economist Henry George. Borsodi was also influenced by Thomas Jefferson, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, and Laurance Labadie.

Borsodi is chiefly known for his practical experiments in self-sufficient living during the 1920s and 1930s, and for the books he wrote about these experiments.

Henry George (September 2, 1839 – October 29, 1897) was an American writer, politician and political economist, who was the most influential proponent of the land value tax and the value capture of land/natural resource rents, an idea known at the time as 'Single-Tax'. His immensely popular writing is credited with sparking several reform movements of the Progressive Era and ultimately inspiring the broad economic philosophy often referred to today as Georgism, the main tenet of which is that people legitimately own value they fairly create, but that natural resources and common opportunities, most importantly the value of land, belongs equally to each person in a community.

I have written on the possibility of arranging this land tax scheme as a voluntary fee, building on the work of Fred Foldvary.

Returning to Carson:

Any left-libertarian agenda worthy of the name must also include a concern for social justice and combating structural oppression. That means, obviously, an end to all state-enforced discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. But it means much more.

True, as libertarians we oppose all legal restrictions on freedom of association, including laws against discrimination by private businesses. But we should enthusiastically support direct action to combat injustice in the social realm.

I will come to this shortly.

My Two Cents

The history is interesting, tightly related to communist and other more socialist movements.  I find nothing surprising or sinister in this.  There was a desire to get out from under money power and unearned privilege by many.  This was held in common.  Thereafter, strategies and tactics differed, based on different philosophies, ethics, economic beliefs, whatever.

There is nothing different today.  Consider the possible alliances on issues such as war and money power.  There are many non-libertarians who hold concerns similar to those held by libertarians. 

So what of these economic beliefs?  I find many of these faulty – there was a reason I selected passages from Mises, North, and Rothbard, after all.

Even absent a coercive state, both land and capital can and will be owned.  There is no aggression via rent or interest.  In fact, both are certain to come about in any free-market economy – not solely because of the insistence of the producer (the landlord or lender) but because of the demand of the consumer (the tenant or debtor). 

As Carson writes for an entity named The Center for a Stateless Society, we need not debate this; this can be left to the voluntary choices of market participants.  I bet I win: in a market absent a coercive state there will be rent, there will be interest, there will be profit, and there will be voluntarily formed corporations.  There will be managers and entrepreneurs leading business. 

These can only be banned by force, presumably not something “stateless” Carson advocates.

Finally, the entire concept of the labor theory of value belongs in the waste bin of fallacious economic thought. 

To the extent current left-libertarians hold any of these economic views, they are wrong (regarding the labor theory of value, at least, my understanding is that Carson holds to this view).  I have no idea the thinking of every left-libertarian on these matters (nor do I care much).  I know that such views come up often in various discussions. 

In any case, individuals are free to believe whatever economic (or other) fallacies they choose; as long as they don’t aggress against third parties, have a field day.

What of the left-libertarian social agenda?  At least Carson does not insist (in this essay) what Richman and others often insist – that his “left” agenda is “libertarian.”

This social agenda need not be embraced by all who carry the name “libertarian.”  It is perfectly “libertarian” to peacefully picket for either the gay couple or for the baker.  Libertarian theory and the NAP does not offer guidance beyond the respect for property. 

When push comes to shove, however, I contend that all libertarians must fall on the side of property rights.  Absent property rights, there is no NAP; absent the NAP and you can remove the word “libertarian” from “left-libertarian.”  Recalling the history of the movement, you end up with the Marxist strain. 

Keep that in mind when you are told by a so-called libertarian about the social causes you must support.


From Rothbard’s aforementioned Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays:

It seems to be a highly unfortunate trait of libertarian and quasi-libertarian groups to spend the bulk of their time and energy emphasizing their most fallacious or unlibertarian points. Thus, many Georgists would be fine Libertarians if they would only abandon Georgists’ views on land, but, of course, the land question is by far their greatest point of concentration. Similarly, it has been particularly distressing to me as an ardent admirer of Spooner and Tucker to find that their followers have emphasized and concentrated on their totally fallacious monetary views almost to the exclusion of all else and even bring them forth as a panacea for all economic and social ills.

I will only add the same regarding libertarians who emphasize the various LGBT issues of the day (gay marriage being what began me on this recent writing focus).  There are libertarians who suggest that support for these issues is an explicit part of libertarian theory.

They would make fine libertarians if they would only abandon this view.


  1. Too msny intrrpretations
    As I would not use Strauss to interpret Smith niether would I use Rothbard
    Indeed, Rothbard, as an example, bears a hostility to Smith that makes it hard to view Smith through Rothbards lense. The same could be said for an advocate of Smith
    Better to understand thses thinkers as they understood themselves before understanding them differently or better

  2. "In any case, individuals are free to believe whatever economic (or other) fallacies they choose; as long as they don’t aggress against third parties, have a field day."

    That is indeed the bottom line (i.e., Panarchy). Let's just see what works out. I believe anarcho-capitalism (more or less) will eventually gain a lot of adherents, but far from all of them. Lots will be happy with various leftish schemes despite the poor results.

    I mostly agree with Rothbard but find his view of rights to be too religious for my taste. I don't think they exist other than as a meme to be exploited by the state.

  3. Wow. I'm not even aware of Kevin Carson but he must be a tremendous threat if a person spends the time it took to write this blog post. I just deleted Rockwell's bookmark from my browser because this is nothing more than an incestual circle jerk. This will change nothing in the world other than a few old white guys getting off on reading it. Who'd ever want to invest time in reading sites that promote this waste of time?

    1. "Who'd ever want to invest time in reading sites that promote this waste of time?"

      Thank you for taking the time to let me know.

    2. Old white guys! Yes their mere existence is a violation of the NAP.

  4. It seems that much of the older comment is overly focused on transient concerns. Ownership of land was the basis for feudal economic segregation/oppression so there was overemphasize on this aspect even as wealth production had moved on to industrialization. This was combined with the underlying but unspoken belief that the third estate was incapable of self-improvement/governance. This continues today with the disabling of the underclass with benefits it could well self-provide. Responsibility is self-enabling.

    A further aggression is the disabling of the upward mobile with regard to capitol aggregation. Income is the mechanism through which an individual accumulates wealth. By heavily taxing income the ability to accumulate wealth is handicapped. Of course once capitol is accumulated, i.e. wealth, the need for income diminishes in that wealth is allowed to increase under favorable tax rates.

    Capital is merely value created and invested in productivity rather than consumption. The original source of wealth is thus labor, though capital of course can compound.

    It’s not complex except in its multiple variables. Perhaps it’s time for a radical, i.e. elemental, blank sheet of paper analysis.


    1. "It seems that much of the older comment is overly focused on transient concerns."

      Maybe so, yet I come across such thinking often...today, not in a past life.

    2. Yes, it has great intellectual appeal. The excellence inspires awe. But we’re much further along the experience curve with this freedom thing. The principles haven’t changed all that much. But much of the analysis is founded on dated circumstances. Knowledge of where we’ve been is necessary to determine where we should attempt to go.

      Of course the charter and objective of BM is Bm’s prerogative. I’ll follow along in any case.

    3. Man, you work hard, BM.
      I was thinking as I read: "This stuff is so antiquated and so disproven. Are these guys (leftists) living in a time warp?"
      A little home work would save them from re-inventing the (political) wheel.
      It seems that every generation of younger theorists invents some hot new system which turns out to be some ancient system long abandoned for good reason.

    4. TomO, I appreciate your comments and that you "follow along."

      One big reason why I started the blog and continue it is for my own learning. So even where something is older ground, etc., it is new (or somewhat new) for me.

      Writing and addressing well-reasoned feedback is a great teacher for me. It would be easier to read Rothbard, I guess. But I want to find a landing place on my own. Thereafter, I am comfortable whether or not I have landed where Rothbard (or Mises or North or whoever) landed before me.

    5. Capn Mike, this one was mostly cut and paste, but took a lot of reading and searching.

  5. Absent property rights, there is no NAP; absent the NAP and you can remove the word “libertarian” from “left-libertarian.”

    I'm convinced that the word "libertarian", overgrown with those who wish to promote stale ideologies or create a "bigger tent" for their own gain will make the word as muddled and nebulous as calling someone "liberal" or "conservative" today. Perhaps in the future society will look back and commemorate the life work of the great libertarian senator Bernie Sanders.

    Great article though.

  6. I used to peruse the articles at the C4SS and appreciated some of them but in the end I found Kevin Carson to be a New Deal loving Democrat who missed his calling as a Wobbly by ten or eleven decades.

  7. >They would make fine libertarians if they would only abandon this view.

    That would defeat the point of being left-libertarian in the first place. The function of left-libertarianism is to export both cultural and economic leftism into the libertarian movement.

    And if libertarians won't wake up to this fact, they will fall prey to O’Sullivan’s Law.

    1. "That would defeat the point of being left-libertarian in the first place."

      I didn't say I was holding my breath! :-)

      In all seriousness, going through the exercise of putting together this post helped me to realize how true your statement is.

    2. Well, I can kinda live with the economic leftism. Debating economics is always possible even if you disagree about various premises.

      Cultural leftism on the other hand? That incoherent jumble of cultural marxism and continental postmodernism is the kind of brainrot that completly neutered the radical left into complete impotence.

      And if these people have their way with libertarianism we will end up with "libertarians" who instead of decrying state violence will spend time worrying about privilege, applauding the death of white men and how to make the most concessions to radical feminism. Funny enough all these seem to be the favourite pastimes of overweight, bearded white males.

  8. Capn Mike,

    It appears to me that some men always have and always will reject the nature of things. Leftism, socialism, communism, feudalism and its modern variant political capitalism (corporatism or soft-fascism) all seem to emanate from a place of deep insecurity in the human psyche.

    Part the problem facing proponents of libertarianism is failing to treat its main tenets as the discoveries that they represent regarding human action. Subjective value is as much apart of the fabric of nature as gravity and electro-magnetism. The fact of capital accumulation as regards the economic laws of division of labor and comparative advantage mark some of the most scientifically reproducible laws in the social sciences.

    That the material world is perceived across a broad spectrum of subjective values and whose values compete for scarce resources is so obviously ineluctable that when people claim to value equality (presumably, material) and espouse a set of policies whose economic consequences produce the exact opposite, one must consider that person to be a charlatan or a fool.

    Rothbard's analysis of the power elite was framed around the historical truth that material abundance was elicited by a set of circumstances that are often intertwined with the principle of non-aggression and its political philosophy of libertarianism. Hayek also remarked quite eloquently on the wonderful accumulation of wealth and ideas that enterprising individuals would create as a result of the impossibly complex system of information sharing known as prices in a free-market, or an environment unencumbered by the enforcement of one person's subjective values over others.

    Basically, if a person or group of people promise things they can not possibly deliver (as those things are unrepresented by the concatenation of natural phenomena), and those same people accumulate material wealth and political power as a result of policies that may or may not represent their promises, an objective observer would have to wonder what are the implicit values of those people. They are charlatans or fools and given the apparent coordination of similar policies of people in power, one could be forgiven to suspect a conspiracy against the well-being of the common man.

    Martin Armstrong suspects that natural trends play a greater part in the formation social policies in any given civilization; there are always people with and against the trend no matter what the rationale of that trend is, thus economic booms and busts reflect an unconscious but necessary movement of capital. However his understanding mirrors that of many libertarian theorists: give people freedom and wealth will grow; contract freedom and wealth will contract with it although often in the circumlocutory manner of artificial economic booms and busts.

    There will always be a need for a system to govern the behaviors of large groups of people; but there is no excuse for treating the laws of human action in the manner of judicial laws to be written and annulled at the whims of whomever currently holds power. That is the true test of a system whether ancient or present.

    1. Alaska,
      I'm flattered by the depth and thoughtfulness of your comments. I'm reminded of old King Canute who had figured out the futility of "going against the tide", in this case trying to redefine human nature.
      I happen to think that human nature is a GOOD thing, thus leaving it unshackled leads to good results.

  9. Interesting article. Though I would hardly select Carson as representative of the left-libertarians. I thought he called himself a mutualist. In any case, he is at the very left of what is quite a wide spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum I would place Sheldon Richman and Jeffrey Tucker, who seem to be pretty much Rothbardians. And there are many people somewhere in between, such as Roderick Long. If you really wanted to do a good post on left-libertarianism, you would cover the whole spectrum. Are you going to do one on right-libertarians? I won't hold my breath :)

    I would be careful with the kind of collectivist arguments you seem to be making. It seems like you are trying to play a Six Degrees of Marx game. "If I can find a quote by this dude saying something positive about Marx, or being associated with another dude that said he likes Marx, I can dismiss everything this dude ever said." Or, how about addressing the actual arguments? For example, Kevin Carson's labor theory of value is different from the classical labor theory of value. While both are wrong, it would be more interesting to compare the two and to show why his version is incorrect from an Austrian perspective.

    Another thing I would tone down is all the quotes from Rothbard and Mises. It's getting a little too close to those Christian guys that only know how to have a discussion by throwing Bible verses around. How about a little more logos, and a little less ethos? It's like you are thinking "if I can just find a quote by Mises or Rothbard that criticizes this guy, I don't have to think about anything this guy ever said."

    I hope you take this as constructive criticism to use or not use as you wish, rather than as an attack. As I said at the beginning, I enjoyed the article. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Ed, I will take it as your intent to be constructive, and explain why I disagree with almost all of your criticisms. I hope you take this constructively.

      “I thought he called himself a mutualist.”

      The title of his article and everything that he wrote about was “left-libertarian.” If you think he is pulling a bait and switch, take it up with him.

      “On the other end of the spectrum I would place Sheldon Richman and Jeffrey Tucker, who seem to be pretty much Rothbardians.”

      I have written enough about both of them – you have given me grief about my writing on Richman, for goodness sakes. Don’t you remember?

      “If you really wanted to do a good post on left-libertarianism, you would cover the whole spectrum.”

      I have written 100,000 words or more on the lot of them (including Richman and Tucker):


      “Are you going to do one on right-libertarians? I won't hold my breath :)”

      I am thinking about it. But what’s stopping you?

      “I would be careful with the kind of collectivist arguments you seem to be making.”

      I grow more and more comfortable with my conclusion in this article: “Absent property rights, there is no NAP; absent the NAP and you can remove the word “libertarian” from “left-libertarian.” Recalling the history of the movement, you end up with the Marxist strain.” Strip away property rights from Carson and what is left of his foundation? After all, I am not the one who pointed out the history of the movement, Carson did.

      “’I can dismiss everything this dude ever said.’"

      What did I dismiss? In this post I pointed out the very good viewpoints about many who also happened to additionally hold non-libertarian views.

      “…it would be more interesting to compare the two and to show why his version is incorrect from an Austrian perspective.”

      It is irrelevant to me. Value is subjective. To try to capture it otherwise is a fool’s game, or a take-me-for-a-fool’s game.

      “Another thing I would tone down is all the quotes from Rothbard and Mises. It's getting a little too close to those Christian guys that only know how to have a discussion by throwing Bible verses around. How about a little more logos, and a little less ethos? It's like you are thinking "if I can just find a quote by Mises or Rothbard that criticizes this guy, I don't have to think about anything this guy ever said."”

      I guess you must have skipped over my opening statement in this post: “I will comment little until the end; I choose to leave Carson’s work (and explanatory comments from others) to do the heavy lifting.” Perhaps you were too busy working on your constructive criticism to pay attention to anything I actually wrote.

      Believe it or not, I actually had to think about what Carson wrote before figuring out a quote to look for. And then – I know this will be shocking to you – I actually had to think about what Mises or Rothbard or North or Barzun or Wikipedia wrote to decide if it was really applicable. I am certain I spent more time on this post than virtually anything else I have written.

      As I have mentioned above, I have written 100,000 words or more all by my little self on this topic. I could have done the same here easily enough; I decided to take a different approach.

    2. Please don't take advice from ideological opponents about what you should write. Its self serving. I know won't anyway, so this is more of a observation.

      Ed is conflating Austrian economic theory with libertarianism. You can be an Austrian school economist/supporter, and still be against the NAP. For example an Orthodox Muslim could be 100% for the Austrian economic program and still support the death penalty for apostasy.

      A libertarian doesn't have to know anything about economics, although it helps if he wants to make a utilitarian argument about why libertarianism is a better way of life.

      Many libertarians find the Austrian school complementary to libertarianism. However it doesn't necessarily work the other way around.

    3. Matt,

      It seems to me that subjective value implies that aggression is inherently arbitrary. The ideas of Austrian economics seem to imply a political theory of non-aggression. I am not sure how you could separate the two in a logical manner, although I have witnessed many people try.

      Since people often aim at contradictory ends with other people (and often within themselves), how does one justify the use of coercive force as a means? Social cooperation and its corollary, civilization, depend on most people refraining from violence as a deterrent to their long-run ends. The codification of this tendency is a post hoc rationalization Since even a thief is worse off in the chaos induced by the declining bonds of civilization, again, I must assume that subjective value and non-aggression are logically inextricable.

      That many people - and especially the state-connected elite - often use arbitrary force reflects another human tendency towards the conflict between short and long-run-oriented people. The greater the centralization of power the greater the tendency of a society to be short-run-oriented, and ironically, the longer that civilization tended to last. The cycle of civilization has repeated a dozen or more times in the last several thousand years with a greater turnover rate as political power tends towards greater decentralization. As the idea that individuals own the unique products of their actions, the more freedom and non-aggression becomes the organizing idea of social interactions and the more often general chaos is preferred to acute chaos.

      I don't know if I have made my point, but I enjoyed the attempt.

    4. Ed, I appreciate your counterweight to BM. I'm as interested in seeing wolves in sheep's clothing defrocked as anyone. But only if its legit.

      The lefties are suspiciously squirrely alright, but they haven't outright damned themselves in their statements, they are not here to defend themselves, and they deserve some kind of representation in this trial.

    5. @Alaska
      Implied, but not implicit.
      Compatible but not correspondent.
      Sorry, got on an alliteration jag.

  10. Thank you Bionic. It is pretty rare for me to go the distance on a post this long but you kept my attention the whole way. Well done.

    1. Thank you, Rick. I didn't like that it was almost book length, but there was so much history in Carson's post and I felt it worthwhile to dig through all of it.