Robert Wenzel posted a video, a debate between Sheldon Richman and Walter Block regarding left-libertarianism. It is worth watching, beginning where Robert has indicated (I did not watch what preceded this). My comment regarding the debate (with some comments for clarification now added), posted at Target Liberty:
There are three separate issues, I believe:
First: libertarian theory is libertarian theory - the NAP based on property rights. There are no "shoulds" or "buts" to this. Block is correct. How someone comes to accept this is unimportant - that they accept it is important. Again, Block is correct.
And Richman is incorrect. Twice.
Second, how to achieve a libertarian society is a different issue. Promotion of the thinnest definition makes for the biggest tent. Repetitively…Block is correct.
Again, Richman is incorrect.
How to maintain a libertarian society, if ever achieved, is a third. Different communities are free to establish different [cultural – meaning property owners are free to discriminate] standards - call these non-libertarian standards achieved via libertarian means. I haven’t read or heard anything from Block on this.
Not to suggest Block hasn’t written on this (is there anything libertarian upon which Block hasn’t written?), just that I haven’t read it.
I have read Hoppe on this and I have read, in a more general sense, those self-described left-libertarians. I believe Hoppe is correct. However, as long as different communities are free to go their own way, this need not be a point of contention; yet by bastardizing points one and two, left-libertarians make it so.
This is where the modifiers can properly come in, and not before. In other words, as long as different communities are free (or not) to establish in a libertarian way certain discriminatory rules (call it culture), there is no conflict between so-called left and other libertarians. Live and let live in the one of ten thousand different libertarian communities that best fits your desires.
In the interview, Richman suggests Block hasn’t read the right stuff on left-libertarianism. He offers as the best work a piece by Charles Johnson, “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin: What Kind of Commitment Is Libertarianism?”
Well, I have read it. Here goes:
To what extent should libertarians concern themselves with social commitments, practices, projects, or movements that seek social outcomes beyond, or other than, the standard libertarian commitment to expanding the scope of freedom from government coercion?
Which social movements should they oppose, which should they support, and toward which should they counsel indifference? And how do we tell the difference?
Johnson offers that “at least four other kinds of connections might exist between libertarianism and further social commitments….”
At least he said “might.”
Thickness for Application
If feminists are right about the way in which sexist political theories protect or excuse systematic violence against women, there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be feminists.
The initiation of violence or force is covered quite perfectly by the NAP; I see no need to garble it. Johnson disagrees.
Importantly, the commitments that libertarians need to have here aren’t just applications of general libertarian principle to a special case; the argument calls in resources other than the nonaggression principle to determine just where and how the principle is properly applied.
Two thoughts come to mind. First, why? The initiation of violence is the initiation of violence. Need we introduce something like “hate crimes” legislation? Do we have to know what was in the perpetrator’s heart in order to identify a crime?
Second, I agree that the application of the NAP often is not clear-cut and local custom will influence application; for example, what is proper “punishment” or “restitution” for a given violation of the NAP?
But violence is violence. The NAP doesn’t need help on this issue.
Thickness from Grounds
…there may be cases in which certain beliefs or commitments could be rejected without contradicting the nonaggression principle per se, but could not be rejected without logically undermining the deeper reasons that justify the nonaggression principle.
Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. Social systems of status and authority include not only exercises of coercive power by the government, but also a knot of ideas, practices, and institutions based on deference to traditionally constituted authority.
This is total and complete nonsense. A society without any form of hierarchical order? A tyrant is always standing at the ready, promising such a society.
Are we talking about libertarianism in a world populated by humans or some other species?
But while there’s nothing logically inconsistent about a libertarian envisioning—or even championing—this sort of social order, it would certainly be weird.
No, “weird” is describing a political philosophy that requires a new man; in order to achieve leftist dreams creating a new man is always necessary. This is true for leftists of all stripes.
Strategic Thickness—The Causes of Liberty
Thus, for example, left-libertarians such as Roderick Long have argued that libertarians have genuine reasons to be concerned about large inequalities of wealth or large numbers of people living in absolute poverty, and to support voluntary associations, such as mutual-aid societies and voluntary charity.
Even a totally free society in which large numbers of people are desperately poor is likely to be in great danger of collapsing into civil war. A totally free society in which a small class of tycoons owns 99 percent of the property and the vast majority of the population own almost nothing is unlikely to remain free for long if the tycoons should decide to use their wealth to purchase coercive legal privileges against the unpropertied majority—simply because they have a lot of resources to attack with and the majority hasn’t got the material resources to defend themselves.
Look, have all of the voluntary societies you want – how could any libertarian argue? The rest of this gobbledygook is one big strawman. A totally free society where a few tycoons own 99% of the wealth? Even Johnson recognizes the strawmanism (is that a word?):
Now, to the extent that persistent, severe poverty, and large-scale inequalities of wealth are almost always the result of government intervention, it’s unlikely that totally free societies would face such dire situations.
Duh. So why bring up this leftist complaint? Why not just focus on the root?
So what does Johnson recommend in today’s world of crony-wealth due to government intervention?
…it may well make good strategic sense for [libertarians] to support voluntary, nongovernmental efforts that work to undermine or bypass consolidated political-economic power.
If you want to support them or not is up to you; if I recall Democracy in America correctly, this was an inherent feature of a relative free society. But voluntary efforts are thin as thin can be – why enter into an entire discussion about class warfare? It sounds so Marxist.
Thickness from Consequences—The Effects of Liberty
…left-libertarians such as Kevin Carson and Matt MacKenzie have argued forcefully for libertarian criticism of certain business practices—such as low-wage sweatshop labor—as exploitative.
It is very easy to be “forcefully” concerned about this while drinking clean water in an air-conditioned office after a good night’s sleep in a warm bed.
Throughout the twentieth century most libertarians rushed to the defense of such practices on the grounds that they result from market processes and are often the best economic options for extremely poor people in developing countries.
Yes, I basically just said the same thing – but far more colorfully, don’t you think?
The problem with trying to use free market economic principles in the defense of such labor practices is that those practices arose in markets that are far from being free.
So why not just focus on removing the not-free-market practices? Once again, why turn it into something it isn’t? Why focus on the symptom instead of the cause? (Can I say “Marx” again?)
Richman offers this article as the best defense of left-libertarianism. This article could have been written (with minor modification) by any leftist of any stripe.
I have written before that Richman seems to place “left” as a higher priority than “libertarian”; in other words, he would sacrifice liberty (“The Cause”) to bring on his version of justice. Richman here comes even closer to stating this directly…but still not quite.
Come out of the closet, Sheldon. Say it loud, say it proud.