Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clarifying my beef with "mainstream libertarianism"

It may surprise many here to learn that despite all my contrarian posts and behavior, I remain a left-leaning individualist anarchist. But since I love making lists, I thought I’d make one of why I’m so disenchanted with mainstream libertarianism and those who carry water for it. So here goes nothing:

1) Mainstream libertarianism is, for the most part, not terribly radical on the big issues that matter (war, nuclear disarmament, military recruitment, etc) and focuses on relatively petty things the state does (unemployment benefits, pork-barrel spending, public sector unions, etc). That’s not to say that I approve of those things, but it’s like complaining about the Autobahn while ignoring the gas chambers running in the background. Most self-described ‘libertarians’ are some variant of Dick Armey or Wayne Allyn Root. The movement has basically become “conservatives who are a little more sympathetic to gay marriage and legalized pot.”

2) Mainstream libertarianism’s stance on the environment is that corporations should be free to pollute other people’s property with impunity, and damage the planet’s ecological base as much as they wish. I hate to kill the pro-fossil fuels bukkake, but in a strict libertarian theory this is NOT the case. The fossil fuels industry, chemical corporations and all the rest are LIABLE FOR TORTS. So-called “tort reform” is a conservative, not libertarian, principle, yet it is one many libertarians embrace.

3) Mainstream libertarians take all existing property and land titles as a given (a position that was NOT, btw, held by Murray Rothbard and was radically opposed by Lysander Spooner, who demanded violent expropriation), without giving it more than eight seconds of thought.

4) Mainstream libertarians confuse a principle (“using aggression to help the poor is bad”) with an attitude (“the poor are bad”). Witness Doug Casey’s condemnation of private charity or Neal Boortz calling victims of Hurricane Katrina “human debris.” Or you can listen to Rush Limbaugh mock starving children (haw, haw, haw!). Are you laughing yet?

5) Mainstream libertarians blindly praise globalization, while ignoring the enormous role state authoritarianism and past colonialism have had in suppressing wages abroad.

Am I missing anything?


  1. Good post, Cork! I find it hard to disagree with you on this. Mainstream libertarianism (especially the LP and beltway libertarians) is virtually worthless in really fighting the real injustices if the state. The folks at Lew Rockwell are guilty of some of these things as well, but have sure moved more to the "left" on banks, Wall Street, war, police and corporations that you would have expected even a few years ago.

    What we really need is a true alliance between libertarians and those on the left who are pro civil liberties and anti-bankster, anti-corporation and anti-war.

    On the "private" property issue you mention, I agree as well. Property rights should be based on something more than a state enforced system of title. At least we should be questioning the existing basis of property claims. My question for anarcho-capitalists is, how could the current system of private property be maintained without a state? I don't see how it could.

  2. The movement has basically become “conservatives who are a little more sympathetic to gay marriage and legalized pot.”

    This is because during the past 10-15 yrs the main GOP line has headed fast in a rather psychotic direction. It is now a vector for human hatred, born from frustration with one's own situation.

    What you describe -- Republicans who are okay with gay marriage and pot legalization -- is what used to be "Goldwater Republicans" or "liberal Republicans." The last one of note in Fed politics was John Chaffee, who was a pretty good environmentalist, as US Senators from the GOP side of the aisle go.

    On your point (2), I gave thorough explanations in response to David D'Amato at C4SS when he talked about environmental regulation, here:

    Nikk shared some of the same Qs/concerns I have with private property. Absent a State to rule over disputes, how will we settle claims to property ownership? Who would prevent Monsanto from razing my house and installing a local chem dispensary?

    Libertarians seem to suffer a perspective of rank naivete about human nature: they assume that in the absence of a government or in a highly minarchized system, people automatically will behave benevolently toward each other. I see no evidence of this being true or possible. Instead I see the fraction of humanity who are driven by greed and power-lust wanting always to dominate others, regardless of the Q of the State and how large it should be.

    I do think a completely anarchic commune can exist safely, but it has to be in a location where the land and resources are not desired by those who seek power and profit. And it has to be small enough that the members can hash out their disagreements directly.

  3. #4 - What does Limbaugh have to do with libertarian thought?

    As for corporations as a whole, I agree that libertarians haven't addressed this issue enough. They focus on state transgressions to the point they (unwittingly?) forget the corporate side of the equation.

    Mind you, charters are created by the state.


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  5. "Not exactly" and then a non-sequitur. So what's not exactly correct about what I said?

    If you're gonna say "not exactly" you should at least do the courtesy of explaining why.

    And what is "most intelligent," and what is "stupid"? In what contexts?

    I think you're confusing "most intelligent" and "most likely to engage in predatory behavior," and in my experience those who default to predation are not very intelligent because it's a very short-term, dead-end path.

    The problem with people of lower holistic intelligence is their tendency to see Black/White rather than shades of grey. Thus it's Lead With Selfish Destruction or Follow With Mindless Obedience, and no imagining of anything between.

    None of this argues against anarchism or minarchism. These human traits will be there regardless of what type of State (or not) is used.

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