Anti-Libertarian Criticism

Keeping libertarians in check and exposing it as a bankrupt ideology

Spoiling Social Justice


Will May, an old fellow traveler from the specter of libertarianism past, has written a post giving their perspective on my criticism of left-libertarians in which they take something of a middle ground. Will mostly agrees with me about how left-libs still promote a capitalist framework, but thinks that they have made genuine progress on the social side of things that potentially makes them a good force within the libertarian movement. He characterizes them as introducing left-wing social ideas into an essentially right-wing movement, thereby raising awareness.

There probably is some truth to this, but I’m not as optimistic about it as Will. I would have to emphasize that while left-libs may be preaching left-wing social ideas in a right-wing political movement, for the most part they are also using those left-wing social ideas as a means to promote their right-wing-influenced pro-market ideas, shoe-horning them in to that analysis. And as a result, to a certain extent they don’t actually get those ideas, or at least they only wield them in a way that is convenient for libertarianism. At the end of the day, I don’t think they can coherently promote ideas that basically come from critical theory while keeping their libertarianism intact.

For example, what use is the left-lib’s anti-racism if their market ideology still leads them to legitimize institutional racism in principle? Sure, the left-libs might be part of the people boycotting racists “on the market”, but they support the very market that enables them. Their economic policy ideas would still actually give racists more opportunities than they have now. Left-libs have not been able to convincingly show why people who want to oppose racism should support libertarianism or why libertarianism is the best suited politics to oppose it. Support for boycotting while being principally bound to respect a right to racist oppression just doesn’t cut it.

Also, what use is their feminism if it’s all sex-positive feminism meant to legitimize the porn industry and promote poly lifestylism? Feminism in that sense is oddly convenient to capitalism, while the lifestyle part of it often seems to be a personal matter that isn’t really connected with anything worthy of a social revolution. Is promoting sexual politics of this sort really necessarily a good move? Or is it a trendy thing that’s actually introducing some of the *pitfalls* of left-wing social ideas? This is an area where I tend to disagree with the conventional social left – I think modern feminism is a bit messy. I’m oddly finding myself more prone to agree with those feminists who are not so sex-positive and are very anti-capitalist. I find the idea of women “liberating themselves” from gender norms by using them on the market and promoting a culture of hyper-sexualization to be a funny contradiction.

I don’t mean to sound like an economic reductionist, but I think there are some problems with social identity politics in the way that it can excessively focus so much on marginal identities and lifestyles that the things that commonly oppress the majority of humans fall by the wayside – namely our status as outsiders of the ownership class, as average consumers and workers, and as general citizens. A raise in social conciousness may be a good thing and it certainly may be relevant to be involved with the specific concerns of the marginalized, but if that becomes an obsessive focus and one turns the most radical perspectives of a certain group into an ideology of its own then what one ends up with is a one-dimensional, divisive and perhaps sometimes selfish politics.

I think now that libertarians can be social justice warriors too, the left-libs are soaking up some of the negative baggage that comes with that – the silencing of dissenters considered to have privilege, as well as the silencing and exile of dissenters from within marginalized groups, the presence of sensationalist and overblown views that dichotomize society into a zero-sum game of competing social groups, pandering to group identities and using group members from marginal identities as tokens for political points, and sometimes the manifestation of a reverse-totalitarianism complex perpetuated by victims as a way to deal with their anguish and pain.

Tack on free market libertarianism and we have an interesting trend. At least your typical social justice warrior is also at least moderately anti-capitalist. The left-lib seems to want to combine “social justice” with capitalism, and thus misses the ways in which perhaps capitalism is linked with the social issues they want to fight about. There’s no reason to believe that the mechanisms of the market are necessarily helpful to social liberation issues. Since the market is a powerful means of social control, if anything, it may play a significant role in social oppression. Perhaps there is a sense which left-libs are right in implying that the socially marginalized can use the market to their advantage, but at the end of the day it isn’t a comprehensive solution to anything so much as it’s a way for some people to survive in a market-based society. Not revolutionizing anyone’s lives.

In a nutshell, my contention is that so long as libertarians hold to their market-based framework, any attempt they make at social theory will necessarily be spoiled. This is because of how the market theory is designed to envelope social theory. The left-libertarian is stuck in the convenient and sometimes seemingly opportunistic position of being like “I recognize that X, Y, Z are social problems, here’s why state intervention is at fault and here’s how the free market can fix it!”. The social justice ideas get absorbed into the free market advocacy. And because of this, the left-lib is left coming off like they don’t really understand how the problem they’re talking about is socially or economically ingrained, since their default mode of discourse is to talk of things in terms of state vs market.

This kind of brings us back around to what my original contention about left-lib was – that it may indeed be a raise in social consciousness, but not necessarily a better social theory. Left-libertarians tend to tack-on social justice related ideas to a pre-existing, widely encompassing free market framework that influences how they interpret those ideas and ultimately how they package them in their own advocacy. I think the results have mostly been incoherent, such that any raise in social consciousness among libertarians has nonetheless mostly been ineffective at changing anything. While “thick libertarianism” for left-libs is supposed to mean that things like anti-capitalism, anti-racism and feminism form a coherant self-reinforcing web with their libertarianism, in practice for many of them it would be more accurate to say that it means they are those things in addition to being libertarians – and I would claim that they haven’t really worked out how to square them, especially in the case of the question of capitalism.

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7 responses to “Spoiling Social Justice

  1. n8chz June 25, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    My position on social justice is crystal clear: No justice, no peace. I consider this to be a law of sociology. Sociology has as much claim as economics to being a social science, and maybe more claim to being an empirical science, since the methods of orthodox economics seem somehow more mathematical than emperical, as if a generation of young economists was enticed by the sheer authority of the letters QED in the math textbooks but didn’t bother to read what the same textbooks had to say about the scope of this authority. And don’t even get me started on this “praxeology” shit, which overtly rejects empiricism. My position is that sociology is an empirical science, and that the laws of sociology (funny how you almost never even hear that expression) are as non-negotiable as the laws of, say, physics (to the extent that sociology, admittedly an inexact science, is empirically sound) and that “no justice, no peace” is as much a law of sociology as “no such thing as a free lunch” is a law of economics.

    Looks like the latest thing in C4SS’ intersectionality and privilege saga is this:

    Instead of being distracted by a divisive privilege framework, libertarians should foremost seek to promote markets’ socially unifying force by fighting against government oppression.

    I guess that sums it up. The ultimate commitment of libertarians isn’t privilege blindness, it’s non-state oppression blindness, which ultimately results in the same thing. You know ideology has trumped common sense when there’s any agreed-on blind spot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nataliyapetrova June 26, 2014 at 12:34 AM

      Not all libertarians to blind to non-state oppression. You forget that is part of a series of exchanges where some people are arguing a position closer to yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      • n8chz June 26, 2014 at 1:05 AM

        Some are quite close to mine, and I myself was part of leftlibertarian.org back when it was a thing. I recognize a sort of left-libertarian “spectrum” among C4SS contributors, from David Hummels on the left to Thomas Knapp on the right, with Natasha Petrova (related?) maybe center-left? Maybe a little to the right of Kevin Carson; probably second most leftist C4SS contributor, most leftist frequent contributor, and far and away most leftist contributor on BHL… 🙂

        Like

  2. nataliyapetrova June 26, 2014 at 12:55 AM

    Sin

    Alex,

    It’s pretty absurd to continue characterizing us as capitalists when as I explained; we’re opposed to the separation of labor from ownership or control.

    Kevin Carson embraces the labor theory of value and classical occupation/use notions of possession or “property”. Are you going to seriously contend he is a capitalist?

    Seriously,

    If pro-market ideas are inherently right-wing influenced; I guess you think Benjamin Tucker and other classical individualist anarchists were really capitalists? Or are you saying our particular pro-market ideas are capitalist?

    You denied to me in a thread with Nick Ford that you were advocating market abolitionism, but you go around saying markets are constricting freedom and then this:

    “In a nutshell, my contention is that so long as libertarians hold to their market-based framework, any attempt they make at social theory will necessarily be spoiled”

    And then this:

    “Sure, the left-libs might be part of the people boycotting racists “on the market”, but they support the very market that enables them”

    Markets no more enable racists than any political-economic framework composed of racists does so. Governments composed of racists can intervene in the market in racist ways as one example.

    You’re hinting at advocating a positive program while denying you are; the abolition of markets.

    Something that can’t be done without a state or some other form of coercive tyranny unless everyone is just persuaded to go non-market…

    “There’s no reason to believe that the mechanisms of the market are necessarily helpful to social liberation issues. Since the market is a powerful means of social control, if anything, it may play a significant role in social oppression.”

    Markets are what you make of em. A market composed of non-racists will look a lot different than one populated by racists bent on social control.

    “For example, what use is the left-lib’s anti-racism if their market ideology still leads them to legitimize institutional racism in principle?”

    Once again; there is nothing inherent to markets that makes them legitimize racism. Any economic framework could in principle do this if it were composed of racists.

    As I said in response to this:

    “It’s true that we oppose the use of aggressive violence to remedy the evils of racism, but we in no way intend to tolerate it ethically or socially. One can tolerate something legally in the narrow sense of not using the coercive force of law to change it without sanctioning it morally. That admittedly means we don’t legitimate bigotry and irrational discrimination in any ethical or social sense. We just prefer to adhere to the non-aggression principle in combating it.”

    http://c4ss.org/content/27764

    We do not accept the legitimacy of institutional racism. We simply don’t want to use aggression to combat it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • n8chz June 26, 2014 at 1:48 AM

      I understand separation of labor from ownership and control, and I sure wish I could experience it, but maybe not forever, rather as a transitional phase. The concept of this non-separation, or at least the non-separation of the fruits of labor from the ownership of laborers, is explicitly recognized by seemingly all anarcho-capitalists, with the caveat that for them, income in any form is taken as prima facie evidence of productive labor. The left libertarians, meanwhile, are a little quicker to celebrate self-employment and entrepreneurship than is within my comfort zone. So, labor has ownership and control, but also has the baggage that comes with ownership and control, such as hawking the merchandise and milking the cash cow; activities that I think of as part of the practice of capitalism. So, relative to capitalism, left libertarianism comes across as “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I don’t want to beat the capitalists, I want to beat capitalism, by which I mean for-profit business. That is why I speak of anagorism as cooperation supplanting competition, as commons supplanting ownership (in general), as cooperative, decentralized planning supplanting “market calculation,” and as creation for its own sake supplanting the profit motive.

      Benjamin Tucker was certainly a socialist, but Lysander Spooner was almost as certainly a capitalist. My own political instincts are admittedly more European than American, for better or worse.

      I know the charges of market abolitionism were not directed at me, but I’d like to state for the record that I don’t advocate abolition of markets, but I definitely demand obviation of markets.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Julia June 26, 2014 at 4:24 PM

      “If pro-market ideas are inherently right-wing influenced; I guess you think Benjamin Tucker and other classical individualist anarchists were really capitalists? Or are you saying our particular pro-market ideas are capitalist?”

      In the case of Tucker, it’s important to understand that his free market socialism ideas were very much the product of the time in which he was living. In 1880s USA, it would have easily been possible to become a self-employed artisan or shopkeeper if you didn’t have to pay usury on land or loans. Today, however, we’re living in a completely different context where the vast majority of consumer items (computers, cars, clothing, even food, etc.) are made by multiple individuals, sometimes spanning entire continents. Even if we all had 3D printers and could make everything ourselves, how do we secure the raw materials needed to go in the printers? What about those of us living in areas where there are no raw materials and we have to order them from companies 100s of miles away?

      “Markets are what you make of em. A market composed of non-racists will look a lot different than one populated by racists bent on social control.”

      My question is: how do you change the culture within a free market context? C4SS and the ALL frequently talk about “culture” and building a culture of non-racists, non-sexists, non-homophobes, and so on, but provide very little details on how they’ll go about making those changes. If anything, most of what they’re saying – and pardon my ever-so-creeping Marxism – sounds very much like those in the Second Internationale who proposed economism as a means of dealing with the economic base (in other words, beginning and ending with vague ideas of workers’ self-management) and “opting out” as a means of dealing with the superstructure (which basically means boycotts and conscience consumer choices in hopes that this will create a change to culture). Free market left libertarians are really no better in this regard. Even the alternative institutions they do propose (a rebirthing of fraternal societies, for example) leave no space for revolutionary activity or ideology. Most of those institutions do little to challenge the dominant ideology or culture, but compliment it.

      Liked by 1 person

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