The relationship between libertarianism and the general left is interesting. I’ve noticed a somewhat problematic phenomena that is two-fold.
On one hand, some libertarians try to market themselves to the left (and people in general) by appealing to simplistic soundbite-like sentiments that aren’t necessarily particular to libertarianism, such as “I abhor violence and believe in respecting people as individuals”, meant to imply that “you’re already a libertarian and don’t know it”. This is of course misleading in that a lot of people could get behind such a sentiment without libertarian ideology having anything to do with it, while drawing completely different political implications from it. This is some mix of manipulation/propaganda and libertarian delusion about their ideology being a matter of common sense. You’re not going to find too many people who are going to stand up and be like “I think violence is awesome!”. One must realize this is more rhetorical than substantive. It’s little better than Molyneux’s “gun in the room” argument.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed a certain trend among younger vaguely liberal people to stumble on to links to libertarian ideas on a specific issue or certain statements by libertarian figures that they agree with. These people aren’t actually part of the libertarian movement. They are mostly liberals outside of it who are occasionally bumping onto the edges of it, but they generally have no idea what they are getting into. They typically don’t know much about libertarianism as a political philosophy, it’s just that sometimes libertarians say things that resonate with them, particularly on issues of foreign policy and questions of government infringement into people’s choices. Indeed, in some ways this was exactly the position I was in about a decade ago when it came to some of the statements of Ron Paul, and it contributed to me being wooed into libertarianism.
Of course, there is no shortage of criticism of libertarianism from the left in general, and it tends to annoy the heck out of libertarians. Often, the libertarian response to this criticism comes in the form of overtly embracing its right-wing traits and rather strongly rejecting the left (which you’re likely to see from the Lew Rockwell crowd, for example). More generally, the libertarian response involves characterizing criticism as coming from ignorance, which right-libertarians and left-libertarians alike seem to loosely agree on: critics of libertarianism can only be arguing against unfair boogeymen and from a lack of knowledge of economics and ignorance of the esoteric ins and outs of libertarian theory. Then there is the delusional or otherwise manipulative left-libertarian tactic of acting like the leftist criticism is ignorant, but that libertarian ideology actually jibes the leftist’s motives better than the left does.
I’ve watched these arguments and sentiments play out over and over again in the libertarian echo chamber. When libertarians aren’t bashing on the left as economic illiterates and authoritarian governmentalists, they’re trying to woo the left with poor arguments. If you exclude social issues, even a lot of the dialogue you see coming from left-libertarians at C4SS, including Kevin Carson, is in general form in agreement with the right-libertarian bashing of the left: more than anything, that they don’t understand “the free market”. As I’ve said before, the one thing that unites all libertarians is the free market idea. There are even some articles by Carson that leave one with the impression that he’s in some ways virulently anti-leftist, and the site in general has increasingly become filled with defensive articles written in response to criticisms of libertarianism from the left.
The left-libertarian spin, where the wooing comes in, is in the notion that the free market can best provide the left’s desired ends and is most consistent with their motives, and that the state is the prime causal agent of everything the left opposes. The former point is patently false in the face of the reality of economic power dynamics, and the latter is a dubious sticking point of libertarian anarchist ideology. And here we come to the fact that if the free market idea is what unites libertarians generally, when it comes to “libertarian anarchism” the one thing that unites them is anti-statist reductionism. I think it’s important to make a distinction between anti-statism in the sense of non-recognition of state legitimacy and treating state power as an essential part of the problem of politics (which is part of anarchism generally), and anti-statism in the sense of such a myopic and oversimplified political analysis which treats it as an external entity spoiling social dynamics rather than an institution that is part of spoiled social dynamics. That’s part of why most self-described anarchists are not libertarians.
The left is entirely in the right to criticize libertarians for their phantasmagorical view of markets and their obsession with opposing the state. The left is being far from ignorant in perceiving libertarians to largely represent economic power and have wonky views on how the world works. These criticisms irk left-libertarians to no end, as they try as hard as they can to disassociate themselves from the reality of the libertarian movement and the practical implications of their own views. It is cliche for them to froth at the mouth with “not all libertarians” sentiment in face of the ugliness that is manifested by the bulk of their publicly visible political movement being called out, all the while holding on to the basic libertarian premises that enable what they want to disassociate themselves from. And they continue to promote the same free market mythos and story of the state as Sauron that the left rightly criticizes them for. They’re basically in a position of engaging in half-baked damage control.
The one area that left-libertarians have been able to successfully woo some parts of the left is on social justice issues, mainly by bringing in themes of anti-racism, feminism, and trans politics. That still does not mean that those social justice positions form a coherent political theory along with the rest of libertarianism or that social justice warriors should become libertarians. What is rich is to see the internal conflicts play out within the libertarian movement because of that trend, with right-libertarians opposing it mostly for the wrong reasons and pulling the “no true libertarian” card (sprinkled with some valid criticism) and left-libertarians pretentiously trying to make their social views essential to the meaning of being a libertarian or actively promote and glorify certain taboo things rather than just support a hands-off approach (which is quite clearly malarkey). While libertarianism has grown over the last decade, no, we are not having “the libertarian moment”. The movement is practically split in two on social issues, despite relatively broad agreement on the basic free market mantra.
It’s going take a lot more than vague appeals to non-violence, or even bringing in social justice issues, to convince the broad left to become libertarians. I don’t see it happening. There are dangers of slipping into libertarianism by some of the leftists on the borderline who take a liking to the most broad and watered down of libertarian sentiments – I feel tempted to warn them to be careful what they are getting into. And maybe a small contingent of the social justice side of things has been brought into a dialogue with some libertarians. But at the end of the day, no intelligent leftist who is secure in their principles and perceptive enough to read between the lines will ever buy into the free market mythos or willingly become apart of an essentially right-wing political movement, even a right-wing political movement with social justice thrown in.