|The Distinctiveness of Left-Libertarianism
from the "Bleeding Heart Libertarians" Blog
|Vine & Fig Tree home page.|
|Comments by Kevin Craig|
|[Editors Note: This essay is part of BHL's Symposium on Left-Libertarianism. Click on the link to see the other essays.]||The main purpose of this webpage is to introduce "left-libertarianism" to conservative Christians, especially "Christian Reconstructionists." I recommend reading from left to right, and then clicking through to read all the links in the left-hand column. They are all thought-provoking. Conservatives should read the links and ask, "What can I learn from this?" Conservatives bewail "big government," but are blind to many of its manifestations. Leftists see these manifestations better than conservatives, but don't realize they are manifestations of "big government." Leftists too often clamor for government solutions to problems which were caused by government, and which would be exacerbated by more government. Conservatives need to see these problems as problems and propose Biblical solutions.|
|Left-libertarianism in the relevant sense is a position that is simultaneously leftist and libertarian. It features leftist commitments to:||
I have always considered myself a "right-winger." I have always considered "leftists" to be "un-American."Ecclesiastes 10:2
A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, But a fool’s heart at his left.Matthew 25:33
And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
Simultaneously, it features libertarian commitments to:
|We'll examine each of these in more detail below.|
A Leftist Position
Both/And | Neither/Nor
|A leftist position is marked, I suggest, by concern with subordination, exclusion, deprivation, and war. Left-libertarians whole-heartedly embrace these leftist concerns. But left-libertarians may differ from other leftists insofar as they:||The linked article defines each of these terms:
The Fifth Commandment ("Honour thy father and thy mother") defends "subordination." The Son subordinated Himself to the Father. The Church subordinates herself to Christ. We are to be subject to Caesar and slavemasters. More.
"Left-libertarianism" is at war with "hierarchy," as will be seen below, but the family is inherently hierarchical.
And yet there is a strong incentive in the Bible to eliminate slavery and the State. Dominion is a goal to be preferred to lifelong subordination.Genesis 2:24
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Excommunication is an important Biblical concept. Separation is a related concept.Leviticus 20:24
But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.Matthew 25:32
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:2 Corinthians 6:17
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
Separation is to be based on moral and ethical considerations, not race or wealth.
God deprived Job of his wealth for a time. God promises that the lazy will experience deprivation. If a man refuses to work, he should be deprived even of food (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Nevertheless, poverty is not normative, and charity toward the deprived is. See Ronald Sider's book "Cry Justice."
On balance, right-wingers have neglected much in the Bible, and can learn much from "bleeding heart" leftists to see overlooked problems, but not solutions.
The left claims to be against war, but still supports Barack Obama.
The right is very wrongly supportive of the military state.
America is no longer a "City upon a Hill," as Jesus used that phrase. The United States is an imperialist war-monger state. Since I was born, tens of millions of innocent non-combatant civilians have been killed, crippled or made homeless by the U.S. military.
Christians Should Oppose War
Of course, in theory everyone says they oppose war. Except in practice. Except those who profit from making war. And those who profit from the military imposition of U.S. policy around the world, which keeps our gas prices lower than in Europe.
I take Micah's prophecy as a command: "swords into plowshares" is a present moral imperative. Jesuit scholar Richard T. McSorely was correct when he said, "It's a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon." It is only used to violate God's prohibition against vengeance. It is inconsistent with the principles of "just war." But nukes are only the tip of the iceberg. Nearly half of all "defense" spending in the world is by the U.S.
Some would say that my support of peace is "impractical" and "utopian" What is "practical" about the deaths of millions of people during my lifetime? What is "practical" about spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year and still being unable to stop the 9/11 Keystone Hijackers? Every single person who signed the Constitution would be shocked at our current level of defense spending, the militarization of airports -- overthrowing the Fourth Amendment in the name of "homeland security" -- and our "standing armies." The cost of two current wars is $10,000 for every man, woman, and small child in America. U.S. Defense policy has crowded out private giving for missionary efforts which could have Christianized Iraq. Our whole Defense Dept worldview violates the most fundamental ethical teachings of Christ.
The "War on Terror"
Christian conservatives also tend to support the "war on terror," which is really a Big Government Program to suppress Islam -- unless the "war on terror" has nothing whatsoever to do with Islamic terrorists, but is solely about expanding U.S. corporate hegemony and propping up the Dollar as an international reserve currency. The size of our military and its anti-Christian character would have astounded America's Founders. Even if the architects of U.S. foreign policy are concerned about the spread of false religions, using government to aid in "The Great Commission" is unChristian. And destroying the true religion (as happened in Iraq) using the military is even worse. If the Biblical prophets spoke truth, we should expect God to do to us what we did to Iraq.
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists the awareness that there are predictable winners and losers in society and that being sorted into the two camps isn’t primarily a matter of luck or skill. But left-libertarians emphasize that it’s not a consequence of market exchange, either: it’s a reflection of state-committed, state-threatened, and state-tolerated aggression. As long as there’s a state apparatus in place, the wealthy can capture it, using it to gain power and more wealth, while the politically powerful can use it to acquire wealth and more power. The ruling class—made up of wealthy people empowered by the state, together with high-level state functionaries—is defined by its relationship with the state, its essential enabler. Opposing this class thus means opposing the state.||
The Bible says not to prefer the poor or the rich:Leviticus 19:15
“You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.
The Bible also acknowledges class conflict:
The Christian historian Lord Acton rightly observed, "Power tends to corrupt." He meant state power. Compare what Lord Acton said with what Jesus said:
"Greatness" achieved through the State is not Biblically defensible.
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists the recognition that big businesses enjoy substantial privileges that benefit them while harming the public. But they stress that the proper response to corporate privilege is to eliminate subsidies, bailouts, cartelizing regulations, and other state-driven features of the legal, political, and economic environments that prop up corporate power rather than retaining the privileges while increasing state regulatory involvement in the economy—which can be expected to create new opportunities for elite manipulation, leave corporate power intact, stifle upstart alternatives to corporate behemoths, and impoverish the public.||The "right" tends to be "pro-business," but blindly ignores left criticism of the rise of big business, which is inseparable from the rise of Big Government. See Kevin Carson's historical revisionism in "The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand." The evidence is breathtaking but ignored by the right. Carson chronicles massive violations of Biblical Law in support of "business." Massive -- society-wide -- affecting millions of people -- structurally embedded. No political candidate will even touch these violations of God's Law. Theonomists must not remain blind to these violations.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists both outrage at structural poverty and the recognition that the wealthy and well connected help to shape the rules of the economic and political game in ways that preserve their wealth and influence while making and keeping others poor. But left-libertarians emphasize that poverty isn’t created or perpetuated by the freed market, but rather by large-scale theft and by the privileges and constraints—from licensing requirements to intellectual property rules to land-use controls to building codes—that prevent people from using their skills and assets effectively or dramatically raise the cost of doing so. Eliminating structural poverty means eliminating state-secured privilege and reversing state-sanctioned theft.||There are virtually no poor in America. It is largely mythical that the rich (globalist entrepreneurs) have "made" people poor. Robert Rubin (Clinton's Secretary of State) and Hank Paulson (Bush's Secretary of State) and Ben Bernanke (Bush-Obama) represent institutionalized theft on a massive scale, which of course hurts the poor. But it hurts the middle class as well. (Maybe more, since the middle class save more. Maybe.) The main cause of "poverty" in America is immoral habits on the part of the poor, and the perpetuating of these lifestyle choices by government subsidies (also called "welfare," which is in fact inimical to their true welfare). Another word for "structural poverty" might be "dependence" on government welfare (often for successive generations).|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists both compassionate concern with economic vulnerability and the recognition that vulnerable people can’t be left to fend for themselves, that shared responsibility for meeting their needs is morally and practically essential. But they stress that mutual aid arrangements have dealt successfully with economic vulnerability. They also emphasize that such arrangements could be expected to be more successful absent taxation (people can and will spend their own money on poverty relief, but they’re likely to do so much more efficiently and intelligently than state officials deploying tax revenues), poverty-producing state regulations, and limitations on choice in areas like medical care.||
Marvin Olasky has described "The Tragedy of American [left-wing] Compassion" and the superiority of conservative family- and church-centered solutions to poverty. Leftists seem to be more adept than conservatives at pointing to areas that need to be addressed, but with inadequate solutions.
Women, children, and mentally disabled people should not be expected to "fend for themselves."
(Notice the number of links in Chartier's article to to the Foundation for Economic Education, generally considered a "conservative" organization. Recently, when Sheldon Richman was editor at FEE, he brought in some left-libertarian perspectives.)
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists the conviction that the redistribution of wealth can be appropriate or even required. But they deny that redistribution may reasonably be undertaken to bring about a particular pattern of wealth distribution, that it may be effected through aggressive interference with people’s justly acquired possessions, or that it is properly the work of the state. Rather, they suggest, redistribution ought to be effected by the legal system (as it restores to people resources unjustly taken from them or their predecessors in interest, as it makes assets stolen by the state or acquired unjustly by its cronies available for homesteading, and as it denies validity to state-secured privileges that preserve the economic positions of the well-connected while keeping others poor), through solidaristic mutual aid, and through the tendency of a market liberated from privilege to “eat the rich.”||There is an important distinction to be made between "redistribution" and "restitution." Conservatives should favor the latter, but not the former.
A truly Free Market does not favor "the 1%." A program of just social restitution would be very difficult to formulate, but it is not inappropriate to think about it, as Zacchaeus did.
|Left-libertarians share with many other leftists—New Leftists and Greens, say—the conviction that decision-making should be decentralized, that people should be able to participate to the maximum feasible degree in shaping decisions that affect their lives. But they maintain that this means that, against a backdrop of secure pre-political rights, all association should be consensual. Top-down, forcible decision-making is likely to be marred by the fallibility of decision-makers and their tendency to pursue self-interested goals at the public’s expense. Small-scale political units are more humanizing than large-scale ones; but decentralization must finally be decentralization to the level of the particular person.||Conservatives should have no objection to decentralization. Those who favor centralization have an interest in dividing leftists and conservatives so that any united movement toward decentralization is dampened.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists the realization that hierarchical workplaces are disempowering and stultifying, and that supporting workplace hierarchies is thus often morally objectionable. But they stress that hierarchical workplaces are more likely given state action. Hierarchies limit the ability of workers to use their knowledge and skills to respond flexibly and efficiently to production and distribution challenges and to meet customer needs. The inefficiencies of hierarchies would make them less common aspects of worklife, and increase the odds that people would be able to choose alternatives offering more freedom and dignity (self-employment or work in partnerships or cooperatives), in the absence of privileges that lowered the costs of maintaining hierarchies and raised the costs of opting out of them (as by making self-employment more costly, and so more risky). State action also redirects wealth to those interested in seeing that they and people like them rule the workplace; and the state’s union regulations limit the ways unions can challenge workplace hierarchies.||Hierarchy may not be the issue. The issue may be laziness on the part of management and a failure to treat employees with a Biblical vision like Abraham treated his household employees: seeking to move them to maturity and creativity. There is much discussion about workplace environments that reward innovation, growth, and productivity rather than easy-to-manage bureaucratic conformity, and neither the left nor the right have a monopoly on these ideas. If a left-leaning business has good ideas, they should be emulated by conservatives.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a commitment to civil liberties. But they stress that the state is a predictable foe of these liberties and that the most effective way to safeguard them is to protect people’s control over their bodies and justly acquired possessions.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a conviction that the drug war is destructive, racist, and absurdly expensive. But they emphasize that the best protection against prohibitionist campaigns of all sorts is to respect people’s control over their bodies and justly acquired possessions, and that aggression-based limits on all disfavored but voluntary exchanges should be disallowed.||The "War on Drugs" is blatantly unconstitutional, and the real solution to drug addiction is profoundly conservative and spiritual, not big-government. Start by abolishing Godless secular schooling, which would make any sane person reach out for a narcotic stupor.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a concern for the well-being of sex workers. But they note that state actors engage in violence against sex workers and that state policies, including criminalization and regulation, create or intensify the risks associated with sex work.||Obviously, from a Christian perspective "sex work" should be eradicated (but not by threats of violence by government thugs). The left is wrong on family hierarchy and sex.
This is a pivotal issue.
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a passionate opposition to police violence and corruption. But they emphasize that this is not simply a reflection of poor oversight or the presence in police agencies of “a few bad apples” but instead a reflection of the structural positions of such agencies as guarantors of state power and of the lack of accountability created both by the existence of substantial de facto differences in standards for the use of force by police officers and others and by the monopolistic status of police agencies.||Private security is preferable to socialist "security."|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists persistent concerns with environmental quality and animal welfare. But they stress that environmental harms can be prevented and remedied without state involvement, as long as robust legal protections for bodies and justly acquired possessions are in place; that state action is not required to protect non-human animals from abuse; and that state actions and policies are often directly responsible for protecting polluters, promoting environmental harms, and injuring non-human animals.||Human beings need a healthy environment. But environmentalism is paganism.
"Animal welfare" is Biblical; "animal rights" is not.
God has given human beings "rights," according to the Declaration of Independence. Animals do not have rights. Trees do not have rights. But the Creator Who gave human beings "rights" has the right to command human beings to care for animals (
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a commitment to the well-being of children. But left-libertarians underscore the importance of respecting children’s rights to control their own bodies and possessions—rejecting both attempts to treat children as their parents’ property and paternalistic state action that interferes unreasonably with children’s freedom—and emphasize the degree to which the state is not the protector of children but is responsible in multiple ways for significant threats to their freedom and well-being, notably through compulsory schooling.||We created a tape series (back in the days of cassettes) analyzing John Holt's book on "Children's Rights" from a Christian Reconstructionist perspective. "Children's Rights" sounds offensive initially, but there is much wisdom in it. Most conservative objection to "Children's Rights" is directed at the prospect of United Nations enforcement of such "rights." This is indeed very dangerous, but is not what Holt was talking about.|
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists the awareness that racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, and national chauvinism are morally repugnant. But they emphasize the crucial role of the state in creating, perpetuating, and capitalizing on these forms of unfairness while stressing that eliminating the props the state provides for prejudice-driven conduct can play a vital role in combating discrimination. Suspicious of the state and respectful of just possessory claims, they stress non-aggressive solidaristic action as the appropriate means of dealing with persistent discrimination. They promote marriage equality while seeking the departure of the state from the marriage business. And, while joining other leftists in opposing xenophobia, they stress that all borders should be razed to enable untrammeled migration.||Racism, nativism and nationalism can all be idols.
Heterosexism or homophobia is a myth.
Xenophobia is clearly a Biblical concern.
"Solidaristic action" is action as a body, which is a way of describing the church, but is decentralized vis-a-vis the State.
|Left-libertarians share with other leftists a passionate opposition to war and empire and a concern for the victims of both, including native peoples across the globe. But they emphasize the links between warfare, imperialism, and colonialism and the state’s continuing infringements on civil and economic liberties—not to mention ruling-class mischief. Interference with people’s peaceful conduct within the state’s borders is objectionable for many of the same reasons as war beyond the state’s borders. As a form of enslavement, conscription is unjust. The freedom to trade tends to reduce the probability of war. And warfare is a likely consequence of the operation of the state, which seeks predictably to expand its influence by force. Leftist opposition to war should be seen as entailing opposition to the state per se.||War
Both valid concerns.
Colonialism by the State is wrong, but not by missionaries.
A Libertarian Position
|A libertarian position is marked, I suggest, by support for equality of authority; for robust protections for just possessory claims; and for peaceful, voluntary cooperation, including cooperation in and through exchange. Left-libertarians share these commitments. But left-libertarians may differ from other libertarians insofar as they:|
|Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to equality of authority—to the view that there is no natural right to rule and that non-consensual authority is presumptively illegitimate. This egalitarianism naturally issues in a commitment to anarchism, since state authority is non-consensual. But left-libertarians emphasize that the commitment to moral equality that underlies belief in equality of authority should entail the rejection of subordination and exclusion on the basis of nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, workplace status, or other irrelevant characteristics. While left-libertarians agree with other libertarians that people’s decisions to avoid associating with others because of such characteristics shouldn’t be interfered with aggressively, left-libertarians emphasize that such decisions can often still be subjected to moral critique and should be opposed using non-aggressive means.||
Some of these characteristics are in fact "relevant," and a valid basis for "concerted response." There are things the Body of Christ should "oppose using non-aggressive means." The left ignores or champions these things, while the right accurately opposes them, but uses the violence of the State to do so.
|Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to robust protections for just possessory claims to physical objects. But they reject “intellectual property” and emphasize that possessory protections shouldn’t cover objects acquired with the decisive aid of the state, or otherwise through the use of violence, or to those clearly abandoned. They make clear that there are just limits to the things people can do to protect their possessions (becoming a trespasser doesn’t automatically make one liable to violence). They note that whether claims to land should be held by individuals or groups can only be determined in light of the economics of particular situations and the ways particular claims are established. And they stress that, while just possessory claims should be respected, it’s quite possible to oppose aggressive interference with someone’s use of her possessions in a given way while challenging that use non-aggressively.||Can you name anything "acquired with the decisive aid of the state?" How about a claim to future "Social Security" payments? The Entitlement Mentality is bankrupting America, both financially and morally.|
|Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to a model of social life rooted in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. But they differ with other libertarians in emphasizing that, while force may justly be used only in response to aggression, peaceful, voluntary cooperation is a moral ideal with implications that go beyond simple non-aggression. Left-libertarians urge that associations of all kinds be structured in ways that affirm the freedom, dignity, and individuality of all participants, and thus allow participants the option not only of exit but also of voice—of influencing the associations’ trajectories and exercising as much individual discretion within them as possible.||The untrained should not have the same authoritative voice as the experts. But the experts should be open to paradigm shifts from the younger generation.|
|While rejecting capitalism, left-libertarians share with other libertarians an enthusiastic recognition of the value of markets. They stress that both parties to a voluntary exchange participate because they prefer it and believe it will benefit them; that prices provide excellent guides for producers and distributors (far better than anything a central planner could offer); and that people should internalize the costs as well as the benefits of their choices. But they emphasize that background injustice can distort markets and constrain traders’ options. They also note that commercial exchange does not exhaust the sphere of peaceful, voluntary cooperation and that people can and should cooperate in multiple ways—playful, solidaristic, compassionate—that need not be organized along commercial lines.||
"Capitalism" here means "crony capitalism," fascism, or other economic activity coordinated by or dependent upon State aggression.
A Biblical worldview envisions many other ways of living life other than "along commercial lines."
A Transformed Vision
|Left-libertarianism embraces and transforms leftist and libertarian ideals.|
|Many leftists and libertarians already share some commitments: opposition to war, empire, and corporate privilege; support for civil liberties and grass-roots empowerment. However, many leftists and libertarians also embrace, and often share, various mistaken assumptions.|
|Left-libertarians challenge these assumptions while embracing the commitments leftists and libertarians share. They seek to demonstrate that it’s reasonable both to oppose structural poverty and to favor freed markets, to seek both workplace dignity and robust protections for just possessory claims, to embrace freedom of association while opposing arbitrary discrimination, to foster both peace and economic liberty, to link rejection of war and imperialism with support for peaceful, voluntary cooperation at all levels.|
|By endorsing leftist and libertarian concerns and challenging assumptions that make it difficult for leftists to embrace libertarianism and for libertarians to become leftists, left-libertarianism offers a provocative vision of an appealing politics and a world marked by greater freedom and fairness.|
|Thanks to my colleagues in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left/Center for a Stateless Society/Molinari Society, to Anthony Gregory, and to David Gordon, among others, for reviewing earlier versions of this essay. It is markedly better in virtue of the feedback I have received, though I, of course, remain responsible for its flaws.||Neither Left nor Right | Both Left and Right
“Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.Deuteronomy 17:11
According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.Deuteronomy 17:20
that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.Deuteronomy 28:14
So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.Joshua 1:7
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.Joshua 23:6
Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left,2 Kings 22:2
And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.2 Chronicles 34:2
And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.Proverbs 4:27
Do not turn to the right or the left;Isaiah 30:21
Remove your foot from evil.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,2 Corinthians 6:7
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,