Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The most important contribution of left-libertarianism

Matt Zwolisnki's "Thoughts on Left-Libertarianism" (@BHL) evaluates the strength and weaknesses of left-libertarianism (LL). His criticism of LL utopianism strikes me as largely irrelevant, as is all discussion of utopian ideas. Seeing such wankery inspired me to specify what is actually the most important contribution of left-libertarianism: the perspective of the state as a fundamentally elitist (not democratic) institution.

This perspective is largely absent from contemporary American political ideology, despite the overwhelming evidence in its favor*. This misperception of the state leads to all types of idiocy on the part of Americans, and an effective liberty movement is probably impossible as long as this misperception persists. Next to this issue, everything else in the libertarian movement is wankery-- the utopionism, the (speculative) macroeconomic theory, and even the wonky policy discussions. The only thing that exceeds the importance of correcting this misperception is the creation of alternative institutions.

Most political activists are willing to accept that the state can be captured by self-serving elites, but they still cling to the fantasy that the natural function of the state is to serve the general welfare. Even in the face of constant abuses by the elite, they console themselves with the notion that these abuses arise from a problem no greater than having the wrong guy in office, and they respond by donating their meager leisure time and disposable income to the faction of the elite that promises to restore the natural relationship between government and citizen. They seem unfazed by the reality that "the bad guys" regularly acquire power and "the good guys" never live up to expectations.

We have to look back many decades to find political movements that recognized the elitist nature of the state. Even explicitly elitist ideologies (e.g. monarchism and racist slavery) asserted that the elite governed in the interests of their subjects. While the Marxists recognized the exploitative character of bourgeois democracy, they still seemed to think that a state-like institution could lead humanity into the communist era. Only anarchists recognized that the state was fundamentally incompatible with freedom and equality.

Within the libertarian movement, establishment libertarians (like many writers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians) accept the narrative that the state can be reformed by simply convincing voters to choose justice, while often ignoring how the elite systematically plays our legitimate interests against each other in order to confuse and divide us, and also has an effective system for obfuscating government action and the consequences of electoral participation. The right-wing (vulgar) libertarians are even worse, attributing statist policies to the sloth and greed of the unwashed masses (Mitt Romney's 47%), as if the poor had any power.

To sum this up, while utopianism and macroeconomic theory may be useful rhetorical tools for illustrating the elitist nature of the state, they are not of much value in their own right and should not be the focus of committed debate. Policy debates are only useful for the 1% of Americans who have any substantial influence over state policy -- for the rest of us, even the upper-middle classes, they are just a distraction and a temptation to waste scarce resources on electoral activism. While alternative institutions are important, it's hard for us to find many opportunities to develop these institutions in the current ideological context; too many of our peers will turn to the state for solutions unless they recognize the futility and danger of doing so. For the time being, the most important issue for those of us seeking libertarian equality is to illustrate the elitist nature of statist violence.

* See Kevin Carson for evidence of the historically constant dominance of self-serving elites, and the Ruling Class blog for institutional analysis of elite control of the state. There are probably better resources out there, but those authors would be a good place to start.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

pretty much in full agreement, here. Good post.