Saturday, December 23, 2006

Letting go of left vs. right

Letting go of left vs. right

From: "Dan Sullivan"
Date: Sat Dec 23, 2006 9:03 am
To: The Land Café (

Bernard's post was just fine until the final, gratuitous statement, "All stand in opposition, of course, to 'right-libertarianism', one of the most shallow political philosophies ever."

I don't know what's worse -- lefties stereotyping righties out of ignorance or righties stereotyping lefties. The right wing of the libertarians might indeed have the most shallow philosophy, but the left wing of the socialists would give them a good run for their money.

It is so easy for people in one group or the other to lambaste the opposite group to the cheers of their fellow true-believers. To people who know better, however, their sweeping generalizations reveal a substantial ignorance of the legitimate concerns of the other side, and even an ignorance of the dynamics of how the other side, and their own side for that matter, remain unable to deal with their own shortcomings.

What motivates left-bashing by the right and right-bashing by the left is that both groups covet power and control, and each group harps on the shallowness other group as a bogey man to cover its own shallowness.

They are mirror opposites of one another. The extreme right wants to effectively control everything by privately owning everything, and the extreme left wants to effectively own everything by publicly controlling everything. The fact that each side's core accusations about the other is basically true must be compartmentalized, so that each side can avoid exposure to the mirror it tries to hold up to the other side.

Both sides also focus on taking over groups with balanced alternative approaches to liberty and freedom. Leftists take over politically by flooding an organization with members, getting hold of the political reins, and then redesigning the organization to suit its original agenda. If that fails, they create their own imitations of the successful groups and compete under dubious pretenses. Rightists simply buy the organizations and then pretend, for a while, to hold up the organizational ideals.

The US Greens, for example, voted repeatedly against forming a Green Party, rejecting proposal after proposal from a subgroup calling itself "The Green Left." So, the Green Left formed its own Green Party and eventually co-opted the Greens. Hence the Green Party is primarily a socialist party with an emphasis on environmentalism, with a platform that is wholly incompatible with its own "Ten Key Values."

Similarly, the libertarian right had been unable to prevail with regard to an excellent libertarian magazine, *The Freeman*. Its founders and first two editors, Albert Jay Nock and Frank Choderov, were ardent Georgists. Although the publication always struggled financially (especially when Choderov was jailed for civil disobedience), it had excellent articles and a large libertarian following.

Leonard Read, who became a friend of Nock and eventually bought the rights to *The Freeman," very much epitomizes the label "libertarianism sans single tax." Indeed, in his first letter to Nock, Read had written,

I've just read your *Our Enemy, the State*. It is a perfectly splendid book. But how can a brilliant man like you advocate the Single Tax?

Not surprisingly, articles praising the single tax or criticizing land monopoly dwindled and disappeared after Read took over. Eventually, they changed the name of the publication to *Ideas on Liberty*. I suspect this was partly a reaction to Georgists throwing Nock's views in the faces of right-wing libertarians and identifying Nock as the founder of *The Freeman*.

This does not mean that we should shun libertarians or socialists per se, as long as they are open to criticism of their fondness for economic monopoly or political control. The fact is that there are very reasonable people in both the socialist and libertarian camps -- people who are drawn to the truth and who resist stereotyping those who seem to be on the other side. However, we can ally ourselves neither with either camp, nor with people from either camp who compulsively bash the other camp with their own polarized nonsense.

Escaping the big lie of left vs. right requires that we constantly seek balance, rebuffing efforts to draw (or push) us into one camp or the other. Usually the same polarizers will do both. After trying to win people into their own camp and failing, they accuse those people of being in cahoots with the worst elements of the other camp. Thus I have dozens and dozens of posts by right-wing libertarians calling me a socialist, communist or Marxist, and a comparable number of posts by left-wing socialists calling me a libertarian, capitalist or fascist.

To show how mistaken this stereotyping is, let's use the Libertarian Party as an example. Stereotypers from the left might not know that its founders broke away from the Republican Party in 1972 on three issues: opposition to the Viet Nam War, imposing wage and price controls, and increasing the grip of bankers over the money supply through the Breton-Woods Act. Those are hardly right-wing objections.

David Nolan, the principal founder of the LP, advocates that land value tax should be the only tax.

The late Karl Hess, founder of the LP News, called land value tax "the one tax that should be levied until the state can be abolished altogether." Hess had been the speech-writer for Barry Goldwater, and had coined the ill-fated phrase, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

John Hospers, the first LP candidate for President, also supports land value tax and recounts an episode where Ayn Rand screamed "Let them buy it!" at him over the telephone when he had suggested that Peruvian land should be returned to the indigenous people.

The problem with the Libertarian Party, and with any party, is that party politics becomes dominated by the lowest common denominator. Thus the great thinkers who started the LP, and the great thinkers who started the Greens, are eventually drowned out by a cacophony of polarizing knee-jerk aphorisms uttered by throngs of superficial thinkers who only know that they are against whatever the other side is for, and vice versa.

There are flashes of brilliance among libertarians, and even in the writings of such extremists as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. For example, socialists could gain greatly from their understanding of how crucial personal freedom is to human initiative, and how soul-crushing it is to be under authoritarian control. They just don't see (or at least don't talk about) how corporate monopoly is just as stifling and soul-crushing as government monopoly.

Similarly, many brilliant things are said by lefties about how soul- crushing private monopoly can be, without the caveat that the kind of big government they advocate poses the same dangers.

Also, even the libertarian right is not what I would call the extreme right. The Constitution Party, the John Birch Society and other groups known for their anti- socialist fanaticism have been quick to sacrifice liberty itself in their mad paranoia about the socialist menace. (They have rather seamlessly transported this mentality to the Islamic menace.) Libertarians have been attacked by them for refusing to go along with such nonsense as The Patriot Act. Yet even Birchers are saying valid things that need to be said.

I have sat for hours and hours of engaging conversation with local leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and of the John Birch Society (not at the same time). I worked with the Greens long and well enough to be made their county chair in 1991, and with the Libertarian Party enough to be made their county chair in around 1996. All the while, I listened attentively to understand their legitimate concerns, but stood up against unwarranted criticisms of alternative viewpoints.

Although I highly recommend the practice of having heart-to-heart talks with people in opposing camps, it requires a lot of "letting go," and this, for most people, requires serious practice in relaxation and meditation. However, those who do not "walk a mile in the other person's moccasins" should not sit in the comfort of their own camp and pass judgement from afar against people in the other camp. Such judgements from afar are not entirely wrong; they are just clumsy, heavy-handed and unbalanced.

It also takes more courage to confront inconsistencies in the philosophy of one's own core group than the philosophies of distant groups. One great book in this regard is *Libertarian Party at Sea on Land* by Harold Kyriazi. Harold is a long-time libertarian who realized that they were wrong on the land issue and took them to task on it. In doing so, he corresponded with as many prominent libertarian leaders as he could reach. I would love to see someone from the socialist camp do a similar critique of the socialist error, instead of trying to criticize libertarians from a distance. (He is now learning that they are wrong on the money issue as well.)

After all, what can a socialist say that would undermine the mistaken ideas of the libertarian right better than Harold's book (available from the Schalkenbach foundation) or my essay, "Royal Libertarian"?

The real battle is not between institutions, but within them.


On 22 Dec 2006 at 5:13, Bernard Rooney wrote:

Left-libertarianism seems to proceed largely in ignorance of the original libertarianism, libertarian socialism, and exist as a reaction to 'right-libertarianism' (you all know what that is), nevertheless, as a necessary counter, it is a healthy development worth watching and encouraging.

Steiner says "Left-libertarianism rests on two central claims: (1) full initial self-ownership for all agents, and (2) egalitarian ownership of natural resources." A Georgist will immediately see this as no improvement or even different from Georgism. Steiner's effort to formulate the principle is somewhat laboured and not really superior to George’s, and in the matter of improved or cleared land, that issue has been addressed by valuers long ago.

A lot of this theorising is not so much a matter of truth and logic as ideology and history. Thus, Georgism could be seen as the logical perfection and end-state of classical liberalism, at least in the question of property rights. But that of course is unacceptable to the ruling class. Various intellectual developments are explained by this. Late and Modern Liberalism (or Spencerism) becomes debauched into 'liberalism sans single tax', i.e. a systematic effort to wipe out not only George himself, but anything suggestive of a precursor all the way back to John Locke's 'proviso'. This morphs into or merges with the largely American phenomenon of 'right-libertarianism' or Randism.

On a separate development track is libertarian socialism (or anarcho-syndicalism). This is a largely Continental development with, obviously, socialist origins. This begins in socialism or common ownership and emphasizes local autonomy and dismantlement of hierarchy as most necessary steps.

Thus left-libertarianism begins with the individual ownership and moves to common ownership, while libertarian socialism does the reverse. Both could arrive at more or less the same place, which is more or less George's place also. Each strand of though however, has particular emphases and insights to contribute. All stand in opposition, of course, to 'right-libertarianism', one of the most shallow political philosophies ever.


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