Currently viewing the tag: "left-libertarian"

On Friday at 9 pm, I am going to moderate a talk between Walter Block and Sheldon Richman. The topic of discussion is left libertarianism, what that is, and why some people choose that term to describe their political beliefs. If you have a question or an issue you’d like me to bring up, please leave it here. Regardless, you can — I believe — watch the talk her on Friday at 9. So, you know, do that.

Check it out:

Lucy Steigerwald chats with Cory Massimino, econ student and writer, about his journey to left-libertarianism, what the heck that is, and why he doesn’t want to kick anyone out of the big liberty tent.

by Sunil060902/Wikipedia commons

by Sunil060902/Wikipedia commons

Below is a guestpost by Cory Massimino, left libertarian and friend to The Stag Blog. Since left vs. right, thick vs. thin, humanitarian vs. brutalist debates have been popular within libertarian circles lately, The Stag Blog decided to dive in. Have something to say? Comment below. Want to call Cory a filthy commie in more words than a comment? Email me ( and add your voice to the debate! — LS

Recently the topic of left libertarianism has become a popular point of debate on certain social media. Despite there being more left libertarians than at any time in recent memory, a lot of libertarians (and other people) are still using the term incorrectly.

Left libertarianism has historically been used to refer to a wide spectrum of political (or apolitical to be more exact) ideologies. I would like to clarify what the label most accurately means in contemporary discourse and where the people who identify as such are drawing from. I would also like to outline the basic views of modern left libertarians — despite it still being an extremely broad spectrum — and to dispel some of the most common myths.

What Left Libertarianism Is

Left libertarianism is the distinct version of libertarianism that integrates traditionally leftist values with libertarian anti-state values.

Those leftist values include, but are not limited to:

Of course left libertarians are still libertarians, and historically libertarian values are also important. Those include, but aren’t limited to:

In this vein, left libertarians oppose all kinds of state taxation, regulation, subsidies, and embrace competition in all areas of the economy:

In this sense, left-libertarianism continues the tradition started by the 19th century individualist anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Voltairine de Cleyre, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Hodgskin, and others. This strain of libertarianism is seen today by the likes of the Center for a Stateless Society and in the work of Gary Chartier, Roderick Long, Kevin Carson, Sheldon Richman, James Tuttle, Samuel Edward Konkin, Anthony Gregory*, Chris Mathew Sciabarra, Karl Hess, Charles Johnson, and others.

Left libertarianism is ultimately about rejecting authoritarianism: whether it is via the direct use of coercion like when a politician extorts people every April 15th; or whether it is via economic subjugation like when a boss yells inane orders at his employee who has no other viable option; or whether it is via cultural oppression like when a husband mistreats his wife and gets away with it.

What Left Libertarianism Is Not

There is no shortage of confusion and mischaracterization about what left libertarianism actually is. Here are some of the most popular myths set straight:

1. Left libertarians are not communists. As stated above, left libertarians support robust property rights, whether in the form of Lockean/Rothbardian rights or in the Mutualist sense. Either way, left libertarians are staunch advocates of private property and markets because of their perceived moral foundations and/or their good social consequences.

2. Left libertarians are not corporate apologists. Despite supporting the complete abolition of economic intervention by the state, left libertarians are strongly anti-corporation. In fact, it is because of their anti-statism that they are anti-corporation. Left libertarians identity modern corporate domination as being strictly tied to the state and without government granted privileges, corporations would be much less powerful and possibly go away completely.

3. Left libertarians are not “bleeding heart libertarians.” Though some of the bloggers over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians identify as left libertarians, not all left libertarians are BHLers. Historically, left libertarianism has been associated with the libertarian anarchist tradition. It would be a broad view of left libertarianism that included non-anarchists (there are a few BHL anarchists, however). In short, bleeding heart libertarianism can be a kind of left libertarianism, but they are not synonymous.

4. Left libertarians can be Austrian. There are many left libertarians, such as Roderick Long, that identify as Austrian school. There is nothing contradictory about embracing praxeology, the subjective theory of value, Austrian business cycle theory, etc. in addition to left libertarianism. They are not mutually exclusive.

5. Left libertarians are not statists. While left libertarians oppose certain cultural and social practices, that doesn’t mean they want to combat them with force. Despite aligning with radical feminism, left libertarians don’t want to use the state to combat patriarchy. In fact, they often view state power and patriarchy as reinforcing structures. Left libertarians are still ultimately anti-statist and embrace the non-aggression principle. Supporting something doesn’t mean advocating the state doing it. Left libertarians see lots of room for voluntary social pressure, protests, boycotts, mutual aid, and other forms of direct action in a free society.

I have tried to clarify and briefly explain the core components of the modern left libertarian ideology. I hope readers have found my summation useful and recognize the myths when they see them. For a more comprehensive, and much better written, essay on left libertarianism, see here.

Cory Massimino studies economics at Seminole State University and blogs for Students For Liberty. He spends his time ranting about the government and educating people on basic economics. Follow him on Twitter

* Not if I keep arguing with Gregory, damn it! — LS

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

Below is a guest post by Cory Massimino, a blogger for Students for Liberty. Prison abolitionism is an intriguing idea, one that interests me but I have yet to explore in depth. Unafraid, Massimino goes there and argues that prisons — even for the violent individuals who may “deserve it” — have no place in the ideal libertarian society.

Let us know how you feel in the comments.

The prison system as we know it is commonly regarded as disgusting, brutal, unethical, and the antithesis to anything and everything libertarians stand for. America’s prisons are funded with money expropriated from tax payers, awarded to politically connected prison contractors, to cage human beings largely charged with only harming themselves. Every step of the way, the modern prison system is structured in such a way that benefits politicians, police unions, and prison contractors, at the expense of tax payers, minorities, harmless drug users, and others guilty of the state-created fairy tale known as “victimless crimes.”

What would an ideal prison system look like? Libertarians and others with a yearning for justice suspect it would be a much smaller institution, in place only to put away those in society that are truly guilty of wrong doing, such as murders, thieves, and rapists. They don’t want it to be abused by politicians, unions, and crony capitalists. They want it to be a truly blind system, that doesn’t disproportionately put away minorities and provides true justice. While I share these admirable goals, I believe the prison system should not only be shrunken, but abolished all together on both ethical and pragmatic grounds.

Libertarians are dedicated to the idea of non-aggression. We believe the initiation of force is wrong, and the only time aggression is justified is in self-defense. While this is the core of libertarian ethics, it is not the whole story.

Suppose I just don’t like your face and decide to step on your toe. I have aggressed against you and violated your rights. Since you are now justified in retaliating, would it be ethically allowed for you to shoot me? You are allowed to retaliate, but that doesn’t mean any and all actions you take are justified. While you would not exactly be initiating force against me, your act of retaliation (shooting me) is not proportional to my use of force (stepping on your toe), and is, therefore, not ethically allowed. While we must refrain from initiating force, we must also refrain from using a disproportionate amount of retaliatory force. If you shot me for stepping on your toe, you would be acting disproportionately, and that counts as aggression.

It follows then, that libertarians are dedicated to a strict use of the term “self-defense.” We can act aggressive insofar as that aggression is needed to defend ourselves or make ourselves whole. For example, if you stole my cell phone, I can capture you and force you to give my cell phone back. If you had lost or destroyed my cell phone before I captured you, you would be ethically required to make me whole to the best of your ability; to pay restitution. Depending on certain cultural and legal norms, you would have to buy me a new cell phone, or give me the monetary equivalent of my cell phone, or any other similar actions.

This has certain implications for the use of punishment in society. In fact, it means coercion for the sake of punishment is morally unjustified, since punishing someone for the sake of punishment goes beyond acting out of mere self-defense. While we may have inclinations to act out of revenge or payback, we can’t justify coercion in the name of solely inflicting suffering because that would be a disproportionate use of force. The only justification for the continuous restraining of people, like a prison does, would be in the case of people who just won’t stop committing crimes; repeat offenders. A society based on restitution and making the victim whole, rather than punishment is the realization of non-aggression and proportionality.

What do we make of the pragmatic objections to a restitution-based, prison-free justice system? The most common objection is what do we do with criminals? We must acknowledge that in a free society, the amount of “criminals” would be dramatically less than it is now. The prison system cages millions of non-violent drug offenders that would be free to do what they wish to their own body in a free society.

Okay, but what about the current prisoners who did commit a real crime, such as murder, rape or theft? What do we do with them? No doubt, people who commit these crimes, under most circumstances, are despicable, wretched individuals. But we must acknowledge that many crimes are done in the heat of the moment to people the perpetrator personally knows. Committing a single crime is not, in itself, a sign that you will commit another one or that you are an ongoing threat. Simple restitution seems appropriate in the cases where people are not expected to be repeat offenders.

Alright, what, then, do we do with true criminals — the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, that are repeat offenders? I strongly suspect that private companies, instead of spending money to build large buildings to house this small number of repeat offenders, would find it profitable to use a system similar to that of house arrest. It would be more efficient to use technology and guards on call to restrain people to their homes than to transport them all to a single, large location.

Furthermore, restitution would act as a deterrent for committing criminal acts and some kind of insurance scheme described by economist Robert Murphy in Chaos Theory, which would be used to determine and know people’s criminal history, could create incentives to remain peaceful through charging higher or lower premiums.

Libertarians ought not only object to the modern, crony infested prison system that commits heinous crimes on a daily basis, but also support the abolition of prisons all together. Taken to its logical conclusions, the non-aggression principle and the principle of proportionality require the end to all prisons and pragmatic considerations only reinforce our case against them. Prisons have no place in a free society.

Who will build the prisons in Libertopia? No one.

Cory Massimino studies economics at Seminole State University and blogs for Students For Liberty. He spends his time ranting about the government and educating people on basic economics. Follow him on Twitter