In may last post, I discussed some labels used by different libertarians. Shortly after writing that post, I was on-line in a Q&A session of Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom (check it out here), and I posted a question for Tom: “What is your take on Left-Libertarianism?” Here is what he had to say:
There are two aspects to [left-libertarianism] that would distinguish it from plain old libertarianism, maybe what you might call right-libertarianism of the sort that you see with somebody like Hans Hoppe . . .
In some ways it’s just a matter of emphasis, . . . They would say that we get so caught up focusing on defending capitalism that we forget that the system we have now is not really capitalism. It’s a crony system; and so half the time we are defending practices that we ought to be condemning or we are not sensitive enough to this; or we spend too much time allegedly talking about programs that benefit the poor and how we’ve got to get rid of those . . .
The left-libertarian will often be critical of corporations, which they believe are being given special privileges by the government, which I don’t actually think is the case . . . or they think that if it weren’t for various government interventions business firms would be a lot smaller . . .
They are trying to appeal to the left by saying . . . if you want to have smaller scale economy and not such an industrial concentration, then in a pure free market that is what you would have. I’m not so sure that is the case. Maybe it is; maybe it’s not. Peter Klein says there is a whole literature on this. It’s not generally referred to by the left-libertarians.
The other thing is they tend to subscribe to what they call “thick” libertarianism, as opposed to thin. Thin libertarianism would be to say that a libertarian believes in the non-aggression principle; that you shouldn’t initiate physical aggression against a peaceful person.
But the “thick” libertarian would say: OK, but that’s not enough though; we have to favor opposition to all types of oppression, so we have to be feminists, have to be anti-racists, we have to be all this laundry list of other things. There may be merits in all those other things. That’s not the point.
The point is: Is that necessary to make you a libertarian? They would say there are other forms of oppression out there in the world and these other forms of oppression feed into statism in one way or the other, so it’s not enough just to go after the state.
I’m a “thin” libertarian. Why should we increase barriers to libertarianism? As long as you believe in the non-aggression axiom, who cares what you believe in otherwise? As long as you are not going to use violence, THAT’S the thing.
C.S. Lewis wrote, in his preface to Mere Christianity, that “mere” Christianity, in contrast to its many varieties, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant:
. . . is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.
Lewis’s “rooms” are the different Christian churches, but I believe his metaphor works better for libertarianism than it does for Christianity. “Mere” libertarianism (“thin” libertarianism) can be likened to Lewis’s great hallway. In the hallway, the non-aggression principle is accepted as the minimum standard of conduct necessary for a peaceful society. Of course there are many rooms off the hallway, beckoning to anyone who believes there is more to life than simply not-being-a-busybody. That would include just about everybody.
Left-libertarians have many admirable goals. There are people who want to encourage small, local or worker owned-businesses. There are back-to-the-land people, union people, religious people, atheists and socialists, and whatever, all of them wanting to live their lives–as best as they can–by the light that they have, united and limited by a common desire for peace.
In this sense, we are all “thick” libertarians in that we believe we are here for something more than just being “left alone,” but if we are forced to agree on the “thick” part, then we are doomed before we start.
As Tom Woods says, “Why should we increase barriers to libertarianism? As long as you believe in the non-aggression axiom, who cares what you believe in otherwise? As long as you are not going to use violence, THAT’S the thing.”
Let’s not turn anyone away from the great hallway. And then, as C.S. Lewis appealed: “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.”