Friday, September 02, 2005

A little to the left


I've been remiss in documenting, for my readers' edification, the developing discussion about "the libertarian left." Time for a small start at a corrective.

Claire Wolfe offers some perceptive comments on the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left and links to an interesting article by James Leroy Wilson.

Wally Conger, as usual, clears up the water more than he muddies it, which is about as much as can be reasonably asked of any writer.

Brad Spangler notes that it's much more a matter of alliances within the political spectrum shifting than a matter of his beliefs changing.

All kinds of good stuff out there. One good way to keep up with it is simply to navigate the BLL blogring, either from the navigation code you see in Kn@ppster's sidebar or by going to the omnibus site list (23 sites and counting!).

Of course, I've been doing some thinking of my own on what it means to be a "left libertarian," and I have some ideas and observations that might or might not seem relevant. Let's see where this goes.

The left is adaptive. The right is adoptive. Or, as Mark Twain put it, "the radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them." The right looks at the status quo, concludes that it is -- in the words of Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss -- "the best of all possible worlds," and strives to preserve it. The left looks at the status quo, concludes that it is imperfect, and strives to replace it with something better.

The period of nominal libertarian alignment with the right was a direct result of the victory of the left in the 18th and 19th centuries. Classical liberalism and its doctrine of freedom smashed monarchy and feudalism and made the Industrial Revolution -- and therefore modern civilization as we know it -- possible. The "conservatives" looked upon what the "liberals" had created, saw that it was good, and sought to freeze society in that mold. Meanwhile, of course, the left had moved off in other directions, many of them (but not all of them) much less amenable to liberty.

Over the course of the 20th century, libertarians tended to find themselves nominally aligned with the political right because the status quo the right was defending was the rapidly eroding status quo of the past ... a status quo of freedom.

Society moved on. As that status quo of freedom eroded, it was replaced piecemeal by a new one ... and as each anti-liberty plank fell into place, the right moved into position to fulfill its historical function of, as William F. Buckley puts it, "standing athwart history yelling stop."

The piecemeal nature of this erosion and rebuilding, of course, obscured affiliations. The right did not abandon freedom in one day, any more than the left did. The left moved in an authoritarian direction one step at a time, and the right followed three paces behind -- ten years, twenty years -- in adopting the prior innovations of the left and demanding that they be kept, in pristine form, as societal dogma.

That process has still not ended by any means ... and that process, as such, presents problems for libertarians who wish to anchor their principles somewhere on the traditionally accepted political spectrum. At what point does what the right defends cease to be acceptable to libertarians? And at what point does the adaptive process of the left begin to turn in directions which libertarians might want to see society move in?

The right values stasis. The left does not -- it values change, or to put a prettier face on it, "progress." Libertarians value liberty. To the extent that libertarians categorize themselves in terms of left and right, we can only align ourselves with the right when the status quo is liberty. Otherwise, we are naturally part of the left, doing our damnedest to steer its adaptive, "progressive" impulse in the direction of freedom.

I finally chose to accept the "left libertarian" label only recently, based primarily on my perception that the status quo created by the left over the last 70 years and now defended with vigor by the right is at the point of crumbling. The left has handed that status quo to the right and is gallivanting off in search of new directions in which to lead society. I believe that libertarians are more fit, both by principle and inclination, to participate in the quest for a new liberty on the left than in the defense of an old creeping tyranny on the right.

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