All posts by Mike Wolf

Recovering from Libertarianism

I’m a former subscriber to Reason, the Economist and the Libertarian philosophy according to the  Ayn Rand and the Cato institute. These are different, which I was too ignorant to realize at the time, and are flavors of what’s called Right Libertarianism.  At least according to Wikipedia.  There’s also Left Libertarianism, which includes “Libertarian Socialism” which any right-thinking Right Libertarian would consider an oxymoron.

I recently came across a long essay by someone who has thought the subject through in a much more rigorous way that I ever did and posted it on the Internet as “The Non-Libertarian FAQ,” with the provocative sub-title “aka Why I Hate Your Freedom.” It’s nearly 30,000 words loooong, but most of it is quite readable and all of it is thought provoking.  At the end of the article he points to a refutation written to version 1 of the FAQ along with links to some other interesting resources.

Today I read something that also raises an interesting challenge to Right Libertarian thinking. Here’s a link to the entire article,  and here’s the part that I saw quoted in a web discussion that led me to the article.

In the rights-based libertarian tradition, a situation in which one group of people has no other option but to work for another group of people is called “freedom” as long as that other group of people are called “property owners” and the working class is propertyless. I call it slavery, but to right-libertarians the opposite is slavery. Any redistribution to relieve people from forced work … supposedly reduces freedom

How did these propertyless people get into the position in which they have to work for the propertied? Over a long history, property owners use the force of the legal system to force, coerce, or interfere with other people, establishing “property rights” without the consent of or compensation for the people they thereby force into a state of propertyless. Before property rights, all were free from interference to use the resources of the Earth as they wished; under the type of property rights we have today and under the ideals envisioned by right-libertarians, “property owners” are free to interfere with any use the propertyless might make of the Earth’s resources. When everything is owned by someone else, the propertyless lose so much liberty that they’re unfree to work for themselves. They’re effectively born in debt, owning their labor to the to at least one member of the group that owns property. They face interference with anything in the world they might do for themselves unless and until they accept a subordinate position to a property owner? Doesn’t that make them unfree in the most negative sense of the term?

Right-libertarians usually get around this question by definitional fiat. The interference the rich do to the poor, when they say “We own the Earth and you don’t,” simply doesn’t count. It’s not interference because it doesn’t violate your rights. You have no right to the land; therefore, you have no right to be free from laboring for the people who do, and so we don’t even call it a loss [of] freedom when [we] use the force of the legal system to maintain that situation. The poor are always born in debt, every generation owing their labor to the propertied group, but that doesn’t make them “unfree” because they have no right to be free from being born into debt. I hope this makes my allegation of right-libertarian “newspeak” clear.