Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Different Left Libertarianism

In a recent post, I distinguished three different things called "left-libertarianism" and focused my comments on the third. One of the comments to that post pointed me to an account by Roderick Long, who considers himself a left libertarian but does not fit very well into my categories. Unlike the version I discussed earlier, this one is reasonably well defined. Like libertarianism in general, it is defined by a set of conclusions, not by the particular arguments that lead to them.

Roderick's definition has two parts. First, he thinks that on a range of issues that libertarians divide on, he accepts the alternative closer to left wing views. He lists nine. I agree with him on between five and seven of them—I am unsure about what he means by "pro-secularism" or "anti-big business." I am neutral on one, being neither for nor against intellectual property. The only one where I definitely disagree with him is his "anti-punishment" position. I have no clear position on capital punishment, but think it makes sense for some forms of punishment to exist in a legal system.

The other part of his self-definition of left-libertarianism is agreeing with people on the left about a variety of issues not obviously political, for instance that race and gender are "largely social constructs." I disagree with that one and probably with some of the others.

Roderick's description of his position reminds me of several people who have come to something close to his position from what I think is the other direction—although I do not know his history well enough to be sure it is the other direction.  They think of themselves as leftists but have been convinced by, or worked out for themselves, enough of the libertarian argument to be in some sense libertarians. Examples would be Cass Sunstein, who sometimes describes himself as a libertarian, and Larry Lessig, whom I have occasionally tried to persuade that he should. 

I discussed my views of them here four years back, when explaining why I then preferred Obama to McCain. Sunstein was actually in the Obama administration for a while, but has now returned to his usual profession of converting trees into journal articles; I look forward to his account of his experiences in government when and if he provides it.


Cristian Vimer said...

His most visible disagreement with Clinton is over her plan to force everyone to buy health insurance. He appears uncomfortable with that degree of coercion, even though he is willing to use the less direct version—taxation to subsidize the insurance that he thinks people ought to have.

I guess this is what he just did, right? But I agree with you, I would have voted for him over McCain.

GL said...

i am REALLY sorry this is off topic but i think this may interest David Friedman very much:


is this anarcho-capitalism?

Dan The Misanthrope said...

I guess you could add agorism as a form of left-wing libertarianism.

Glen Whitman said...

I'm surprised to hear you classify Sunstein as libertarian-ish. He did invent the term "libertarian paternalism," but if you dig deep into his work, it becomes apparent that he's not very libertarian at all. His entire intellectual framework is deeply statist. He does share some positions with libertarians, but so do most liberals and most conservatives. The only sense in which he is more libertarian than the typical liberal or conservative is that his overlap with libertarians is idiosyncratic.

Here is a blog post in which I address Sunstein & Thaler's peculiar usage of terms like "libertarian," "coercive," and "choice" in the context of libertarian paternalism:


(Sunstein & Thaler's definition of libertarian *sounds* reasonable until you think about it carefully; to see its flaw, read through to the last paragraph.)

And here is an article by Dan Klein that is mostly about libertarian paternalism, but which on p. 267 connects Sunstein's peculiar usage of terms to his overall statist mindset, as exemplified in his book with Stephen Holmes:


It's hard for a libertarian to read any key passage from the Holmes/Sunstein book without being repulsed.

Unknown said...

It's amazing how much you misread Obama, David.

He ran opposed to an individual mandate, and then signed one.

He seemed open to vouchers and marijuana decriminalization, and turned out to be in the pocket of the teacher's unions and increased raids on medical mj dispensaries.

He was the anti-war candidate and opened a new conflict in Libya while starting (or continuing) a (formerly) covert drone assassination program.

He's ultimately proved to be the worst of both worlds. The saddest part is that I don't think McCain or Romney would have been any better.