A reply to “The Left-Libertarians — the last of an ancient breed”


Even for an eternal optimist like me it’s hard to read an article like this without falling back into a resigned anger. While I’m newer to anarchist thought in comparison to some, I’ve been “fighting the good fight” for as long as I’ve been an adult. Yet time and again, I run into “gatekeeper” columns like this, ones which tell me that my kind needs to be expunged while simultaneously speaking about the great need to find common ground. Perhaps this will become another case of speaking to the wind, but I feel the need to do just that. If nothing else, the wind at least howls in reply.

What brought me here was a curious question I had: what does Peter Lamborn Wilson think of Ron Paul? I have good familiarity and great admiration for both of these men, so I wanted to hear his opinion. Part of why is because of the subject of this essay, but I’ll get to that below. I wasn’t able to find any good answer to this question, but I did find this piece. As is often the case with arguments like these, I don’t know where to begin.

For starters, it makes me wonder just how much the author knows about Ron Paul. He goes on about how we should abandon his version of libertarianism in favor of the more fruitful places that the left and right can find common ground. Then he lists a number of policy areas in which he doesn’t mention (for whatever reason) that, in mainstream politics, Paul is second to none. “Opposing the surveillance state, Internet censorship, the war on drugs” are just some of the areas in which Paul has a unmatched resume, both in open advocacy and voting record. His hopeful statements about the internet being out of government control, for one, are words that one would more expect to find in “2600”. His writings on these and many other matters relating to individual freedom against the state are extensive and not hard to find.

Moving on to bring the comments of Sharon Presley into this debate, I must have had a completely different experience with libertarian culture than she has. I first joined the Libertarian Party in the mid-90s, and I can tell you that one consistent throughout that time is that Ron Paul’s name is almost always mentioned with something close to a hallowed reverence. If there is an “average libertarian” that doesn’t feel represented by Paul I have met very few of them.

And yet the greater point here, which might be considered ironic in the context of this discussion, is that far from being “right-wing”, it is easy to make the case that Paul is the greatest crossover politician our generation has seen. It’s again not mentioned that Paul’s first run for president was actually as the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 1988 (a fact which makes the notion that he doesn’t represent the LP’s principles hard to maintain). In 2008 and then especially in 2012, Paul’s support was demonstrably across the political spectrum in a way that I can think of no modern precedent for. One interesting example of this is that in the New Hampshire primaries, Paul took second place in both the Republican and Democratic contests. One cannot easily brush this kind of support aside as the work of a few “leftist talking heads”. In fact, it’s an easy claim to back up that the biggest reason that Paul did not receive the Republican Party nomination is that he was considered too “leftist” by his own party: his civil liberties stances combined with his stalwart opposition to the modern state of eternal warfare was too much for the Romney reactionaries to stomach.

I go at lengths here partially because I’m very familiar with his history, and I’ve watched his name misrepresented in just about every direction over the years. However, this essay isn’t meant to focus on him, but rather to use this disagreement as a springboard to a greater discussion that hopefully will truly include all anti-statists, not just make allusions to “inclusion” while erecting unbridgeable barriers.

In the earliest days of my own activism I considered the then-resurgent gay rights movement of the early 90’s. There was, at the time, a very large march on Washington DC being planned. What went along with it was a very large debate over its platform. Such disagreements are common, as I’ve learned over the years. But what I was faced with was an early example of exactly the type of ideological “gatekeeping” I referred to above.

Abortion, the issue that always seems to rear its ugly head, was one of the items listed in the official platform.  This alone sparked a firestorm.  Those in favor of its inclusion argued that it shared a commonality in the terms of bodily privacy.  While there is undeniably a fair point to be made here, the greater point was that this was still a separate political issue, as evidenced by the fact that there was, and still are, gay/lesbian pro-life factions (however much smaller than their counterparts they are).  And by the time the platform continued on to eventually include bi-lingual education, it became clear to me what was happening.  In addition to ostensible purposes of this march, this was also meant to create a homogenous political front designed to force everyone in favor of a certain policy issue to also toe the line on everything that the dominant gay-rights political activist paradigm of the moment approved of.  When people like me complained, the answer I eventually got was “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”  So leave I did.

Now twenty years later when my views have evolved to full-on anarchism, I see that what I faced then has not gone away.  I have no problems with being defensive against intrusions that are so far out from a term’s original meaning that they turn them on their head.  But is that really what is happening here?  So, what, now you can’t be a libertarian unless you are in favor of OSHA, public education and Medicaid, and if you don’t like it, you can use that same door you walked out of 20 years ago, bub?  In the libertarian circles in which I’ve run you would have an easier time getting people to accept the opposite contention, that one *cannot* be in favor of these things and still call themselves libertarian.

Mr. Weinberg correctly stated that  “state “socialism” inevitably degenerates into capitalism”.  So I don’t know how it is that he can then turn around and defend some of the modern forms of state socialism that have done exactly that.  45 years into the Medi-revolution health care costs are soaring without stopping for breath, and the medical industry is rivaling in power all those that came before it (it’s often joked here in Pittsburgh that we should rename the city “UPMC” for how much the health monolith has seemingly taken over everything).  That efforts to use the government to “protect” the 99% often becomes (nay, usually quietly even starts out as) a tool for corporations to wield more control is, again, well-documented enough that I can’t believe Mr. Weinberg is not familiar with this to the point that he’s willing to slam the door on anyone who suggests it (along with one of the two politicians today to be openly stating this, Dennis Kucinich being the other).

Yet this exclusion calling itself inclusion is exactly what I’m looking at.  Again.  If I had known that Mr. Wilson would have been speaking in NYC last year I might have found some way to try to get there.  I’m relatively newer to his works (“only” having heard of him and read of him for 10 years), but in that time he has become may favorite modern philosopher.  Except possibly for some items in this reply, I have found nothing in his words or lectures to find any major disagreement with (and even there the emphasis needs to be on “possibly”.  After all, this is the man who said in TAZ, “In every single ‘issue’ cooked up for ‘debate’ in the patternbook of the Spectacle, both sides are invariably full of shit. The ‘abortion issue’ is no exception.”, a view which closely mirrors my own).

Yet now I have to ask myself: would I be welcome there?  Would I be shown that door again before I even got the chance to walk back through it?  Or maybe would I be politely accepted while there were murmurs of one of “them” in our midst?  All the while talking about the need to build bridges?

Let me add that not only do I fully believe in this ideal myself, but that I highly value the left-libertarian position and all of its near-synonyms in our current discourse.  I do agree with you that right-libertarians can be problematic in their insistent acceptance of all things capitalist (as if it were the same thing as truly free markets) and in agitation towards minority groups, whether or not this is expressed in specific policy suggestions or hard-wired into any political theory.  It was because of left-libertarians that I first became acquainted with the works of Henry George, to give one important example.  I fully believe that to the extent that there is anything useful to be gained from the endless left-right war, it is as a constant challenge to each other to find flaws and improve their worldview.  And let me make it very, very clear: I do identify as either left or right.  I am an Anarchist Without Adjectives.

But is that good enough for you?  Or should I take my wares elsewhere, and leave you to your own definition of “bridge-building”, one which makes no sense to me, while I listen to you talk about protecting other terms from definitions that make no sense to you?

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