I’m fond of saying that libertarianism is a branch of the left. My argument is very simply Murray Rothbard’s argument in “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty“. I don’t think I’d change or qualify a word of that essay. If you haven’t read it, I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.
Roughly, Rothbard’s argument goes as follows: traditionally, the left has always been the movement positioned against the ruling class. The right was the monarchs and aristocrats, and their goal was maintaining and enriching their own power. The left fought against them. And things could really be as simple as that. But the advent of socialism created a complication: socialists have leftist goals (distributing welfare among the people), but propose to achieve them through rightist means (state power).
Rothbard thus sees socialism as a “middle of the road” movement: left aims, right means. Libertarianism, on the other hand, opposes both the goal of consolidated welfare for a privileged class, and the means of state power. Thus libertarianism should rightly be seen as the modern iteration of the anti-unjust-power tradition of the left.
This is all well and good. I still buy this. This is how I personally think of “libertarianism” and “the left”.
The contemporary “Left”
But I have a confession to make. I know full well that that’s not how most people interpret these words. “Libertarianism” – although it’s burdened by unfortunate associations with racism, corporate privilege, constitutionalism, and other unsavory dispositions (how fair/accurate those associations are is a subject for another post) – I think people more or less see as I do.…
It was five of us in the car. We were driving up to our annual debauchery cabin in rural Vermont, where nine others would join us for the weekend. Our driver – I’ll call him Carl – is a character. As we crossed the state line into Vermont, he yelled:
“Nigger faggot cunt purple piss shit faggot shitter fuck cunt faggot faggot faggot faggot!”
This wasn’t unexpected. Carl loves his expletives. He loves saying and doing what is forbidden. Not to piss anyone off. It’s just part of his shtick. His timing was celebratory: Vermont is our safe place to not give a fuck. For most of us, that means getting drunk, stoned, and playing mafia. For Carl, it’s that plus getting to yell “nigger faggot!”
But there was a difference this time around. Among the five of us in the car was Zach. Zach is a newish friend. This was his first time coming to the cabin and meeting most of the usual group, including Carl. Zach also happens to be gay.
It occurred to me that we really should have warned Zach. Too late for that. Here we were, in the car, and Carl was doing his thing. Should I interject? What could I say? “Hey, Carl, just so you know, uhh, Zach is gay.” Or, “Hey, Zach, umm, Carl is — well, you’ll see, he’s harmless really…”
You might wonder why it took me so long to address this. Why haven’t I talked to Carl about this before?…
What still amazes me is how much partisan reaction I see. Even among radical libertarians and pacifists, the attitude tends to be one of two kinds:
“This was terrible, and both parties are at fault, but what do you expect when leftists are involved?”
“I’m so disappointed at antifas for using violence and lowering themselves to the level of alt-righters. This isn’t the way to fight the good fight!”
Distinguishing between alt-righters and antifas is a bit like distinguishing between the Mets and the Red Sox. If you’re deeply enmeshed in the sport, the distinction is obvious. They’re completely different teams! But if you take just a slightly wider perspective, there’s no difference at all. It’s two groups playing exactly the same game in exactly the same way. The only noticeable difference is the colors they wear.
Alt-righters and antifas represent the exact same phenomenon. They’re groups of young, loud, violent thugs who want to control society, culture, and the way we live our lives. Both use moral indignation as their fuel. At their best, alt-righters use the language of free enterprise and free speech. At their best, antifas use the language of anti-fascism and social justice. These buzzwords are just flags. The game is control and subordination.
The other important thing to realize: they exist for each other. Just watch the videos of the altercations. Have you ever seen people so desperately pulled toward each other? So enraptured in desire for each other’s bodies?…