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"Left-vs.-Right" is not the only false paradigm!

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Author Topic: "Left-vs.-Right" is not the only false paradigm!  (Read 4886 times)
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« on: August 25, 2010, 06:25:18 pm »

Below are two excellent essays, both written from a progressive libertarian angle:


Ethics Beyond Left and Right: Progressive Freedom-oriented Policies

by Mike O'Mara

Many prominent advocates of rationalism and freethought have gone beyond "left" and "right," by promoting progressive, freedom-oriented policies as rational, practical alternatives to bureaucratic governments controlled by special interests. Governments dominated by special interests are typically inefficient and wasteful, and tend to enact counterproductive laws favoring the few while harming most citizens, resulting in poverty and extreme inequality.

Among those who have advocated such alternative policies are Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill. Other more recent rationalists and freethinkers have endorsed similar progressive, freedom-oriented policies as a more practical, humane alternative to the failed policies of "left" and "right."

This essay will discuss two wings of the movement promoting freedom: progressive advocates of freedom and conservative advocates of freedom. Another term that could be used to describe progressive advocates of freedom might be "progressive libertarians," but use of the term "libertarian" is problematic. From about the 1950s, many people who are fundamentally economic conservatives have been claiming the term "libertarian," although they distort the original meaning of the word. While such conservative "libertarians" do tend to support civil liberties, they confuse economic freedom with economic conservatism, an outlook based on very different principles. As will be shown, genuine economic freedom requires freedom from corporate welfare (subsidies and other favoritism to corporations), freedom from policies that cause concentrated ownership of land and natural resources, and freedom from other policies that involve favoritism to special interests, leading to poverty for the many and to extreme inequality between the rich and the poor.

Many people are surprised to hear that the word "liberal" originally meant the same as "libertarian." Both come from the word "liberty." "Liberals" used to emphasize the need to limit the power of government, because, as the old and wise saying goes, "power corrupts." Liberals used to recognize that we need to limit the amount of power we give to politicians and government. The kind of liberals in that original tradition are now called "classical liberals." But too many of today's liberals seem to have forgotten the point that power corrupts, resulting in a modern liberalism that bears little resemblance to classical liberalism and its emphasis on liberty and suspicion of authority.

Although the terms "progressive libertarian" or "progressive classical liberal" might come close to describing the tradition of liberty as advocated by such progressive advocates of freedom as Paine and Mill, the common misuse of the words "libertarian" and "liberal" requires correction. This article will avoid these terms and will focus on the main points that distinguish progressive advocates of freedom from conservative advocates of freedom.

The Ethics of Government Power

Liberty is neither "left-wing" nor "right-wing." Instead of talking about "left" or "right," advocates of liberty have found it helpful to understand liberty in terms of "up" or "down, where "up" is toward individual liberty, and "down" is toward authoritarianism. Advocates of liberty base their ethics on the principle that no person should have the right to violate another person's freedom by initiating force against them or dealing fraudulently with them. Liberty is the opposite of authoritarianism.

The Bill of Rights was written by advocates of the ethics of individual liberty, and that document reflects the recognition that the form of government most likely to protect liberty is a constitutional democracy, a type of constitutional republic which places limits on the power of government. These limits are specified in the Bill of Rights.

Advocates of liberty insist that power corrupts, which is why governmental powers must be limited. George Washington expressed this view by observing that "Government is not beauty, it is not eloquence -- it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master." Every law made by government is ultimately backed or enforced by police power -- the use of government force. We should therefore be very careful how far we go in handing over power to politicians and government. Governments lacking proper limitations on their power can and do use the force of law and police power to make people do what the government decides they need to do or refrain from doing, including what they are allowed to say, publish, drink, smoke, believe, choose for entertainment, and how they may spend their money and live their lives.

Progressive advocates of freedom have pointed out that seeking to maximize liberty is the most practical approach to social issues. Liberty is like a truce: an agreement to allow people to have the right to freedom of religion, belief, and lifestyle, the right to keep the products of their own labor, the right to have access to the earth's natural resources (more about that in a moment), and the right to freely exercise one's values and preferences as long as one does not violate the same freedoms which others should also have. A progressive system of liberty is the most benevolent system because it not only prohibits violent forms of oppression and persecution, it also prevents economic oppression that arises from the concentration of economic power in special interests that seek governmental support for policies inconsistent both with liberty and efficiency.

No nation currently comes close to being consistent about upholding liberty, although some countries at least have more freedom than others. For example, the U.S. has usually tended to have more civil liberties than most other countries, but on the other hand, it still has many violations of civil liberties and many policies that violate economic freedom by favoring special interests.

The Two Wings of the Freedom Movement

As mentioned earlier, since about the 1950s, the word "libertarian" has been increasingly used by people who are really economic conservatives. Although they support the civil liberties specified in the Bill of Rights, they promote a distorted version of economic liberty. Many conservative advocates of freedom are unconcerned with cutting corporate welfare or avoiding favoritism to special interests, although some of them do speak out against such favoritism as a violation of economic freedom. The biggest difference between conservative advocates of freedom and progressive advocates of freedom is over the question of concentrated ownership of land and natural resources, including oil, mineral deposits, valuable urban land, and TV and radio airwaves, which are also natural resources.

Progressive advocates of freedom have emphasized that economic freedom requires limitations on the concentrated ownership of land and natural resources, since such concentrated ownership results in concentrated control over the rest of the economy. These ideas are found in the writings of Paine, Jefferson and Mill, and can also be found in the writings of Benjamin Franklin, Henry George, and Leo Tolstoy. More recently, eight Nobel Prize winning economists have advocated similar policies. Current organizations promoting a progressive idea of freedom include the Democratic Freedom Caucus and the Banneker Center for Economic Justice.

Conservative advocates of freedom include the Cato Institute and the Libertarian Party, which have both long avoided the basic issue of concentrated ownership of land and natural resources. The University of Chicago has also long been a center for the conservative wing of the freedom movement, and most Chicago School economists avoid these crucial issues. Later in this article, I'll have more to say about the differences between the two wings of the freedom movement.


Greens and Libertarians

The yin and yang of our political future

by Dan Sullivan
(originally appearing in Green Revolution, Volume 49, No. 2, summer, 1992)

Over the past three decades, people have become dissatisfied with both major parties, and two new minor parties are showing promise of growth and success. They are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. These are not the only new parties, but they are the only ones that promise to attract people from across the political spectrum. Most other small parties are either clearly to the left of the Democrats or to the right of the Republicans. Such parties would have a place in a system that accommodates multiple parties, but are doomed to failure in a two-party system.

The Libertarian Party is made up mostly of former conservatives who object to the Republican Party's penchant for militarism and its use of government to entrench powerful interests and shield them from market forces. The Green Party is made up mostly of former liberals who object to the Democratic Party's penchant for centralized bureaucracy and its frequent hypocritical disregard for natural systems of ecological balance, ranging from the human metabolism and the family unit to the ecology of the planet.

Both minor parties attempt to adhere to guidelines that are much clearer than those of either major party. Libertarians focus on rights of individuals to control their own lives, limited only by the prohibition against interference with the rights of others. These rights include their right to the fruits of their labor and the right to freely associate and form contracts. They advocate limiting government to protecting those basic rights.

Greens advocate ten key values (ecological wisdom, grass roots democracy, social justice, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics, post-patriarchal values, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and sustainable future focus as a guide for government as well as for their own party organization.)

These different guidelines underscore basic differences between the approaches of the two parties and their members. Libertarians tend to be logical and analytical. They are confident that their principles will create an ideal society, even though they have no consensus of what that society would be like. Greens, on the other hand, tend to be more intuitive and imaginative. They have clear images of what kind of society they want, but are fuzzy about the principles on which that society would be based.

Ironically, Libertarians tend to be more utopian and uncompromising about their political positions, and are often unable to focus on politically winnable proposals to make the system more consistent with their overall goals. Greens on the other hand, embrace immediate proposals with ease, but are often unable to show how those proposals fit in to their ultimate goals.

The most difficult differences to reconcile, however, stem from baggage that members of each party have brought with them from their former political affiliations. Most Libertarians are overly hostile to government and cling to the fiction that virtually all private fortunes are legitimately earned. Most Greens are overly hostile to free enterprise and cling to the fiction that harmony and balance can be achieved through increased government intervention.

Republicans and Democrats will never reconcile these differences, for whatever philosophical underpinnings they have are overwhelmed by vested interests that dominate their internal political processes. These vested interests thrive on keeping the distorted hostilities alive and suppressing any philosophical perspectives that might lead to rational resolution of conflict.

But because minor parties have no real power, they are still primarily guided by values and principles. Committed to pursuing truth above power, they should be more willing to challenge prejudices and expose flaws in their current positions.

There is nothing mutually exclusive between the ten key values of the Greens and the principles of the Libertarians. By reconciling these values and principles, we can bring together people whose allegiance to truth is stronger than their biases.

This could be of great value to both parties, partly because any new party that wants to break into a two-party system has to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters. But even more importantly, each party needs attributes the other has to offer. Libertarians need the intuitive awareness of the Greens to keep them from losing touch with people's real values, and Greens need the analytical prowess of the Libertarians to keep them from indulging in emotional self-deception. Libertarians can teach Greens about the spirit of enterprise and the wonders of economic freedom, and Greens can teach Libertarians about the spirit of compassion and the wonders of community cohesion.

Reconciliation is absolutely necessary. Even if one of the parties could rise to power, it could do great harm by implementing its current agenda in disregard for the perspective of the other. Moreover, proposals that violate values and principles of one party often violate those of the other. If members of both groups come together to discuss each other's proposals, they are likely not only to find areas of agreement, but to find conflicts between each group's proposals and its own principles. If this happens, and the two parties work in concert, they stand a real chance of overtaking one of the major parties and drastically altering the political power structure.

Many third parties have had important impacts on American politics, but the last time a political party was dislodged was when the Republicans knocked the ailing Whig party out of contention over 130 years ago. It should be noted that the Republicans were a coalition of several minor parties with seemingly differing agendas, including the Abolitionist Party, the Free-Soil Party, the American (or Know-Nothing) Party, disaffected northern Democrats, and most of the members of the dying Whig Party. A similar coalition of parties has a much better chance of repeating this success today.

Anyone who looks at current national platforms of Greens and Libertarians will conclude that bringing these groups together is no easy task. For example, the Libertarian platform states dogmatically that they "oppose any and all increases in the rate of taxation or categories of taxpayers, including the elimination of deductions, exemptions, or credits in the name of 'fairness,' 'simplicity,' or 'neutrality to the free market.' No tax can ever be fair, simple, or neutral to the free market." On the other hand, the national platform of the Greens leaves one with the impression that they never met a tax they didn't like.

Yet the historical roots of the Greens and the Libertarians are quite similar. That is, early movements for alternative, intentional communities that live in harmony with nature greatly influenced, and were influenced by, anarcho-syndicalists who advanced principles now embraced by the Libertarian Party. This essay will attempt to show that the differences that have emerged are due less to stated principles and values of either group than to the baggage members have brought to each party from their liberal and conservative backgrounds.

On Conservatism and Liberalism

It is said that Libertarians have a conservative philosophy and Greens have a liberal philosophy. In reality, conservatism and liberalism are mere proclivities, and do not deserve to have the name "philosophy" attached to them. People who have more power than others are inclined to conserve it, and people who have less are inclined to liberate it. In Russia, as in feudal England, conservatives wanted more government control, as government was at the root of their power. Liberals wanted more private discretion.

In the United States today, where power has been vested in private institutions, conservatives want less government and liberals want more. What passes for conservative and liberal "philosophies" is merely a set of rationalizations that power-mongers hide behind.

Conservative support for traditional approaches and liberal support for new ways of doing things also follows from the desire for power. Traditional approaches have supported those now in power, and change threatens to disrupt that power. Changes are often embraced by conservatives once they prove unable to disrupt the underpinnings of power.

For Greens and Libertarians to rise above the power-based proclivities of liberalism and conservatism, they must focus on their roots and reconcile their positions with their philosophical underpinnings.

On the Roots of the Greens

In The Green Alternative, a popular book among American Greens, author Brian Tokar states that "the real origin of the Green movement is the great social and political upheavals that swept the United States and the entire Western world during the 1960's." As part of that upheaval, I remember the charge by elders that we acted as though "we had invented sex." Mr. Tokar acts as though we had invented Green values.

Actually, all the innovative and vital features of the Greens stem from an earlier Green movement. The influx of disaffected liberals to the movement since the sixties has actually imbued that movement with many features early Greens would find offensive.

This periodical, for example, has been published more or less regularly since 1943, calling for intentional communities based on holistic living, decentralism, sharing natural bounty, freedom of trade, government by consensus, privately-generated honest monetary systems and a host of other societal reforms. Yet the founder, Ralph Borsodi, wrote extensively about the evils of the state, and would clearly oppose most of the interventionist policies brought to the Green Party by disaffected liberals and socialists. The same can be said of more famous proponents of Green values, such as Emerson and Thoreau.

The Green movement grew slowly and steadily and quite apart from mainstream liberalism throughout the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, however, it became clear that the liberal ship, and even more clear that the socialist ship, was headed for the political rocks. The left had simply lost credibility, even among those who felt oppressed by the current system. Gradually at first, discouraged leftists discovered the Green movement provided a more credible platform for their positions.

Because of their excellent communications network, additional members of the left quickly discovered the Greens, embraced their values (at least superficially), joined their ranks and proceeded to drastically alter the Green agenda. For example, early Greens pushed for keeping economies more diverse and decentralized by promoting alternative, voluntary systems, and by criticizing lavish government expenditures on interstate highways, international airports, irrigation projects, and centralized bureaucracies that discriminated against small, independent entrepreneurs.

Today the National Platform of the Green Party calls for "municipalization" of industry (that is, decentralized socialism), limits on foreign trade to save American jobs (which they insist is not protectionism), and other devices to create artificial decentralization under the guiding hand of some benevolent central authority.

The influence of Greens who are fond of government intervention (referred to as "Watermelons" by more libertarian Greens) seems to be strongest at the national level and weakest within most Green local organizations. Despite the National Green Platform's resemblance to a new face on the old left, many people who are genuinely attracted to Green principles are either undermining or abandoning the left-dominated Green Party USA. Specifically, the principle of decentralism is being used to challenge the right of a national committee to dictate positions to local Greens. This is fortunate for those of us interested in a coalition of Greens and Libertarians, as reconciliation between the Green Left and libertarianism is clearly impossible.

On the Roots of the Libertarianism

The Libertarian Party was born in 1971. Like the Green Party, it has philosophical roots that extend far back into history. It emerged, however, at a time when conservatism was in decline. Just as Greens attract liberals today and are strongly influenced by the liberal agenda, Libertarians attracted conservatives and were influenced by their agenda. However, as Libertarians are more analytically rigorous, there are fewer blatant inconsistencies between their positions and their principles.

Libertarian bias tends to show up more in prioritization of issues than in any particular issue. For example, Libertarians are far more prone to complain about the capital gains tax than about many other taxes, even though there is nothing uniquely un-libertarian about that particular tax.

Many Libertarians ignore classic libertarian writings and dwell on the works of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. The classical libertarians get mere superficial attention. For example, few have read Tragedy of the Commons, but many quote the title. Specifically, they are unwilling to recognize that the ecological mishaps like those referred to in that work had been absent for centuries when almost all land was common. As with the tragedy of the reservations, commons were abused because so many people had to share access to so little land. All this was a result of government sanction, allowing vast tracts of commonly held land to be appropriated by individuals without proper compensation to those who were dispossessed of access to the earth. These facts are ignored because they cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian conservatism.

Just as contemporary Greens have fondness for government and contempt for private property that their forebears did not share, Libertarians take an extreme position on private property and have hostility to all forms of government that their philosophical predecessors did not share.

Their refusal to acknowledge natural limits to private property and their insistence of unlimited protection of property by the state is their one great departure from their predecessors and their principles. For example, they dismiss the following statement by John Locke, known as the father of private property:

    God gave the world in common to all mankind. Whenever, in any country, the proprietor ceases to be the improver, political economy has nothing to say in defense of landed property. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.

They similarly ignore Adam Smith's statement that:

    Ground rents are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.

Private ownership of the earth and its resources is the one area where Libertarians depart from their own philosophy. After all, their justification of property is in the right of individuals to the fruits of their labor. Because the earth is not a labor product, land value is not the fruit of its owner's labor. Indeed, all land titles are state-granted privileges, and Libertarians deny the right of the state to grant privileges.

Even here, Libertarians are on solid ground when they argue that freedom could not survive in a society where land tenure depended on bureaucratic discretion. They are split, however, over devices like land value taxation that would, with a minimum of bureaucracy, put the landless in a more tenable position with respect to land monopolists. Just as liberals dominate the National Greens, conservatives dominate the Libertarian position on this issue, though many Libertarians, including Karl Hess, former editor of the Libertarian Times, do not share that conservative position.

Again, this is a key issue for reconciliation. The Green tradition cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian claims that a subset of the people can claim unlimited title to the planet.

The Magic of Honest Compromise

Compromise is too often a process whereby people on each side give up what they know to be right in order to gain a supposed advantage for their interest group. What I am proposing is that each side give up supposed advantages in order to harmonize with what is right. It takes an open mind and a great deal of courage, but the results can be magnificent.


« Last Edit: August 30, 2010, 09:30:54 am by Geolibertarian » Report Spam   Logged

"For the first years of [Ludwig von] Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.” -- Richard M. Ebeling

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