What I do NOT mean by
• The Vallentyne-Otsuka-Steiner (VOS)
position that combines self-ownership
with common resource ownership (dubbed
“left-libertarianism” in the 1990s)
• The communist anarchist position
(occasionally dubbed “left-libertarianism”
in the early 1900s, but more frequently in
the 1970s
What I DO mean by
A movement
• growing out of the rapprochement of
market libertarianism and the New Left in
the 1960s and 70s, but
• having roots in the individualist anarchism
of the 19th century, and
• emerging in its current form over the past
Terminological Prolegomena
• The term “libertarian” (as “libertaire”),
designating a specific political position,
originates in 1857 with Joseph Déjacque as
term for his own communist anarchism
• By the 1880s it is also being used by marketoriented anarchists, e.g. in Benjamin
Tucker’s journal Liberty
• Nowadays French has two words for
“libertarian”: “libertaire” (Déjacquean) and
“libertarien” (market)
Terminological Prolegomena
• The term “left-libertarian” appears to
emerge as a way of differentiating
anarchist communism from market
• Hence “left-libertarian” becomes more
common as “libertarian” becomes more
• Attested as early as 1917, it’s still
uncommon before the mid-1970s
Terminological Prolegomena
• A new sense of “left-libertarian” (but still two
decades older than the VOS sense) emerges
in the 1970s
• This is the most common sense within the
libertarian movement itself
• Unlike the Déjacquean and VOS senses, this
sense refers to a form of, not an alternative
to, market libertarianism: the “left wing” of
the market libertarian movement
Terminological Prolegomena
• One early use of “leftlibertarian” in this sense: Roy
A. Childs Jr., “How Bad is the
U.S. Government?,” The
Abolitionist, May 1971
• Samuel E. Konkin III’s
“Movement of the Libertarian
Left” dates from 1978
Usual Features of Left-Libertarianism
• radical (usually anarchistic) commitment to
freed markets, private property, and laissez-faire
• opposition to hierarchical workplaces, corporate
dominance, and gross economic inequality as
evils both akin to and largely enabled by statism
• opposition to forms of social privilege such as
racism, sexism, homophobia, and cissexism, as
evils both akin to statism and standing in
relationships of mutual support with it
Usual Features of Left-Libertarianism
• orientation toward class analysis
• opposition to militarism, nationalism, and
intellectual property
• support for environmentalism and open
• preference for restitution over punishment
• strategic emphasis on education, direct
action, and building alternative institutions,
rather than electoral politics
Distinct From Bleeding-Heart
• BHL combines free markets with social justice concerns,
as do left-libertarians
• But BHL is broader; includes not only left-libertarians
(whose leftism and libertarianism reinforce each other:
fusing Rothbard with Graeber) but also liberaltarians
(whose leftism and libertarianism moderate each other:
fusing Hayek with Rawls)
Origins of Left-Libertarianism
• In one sense, left-libertarianism can be
traced back to the English Levellers of the
• But if we’re looking for a movement that is
seen, and sees itself, as a) marketlibertarian, but b) significantly to the “left”
of other market libertarians, the early 19th
century seems to be our starting point
Origins of Left-Libertarianism
• First Wave: 19th-century
individualist anarchists
• Second Wave: the libertarian /
New Left rapprochement of the
• Third Wave: the past decade
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
Crucial prehistory of left-libertarianism: the
“Industrialist”: movement
• leaders of authoritarian wing: Auguste Comte,
Henri de Saint-Simon
• leaders of libertarian wing: Charles Comte,
Charles Dunoyer, Augustin Thierry
• journal of libertarian wing: Le Censeur (18141815) and its successor, Le Censeur Européen
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
“Industrialists” anticipate Marx:
• in seeing society as the scene of a
struggle between an exploiting and an
exploited (“industrious”) class
• in looking forward to a social
transformation that will end this class
division forever
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
“Industrialists” differ from Marx:
• in seeing differential access to political
power rather than differential access to
the means of production as the crucial
enabler of exploitation
• this class division cuts across that between
capitalists and workers
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
“Industrialists” differ from one another:
• authoritarian wing’s solution: replace
aristocrats in the top political slots with
representatives of the industrious class
(anticipates Marx’s dictatorship of the
• libertarian wing’s solution: dismantle the
political hierarchy itself rather than merely
changing the personnel (anticipates Marx’s
withering of the state)
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
• States are “monstrous aggregations ...
formed and made necessary by the spirit of
domination .... [The] spirit of industry will
dissolve them [and] municipalise the world
[as] centers of actions ... multiply.”
– Charles Dunoyer
• “Federations will replace states; the chains
of interest ... will succeed the despotism of
men and of laws; the tendency toward
government ... will cede to the free
community .... The era of empire is finished;
the era of association begins.”
– Augustin Thierry
Before the First Wave:
The Industrialist Theory of Class
Liberals influenced by the Censeur group and their theory
of class:
• Adolphe-Jérôme Blanqui
• Frédéric Bastiat
• Gustave de Molinari
• probably James Mill:
“We must call to mind the division which philosophers have
made of men placed in society. ... The first class, Ceux qui
pillent, are the small number. They are the ruling Few. The
second class, Ceux qui sont pillés, are the great number.
They are the subject Many.”
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
“No credit is due to me for
discovering the existence of
classes in modern society or the
struggle between them. Long
before me bourgeois historians
had described the historical
development of this class struggle
and bourgeois economists, the
economic economy of the classes.
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
... What I did that was new was to prove:
(1) that the existence of classes is only
bound up with particular historical
phases in the development of
production ...
(2) that the class struggle necessarily
leads to the dictatorship of the
(3) that this dictatorship itself only
constitutes the transition to the
abolition of all classes and to a
classless society.”
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
Marx’s claim that the “bourgeois
economists/historians” did not
anticipate an end to class conflict is:
• incorrect if “class” is understood as
they understood it (in terms of access
to political power)
• correct if “class” is understood as
Marx understands it (in terms of
monopolisation of the means of
The Censeur group did not challenge the
separation of labour from ownership
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
“When one casts a superficial glance at even the
best organised societies, and sees, beside a large
number of men who live off the products of their
lands, a still larger number who have nothing to
live on but the products of their daily labour, one is
tempted to consider the former as clever usurpers
and the latter as dupes or victims; one would
readily demand that the division be done anew so
that each might have his share. ...
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
... This apparent injustice disappears, at least in
great part, when one admits in principle that every
man is the proprietor of the values that he has
created; when one observes the way in which
property is formed and the way in which the
various classes increase their numbers. Fortunes
made by fraud or violence are the only ones that
morality and justice may condemn.”
– Charles Comte
Marx vs. the Industrialist Theory of Class
Here Comte
• acknowledges the attractiveness of a Marxianstyle means-of-production version of class
• nonetheless rejects it in favour of a Censeur-style
force-and-fraud version
• assumes that the division between propertied
employers and propertyless workers is “at least
in great part” legitimate, because NOT the
product of force or fraud
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• For the Censeur group, political violence
explains pre-capitalist economic divisions but
not capitalist ones
• For Marx, by contrast, the “historical process of
divorcing the producer from the means of
production” is “written in the annals of mankind
in letters of blood and fire”
• The left-libertarian agrees with the Censeur
group on property rights but with Marx on
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
For individualist anarchist Thomas Hodgskin, “the
share claimed by the capitalist for the use of fixed
capital” is “derived from the whole surface of the
country, having been at one period monopolised by
a few persons,” since the landlord is “the
descendant of those who forcibly appropriated,”
while the capitalist, by “obtaining from the
landlord interest or profit on his property, shared
his power.”
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• Proper basis of property rights for
Hodgskin: Lockean
homesteading via labour-mixing,
“ordained by nature”
• Basis of capitalist property rights:
violent usurpation “created and
protected by the law”
• Hodgskin grounds a means-ofproduction class theory in a
political-power class theory
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• Hodgskin both criticises and is criticised by other
radical market liberals more favourable to
• Hodgskin’s Labour Defended (a reference to James
Mill’s Commerce Defended) includes Mill among
those whose “notions of the nature and utility of
capital” he aims to “refute”
• Mill for his part says that Hodgskin’s “mad
nonsense ... would be the subversion of civilised
society; worse than the overwhelming deluge of
Huns and Tartars”
• Charles Knight adds that Hodgskin would give us
“skins instead of cloth, hollow trees instead of
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• With Hodgskin a position emerges that is clearly
identifiable as a) a radical form of market libertarianism,
but b) to the left of mainstream market libertarianism
• Similar ideas emerge slightly later, apparently
independently, in France (P.-J. Proudhon) and the
United States (anarchist-feminist-abolitionists Josiah
Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews)
• Their views are inherited by the American individualist
anarchists, including Ezra and Angela Heywood,
Lysander Spooner, William B. Greene, Benjamin Tucker,
and Voltairine de Cleyre (many called themselves
socialists and were members of the First International)
Tucker’s Four Monopolies
• land monopoly (use-andoccupancy as criterion for
continued ownership)
• money monopoly (mutual
banking will free credit)
• tariff monopoly
• patent monopoly
And underlying all four, the state
Tucker’s Four Monopolies
Spooner disagrees with Tucker on need
for ongoing land use to retain property
titles, but agrees that
• much landed property has been
established by legal privilege rather
than homesteading
• freer markets would undermine the
wage system by increasing
opportunities for self-employment
(whether individual or collective);
working for an employer would
become an option, not a necessity
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• Tucker condemns anti-market socialists like Marx, who
thinks that the “only way to abolish the class
monopolies” is to “centralize and consolidate all
industrial and commercial interests, all productive and
distributive agencies, in one vast monopoly in the hands
of the State.”
• Tucker also condemns right-wing libertarians like
Herbert Spencer and the Manchester liberals for
“believ[ing] in liberty to compete with the laborer in
order to reduce his wages, but not in liberty to compete
with the capitalist in order to reduce his usury.”
Left-Libertarianism’s First Wave
• “Liberty’s aim – universal happiness – is that of
all Socialists, in contrast with that of the
Manchester men – luxury fed by misery. But its
principle – individual sovereignty – is that of the
Manchester men, in contrast with that of the
Socialists – individual subordination. But
individual sovereignty, when logically carried
out, leads, not to luxury fed by misery, but to
comfort for all industrious persons ....”
– Benjamin R. Tucker
Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave
• During the early 20th century, libertarians drift
into an alliance with conservatives against state
• Left-libertarianism becomes less prominent
• In the 1960s, partly in response to the rise of the
New Left (including historians like Gabriel
Kolko’s), it is revived by Murray Rothbard, Karl
Hess, Robert Anton Wilson, and others
• Rothbardian Carl Oglesby becomes president of
the Students for a Democratic Society
Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave
• Hess defines the “left wing” as “the side of
politics and economics that opposes the
concentration of power and wealth and,
instead, advocates and works toward the
distribution of power into the maximum
number of hands.”
• The abolition of slavery is a “great
unfinished business,” since merely
“setting slaves free, in a world still owned
by their masters,” is unjust.
• Libertarianism seeks to “advance
principles of property,” but not to “defend
... all property which now is called
Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave
Rothbard likewise places libertarianism
on the left and conservatism (the “polar
opposite of liberty”) on the right, seeing
state-socialism as a “confused, middle-ofthe road movement” that accepts “the
liberal goals of freedom, reason, mobility,
progress, higher living standards the
masses, and an end to theocracy and war;
but [tries] to achieve these ends by the
use of incompatible, Conservative means:
statism, central planning,
Left-Libertarianism’s Second Wave
• “Regulations that present-day Rightists
think of as ‘socialistic’ were not only
uniformly hailed, but conceived and
brought about by big businessmen. This
was a conscious effort to fasten upon the
economy a cement of subsidy,
stabilization, and monopoly privilege.”
• Rothbard even calls for worker takeover
of government-funded corporations (e.g.
military-industrial complex)
• Does not challenge the wage system, but
some Rothbardians (e.g. Konkin) do
Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave
• With collapse of the New Left,
Rothbard begins a retreat toward a
more right-wing form of libertarianism
• Konkin continues to develop an
“agorist” libertarian left, focusing on
counter-economic action to undermine
the state
• In the 1990s, Chris M. Sciabarra
develops a left-friendly dialectical
libertarian theory drawing on Marx, F.
A. Hayek, and Ayn Rand
Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave
• In the 21st century’s first decade, a
new left-libertarianism emerges,
drawing on Hodgskin, Tucker,
Rothbard, Hess, Wilson, Konkin,
and Sciabarra, as well as on antimarket anarchists like Kropotkin
• Leading figures include Kevin
Carson, Charles W. Johnson, and
Gary Chartier
• Competition is seen as a levelling
force; vast inequalities are hard to
sustain if imitation is permitted
Kevin Carson
Carson follows Tucker in defending
• a subjectivised version of the labour
theory of value (disutility of providing
good sets lower price limit; competition
sets upper price limit)
• a use-and-occupancy theory of property
rights (natural rights specify some form
of private property but not what kind;
pragmatic considerations specify more)
But Carson stresses that his conclusions do
not depend, for the most part, on these
Kevin Carson
Carson combines, updates, and extends:
• Hodgskin’s and Marx’s accounts of the
historical origin of the capitalist
monopoly of the means of production in
government intervention
• Tucker’s, Kolko’s, and Rothbard’s
accounts of the ways in which state
privilege continues to benefit capital at
the expense of labour
• Rothbard’s and Hess’s calls for
redistribution of property arising from
state privilege
Kevin Carson
Carson’s terminology:
• Vulgar libertarianism: treating the
virtues of a free market as though they
legitimised existing corporate capitalism
(example: Ayn Rand)
• Vulgar liberalism: treating the evils of
existing corporate capitalism as though
they constituted an objection to free
markets (example: Noam Chomsky)
These enable conservatives to pose as foes of
big government and liberals to pose as foes
of big business, when both in practice
support business-government partnership
Kevin Carson
• As firms grow larger and more
hierarchical, diseconomies of scale
overtake economies of scale – unless state
privilege insulates them from competition
• It is labour legislation, not the nature of
unions, that diverts unions from being
agents of worker empowerment to being
labour cartels
• What is called deregulation leaves
“primary” pro-business regulations in
place and removes only “secondary”
alleviatory regulations, thus increasing
state intervention
Gary Chartier on “Capitalism”
• “capitalism1: an economic system
that features personal property rights
and voluntary exchanges of goods
and services
• capitalism2: an economic system that
features a symbiotic relationship
between big business and
• capitalism3: rule – of workplaces,
society, and ... the state – by
Gary Chartier on “Capitalism”
• Three senses are frequently conflated
but are actually incompatible: support
for capitalism1 negates capitalism2 and
thereby undermines capitalism3
• The word “capitalism” suggests a
system favouring capital owners over
labourers and so should be abandoned
by free-market advocates, since
genuinely freed markets empower
• Equation of markets with the cash
nexus should also be resisted
Left-Libertarianism’s Third Wave
• Left-libertarians also revive and extend the 19thcentury individualist anarchists’ commitments to
feminism, antiracism, antimilitarism,
environmentalism, etc.
• Like their 19th-century forebears, leftlibertarians see statism, patriarchy, white
supremacy, homophobia etc. as mutually
reinforcing forms of oppression, and thus as
demanding a unified, activist, but nongovernmental response
Charles Johnson on Hayek and Feminism
“‘Spontaneous order’ can be used to mean a macroscale pattern of social coordination which is:
• Consensual rather than coercive (when
‘spontaneous’ means ‘uncoerced’);
• Polycentric or participatory rather than
directive (when ‘spontaneous’ means
‘unprompted’); or
• Emergent rather than a consciously designed
pattern (when ‘spontaneous’ means ‘not planned
in advance’)”
Charles Johnson on Hayek and Feminism
Disentangling these usually conflated senses allows
for the possibility of
• polycentric and undesigned but nonconsensual
orders (rape culture)
• consensual and participatory but designed
orders (Wikipedia, grassroots activism)
The first shows why libertarians are wrong to think
only state action is oppressive
The second shows why feminists are wrong to
think only state action can combat oppression
Charles Johnson on Thick
vs. Thin Libertarianism
Libertarians as libertarians must embrace certain values
causally or conceptually connected with, even though not
entailed by, the nonaggression principle (NAP)
• grounds thickness: values entailed by the best reasons
for NAP (anti-authoritarianism)
• application thickness: values needed in order to apply
NAP correctly (animal rights)
• strategic thickness: causal preconditions for
implementing NAP (gross economic inequality)
• consequence thickness: opposing independently bad
things caused by NAP violations (sweatshops)
Advantage of Left-Libertarianism
• Should the baseline for mutual advantage be equality (Rawls) or
natural entitlement (Nozick)?
• Nozickian “historical” justice lays bare the causes of inequality in
class domination and so does better, not worse, job than Rawls of
condemning existing inequalities (despite Nozick’s intentions)
• Rawlsian and Nozickian standards usually thought to conflict:
means-of-production class theory à la Marx favours egalitarian
baseline while Censeur-style force-and-fraud class theory favours
natural-entitlement baseline
• But if means-of-production class theory can be grounded in forceand-fraud class theory à la Hodgskin, Tucker, and Carson, we don’t
have to choose but can accommodate the intuitions supporting both
Advantage of Left-Libertarianism
What of counterfactual conflicts between the baselines?
• choose property rights over economic equality
• choose economic equality over property rights
• forge a compromise through mutual adjustment
• deny the possibility of systematic conflicts for beings like
These are the same options raised by conflict between
consequentialism and deontology and so are no special
problem for left-libertarianism

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