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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4884/rothbards-left-and-right-forty-years-later/

Rothbard’s “Left and Right”: Forty Years Later

April 7, 2006 by

Roderick Long, editor of the JLS, examines and updates Rothbard’s “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty,” a powerful piece of writing that had a huge impact on Long’s own intellectual formation. Written during the early years of the Vietnam War, as the New Left was emerging and the old coalition between libertarians and conservatives was beginning to fray, Rothbard’s article placed the libertarian movement in a historical context, tracing its past and possible future, and called on libertarians to gain a better self-understanding, and consequently to rethink their political affiliations and alliances. FULL ARTICLE


N. Joseph Potts April 7, 2006 at 9:47 pm

The 1951 quote of Mises (in Socialism) to the effect that large landholdings nowhere and never arise from the actions of the private market (but only from state-led conquest) . . . supposing it was true then, does it remain true today?

Disney World is pretty big, privately owned, and as far as I know, peaceably acquired. It’s growing, too. Don’t timber growers (as opposed to private harvesters of government timber) own large tracts? Such meager data as I can recall suggests that Mises’s rather categorical statement doesn’t hold in light of the present situation.

Ulrich Hobelmann April 8, 2006 at 4:04 am

Thanks an awful lot. The past two years I’ve been misled into thinking that I turned from being left-wing to being far-right-wing, when in reality I merely discovered the inherent fascism in left-wing liberalism.

I’ve had my fair share of arguments with left-socialists and social-democrats, arguments that made me think that the left is to be opposed, but probably the best thing to learn from these discussions is Murphy’s Law: never argue with a fool; people might not know the difference.

In these two years I’ve only had one discussion with a left-winger that was open to my arguments and we had a rational discussion; all other arguments had the left-winger resort to personal attacks, and just not listening anyway. It seems that many of them have a Pavlovian reaction: every time you say “market”, they hear “exploitation” and see some evil man whipping another. Weird.

So I’d say, we shouldn’t argue with liberals most of the time (unless we don’t mind wasting that time), because they Just Don’t Wanna Hear anyway, but as Roderick wrote, we should definitely acknowledge and cherish our left-wing roots and ideals/goals.

With more and more people in Western countries turning all apolitical out of disgust, maybe there’s hope!

Allen Weingarten April 8, 2006 at 8:27 am

I view the essential motivation of the Left as destroying civilization, albeit by pretending to further it. Her avowal of freedom and economic benefits is pure rhetoric, and is in practice quickly sacrificed for power. Thus it is not a movement to be led, but to be exposed.

Keith Preston April 8, 2006 at 8:59 am

Great article, Roderick!! Thanks for speaking, writing and posting it.

The question of how to go about building an effective, radical, revolutionary, anti-state movement has been a principal concern (some would say obsession) of mine for nearly of all my adult life. I think the first thing we need to do is abandon the paradigms of left and right, liberal and conservative, socialism and capitalism or even libertarian and authoritarian. Instead, the best paradigmatic model for a modern anti-state radicalism might be centralism vs decentralism or imperialism vs anti-imperialism. I have found that by applying this model it becomes much easier to sort out the true friends of liberty as opposed to pretenders and posers. For example, those who compromise with the warfare state generally tend to compromise with the state (police state, corporate state, welfare state) in other areas.

Another idea might be to separate “core issues” from “secondary issues”. What I am referring to is the tendency of so many anti-state radicals to adopt a hyphenated variation of libertarianism or anarchism: anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-socialism, anarcho-feminism, eco-anarchism, paleo-libertarianism, classical-liberalism, etc. A century ago, the classical anarchists were divided on a number of questions, particularly economic ones. Voltairine de Cleyre came up with the idea of an “anarchism without adjectives” (actually she lifted the idea from some Europeans like the Magon brothers and Malatesta), calling for pluralism and peaceful co-existence between the different factions and a united front against the state.

There are many divisions among anti-statists over immigration, property theory and the best model of economic organization (as our recent debate over the work of Kevin Carson on this blog shows), abortion, childrens’ rights, racial issues, cultural conflict, religion, the best philosophical foundations for anti-statism, environmentalism, animal rights, criminal justice and much else. In a decentralized society, it is much easier to accommodate differences of these types. For example, in traditional village-based societies it was not uncommon for one village to worship one god, the next village to worship another god and so on. In parts of historic Europe, languages would vary considerably from village to village. Without the state, there would be no central authority to impose a uniform set of social, cultural or economic values. These would be a matter of local preference or custom and the mutual agreements worked out between non-state groups. There’s a great quote from Hoppe regarding the possibility of a global anarchist revolution:

“Rather than supranational political integration, world government, constitutions, courts, banks, and money, global social democracy, and universal and ubiquitous multiculturalism, anarchist-liberals propose the decomposition of the nation-state into its heterogenous constituent parts…They propose unlimited secession, i.e., the unrestricted proliferation of independent free territories, until the state’s range of jurisdiction finally withers away. To this end-and in complete contrast to the statist projects of “European Integration” and a “New World Order”-they promote the vision of a world of tens of thousands of free countries, regions and cantons,…of hundreds of thousands of independent free cities…and even more numerous free districts and neighborhoods…If and when this alternative liberal vision gains prominence in public opinion, the end of the social democratic “End of History” will give rise to a liberal renaissance.”

However, it is unlikely that the proliferation of this kind of radical decentralization described by Hoppe would be accompanied by any sort of cultural or ideological universalism. I doubt that all of these “tens of thousands of free countries” or “hundreds of thousands of independent free cities” will necessarily adopt an orthodox Rothbardian structural framework. Instead, there would likely be independent communities for everything from Maoists to UFO cults to vegetarians.

Simple recognition of this fact might help in building strategic alliances against the state. Most people tend to identify more strongly with their own culture rather than with ideological abstractions like libertarianism or anarchism. Cultural conservatives are repulsed by the prospect of collaborating with the left regarding them as feminazis, eco-freaks, sex perverts, commies and atheists. The cultural left regards the right as racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary, fascists. Decentralization would have the effect of resurrecting the immense diversity of societies and communities that existed before the rise of the modern state. Consider, for instance, the myriad of customs, folk beliefs, styles of dress, languages and social structures to be found among indigenous peoples. Consider the diversity of the local cultures found within the Holy Roman or Ottoman empires. Consider the diversity of the early American colonies and pioneer settlements. Aristotle noted that they were at least 158 distinct constitutions among the classical Greek cities. Hoppe himself cites the example of contemporary micronations like Andorra or Liechtenstein. An understanding of this principle might make it easier for people who otherwise detest one another to make common cause against our common enemy of Big Brother’s Leviathan and New World Order. I mean, if Churchill and Stalin or Hitler and Tojo could form strategic alliances with one another, then there is no reason why libertarian-capitalists and libertarian-socialists or culturally conservative anarchists and countercultural anarchists cannot do the same.

Lastly, there is the question of how to push the anti-state idea into the world beyond that of the anarchist true believers. I believe it is best to adopt a populist approach with anti-statism being promoted as the cause of the common man, the downtrodden and oppressed as Marxism was (though fraudulently so) during its heyday. Populism as the means with anarchism as the ends. I operate a web site where I explore this idea a bit further:

Ulrich Hobelmann April 8, 2006 at 10:45 am

Keith, I agree with your idea and with decentralism being the core of freedom. The problem lies mostly with law and order, I think.

To most people (not just conservatives) the concept of a national police seems to be a necessity, and they oppose any idea of anarchism, because “it won’t work”. I don’t need to mention that The Police is just people, so if people everywhere want one, they can have it, but as I wrote in my above post: often you can’t argue with brainwashed people; they won’t understand it (won’t = don’t want to; not will/would not).

Keith Preston April 9, 2006 at 8:24 am

You raise a very good point, Ulrich. I regard resistance to the police state as the core component of our struggle against the state (with resistance to imperialism being the core component of resistance on the international level). I think this gets us back to Bakunin’s insight that the anarchist revolution must first be rooted in those who are most under attack by the state and with the least to lose.

I was involved with the US militia movement of the 1990s and there were a lot of interesting things going on there that I felt were pushing towards an anarchic revolution. Ultimately, the movement lacked the leadership, experience, intellectual foundation and ability to grow beyond a certain point needed to sustain itself. But it was a good effort and might be a proto-type for a similar effort, perhaps on a much larger scale, in the future.

There were similar efforts in the 1960s by urban insurgent forces like the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, Young Lords, Red Guards, White Panthers, Youth International Party and others. It’s interesting that the militia movement was mostly a rural, heartland socially conservative movement oriented towards combatting the US federal government and federal police state agencies (though the state and local government and police forces were not exactly spared either) while the urban insurgents of the 60s were mostly oriented towards the minority ethnic groups. Ironically, both groups had many of the same ideas. What the Panthers called “community control”, the militiamen called “sovereignty”.

It is also interesting to review Bakunin’s overall approach to revolutionary theory. He tended to reject, even in those days, the Marxist view that the industrial proletariat proper is the most revolutionary class. He emphasized the urban lumpenproletariat (what we now call the “underclass”), the peasantry (the rural agricultural population) and the declasse intellectuals, students and youth. I think this still holds true. The major acts of insurrection in the US in recent decades have come from these populations (Watts, Rodney King riots, anti-Vietnam War campus uprisings, the militiamen, the “Battle of Seattle”, etc.)

The way revolutions typically take place is that new ideas are discovered by the intellectual/philosophical elite and then trickle down into the ranks of dissident intellectuals, student radicals, the lumpenproletariat, the very poor, bohemians, counterculturalists, rebellious youth and then into the ranks of the more conventional working classes, the middle classes and then, finally, the establishment itself.

Left-liberalism is an ideology specifically oriented towards educated elites who populate the ranks of the New Class. At present, the New Class is using the ideology of Marcusean cultural Marxist revisionism to create a new form of totalitarianism in the same way that it used Leninism, Fabianism and the “managerial revolution” for similar purposes in the past. Once the neocons have had their fifteen minutes of fame and finish running themselves into the ground, the left/liberal-cultural Marxist elements will be the next up to bat. I regard them as the primary enemies of anarchists in the contemporary world.

Roderick T. Long April 10, 2006 at 11:18 am

To Keith Preston: thanks for your great comments! I do have a reservation on the question of hyphenated libertarianism and separating “core” from “secondary” issues. I certainly agree that libertarians should be willing to work with other libertarians with different hyphenations — but I think the hyphenations can be important, and that hiving them off as “secondary” can be a mistake. This is part of the point that I’ve tried to make here, that Charles Johnson makes here, and that Charles and I elaborated here.

Keith Preston April 10, 2006 at 9:40 pm


I read the comments you linked to in your last post here and I actually agree with much of what you say. I don’t think political ideology can be divorced from broader philosophical or cultural interests entirely. For example, one of the things that made democracy, much less anarchism, impossible in Weimar Germany was the fact that the two most popular parties were avowed totalitarians pledged to the eradication of democracy. In fact, one of the principal flaws in the Bush crowd’s “global democracy” crusade is their presumption that democratic governments in the Islamic world will automatically be pro-American. Those of us with a lick of common sense know the opposite is true.

However, I’m sure you are aware of the Left’s inability to even so much as stage an antiwar rally without bringing all kinds of other matters into the picture: freeing Mumia, saving the whales, passing the living wage, outlawing private firearms, legalizing gay marriage, etc. This is one of the reasons the radical Left comes across as a comedy act to those outside their own milieu.

Generally, I have found that many leftist anarchists refuse to recognize those anarchists who reject their economic or cultural outlook. Many of them still do not recognize Rothbard as a genuine anarchist, much less socially conservative tendencies like the national-anarchists or paleo-anarchists. There are similar tendencies among “right-wing” anarchists as well.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the hyphens don’t matter at all. Some of these hyphens obviously represent profound differences. But I think any anarchist movement worthy of the name has to have the war against the state at the top of its agenda (as opposed to employers or religion carte blanche, men, white people, immigrants, secular humanists, factory farmers, etc.) Some of the hyphenated tendencies seem to lose sight of this principle at times.

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