I’ve noted in recent posts that while some left-libertarians seem to oppose standard libertarians’ positive endorsement of “capitalism” for semantic or strategic reasons, for others they actually oppose the substance of what libertarians mean by (non-crony, non-corporatist) capitalism (see, e.g., Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism, and links in that post; see also Wirkman Virkkala’s post A capital ism?). An example of those with a more semantic or strategic concern would be Sheldon Richman, who is concerned about the “baggage” associated with the word, which will hamper our getting our pro-property rights, libertarian message out. Thus he favors using “free market” instead, but as far as I can tell this is similar to what we mean by “capitalism”–a libertarian society with a market based on respect for property rights, which of course includes private ownership of the means of production (and everything else). (See also Sheldon’s comment to Should Libertarians Oppose “Capitalism”?) Another would be Jock Coats, who notes here that while the baggage of the term “capitalism” might have turned him off had he not also seen the term “free-market anti-capitalism,” now that he understands the term he is “quite happy to be identified as an Individualist Anarchist/Mutualist and at times an Anarcho-Caplitalist,” and is “for keeping ‘capitalism’ as a word in our lexicon.”
To be clear, I think the semantical and strategic debate is one we can have, but it’s different than a substantive disagreement–and we can have that discussion too. But these are separate discussions and should not be intermingled. This leads to confusion at best and equivocation and dishonesty (on the part of leftists) at worst.
In my view there is little doubt that libertarians who have concerns about the appropriate words to use or strategic matters are of course libertarians. We just differ on the best way to convey and spread and communicate about our ideas. But those who disagree on substance may simply not be libertarians. This should not be masked by conflating the discussion with more mundane issues of semantics and strategy.
Now some of the left-libertarians more concerned about terminology and strategy deny or downplay the charge that at least some of them have much more than a mere lexical disagreement with us. So it is good that some of them are willing to explicitly admit this. Take, for instance, one Roman Pearah, who writes in Hmmm…No, Sir. I Don’t Like It.:
Stephan Kinsella is right about one thing: the reason I’m a free-market anti-capitalist is because I have substantive differences with him and other “standard libertarians.” To the extent that my friends on the libertarian-left are making linguistic and strategic arguments against the word ‘capitalism’ (and I’m not convinced that all of them are or that none of their arguments have a substantive element), I don’t have much of a dog in that fight.
But if Kinsella thinks this is a gotcha, a deep insight into our hidden agenda, then let me be clear: I mean capitalism like you do, and dislike it. As I said, there is no pretending it’s only “strategical or lexical” here.
And “BrainPolice”, in Kinsella’s Closed System, writes:
Kinsella is right about one thing: the conflict over “capitalism” is not purely linguistic. My own main disagreement with folks such as Brad Spangler, while I do sympathize with their position in comparison to someone like Kinsella, is that their rejection of “capitalism” is largely confined to a semantic-historical context in which one seems to mostly be just engaging in a salesmanship strategy. Some of these people mostly are in line with fairly standard anarcho-capitalist views, but wish to drop the term “capitalism” for public relations purposes. But to the extent that this is the case (and it certainly is not entirely the case, as I will proceed to get into), Kinsella cannot denounce these people as “unlibertarian” on his own terms.
The much more explicit currents of left-libertarianism do have substantive problems with “capitalism”.
So, good. The left-libertarians, I would say, are anti-“capitalist”–they have understandable reasons to oppose the term. Those who are anti-capitalist–even when you define the word to be clear we are talking not about crony-capitalism but about the property-rights respecting economic order of a laissez-faire, free market, libertarian society–I would say are really not libertarian. This is because, as I explained in Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism, libertarianism upholds private property rights, which implies that the economic order of a libertarian society would exhibit private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism implies libertarianism, and vice-versa. To oppose “private ownership of the means of production” has to be unlibertarian since the only way to do this is to oppose the private property rights that underpin capitalism.
Now if you see the Pearah and Brainpolice posts above, you’ll see a lot of meandering, emotionalism, and unsupported assertions. Why, I have the audacity to be a libertarian who has a certain conception of libertarianism! The truth is Austro-anarcho-libertarianism is, at the very least, a definite branch of libertarianism. It is, in my view, the most consistent and fully libertarian view. Now of course there are other types of libertarian: utilitarians, consequentialists, minarchists, maybe even pacifists and constitutionalists to some extent. But at a certain point hostility to the basic notion of property rights as held by libertarians in general demarks one as non-libertarian. It mystifies me why those who are hostile to typical features of the economic order that would naturally accompany a libertarian-property-rights respecting society want to be called libertarian. Why not just say you are an anarcho-primitivist, anarcho-syndicalist, or whatever? Then argue your case. Why try to bamboozle property-rights respecting libertarians that you are one of them?
Update: Left-libertarian law professor Gary Chartier sent me the following email, reprinted with permission, along with my reply thereto:
Interesting post re. the capitalism debate.
I strongly favor markets rooted in robust property rights (the interesting conversation to have about this would have to do with things like the cases in which variations among different communities or legal systems would be reasonable). When I express concerns about “capitalism,” I’m making both a strategic point (I think the word raises red flags) and a substantive one (I don’t like the prevailing social/political/economic order). But I am emphatically not arguing against private ownership, for forced collectivization (I have no personal affection for voluntary collectivization, but anyone else is free to experiment with it), for temporary statism, or for force as a basis for human interaction.
My reply follows:
I strongly favor markets rooted in robust property rights (the interesting conversation to have about this would have to do with things like the cases in which variations among different communities or legal systems would be reasonable)
I agree here.
When I express concerns about “capitalism,” I’m making both a strategic point (I think the word raises red flags)
This is reasonable.
and a substantive one (I don’t like the prevailing social/political/economic order).
Yes–but that is talking about “crony-capitalism” and we oppose it too. What BrainPolice and Peareah are saying (I think) is that they oppose a LAISSEZ-FAIRE private-property order–a private property order that does not have corporatism, mercantilism, state connections, etc.
But I am emphatically not arguing against private ownership,
for forced collectivization (I have no personal affection for voluntary collectivization, but anyone else is free to experiment with it)
, for temporary statism, or for force as a basis for human interaction.
I think the interesting debate is this. First, what is the importance of all these disagreements? What kind of disagreements are they? Those who debate about this are maddeningly unclear, far to often. Are we just disagreeing on what we predict will happen? If so, who cares? I mean if we set up a private property order, and your mutual aid societies, coops, whatever succeed–fine by me. I just don’t think they will. But it’s just a prediction. A forecast.
Or: are they expressing a personal preference: “I would prefer to live in a localist mutual aid society of self-sustaining activity without big firms, without lots of specialization of labor”–this too, is fine, as a preference; and if you can find such a place to live, go ahead. I don’t think there will be much of this–all these littele kibbutzy things will be marginal or whatever, in my view–but fine. It’s just your preference. This is compatible with the free market. The market will cater to preferences (or not). Even now you can move to Lancaster and live with the Amish if you want.
But where it gets really interesting is the mutualists and georgist types who I think have a view of property that is fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism. For example they seem to believe that if you lose possession then you lose ownerhsip. So if I own a factory then the employees after a while get to own it. Or if I am a landlord and have tenants, they get to own it. To me this collapses ownership into possession and is antithetical to libertarian principles. (See A Critique of Mutualist Occupancy.)
These guys want to shoehorn this into libertarianism. They do this by saying lockean homesteading is at one end and Georgism/Mutualism at the other (Georgism being one of the stupidest, crankiest theories I’ve ever heard in my life, up there with Galambosianism); that it’s just a difference of degree in how we view “abandonment” rules. I think this is wrong. In any case, what it boils down to is that they think Lockean libertarianism is not the only valid type. I think it is.
So again, we all agree that there is A and B: we are A, they are B. They would say that A = Lockean libertarians; B = mutualist libertarians (say). I would say A = libertarians [who are of course Lockean] and B = mutualists.
So here again it’s a damned semantic disagreement. Now I think that we libertarians–we A people, we Lockean libertarians–are entitled to a damned word of our own. I’m sick of people taking our word from us. Why do those who hate the private property economic order want to say they are libertarian? Why don’t they leave us alone and call themselves mutualist or whatever? Why does it bother them that we call ourselves libertarian? I think it’s because they have a libertarian streak and they deep down know that aggression is wrong, and it unsettles them that we identify their non-Lockean deviations as being tantamount to advocating aggression. This bugs them. But then it always bothers quasi-decent people when you point out that they are advocating wicked views.