October 3, 2014

Towards a Right-Libertarianism, part 1

By In Articles, Philosophy, Society and Culture

In his book Liberty or Equality, published in 1952, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn noted that “equality… presupposes the continuous intervention of force which, as a principle, is opposed to freedom. Liberty and equality are in essence contradictory.”

The demand for equality in a society, whether that equality be of opportunity or outcome, since it is not the natural condition of individuals throughout a civilization, requires the use of the State for its fulfillment.  Individuals are not created equally.  It is undoubtedly true that all individuals posses the same rights, imputed to them by God, and are all created in the image of their creator and therefore are all of the same moral status.  No one is naturally a morally superior human being by virtue of any uniqueness within him.  But what is being articulated here is that certain individuals are better at certain things; some are smarter than others, some are stronger than others, some are more entrepreneurial.  Certain people have more control over their emotions and others are more persuasive while still others are better leaders. This leads to inequalities in the real world in regards to social status, wealth, career opportunities, and academic success.  The goal of liberty is to let each person contribute his unique skills and abilities to society; contrarily, the goal of egalitarianism is to solve natural inequalities because, in the mind of the egalitarian, inequalities are problematic. It is necessary for the egalitarian, in pursuit of their own definition of justice, to “level the playing field” in a number of different ways.

Because of these very different ways of observing society, one is inherently individualistic (emphasizing personal responsibility, personal success, and hard work) while the other is inherently collectivistic (emphasizing classes, the victimization of one’s social-economic group, and entitlement).  The former we refer to as “Rightism” and the latter we refer to as “Leftism.”  Politically, the right emphasizes individual property rights as the chief means of organizing society, while the left emphasizes democracy and majority rule.

Now, the meaning of libertarianism as a political theory is centered around the idea that “no person should violate the life and property of another human being unless that other human being has first violated the life and property of another.” Libertarianism is strictly logical.  As I have written in another place (quoting Hans-Hermann Hoppe), it is “rationalistic, philosophical, logical, and constructivist” and focuses on the “concepts of property, production, exchange, and contract.”  That is to say, it is theoretical and is not dependent on empirical observation.  It is in itself neither Rightist or Leftist, which are two differing views of society and culture.

But the question quickly becomes, in our effort to apply our libertarianism to the real world, does this libertarianism comply more naturally with Rightism or Leftism?  If libertarianism is strictly logical and rationalistic then Rightism is, as I have written before (and again quoting Hoppe) “empiricistic, sociological, and descriptive” and focuses on “families, authority, communities, and social ranks” (or hierarchies).  Libertarianism is thin, but must be coupled with something outside of it’s bare proposition if it is to be applied to the imperfect world around us.

To help us in this aim, we will consider a recent essay written by Hans Hoppe.  To be brief, Hoppe is an Austrian economist, in the epistemological tradition of Ludwig von Mises, as well as a social and political theorist in the tradition of Murray Rothbard although being a rationalist, he rejects Rothbard’s dependence on Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law.  His most important work is a devastating critique of Democracy from the perspective of economics, as well as individualistic cultural conservatism.  I have defended him against eminent libertarian scholar Walter Block here and have analyzed his conservatism here.  Hoppe is a controversial figure in the libertarian movement, because of his blunt criticism of homosexuality and other cultural sacred cows of the academic establishment, as socially negative influences.  He has given an overview of this here.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Hans-Hermann Hoppe

In his essay, Hoppe seeks to dismantle and criticize the modern popularity of a “left-libertarianism.”  He begins with an overview of Right and Left as stances based on empirical analysis of society.  Whereas the Right sees inequalities as natural and nothing to be concerned about (so long as these inequalities are natural and not derived from State-favoritism), the Left sees these inequalities as precisely the problem in society to be eradicated in pursuit of “justice.”  Clearly then the Right and the Left have two different conceptions of justice.  While the Right considers justice on an individual basis and as corrective action required in the case of a crime, the Left sees justice as collectivistic and required in the case of a “social evil.”  The motivation for justice for the Rightist is restitution while the motivation for “social justice” by the Leftist is egalitarian.

The Leftist vision has dangerous implications for the threat of Statism in society.  Hoppe quotes Murray Rothbard:

Since no two people are uniform or equal… in nature, or in the outcomes of a voluntary society, to bring about and maintain such equality necessarily requires the permanent imposition of a power elite armed with devastating coercive power.

An authoritarian State is required to meet the egalitarian’s goals.  This is why tyrants love to operate under the banner of “equality” and “fairness” and they notoriously crack down on “dissent” and individual accomplishment. It is no coincidence of history, as demonstrated by Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his massive volume called Leftism, that Hitler and Stalin utilized democratic and egalitarian language and sought to suppress those in society who pursued individual success and desired to take care of themselves and their families.  Equality for all is the enemy of the individual liberty because the former can only be enforced by the State, which is the largest threat to liberty in the real world.

[From this, as we will discuss in part two, we find the difference in character of the American secession, which prized liberty, and the French revolution, which prized “egalite.”]

Now, the rise of the left-libertarian is problematic for the purity of the libertarian doctrine and the pursuit of a free society.  The leftist, being an egalitarian, opposes, among other things, the existence of “discrimination,” which is of course a logical implication of private property for private property allows the owner the legal right to discriminate as his conscience allows and prefers.  And indeed, Hoppe writes that

it may come as a surprise… that many who call themselves libertarian today are, and consider themselves to be, part of the Left.  How is such a thing possible?

…How is it possible to reconcile this anti-discrimination stand with private property, which all libertarians are supposed to regard as the cornerstone of their philosophy, and which, after all, means exclusive property and hence, logically implies discrimination?

[emphasis in original –CJE]

The Economics and Ethics of Private Property by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

The traditional leftist solution is simple: they don’t care one wit about the institution of private property! The State owns all property and reserves the ability to ensure that all receive what is fair, according, of course, to those who run the State.  And yet, this cannot be an option for those leftists who declare themselves libertarians.  For libertarianism is built on a foundation of private property.

The libertarian leftist solves this predicament by committing the mistake of assuming that every aspect of the current order is a result of Statist intervention into society.  While the libertarian rightist admits without question that the State has created an artificial social elite by its political efforts in the form of grand subsidies, government mandated services, government contractors, absurd taxation and regulation against the naturally successful and capitalistic, and financial bailouts for the well-connected, the libertarian rightist does not assume that social hierarchies, the establishment of churches, the family unit, and the like are necessarily the result of obtrusive government.  The libertarian leftist, however, according to Hoppe, sees the present organization of private property and social hierarchy completely with suspicion. He despises the wealthy, because he does not recognize the natural hierarchies and social statuses that develop on the market and in a free society.  In other words, his mistake is that he denies the existence of natural inequalities among individuals.  The thought that some people are simply better at certain things than others is foreign to him.  His outlook of the world is cultural marxism.  Hoppe:

The views held by left-libertarians in this regard are not entirely uniform, but they typically differ little from those promoted by cultural Marxists. They assume as ‘natural,’ without much if any empirical support and indeed against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a largely ‘flat’ and ‘horizontal’ society of ‘equals,’ i.e., of essentially universally and world-wide homogeneous, like-minded and -talented people of more or less similar social and economic status and standing, and they regard all systematic deviations from this model as the result of discrimination and grounds for some form of [restitutive] compensation….

Accordingly, the hierarchical structure of traditional families, of sex roles and of the partition of labor between males and females, is considered unnatural. Indeed, all social hierarchies and vertical rank orders of authority, of headsmen and clan-chiefs, of patrons, nobles, aristocrats and kings… of ‘bosses’ generally, and of their respective underlings or subordinates, are viewed with suspicion. […] And also suspect, unnatural and in need of repair are all exclusive associations, societies, congregations, churches and clubs, and all territorial segregation, separation and secession, whether based on class, gender, race, ethnicity, lineage, language, religion, profession, interests, customs or tradition.


We will conclude with part 2 when I finish it. Which is hopefully soon. Go fill up on popcorn or something.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com