Blogs > Liberty and Power > Bastiat Sat on the Left

Mar 3, 2004 9:41 pm

Bastiat Sat on the Left

Like Steve Horwitz, I tend to see myself as closer to the left than to the right. I also agree with Rothbard's analysis in Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty (which he wrote before his paleo turn), where he characterises the left as in many respects seeking libertarian ends through reactionary means.

Alas, as I've noted before, today's libertarians are, too often, all too close to the right in their insensitivity and dismissiveness toward feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and other left-wing concerns.

Re the Naomi Wolf flap, libertarians who sign on to the right-wing idea that blowing the whistle on sexual harassers somehow counts as promoting victim-class status for women are a perfect example of what I'm talking about; since when does fighting back count as embracing victim status??! (If that counts, what wouldn't count?)

In the 19th century, libertarians were in the forefront of both the women's movement and the labour movement. (See, e.g., Frank Brooks’ The Individualist Anarchists and Wendy McElroy’s The Debates of Liberty.) And this didn't mean merely that they wanted to abolish governmental interference with the freedom of women and of labourers (though of course they did want that); they also wanted to bring about (through noncoercive/nongovernmental means, of course) a radical social transformation of the power relations between men and women, and likewise between employers and employees.

So what happened to libertarian's former left-y edge? It seems to have been blunted by the century-long alliance between libertarians and conservatives against state socialism. That alliance is understandable enough, given the way socialism dominated the past century like an all-devouring monster; still, the libertarian movement couldn't be expected to lie down for so long with right-wing dogs without picking up some conservative fleas -- er, attitudes.

Here's hoping that the century that has just begun will see libertarianism return to its roots in the cultural left. Part of my goal in founding the Molinari Institute was to help work toward just such a result.

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