As a doctoral student in the humanities, I have the benefit of rubbing shoulders with extremely intelligent people all day, and politically, many of these folks lean leftward, whatever that may mean to you. And while I might sometimes disagree with some of my colleagues about particular policies or politicians, I get to enjoy the fact that our proverbial hearts are in the same place. There’s often a certain anti-establishment camaraderie there. But in certain ways, our views radically differ, and my self-definition as a ‘libertarian’ becomes a topic of conversation. When this happens, it can sometimes be accusatory, and I’m assumed to be part of a conservative Trojan Horse operation trying to infiltrate the academy, and there are suspicions that I want to demolish the department of transportation, am in favor of private fire departments, and want the Koch bros. to run the country. I am, on other words, often misunderstood.
I want to be clear, though: my libertarianism is not conservative. I am not, as has been said about other (especially right-leaning) libertarians, just a Republican who wants to smoke pot. I’m not a Republican, at all (though I believe in the power of republics). I am not a Tea Partier, nor am I someone who wants to hand the power of government to big business. I feel the need here to express my position, if not for clarification for others, then simply as a helpful exercise for myself.
What I am is both a libertarian and a leftist—and this is not a contradiction in terms. I am anti-statist, believing in the fundamental right to private property, and hold that free (or freed) markets are not only moral but lead to greater prosperity AND I aim to fight injustice, exclusion, and unjust domination in all its forms. In this, my libertarianism is not conservative, working to maintain the status quo, but radical, seeking to decentralize and destabilize hierarchies that have long histories of oppression and exclusion. I see both government and business as potentially autocratic and coercive, and one’s ability to participate in the government or hold stock in a business as being insufficient safeguards against that dictatorial tendency. I am aware that coercion can come just as easily, albeit differently, from the CEO’s office as it can from the Oval Office—and that the most danger comes, perhaps, from the collusion of these two.
I identify with the left in its anarchic origins, when to be left meant to be anti-monarchy and pro-individual liberty (think—American & French Revolution), but not with the liberal left of the contemporary United States, which often seeks not to increase individual liberty by limiting government but to build government to its own end, not realizing how quickly what has been so carefully built can be repurposed with the swing of an election or stroke of the executive pen. In my relative position, I find allies on both the right and the left—in the anti-statist strains of both (relatively conservative) US political parties.
It’s important now, more than ever, to be diligent and careful in positioning ourselves politically—to negotiate positions that aren’t so easily slotted into one box or another. Pre-packaged politics, like so many other pre-packaged things in our culture, promise so much more than they deliver, and if we are to resist their empty calories, we have to be unrelenting in our pursuit of truth in the philosophical gray. We can work not to fall prey to the ease of black-and-white thinking, but still set clear, unalterable terms. So—work against the easily-defined; resist the with-us-or-against-us bullshit. Carve out your own position in all its complexity and ground your thinking in the so easily forgotten traditions that precede the latest label.
Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Carson
Markets Not Capitalism, Charier & Johnson
Anarchy, State, & Utopia, Nozick