Black-Hearted or Bleeding-Hearted?


John Holbo over at Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism (with some interesting pushback from BHL's commenters) (pictured, Lysander Spooner from wikimedia commons):

Let’s look at the Chartier and Johnson (eds.) volume (PDF) that is the occasion for this symposium: Markets Not Capitalism: individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power, and structural poverty. In “Socialist Ends, Market Means”, Gary Chartier argues that libertarianism is—can be, ought to be—socialism. (He admits saying so will probably cause more terminological trouble than it’s worth. So fine. Don’t call it that. No one is going to force you.)

There is good reason to use “socialism” to mean, at minimum, something like opposition to:

1. bossism (that is, subordinative workplace hierarchy); and

2. deprivation (that is, persistent, exclusionary poverty, whether resulting from state-capitalist depredation, private theft, disaster, accident, or other factors.

“Socialism” in this sense is the genus; “state-socialism” is the (much-to-be-lamented) species. (150)

Chartier’s title ought to be “Autonomous Ends, Socialist Means, Market Means To Those Means”. Libertarianism is commitment to maximizing (optimizing) the human supply of freedom (as autonomy), hitched to the hypothesis that socialism (in the generic sense) is the most likely way to do this, atop the hypothesis that market means (negative liberties all around) are the royal road to the true (generic) socialism (that is the royal road to true freedom.)

The social relationships that market anarchists explicitly defend, and hope to free from all forms of government control, are relationships based on:

1.ownership of property, especially decentralized individual ownership, not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods;

2. contract and voluntary exchange of goods and services, by individuals or groups, on the expectation of mutual benefit;

3. free competition among all buyers and sellers – in price, quality, and all other aspects of exchange – without ex ante restraints or burdensome barriers to entry;

4. entrepreneurial discovery, undertaken not only to compete in existing markets but also in order to discover and develop new opportunities for economic or social benefit; and

5. spontaneous order, recognized as a significant and positive coordinating force—in which decentralized negotiations, exchanges, and entrepreneurship converge to produce large-scale coordination without, or beyond the capacity of, any deliberate plans or explicit common blueprints for social or economic development. (Chartier, Johnson, 2)

Libertarianism, on this view, is an alloy of ‘high liberal’ ideals and social theory—really social prophecy. As such, it is more or less falsifiable. Libertarianism could turn out to be wrong about generic socialism being the social form most conducive to an optimized autonomy supply. It might be wrong about market anarchism being the best way to bring about generic socialism. If it turns out that state socialism, or actually existing laissez faire capitalism, or neo-feudalism, or Leninism, or Burkean conservatism, or ‘Nudge’-style paternalism administered by alien ant overlords, or expanded Obamacare, or giving everyone $1 at birth, would, in the event, optimize the effective autonomy supply, then the libertarian is philosophy-bound to run with the best plan.

Conversely, all high liberals ought to admit that if these libertarians are right—if generic socialism makes liberty, if markets make generic socialism—that’s the way to go. Probably. Fair enough.

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