In a Mirror Darkly: Marxism and Libertarianism

“If you want to see Libertarians go full retard, compare them to Marxists.” –Bulbasaur

kirk-spock-mirror

If you are like me and you have spent more time than is probably healthy in libertarian political and intellectual circles you have probably taken note of various irritating and often ironic trends peculiar to the milieu. One such trend is the tendency of libertarian activists and fellow travelers to be converts from the left. They didn’t start as libertarians and they likely will not die libertarians. Some people stay libertarian for their entire political lives, but considering the intellectual dead end of libertarian ethical constructs like the NAP, these types inevitably become pedantic, tedious bores that perseverate on the same dumbed down talking points while hawking cheap, kitschy merchandise to the latest class of noobs as they roll in. Most libertarians came to the  movement from some other radical community. They are usually more than happy to share the story of their ideological journey into the light if you ask them nicely. Most of these stories, mine included, start with Marxism.

This may surprise some people, but it really should not. Just because the two ideologies seem to be polar opposites in terms of doctrine and goals does not mean they do not attract essentially the same personality types. I have rarely met a libertarian that claims to have never been involved with the radical left at any point in his life. This actually makes perfect sense. I would be surprised if it were any other way. You may shake your head and come back with the rather cliched claim that libertarianism is the political expression of individualism, capitalism and freedom while Marxism is the intellectual grandfather of tyranny, totalitarian socialism and collectivism. What gives? Are not these two ideologies in direct opposition to each other? Sure they are. In theory they are bitterly opposed. But that is exactly why there is so much crossover.

Marxism and Libertarianism are essentially perverted mirror images of each other. Both are uncompromising, totalitarian, Utopian and reject the status quo as morally intolerable according to their own esoteric philosophical constructs. These qualities are more likely to be attractive to a certain type of person than any particular point of dogma. Both ideologies promote what are essentially unfalsifiable narratives and back them up with rhetorical techniques that guarantee a “win” in any political debate.

For Marxists they run with the unfalsifiable narrative that the “material forces of production” are inevitably guiding history in the direction of communism. If you object to this notion in debate, rather than addressing your point the Marxist will claim that “class determines consciousness” and thus your bourgeois nature prevents you from seeing this truth. The Marxist himself is also a bourgeois of course, but he has somehow managed to see through this fog and grasp the truth. If you are in fact from the working class, then the Marxist need only point out that you have been brainwashed by bourgeois society to have a “false consciousness” that betrays your true class interests. If you then point to the results of various Marxist/socialist/communist regimes in history, you will inevitably be hit with a variation on the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Marxism, you see, is social science. Yet any attempt to actually examine it will be declared off limits and “unscientific” by its intellectual defenders a priori. So as you can see there is no way out of this trap. This is a perfect ideology for a poorly read yet intellectually arrogant college student to grasp hold of in an attempt to feel smart and important.

Libertarianism also offers such narratives for those that become fed up with Marxism or those that actually take a look at history and see what a disaster Marxism has created when put into political practice. For libertarians the unfalsifiable narrative from which all their conclusions flow is the “Action axiom”. This axiom states that all man acts, and in so doing he must choose his most highly valued end and the best means, as he sees it, to achieve this end. This actually is pretty straightforward and axiomatic. The libertarian will then attempt to iterate off this axiom to logically derive the rest of libertarian theory. The rhetorical corollary to the action axiom is “argumentation ethics”. This is an argumentative tactic in which the libertarian claims that simply by engaging in the act of political argumentation his interlocutor agrees a priori with universal libertarian ethical theories like the NAP and libertarian property norms. The problem here is that there is no way to universalize the preference that is displayed by the act of arguing into an ethic for all people. The trick also depends on someone actually arguing in the first place. It says nothing about the ethics of a person that actually kills or steals without arguing about it. In a political debate though this is an insidious trap and the perfect tactic to use if you simply want to “win” all arguments. Libertarianism has the added bonus that no libertarian society has ever actually existed, so there is no empirical test to which it can be subjected. You can see why arrogant and absolutist personality types would be drawn to this.

Utopian ideologues are going to be attracted to revolutionary ideologies regardless of what turn out to be in reality rather minor differences in doctrine. It’s really just a matter of who gets to them first. Given the leftist nature of our culture, it will likely be the Marxists that make first contact. My early life in radical politics started with a brief stint in Chomsky style left-anarchism, though even as a naive young fool I could see how ridiculous and unworkable that was. I soon moved on from that and got involved in sectarian Marxism. I was initially attracted to this genre because of their convincing pretense of intellectualism combined with facile one size fits all answers to every social issue. These tiny radical Marxist parties usually have no more than 10 members and no chance at ever being the revolutionary vanguard. Yet they endlessly bicker with each other over arcane points of doctrine and the proper interpretation of various texts by the great masters of old. Pay no attention to the direct parallels with religion here. They are just coincidental and mean nothing. Really.

I felt compelled to ragequit this leftist bizarro world when one Saturday afternoon I found myself in a run down YMCA in Brooklyn with a group of middle-aged Jewish public school teachers. They were discussing what the party line should be on radical Islam. On the one hand they found it to be a repugnant ideology, but on the other hand the muslims were more effective at fighting US imperialism than any current socialist alternatives. And they were all taking it dead seriously as if it was anything other than a circle fap of epic proportions. I realized I had gone beyond full retard. An overwhelming sense of loathing washed over me like an awesome wave. The people I was around suddenly seemed twisted and horrible. A revelatory religious experience is the closest thing I can compare this experience to. I quietly got up, walked out and never had contact with any of those people again. I sometimes wonder how much thought they put in to the question of my abrupt disappearance. I suspect not much. Such desertions are no doubt commonplace for these sorts of groups.

But I did not just leave the radical leftist world, I actively embraced the direct opposite. And I did so precisely because it was, or rather it seemed to be, the direct opposite. I had already known of Rothbard, Mises and Rand as the hated enemy. I had been instructed by one “comrade” to not read such material because it was dangerous. So I got my hands on as much Rothbard as I could and went through it like madman. I tore through Mises’s tome “Socialism” in about a week. And every one of those words rang true like was written in my soul. The world seemed suddenly so fresh and new where before it had been dreary and oppressive. Before every social interaction was another example of exploitation or hierarchy. There was hidden evil everywhere, and only myself and a few enlightened others could see it. Libertarianism was nothing like this. At first.

But of course the emotional high I was riding from the break with the left wore off. I started meeting the exact same kinds of people in the libertarian milieu that I encountered in the Marxist world. They tended to be younger and were therefore slightly less depressing, but many of them were well on their way to being the guy that holds meetings in the run down YMCA in Brooklyn and wears an out of style tweed jacket that smells vaguely of mothballs. I soon found that many libertarians still embraced the notion human equality. In the libertarian world you see, we are all special individuals, but we are also morally equal. Every individual could be a successful businessperson if not for the state and regulations. I know this and I am qualified to comment on this topic because of my experience selling hemp jewelry on craigslist and spending the proceeds on meth and high quality streaming porn.

The same old narratives of oppression came back, just with the cast of characters shifted around a bit to suit a slightly different set of prejudices. The world really was the same dreary place after all. Oppression really was everywhere, it was just coming from a different direction. In this new world the workers are exploiting the capitalists rather than vice versa. Everyone really is equal, but in this narrative equality is never realized because of the state rather than corporations. Or maybe it really is corporations after all. Eh, whatever works. The evil rich unfairly rely on government protection and subsidy, unlike in the Marxist world where of course the evil rich unfairly rely on government protection and subsidy. Oops. Looks like Marx beat you to that one bro. Libertarianism essentially takes all the basic assumptions of the radical leftist narrative and inverts the role of good guys and bad guys. Nothing new under the sun.

  • David

    Well I was never a Leftist. My dad was one of the original libertarians back when the party started in the Seventies. He’s voted for them ever since. I was pretty ignorant of politics until I was eighteen, when I started studying political theory in preparation for voting. Public schools are brain numbing, but I learn fast on my own. So I went straight to Libertarianism and once I read it at the highest level and began analyzing things I saw enough contradictions. I mean, I would still consider myself a fascist libertarian. I was mostly interested in the economics though.

    Nice confessional Enoch. I’m sure the past can be embarrassing.

  • David

    “These guys are a bunch of phonies. All they’ve got on their minds is impressing the new girls with the big words they’re so proud of and sticking their hands up their skirts. And when they are seniors, they cut their hair short and go trooping to work for Mitsubishi or IBM or Fuji Bank. They marry pretty wives who’ve never read Marx and have kids they give fancy new names to that are enough to make you puke. Smash what educational-industrial complex? Don’t make me laugh! And the new members were just as bad. They didn’t understand a thing either, but they made believe they did and they were laughing at me, ‘Don’t be silly! So what if you don’t understand? Just agree with everything they say.’” – Norwegian Wood

    http://woolfygrin.tumblr.com/post/44327982767/midori-kobayashi-in-norwegian-wood-by-haruki

  • http://econengineer.wordpress.com/ John

    As someone who voted republican in 2000 (I’ve already repented and haven’t voted since!) and is now a full fledged libertarian I can at least attest to one libertarian from the right. Though, I don’t think I see too many libertarians from the far-left; kind of the opposite of you. May be because I’m blind, or just the types of people I generally hang out with. Growing up on the right, maybe I am naturally drawn to libertarians who came to the light from the right.

    Good read of a post though, came to it from facebook I think.

  • Roman Bernard

    Just because the two ideologies seem to be polar opposites in terms of doctrine and goals does not mean they do not attract essentially the same personality types.

    Very true. Anything you want to know about an ideology, you don’t learn it in its sacred books (how many libertarians did actually read Rothbard?), but in the type of person it attracts.

    • oldoddjobs

      Rothbard? Probably loads of them – he is quite easy to read.

      Your jibe would have worked better with Mises’s Human Action or some other treatise.

  • Freredom Outlaw

    Sounds like a lot of butthurt going on here. Take two suppositories and read Claire Wolfe.

  • Michael Makovi

    “Oops. Looks like Marx beat you to that one bro.”

    On the contrary, Marx himself admitted that he got his class-conflict theory from the libertarians. I quote Marx’s letter of 5 March 1852 to Joseph Weydemeyer (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/letters/52_03_05.htm):

    “Finally, if I were you, I should tell the democratic gents en général that they would do better to acquaint themselves with bourgeois literature before they venture to yap at its opponents. For instance they should study the historical works of Thierry, Guizot, John Wade and so forth, in order to enlighten themselves as to the past ‘history of the classes’. … Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy.”

    See further:

    Tom G. Palmer, “Classical Liberalism, Marxism, and the Conflict of Classes: The Classical Liberal Theory of Class Conflict”, in Tom G. Palmer, Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice (Washington, DC: The Cato Institute, 2009), pp. 255-275

    Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis”, in Yuri N. Maltsev (ed.), Requiem for Marx (Auburn, Alabama: Auburn University / Auburn, Alabama: The Praxeological Press of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1993), pp. 51-73, http://mises.org/document/3579/Requiem-for-Marx

    Ralph Raico, “Classical Liberal Roots of the Marxist Doctrine of Classes”, in Maltev, Requiem for a Marx, op. cit., pp. 189-220, http://mises.org/document/3579/Requiem-for-Marx

    David M. Hart, “Frédéric Bastiat on Legal Plunder”, The Freeman, September 2012, http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/frdric-bastiat-on-legal-plunder

    David M. Hart, “Frédéric Bastiat’s Distinction Between Legal and Illegal Plunder”, unpublished conference paper, http://davidmhart.com/Papers/Bastiat/Bastiat_LegalPlunder.html

    Mark Weinburg, “The Social Analysis of Three Early 19th Century French Liberals: Say, Comte, and Dunoyer”, The Journal of Libertarian Studies 2:1 (1978), pp. 45-63, http://mises.org/journals/jls/2_1/2_1_4.pdf

    Leonard P. Liggio, “Charles Dunoyer and French Classical Liberalism”, The Journal of Libertarian Studies 1:3 (1977), pp. 153-178, http://mises.org/journals/jls/1_3/1_3_1.pdf

    Ralph Raico, “Classical Liberal Exploitation Theory: A Comment on Profesor Liggio’s Paper” (1974), http://mises.org/daily/4567/ClassicalLiberal-Exploitation-Theory

  • Freredom Outlaw
  • David

    http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2013/02/chesterton-on-homosexuality/

    “In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.”

    Libertarianism and Marxism are both carpe diem religions. I just discovered Thinking Housewife. It’s a wonderful blog; you ought to consider putting it on your roll.

    • oldoddjobs

      Libertarianism does not prescribe that you live for now, or live for tomorrow. It does not deny your spiritual nature, or proselytize on behalf of it. There are Christian libertarians and atheist libertarians. There are drug-takers and teetotallers. There are straight ones and gay ones and God knows what else.

      Libertarianism is merely the belief that one should be legally liable for the imposition of costs on other people. CRAZY, isn’t it? I mean, what a wacky notion. Take their insane, UTOPIAN QUASI-RELIGIOUS view on drugs. These degenerate freaks believe that you should be allowed to grow, possess and sell any old drug you like. Can you believe that? Our leaders are just by-passed! Libertardians appear to not even CARE about politicians who are only trying to look out for us and regulate dangerous behaviour. Well, that’s just a flavour, just one example, of their depraved immoral social philosophy. I’m only glad I climbed aboard the good ship neo-reaction before it was too late. I might have been suckered by these liberalhumanistpostMarxistpomofeminazis myself. Now I understand that if I am mugged by a black person (most likely amirite?) I should be forced by Reactionary Strong Men to pay for his capture, his trial, his lawyer, his detention and also his rehabilitation (as if!).

  • VikingManx

    The two ideologies are mirror images of one another for one fundamental reason: both see men as mere economic units, be they isolated individualists or proletariats struggling for control of the means of production.

    Man’s worth is nothing but the sum of his wealth. Money is God.

    • Dempy

      That’s not at all correct of libertarians. You may be thinking of Austrian economics (an entirely different, though related, system), which operates with an individualistic methodology (meaning that only individuals can make decisions and act – a corporation, for example, is just a group of individuals), but it by no means suggest that people are (or should be) atomistic individualists.

      Libertarianism does stress the sovereignty of the individual, but we certainly encourage sovereign individuals to form relationships with others, so long as they are voluntary.

    • Bowtie and Fedora

      It seems to me that Libertarians are primarily focused on economics, but the dogma doesn’t require judging people by their economic productivity or living your own life like that.

    • oldoddjobs

      A useless canard. Why don’t you just ASK libertarians what they think? Find a libertarian who says that “men are mere economic units” or “men are mere isolated individualists”. I have been looking forever but I am yet to find a SINGLE ONE who believes this. I have never met anyone, of any political persuasion who believes such things. Even the fucking Marxists are not this cartoonish. Well, not anymore!

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  • Dempy

    Why is the NAP a dead end? It can be supported by Kant’s categorical imperative, the idea that ends don’t justify means, the Golden Rule, etc.

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  • oldoddjobs

    You don’t really deal with ideas, do you? You seem more interested in hanging out with cool groups. First the Marxists, then the libertarians, now the reactionaries. No doubt next year you’ll find another group of edgy cool dudes with all the answers.

    P.S Most libertarians don’t go off the “action axiom” or even know much about it. You’re probably thinking of whatever group of libertarians you associated with.

    • Michael Enoch

      Yeah, there were no ideas at all discussed in this article. None. Which is why you responded to my point on the action axiom I suppose. Maybe you should re-examine some of the premises of your little posting spree here because you seem to be trying very hard here to fit me into a mold that I don’t belong in.

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