I’ve always found profound this whimsical poem by G. K. Chesterton:
I saw an old man like a child,
His blue eyes bright, his white hair wild,
Who turned for ever, and might not stop,
Round and round like an urchin’s top.
‘Fool,’ I cried, ‘while you spin round,
‘Others grow wise, are praised, are crowned.’
Ever the same round road he trod,
‘This is better: I seek for God.’
‘We see the whole world, left and right,
Yet at the blind back hides from sight
The unseen Master that drives us forth
To East and West, to South and North.
‘Over my shoulder for eighty years
I have looked for the gleam of the sphere of spheres.’
‘In all your turning, what have you found?’
‘At least, I know why the world goes round.’
Sheldon Richman wrote an article on the “Libertarian Left” (available here) that is well worth reading in its entirety, but I highlight the following excerpt because I wish to quibble with part of it:
[Murray N.] Rothbard (1926-1995) was the leading theorist of radical Lockean libertarianism combined with Austrian economics, which demonstrates that free markets produce widespread prosperity, social cooperation, and economic coordination without monopoly, depression, or inflation—evils whose roots are to be found in government intervention. Rothbard, who called himself an “anarcho-capitalist,” first saw himself as a man of the “Old Right,” the loose collection of opponents of the New Deal and American Empire epitomized by Sen. Robert Taft, journalist John T. Flynn, and more radically, Albert Jay Nock. Yet Rothbard understood libertarianism’s left-wing roots.
In his 1965 classic and sweeping essay “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty,” Rothbard identified “liberalism”—what is today called libertarianism—with the left as “the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity.” The other great ideology to emerge after the French revolution “was conservatism, the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of the Old Order.”
When the New Left arose in the 1960s to oppose the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex, and bureaucratic centralization, Rothbard easily made common cause with it. “The Left has changed greatly, and it is incumbent upon everyone interested in ideology to understand the change… . [T]he change marks a striking and splendid infusion of libertarianism into the ranks of the Left,” he wrote in “Liberty and the New Left.” His left-radicalism was clear in his interest in decentralization and participatory democracy, pro-peasant land reform in the feudal Third World, “black power,” and worker “homesteading” of American corporations whose profits came mainly from government contracts.
But with the fading of New Left, Rothbard deemphasized these positions and moved strategically toward right-wing paleoconservatism. His left-libertarian colleague, the former Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess (1923-1994), kept the torch burning. In Dear America Hess wrote, “On the far right, law and order means the law of the ruler and the order that serves the interest of that ruler, usually the orderliness of drone workers, submissive students, elders either totally cowed into loyalty or totally indoctrinated and trained into that loyalty,” while the left “has been the side of politics and economics that opposes the concentration of power and wealth and, instead, advocates and works toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.”
Albert Jay Nock, although he is commonly understood, as Richman notes, to epitomize (“radically,” no less) the so-called “Old Right,” paradoxically also epitomizes, just as radically, the Left as defined by Karl Hess. Politically, Nock “advocated” (he was far too cynical to lower himself to actual advocacy of anything) Thomas Jefferson’s “Ward System.” Economically, he “advocated” Henry George’s “Single Tax.” Both proposals radically tend “toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.”
Although I’m a big fan of Kevin Carson, whom Richman in his article uses to epitomize what he calls modern-day “left-libertarianism,” I have a couple of quibbles with Carson, too. First, Richman writes:
These laissez-faire left-libertarians [Carson and colleagues] are not to be confused with other varieties of left-wing libertarians, such as Noam Chomsky or Hillel Steiner, who each in his own way objects to individualistic appropriation of unowned natural resources and the economic inequality that freed markets can produce.
Hillel Steiner is basically a follower of Henry George. In contrast to them, according to Richman, Carson does not “object to individualistic appropriation of unowned natural resources and the economic inequality” it can produce. To compensate, however, he subscribes to the so-called “use and occupancy” theory of land tenure, as colorfully (albeit unfairly) described by this comment on one of Carson’s recent posts (which incidentally in my opinion is not one of his better efforts) at the Center for a Stateless Society:
Yes, clearly Kevin Carson wants to burn down my aunt and uncle’s business, as they committed the sin of Incorporation. In related news, he encourages appropriating their home as soon as they use their filthy corporate lucre to go on a vacation, as they will no longer be occupying and using it.
My other quibble with Carson and the “left-libertarianism” he epitomizes is his seemingly reflexive conflation of authentic political and economic Leftism with the whole panoply of social and cultural biases and dogmas that have come to be associated with the modern so-called “Left.” This reflexive conflation is what I was reacting to in my own comment on Carson’s recent post.