Libertarianism

Liberal BHLs and Labor BHLs

Our recent series of discussions on libertarianism and workplace coercion has led me to formulate yet another distinction among types of BHLs. Liberal BHLs and Labor BHLs.

One way to distinguish Liberal BHLs and Labor BHLs is by which non-libertarians they cite as influences. Liberal BHLs like John Tomasi, Matt Zwolinski, Jacob Levy, Jason Brennan and myself (not sure about the others) draw from Mill and Rawls, whereas Labor BHLs like Roderick Long and Gary Chartier are more likely to draw on labor theorists and socialists like Proudhon, or new leftist socialists like Gabriel Kolko. They also differ with respect to the libertarians they draw on. Labor BHLs draw more from radical libertarians like Rothbard and libertarians hostile to wage-labor like Benjamin Tucker, whereas Liberal BHLs draw more from moderate libertarians like Hayek.

Another way to distinguish the two groups is by their attitude to class analysis. Labor BHLs are far more inclined to draw on class analysis, consistent with their socialist influences. So Labor BHLs will tend to see the world as usefully divisible into an exploiter and exploited class, even if they hold that many people participate in both exploiter and exploited social forms. Liberal BHLs tend to be hostile to class analysis (somewhat excepting Matt), often finding it as a social scientific ploy to defend the value-laden idea that society is a permanent clash between different interests. It is not that Labor BHLs think that society must function this way, but that in the absence of massive social revolution it in will function in this way (again, much like the socialist attitude towards the relative permanence of class conflict in the absence of revolution). Liberal BHLs follow Rawls in striving to always find a way to see society as a cooperative venture for mutual gain, even in statist societies.

Another important distinction between the two is their attitude towards the nation-state. Again like their socialist predecessors, Labor BHLs are nigh universally anarchists. They seek the revolutionary abolition of the state. Liberal BHLs are not necessarily statists, but they are far more comfortable with statist arrangements. Liberal BHLs are also sometimes willing to acknowledge that the state is legitimate, if not fully just. This has important implications for what sorts of policies they advocate. Liberal BHLs are far friendlier to a UBI than Labor BHLs, I suspect for this reason.

Interestingly, Liberal and Labor BHLs seem to have very different moral philosophical views. Liberal BHLs are more likely to be consequentialist or contractualist (more in the latter camp than the former), whereas Labor BHLs are more likely to be Aristotelians and natural law and natural rights types. I’m not sure how to explain this save via historical associations.

We can see the difference clearly illustrated in our various replies to the recent workplace coercion discussion. Roderick Long, a Labor BHL, responds by accepting the great importance of workplace freedom and argues, for empirical and praxeological reasons, that libertarian property rights regimes best promote workplace freedom. But Matt Zwolinski, a Liberal BHLs, tends to be kinder to employers, more willing to try and explain their behavior as the unfortunate result of economic forces. Roderick is more inclined to view employers as exploiters under statist conditions than Matt is. You might recall the controversy between Roderick and Matt on sweatshops to further illustrate my point.

For my part, since Roderick was perhaps the greatest (living) influence on my philosophical formation as an undergraduate and early graduate student, I bear Labor BHL markings. So I find myself more sympathetic to the Labor BHL hostility to state-protected employers than Matt is. However, I am ultimately more of a Liberal BHL, so I am concerned about the usefulness of class analysis and have less confidence in Labor BHL empirical claims as a result. I wouldn’t call myself a Lib-Lab BHL, but I’m in the vicinity.

  • Aeon Skoble

    Interesting. Now I’m going to have to spend a few hours figuring out how I fit into this taxonomy!

  • I think there is something to this distinction. It’s probably a bit overdrawn, especially in terms of influences and sympathy to class analysis. And it’s certainly overdrawn with respect to me! My own thought draws quite a bit from Rothbard, and from Tucker, Hodgskin, and Proudhon as well. And I’m very attracted to the idea of libertarian class analysis. Rod and I have our disagreements of course, but I think that at least in the case of sweatshops those disagrements proved, after a bit of exploration, to be shallower than they first appeared.

    If you won’t take the Lib-Lab label, perhaps I will!

    • Kevin Vallier

      I suppose I took your criticisms of left-libertarianism over the last year or so to put you in the liberal BHL camp.

      • There’s something to this distinction, but still I have some quibbles:

        a) Gary and I don’t draw on Proudhon nearly as often as your “liberal BHLs” draw on Mill and Rawls. And I can’t recall either of us drawing on Bakunin in any meaningful sense. The non-libertarians I most often draw on are probably Aristotle and Wittgenstein, plus New Lefties like Kolko; for Gary it might be the New Natural Law theorists.

        b) Why are “libertarians hostile to wage-labor like Benjamin Tucker” described as libertarians but then listed among non-libertarian influences?

        c) As Matt Z., presumably one of your “liberal BHLs,” notes above, he has written favourably about class analysis.

        Is “Lib-Lab” pronounced like “Jib-Jab” at the beginning of Jib-Jab videos?

        • Kevin Vallier

          (a) is acknowledged, (b) is an error I’ll fix.

  • Todd

    I think libertarians love labels more than freedom.

    • dude

      uh, didn’t you just label all libertarians here?

  • Hm. I’m apparently the most pro-union of us but I’m certainly not “Lab;” but other than being “not-Lab” I don’t recognize very much of myself in your “Lib.” (Too Rawlsian!)

    • Kevin Vallier

      I threw in “consequentialist” for you in particular, but I still take Roderick’s last post to put him much further into the pro-union camp than you are.

  • KnowPD

    Great post! A taxonomy like this is helpful for drawing higher level distinctions as the finer points get hammered out.

  • JesseWalker

    I thought of this as a split between “liberaltarians” and “left-libertarians,” but since the first word is ugly and the second is vague I suppose your taxonomy works better. (Question: Does Horwitz fit into either camp?)

  • I wasn’t aware of the people identified so far as Labor BHL’s being against UBI. You seem to be assuming that UBI would be government administered, and Labor BHL’s, being opposed in principle to government, would be against it. Perhaps some kind of confederalism is the key to UBI without the state. My own thoughts on universal basic income are, it’s either going to happen somehow, or people of means live in gated communities—the question of whether you’d like to be a rich person in a poor society. The laws of sociology, like the laws of economics, are non-negotiable.

  • jdkolassa

    Stumbled upon this old article while doing a search. I’m increasingly finding myself defying all sorts of categories. For instance, I’m mostly a Liberal BHL according to this post…except instead of being a consequentialist or a contractualist , I’m more of a natural law/natural rights (aren’t they the same thing?) sort of guy. Meanwhile, I’m definitely a minarchist and not an anarchist.

    Over the past 3-4 years, I’ve shifted from being a typical young “right-libertarian” with a strong aversion to any sort of welfare to being more of a neoclassical liberal ala Jason Brennan (just, you know, a minarchist version) who supports both the provision of public goods and a universal basic income.

    I guess I’m just going to call myself a classical liberal.

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