Fiscal Tunnel Vision: Why Left Libertarians Are Different

Well, I'm not big on voting, but I've decided that I'm much more inclined to participate in local elections than national ones. Maybe it's a middle of the road approach for an anarchist. Maybe it's a cop-out. I'm not entirely comfortable with that position, but then again, there's not a lot about the State with which I'm comfortable. It's important to have a position even if you later realize you're wrong.

"Inclined to participate" does not, however, mean "solemnly pledged to fulfill my patriotic duty". Example: the Virginia Senate primary race between Republican incumbent Walter Stosch and challenger Joe Blackburn. Strategic non-voting is crucial for anarchists and all other opponents of the State, even when voting is accepted as a tool, because it reinforces our true power to de-legitimize institutions where our purposes are not served at all.

I met Blackburn when he spoke at the Patrick Henry Supper Club meeting, and his agenda of cutting spending and taxes seemed quite attractive. He painted his opponent as a tax raising RINO and himself as a true blue conservative from a political Virginia family who loved Atlas Shrugged and saw lots of common ground with libertarians.

Now, whenever politicians speak at the supper club, they're bound to get some pointed, perhaps hostile, questions from the audience. While uncomfortable, it can be enlightening, as in this case when a libertarian (whose name I do not remember) asked a question about repealing sodomy laws in Virginia. Blackburn tried to dance around the question by claiming that people charged with that crime are usually being charged with other, more serious crimes. But when confronted directly on the justice of the sodomy law, he stood by his opposition to repealing it.

I didn't give this much thought, because it's one issue among many and he otherwise seemed alright on other issues. Plus he wasn't an incumbent. But when I saw this dispatch from Equality Virginia on Thomas Krehbiel's blog, I realized that the stakes were much higher:

"A key moderate in the Senate, in the 2007 General Assembly session Senator Stosch supported the hospital visitation bill and legislation to allow municipalities to provide domestic-partner health care benefits. This is in direct contrast to his opponent who would likely be an outspoken opponent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality."

When I read this, I got a chill and summarily resolved not to vote for either candidate (thanks, Thomas). Stosch ended up winning, and I feel just fine about it.

Now, some libertarians might call me out for not supporting the challenger who was strongly in favor of cutting taxes and spending. And they'd have a point - but only if they think taxes trump personal freedom and equality under the law. Yes, a well-funded government is perhaps more likely than a less-well-funded government to trample liberty. But Republicans have demonstrated for about two decades that borrow-and-spend is just as viable as tax-and-spend. And since Blackburn clearly does not seek to reform government injustices towards minorities, he's certainly not opposed   to funding certain intrusions into peoples' private affairs - the most despicable intrusions as what goes on in a couple's bedroom, I might add. This is very typical of conservatives: leave me alone for politically favored groups, and a nanny, police state government for those not so lucky.

This is precisely why left libertarians distinguish themselves from more mainstream libertarians, or perhaps what we would call "right libertarians". Taxes are very, very important. But they are not the end-all-be-all in the fight against the State. Personal liberties like privacy and equality under the law matter, and they must be weighed against other issues. To place my tax bill above the dignity of other people who have been repressed far too grievously in Virginia history is simply unthinkable to me. I'd much rather have a libertarian society, but if I have to choose between a socialist liberal one and a corporatist conservative one, I'll go with the former any day.

One of my left libertarian heroes, James Leroy Wilson, put it best in a recent article:

Simply put, taxation is a lesser evil than regulation.. It is better to know you're going to be robbed at a certain time of year, and know how much you will lose, than be subject to random break-ins and muggings throughout the year.

Now, he's speaking of socialized health care, but the point stands for moral regulations as well. It's better to pay higher taxes than have your bedroom be policed - at least, for this left libertarian.

I respect healthy differences of opinion in the libertarian movement, and still consider "right" libertarians my brothers and sisters. But the descriptor of "left" and "right" has meaning, and that meaning does translate into actions which will part left libertarians from the mainstream. In order for us to become the kind of movement that has a strong, critical, vibrant internal conversation, we libertarians need to identify and acknowledge these biases.

So it was quite fitting that I gave my first pitch for the Richmond Left Libertarian Alliance at this meeting, because it really delineated the underlying issues on which libertarians disagree. And as an anarchist who looks upon party politics with a very skeptical eye, I think it was a great, eye opening experience. It is in this vein of thought that I am considering starting a Henrico County politics blog to follow local issues from a completely disinterested position (who better to report on politics than an avowed anarchist?). And with libertarian Matt Martin comprising the sole challenge to a twenty year, big government incumbent, there's definitely interesting stuff to report on. I'd really like to take the Henrico Police Department to task for some abuses of theirs I've witnessed. But, I've got lots of projects right now, so we'll see.

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Written on Friday, June 15, 2007