Their Libertarianism–And Ours

Their Libertarianism–And Ours

Libertarianism: A Primer
by David Boaz
Free Press, 1997. 314 pp. $23.00.

What It Means to Be a Libertarian:
A Personal Libertarianism
by Charles Murray
Broadway Books, 1997. 178 pp. $20.00.

Those of us who call ourselves left libertarians feel pretty lonely these days. While the very word “libertarian” has become a synonym for “radical free marketeer,” the mainstream of the American left—defined broadly for the purposes of this essay as the party of economic and social equality—seems content to cede both the word and the concept to the right. At best the contemporary left, with few exceptions, defends particular liberties and challenges particular repressive laws and policies while ignoring the structures of unfreedom built into institutions like the state, the corporation, the family, and the church. At worst it attacks “excessive” liberty as a mere extension of capitalist individualism, an offense to communal values, and/or a rationale for maintaining the position of dominant social groups. Most leftists are uncritically statist, merely complaining that the government is controlled by the wrong people and doesn’t do enough of the right things. And though the left of course wants to redistribute corporate profits to workers, it shows little interest in attacking the authoritarian structure of the workplace or the puritanical assumptions of the work ethic.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels