Liberty and Private Power

This is interesting: over at Crooked Timber, there’s a massive discussion going on about Libertarians and the abuses of private power. It was started by Corey Robin, and has grown to involve a much broader community. Chris Bertram has distilled the conversation as much as possible and produced a link studded post that tracks the arguments.

I think Robin sums up his stance in his most recent post:

While libertarianism may begin as a critique of state coercion in the name of personal liberty, it invariably ends up as an apologia for the absence of freedom in large parts of most people’s lives.

Bertram expands on this a bit:

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

Over at The Mahablog, Maha has an observation about the counter-arguments and those who make them:

I haven’t had a chance to click through all the links to all the arguments and counter-arguments. But we’re basically looking at a discussion among mostly (if not entirely) white men, who mostly work in think tanks and academia. These are not people who have had the personal experience of working for some soul-sucking martinet while being a couple of missed paychecks away from eviction. The Crooked Timber crew “gets it,” but once again I am struck that libertarian theory is mostly embraced by the relatively privileged, for whom genuine oppression is something they’ve only read about in textbooks.

And now, just to keep this from getting too cerebral, here’s what it would sound like if your pets were Libertarian: