Watching the online banter about my last post, I saw several people–both supporters and critics of my argument–suggesting that I was proposing some kind of “alliance with libertarians”. This is peculiar in that I never said such a thing anywhere in the post. My point was that libertarians don’t, and shouldn’t, have a monopoly on anti-statist politics, and that there are stoutly Marxist reasons to see the national security state as a key political target of the class struggle.
The main reason I didn’t call for a left-libertarian alliance is that I don’t know what such a thing would even mean. Are Cornel West and Rand Paul to have a grand summit and sign a Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact declaring a cease in hostilities in light of our common war on liberalism?
Obviously that’s ridiculous, and people who criticize “alliances” with libertarians are really questioning the validity of any political issue that might find leftists and libertarians on the same side. But this applies a level of sectarian rigor that is rarely found outside of the most insular Trotskyists. Politics makes for all sorts of strange bedfellows–recall that the Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act, which would raise capital standards for big banks, is co-sponsored by progressive hero Sherrod Brown and reactionary Louisiana Republican David Vitter.
Yet I don’t recall a lot of handwringing about the left’s “alliances” with right wing Christian fundamentalists, presumably because it’s obvious that a tactical alignment on a single issue doesn’t entail accepting your enemy’s entire worldview. I would think it’s obvious that effective politics means making common cause with people who you find distasteful in some ways. But maybe I’m just used to it because I’m a socialist, and I’m used to working with liberals who believe all sorts of lousy things–for example, that the progressive legacy of the New Deal includes the military and prison industrial complex.
All of which is why, in the end, I lump in left critics of Glenn Greenwald or Edward Snowden’s “libertarianism” with obvious partisan hacks like Sean Wilentz. Their arguments all point to the same thing: not a clarification of the Left’s politics, but merely a stigmatization of anything that attacks the security state, as if that’s somehow incompatible with the values of the Left. And it’s dispiriting that some people are unable to see that I was never arguing that the Left needed to be more like libertarians, but rather that a position of principled opposition to the repressive functions of the state is indispensible for a consistent and emancipatory left politics.