Libertarianism.org briefly addresses the concept of “left-libertarianism,” defining it as system of thought wherein adherents hold that individuals are (and must be) free, but the natural things of the earth—land, resources, etc.—are (and must be) held in common. If the latter portion sounds like socialism, that’s because it is socialism. The former is just eye-wash, or wishful thinking, because in societies in which things are (supposedly) owned in common, people are not free.
In order to exist, I must eat. In order to consume the morsel of food I need to sustain my existence, that morsel must be mine and mine alone. It cannot be owned by everyone.
In order to exist, I must have shelter. I must use the things of the earth to build that shelter, and it must exist on a piece of ground. That shelter and land are useless to me if everyone claims ownership over them. I must be able to exclude others from its use.
In order to exist, I must be able to use the things of the earth to fashion tools, or to create things of value that I can then trade to others for things I need. That is not possible if everyone owns everything. It is only possible if clear lines of ownership can be established and real property can be exchanged on mutually acceptable terms.
The individual human person naturally owns himself, but that self-ownership is useless if he is not free, and that freedom includes the freedom to own (and trade ownership of) real things. The left-libertarian claims to understand the need for the individual to be free, but then denies the very thing that that freedom requires.
There are some data that lead scientists to believe that at one point, about 70,000 years ago, the human population had been reduced to 1,000, and possibly even down to as few as 40 breeding couples. Those people did not own the Earth in common. They were not taking from a common stock. They were just people in a howling wilderness struggling to survive, and to keep the species going for another generation. And they did what comes naturally: My food. (I caught it). My spear. (I made it.) My cave. (I found it.) I need these things to survive. I will share them with those whom I choose. And then they got more sophisticated and started bartering: Here’s this thing I made for that thing you made. And then they took the next natural step and created a mutually accepted currency, allowing them to store value.
There is nothing wrong with original acquisition. So long as force is not used to take that which has been made, found, brought into production, or originally (and peacefully) acquired by another, no harm has occurred. No “common stock” has been robbed. A system in which people can trade land, food, the use of certain resources, created items, etc. is an outgrowth of natural laws and organic patterns. A scheme that pretends that everyone owns the world’s resources must be imagined, invented, and imposed. It is unworkable and bears no resemblance to actual reality.
Do I fantasize about being on a giant planet where every square inch isn’t yet owned and controlled? Yes. It’s a delightful vision that appeals to the pioneer, the libertarian, and the freedom-lover in me. But what would I and my hardscrabble band of space pioneers do in such a place? We would find food and the food would have to be ours in order to be useful. We would fashion tools and build shelters, and those would have to be ours in order to be useful. Animals stake out territorial ranges for the same basic reasons. You cannot exist if you are not free to own. It is just the way of things, and pretending otherwise leads to the horrors of communism.
And there’s the rub. Left-libertarianism is just socialism by another name. A scheme where the world’s resources are held in common is an unworkable nightmare. A share of ownership by each individual person is, in reality, impossible; thus, ownership must be by a central authority, which means, practically, that ownership falls into the hands of a small number of officials, bureaucrats, party leaders, or cronies. Maybe that is not the intent of the idealistic adherents to the philosophy, but it is inevitable anyway.
In the case of leftist ideology, it certainly is the intent. If everything is owned in common, then an industrious person who uses the resources of the Earth to make a productive farm is a thief. The more industrious, the bigger the thief. Everything the industrious person produces and owns is stolen, which, of course, justifies taking a “share” of his stuff in punishment for his crime. And taking stuff is the point of leftism. Using a philosophy of common ownership as a starting point is just a sly way of justifying redistribution.
There is, of course, the Lockean Proviso—that an owner must not take ALL of a resource, that “enough and as good” must be available for others. It’s a sensible proviso, though in practice, the issue it warns about does not come up particularly often. (Of course we now have the somewhat sinister spectacle of Bill Gates buying up suspiciously large quantities of U.S. farmland, for reasons that, given his other behavior and statements, seem to go beyond a simple desire to become a farmer. As potentially troubling as this development is, however, it is an edge case that may require special treatment, but does not invalidate the entire concept of property rights.)
If you want to hold that, in some deep and spiritual way, God gave the physical universe to all of us, that’s perfectly fine. But this notion cannot be used to create a political or economic system. The common-ownership model is unnatural, unworkable, and logically incoherent. And it cannot rightly be considered any form of libertarianism, because it denies the freedom that self-ownership requires and inevitably produces the centralized force that libertarianism inherently prohibits.
I wonder, then, where left-libertarianism comes from (besides the obvious answer that humans are ideologically diverse and will come up with all sorts of variations on major themes). Some, surely, must be people with leftish instincts who are also intrigued by aspects of libertarian thought and are trying to reconcile the two into a coherent ideology. Some may be the influx of iconoclasts who think that “libertarian” means “not a Democrat or a Republican,” but whose leftish instincts lead them to nurture a kind of blue-pilled libertarianism. Some libertarians have spent so long trying to distinguish themselves from conservatism (in spite of the ideological provenance that both movements clearly share) that they have moved leftward in their desperate effort to say that they’re not on “the right.” Perhaps there may even be a few intellectual terrorists who are trying to troll, and undermine, genuine classical-liberal libertarianism.
Whatever the cause and source, left-libertarianism is just leftism pretending to be something it’s not. Communist doctrine also pretended that the individual was free under their scheme of common ownership. Freer, even. That didn’t make it true.
I suppose there may be some nuance that I am missing in all of this. But I cannot imagine what nuances would overcome these basic inconsistencies.