Left Libertarianism and Leadership

Left-Libertarianism and Leadership
by Chris Lempa & Keith Taylor
Black Oak Presents, Spring 2009

Leadership is essential to the growth of the anti- (or alternative) State movement. Ken Pigg, a rural sociology professor at the University of Missouri, notes that leadership is “influence,” and what are we seeking as libertarians if not influence? We need to build “organic” leadership to not only prosper libertarian thought, but also combat centralizing tendencies in our day to day life.

Leadership is a concept oftentimes criticized as amorphous, difficult to conceptualize, and laden in values. When one applies a set of values to the concept of leadership, however, it is not as difficult to conceptualize as one might believe. Leadership should be viewed from many perspectives. Corporate leadership certainly differs from small business leadership, which no doubt differs from political leadership. But as libertarians, we should care most about community leadership.

Community leadership is, as Pigg noted, about influence. There is a set of characteristics a community leader must exude to be effective within the community sphere: a lack of ego or individual power seeking; a desire for inclusionary decision making; sensitivity to others’ willingness or lack thereof to participate in community; and most importantly, a desire to build other community leaders.

Community leadership promotes a level of anti-authoritarian structure through diffuse leadership. In other words, community leadership is about removing authority through mutual empowerment. A community leader does not seek power, but as previously stated, seeks influence. A community leader avoids control and instead seeks participation and inclusion in community processes.

For example, a member-owned cooperative grocery store would seek the input of not only the membership in decision-making activity, but also the workers, recognizing them as essential components of the co-op’s operations. Critical decisions by the board and management of the cooperative would seek to build trust and reciprocity amongst the cooperative community before forging ahead on initiatives potential deemed as controversial.

But it is not enough for leadership to stop there. In order to be effective, the leaders must encourage others within the ranks of the cooperative to seek official positions within the decision-making apparatus of the organization and even welcome challenges to their positions. Such an environment is a welcoming environment, allowing for civil discourse and the dissemination of ideas, thoughts, and concerns.

A left-libertarian critique of capitalists (or supposed “free-market capitalists”) is the inconsistency in their stance on authority. Capitalists at large seem to be content with corporate bosses, as well as exploitive business owners (boss treats ya bad? Quit! Move elsewhere!). This offers no solution to the problem of exploitation, nor does it assist in empowering laborers. Community leadership would reinforce social norms that respect all aspects of human interaction by recognizing we all have a stake in our community, whether it be in a shopping center, factory floor, or mopping floors; people are not disposable husks of measurable economic units, and to treat them as such has ramifications outside of the marketplace.

Believe it or not, there is a world of academic literature out there that is quite pragmatic in this approach. The rural and community academic literature has for a while, been writing about entrepreneurial communities in a manner necessitated by the devolution of federal and state governments and limited funding sources, even though most impoverished communities are rich in assets.

The problem is, in part, because the dominant economic class has imbued their own values into what is a “viable business model.” Individuals can lead a movement from within their own community to fight this mindset and recognize intrinsic community capitals that outsiders would normally scoff at.

Cultural capital in Mattoon, Illinois certainly varies from the cultural capital of a Wall Street trader in NYC, as do the unique preferences of individuals from those two communities. And that’s fine! Just because one group attempts to push its norms and values on the other through the economic system, that does not legitimize it, especially if there is resistance and leadership from within those communities to counter the outside influence.

As left-libertarians, are we not attempting to influence the public discourse? Is this not a leadership role? Are we not attempting to move toward a self-help approach and remove hierarchical power structures? How else can we do this if we do not lead and attempt to build other leaders?

Chris Lempa is a streetwise professor in search of the perfect cup of coffee and the perfect glass of water. He is an editor at http://www.Strike-the-root.com. You may e-mail him at chris (at) chrislempa.info.

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