Laissez-Faire Institute - Freedom Without Compromise

“Right-” and “Left-” Libertarians are (oxy)morons

Libertarianism is neither left nor right. Libertarianism is a theory of law that delegitimizes politics. Left and right are labels of tribal affiliation in political conflicts. Inasmuch as someone is “left” or “right,” one isn’t a libertarian by that much. Inasmuch as one is a libertarian, one is neither “left” nor “right” by that much.

Left and right are about dreaming to impose your will on other people, either through political violence to coerce them, or triple mystical powder that will magically change their minds. Left and right are about caring what other people will do with their own property, and controlling them. They are about giving self-righteous yes or no answers to questions such as: “Should other people be either nicer or less nice to other people based on their gender, their ethnicity, their place of birth, their religion, their culture, their wealth, their education, etc.?” The libertarian instead answers: “Just who are you to make such demands? What are your titles of superiority? If you care about ‘the poor’ or some other murky (or specific) subset of people, then do something for them with your own resources! Don’t rob other people of their resources, their time, their minds, to do something in your stead.”

Libertarianism is never partisan. A libertarian who actually cares about “the poor” is not a “left libertarian,” advocating for special rules that favor some “poor”: he’s a libertarian who’s financially supporting, or better, actively developing either a charity, or better, a business, that makes these “poor” better off and not “poor” anymore. A libertarian who actually cares about “unborn babies” is not a “right libertarian”, advocating for special rules that favor some “unborn babies”: he’s a libertarian who’s spending his time and money improving the lives of these unborn babies, by supporting their teen or destitute mothers, adopting one such baby, educating potential parents to avoid unwanted pregnancies, etc. Similarly, a libertarian who actually cares about the NY Yankees is not a “pro-yankees libertarian”, advocating for special rules that favor the Yankees, but a libertarian who’s working hard as a member of the team or its support staff. In all cases, tribal identification and mindless cheering are a vice at best when pretenses for idle self-congratulation — and a sin at worst when inspirations for the violation of rights.

There is of course an infinitely rich variety of goals that a libertarian may pursue; but at no point does any libertarian demand that everyone should share his choice of causes; he makes no demands whatsoever on others, besides respect for the Law, i.e. for his and everyone else’s property rights. Certainly, a libertarian will prefer to associate with people he values, people who value him, people who share his values, etc. In other words, he will discriminate in their favor, to the exclusion of others. But he will not demand that others should discriminate the same way as he does. That’s what freedom of association is all about. Of course, he will enjoy spreading his ideas, and rejoice when others come to share them; but never will he consider forceful coercion a legitimate means to that end, much less coercion by the supreme force of government goons.

Libertarianism is a theory of law: it explains that conflicts between humans are minimized when they recognize each other’s property rights, based on self-ownership and homesteading of unowned resources, preserved by transformation through labor, and transmitted through consensual trading and giving. The one and only universal social imperative is to respect these property rights; any violation of these property rights is destructive of the social order; and it is only worse when this violation is sanctioned by human institutions rather than condemned by them. Politics is indeed the institutional violation of property rights by the mighty, through violence and threat thereof. These mighty might derive their power from more advanced technology, greater wealth, better health, larger crowd, higher IQ, richer diet, more efficient organization, generally superior culture, a better ability to brainwash their victims, or any combination of the above and other factors. Whichever way, politics is the antithesis of libertarian law.

Left and right are two poles in the natural polarization of politics: there is inevitably some winner-takes-all aspect in the conquest of power over human and other natural resources; and binary alliances spontaneously form in this context. The left-right axis has thus never been about any fixed ideas, but always been about a partisan struggle for power. The historic divide between these poles generally involves the “right” purporting to defend the interests of those favored by the traditional order, whereas the “left” purports to defend those less off in this traditional order — with laughable variations when the “left” establishes a new order long enough to become a tradition. The “right” therefore tends to condone the intensification of old forms of oppression and everything that is bad with the current order, whereas the “left” tends to propose new forms of oppression and the subversion of everything that is good about the current order. Politicians of both sides generally agree on the forever growth of power, with occasional lapses in shrinking or even repealing a program that mainly supports the power of the other side.

In a libertarian society, no honest and sane person would seriously claim being “left” or “right”: there isn’t a political partition into two alliances to grab power, each camp proposing a non-negotiatable package deal of claims and opinions; instead each individual’s interest will be sui generis and won’t match any such coarse-grained definitions. Anyone seriously claiming to be either “left” or “right” will be at worst a proud criminal, to be treated as such, or at best a mentally sick person claiming to be criminal, probably an old dodderer expressing trauma from pre-libertarian times; less seriously, it could be a comedian temporarily impersonating one of the previous.

Those who today claim to be “left libertarian” don’t understand libertarianism; they are often the “useful idiots” described by Lenin, who promote some communist ideas without understanding the consequences — unless they are wanton undercover agitators; the line is sometimes blurry between the two. Those who today claim to be “right libertarian” also don’t understand libertarianism; they are the puppets of old superstitions, they often support current right-winger politicians who badly mimic the opinions of century-old left-wingers. There are all kinds of deluded people, of course, and some of them may indeed genuinely share a number of libertarian ideas.

But let it be clear: by qualifying their libertarianism with “left,” “right,” or pretty much any prefix or suffix, these people are thereby clearly revealing how they reject parts of libertarianism to embrace some opposing political philosophy on some topics where they deem some kinds of violation of property rights justified. If some people feel they need to call themselves left-libertarian, right-libertarian, theo-libertarian, geo-libertarian, neo-libertarian, paleo-libertarian, veggo-libertarian, or whatever, be assured there’s at least one topic where they are quite anti-libertarian. Of course, on that topic, they’ll explain how those who, uninformed by their theories, stick to libertarianism, are being “vulgar” libertarians. So be it. We authors of this website are “vulgar libertarians” on each of the many topics that each of those enlightened post-libertarians hold to heart as exceptions to individual property rights. Now, our answer is that everyone is entitled to having interests, obsessions, or outright neuroses on some topics; but still, no one is actually justified in using these personal preferences as pretenses to violate other people’s rights. The prefixed libertarians may claim that they have gone “beyond” libertarianism, we contend that they haven’t reached it yet.