Is Libertarianism Left or Right? I consider it of the Right (properly understood) but others have argued differently. Back in the ’60s, Murray Rothbard argued that it was Left, while socialism was in the Middle, and conservatism was Right. Karl Hess, Roderick T. Long, and many others have subscribed to this perspective of left-libertarianism; Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Justin Ramaindo, and others subscribe to right-libertarianism; while still others, such as Walter Block, argue that libertarianism is neither Left nor Right. Recently, James Peron has written of the need (here and here), once again, for libertarians to distance themselves from the conservative movement, and to align more with the Left (essentially his entire analysis of history is in full agreement with Rothbard’s 1965 analysis).
Being one that is outside the entire ‘libertarian intellectual’ movement (I’m just a guy on the Internet, blogging my thoughts – I have no connections with any libertarian leaders, whether Left or Right), some of this bickering back and forth appears silly to me. These topics of political orientation and of which methods to better attain our goals (we all agree on maximizing the liberty of the individual) have caused division within libertarianism for decades. I know some of the arguments are about substantive issues, but many of the arguments are merely about semantics or about personality clashes. My own opinions are most shaped from Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn; I consider myself fully one of the Right; I am not an egalitarian; I am a devout Christian and an ardent social conservative and traditionalist. But I also find much value in Long’s (and other left-libertarians’) works, as well as ‘Beltway’ and ‘acceptable’ libertarians like Milton Friedman and those over at the Cato Institute.
I think Russell Kirk was quite right when he criticized libertarians as being “chirping sectaries.” Many libertarians are quick to disparage any other libertarian that they may only agree with 90%, while simultaneously aligning with non-libertarians that they may only agree with on 5% of issues. It’s an odd characteristic that, at least to me, appears to apply to many libertarians.
So, what are we to do? Sing kumbaya and ignore whatever differences we have amongst each other? No, not at all. We should argue and critique each other. But we should do so without losing sight of our ultimate objectives. I am an ecumenical in all of my beliefs – religious, philosophical, and socio-political. I have my own ardent views on many a topic and I will work hard to persuade an individual to come to my side of things, but I also believe strongly in unity and solidarity on the vitally important matters. I believe fundamentally in the saying in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (in necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity).
Regarding Peron’s article, there is much within which I disagree with. He supports all sorts of truly Leftist objectives – egalitarian feminism, marriage equality for homosexuals, etc – which don’t really have anything to do with libertarianism. Libertarianism is only about political ends, it is not an all-encompassing libertine ‘Live and Let Live’ philosophy. He can propagate his support for such objectives all he wants, of course, but he should not conflate those goals with the libertarian goal of political liberty. I do agree, however, with his proposal to not align with the modern conservative movement. He is completely correct in his criticisms of conservative statists. I am opposed to all methods by the State to enforce a certain morality, and I am opposed to Big Business welfarism as much as I am to lower class welfarism.
Thus, I disagree with Peron’s call for an alignment with the Left. I view most of those within the Republican and Democratic parties as being solidly on the Left anyway. What we need is neither an alignment with the left-wing or right-wing, but a strategic temporary alignment with some individuals on some topics, and other individuals on other topics. Indeed, even after all of his criticism against the conservatives and praise for the progressives, Peron basically reaches the same conclusion. And again, even though I don’t agree with some objectives of left-libertarians, I don’t call for a purging of the ranks, but rather a call for unity. We can all agree to minimize the size and scope of the State; to minimize the size and scope of Big Business; to advocate true self-government, not democracy; and many other goals besides. Where we disagree, we disagree. But we should all, both Left and Right, focus more on our commonality until our larger goals have been accomplished. By all means, we can all have our own views on whatever subjects, but to continually purge each other from ‘true libertarianism’ and to constantly seek realignment with such-and-such left-wing or right-wing ultimately hurts our purposes.