Friday, March 24, 2006

Cue Card Libertarianism: Political Spectrum

Political Spectrum, n. ie., that on which libertarians are not!

Because of the abysmally low capacity for intellectual abstraction among philosophically illiterate politicians, journalists and political science graduates, however, it is seemingly impossible to shake off the label “right wing” even when irrefutable evidence is offered that the label is wrong. Therefore, it becomes necessary to point out periodically that “libertarians are neither left nor right wing.”

Leaving aside its historical origins, the spectrum as commonly understood nowadays is a one-dimensional line that places communism on the extreme left (out to the west), fascism on the extreme right (out to the east), with gradations of democratic versions of each in between. Libertarians maintain that all philosophies on this spectrum sanction coercion; that the differences are merely of degree not of principle; that it matters not whether coercion is initiated by a majority or by a dictator – it is still coercion, to which we are opposed in whatever guise it is practised. In short, the traditional one-dimensional spectrum fails because it excludes the full spectrum of political freedom from discussion.

To lump libertarians in with the extreme right – fascists, religious bigots etc – is just as ignorant as it is to call us communists. Another division of ideologies sometimes suggested is to place the total state on the left – communism and fascism – and the total absence of the state – anarchy, on the right, with gradations of statism in between. Thus: Communism/fascism democratic socialism/welfare state/mixed economy capitalism/limited constitutional government/individual freedom anarchy. But even this division is artificial, since anarchy also permits coercion without legal restraint and must inevitably lead to some institutionalised form of it.

If you really must simplify everything in this fashion, then a more meaningful arrangement is to make the traditional spectrum two-dimensional rather then one-dimensional by placing another line across the existing one facing north-south, with freedom and libertarianism to the north and authoritarianism at the opposite pole to the south. At the four points of the compass then you would have Lenin, Mussolini and Winston Peters to the south; left-liberals like Gandhi, Ralph Nader and Nandor Tanczos to the west; conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher, Rush Limbaugh and Ian Wishart to the east. Libertarians of course join Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and P.J. O'Rourke at the top of the world.

However and all in all, to paraphrase W.C. Fields, libertarians would rather be in Philadelphia. In 1776. And since the view of the state-citizen relationship expressed in the US Declaration of Independence doesn’t seem to have a comfortable place anywhere on the conventional Left-Right spectrum, it behoves us to leave those on it to quibble over who is to coerce whom, to what extent and why, while we get on with the business of promoting freedom – accepting with reluctance that in the meantime we shall undoubtedly have to put up with ignoramuses calling us “right wing.”

By their ignorance may ye know them.

LINKS: Left? Right? A plague on you both - Peter Cresswell
NZ's political spectrum - Peter Cresswell
Just how solid is that center? - Washington Post
Nolan Chart - Wikipedia
Cue Card Libertarianism - Introduction - Not PC

TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Politics, Libertarianism, History

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5 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

Peter, I completely agree with your views about the inappropriate use of the 'right-wing' label. I have always thought of myself as a philosophical anarchist. However, a lot of people see my views as being on the extreme left. Again, incorrect in my opinion. And yet, I think you and I see things very differently. I cannot put my finger on why that is. I think it comes down to the idea 'good greed' vs 'bad greed'.

I believe that in a truly open/free economic system, the greedy will not survive. And yet I have a deep-rooted dislike for it. So in one sense I should encourage greed, because it will ultimately be the undoing of economic elite (because the rest of us will just opt out of the system leaving the elite stranded. A bit like Monopoly where one guy gets all the streets, houses and money, with the rest going, sod this lets go outside and play hacky-sack). And yet, I think greed itself will put restrictions on an economic system, probably through the use of force.

I call myself a philosophical anarchist, because, like communism, the anarchism I imagine will fail because human beings are involved. Maybe I see things wrong. Is there any good reading about this?

3/24/2006 01:19:00 pm  
Blogger Gekko said...

"However, a lot of people see my views as being on the extreme left."
I think it often depends on the views of the other person. I've explained my views to different people only to be accused of being extreme left/right, even though I said essentially the same thing. Perhaps it is a lack of communication skills on my part but two people took very different things from what I said.

"I believe that in a truly open/free economic system, the greedy will not survive. And yet I have a deep-rooted dislike for it."
You have a deep-rooted dislike of an open economic system? Is that because you don't trust people to make their own subjective valuations and buying decisions and therefore need those decisions to be made for them? I'm not sure which part of open economic systems you object to.

"And yet, I think greed itself will put restrictions on an economic system, probably through the use of force."
Presumably then you think greed will create some kind of coercion that would not be present under a regulated (i.e. coerced) economic system?

"I call myself a philosophical anarchist, because, like communism, the anarchism I imagine will fail because human beings are involved."
There are very good reasons why communism/socialism will fail, as Mises pointed out. And not just because 'human beings are involved'. I know many people who still believe socialism would work if only 'the right people were in charge'. Mises showed that it could never work as economic collapse would follow.
I know PC has strong views on this but I think the case for market-anarchy (as opposed to the more commonly envisaged lawlessness) is still undecided.

3/27/2006 09:16:00 am  
Anonymous Sus said...

Libertarianz: 'We're neither left nor right. We're better.'

(The Howison bros, 2005.)

3/27/2006 04:30:00 pm  
Blogger Andrew said...

Gekko,

I'm not sure which part of open economic systems you object to

I think perhaps distrust might have been the wrong word. I don't actually think it will ever happen. Not a truely open economy, including free movement of labour and most importantly, without the use of force or coercion.

3/27/2006 04:50:00 pm  
Blogger bobspatz said...

As a student of Thomas Jefferson(OurJefferson.com), I always find it interesting when one political group or another claims him as an ally (and trust me they all do.) So, tell me why you think Jefferson, and his disciple Madison, would today be called libertarians. Maybe then I'd also have a better understanding of what a libertarian is. Thanks.

9/04/2007 01:11:00 am  

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