Libertarianism is neither of the left nor of the right. It is unique. It is sui generis. It is apart from left and right. The left right political spectrum simply has no room for libertarianism. Think of an equilateral triangle, with libertarianism at one corner, the left at a second corner and the right at the third corner. We are equally distant from both of those misbegotten political economic philosophies. No, better yet, think in terms of an isosceles triangle, with us at the top and the two of them at the bottom, indicating they have more in common with each other than with us.
Yes, the right is slightly better than the left of economic issues, although no better than they should be. One litmus test is the minimum wage law. Mitt Romney favored it, but, to his credit, Rush Limbaugh opposes it (although his economic understanding of the matter leaves much to be desired). The left, in general is horrid on this economic issue, even Nobel Prize Winners of economics such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. Nor can it be denied that the left is to be favored, marginally, on personal liberties. For example, the right is dead set on continuing the prohibition of prostitution, whereas the left, apart from feminist harridans, is more open to legalization. Similarly with drugs and other instances of consenting adult behavior. Both are abominable on foreign policy. But here a slight edge must be awarded to the left. At least they oppose Republican imperialist wars while the right is an equal opportunity supporter of all such horrendous ventures.
We are distinctive. We are different than these others. We and we alone are the last best hope for the prosperity and even very survival of mankind. We must resist being confused with either left or right. There is nothing wrong of course with making common cause with either or both, when our viewpoints overlap. But we should not be considered, we should not consider ourselves, to be part of either of them.
Let us consider a few examples to illustrate how left and right are commonly considered, and the libertarian analysis of each.
II. Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf,
In breaking news we learn that the copyright on Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, published in 1945, is set to run out in 2015, since in German law it expires 70 years after being established. (For the libertarian critique of all intellectual property, including copyright, see here.) This issue is creating a furor in some circles. After all, this volume extols the virtues of Naziism, and that would be an awful thing. True. Very true. All too true. Naziism is certainly a pox on humanity. If there is anything incompatible with libertarianism, it is this evil philosophy.
But what about Marx’s book Das Kapital? It, too, is an abomination. Arguably, far more innocent people have been killed as the result of the Communism this publication spawned, than is true of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Should we ban that book too? Where is the debate over that important issue? Nowhere, that is where. No one seems at all perturbed that Marx’s Das Kapital is in circulation, and more than likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Well, then, perhaps we should ban them both? Not, at least, according to libertarianism, based as it is on the non-aggression principle. We libertarians look upon every question in politics, economics, law, ethics, through the eye-glasses of the NAP. Will a given action violate the NAP? If so, then, yes, ban it. If not, it should not be against the law. So is the publication of either of these evil books a per se violation of the NAP? Of course not. Therefore, both should be legalized. But wait. What about the fact that both of them have led, have incited, thousands of people to murder millions? It matters not one whit. Incitement, too, is not a per se violation of the NAP. If we were to prohibit by law anything and everything that might led or inspire or allow some deranged person to violate rights, we would have to outlaw video games, movies, plays, guns, knives, penises and even the bible.
III. Prince Harry
He is third in line for the British Crown. Yet, this did not save Prince Harry from justified and widespread opprobrium when he wore the dreaded swastika. And properly so, of course. Naziism is pure evil, and it is an abomination to support this horrid philosophy in any manner, shape or form. And yet where is the horror, where is the outrage, when students on university campuses sport the hammer and sickle of communism, along with the smiling faced pictures of worthies such as Mao (anyone remember his Little Red Book that was so popular a while ago?), Marx, Che and others of their ilk. Nowhere, again, that is where. When I was a college student in the 1960s, it appeared to me that every third kid on campus had a t shirt of this sort. Even nowadays, when people should know better, this phenomenon is not unknown. Had Prince Harry worn a commie arm band, the media would not have gone berserk. If college kids were raising the banner of Nazism, they would at least be expelled from school, and in some countries (e.g., those where is it illegal to deny the Holocaust) might will be imprisoned for their sartorial choices.
Why this vastly different treatment for extremists of the left and of the right? That is an easy one: the media, the college campuses, the pulpits are a wholly owned subsidiary of the left. Not for them, as for libertarians, an equal condemnation of both of these murderous perspectives. No: Nazism pure evil, Communism, well, not so bad, if bad at all.
What is the libertarian take on wearing the regalia of either of these viewpoints? Neither should be banned by law, since none of them are an outright violation of the NAP. Both should be condemned equally (well, Communism more than Nazism if only because the former killed more innocents than the latter). Apart from the law, whether or not these articles of clothes should be worn all depends upon on whose property it takes place. If with permission of the owner, then yes; if not, then not. What about public property? It should all be privatized, certainly including roads, highways, streets and sidewalks. Then, there is no need to “balance” rights. It is of the essence of libertarianism that if there is a supposed conflict of rights, in this case between free expression and appalling people, then at least one of them is mis-specified. There can be no conflict in rights properly understood, for libertarians.
IV. The rise of the far right
The left wing media, a redundancy, has been exercised of late about the rise of the far right. It is bad enough that there are extreme right wing parties in several European and Asian countries. Worse, they seem to be banding together nowadays, holding international conferences, interacting with one another. Groups singled out for condemnation include the British Nationalist Party, the Hungarian Jobbik, Italy’s Tricolor Flame, Attack from Bulgaria, Freedom in Ukraine, Flemish Interest (Belgium), LePen’s Front National from France, the Freedom Party (Austria), Norway’s Progress Party, Geert Wilders’ Holland Party for Freedom and Issuikai from Japan.
But what about socialism? Why the kid gloves for national socialist parties? (Of interest: the Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s fashioned itself as national socialism, in contrast to the international socialism of the Communist Party). What about international socialism? Socialists from numerous countries, too, gather together, plot against their enemies, etc. Why is there no fear about them? Why no gnashing of teeth at the horror of it all? Well, we all know the reason for that.
The libertarian take on all of this is of course A pox on both your houses; no, on all your houses. Communism, fascism, socialism, whether on a national or international basis: it is all bloody minded, evil, monstrous.
Leftish bias is everywhere. We have just seen three examples of it. But the threat to libertarianism from the right is also real — and far more insidious.
Where are the lefties who want to make common cause with us? There are none. Where are the socialists who are proposing a fusion between us and them? Nowhere. Noam Chomsky calls himself a libertarian, but where he is coming from is attempting to besmirch the good libertarian name, not to emphasize our similarities. He doesn’t want to be our buddies.
In sharp contrast, this danger arises from the right, and only the right. Fusionism was the name of the game given to Frank Meyer’s and National Review’s attempt to bring right wing conservatives and libertarians together. Even nowadays, there are out and out conservatives who have the effrontery to characterize themselves as libertarians. This must be resisted to the best of our ability, lest we be sucked in to the maw of conservatives. Again, there is nothing wrong with making common cause with non-libertarians on overlapping issues; anti unionism with the right, for example, drug legalization with the left. But, as stated at the outset of this essay, we are unique, and all the more precious for that fact. Let us keep out identity intact. Let us make only temporary alliances with those on the left and those on the right, but consider ourselves apart from both. Let us reject the left right spectrum. Political economy can best be depicted with a triangle, not a straight line from left to right. (And the problem with the otherwise very good and widely used in libertarian circles Nolan Chart is that it entirely ignores the all-important foreign policy part of our program).