No Room On the Spectrum: Why the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Are Only Two
Wings of the Same Bird of Prey
have never felt comfortable with the horizontally-based arrangement
that defines political thinking along a "Left" to "Right"
continuum. I know this designation arose from the seating order
in the old French parliament, but this only adds to our confusion.
We have structured our minds to believe that "communism"
and "fascism" are polar opposite political systems, and
that those desirous of avoiding the vicious "extremes"
of either are invited to seek refuge in the safe harbor of the "middle"
of the spectrum. In such ways has the state continued to expand
its powers, advising the uncritical boobeoisie to vote for the "lesser
of two evils."
word "spectral" has two meanings: one relating to a "spectrum"
(i.e., a continuous sequence), the other having reference to a "specter"
(i.e., something of a "fearful or horrible nature"). This
dual sense of the word has relevance to political definitions: along
the "Left/Right" spectrum are to be found the various
franchises of statist behavior that have conspired to plague mankind
with the horrible nature of all political systems. The parliamentary
origins of this concept ought to have been a tip-off that human
freedom was not to be part of the equation defining positions along
the realignment of political categories that seems to be occurring
– "conservatives" mutating into war-loving imperialists,
and "liberals" becoming champions of "states-rights"
– this is an opportune time to rethink the model that has become
virtually meaningless to a comprehension of modern politics.
we are to understand the fundamental nature of political thinking,
we must distinguish it from the kind of thinking that transcends
politics. To confine the choices in our social arrangements to the
state-serving options provided by this traditional linear model,
is to condemn humanity to the familiar vicious circle of choosing
between "Republican" and "Democrat," or "Labor
and "Conservative." Through such means, people continue
to delude themselves that they are running the political
system, totally oblivious to the fact that if their votes could
affect a fundamental change, the electoral process would be
order to understand the alternatives that political systems might
find it fatal for us to consider, I propose using a vertically-described
system, with "up" and "down" designations in
place of the horizontal model. At the upper end would be found complete
individual liberty, while at the lowest end would reside systems
of total statism. The arrangement might look something like this:
- Modern liberalism
of opinion might arise as to the relative positions I have selected,
or whether other groups ought to be added. Just to begin thinking
in such an alternative way is a value in itself, breaking us out
of our well-conditioned mold that encourages us to believe that
because we get to vote for the prison-warden of our choice, we are
thereby free men and women.
standard by which I have ranged these varying systems is the property
principle. How is property to be owned and controlled under
these differing arrangements? Is property to be owned privately
or collectively? I have used this approach because, upon
the close examination that statists do not want you to make, it
will be discovered that every political system is defined by its
approach to property. And since the basic property question has
to do with whether individual self-ownership is respected, "property"
and "liberty" are unavoidably entwined. "Liberty,"
in other words, is an expression of the decision-making authority
one has over his or her life and other property interests.
and "communism" share the same level of statist absolutism
on my scale. "Fascism" is defined as a system in which
title to property remains in private hands, but control
is exercised by the state. Having "title" to property
creates only the illusion of ownership if the actual control resides
in someone else. The farmer who has title to his land, but is prevented
from farming it because it has been deemed a "protected wetland,"
has experienced the reality of fascist thinking. So has the homeowner
whose title does not prevent the state from taking what she owns,
through eminent domain, in order to build a highway. A communist
system – in declaring the state the owner of all lands – is at least
more honest in not hiding behind the illusion of private ownership.
Each system, however, concentrates property-controlling authority
in the absolutist hands of the state.
varying degrees of state socialism are defined in terms of the range
of private property to be seized by the political system. More limited
socialist regimes might be content to own mines, railroads, and
airlines, while their more aggressive counterparts would add factories,
broadcasting facilities, housing, and retailing to the list of state
enterprises. I have placed "feudalism" into this mix as
a system of land ownership acquired through military conquest, with
the king (the ultimate landlord) conferring estates upon his loyal
supporters who, in turn, subdivide their estates into the hands
of their followers. This formalized system has been transformed
into the modern special-interest politicking and government-contracting
practices with which we are familiar.
differences between "conservatives" and "liberals"
were so well-defined by Ambrose Bierce that I feel I can add little.
Bierce labeled a "Conservative" a "statesman who
is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal,
who wishes to replace them with others." Those who continue
to search the media for fly-specks of meaningful variation between
Republicans and Democrats, or of conservatives and liberals, would
do well to consider Bierce’s remarks. Neither group shows any consistent
respect for individual property interests, each having its own priorities
for the plundering of the many for the benefit of the few.
purposes of this article, I am equating "libertarian"
and "classic liberal" as positions advocating a "limited
government" restrained by a written constitution. Unlike modern
conservatives and liberals who tend to see the Constitution as a
barrier to their varied objectives, libertarians have, at the core
of their beliefs, a sincere commitment to individual liberty. Despite
their motives, they continue to be ensnared by the idea that the
state is a fundamental necessity for the protection of people’s
lives and property and, furthermore, that state power can be institutionally
circumscribed so as not to exceed these limited purposes. The American
experience with constitutionalism ought to have dissuaded such people
from their continuing efforts, many of which are focused within
the Libertarian Party.
"anarchist" position – which
I described more fully in an earlier article – is premised upon
a complete withdrawal of the state (or any other institutionalized
system of violence) from society. At this point, some definitional
confusions may arise, as many self-styled "libertarians"
would ascribe to this view. At the same time, there are some socialists
who embrace the label "anarchist," but whose commitment
to non-violent social arrangements await an answer to the question
of whether they favor voluntary or involuntary socialistic
any formal mechanisms for coercively enforcing the will of some
upon others – such as by threatening trespasses to the person or
property of individuals – an anarchistic system would necessarily
be supportive of private property interests. Even voluntarily-constituted
socialistic but anarchistic communities – many of which have existed
in this country – had their origins in individuals freely transferring
their property interests to collectives to which they were philosophically
we proceed vertically along this proposed scale, we discover an
increasing expression of individual liberty that is inseparable
from an enhanced respect for the private ownership of property.
This contrasts with the fraudulent high school civics class definition
that equates "liberty" with being able to vote for the
politicians who will coercively rule your life and despoil your
property interests! My proposed model abandons the horizontal continuum
that subdivides humanity into mutually-exclusive factions that generate
the perpetual conflict upon which the state feeds – always to its
benefit and always to the detriment of ordinary people.
vertical model, by contrast, reminds us that politics institutionalizes
hostility, slavery, and despoliation, and that only by moving toward
alternative systems that respect the liberties and property interests
of all, can such contrived discord and destructiveness be ended.
Perhaps this new model does nothing more than visualize the insight
of the early 20th century Marxist Max Eastman who, later
in life, acknowledged:
seems obvious to me now – though I was slow coming to the conclusion
– that the institution of private property, the dispersion of
power and importance that goes with it, has been a main factor
in producing that limited amount of free-and-equalness which Marx
hoped to render infinite by abolishing this institution.
a Marxist can come to the realization that individual liberty and
property ownership are interdependent, there is some basis for hope
that even "conservatives" and "liberals" might
one day experience such an epiphany!
© 2005 LewRockwell.com