If I’m asked whether libertarians are on the “left” or the “right,” I would say that I can’t speak for others, I can only speak for myself. And that I am both on the left and the right. This reply would not be borrowed from the shallow and nearly-fraudulent “social liberal, economic conservative” definition of libertarianism. Nor would it imply a “centrism” or wishy-washy indecisiveness. Indeed, I really do strongly hold many values and beliefs long associated with the “Left,” and equal and corresponding beliefs and values associated with the “Right.”
It’s really not all that complicated or surprising. Everyone essentially lives in a “both/and” world, not an “either/or” world. No one always and in every situation favors change for the sake of change; similarly, no one always favors tradition for the sake of tradition. Individuals are not always right, but neither are families or churches. Beliefs do not morph into absolute laws that we must obey every time, but rather into values which we weigh differently according to the situation. Here is a list of my values which I believe complement, not contradict, each other:
Left-wing or Liberal Values
- Equality of rights under the law
- Belief in individual freedom as opposed to conformity to errant and manipulative social institutions
- The right of access to the earth’s abundance; rejection of the premise that hording land and natural resources is a “natural” or “inalienable” right
- Anti-militarist, anti-war
- Tolerance of “alternative lifestyles”
- Democratic values of consensus and community-based government
- Skepticism of absolute truth claims, regardless of origin
- Appreciation of inter-cultural exchange and cosmopolitan urban life
Right-wing or Conservative Values
- “Spontaneous” or unplanned order will result in a natural aristocracy, and in beliefs and traditions that develop through time
- The right of organizations to define themselves, their beliefs, and their mission, and establish rules for their members
- The practical and moral necessity of private property; the right of the individual to the product of his own labor
- Right of self-defense, pro-militia
- Complete freedom of association, including the right to discriminate for any reason
- Fidelity to laws and institutions as they have been given to us and a rejection of attempts to change everything or establish utopia all at once; at the same time, rejection of unconstitutional laws, programs, and powers no matter how long-established
- Defense of liberty of conscience, the right of the individual to believe in absolute truth claims, and of churches to expose heresy and expel subversives and infiltrators from their midst
- Recognition that there’s a difference between immigration and invasion
You may object, “But liberals don’t really believe in social tolerance, they believe in Political Correctness and intolerance of those who disagree with them!” Or, your protest may be, “But conservatives are really theocrats who want a police state at home and perpetual war abroad!” Why are both the Left and the Right so often, and so justly, depicted as not just wrong-headed, but evil?
The tendency of both the Left and the Right is to accuse the other of the very same charge. According to the Left, the defining characteristics of the Right are coercion and centralization; the Right supposedly wants to establish a fascist, imperial state with absolute executive power. But according to the Right, the Left is all about – you guessed it – coercion and centralization, with the goal of establishing a communist world government with unchecked judicial and bureaucratic power.
It is true that perverting my liberal values by imposing them through the coercion of centralized power will lead to a hellish society. But so would doing the same with my conservative values. They would look different in style and form, but war, subjugation, and moral and fiscal bankruptcy will be their fruits. I believe, however, that neither liberal nor conservative values are defined by the role of the State in our lives. They are primarily social, not political, values, and a well-rounded individual appreciates both.
Imagine a target, like an archery target. The bullseye is the target of statists — the “center” representing centralization, consolidated power. Those who do not want to play the statist game will shoot for the outer perimeter, or try to miss the target entirely. Some will shoot to the left, others to the right, but in any case the aim is to avoid centralized power. Regardless of whether they are on the right or the left, do not those who oppose centralization and coercion have a lot more in common with each other than with the Bushes and Clintons of the world?
Remember how the first George Bush promised a “kinder, gentler” America? That meant moving Reagan’s Republican Party leftward to the “center.” What we got was an unnecessary war and diminished liberties at home. Then Bill Clinton moved the Democratic Party rightward to “the center” and gave us more war while we lost even more freedoms. And then George W. Bush, with his “compassionate conservatism” moved Newt Gingrich’s Republican Party again leftward to “the center.” What did we get? Still more war, and an almost completely-eviscerated Bill of Rights.
Who opposed all these wars? The far – as in, anti-state – left, and the far – as in, anti-state – right. Both the far left and far right firmly opposed the PATRIOT Act and other War on Terror suspensions of our civil liberties while “moderates” on all sides blindly supported these measures. Both the far right and far left oppose the globalist agenda behind fraudulently named “free trade” agreements. Both bitterly oppose national education standards, and favor local control of schools. Whether the theme is “democracy” or “states’ rights,” both the far left and the far right oppose top-down, bureaucratic “solutions” to social problems such as poverty. Both seek radical changes in the federal tax code.
The enemy of the libertarian is not the liberal, nor the conservative. Nor the Green anarchist, southern nationalist, Georgist, or Constitution Party activist. The enemy is always the Statist, the advocate of coercion and consolidated power.
It matters less and less to me the name of one’s philosophy or party, or where one’s ideology falls on a chart or spectrum. It is clear that the so-called “extremists” are the ones most consistently anti-war, pro-decentralization, and pro-Bill of Rights. If that makes me a leftist, then call me a leftist. If it makes me a right-winger, then call me that. I know in my heart that I am both.
December 15, 2005