Why Libertarians Must Rise above the Left-Right Dichotomy of Politics

As Leonard Read famously wrote, libertarians are “neither left nor right.”

In the UK we have a Conservative prime minister—right wing—and the results of their governments interference in the economy and politicization of everyday life has had a negative impact on individual lives, public discourse, and the economy. In the US there is a Democrat president—left wing—and their neighbors to the north, Canada, have a Liberal government—left wing (though not truly liberal in the original meaning of the word)—and both these countries have economic troubles and heavily politicized daily lives just like the UK. The list of countries with leaders and governments from opposite sides of the spectrum goes on and on, but what all these left and right wing governments have in common is the same poor outcomes and worsening situations created by their beliefs.

How can two supposedly vastly different worldviews result in similar outcomes? If they were truly worlds apart then the results would be worlds apart too. The reality is both sides of the spectrum rely on varying degrees of authoritarianism to achieve their popularity, and both sides deploy authoritarian policies against the economic and social lives of citizens which is why the results are so similar. Both sides cripple economies through taxation, regulation, and punishment of economic activity. Both sides forbid certain speech, certain behavior, certain views, and certain interactions. Both sides believe in the use of force against different groups of people and in punishing different groups based on immutable characteristics in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness.’ Both sides are unprincipled and will change their positions based on whichever way the political wind is blowing. To put it bluntly, both sides are just different flavors of the same foul stew.

The only real difference between leftwing and rightwing ideologies is their targets and policies. Their lack of principles and their rejection of human freedom are the same. Their belief that humans are just “blocks of wood that can be moved around” as Thomas Sowell would say, is the same. Neither side believes in human freedom and neither side knows anything about economics. Most importantly, neither side wants to understand these things. They are both power hungry entities and the supporters they ensnare are so convinced that if their side were in charge the results would be different that the very idea of an alternative to authoritarianism doesn’t even enter into the conversation.

Enter libertarians and classical liberals. Leonard Read wrote an article exploring the use of left-right definitions for The Freeman in 1956 which is still quite applicable today. In the article he states:

“Liberty has no horizontal relationship to authoritarianism. Libertarianism’s relationship to authoritarianism is vertical; it is up from the muck of men enslaving man.”

This is such a hard hitting quote because it reminds us that authoritarianism, the belief that the state can and should direct human action, is fallacious and will always be anti-liberal. If we are to rise above the different flavors of authoritarianism, then those who believe in the freedom philosophy must remove themselves from the left-right divide and be champions of freedom. Or as Read put it, referring to libertarians:

“Their position, if directional analogies are to be used, is up—in the sense that vapor from a muckheap rises to a wholesome atmosphere. If the idea of extremity is to be applied to a libertarian, let it be based on how extremely well he has shed himself of authoritarian beliefs.”