“Young Americans for Liberty” National Convention
July 26–29, 2017
A few questions to begin with:
Murray N. Rothbard, "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," Left and Right, Spring 1965, republished in Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature and Other Essays (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974), pp. 14-33. [HTML]
I have often asked myself this question: When the Revolution comes, on what side of the Chamber/House should the Libertarians sit? On the Left or the Right, or somewhere in between, or should they refuse to take a seat entirely? (for those of you who are anarchists or “voluntaryists”) Of course, part of the answer depends on who is already sitting in the Chamber and who controls the government and for whose benefit.
The terminology we use today to distinguish “left” and “right” along a political spectrum has its origins in the French Revolution (as many things do). Those who sat on the Left side of the Speaker in the Chamber opposed the status quo of “throne and altar”, the monarchy (plus the aristocracy and the military) and the established Catholic Church, who sat on the “Right” of the Speaker. Those on the Left supported a range of alternative ideas ranging from crackpot socialism and Rousseau-ianism, to English-style constitutional monarchism, to moderate American style republicanism, and advocates of laissez-faire and the free market. There was a complication to this practice which introduced a vertical component to the seating arrangement. The most radical of the socialists sat as a group high up on the back benches on the Left and so were naturally called “The Mountain” or the “Montagnards” (or Mountain People). Hence my new term of “up-wing” to add to “left-wing” and “right-wing”.
Here is another example of the problematical seating arrangements libertarians face when they get elected. When classical liberalism became a more potent force in the 1840s in England and France and yet another revolution broke in February 1848 the radical classical liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat had to sit in the middle of the Chamber, voting sometimes with the Right to oppose high taxation, government funded make work schemes for the unemployed, and redistribution proposed by the socialist Left, and sometimes with the Left to oppose restrictions of free speech, association (trade unions), and high taxation on basic food suopported by the conservative Right. Thus, it would appear Bastiat’s ideas were neither completely of the “Right” nor of the “Left” and this left him in a rather lonely position in a Chamber of 900 elected representatives.
This problem of the etiquette of the proper seating arrangements in the Chamber speaks to a broader issue of what exactly is “libertarianism” or “radical classical liberalism” (I use the terms interchangeably)?
What I want to argue is that the traditional 2 dimensional left-right political spectrum is completely inadequate both because
One solution is have a different 2-dimensional spectrum with complete “Liberty” on the left (as the position which challenges the status quo) and complete “Power” (or Statism) on the right (as the position which wants to defend the status quo or to create a new one).
I find this quite useful as a way of showing how societies have changed over time regarding how free or unfree they are. For example as a result of the “liberal revolutions” of the 18th and 19th centuries American and European societies moved from being less free to more free - thus moving from “right” (statist) to “left” (liberal) as the following graphs show:
Another solution is to use a 3-dimensional diagram (or more dimensions if you can understand the higher mathematics of multi-dimensional spaces), such as one dimension for economic liberties, another for political liberties, and a third for “personal” or some other kind of liberties.
A further complication is that classical liberals/libertarians have differed and continue to do so on what they believe the proper functions of the state should be. Another version of my “New ‘Left-Right’ Spectrum of State Power” might make this clearer.
There are several consequences which follow from thinking about the political spectrum in this way:
Until libertarian ideas are accepted by the majority (an unlikely event in my view anyway) this might be best we can hope for in the medium term if we want to spread out ideas to a broader audience.