Giving the Libertarians a Space In the Political Spectrum

Giving the Libertarians a Space In the Political Spectrum
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The left/right political spectrum is an instrument embraced by virtually all political philosophers. This analytic tool has unfortunately also seeped out into the general population. We continually hear assertions to the effect that “he is a liberal, a leftist” or “she is a right wing conservative.” There is no room for libertarians in this worldview, and I, as a supporter of this type of political economy, strenuously object. It is also highly flawed as a way of categorizing, simplifying, reality, a desiderata of all scientists, social or otherwise.

What is wrong with this way of looking at the matter? To show this, let us take a few examples of how it commonly operates. Picture a left – right spectrum. It is supposed to align geographical proximity with political economic views. For example, we might say that Bill and Hillary Clinton are all to be found on the left side of this line, along with Bernie Sanders. But that Bernie is furthest to the left, Hillary occupies a middle ground between these two men, and Bill is only slightly to the distaff side of the very middle. Similarly, Ronald Reagan is furthest to the right, both of the Bush presidents take up territory to his left, and  New York City mayor John Lindsay is closer to the middle, while still located slightly to the right. So far, so good. There is a certain coherence to this ranking.

Where are we to place Hitler and Stalin? That is an easy one. The former was a national socialist, the latter an international supporter of this doctrine. Yet, despite that, Hitler is commonly placed way to the right, he was a Nazi, for goodness sake! Stalin appears just about as far left as possible, since he was a Communist, and it does not get “leftier” than that.

Where oh where do we place Mother Teresa? She is a bit more difficult to locate, but, surely, she was no right-winger. She was “extreme” in her views and actions and thus must be positioned at the far left. This means she is to be found cheek by jowl next to her political buddy Stalin? This is highly problematic, since the one slaughtered millions of innocent people, while the other saved the lives of tens of thousands. Similarly, Ron Paul and Hitler are neighbors on the right on our political spectrum? The one is a saint in the libertarian world view, while the other was a mass murderer. They no more should be assigned the same neighborhood than chalk and cheese, or fish and bicycles.

The political spectrum is supposed to correlate political figures according to their views, or actions. It does a not unreasonable job with the first six people mentioned above, but is an utter failure with regard to the latter four. It must thus be jettisoned by all who seek accuracy in political economic categorization.

With what shall we replace it? As a libertarian (and also a professor at a Jesuit University) I suggest the cross. We still retain the left right spectrum, but its importance is greatly reduced. The new vertical spectrum is the good-bad axis. At the top are those who adhere to the non-aggression principal (NAP) of libertarianism: you may legally do whatever you want, just keep your mitts off of other people and their (legitimately owned) property. This is the heavenly realm. At the very bottom appears the dominion of Hades.

Now, it is easy to place all ten of our figures. The first six appear slightly lower than about half way up the vertical scale. None of them are really, really good, at least not compared to Mother Teresa and Ron Paul, and none of them are really, really bad, at least not when contrasted to Hitler and Stalin. In like manner, we can place guitars and ripped jeans on the left while violins and tuxedos can take their places on the right, both halfway up the vertical axis, to indicate moral neutrality.

What space do libertarians occupy? Why, right up at the top. Some are on the upper left, such as Murray Rothbard, who was pro-choice, a position aligned with the left, and some can be found on the upper right, such as Ron Paul, who is pro-life, a viewpoint associated with the right.


At last there is a place for libertarians, too!

Walter E. Block, Ph.D is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans. 

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