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If Libertarians Reject the “Left/Right Spectrum” Then Why Do We Use Those Terms?

Summary:
I’m genuinely asking the question. (And this isn’t just coming from me; I’ve seen other people in the last few months making this point.) On the one hand, we libertarians like to roll our eyes at standard political surveys or classification schemes in which Adolf Hitler is the polar opposite of Josef Stalin. We like to point out that they are both socialists and that it makes much more sense to have a spectrum of degrees of State control over people’s lives. I totally agree with this standard libertarian view. On the other hand, libertarians often self-sort into left/right, or at least distinguish themselves from other libertarians with such labels. And to be frank, I know exactly what they mean. (I don’t want this post to turn into a proxy war for the recent

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I’m genuinely asking the question. (And this isn’t just coming from me; I’ve seen other people in the last few months making this point.)

On the one hand, we libertarians like to roll our eyes at standard political surveys or classification schemes in which Adolf Hitler is the polar opposite of Josef Stalin. We like to point out that they are both socialists and that it makes much more sense to have a spectrum of degrees of State control over people’s lives. I totally agree with this standard libertarian view.

On the other hand, libertarians often self-sort into left/right, or at least distinguish themselves from other libertarians with such labels. And to be frank, I know exactly what they mean. (I don’t want this post to turn into a proxy war for the recent flare up, so let’s keep it on-topic in the comments.)

Does the reconciliation go something like this? I’m just throwing it out there:

“It’s not perfect, but we have to use words conventionally and so if someone is a ‘leftist’ we mean the person wants to focus on reducing income inequality, oppression of minorities, police brutality, and gender stereotypes in the workplace. If someone is coming from ‘the right’ we mean the person cares about maintaining the culture, tradition, family, church. However, most people just assume that the *way* to achieve these goals is through State power, and hence a ‘radical leftist’ is a Marxist, while a ‘radical right-winger’ is a Nazi. So a left-libertarian is someone who rejects the means of State power to achieve them, but endorses the typical leftist’s goals, and likewise for a right-libertarian.”

How’s that?

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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