Libertarianism as Balance

Neither left nor right.


There was a commercial for V8 in 1988, in which a person walked slanted, because his diet was unbalanced due to lack of vegetables.

This is the image I think of when people debate whether libertarianism is “left or right.” The question seems to be: “To which side does libertarianism skew?” The correct answer should be, “Libertarianism isn’t skewed at all.” Libertarianism is balanced and true, or “plumbline” as Walter Block likes to say.

The framework of left/right has had many meanings. But the one that seems most consistent with the way people tend to use it is as follows.

The Left favors the socio-economic underdog and opposes the “privilege” of the top dog. Thus, in practice they tend to be egalitarian; because lifting up the underdog means bringing him closer to the top dog, thus leveling things out.

The Right opposes the ambitions of the socio-economic underdog and favors the top dog. Thus, in practice they tend to be pro-hierarchy; that is, elitist.

The balanced libertarian does not bother himself with which set he “favors,” because he believes that virtually everyone will be better off in a libertarian society.

For statists, whether you are Left or Right is a hugely important question, because state action is a zero-sum game; nobody wins unless somebody loses. State action can only broadly favor the underdogs by harming top dogs, and vice versa.

The impact of the state will generally be a mixture of both Left and Right. The state is not only a criminal itself, but it is a facilitator of crime. It facilitates both egalitarian crimes, committed by underdogs against top dogs, and elitist crimes in the other direction. And most importantly, it takes a cut of the loot for its middle-man “service”.

In this scheme, a libertarian becomes a “left-libertarian” or a “right-liberian” (or, more commonly these days, a “conservative libertarian”) only to the extent that he ceases to be a libertarian: to the extent that he is willing to compromise on the principles of self-ownership and private property in order to promote his favored constituency (either the underdogs or top dogs).

For example, a left-libertarian might favor minimum income guarantees, while a right-libertarian might be more prone to accept dubious anti-immigration arguments. The former compromise favors underdogs (poor people) against top dogs (more affluent taxpayers), while the latter favors top dogs (current residents) against underdogs (would-be residents).

A libertarian might be perfectly balanced, while at the same time seem left or right on specific issues, but only in the sense that he is opposing a violation of justice coming from a certain direction. A libertarian who stubbornly opposes minimum income guarantees is only “right wing” in the sense that the plumbline center is to the right of someone on the left. A libertarian who stands up for an immigrant’s rights is only “left wing” in the sense that the plumbline center is to the left of someone on the right.

Libertarianism is neither egalitarian nor elitist; neither left nor right. It defends the rights of all, against any attack coming from any direction.

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