The left and the right

Some terms that mislead modern Americans are “left”, “right”, “liberal”, “conservative”, and “libertarian”. Add to those, “capitalism” and “socialism”. I hope to address the “left” and “right” issue in this post.

What is “left and right” in the political and economic sense? Karl Hess, agreeing with Murray Rothbard, argued:

the overall characteristic of a right-wing regime … is that it reflects the concentration of power in the fewest practical hands.” This is the “dominant historic characteristic of what most people, in most times, have considered the political and economic right wing.”

Another way of saying that is that the “right” is allied with the Ancien Régime and all that it represents in its modern incarnations. In other words, “right wing” simply means authoritarianism.

Logic and semantics dictates that the “left”, being the opposite of right, represents the opposite tendency.

Karl Hess, in Dear America (1975) wrote:

The farthest left you can go, historically at any rate, is anarchism — the total opposition to any institutionalized power, a state of completely voluntary social organization in which people would establish their ways of life in small, consenting groups, and cooperate with others as they see fit.

The attitude on that farthest left toward law and order was summed up by an early French anarchist, Proudhon, who said that ‘order is the daughter of and not the mother of liberty.’ Let people be absolutely free, says this farthest of the far, far left (the left that Communism regularly denounces as too left; Lenin called it ‘infantile left’)….

Through a series of unfortunate but certainly understandable distortions of political terminology, the [modern] liberal position has come to be known as a left-wing position. Actually…. [l]iberals believe in concentrated power — in the hands of liberals, the supposedly educated and genteel elite. They believe in concentrating that power as heavily and effectively as possible. They believe in great size of enterprise, whether corporate or political, and have a great and profound disdain for the homely and the local.

The point to understand is that when one of these labels is being used, do not allow any particular preconceived stereotype of “left” or “right” to cloud one’s understanding of what is being said. To do so means that you will not understand where one’s natural political or philosophic allies are to be found and will also misunderstand the ideas being presented to you. The question to be asked when someone uses “left” or “right” is; are these labels being used in an authoritarian sense or an anti-authoritarian sense?

It is often debated between “leftists” and others (i.e. libertarians) whether the “real” meaning of a term like “capitalism” is the free market, government favoritism toward business, or an hybrid arrangement between the other two. Austrian Economists will use the the term to mean laissez-faire free-markets, but most others, especially the “left” but also the “right”, will use “government favoritism toward big business” since that is what they see all over the globe and it is mostly mislabelled as “capitalism”. It is, indeed, right-wing fascism. It is neo-mercantilism.

It may surprise many to learn that Murray Rothbard lauded the New Left’s most “crucial contribution to both ends and means” in its concept of “participatory democracy.” Rothbard writes:

In the broadest sense, the idea of “participatory democracy” is profoundly individualist and libertarian: for it means that each individual, even the poorest and the most humble, should have the right to full control over the decisions that affect his own life.

But then for Rothbard the free market is the fullest realization of participatory democracy possible with every human making their own decisions. Rothbard saw the free market, without any government to favour big business (those evil corporations), as the road to the greatest good for the most people.

Ludwig von Mises would agree also. He wrote:

In the capitalistic society, men become rich … by serving consumers in large numbers…. The capitalistic market economy is a democracy in which every penny constitutes a vote. The wealth of the successful businessman is the result of a consumer plebiscite. Wealth, once acquired, can be preserved only by those who keep on earning it anew by satisfying the wishes of consumers. The capitalistic social order, therefore, is an economic democracy in the strictest sense of the word. In the last analysis, all decisions are dependent on the will of the people as consumers.

What of the modern political wars between “the left” and “the right”? The real war is between libertarians and statists. There is the real left proposing the greatest freedom possible for all the masses and then there is the “modern liberal and conservative” alliance proposing ever more authoritarianism. I choose freedom and liberty over domination by the State. I am a leftist. I would sit on the side of the assembly with Proudhon.

Total Liberty


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