"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on rather than off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day." - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Libertarian Vs. Authoritarian: The Real History Of The Left/Right Paradigm

Above: Bullshit.
 One aspect of modern American politics that renders it so impenetrable to many people are the myriad labels assigned to different systems of beliefs. Even more confusing is the insistence of Our Great Informers to split every issue into Left versus Right, or Liberal versus Conservative. Republicans are supposed to support militarism and economic freedom, but don't extend that freedom to many social issues such as drugs, sex, etc. Democrats are supposed to be opposed to war and support social freedoms, but don't extend that freedom to economic issues. But with libertarians like Ron Paul becoming more and more popular, many people are beginning to wonder where they fit in the Left/Right paradigm, because libertarians supposedly have qualities of both the Left and Right.

We're told that the extreme of the Left is Communism, such as what we saw in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, etc. We're told the extreme of the Right, diametrically opposed to Communism, is Fascism; as in Fascist Italy, Spain, and Nazi Germany.

We're told that liberals, Democrats, progressives, communists, social liberals, greens, social democrats, socialists, democratic socialists, "civil-libertarians," and anarchists are all members of the "Left." Meanwhile, Republicans, conservatives, neoconservatives, capitalists, "economic-libertarians," social authoritarians, monarchists, theocrats, nationalists, and fascists are all members of the "Right."

But if you know anything about Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and any of the mentioned political beliefs, you begin to see that the whole premise of the modern Left/Right paradigm falls apart. The problem lies in the fact that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, while claiming irreconcilable ideological difference, were actually two forms of the same system of government: totalitarianism, or authoritarianism (the only difference is that authoritarians claim to rule through or for the "people," which is always a bunch of crap).

The Left/Right Paradigm: Concentration Camp or Gulag?
Regardless of the name, this type of government asserts that the rights of the group, whether it be "society," "country," trumps the rights of the individual (a premise that falls on its face when one realizes that a group is not an actual entity; it's just a label for a set of individuals). In practice, this collectivist view has led to the most oppressive and murderous regimes in world history.

In this light, the absurdity of grouping anarchists with Soviets and libertarians with Nazis should be obvious. Anarchists believe in no government, and libertarians believe in extremely little government; how could they be lumped in with Soviets and Nazis, respectively, but be opposed to each other? Obviously anarchists and libertarians should be grouped closely, and opposed to totalitarianism/authoritarianism, with the rest of the ideologies placed along the continuum accordingly.

This new paradigm would alter the Left/Right continuum to more accurately reflect the realities of the world. Basically, it should be maximum individual freedom (no government) versus zero individual freedom (maximum government). Liberty versus Power. Anarchism versus Statism. Individualism versus Collectivism. Libertarianism (or individual anarchism to be precise) versus Authoritarianism, and whatever other fancy names we can come up with for the same idea.

Moreover, let's make it into a damn Yin-Yang because Yin-Yangs are cool.
This brings up another interesting area: why do we have so many different names for these beliefs when many of them are really just the same thing? This confusion stems from a political chess game that has been played for hundreds of years, and is still being played today. As Liberty and Power continuously maneuvered around each other for the high ground, American politics was twisted into something almost unrecognizable: what used to be a liberal is now called a conservative (or, more accurately, a libertarian), what used to be called a conservative is now called a liberal, and the Democrat and Republican parties are actually both "liberal" (modern usage) in practice and aren't much different at all. Most importantly, the side of Power has definitely taken hold of the high ground.

Sound confusing? It is, so we'll save the history for Part 2.

Recommended reading (click links or pictures to purchase from Amazon.com):

by Murray Rothbard

by Ron Paul 

Please share!


  1. Interesting and valuable article. I do, however, think it is worth pointing out that there were major differences between fascism and communism. Whereas communism aimed to expropriate the wealth of the aristocracy and the business classes, fascism aimed to protect their wealth with the proviso that they would work with the state a la Krupp, Thyssen etc. The fascists were statist corporatists rather than Marxists, hence the major support Mussolini and Hitler received from big business. Equally, left anarchism of the Proudhon/Bakunin/Chomsky/irritating college student variety has quite a lot in common with communism and rather less in common with Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism or libertarianism.
    Nonetheless, you do make some important points: many debates are better framed as authoritarian versus libertarian or collectivist versus individualist matters rather than right versus left issues. Consensual sex or drug use involving adults are obvious examples.

    1. I think any perceived differences between communism and fascism are theoretical. What you say is definitely true in theory, but in practice fascism and communism have always led to an oppressive, barbarous government.

      The problem with communism is that you must use authoritarianism/totalitarianism to redistribute wealth. Otherwise you'll get a situation like Russia in the 1860s when the Tsar freed the serfs but all the land remained in the hands of the wealthy, so nothing actually changed for the average Russian.

      The problem with this is expecting that, once in power, people will actually give up their positions and implement a stateless, communist society. This is why communism has been tried and failed on a large scale so many times: it's natural in politics for the worst people to rise to the top (since they're willing to lie, cheat and steal to get there), so the chances of them abandoning that frightening power once they have it are slim at best. Even if one leader wanted to abandon the state, some of his subordinates might not be so willing to let him throw it all away, and may take power themselves. Saying no to all the power and wealth of the country is a hard thing to do for even a good person.

      Also, the Bolsheviks and Trotsky, especially, received a large amount of support from international banks and investment firms such as Kohn, Loeb & Co. Jacob Schiff, head of KL&C, personally financed Trotsky's trip from New York to Russia.