The Nail in the Coffin of "The Right"

It is common for many libertarians, especially those in America, to assume that they have a natural alliance with "the right". This is based on certain assumptions, such as the notion that contemporary libertarianism grew out of the old American conservative movement and that "the right" is generally supportive of less government and more free markets in comparison to "the left". In short, the libertarian who makes such assumptions is at least partially buying into the way in which the political spectrum is typically framed in contemporary public discourse, with "the right" standing for less and less government control and "the left" standing for more and more government control, with "the left" standing for collectivism and communism and "the right" standing for individualism and capitalism. One would think that the libertarian should know better than to buy into this false dichotomy. It eradicates all nuances.

I find such assumptions to be mistaken for a number of reasons. In historical terms, libertarianism predates the existance of contemporary American conservatism altogether and the term "libertarian" itself actually derives from certain socialists from the 19th century. And, the term libertarian itself aside, the bulk of those who are considered to be the forefathers of libertarian ideas were originally considered to be on "the left", including free market proponents. Furthermore, it seems to me to be the case that the bulk of self-identified "rightists" do not actually support a free market or any consistant philosophy of individualism. I see no serious compelling reason to assume that "the right" necessarily supports state power any less than "the left". Conservative devotion to individualism and free markets is largely rhetorical, not substantive. These are campaign slogans, not seriously or consistantly held philosophical positions.

If viewed in terms of the original meaning of the left-right political spectrum, the meaning that it had centuries ago, libertarians are actually on the "far left" while the conservatives are on "the far right". For the left originally was supposed to represent anti-authoritarianism, anti-statism and revolution,  while the right was supposed to represent the status quo, the oligarchy and reactionaries. Taken in its original context, conservatism has always been the polar opposite of libertarianism or liberalism. Libertarians are often mislead by the modern assumption that "the left" is necessarily in favor of statism and opposed to free economic interaction. Since this is assumed about "the left", the libertarian may make the mistake of then concluding that "the right" is therefore their natural home on the political spectrum.

But what does "the right" of today really stand for? Not to make too hasty of a generalization, as a "rightist" may not necessarily support all of these things, but here's what immediately comes to mind: corporatism, protectionism, monarchy, theocracy, traditionalism, militarism, nationalism and racism. It is important to note that all of these things were strongly opposed by historical libertarians and classical liberals to varying degrees. Classical liberals tended to be cosmopolitans in their worldview, and therefore nationalism does not jibe very well with such a philosophy. They also respresented a radical divergence from past political traditions, which implies an opposition to monarchy and theocracy. And there was always a strong opposition to war and imperialism within the old libertarian "left". Furthermore, obviously any sensible understanding of free market economics would lead one to oppose protectionism and corporatism.

Why do I identify "the right" with these traits? Because as far as I can tell such traits are implicit in their own rhetoric and in the substantive content of their policy positions. Obviously I do not mean to lump all "rightists" together into one arbitrary camp, as there are different factions within the contemporary conservative movement. But each faction represents some selection among the listed traits. Neoconservatives tend to support corporatism and militarism. Paleoconservatives tend to support protectionism, nationalism and traditionalism. The Christian right tends to support theocracy. Furthermore, despite quibbles among different factions of conservatives, they all are united by an irrationalist opposition to anything that is considered to be part of "the left". When it comes down to it, many conservatives are willing to set aside their differences to function as reactionaries to what they commonly oppose. Therefore anti-communism, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism and anti-secular sentiments prevail.

The problem is that in the name of opposing such things, the conservative tends to enter into a desperate state in which they will support just about any means in the name of defeating their common enemies. Thus, whatever disposition they may have had towards restraint in political affairs is at least temporarily set aside. The communists, radical Islam, the secularists and multiculturalists must be defeated at all costs first - then, only when the enemies have been defeated, we can worry about restraining the government, freeing up the economy and adhering to a non-interventionist foreign policy. But even when one boogeyman is defeated, it usually is replaced with another one. Thus, when the Soviet Union fell and left a void of rationales for foreign policy interventions, radical Islam was then used as the new rationale.

Even if the conservative is somewhat or even entirely correct in opposing something, such as a communism, they may tend to make the mistake of going on to form or join equally dangerous reactionary movements and end up supporting other things that should merit opposition as well. In short, they fall into the trap of thinking that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". But it does not logically follow that since one opposes communism, one must join forces with the fascists. It does not logically follow that since one opposes social democracy, one must join forces with the monarchists. It does not logically follow that since one opposes the state's discrimination laws, one must join forces with white nationalists. It does not logically follow that since one opposes government ownership of the means of production, one must indiscriminately support corporations.

The economic views of contemporary conservatism are also very warped. For the modern conservative does not support laissez-faire, but some form of a mixed economy or corporate state. Sure, the conservative's rhetoric is often devoted to laissez-faire, but their support for "capitalism" is more often than not merely a knee-jerk apologia for current economic conditions, corporations and the rich, irrespective of wether or not it has anything to do with laissez-faire. In short, the contemporary conservative often ends up using the term "free market" to describe and legitimize what we currently have. But we do not currently have a free market. The average conservative has not read Ludwig Von Mises or Frederic Bastiat. Their support for "capitalism" is more or less merely cultural, not an informed and substantive position. All they know is that they oppose "socialism" and "communism", and "capitalism" is the opposite of those things, therefore they must support whatever "capitalism" is. But their "capitalism" happens to be either the status quo (or elements of it at least) or some romantisized past utopia.

Since the conservative tends to conflate laissez-faire with corporatism or the effects of a mixed corporatist economy with "the free market", actual consistant proponents of laissez-faire may actually be demonized and brushed aside as being "socialists", since a consistant adherance to laissez-faire would naturally lead one to oppose corporatism. The conservative loves to see red where it does not really exist, therefore going on red-baiting witch hunts. The conservative may see red in positions that don't necessarily have anything to do with being a communist, such as opposition to political borders and support for multiculturalism. They accept an absurd false dichotomy: either you support the conservative agenda or you are a "far leftist". A "far leftist" is defined quite simply as anyone who disagrees with the conservative to any significant extent.

While there certainly are conservative intellectuals, the average conservative does not derive their position from any serious study of philosophy, economics or history. They derive their position from the media, their parents and cultural cliches. They are brought up to believe that whatever the conservative establishment happens to be supporting equates to small government, free markets and individualism - and that everyone and everything else is more or less a representation of big bad communism and "big government". In contemporary politics, conservatism has more to do with one's cultural preferances than any half-seriously thought out political philosophy. Dimwitted talkings heads such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter determines the conservative's views rather than anything remotely resembling a rational thought process.

What does the libertarian truly have in common with the contemporary right? In my estimation, very little. What they have in common is a matter of rhetoric and to some limited degree over what they are opposed to. But the libertarian ultimately has no compelling reason to support what the contemporary right does. For the contemporary right is largely a reactionary statist movement. Figures such as Ronald Reagen and Pat Buchannan are not particularly libertarian, despite any correct positions they may hold to on certain individual issues. Contemporary conservatism is just another brand of statism.


# Cork said on 26 April, 2008 04:24 AM

I agree that the right sucks, for the most part.  The thing is, the radical left is far worse than any sky-pixie chasing paleoconservative. is downright despicable, and so are the rotten "social anarchist"/"social democrat" creatures who live there.  Their anti-individualist, anti-market, anti-freedom philosophy makes me want to vomit.

The Tucker-Spooner "left" is superior to both the commie left and the right, in my book.

# Ego said on 26 April, 2008 12:18 PM

We've had this argument on the forum before; leftist policies are infinitely harder to undo, both electorally (they create millions of perpetual votes) and logistically (cutting off millions of people's main source of income is messy; re-privatizing nationalized industries is also extremely difficult to do fairly).

# Nitroadict said on 26 April, 2008 06:42 PM

Just because they, The Right, are (supposedly) less evil than the Left, which is based on some very vauge relations concerning free market rhetoric & limited government, does not make them a less of a threat; especially since they spout nothing but double-speak while co-opting Libertarianism's principles for their own political gain.  

Does anyone remember the absolute "brilliant" plan of The Right concerning communists?  The one where teaming up with Fascists seemed like a "good idea"?  Or how about Reagan, the neo-co-, I mean, the "conservative messiah"?   Two of many examples that easily prove The Right has as much blood on it's hands as The Left does.  I know I won't forget their most recent example of the past near-decade or so under King George.  Many a future-grandchild will be horrified at my ghost stories.      

Quite honestly, the effects of both the Left & Right make things much more of mess by way of both sides constantly hijacking terms & blurring meanings, while spouting rhetoric both filled to the brim with uses of anti-concepts, and even *mis-uses* of anti-concepts.  Throw in some good Orwellian double-speak, & pandering to the masses in the name of the common good (one of many ingredients, obviously, but theres too much to list), and this is what we have currently: politics being reduced to a sports game, instead of something that must be dealt with in everyday life to prevent such a mess from occurring.    

The bickering alone is enough to make one slam their heads against a wall, hoping to rid themselves of the awareness of such debacles, as both the Left & Right, and possibly the entire political process towards change, for that matter, is constantly  building a road to nowhere.  Contract With America?  Stand For Change?  More like Contract With Hoffa, and Beg For $.Change.

The Right should get no sympathy whatsoever from libertarians at all, and the sooner this is realized, the faster we can move towards actually cleaning up the mis-use of terms, the anti-conceptual garbage, and the economic ignorance people living in the state have to endure    

The only reason I can see anyone bothering with such, is if they believed that The Old Right (which was actually conservative) provided a long lost balance that helped the 2 Party system remain "stable".  

This is of course assuming that they believe in political means.  This is also assuming that such an idea were true; in reality, such an idea only serves to legitimize The State (there's stability as long as there are opposing forces, and if that remains, more of the 'right' people will get into power to run things right for us), and it would be speculative at best.  

The only reason I read up on the controversy on the old right is because it helps highlight the history old hijacking of terms, and the inevitable processes in which political means for change eventually sputter & fade into other counter-movements that quickly leave past reforms, warnings, & progress in the dust.  Libertarian's would be instrumental in helping to illustrate the power of words (and subsequently, propaganda), distortion of history, use of classes against each other (rich vs. poor, intellectuals vs. the layman, democrats vs. republicans, them vs. us).    

A haunting example (one of many) of this would be Eisenhower warning us of the military industrial complex, which, despite said intention, was already well under way when he issued such a warning.

The Nail In The Coffin couldn't get here soon enough; it will be our job to keep it lodged in there.

# Brainpolice said on 26 April, 2008 11:25 PM

I agree that Tucker or Spooner style individualist anarchism is superior to both the communists and the various factions of conservatives. If only they would have been informed about time preferance, then their position is virtually identical to more contemporary market anarchism.

# Brainpolice said on 26 April, 2008 11:33 PM

"We've had this argument on the forum before; leftist policies are infinitely harder to undo, both electorally (they create millions of perpetual votes) and logistically (cutting off millions of people's main source of income is messy; re-privatizing nationalized industries is also extremely difficult to do fairly)."

But the problem is that your concept of "left" seems like a package deal. There are segments of the "left" who don't support welfare states. And I see no reason why the policies of the "right" necessarily have grown the state any less than most democrats. In recent times, often "rightist" adminstrations have actually far out-grew the state in comprison to "leftist" ones. I see no reason why a huge military, "national security", immigration and police apparatus is "easy to undo".