Libertarianism: Left or Right? 2nd December 2011, Sean Gabb

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Sean Gabb, speaking to the Manchester Liberty League on the 2nd December 2011.

Points made:

In early 19th century England, radical liberals - who may be regarded as libertarians on account of their views - were often in sharp opposition to conservatives. As such, always allowing for the overall lack of meaning to the term, these people were on the "left."

By the end of the 19th century, people holding the same views had often closely associated themselves with the conservatives.

The reason was that the growth of municipal socialism and the increasing volume of collectivist legislation - usually brought in by Liberals. The Liberty and Propery Defence League was set up by conservatives and classical liberals to resist this growth of statism; and our libertarian ancestors became identified, and identified themselves, as on the "right."

This identification was completed by the state socialist revolution in Russia. Between 1920 and 1990, politics became a tug of war. You could choose your ideological views. Once this was chosen, however, you gave up all control over which end of the rope you would be pulling. You also gave up any choice of allies.

This has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tug of war is over. We are free at last to have a good look at our allies; and big business is not particularly libertarian. Actually existing capitalism is largely the economic wing of an exploitative ruling class. It benefits from limited liability laws, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that favour large scale business.

Now that we no longer risk becoming useful idiots for the Communist Party, we should be reaching out to ordinary working people and explaining how big business and big government stand in their way.

So far as left and right have any real meaning, libertarians should align themselves on the left as well as on the right.