Left and Right

The Problem with “Left vs. Right”

By Mises Institute

As a libertarian, I have long objected to being characterized on a left-right political spectrum (as with studies of political affiliations that group libertarians with republicans or conservatives on the right). In response to inquiries about where I fit in that framework, over the years, I have taken to saying that my views were orthogonal (meaning at right angles or perpendicular) to the framework. Since almost no one knows what that word means, those I say it to are puzzled, and ask for clarification, which allows me to explain why I fit in neither category.

I had done that for years when I came across Leonard Read’s “Neither Left Nor Right,” in the January, 1956, issue of The Freeman. Long before I came to believe what I do, Read was way ahead of me, including a more complete view of the relevant history of left versus right and a more developed explanation than I had used. As a consequence, I think his views there merit remembering.

“Why, you are neither left nor right!” This observation, following a speech of mine, showed rare discernment. It was rare because I have seldom heard it made. It was discerning because it was accurate.

Libertarians…are neither left nor right in the accepted parlance of our day.

Read then explains that there is no directional relationship between left, right and libertarian along a two-dimensional line, but that there is one in three dimensions. Libertarians want less authoritarianism of all sorts, not more of one “brand” and less of another. They believe that if liberty versus authoritarianism is viewed as the third dimension, with liberty up and authoritarianism down (reflecting their relationship to individuals’ abilities to grow into wiser, more ethical, people), libertarianism lies above the standard left-right framework.


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