Rebirth of Reason


Objectivists, Libertarians, and the Political Right
by Matthew Humphreys

While many Objectivists and libertarians proclaim themselves as Right-wing on economics and Left-wing on social issues, or describe themselves as transcending the “conventional” Left-Right political spectrum, there is a tendency amongst political observers, at least in the English speaking world, towards describing libertarianism as a Right-wing movement. In current climate, many Objectivists do indeed tend to view the Right far more favourably than the Left, even while recognising the flaws of the former: I personally feel great affinity for the Thatcherite element of the British Conservative party, the ARI have spoken of “Reclaiming the Right”, our own Lindsay Perigo and others on SOLO have had plenty of praise in recent times for George W Bush and the late Ronald Reagan, even while knowing both to be less than perfect. (It should be noted of course that some SOLOists have expressed an intention to vote for Kerry, and while I fully understand and respect their reasons for doing do, my vote were I a US voter would go to Bush.)

Why then, does there seem to be so much affinity for the political Right? One reason was hinted at by Joe Rowlands in a recent SOLOHQ essay, where he pointed out that social legislation is easier to get rid of than economic legislation.  The Right (discounting libertarians, if they are even to be thought of as Right-wing) favours economic freedom and social control, whereas the Left favours social freedom and economic control. I would add to that that those social controls which do exist are generally much easier to flout than economic controls. Persons smoking dope or breaking some restriction on sexual conduct ought generally, provided that they take a little care, to have little difficulty with the police. Business regulations, sales taxes and for the average worker income taxes (which are often deducted by the employer) are nigh-on impossible to get around (the very well off and large corporations may with some ingenuity in the arrangement of their tax affairs be able to legally avoid most of their government’s taxes; but my main concern here is with, for want of a better term, “ordinary” individuals). As a general rule then, it would seem on this basis alone that the Right ought to be preferred to the Left. But, I believe the matter to be rather more complicated than that.

 While there may be certain intellectual currents on the Right that are inimical to liberty (the Religious Right and Patrick Buchanan style nuttery being the most obvious examples), there are other currents of thought with which libertarians can very easily make common cause. Barry Goldwater’s brand of secular conservatism for instance was at least 98% libertarian, while the corporate conservatives, left to their own devices, would likely just oppose any further Leftist reforms without doing too much that libertarians would find objectionable. Indeed, libertarian organisations such as the Adam Smith Institute had a definite impact on the Thatcher government of the 1980s, and in the US the Republican Liberty Caucus is dedicated to increasing the libertarian influence on the Republican Party.

While I am of course not advocating that Objectivists support any kind of Christian Theocrat, I must conclude that given the present state of affairs, we should indeed feel far more at home with the Right than the Left.

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