Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Right and Left: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As a former conservative I definitely have some sympathies for the political right. But as an anarchist (one who rejects the initiation of force), I sympathize with some parts of the leftist agenda as well. I want to briefly describe how I view the two sides of the mainstream political spectrum* through the lens of liberty.


The Good: Conservatives have a lot of good things to say about liberty. They favor a strict interpretation of the US Constitution in order to restrain the federal government as much as possible. Conservatives generally understand that socialism is economically unfeasible and they therefore oppose increased welfare spending. Conservatives partially understand that attempts to control people (e.g. gun control, healthcare policies) will end poorly. 

The Bad: It is difficult to help conservatives understand that the US Constitution is not an end in itself, and that it can only be thought of as a "good" thing because of the principles of liberty that guided much of its drafting - principles that can be applied independently of the Constitution in ways that obviate the need for a state (any coercive government - the very thing they claim to want to restrain to the utmost degree). Conservatives are bad on immigration when they should be the best on it due to the fact that the Constitution never gave the federal government any powers over immigration (only naturalization). While conservatives generally look at socialism as a bad thing, they are not consistent so they unfortunately do not advocate for the complete repeal of all socialist policies. It is as if they believe that it is okay to have a little bit of socialism. I hope that economic education can help conservatives let go of their fallacies, but I worry that their fear of appearing heartless towards the poor will often work against them.

The Ugly: Conservatives are absolutely terrible on war. They talk a good game about the evils of "big government" but somehow avoid severe cognitive dissonance by supporting the largest, deadliest, and most powerful government bureaucracy in the history of the world - the US military. It must take a great deal of effort to reconcile conflicting values. On one hand you have "the golden rule" (I'm looking at you, conservative Christians!) and on the other hand you have unflinching support for the death and destruction that the military causes around the world. Law enforcement is another thing conservatives are terrible on. They fail to notice the cancerous growth of the police state (which, in effect, is no different from the standing army feared by some of the founders) and the ill effects it has upon society. Some years they dare politicians to send the police after their guns just to see what would happen. Other years, like good little Eichmans, they demand respect for the police, say that they are "just doing their job", and only advocate changing the system  from within through voting. Ultimately conservatives do not see their own inconsistency when they refuse to be controlled in some ways but have no problem controlling others in other ways.


The Good: Liberals are pretty good on war as many of them embrace peace as an achievable goal. Liberals are also good on the police state. It seems that liberals are more prone to react to emotional images and there are few images more emotional than seeing innocent men and women getting physically assaulted by the police. Liberals are very good on the idea that personal choices are just that - personal. If an activity does not physically affect another person against their will, then that activity should be allowed without any interference. 

The Bad: Liberals, while recognizing the fact that personal choices are not to be interfered with, fail to carry that principle to its logical conclusion. When it comes to money and business, suddenly everything becomes a public issue instead of a personal choice. Liberals do not understand how wealth is created and therefore lash out at "rich" people because they believe they are not sharing with the less fortunate. They see the free market as a zero-sum game with winners and losers. It is very difficult for liberals to understand that, in a free market, every single economic transaction is mutually beneficial (win-win). Without the introduction of physical force, both parties come away from every economic exchange with more wealth than they had before. It is not possible to have "exploitation" without actual physical aggression. Therefore, the only way for the poor to get out of poverty is to allow the wealthy and the poor to freely exchange with each other in any way that they choose (I'm looking at you, minimum wage advocates!). Liberals are also pretty bad on guns. For all the respect they give to the idea of personal choices, they completely miss the mark on this one.

The Ugly: The primary agenda of the liberal left is permanent revolution by tearing down the existing structures of society. There is literally no end to this process and it always destroys more than it creates. The tool the left uses to accomplish this constant societal transformation is the state. Left liberals view the Constitution as a permission slip that allows the state to use any means necessary to solve every "problem" that is identified by "the people" (which really means "the loudest and most obnoxious people"). Every time the state is used in this manner, whether it is to sue a merchant for following his religion or to force children to go to school or to restrict gun owners, it encourages more and more people to use it in increasingly brutal ways. In this manner, the state is simply a giant weapon that multiple parties are constantly fighting over in order to use it against each other. No good can possibly come from this.


Libertarians and anarchists often accuse the left and the right of being so similar that there is no discernible difference between the two when it comes to voting. When I was first exposed to this idea I was shocked. Couldn't they see that the left and the right are totally different? It took me a long time but now I understand.

Liberals are on a mission to change the world (and you have to respect them for working towards something they believe in) but it turns out that conservatives are (wittingly or unwittingly) on the same mission but just a few decades behind the liberals. Liberals are always agitating for more laws and more regulation. Conservatives, instead of trying to repeal laws and deregulate, simply defend everything that is already on the books. When you understand this it becomes clear that both the left and the right are going in the exact same direction, but the right is just a little slow. Conservatism can never make anything better. At best (and I mean the absolute ideal circumstances that almost never happen) it can only temporarily stave off the insatiable desire to violently dominate the entire citizenry.

Getting Off the Political Spectrum

As an anarchist I have categorically rejected the premise that people need to be controlled. Nobody needs to be forced to do anything against their will. The initiation of force is illegitimate. Because of my beliefs, I have completely fallen off the political spectrum. If politics is a way to control the state, I do not wish anyone to have such control. I invite anyone on the left or the right to consider their goals in life. If your goals do not require the initiation of force against anyone, you would be wise to get off the political spectrum as well.

Or you can re-imagine the political spectrum in order to reflect reality

*In this post I discuss the beliefs and goals of conservative and liberal citizens, not the politicians and power brokers.


  1. "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected."

  2. How would you protect yourself and your freedom from the despots of our world?

    1. Personally? By not voting for them. As a society? I am working on a blog post to address those concerns. For a preview, check out Chapter 12 of this pdf: