Right-libertarianism is a term used by some political analysts, academics, and media sources to describe those libertarian political philosophies which advocate self-ownership and limited government[1] and believe that naturally extends to supporting strong private property rights and free-market capitalism, and thus contrast these views with left-wing views which do not support them. Some capitalist libertarians use the term while others reject it, refusing to acknowledge themselves as part of the "left-right" political spectrum or simply considering the term itself to be tedious and absurd. Other writers have used the term in their own unique typologies.

Property rights

The "libertarianism" entry of Wilbur R. Miller's encyclopedia of The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America holds that while there is debate on whether left, right and socialist libertarianism "represent distinct ideologies as opposed to variations on a theme," what he calls "right-libertarianism" is the most pro-private property.[2] Critics of capitalism have described anarcho-capitalist views as a "right-wing" form of libertarianism.[3]

Peter Vallentyne writes that libertarianism, which is about "self-ownership", is not a "right-wing" doctrine in the context of the typical left-right political spectrum because on social issues it tends to be "left-wing", opposing laws restricting consensual sexual relationships between or drug use by adults, as well as laws imposing religious views or practices or compulsory military service. However, he uses the term when he writes that in "right-libertarianism" unowned natural resources "may be appropriated by the first person who discovers them, mixes her labor with them, or merely claims them—without the consent of others, and with little or no payment to them.” He contrasts this with left-libertarianism where such "unappropriated natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner."[4] Similarly, Lawrence and Charlotte Becker maintain "right-libertarianism" most often refers to the political position that because natural resources are originally unowned, they therefore may be appropriated at-will by private parties without the consent of, or owing to, others.[5]

Use of term among libertarians

Economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard, whose writings and personal influence helped create modern libertarianism,[6] sometimes used the phrase. He wrote about the "Old Right" in the United States, a loose coalition of individuals who opposed the 1930s "New Deal" at home and military interventionism abroad. He wrote that they "did not describe or think of themselves as conservatives: they wanted to repeal and overthrow, not conserve."[7] Bill Kauffman also has written about such “old right libertarians”.[8]

In the 1960s Rothbard started the publication Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, believing that the "left-right" political spectrum had gone "entirely askew" since conservatives were sometimes more statist than liberals. Rothbard tried to reach out to leftists and to go "beyond left and right."[9] In 1971 Rothbard wrote about "right-wing libertarianism" which he described as supporting self-ownership, property rights and free trade.[10] He would later describe his brand of libertarianism as anarcho-capitalism[11][12][13] and paleolibertarianism.[14][15]

Anthony Gregory points out that within the libertarian movement "just as the general concepts 'left' and 'right' are riddled with obfuscation and imprecision, left- and right-libertarianism can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations". He writes that one of several ways to look at right-libertarianism is its exclusive interest in "economic freedoms," preference for a "conservative lifestyle," view that big business is "a great victim of the state," favoring of a "strong national defense," and sharing the Old Right's "opposition to empire." However, he holds that the important distinction for libertarians is not left or right but whether they are "government apologists who use libertarian rhetoric to defend state aggression."[16]

Samuel Edward Konkin III defined the term "right-libertarianism" as an: "activist, organization, publication or tendency which supports parliamentarianism exclusively as a strategy for reducing or abolishing the state, typically opposes counter-economics, either opposes the Libertarian Party or works to drag it right and prefers coalitions with supposedly 'free-market' conservatives."[17]

Some pro-property libertarians reject association with either term "right" or "left". Leonard E. Read wrote an article entitled "Neither Left Nor Right: Libertarians Are Above Authoritarian Degredation."[18] Harry Browne wrote: "We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives — nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times."[19] Tibor R. Machan entitled a book of his collected columns Neither Left Nor Right.[20] Walter Block's article "Libertarianism Is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right Nor the Left" critiques libertarians he described as "left" and as "right", the latter including Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Edward Feser and Ron Paul. Block wrote that these "left" and "right" individuals agreed with certain libertarian premises but that "where we differ is in terms of the logical implications of these founding axioms."[21]

Other uses of the term

The "libertarianism" entry in Mark Bevir's Encyclopedia of Political Theory holds the three types of libertarianism are right, left, and "consequentialist" as promoted by Friedrich Hayek.[22]

Herbert Kitschelt and Anthony J. McGann contrast "right-libertarianism" with "right-authoritarianism."[23]

See also


  1. Peter Marshall, Demanding the impossible: A history of anarchism, Harper Perennial, London, 2008, p. 565: "Anarcho-capitalists, even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists."
  2. Marcellus Andrews, The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America, NYU Press, 2001, p. 61: "anarcho-capitalist -- a right-wing libertarian whose faith in private property and unregulated markets is absolute"
  3. David Goodway, Anarchist seeds beneath the snow: left-libertarian thought and British writers from William Morris to Colin Ward, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool University Press, 2006 p. 4: describes confusion in the definition of libertarianism because of "Anarcho-capitalism, 'minimal statism' and an extreme right-wing laissez-faire philosophy"
  4. Saul Newman, The Politics of Postanarchism, Edinburgh University Press, 2010 p. 43: "It is important to distinguish between anarchism and certain strands of right-wing libertarianism which at times go by the same name (for example, Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism)."
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