In my country, libertarianism is associated with a pure right political ideology. They held more right wing positions than those who are elected and refered to as "right", or even "far right". For what I see in my feeds in internet, in United States it seems to be similar, or at least they are identified as right wing.

But according to Libertarianism - Wikipedia

Libertarianism originated as a form of left-wing politics

and there is

Left-libertarian ideologies which include anarchist schools of thought, alongside many other anti-paternalist, New Left schools of thought centered around economic egalitarianism as well as geolibertarianism, green politics, market-oriented left-libertarianism and the Steiner–Vallentyne school.


In the mid-20th century, right-libertarian ideologies such as anarcho-capitalism and minarchism co-opted the term libertarian . The latter is the dominant form of libertarianism in the United States

Is this so? Are there "left wing" and "right wing" libertarians today and libertarianismm originated as a left wing ideology, or are all libertarians are right wing?

  • 11
    The Wikipedia article you quoted is incredibly well cited (one could say overcited). Asking a vague "is it so" question here is just... well... just worth downvoting. It's also not terribly clear which part you really doubt (the most). Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 23:15
  • 5
    Do you mind letting us know what your nation is?
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:48
  • 7
    "Left-wing" and "Right-wing" are incredibly simplistic descriptions of political belief, and become virtually useless as soon as you stray outside the mainstream political spectrum (and are often useless within it too). Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 18:29
  • The best way to test this is to design a study that gives the group you're interested in ("libertarians") a choice between voting for either a) a representative right-wing party or b) a representative left-wing party. They have to choose one or the other. If they tend to vote for the right-wing party, you can say that they're more "right-wing", and if they tend to vote for the left-wing party, you can say that they're more "left-wing", in the context of that political system at that time.
    – nmit026
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 1:15

14 Answers 14


The first important thing to notice is that political labels mean different things in different parts of the world and in different points of time.

In contemporary US politics libertarian is usually used to describe a set of political values that advocate liberal social policies with conservative economic policies. This means they don't fit neatly on a left/right spectrum because they (mostly) align with Democrats on social issues and Republicans on economic issues.


Libertarianism is neither Left nor Right-wing. It's on a spectrum opposite of Authoritarianism. So, as you go further towards Authoritarian, you want more and more government control and intervention in society. As you go further in the opposite direction on this spectrum, you want less government control and smaller government.

This means that as a Libertarian, you can lean either left or right on the economic preference scale (as this is generally what left vs. right refers to).

  • 10
    This is unfortunately a confusion between a label on an axis decomposing political orientations (across two dimensions, i.e. the Nolan chart) and actual libertarian theories, all of which touch on the issue of [the appropriation of] natural resources, itself a left vs. right economic issue; see plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/#LeftRight So the orthogonality from the Nolan chart is obtained by reducing the actual libertarian theories to their common point, which is insightful to some extent, but also loses the fact that no self-declared libertarian [theory] ignored economics. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 0:30
  • 3
    Note that actual libertarian theories (even the right-libertarian ones) to delve into economics pretty fast, e.g. the night-watchman state needs to be funded by a general tax, which begs the question: why stop there with the tax. Etc. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 1:56
  • 1
    Comments deleted. Please note that comments are not meant for political debates. For more information on how comments should and should not be used, please read the help article about the commenting privilege. Further, I would like to remind you all of the expected behavior on this website.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 13:02

Semantic Drift makes political terms meaningless (or at least greatly diffuses their meaning) over time. This is especially true of -isms. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a Liberal and he would be appalled with the current state of what is called "Liberalism." So you get terms like "Classical Liberal", "Neo Liberal", etc.

With Libertarianism, there are dozens of variants to make the meaning more specific: Libertarian Socialist, Austro-Libertarian, etc.

Without that specificity, there is no clear answer to your question with regard to the left/right dichotomy.

  • Libertarianism though, which is what this q was about, was actually introduced as a term precisely in order to refine a particular strand of liberalism. (Sure, libertarianism may itself have suffered semantic drift since then.) Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 6:19

Wikipedia is correct that libertarian originally emerged as a left-wing ideology which bears little resemblance to the right-wing ideology now associated with the name. According to right-libertarian Murray Rothbard:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over...”


As a result modern day left-libertarians tend to avoid the term in favour of "anarchist" or "libertarian socialist".


I've seen Libertarian views as quite split, both left and right--and I haven't seen this mentioned in any answer here.

Note: To avoid the almost complete lack of an absolute definition of left/right I'm using contemporary US left & right--for this answer left & right will also be synonymous with contemporary US liberal & conservative.

The overall mantra of Libertarianism is "Hands Off", but this means having two very different points of view:

Socially they tend to be quite Left, far left. Legalization of drugs, free love, whatever. Hippy level stuff... as long as you don't hurt/restrict others.

But on the business side they are synchronized with the right--deregulation, hands-off, buyer be ware. Funny thing is that when it comes to business, they seem to drop the "as long as you don't hurt others" part, or at least don't acknowledge that most business regulations exist because we were countering practices that were actively harming individuals/freedoms.

I also think most people identify strictly with one of these two facets of Libertarianism and kind of ignore, discredit or dis-avow the other part.

  • 2
    It looks like we answered concurrently and have many thoughts in common. Yours is definitely more concise. Interesting to make a distinction on "not hurting others", although this is one area where Left vs. Right in the US have a field day--by having wildly differing opinions on what constitutes "hurt". Sadly according to many, the mere fact of being more productive is counted as "hurtful/discriminatory" against others. Clearly there's got to be room for rule of law. It would be interesting to divide on what one defines as hurtful, that might shed more light on the differences.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 22:09
  • 1
    This is nearly right, but it's not (quite?) buyer beware: a prohibition against fraud (along with the initiation of force) is central to libertarian thought, as the non-aggression principle.
    – Charles
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 17:17
  • 2
    @Charles since people will find a way around it, you can't just say you prohibit "fraud". You need hundreds or thousands of little laws to counter all the multitude of ways people can abuse each other. You need laws about how coins are made, laws about employment, laws about protecting water and abusing public lands. Unless you are for all those laws, any general statement of "prohibition against fraud" is just an excuse to do nothing at all.
    – Bill K
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 18:16
  • 2
    @pygosceles Nobody thinks you are hurting someone by being more productive than them. People think you are hurting people by taking resources that other people need more. The (economic) right likes to pretend it's the first thing, though, because that paints the (economic) left as blithering idiots. (In the free market economy, in theory, receiving more is a consequence of giving more, but that does not mean those are the same thing, just that they are related) Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 23:33
  • "they seem to drop the "as long as you don't hurt others" " There's a difference between causing someone to be harmed, and violating their rights. Libertarians don't think that causing harm should be outlawed. You say "Legalization of drugs, free love... as long as you don't hurt/restrict others." But if rich men are allowed to have multiple girlfriends, then that makes it harder for poor men to get girlfriends. And drug addiction causes harm. But libertarians don't consider that a valid basis for making polyamory or drugs illegal. Commented Jan 26 at 2:40


Is Libertarianism left wing or right wing?

Neither "left" nor "right" describes libertarian philosophy.

Left-wing versus Right-wing is one-dimensional thinking. Combined with never-ending changes in definitions, this brings endless confusion to political discussions.

Two-dimensional thinking

For clarity and insight, consider the matter in two dimensions: personal freedoms and economic freedoms.

This way of thinking can be quite enlightening. Take for example, understanding the changes in Communist China. The governments there in recent years have been trying to increase, to some degree, economic freedoms while still maintaining strict repression of personal freedoms such as thought and speech. Using these two dimensions you can more clearly compare the phenomena there against other places.

Nolan Chart

This two-dimensional approach was made famous by the Nolan Chart, invented by David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party in the United States.

Various people publish short quizzes with random questions on various issues, to see where a person's political instincts land on the chart.

The Nolan Chart is a simple x-y chart, with one axis showing an increasing range of freedoms of personal nature, and the other axis showing in increasing range of economic freedoms.

This chart can be divided into quadrants. The true right-wingers will land in the quadrant of higher liberty for economic matters, but lower liberty for personal matters. The true left-wingers will land in the opposite quadrant: higher liberty for personal matters but lower liberty for economic matters.

The authoritarian types land in the extreme quadrant, lower liberty for both personal and economic liberty. Within that quadrant, the Communist folks tend towards a bit more freedom for personal matters than economic. The Fascist folks land towards the other side of the quadrant, a bit more freedoms for economic matters. But both are in the same quadrant of authoritarianism, believing in using the coercive force of a government to largely control both aspects of people's lives.

The extreme tip of the authoritarian quadrant would be slave-trading/human-trafficking.

Libertarian folks land in the last of the four quadrants, seeking to maximize freedoms in both aspects, personal and economic.

The true anarchists are at the extreme tip of the freedoms quadrant, believing in no government at all, absolute freedoms on both axes. Libertarians, in contrast, believe in a minimal government necessary to preserving individual liberty, such as enforcing contracts and prosecuting real crimes such as fraud and violence (but not victimless "crime").

Nolan chart axises and quadrants

(image credits)

In my country, libertarianism is associated with a pure right political ideology.

When squashing the two-dimensions into one, such absurdities result.

Are there "left wing" and "right wing" libertarians


Some of the nuances you cite about various kinds of libertarians can be understood as merely moving around within that libertarian quadrant on the Nolan Chart. At some point, distinguishing these nuances becomes mere quibbling. The bigger picture is that with regard to "Left" and "Right", all libertarians:

  • Agree with both when they promote freedoms in their usual domains (personal on the Left, economic on the Right)
  • Disagree with both when they enact more restrictions on freedoms, with libertarians always seeking ways to maximize freedoms as much as is practicable on both personal and economic issues.

Many politicians and people in the media find it advantageous to confuse these matters. But understanding the tenets of libertarian thought can be as simple as reading the Libertarian pledge signed when one joins the US Libertarian Party:

"I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals."

  • At least in US politics, I can't recall any major group that advocates the initiation of force. Libertarians do not seem to be exceptionally reticent about identifying actions taken as the initiation of force against them, nor are they exceptionally reticent about responding to those actions with their own force, making this Libertarian pledge an attempt to call out a feature that's not actually distinctive.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 13:15
  • Dear Down-Voter: Please a criticism along with your vote. Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 16:39
  • @prosfilaes It might make more sense when you consider that imprisoning people is an initiation of force. If you cannot send people to prison, you also can't use it as a threat, which means all sorts of societal rules collapse: you can't have taxes, for example, because what would you do to people who chose not to pay them? Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 23:36
  • 1
    @prosfilaes If I provide you a service you didn't agree to and then bill you for it, your non-payment is not theft of service. This is how libertarians view taxes. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 8:40
  • 2
    @user253751 We know that's how libertarians view taxes. The rest of us try to avoid receiving services we know the provider expects to paid for if we don't want to pay for it, and find the libertarian expectation that they can drive on our roads and use our courts without paying for them a little rude.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 18:56

The reason why you might not have heard much of [self-described] left-libertarian parties is that most such parties (at least in Western Europe) call[ed] themselves "ecologist" (or a variation thereof) or sometimes "New Left". (As a recap: left-libertarians diverge from right-libertarians on how unappropriated [natural] resources should be divided.)

In general, New Left parties are the oldest subgroup; they have attracted electoral support in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The newer left-libertarian parties appeared in the late 1970s; they are the ecology or "green" parties of Austria, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and West Germany. Despite their names, these parties are not narrow environmentalist pressure groups, but address the entire range of left-libertarian demands.

enter image description here

Also an interesting factoid (from that 1980s paper) is that such parties were more likely to appear in countries with higher per capita income, which is why you've probably not seen them much in Argentina. Another correlate is higher [existing] public expenditure, which explains why they didn't show up much in the US.

There a much more recent article that for Argentina identifies/discusses ASL (Acción Socialista Libertaria/Libertarian Socialist Action) [founded in 2015] as part of this group.

If you're curious, how European left-libertarian parties manage to distinguish themselves on one particular issue of recent relevance, namely non-standard employment (NSE):

Left parties in our four states fall into three categories: left-socialist, left-libertarian and social democratic. First, each country had a small left-socialist party in the period of analysis: IU in Spain, PCF/FDG in France, Die Linke in Germany and SA/SEL in Italy. These voice strong, categorical criticism of NSE as precarious. The main countermeasure they propose is to re-regulate NSE. This policy solution often also speaks to concerns by labour market insiders, for example, when Die Linke framed NSE in terms of ‘low-cost competition’ (Die Linke, 2013, p. 6). Secondly, the Green parties in France and Germany can be categorized as left-libertarian. In Germany, the Greens made NSE one of the main topics of their manifestos before other parties did. The French Greens did not put NSE at the forefront of their agenda to the same extent, but emphasized it within their labour market chapter. Both parties stressed more than others the need for better social protection of non-standard workers. This policy directly and unambiguously supports atypical employees while raising costs for standard workers (in form of taxes or social insurance contributions). Thirdly, each country in our sample has a major centre-left party that can be loosely described as social democratic: PSOE in Spain, PS in France, SPD in Germany and PD in Italy. Here, emphasis and criticism of NSE is expressed more mutedly than among the smaller left-wing parties. Also, there is some variation that can tentatively be accounted for by socio-economic context and issue competition. In Spain, the incidence of temporary employment was so high that the PSOE had little choice but to make it a core issue. In France, the PS’s role as opposition party and the persistence of NSE help explain its salience in the manifestos. In Germany, greater attention to NSE by the SPD came during opposition and against a backdrop of relatively low unemployment. Finally, the relatively low attention the PD dedicated to NSE may be explained by its (semi-)governmental responsibility.

Among all other parties, centrist and right-wing, none raised NSE as a major topic of their overall electoral programme. In 10 out of 15 non-left manifestos analysed, it was only a minor issue within their labour market chapters.

Note that is consistent with left-libertarian positions of using taxes to fund more than just the "night-watchman government", but also other things like pollution (e.g. carbon taxes) or unemployment, construed more broadly now to apply to non-standard employment (instead of proposing to regulate it out of existence as less libertarian left-wing parties do).

  • 11
    In the European usage I'm familiar with, those parties are called left-liberal. "Libertarian" is used to refer exclusively to the hard right fringe of economic liberals. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 2:59
  • Not sure if your argument regarding public expenditure is correct - especially, when it comes to the US. In Germany, the Greens never got beyond 30% on state level. In the US a party like this will have very little chances of getting anywhere near 30% representation in any parliament because of the way the voting system works.
    – Thomas
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:39
  • 2
    I would take that study with a grain of salt since the two parties mentioned in denmark will go for more authority every time they have the chance. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:11
  • 1
    @EsbenSkovPedersen: a lot can change in party ideology, especially in terms of pragmatism over time and/or if they come to power. There's a more recent survey I found from the 1990s, but not much more recent (also it defers to the previous one as to party ideology, only electoral successes are updated). Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:23
  • 2
    I have to agree with @EsbenSkovPedersen regarding the study because the parties mentioned for Denmark were not anti-authorithy and libertarian as much as they were anti-militarism, police, and capitalism driven aspects. They were still in favour of much governmental control over many aspects - usually economical/industrial as well as more ecological green. So in that aspect I find it difficult to label them as left-libertarian. Now I'm sure if you go further towards the anarchistic movements, you'll get close to the 'common' understanding of libertarian basically completing the circle. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 14:37

Drew Campo said it best:

Libertarianism is neither Left nor Right-wing. It's ... Anti-Authoritarian.

But there's really no one-size-fits-all definition for any "-ism" that's guaranteed to encompass all views for every individual who claims.


Recall where the terms "left wing" and "right wing" originated. It was a chance seating arrangement in a hall during the French Revolution. The folks who were against the current social order would sit on the Speaker's left. The Monarchists on his right.

So the original meaning of "left wing" was a group of people who wanted to crush the monarchy and take their stuff. The original meaning of "right wing" was monarchist. In most circumstances, this isn't a useful division these days. It's also not obvious how any of this connects to modern leftist thought, since Marx was not even born until some time after this.

The terms have had a very large amount of stretching and deliberate obfuscation. Collectivists of various sorts regularly pull a move where they attach "social-" or "left-" to a thing that is perceived as good, and so try to make "social" acquire that good opinion. "Social" justice, which is actually not justice at all, as an example. Justice is necessarily an individual thing, since individuals are the entities that make moral choice. Membership in a group does not automatically make you good or bad, particularly when it is in regard to people and events you had no connection with.

The origins of modern Libertarianism are strongly in the writings of John Locke. That is, they are what is now called "classical liberal" and very much what some of the founding fathers of the USA were trying to achieve. Recall Patrick Henry's famous quote: "Give me liberty, or give me death!" This is very much what libertarianism originally meant.

Many people have pointed out that politics cannot really be described properly with a single parameter such as left-vs-right. It needs, at a minimum, two. Jerry Pournelle (yes, the science fiction author) produced one reasonably cogent version. His two parameters were rationalism/irrationalism and anarchy/state control. Other people have made various other political compass divisions. All of them that I have seen have some issues, but the idea is necessary.

Libertarians generally want less government control. They tend, though not as strongly, to prefer rational thought in contrast to instinct or prejudice. In many political compass divisions this puts them all by themselves in one corner. Depending on how you arrange such a compass, the left-wing folk are another corner, either horizontally across or diagonally across. The right-wing folk are usually in yet another corner.

Though some such tests put the communists and fascists in the same corner. This is part of what I was referring to when I said political compass tests usually have problems. If you can't distinguish communists from fascists, maybe your test needs another parameter. Although, in Weimar Germany, many people would flip back and forth between membership in the communist party and the NAZI party. So it might not be entirely without merit to suggest there is some overlap between the two.

  • 11
    Of the seven paragraphs here, only three have any relevant to answering the question, three are best described as taking a dig at people whose political position you disagree with, if not trolling, and at least two of them make universal statements which are untrue in the absence of very particular definitions of several phrases and words. I suggest focusing on the are and keeping just the material that actually answers it.
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 23:20
  • 5
    "in Weimar Germany, many people would flip back and forth between membership in the communist party and the NAZI party" [citation needed]
    – llama
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 17:31
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Luaan
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 8:06

There are several problems with the question. Classical left/right separation accords to social positions, not to economic positions. There's an attempt into separating this outdated separation into a plane called the political compass. In this system, libertarian isn't left or right, but orthogonal to it, meaning it's something different. There is however one possibility to set liberal/libertarian positions on a left/right scale, and that's combining it with whose liberty is fought for. Liberty for the people tends to be (economically) left-wing, while freedom for economy and companies tends to be (economically) right-wing. But economic left and right is different from the classical social left and right.

  • Even that's not true. Most often, "left-right" comes from something like "where people used to sit in the parliament". Needless to say, in different parliaments, different people sat in different seats - French left has nothing to do with British left, for example.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:13
  • 2
    I can't agree on this. Yes, the terms comes from formerly a position in a parliament, but nowadays it has a certain political meaning if someone's opinion is more left, right or centrist. And OP asks for exactly this. He did not ask where libertarians want to sit in a parliament.
    – miep
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:46
  • It still has different meanings all over the world. Nobody can ever agree on what it means, even within the same country (or political party). It's worse than useless. If you want to pretend your definition is somehow the only correct one, that's up to you. But don't be surprised that it doesn't help one bit with communicating ideas. All you can do is regurgitate vacuous phrases like "that's leftist talk" or "they're extreme right" without ever showing what you actually mean.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 7:42
  • 1
    No, thats simply wrong. Leftist and rightist as well as centrist ideas are pretty clearly defined. Youre the first person I heard something different from.
    – miep
    Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 13:15
  • 1
    @Luaan The other problem is that the classic right wing conservatism so monarchism, strong hierarchies, natural order, universal morality, purity and whatnot. Pretty much fall out of favor with the enlightenment, so there are few parties who'll openly state "We are the authoritarian-racist-fascist-party now get back to your place". Instead every party will in one way or another pay at least lipservice to the enlightenment ideas of freedom and equality. Even if the "freedom" in capitalism still looks pretty hierarchical and unfree for most poor. Or if the "equality" in Stalinism looked unequal
    – haxor789
    Commented Feb 4 at 14:38

Both. Libertarianism in modern terms is very multi-faceted. In general it is the philosophy of minimal regulation, small government, and minimal legislation, and as such is usually actually more conservative than liberal. But that's an oversimplification if one intends to descend into a breakdown of opinions based on the usage of the label rather than its philosophical roots alone.

Many flavors and ideologies claim roots in libertarianism. However, many people are selective about which aspects they intend to minimize government involvement in--otherwise, libertarianism would be a single cohesive platform, but clearly it's not, or at least, nominal libertarianism contains multiple factions.

People who are libertarian with respect to economy and self-reliance (laissez-faire, free market capitalism, minimal taxes, right to bear arms) tend to be more conservative, since this is a core principle of conservatism.

People who call themselves libertarian on "social" issues (same-sex marriage, abortion, drug use) tend to be more liberal, since these are stances frequently embraced by the Left.

Stances on each issue matter a great deal, but the above priorities are approximately correct. These aren't necessarily the exact right categories to divide on, but it's a start. Depending on the definitions of each wing "Left-wing" and "Right-wing", it might not be possible to pigeonhole every libertarian into one of these camps.

One can take a libertarian stance on schooling, for example, which could be considered both a social issue and a matter of self-reliance. If the stance is pro-self-reliance, it's highly likely that the person is more conservative.

This can appear to be somewhat nuanced at first, and there is no better way to find out what libertarians think than by talking with and listening to people who call themselves libertarians and asking their stances and observing their behaviors.

You can find people who claim an admixture of both sides, or additional issue categories not touched upon here.

anarchist schools of thought, alongside many other anti-paternalist, New Left schools of thought centered around economic egalitarianism as well as geolibertarianism, green politics, market-oriented left-libertarianism and the Steiner–Vallentyne school.

I generally don't find these to be very convincing as libertarians platforms, since many of them seek to use the power of centralized government in an attempt to eradicate the ideas that they oppose (although I'm not thoroughly familiar with all of them). Economic egalitarianism, for example, directly opposes laissez-faire by focusing on income inequality as the central issue. Probably the most sincere prominent modern figure I know of whose sentiment and actions truly radiate liberty-centric, small/no government ideals and laissez-faire is anarcho-capitalist Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain.com, the world's largest philosophy show.

In a nutshell, it seems like the central challenge in defining libertarianism would be to define what is the acceptable range of government involvement in citizens' lives? What are its duties, and what ought to be prohibited? In other words, provide a full description of the small pen that government is free to roam within. Following the philosophy of libertarianism, that would probably be easier than to describe than any attempt to enumerate all of the rights of citizens.

Pens of widely differing dimensions or on totally different grounds run a risk of representing two totally mutually exclusive opinions about the nature of libertarianism.


The socio-political aspects and objectives of different doctrines and/or ideologies are usually superficial and insufficient in this analysis. It may seem contradictory that anarchists and neo-liberals define themselves as libertarian, and even appear as proponent of similar form (or the lack) of government. Adam Smith, Marx, and Proudhon talk about freedom, and presented critical views about the function and extent of the government (laissez-fair, an instrument of the dominant class, ultimately to be abolished ... respectively). The resolution of such apparent contradiction lies in the plane of the underlying economic principles of the different doctrines; it is in this plane where we can define which ideology is more or less representative of the purest liberal principles of the 1700 (i.e., to the right, towards Smith)... Libertarianism is an abstraction which may be thought as the extreme and/or utopian form of liberalism or socialism (even communism) respectively.


TL;DR: Wikipedia is correct there, (left) Libertarianism came first and is the correct one (the one that makes more sense as an ideology), right Libertarianism originated as a scam.

Longer TL;DR: That heavily depends on what you refer to as "Libertarianism". There are groups that are referred to as "left libertarian" or "right libertarian" though that is kinda misleading because it gives the impression that there is such a thing as a universally accepted definition of "libertarianism" and that these are merely the left or right wing of that position. So as if you were talking about a political spectrum of a certain ideology. That is not the case. Left and right libertarian are sharply opposed at times they are mutually exclusive. They have different ideologies, draw from different traditions, have vastly different goals, means and aspirations and share next to nothing but the name. And as said the left wing version was first and the right has acknowledged that steal of terminology. See the quote Murray Rothbard quote from this answer: https://politics.stackexchange.com/a/49709/42766

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over...”

Though if you come from a country where this (right libertarianism) is the definition of "libertarian", you'd probably be justified in your confusion how someone would call that "left wing" or how that should have emerged from a leftist tradition. It isn't and it doesn't.

Even longer answer: To keep it at least a little short. Throughout medieval Europe feudalism and estate systems dominated the political order. Where usually the first estate was the church, who then provided the narrative of an approval of god to the second estate which was the nobility and below that came the peasantry who had to rent land from the first and pay tribute and assistance in stuff, work and warfare.

Though with the end of the medieval period (maybe caused by the pestilence) and the enlightenment that structure got some cracks. Intellectually science was providing alternative explanations for how the world works, kinda bringing the church in trouble which worked hard to suppress it but ultimately had to give in. Philosophers were pondering about individual rights, freedoms, privileges, social contracts the necessity or superfluousness of the monarchy. Britain developed a parliament pretty early which wasn't really all that democratic yet (and isn't officially a republic even now), but marked an ever more incremental process towards rights shifting from the king to the lower levels.

While economically an ever more potent middle class emerged with large economic influence but next to no political power. Then the U.S. declared their independence and the French had a pretty influential revolution and suddenly those utopian ideas of a system where there is no king but where the people themselves form the state (republic) and where free and equal citizens themselves decide the future of their country (democracy) were no longer pipe dreams but close to being implemented.

And the French Revolution also introduced the idea of "left" and "right" as political orientations, as groups of people with similar ideas grouped themselves in proximity in the parliament and those with wishing to conserve the system and reinstall the monarchy ended up being on the right, while the revolutionaries were on the left, with the "liberals" who wanted more privileges for them (or conversely less for the nobility) but weren't overly revolutionary in the middle. Then the monarchists tried to betray that the king was executed, the republic was declared and the liberals moved from left and center to the right.

So you had a huge victory for those ideas of liberty and equality, for ideas of getting rid of social hierarchies, of the king of republics, democracies and also economically the enlightenment had gone over to the industrialization allowing increased production and the end of scarcity. The future was looking bright and tons of people added their own two cents. You're still probably hard pressed to find democratic parties who can get away not at least paying lip service to freedom(germanic etymology)/liberty(latin etymology) and equality. Even conservative parties often talk about "equality of opportunity" to at least check that box or extensively about "economic liberty" while talking surprisingly little about what that means for people with low or no income...

Though with the implementations also the intended or unintended flaws and shortcomings with respect to those ideals became apparent. Like equality of individuals made it sound like some Kantian ideas of the categorical imperative like universal rights, treating people not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. And while equal rights sound like a step in the right direction, that alone isn't quite cutting it if you apply equal laws to unequal conditions:

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

Or if you allow political contribution based on tax load, then miraculously it's only really the aristocracy (traditionally rich) and the upper middle class (new rich) who can afford to do politics, though their doing politics also ensures that things stay that way... Apparently some liberals have developed in that regard quite a fondness of property rights as that was their route out of serfdom and into political agency.

Conversely for the lower classes that meant surprisingly little change came out of these glorious revolutions, it had been a bunch of rich tyrants ruling them and it still is a bunch of rich tyrants ruling them... Just with a better PR campaign.

And the enlightenment focus on the individual that could be read as "everybody is important" also was kinda also read as "me being important and me caring only for myself, if youself not care for youself it's you problem". So indivdiualism isn't just putting a spotlight on the individual it also pretends that the individual actually is an island that can stand on it's own. Which for the most part is a lie. Without a society they had no food, no home, no customers for their skills or they'd need to do that all by themselves which is borderline impossible (at modern levels).

So there is a strain of liberalism that focuses on these early implementations and on claims of an open competition of ideas and people and somewhat of a social darwinism where the fittest ideas, people, products will emerge and where the perishing of the rest is intended or acceptable.

Which brings it closer in effect to classical conservatism which also advocated for a social hierarchy of people, though their narrative was more biological darwinism or previously assisted by religious arguments. And the most extreme versions of those are then "right libertarians" who actually emerged in the 1960s out of Old Right conservatists in the U.S. and basically tried to sell the same old unregulated market capitalism as before but with a twinkle of the anarchist lingo that the Hippies were using.

Now what does that have to do with liberty? Are individuals, especially those at the bottom of the food chain (remember that equality bit), actually free? Turns out that liberty and anarchism isn't really related to people or at best to the ones at the top where "they can spend their money however they want and so can you (if you had any to spare...)", but usually it's just a synonym for unregulated markets...

While on the other side, this dissatisfaction with how the liberal ideas being implemented and being somewhat corrupted (though that depends on how you read them in the first place), lead to ideas that put a bigger focus on society as a whole. Giving rise to "socialism". Opening up a can of worms of thousands of different ideologies how to reconcile individual liberty with the fact that other people also have individual liberty and are equal.

Though usually the least common denominator was that workers should own the means of production as industrial capitalism saw a huge rise in power of the capitalists who owned those privately to the exclusion of everyone else.

And then we get to the OG libertarians which basically developed the idea of liberation and the progression from less power to the king more power to the people to it's most extreme conclusion. That is: Anarchism. No social hierarchies, no rulers, no ruled, no institutionalized power of the state, that enforces laws (classical liberals were still very fond of that restriction of the liberties of others if it served their own). So not just liberal (towards more liberty) but "libertarian" (demanding the full thing). Where libertarian and Anarchist were used synonymously. Afaik Anarchism came first but it's connection with chaos and lawlessness (actually anomie not anarchy) lead to people preferring the use libertarian to stress the liberty aspect (rather than the absence of rulers), though that PR move didn't work and so they still largely use anarchism instead.

Now that school of though usually splits loosely in individualist and collectivist anarchism so depending on whether you see it more as a mutual collective of individuals or as a society without hierarchies. Conceptually they should meet somewhere in the middle as even collectivist anarchists often promote unions of egoists and mutual cooperation, while other's have a little less distrust of other people and put more focus on mutual aid.

But the least common denominator of anarchists is the rejection of social hierarchies and the rule of people over other people. Which pretty much from the beginning made them side more with the socialists, but at least made them anti-capitalist. Seriously the first person to call himself an anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is famous for his slogan "Property is theft!" and his mutualism is already more "right-ish" in the anarchist movement, allowing market based economies.

Which should make it obvious in how sharp of a contrast that is to supposedly "right libertarianism" and "anarcho-capitalism" which makes property rights front and center, even putting them before human rights and liberty and even being ok with a state if it ensures property rights (minarchism, probably the most common "right libertarian" faction).

Even the term capitalism was coined in it's modern meaning by socialists and anarchists as a dystopian system:

"What I call 'capitalism' that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others" - Louis Blanc in 1850

"Economic and social regime in which capital, the source of income, does not generally belong to those who make it work through their labor". - Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861

So the conflation of Anarchism/Libertarianism with ideas of nationalism, chauvinism, social hierarchies (classical conservatism), capitalism, etc. is pretty oxymoronic as these ideas are mutually exclusive.

For completion, there might be this very narrow overlap between capitalism, socialism and anarchism where everyone owned their own set of means of production, produced their own stuff and exchanges equal amounts of labor with other people so that as a result no one gets the better or ends up in a position where they own so much more that it becomes a source of power over other people. Which is both anarchism (no ruler), socialism (workers owning the means of production) and capitalism (private ownership of the means of production) though which is really going out on a limp on any of these and it's pretty unlikely that removing the democratic restrictions on rich people to unleash a tyranny of their own volition is going to get us there anytime soon.

Though most of the time there is a mutual aversion between anarchists (of any school) and anarcho-capitalists and vice versa. Hope this gives a very broad overview about the topic.

Edit: One last point, due to the obvious problem that actual Anarchism is in somewhat of contradiction with the existence of states and technically also with the monopoly of violence that is at the heart of most states claim to authority, it's much more likely to find large factions of "right libertarians" and "anarcho-capitalists" who present as rather inoffensive to the status quo of a capitalist system, despite all the radical language, then actual Anarchists who's existence beyond an intellectual level of thought might probably render them illegal (because in competition to the state; at least the revolutionary ones). So with regards to what you might hear of those, it's probably more likely to hear of those who are allowed to buy public advertisements.


On one hand left & right varies from country to country and time to time, and can therefore mean various things. On the other hand there is one main thread that goes through most of them: The promotion of government control vs private control. In other words: Collectivism vs Individualism. The left tends to be the side which promotes more government control, the right tends to be the side which promotes less government control.

This means the proper abstract spectrum would be (from left to right):
[Communists] [Socialists/Social Democrats] [Nationalists] [Conservatives] [Libertarians] [Anarchists]

Where do Fascists and National Socialists fit on that spectrum? Well, certainly not near Libertarians. As deep collectivists and authoritarians they find their place on the left, even though it is common knowledge that they aren't. But that has to do more with Marxist leaning academics trying to defend Communism by trying to place it as the opposite of Fascism, even though both ideologies have a lot of similarities (for example both fundamentally oppose Libertarianism, just as vice versa).
As such, one could argue the label "right wing", "alt right", "far right" also serve the purpose to undermine Libertarian (pro free market, pro individual liberty) positions by insinuating that a reduction of socialism is equal to the rise of Fascism.

One further nuance is that in every society there is an Overton Window. If a given society is already deep in the left spectrum, the range of acceptable parties and views are all on the left. In such a society, there is no place for Libertarians, not even for (actual) Conservatives. Those on the relative right are therefore not even right wing, even though they are labeled as such. The only thing that matters is that the parties rather represent directions which they intend to shift society towards (similar to vectors).

Libertarians are inherently individualists and as such promote individual liberties along with individual responsibility. This has roots beyond mere economics - it's based on the non-aggression principle: Do not initiate force against others. They recognize that governments and states continually infringe on the rights of individuals, including taxation. The less taxes a government has, the smaller it is. The smaller the government, the less impact it has regardless what policies are enacted. Anything that goes towards the "left" would mean it would grow the government and diminishes the prevalence of Libertarianism in the given society. So if it were too "left-wing", it would cease to be Libertarian by the very nature that the state apparatus would grow too much. Anything that would go towards the "right" would decrease state power, and enact the principles of Libertarianism more consequently.

The answer is therefore: Libertarians are, on a proper, abstract spectrum, the true right-wing, possibly even far right.
And the "far right" that is known today are just a different iteration of the left wing, who just oppose (neo-)Marxism, but are still somewhat in favor of socialism. But to be fair, the term "far right" and "alt right" are buzzwords meant to smear ideological opposition as evil by conflating them with Nazis, regardless of what policies they entail.

The other answer is, with the premise that the left-right spectrum is unresolvably convoluted, that their place is outside of it - or rather that the potential stretch of the left-right spectrum decreases as Libertarianism is more enacted, and at the theoretical peak of it (Anarcho-Capitalism), it would shrink to zero (no government, no politics, only individual preference and action matter).

Edit: The third, more accurate answer is combined with my personal political model: There are 3 main directions of politics, and all views can be mapped on it.

Globalism: Any political pursuit to enact policies which act outside of its borders. Be it expansionism, interventionism, imperialism, open border policies, immigration, financial aid, multiculturalism.
Localism: Any political pursuit to enact policies which act to enforce borders, sovereignty, economic independence, isolationism, and the maintenance of the country's representative culture, tradition and religion.
Libertarianism: Any political pursuit to reduce the power and role of the state and to increase individual liberties along with individual responsibilities.

All three directions are in contradiction to its principles, and all three can be combined. In fact, all existing parties inhabit various degrees above zero of all three.

A key role has the vertical line. The more authoritarian the given society, the more impact the government has (or can have). As you approach Libertarianism (towards to bottom), the less impact any government leaning (left or right) has (be aware, in this context "left" and "right" mean something different than above!). So naturally if you reach Anarchy, there is no political leaning to exert - it's entirely up to the individual what it financially supports or not. Also the vertical line reflects the magnitude of taxation and state debt.

Examples: The Soviet Union started somewhere around the top, and wandered further upwards and towards Globalism. After it engulfed East Europe and ceased its expansion (because it had to), it started to wander slightly towards Localism again.
North Korea is a good example of a country which ended up as a highly isolationist, authoritarian regime, placing it to the top-right.
National Socialism started out on the top-right, and wandered somewhat towards Globalism as it started WWII and pursued the Holocaust as extensively as possible.

Conservatism is placed between Localism and Libertarianism, Social Democracy is placed between the center and the top left, the USA started off at the bottom.

enter image description here


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .