Lindsay Perigo
Lindsay Perigo

Right + Left = Wrong

On scanning this issue's Table of Contents page opposite, some readers may rub their eyes with incredulity. Bad enough that there are two MPs from the Association of Compulsion-Touters among the contributors ... but a Labour MP?! A socialist, in a libertarian magazine?!

To which I retort - in this context, why not?!

In steering the Prostitution Reform Bill through to its hair's-breadth victory, Tim Barnett added measurably and courageously to the degree of liberty in this country. No longer can prostitutes be arrested for soliciting. No longer is an egregious hypocrisy enshrined in legislation whereby a woman could be prosecuted for offering her body for money, while a man could not be prosecuted for accepting the offer. Consenting adults are now free to do as they please in an area where previously they were not. True, from a libertarian standpoint there was a downside to the reform - having been legitimised, prostitutes now come under the purview of the state and its myriad petty-fascisms. But on balance, the legislation heralded a major advance for freedom, for which The Free Radical salutes Mr Barnett, however much it may disagree with him on however many other issues.

This episode points up the extent to which libertarians find themselves alternately agreeing with both left-wing & right-wing politicians, depending on what the issue is. It is the libertarians, not the politicians, who are consistent. As a context-setter for this issue, therefore, I am reproducing my article, "Right plus Left = Wrong," originally published in Auckland University's Craccum magazine in 1998:


Libertarians are often labelled "Right-wing." Some libertarians themselves accept the appellation "libertarian Right." I reject the term altogether. There are too many disagreements, fundamental & incidental, between libertarians & those on the Right of the conventional political spectrum for me to countenance using the same label, however it be qualified.

Right-wingers share with Left-wingers the premise that the individual's life belongs to society - as embodied by the state - whom it is his duty to serve. Contrast for example the Nazi slogan, "The public good before the private good" on the Right with that of Mao's cultural revolution, "Serve the people" on the Left and observe that there is no contrast! All Rightists and Leftists in between these extremes share this premise. Libertarians, by genuine contrast take the view that an individual's life belongs to him, that he may live it as he chooses, and that his only obligation to others is to respect their right to do the same.

All other disagreements between the Right & libertarians flow from this basic one. Right-wingers traditionally support military conscription - if the state owns your life, after all, then it may legitimately force you to forfeit it. Libertarians say an army should consist of volunteers. The Right opposes voluntary euthanasia; libertarians say: it's your life, and you may end it when you choose to, with the voluntary assistance of another if that is your choice. The Right would criminalise homosexuals & prostitutes; libertarians oppose any legal restrictions on consensual adult sex. The Right (and, nowadays, the Politically Correct Left also) would censor the books you read & the films & videos you watch; libertarians say: what you read & watch is your affair (in the case of "snuff movies" and child porn, there are already, properly, laws against murder & the sexual exploitation of children). The Right - and much of the Left - opposes the legalisation of drugs; libertarians say: it's your body - what you put in it is over to you.

The Right is often racist, embracing some variant of white or Aryan supremacism. The Nazis & the Ku Klux Klan come readily to mind, although it should be noted that the most conspicuous racism in New Zealand is exhibited by those who oppose immigration and foreign investment, who are characteristically on the Left. Libertarians are colour-blind, treating all people as sovereign individuals with the rights thereof. We favour open borders for people & money.

The Right is often anti-woman, believing that women are simply breeding/feeding machines who should be confined to the bedroom & the kitchen in biblical obedience. Libertarians say that female humans are sovereign just as males are, & if they want to pursue a professional career, that is their right.

Even when it comes to the area where the Right & libertarians do seem to have something in common - advocacy of a free market - we actually don't, because the Right simply does not mean it or practise it. The dominance of the "New Right" in New Zealand has delivered, overall, the most controlled, regulated & highly-taxed economy we have ever had, with unprecedented power vested in one Kremlin-like central planner, Dr Brash. What the Right means by a free market is "crony capitalism" of the Asian type, where the government bestows favours on businesspeople who contribute to its coffers. Libertarians favour a genuine free market in which people freely exchange value for value without state-imposed taxes, subsidies, tariffs, duties, etc.. Such a free market already exists in the form of the "cash" or "underground" economy, estimated in New Zealand's case to be worth $11b. It is illustrative of my thesis today that the most Right-wing of our parties - ACT - wishes to sniff out & tax this genuinely free market, while we libertarians say: leave it alone; that's what the whole economy should be like!

Libertarians, in short, are right - but not Right.

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