Friday, January 16, 2009

The Messy Definitions of "Left-Wing" and "Right-Wing"

On the web, libertarians occurrently conflict with each other on the definitions of a few terms. We observed that these conflicts start from the mistaken and confusing definitions of the terms left-wing, and right-wing. We, in attempt to revolve this conflict, normatively propose more consistent definitions of these two terms. While no definitions of these terms accurately reflects the historical usage, our normative approach will in attempt to solve this problem by devising the original definition, along with a brief historical analysis on how the definitions changed its meanings today.

Libertarians and agorists mistakenly label themselves as revolutionary or leftist. This leads to great problems, and frequently cause confusions of the terms left and right. Unlike our previous attempts, we decide to find non-empirical definitions of the terms. This will, therefore, provide a consistent resemblance of the terms. We, in attempt to clarify the definitions, wrote a series of arguments formulating consistent definitions of radical, revolutionary, left-wing and right-wing.

The first section starts in distinguishing between the terms radical and revolutionary. In this section, we will refute the common misconception of the synonymy of these two terms. In the second section, we will devise simpler and more consistent definitions of the terms left and right, building up on the conclusions in the first section. Additionally, we will analyze the common mistakes and confusions of the terms, especially pertaining to the minarchists and the agorists. In concluding the argument, we will propose a fourth section, dealing with the historical mix-up and the origins of the confusions. Lastly, we will provide an appendix exemplifying the application of the newly defined consistent terms, while refuting the popular misconceptions of the meanings of these terms.

The Terms Radical and Revolutionary

Popular opinion often conflate the terms radical and revolutionary. While, on the surface, these terms appear similar, a we will argue that a significant distinction exists.

We notice that the terms left-wing has similar ideas as in radical and revolutionary. In order to isolate the distinguishing attributes from each of these three terms, we must find concise definitions for each of these terms.

We will use the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to define the terms right-wing and left-wing.(webster-left) In contrast to other dictionaries, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary appears more historically accurate. We justify this from its accurate entry on the definition of mercantilism.(webster-mercantilism)

According to the commonly-accepted definitions, right-wing means status quo or status quo ante. Left-wing means radical.

The terms status quo and status quo ante, which appears as opposites of the revolutionary and radical. However, we find this as false. To demonstrate this, we will argue that there can exist revolutionaries that support the status quo ante. We will use Burkean conservatism, the traditional form of conservatism, to prove this.

Those who oppose the American Revolution and the French Revolution, labeled Burkean conservatives, opposes radical change. Burkean conservatism adores experience as one of the primary tenets of its reformist philosophy. It claims that experience, or historical implementations, demonstrates the feasibility of the ideology. Therefore, Burkean conservatism only accepts ideologies successfully implemented in real-life. A past or the current implementation of the ideology demonstrates the feasibility of the ideology. They advocate certain status quo or status quo ante of the ideology implemented.

Thus, we can consistently define right-wing as the status quo or the status quo ante.

Karl Hess', in attempt to devise the terms left and right, labeled Joseph Stalin as right-wing. We will, below, refute that claim.

Authoritarian socalists do not want to revert to the status quo or status quo ante. The ideologues claim its ideology as radical because it continuously tries to invent innovative solutions to implement a workable version of communism.

As we showed theory as much more important than implementation,(TheoryAndImplementation) we should view intent much more important than the result. We could all agree that the result of communism pertains to the status quo and the status quo ante, since all implementations of communism results the same old failure.

But the intent of communism, as an ideology, pertains to its radicalness and opposes the status quo and the status quo ante. Communists want to implement new workable versions of communism resembling nothing to the historical attempts of communism. Therefore, we should define communism as opposing the status quo and the status quo ante.

We had argued that the theory or intent, not the implementation or result, determines the fundamental attributes of any philosophy. Because of the radical intent of communism, we must classify communism as left-wing, as in the above sense.

Right-wing means the status quo or the status quo ante. Left-wing means radical ideas.

Therefore, we should not claim left-wing authoritarianism, in the radical authoritarianism sense, as an oxymoron.

Both of the terms, even formally defined, contain ambiguity. The left-wing originally meant the opposition to the status quo. The left-wing includes the counter-revolutionary authoritarians and the radical revolutionary authoritarians.

However, an ideology labeled as radical does not necessary imply the ideology as revolutionary. Two types of radicalism exist: the revolutionary type and the reformist type. Radical reformists tend to hold radical intentions and principles, but does not necessary support drastic revolution in practice. Contrastingly, radical revolutionaries tend to support radical intentions and drastic revolution in practice.

These two terms, however, tend to get conflated, since the terms radical and revolutionary often gets associated. Those who have radical beliefs tend to support revolutionary means to achieve it, and those who support revolution tend to hold a radical opposition to the status quo.

But we should emphasize that we should not view two these two terms, radical and revolutionary, as necessary correlated. Some radicals oppose revolution, and some revolutionaries do not hold radical beliefs. The political anarcho-capitalists and the democratic socialists hold radical views but oppose revolution. Conversely, the counter-revolutionary reactionaries and the theocrats support revolution but do not hold radical views.

By the above conclusions, we have found a more consistent and concise definition of radical and revolutionary.

  • The term radical means philosophies whose intent support ideologies not implemented in the past or in the current situation. It therefore opposes the status quo or the status quo ante, the defining ideas for right-wing.
  • The term revolutionary means those who favor direct and immediate methods in implementing the ideology in practice, as opposed to politics or reformism. The term revolutionary does not necessary correlate with radicalness or left-wing ideology.
  • The term left-wing, if defined consistently, merely means a synonym for radical.
  • The term right-wing, if defined consistently, merely means a synonym for the status quo or the status quo ante.

The Terms Left-Wing and Right-Wing

We could formulate the left-wing and right-wing versions of libertarianism. The right-wing libertarian supports the status quo ante, or the old model of classical liberalism implemented after the American Revolution. The left-wing libertarian opposes the status quo and the status quo ante, therefore opposes the American Revolution and all of the quasi-libertarian societies implemented in the past. The left-wing libertarian supports radical notions of libertarianism never implemented in the past, and denies that any currently-existing society as libertarian. The left-wing libertarians, for example, denies Medieval Iceland or Somalia as libertarian societies.

We should emphasize that the term left-wing, a synonym for radical, does not necessary imply revolutionary. Hence, the left-wing libertarian, by definition, may support reformism.

Coincidentally, some of the self-identified "left"-libertarians, such as Kevin A. Carson, Roderick T. Long, and Charles Johnson, actually do support reformism.(TheLeftLibertarianStrategy)

We should also discredit the term radical right or right-wing radical as an oxymoron. Right-wing means a philosophy based on the status quo or the status quo ante. The term left-wing means the opposite. Left-wing philosophies does not base on the status quo or the status quo ante. Left-wing philosophies bases on innovative, radical ideas not implemented in history. Therefore, the term radical right has the two words meaning opposites.

Most of the self-identified "agorists" actually do not, by themselves, practice agorism. We can label them as theoretical agorists. Theoretical agorists include David Z., FSK, and others in the "left"-libertarian spectrum. Theoretical agorists frequently impose guilt trips on other theoretical agorists for not practicing agorism, even that they, themselves, do not practice agorism in the first place. While most self-identified "agorists" do not practice agorism, they do have the same radical beliefs as the practical agorists. Hence, we can label both the theoretical and the practical agorists as radical libertarians.

However, we cannot label the theoretical agorists as revolutionary libertarians. The theoretical agorists do not practice direct action, but impose guilt trips on others for not practicing agorism. The practical agorists, in contrast, do practice agorism. So we can only label the practical agorists as revolutionary libertarians, not the theoretical agorists.

In summary, we should label theoretical agorists as non-revolutionary libertarians and label practical agorists as revolutionary libertarians. But we can label both the theoretical and practical types as radical libertarians.

"Left"-Libertarianism and Politics

Historically, the agorist movement classified anyone who supports reformism or political methods as right-wing. The "left"-libertarians often claim that radicals, by definition, must oppose politics. We will discredit this.

Some libertarians may have radical intentions and may strongly oppose the status quo, but resort to using political methods and reformism anyway. They believe that reformism and politics can bring about this process, without revolution.

As we often conclude that using reformism and politics does not change anything other than the status quo, the result or implementation appears to coincide with the right-wing, a term meaning the status quo.

However, the determination of the philosophy depends on its intentions more than the implementation. A "left"-libertarian may strongly oppose the status quo but resort to political methods and reformism. Because the "left"-libertarians intended to exert radicalness, radical political libertarianism falls in the left-wing.

We should note that political libertarianism does not necessarily oppose the left, so there may exist political libertarians that may fall in the right.

Similarly, as discussed above, some right-libertarians support a non-political counter-revolution to go back two hundred years ago. But these libertarians, even if they oppose politics, do not fall in the left, since they oppose radicalism.

Problems with Secularism and Traditionalism

A secularist can have traditional beliefs, since traditional values does not require religion. But the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines left-wing as supporting secularism.(webster-secular) Therefore, in order to classify a person as having left-wing beliefs, he or she must hold radical (but not necessary revolutionary) ideas, and also support secular values. As we see secularism, by definition, as compatible to traditionalism, the secular left, by definition, does not necessarily oppose traditionalism.

Similarly, a traditionalist attempts to believe in traditional values, such as morals, ethics, and religion. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines right-wing, in addition to supporting the status quo or the status quo ante, as espousing traditionalism.(webster-traditional) But, as showed above, traditionalism does not necessitate religion. Concepts generally associated with traditionalism include hierarchy, authority, patriotism, nationalism, paternalism(paternalism-def) and religion.

So according to the above argument, both the left and the right both may hold traditional values. The left and the right only differ by religion, not tradition.

Leftism, socialism and economic interventionism

Prior to Karl Marx, both of the minarchists and the economic planners identify themselves as socialists. However, as the Marxist movement enlarged, the definitions changed. Because the Marxists had always referred socialism to economic planning, socialism got associated with economic planning, and then the denotation of socialism has changed to only represent economic planning.

Marxists oppose religion and support economic planning. Therefore, the term left-wing, after the Marxist movement, had become to mean something resembling Marxism, with the opposition to religion with the support for economic planning. Contemporary dictionaries define left-wing as a secularist, economic interventionist ideology, possibly due to the Marxists' identification with the left.

However, we should simply reject the terms left and right as package-deals. The left does not really support revolution, and many of the "left"-libertarians, as said above, support reformism. As argued above, the left also does not oppose traditionalism. The population has redefined left-wing as supporting socialism and economic interventionism, mostly of the Marxist movement. It makes the terms left and right as watered-down propagandistic euphemisms.

Appendix: Authoritarianism Example

We will briefly use the term radical and revolutionary to demonstrate the usage of these two terms. We will use authoritarianism as the example.

Two branches of authoritarianism:

  • Revolutionary authoritarianism
  • Anti-revolutionary or status quo authoritarianism

Revolutionary Authoritarianism

Two branches of revolutionary authoritarianism:

  • Counter-revolutionary or status quo ante authoritarianism
  • Radical (innovative) revolutionary authoritarianism

Since all these two support revolution.

Anti-Revolutionary Authoritarianism

Examples (in an anarcho-capitalist POV):

  • The U.S. Republican Party
  • The U.S. Democratic Party

Counter-Revolutionary Authoritarianism

Some authoritarians propose the status quo ante, by revolution. Also called counter-revolutionary authoritarianism and status quo ante authoritarianism.

Examples (in an anti-minarchist anarcho-capitalist POV):

  • The counter-revolution reactionaries
  • Theocracy
  • Monarchism
  • Paleocensarvatism
  • Ron Paul conservatism

Radical Revolutionary Authoritarianism

Some authoritarians do not propose to go back to any time period. They wish to implement an innovative version of authoritarianism that does not exist in the past.


  • Jacobin
  • Stalinism
  • Maoism
  • Troskyism
  • Nazism
  • Fascism

The Historical Meanings of "Left-Wing" and "Right-Wing"

  • The original left-wing understood as those who sat on the left side of the parliament and right-wing who sat on the right side. Because there is only one dimension, no one can be arranged optimally.
  • The original left-wing composes of Democratic-Republicans, who oppose social, religious and military intervention and opposes spending. Supports states' rights.
  • The original right-wing composes of Whigs, who were religious and support social, religious and military intervention and supports spending. Opposes states' rights.
  • President Abraham Lincoln has defined the right-wing to support social and religious interventionism.
  • Since the election of Woodrow Wilson, the left-wing has and supported social intervention such as prohibition.
  • Since the elections of Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding, the left-wing has supported military intervention and the right-wing has opposed military intervention.
  • The elections of Herbert Hoover and FDR had defined the left-wing the pro-spending party and the right-wing as the anti-spending party.
  • The Barry Goldwater campaign and the Civil Rights act in the 1960s made right-wing religious as the Southern Democrats distrusted the Democratic party for supporting it. The right-wing has redefined to support social interventionism.
  • The Ronald Reagan campaign has defined the left-wing to oppose spending and the right-wing to support spending, all at the same amount of economic interventionism.
  • Ronald Reagan has defined the left to support environmentalism and the right to oppose environmentalism.
  • The two Iraq wars has defined the left-wing to oppose military intervention and the right-wing as military interventionist. The energy issue has defined both the left-wing and the right-wing to support environmentalism.

These events caused the vague notions of the left-wing and the right-wing as we use today.

How would the myriad political ideologies fit in just a one-dimensional spectrum? The political spectrum is not defined that way, the definition has induced from the empirical arrangement of French parliament. Groups of individuals sat next to each other in a way, while constrained by the one-dimensional parliament, to reduce tension between their neighbors. Because of the spatial closeness of the neighbors, the left-right spectrum forces one to join alliances with neighbors. The left-right spectrum arbitrarily forces a diverse array of ideologies to jam into a one-dimensional spectrum.

Many left-libertarians, particularily the ones who have a membership of Alliance of the Libertarian Left, would cite Karl Hess' or the left-libertarian's definition. However, his does not promote a solution because his inductive definition does not reflect the dynamic political spectrum. Words such as "left-libertarian" and "right-libertarian" seem vague.


No political "spectrum" can measure the "similarity" of one's ideology compared to others. The two-dimensional political spectrum is not an improvement over the one-dimensional one. To give an accurate representation of one's political views, it would require thousands of dimensions. But with thousands of dimensions, it would become impossible to compare your results with others. You cannot simply "match" your thousands of dimensions with another's thousands. Doing so would not give accurate results, since the more dimensions you match does not necessarily mean that you have closer views to him. The "dimensions" of the political spectrum are also picked arbitrarily, so it will give biased and "unmatchable" results.

A solution that we propose is neither left nor right. It is a simpler axis, one that Kel Weaver has proposed. It is simply anarchist or non-anarchist.

No definition of left-wing and right-wing that encompasses all its usages exist. Criticisms of leftism or rightism pertains to a specific stereotype listed below.

"Leftie" stereotypes
  • anti-capitalism
  • anti-corporation
  • anti-corporatism
  • anti-propertarianism
  • anti-racism
  • anti-religion
  • blank slate
  • class conflict
  • collectivism
  • cultural determinism
  • dialecticism
  • economic interventionism
  • egalitarianism
  • environmentalism
  • equality
  • forced integration
  • group rights
  • majority rule
  • moral relativism
  • multiculturalism
  • nurture over nature
  • pacifism
  • pluralism
  • political correctness
  • polycentrism
  • radical feminism
  • religious intolerance
  • reverse discrimination
  • secularism
  • social determinism
  • tabula rasa
  • tolerance
  • welfare state
Right-Wing stereotypes
  • anti-democracy
  • authoritarianism
  • capitalism
  • colonialism
  • conservatism
  • cultural conservatism
  • elitism
  • family values
  • fascism
  • feudalism
  • fundamentalism
  • genetic determinism
  • inegalitarianism
  • inequality
  • intolerance
  • landlordism
  • militarism
  • monarchism
  • monocentrism
  • monoculturalism
  • nationalism
  • nature over nurture
  • neo-Lockean theory of property
  • paternalism
  • plutocracy
  • pro-corporation
  • pro-corporatism
  • protectionism
  • psychological nativism
  • religion
  • social hierarchy
  • social order
  • status quo ante
  • status quo
  • traditionalism
  • traditionalist authoritarianism
  • uniformity
  • warfare state

Because no formal definition of leftism and rightism exist, people often criticize the other wing using the equivocation fallacies. Left-wingers criticize the right-wing's cultural conservative stereotype when the right-wingers criticize the left's economic stereotypes. They do not even argue about the same thing. Often, the left and right will randomly switch the definitions of the terms to mean one of the above stereotypes, and result in a confusing, convoluted argument with no concrete definitions of the terms left and right.

I responded to the series of comments at Polycentric Order.
Cork said: Does it make any sense for left-libertarians to bash Hoppe but praise Proudhon, when the latter is far more culturally conservative?

Brainpolice used the term "left" in the sense of cooperative property rights, not to mean culturally liberal. He has posted a video defining "left" and "right." Cork replies to Brainpolice without understanding what he had meant.

Cork said: I don't want to give the impression that Proudhon is all bad, just because he had some nutty beliefs on cultural and political issues. For a proto-socialist, he was decent and relatively libertarian ( least in theory). He has some excellent quotes.

Brainpolice did not define "left-wing" and "right-wing" to distinguish cultural differences, he used them to distinguish economic differences, an in this case, property rights. He used "left-wing" to mean those supporting "loose" property rights and "right-wing to mean those opposing the "loose" property rights held by mutualists.

Brainpolice said: Furthermore, how can we possibly forget Gary North, who openly advocated a Christian theocracy as an anarcho-capitalist model? So spare me in your attempt to act like the libertarian right has some kind of highground.

BrainPolice has, once again, used the equivocation fallacy. He equivocated the term "right-wing" to represent theocracy, when he previously used the same term to represent those who "oppose" mutualist property rights.

Thus, I do not identify myself as either "left" nor "right," because the usage of these term often sprang up equivocation fallacies.

Scott said: Cork is clearly trolling.

Affixing the adverb "clearly" in this sentence not necessarily affirm accuracy of the predicate. Many individuals often abuse the word "clearly." For example, Statists will say that "the tax evader has clearly harmed people," "We clearly need a State," or "the drug dealer has clearly committed a 'crime'."

I oppose labeling, using, or calling yourself, or any other, as "left," "right," "anti-left" or "anti-right." This will instigate confusion. For example, by "anti-left," do you mean you oppose their economic stance or oppose their cultural liberalism? Well, the self-described "leftists" will interpret your statement as opposing both. Therefore, they will call you a "right-libertarian," and a culturally conservative bigot. The discussion will go on and on and go in a convoluted circle.

As shown, the usage of the terms "left" and "right" leads to equivocation fallacies. Therefore, we will propose eliminating all, each as every, instance of "left" and "right."

As similar in E-Prime, the term "to be" can easily get misused. Let us look at the similar case in E-Prime:

In principle, if not in practice, we agree that in some instances one could use forms of "to be" (in its auxiliary, existence, and location modes) without causing appreciable "semantic damage". Even so, most English teachers would agree that most of us overuse and misuse the verb, and that even a 75% reduction in its use would improve our writing and speaking skills. But why go to the extreme of trying to eliminate it totally? Because for better or worse, it looks like only an all-or-nothing approach to this problem works successfully. De Morgan, Santayana, Korzybski, and many general semanticists have warned against misuses of the verb like the "is" of identity, yet they continued to misuse it themselves!

So even if we carefully attempt to carefully use "left," it can easily get misused. For example, we identified four different definitions of "left-libertarianism":

  • Charles Johnson defines "left-libertarianism" as "thick" libertarianism muddled with feminism and other cultural values, as supposedly shared by the Democratic Party. However, Johnson did the "hasty generalization" fallacy in doing that.
  • Brainpolice defines "left"-libertarianism as cultural liberalism with anarchistic economics. However, on a YouTube video, he mysteriously redefines "left" and "right" as an economic spectrum.
  • FSK defines a "left"-libertarian as an agorist.*
  • Brad Spangler defines left-libertarianism as a revolutionary type of libertarianism and while opposing "vulgar libertarianism." This implies that left-libertarians must advocate mutualism or neo-mutualism.

We defined "left"-libertarianism a long time ago and many replied that we did not represent all "left-libertarians." I do not represent all of them because we defined "left-libertarianism" differently.

All statists, minarchists included, propose aggression on others. Statists only tinker with the Leviathan and parliamentarianistically waste their energies with political compromise.

The terms left-wing and right-wing are highly vague, and no definition exists. They are highly contextual, and can have completely different meanings hinging on the speaker's ideology and alliances.



 Anarcho-Mercantilism over Market Anarchism.

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 \emph{Merriam-Webster Online.}

 We will discuss this in another article.

 The Left-Libertarian Strategy

 Multiple, confusing definitions of \emph{paternalism} exist. In this case we mean to aggress others ``for their own good."


On FSK's blog:

If you're on your own blog, ignoring or calling out trolls is usually sufficient. For example, "[anarcho-mercantilist]" (see above) describes himself as "anti left-libertarian". If that's your philosophy, then why are you trolling here? If you believe that agorists are full of ****, then why are you wasting time reading this?

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