The following letter exploited an opportunity to
correct a misunderstanding of this site's political commitments that was
too good to pass up. Years later I remain grateful to Dr. Klempner for
posting this reply to what he had written on the website for Pathways in
Philosophy, the distance learning program in philosophy he directs (and
with which I have been associated since 2001). The names of the
philosophers mentioned in this letter are now links to other pages on this
Left Nor Right
February 18, 2005
Dr. Geoffrey Klempner
Director of Studies
International Society for Philosophers
I am grateful to you for
mentioning my site, and nothing
that follows is meant to detract from that gratitude. But please consider
publishing this response to your well-intentioned description of it as
"chock full of stimulating debate from the right of the political
spectrum." In these politically volatile times, I shudder to think what
associations that tag may occasion in the minds of some readers.
We philosophers live by our concepts and the names we give
things. You have inadvertently misnamed my cast of thought "right wing,"
and I conjecture that that is because you misconceive it. The hasty
journalistic generalization that libertarianism is, at bottom, a species
of right-wing thought is empirically false. As you know, the roots of
"right-wing" lay in the seating arrangements of the French Assembly,
circa 1789, with the representatives of nobility on the room's right
wing, and those of the revolutionaries on its left. That contingency of
history soon issued in an association of the Right with an alliance of
Throne and Altar and organicist and militarist collectivism.
While it is true that the Right has historically opposed
egalitarian schemes like socialism and communism, it is equally true that
it has vigorously favored the racket by which some players on the market,
with the help of friends in government—often friends they put in
government—win monopolistic privileges against their business rivals. The
anarchist individualism with which I am aligned is arguably "left-wing."
It is unalterably opposed to all anti-market privileges.
Now to my site. Of my home page gallery's dozen
heroes, I wonder who you would say qualifies as unambiguously right-wing.
perhaps. He was indeed a man of the Old Right, that is, the
non-interventionist Right. One day in the late '60s, however, he
found himself writing for the left-wing
Ramparts magazine because of his
opposition to the Vietnam war. Mind you, he had not changed his
political principles since they were formed in the late '40s, but he
suddenly found himself on the Left without moving an inch. Again,
some will regard him as right-wing simply because he defends private
property, even though his defense was radically individualistic: every man
owns his own person and the entire product of his labor and investment.
The Left that disowns that vision will find itself with more in common
with its rivals on the Right that it may care to admit.
All right, then, who else? Father
Sadowsky is a Rothbardian, but minus
connection to America's Old Right; he came to libertarianism by way of old
fashioned civil libertarianism. No one would confuse liberal
Griffin (the last
being the author of The New Pearl Harbor, arguably the most
anti-Bush tome of last year) with men of the Right. 19th-Century
liberal Catholic historian Acton?
Anti-war revisionist Barnes?
Liberal Catholic methodologist
Lonergan? Gestapo target
That leaves the liberal Democrat
Blanshard and the relatively apolitical
course, all of them wrote something, somewhere, against Marxism, but that
hardly justifies labeling any of them "right-wing"!
So, yes, my site is chock full of ideas, thank you, but
hardly from "the right of the political spectrum." Dispensing with a
political taxonomy dating to the French Revolution is long overdue.
Why not call people by their chosen names?
It may serve the purposes of anti-property egalitarians to
conflate libertarianism, the principled defense of universal private
rights property, with mercantilism, the unprincipled defense of particular
property rights. But philosophers should neither aid nor abet such
reply (and my