The Growth of Left-Leaning Libertarianism

There have been a number of recent posts on conservatives and libertarians supporting Obama due to the authoritarian shift of the American conservative movement and their abandonment of their previous small-government philosophy. Marcus Westbury, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald writes about the libertarian shift of progressives in the United States and Australia:

When did left-leaning libertarianism become the significant and perhaps even dominant ideology among progressives?

A generation or two ago the dominant left-wing ideology was decidedly authoritarian socialism. But only right-wing commentators and museum-piece communists seriously think anyone really believes in socialist-style central planning any more. So who, exactly, are these libertarian lefties? The best I can offer is anecdotal observations mixed with tenuous extrapolations about how they may differ from the socialist left and the libertarian right.

They value diversity. They recognise it both as an innate right and a precondition to innovation. They are committed to social justice but less inclined than their socialist forebears to achieve it by trying to make all things constrictively equal.

They’re sceptical of highly centralised, bureaucratic and inefficient structures. However, most of them see that up close in the corporate sector rather than as the exclusive problem of government.

They believe in freedom but do not see free markets and freedom as entirely the same. They tend to think governments must play an active role in ensuring freedom is protected from unscrupulous employers or predatory companies, reflected in the choices and opportunities we have in our personal lives, or reflected in the diversity of media available.

They tend to regard choice and competition as generally good and cannot imagine price controls or state-run industries. But they know that the market often fails, and they don’t trust it alone to tackle issues like climate change or health care. They see market power as just as likely an impediment to freedom as governments.

They are sceptical of over-regulation, believing regulation should be proportional to power and influence, and not the other way around. They question why the deregulation of economics has concentrated on the powerful, while nanny-state regulation, politicised micro-management and national security has made life more complex for the poor and the powerless.

Most of all they tend to be both idealistic and pragmatic and unable to accept that we should not try to achieve more.

In the United States this shift has primarily occurred as differences between left and right became primarily based upon social issues and views of the Iraq war (and associated restrictions on civil liberties). Economic views have become less meaningful to distinguish left from right as many on the left do not share the economic views of the old left, while many on the right now support both big government and the corporate welfare programs of the Republican Party. It is interesting to see that Australia is experiencing a similar change in meaning of left and right.

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  1. 1
    Adrian says:

    Those of you who consider yourselves Left-leaning on personal freedom plus some economic regulation should try taking the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, available at  
    I currently score 100% / 80% , which means I am at the top quadrant rather than left quadrant of the Nolan Chart utilized for scoring on the Quiz.  Perhaps you are with Timothy Leary and Karl Hess, on the Left Edge of the libertarian movement?!

  2. 2
    Steph says:

    Wow, this describes me perfectly. I’ve never read a description so close to my thoughts.
    I think this shift does have to do with the rise of the Religious Right…. especially in my generation (Gen X) and in Gen Y.  They are for big government (even if they say they are not) for more militaristic social and religious authoritative ways.   This has shifted the political spectrum.
    We’ve grown up under this shift and many of us who are Left leaning became more Libertarian…. I’d say practical in my mind.

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