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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 site.

Neither Left Nor Right

February 18, 2005

Dr. Geoffrey Klempner

Director of Studies

International Society for Philosophers


Dear Geoffrey,

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. Murray Rothbard, 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 Murray's connection to America's Old Right; he came to libertarianism by way of old fashioned civil libertarianism.  No one would confuse liberal philosophers, Hartshorne, Ford, and 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 Voegelin?  That leaves the liberal Democrat Blanshard and the relatively apolitical Whitehead and Langer.  Of 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 confusion.


Anthony Flood

See Dr. Klempner's reply (and my now-dated postscript).