Left and Right and Collectivism

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

I made the mistake recently of tweeting on immigration, which made it all too clear that clear and stringent thinking is as lacking on the “right” as it is on the “left.” While we have perhaps gotten used to the postmodern anti-logic of progressives, who certainly don’t mind contradicting themselves several times in the same sentence (!) while proudly and loudly asserting their conviction is both better and of higher moral value, the right tends to (occasionally) get some things right. At least regarding economics. Certainly, the “right” wrestles with their own logical leaps of faith (and of Faith) as well as arbitrary values, but at least my experience is that the right tends to respect the logic of an argument. At least when compared to progressives.

But my tweet made it clear that I was deceived or perhaps biased by the unrepresentative sample of people from the statist left and statist right that have crossed my path. My tweet, included below, was ignored by the left while the right did their “best” (social media style) to rebut it:

The by far most common response, which was apparently considered devastating for my implied argument, was “I take it you don’t lock your doors at night.” I must admit I at first didn’t even see the relevance, but then I realized that these anti-immigrants hiding behind a veil of ignorance legality believe there is a perfect analogy between individual private property and “country.”

“Country,” it appears, is a mix of nation, (federal) government, and ethnicity, even though I find it difficult to understand what distinguishes an ethnic “American” (but I admit this may be due to my emigrating from a quite ethnically homogenous 1000-year kingdom at the outskirts of Europe). Interestingly, when pushed back these men (and women) of the statist right resort to the exact same tactic as progressives: the amoebic strategy of shifting the meaning of words and concepts to make it appear the critique (always) misses the point. Criticize their view of government, and they respond with the concept of nation; criticize their use of nation and they respond with a normative ideal of what it means to be American; pushing back on “Americanism” they provide some ethnic or historic narrative; and respond to this they invent another concept that the specific critique doesn’t necessarily apply to.

This is the same strategy as used by progressives when you try to figure out what they are actually saying about enforcing gender equality, fixing the wage gap or their strange view of freedom of expression/language as violence.

The only difference between the statist right and left, it appears, is how they prefer to slice society in order to discover conflicts that they can emphasize and get upset about. And demand a legal solution to. The difference lies in how they define their tribal traits and thus derive belonging and “justice.” Where the left identifies or creates underdogs in a class analysis that they apply on everything in the present, the right identifies or creates underdogs in a tribal analysis over time: the rights of their own tribe are violated because “it would have been better” otherwise. Both are equally intolerant and violent: the left doesn’t mind sacrificing everyone not in the right class to see the relative position of the underdogs improved, while the right gladly sacrifices “others” (as well as their own future!) in an effort to keep the tribal identity intact.

Both share the cowardice of demanding a certain structure for society, and not hesitating to support the violence necessary to make it happen – as long as it is done by “government.” No wonder they are both supportive of expanding if not unrestricted executive power. At least for as long as their own guy holds that office. When not, they realize the terror of being on the “other side,” of looking straight into the barrel of a gun about to end a beautiful thing called life.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan
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Per Bylund is Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. His research focuses on issues in entrepreneurship, strategic management, and organizational economics – especially where they overlap and intersect with regulation and policy issues.


  1. In simple terms, the left collectivizes property and markets while the right collectivizes personhood. The left splits persons into tribal groups within a nation, while the right separates tribal groups as nations. The right opens markets within a nation, but closes them between nations. Identifying libertarianism as center-north (i.e. Nolan Chart) clarifies its independence from both left and right.