Leftists and libertarians should be friends!

Most leftists hate libertarianism and most libertarians abhor the left. To better understand this phenomenon, we may use The Tree Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling, which explaines how progressives, conservatives, and libertarians think.

According to Kling, Progressives pay particular attention to the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor and usually take the side of the oppressed. The oppressed must be helped. Progressives hate others who are indifferent to the position of the oppressed/marginalized groups.

Libertarians pay particular attention to the difference between freedom and coercion. Freedom is good, coercion is bad. Libertarians view coercion as immoral and harmful. While not all of them are against helping other people, many libertarians are less concerned about issues such as poverty or inequality.

Kling mainly discusses the phenomenon that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians each speak a completely separate language. If something happens, the response of people who belong to one of these three groups is often more or less predictable. The progressives will usually side with the oppressed and wonder how they can be helped. Libertarians will usually mainly oppose coercion and advocate maximum freedom. That leads to contradictions. Progressives prioritize helping people, often wanting to do so through regulations that favor marginalized groups or through redistribution. Libertarians view most forms of regulation and redistribution as coercive, which is exactly what they object to.

Both groups are right to some extent. Progressives are right that every human being deserves the opportunity to flourish. It’s weird to be indifferent to others who are oppressed and have a miserable life because of it. However, libertarians also have a point: the consequences of more and more regulations and larger governments are disastrous. In fact, their objection to progressive people is mainly that they advocate solutions that we now know do not work.

Then why should progressives and libertarians be friends? Then let’s take a closer look at the way both groups think according to Kling.

• Progressives especially think about the oppressed versus the oppressor.

• Libertarians think mainly about liberty versus coercion.

Are oppression and coercion really two different things? We think not. Oppression is basically a lack of freedom. An oppressor is, in fact, someone who uses coercion to oppress someone. In fact, progressives and libertarians should agree: oppression of coercion is wrong, and freedom of absence of oppression is what we want.

As soon as we choose the term oppressed, this makes clear that we do not primarily look for the cause of the problem in a lack of talent or physical strength. Oppression is actually more or less the same as a lack of freedom. The most fundamental solution for people who suffer from oppression is therefore obvious: freedom.

So why aren’t most progressives libertarians? And why are libertarians not progressive?

This is mainly due to the way in which both groups want to improve the world.

Libertarians emphasize freedom and sometimes underestimate problems

Most libertarians agree that there should be as few obstacles as possible for people who want to do things to make their lives better. Those who have little money should be able to prepare and sell meals unhindered by regulations. Or start any type of business. We agree. Or do some progressive people believe that there may be all kinds of rules that make it complicated for an oppressed individual to start offering a service?

For many libertarians, the subject of earth ownership is a difficult issue. Many libertarians fail to see that our current land tenure system is oppressive. They expect that simply removing trade barriers will be enough to solve the world’s problems. They understand we are not truly free if we have to pay sky-high rent for our place on earth. (Not all progressives see the importance of this issue either.)

Progressives want to solve problems, choose solutions that don’t work

Progressives want to solve problems and they are right about that. Usually, they want to do that through rules, taxes, and benefits. They see more government as a way to make the world a better place.


Left libertarians combine the sensible part of the left with the sensible part of libertarianism. Every person deserves the opportunity to flourish. Problems must be solved. But a government that keeps a closer eye on us is not the right solution. Freedom is good, coercion is not good.

Another expression that means more or less the same thing is libertarian socialism. Franz Oppenheimer used this term and he too regarded not the free market but large landed property as the cause of exploitation.

The word left can be interpreted in two ways here. First, you can define a left-libertarian as one who understands that people have equal rights on the earth because the earth is a gift to all of humanity. Sharing the earth would be an extremely leveling action. After all, differences in earth ownership are the main cause of inequality. A second, somewhat broader description of what makes a libertarian leftist is that we put the interests of oppressed people first.

So libertarians and leftists or socialists should be friends and should work together. To this end, it is important that libertarians recognize that every human being deserves the opportunity to flourish. And it is important that leftists recognize that ever-bigger governments are not the right solution to most problems. An all-controlling government is a danger to our freedom and therefore to the happiness of future generations. However, the importance of freedom is not a valid reason not to solve world issues such as oppression.

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