The Freedom Scale: redefining left and right.

The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are thrown around incredibly often in modern politics. The funny thing is though that nobody really agrees on a definition of what these terms really mean. If you didn’t know any better you might just think left and right were alternative words for the Labour and Conservative or Democrat and Republican parties. This misunderstanding has become so commonplace that members of the public and those in the media often characterise the left and right wings according to the political positions of parties; it should be other way round! The political philosophy behind these expressions has long been lost to most of the public, replaced by misjudged stereotypes and ignorant assumptions.

Left and right are not defined by parties, and they are not necessarily even defined by the support of particular policies. The left-right spectrum is defined by something much greater than the minutia of policy or the whims or politicians; a person’s location on the left-right spectrum is a fundamental philosophical assertion of their understanding of the nature of all humanity. Our scale needs to be such that anyone can understand it; therefore knowledge of a complex theory of the human condition will not suffice as a way for people to relate to it. I shall put forward the idea that we should use a ‘Freedom Scale’ to understand left and right. The Freedom Scale is designed to be such that anyone can understand it, but also very importantly that it is philosophically consistent and relevant. As wary as I am of the man, Glenn Beck explains the use of this scale reasonably well, (I’ll include the link to his explanation at the bottom for you to judge for yourself).

The Freedom Scale is based on the idea of sovereignty, or ownership. Who owns you? As libertarians, we generally believe that to a large extent, if not entirely, we each own ourselves. Total ownership or sovereignty over oneself is on one end of the scale, the side that libertarians would argue is the freest side. Alternatively, one might believe that people do not have complete, or any, sovereignty or ownership over themselves. Those that believe that humans have absolutely zero ownership of themselves are on the opposite end of the scale to libertarians, and people with these beliefs usually call themselves communists and Marxists. Everything in-between is a matter of scale; how much of a human do you consider to be owned by themselves and how much not?


By using the Freedom Scale, we can quickly analyse the political landscape in a useful way. An easy way to apply the Freedom Scale to modern politics is by using taxation as a litmus test. A person’s position on taxation is often, but not always, a good indicator of their position on the Freedom Scale. If one believes that they completely own themselves, then they necessarily completely own the fruits of their labour, and so no taxation is justified. On the other extreme, if one is completely owned by the state (though it does not necessarily have to be the state) then 100% taxation is justified. Thus, generally, the more taxation one supports the more they believe that humans do not own themselves. A key question for libertarians is, ‘to what degree do you think you own yourself?’ Once this philosophical question has been addressed, the political entailments can be revealed.

The worst part of the left/right misunderstanding that currently lingers around modern politics is the mischaracterisations of policy. How many times do we have to hear commentators moaning about far-right war mongering, droning, drug prohibiting, indefinitely detaining neo-cons? These are far from policies of the right and traditional conservatism; they completely undermine individual rights and need I say the constitution. In the UK it’s even worse, the party of the ‘right’ have supported socialised medicine for 60 years! The fallacy works both ways, the supposed ‘left’ support ending the drug war, less international war and generally more civil freedoms.

Nobody seems to recognize that this characterisation of right and left is entirely contradictory. The so called left wing parties are for social freedom but economic slavery, and the so called right wing parties are for economic freedom but social slavery. We need to recognize that the choice between these parties is no choice at all; what we need is a choice between clear freedom and clear slavery. The traditional right wing conservative attitude unites both economic and social freedom. A real traditional conservative attitude preaches small government in all areas, not just on the tax form. Traditional conservatism, when properly seen as the belief in individual rights, is one and the same with libertarianism (though perhaps libertarianism has a greater commitment to a codified constitution). Calvin Coolidge was the last president to manifest the old conservatism. It’s time we brought it back, this time we brought it back under the new name, though same ideology, of libertarianism.

It is essential for our cause that the public be educated in this philosophical scale. On the Freedom Scale both parties sit further to the left; both believe that you are predominantly owned by the state. When the public understand this, that voting is just the act of choosing how you want the government to control you, they will realise that both parties represent the same ideology. They will desire a third choice, a real choice that asserts the fact that you own yourself!  Libertarianism is this choice, a third way, for liberty.



Glenn Beck Freedom Scale:

  • James Root

    Interesting article though I disagree with what seems to be your constant desire to unify Libertarianism and “right wing”, as well as with Conservatism. I would say that the libertarian tradition does not directly follow from the “traditional conservatism” you seem to think existed. This conservatism was a commitment to the existing social order, in the English speaking world it was a matter of historical coincidence that this united with a belief in traditional “English liberties” (always a vague term which only really meant low taxes and no standing army), which had existed broadly speaking since the Glorious Revolution, although with roots in the Magna Carta. Rather, I would say Libertarianism follows more closely from the Whiggism, Liberalism and Radicalism of the 18th and 19th centuries, not conservatism at all but really a reformist desire for free trade and free economic enterprise, as well as toleration and social reforms such as the abolition of slavery. Conservatism, a desire not to change probably better called “status quo-ism” or in the case of reforming conservatives “status quo ante-ism”, pervades pretty much all political parties. It’s the Radicalism and true Eighteenth and Nineteenth century Liberalism which is the good stuff.

    I would suggest, if some sort of chart is needed to post groups ideologically, more of a triangle shape with liberty, equality and social order/tradition/hierarchy as the three prongs. More complex to plot, but more accurate I think.

    • Joe Bentley

      I do not have a desire to unify libertarianism and right-wing, rather, I just think that the best way of understanding left and right and being able to understand philosophical-political positions in relation to it, is to have it as a Freedom Scale. We can call libertarianism left-wing if you’d rather, and fascism and communism right-wing, but the main point of the article is to point out that we need, (and currently lack), a clear way of understanding philosophical-political positions and their relation to one another. For example, people commonly call communism left and fascism right, but how can we understand left and right if this is truely the case? Both communism and fascism involve complete government control and no freedom, and so the terms right and left lose all utility in helping us differentiate philosophical-political positions. I am arguing that for the terms right and left to regain utility, it might be an idea to have one side of the spectrum firmly associated with individual freedom, and the other with little or no freedom.

      As for the ‘traditional conservatism’ I refer to, I concede that my use of the term was perhaps vague and not entirely appropriate, but what I was trying to get at was the old ‘conservative’ tradition in the United States, that sought to protect all aspects of the constitution. I perhaps might have been better to have used the term ‘constitutionalism’.

      I would be interested to see what your ideology chart would look like. I think it’s perfectly possible that there could be numerous useful ideology charts. One, like mine, mapping degrees of freedom, then others to map other scales of ideology. The reason that I think a freedom scale is most useful is because I believe freedom is the primary factor a society should be concerned with.

  • Chris Rippel

    Traditionally, right wing referred to people and parties who resist change. Left wing referred to wanting change. The specific social and economic policies to change or resist changes over time and often switch sides. Admittedly, this can get confusing.

    One illustration clarifying rhe situation is a square. Right and left are on their respective sides showing conservative and liberal respectively. The top horizontal line represents libertarianism/no government. The bottom horizontal line represents big government. This square represents the various political positions better than Glen Beck’s Freedom Scale.

    Beck’s Freedom Scale rotates the vertcal axis clockwise so no government is on rhr right and big government is on the left.

    This creates surprising groupings such as putting nazism and fascism on the left with communism. I have also seen this chart used to make the Tea Party in America appear centrist, I.e., between no government and big government. Sarah Palin is not centrist.

    The traditional square I described above is superior to Beck’s Freedom Scale. Thanks for reading. Chris Rippel

  • Chris Rippel

    Glen Beck’s Freedom Scale is a simplification of an older and better diagram. The older diagram is a square. The left and right vertical sides represent liberal and conservative political positions. The top horizontal bar represents no-government position. The bottom horizontal line is big or authoritarian government position. On this square socialism would appear in the lower left corner, I.e., left wing policies supported by big government. Nazism would be in the lower right corner, I.e., right wing outlook supported by an authoritarian government.

    Beck’s Freedom Scale rotates clockwise the vertical axis. No-government gets combined with the right wing. The left wing now groups communism, fascism, and Nazism together. I don’t find this clarifying.

    Size of government is not the only difference worth classifying.

    Chris Rippel

Sign up for The Libertarian Newsletter

* = required field