What kind of bird is the libertarian? Left-wing? Right-wing? The common misconception is that Libertarians are on the “far-right” of the political spectrum. Nothing could be further from the truth. The confusion stems from the total misuse and lack of understanding in the media of the terms “left” and “right”.
First we need to define our terms. What are we measuring? Let’s think of it like a ruler. What units would we have if the small numbers are “left” and large numbers are “right”? Units of State Control. To the left on our “control” ruler we have a value of zero, that is, a complete absence of State Control, or stated positively, it is complete liberty (from the Latin liberalis = free) for the individual arising from the condition of no outside force. So it then follows that as one moves to the right on this scale the degree of State Control increases. Thus, “extreme right” would be those societal structures employing totalitarian regimes in order to “keep the people in line” such as fascism and communism. It then follows that “extreme left” would be total anarchy. Libertarians thus naturally fall on the far (not extreme) left end of the spectrum because we respect the natural rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) of the individual and reject the notion that the State can ever have a compelling interest to use force against the individual other than in preventing violations of natural rights. There are libertarians that use the term “anarchist” in various forms (min-archist, anarcho-capitalist, etc.) when describing themselves and so there are shades of respectful disagreement of opinion among libertarians (as with any human group) to the degree of which government should be permitted to exercise force; but make no mistake, there are no libertarians that would advocate complete anarchy, as that would by definition imply a lawless, consequence free society in which natural rights were ignored.
Where do Democrats and Republicans fall? Well, I have oversimplified things a bit. There is not a single scale by which to measure a society. Rather, there is a single scale (ruler) that you apply to multiple societal issues: work, welfare, abortion, marriage, drugs, schools, etc. A society’s degree of freedom can then be measured roughly by taking the value of all sliders in aggregate. On some issues Democrats are to the left (marriage) and on some to the right (welfare), whereas Republicans are on the left (welfare) and on some to the right (marriage). But both are to the right when it comes to Big Government, because Big Government allows “…the majority to embody their opinions in law.” * But, whenever their goals are in conflict they feign revulsion over “big government” and talk of limiting it. Of course this is only a tactic to limit their opponent’s ability to implement something they don’t agree with.
Since Libertarians never advocate state control (except when protecting natural rights), you will always find them on the left side of the slide rule for any given issue.
* Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Lochner v New York, 1905.