Latin-American Libertarians Must Break Free of the Left-Right Paradigm

The Cold War and Soviet communism united libertarians and conservatives, but this alliance has outlived its usefulness.
The Cold War and Soviet communism united libertarians and conservatives, but this alliance has outlived its usefulness. (Onestopcoldwarshop)

EspañolDuring the 1950s, the American conservative magazine National Review led by William F. Buckley Jr. and Frank Meyer, developed an idea that would change liberalism and the conservative right forever: fusionism. It’s a philosophical and political synthesis of conservative values and classical-liberal economic policy: an alliance between classical liberalism and conservatism.

Before this project, classical liberalism and conservatism were two markedly distinct ideological traditions, even rivals at times. So why would a tradition focused on the preservation of traditions, republicanism, and the defense of Western civilization form an alliance with a group whose main goal is to uphold freedom as the most important political value, emphasizing the voluntary nature of human relationships?

These seemingly disparate schools of thought eventually found themselves allied in the face of Soviet communism after World War II. By the 1950s, Communism threatened to spread throughout the world, and had already brought upon terrible genocides and countless violations of individual freedom.

Classical liberals and conservatives rallied under the banner of fusionism and dominated the Western political stage during the Cold War. Leading figures of this alliance, such as Barry Goldwater, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan, eventually defeated the Soviet monster, which collapsed mostly under its own weight.

In the United States, classical liberals, also known as libertarians, are now once again ideologically distinct from the conservative right, and have their own institutions. While they are still coming out of fusionism, they have already set up think tanks, universities, media outlets, and political parties that have broken their ties with conservatism.

In Latin America, we inherited this fusionist tradition. But since the Communist threat no longer exists, we turned our sights to its close cousin: socialism.

Latin-American liberals joined conservatives in a crusade against socialism, believing that it represented the same threat to the civilized world as Communism, or perhaps influenced by those who adopted the fusionist strategy in the United States.

To be sure, liberal values are at odds with many socialist values, and socialism in Latin America has often resulted in underdevelopment, a lack of respect for human rights, and poverty. However, by forging an alliance with conservatives, classical liberals have compromised their principles.

Because of this odd partnership, liberals have backed dictators, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, and ignored the human-rights abuses committed by others like Álvaro Uribe in Colombia in fighting armed rebel groups.

Classical liberals in Latin America also suffered politically when they stood alongside traditional conservative parties. In Peru, they supported the Democratic Front and lost. In Venezuela and Cuba, they supported authoritarians like Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Fulgencio Batista in order to oppose socialist dictators.

We don’t have anything to show for this strategy. All we have achieved is to be lumped together with conservatism. We have devoted too much time and effort in attacking socialism, rather than advancing our own institutions and ideas. This has not only damaged the image of the movement, but has also alienated it from the rest of society.

The socialist “left” should not be our number-one enemy, nor should it be the conservative “right.”

Instead of fighting one and siding with another, we must break these ideological ties and stop labeling ourselves as either “right” or “left.” It’s time we begin developing our own institutions and reclaim our political identity as liberals.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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