12:41 PMLiberalism and libertarianism
Liberalism and libertarianism |
I hope people won’t mind me posting a thread on this subject because I’m very conscious that I’m not only a new member but that my views are in a tiny minority here so I’d like to clarify them because I do sense a genuine misunderstanding both about what I’m saying and about the nature of these two philosophies. If no one minds I’d like to try and explain my position.
In the first place liberalism and libertarianism are related but not identical. Secondly there are subdivisions within each school and the nuances often get overlooked.
Where to begin? Well, let’s try and explain the similarities and differences. All liberals are libertarians but not all libertarians are liberals. In the same way all communists are socialists but not all socialists are communists, all Anglicans (Episcopalians) are Christians but not all Christians are Anglicans, all Mexicans speak Spanish but not all Spanish speakers are Mexican.
Let’s start by looking at the points of agreement and then at the areas of difference. The most fundamental values of liberalism are freedom, tolerance, fairness and compassion. Libertarians will agree with the primacy of freedom but give far less weight to tolerance and tend to regard fairness with suspicion or even hostility. Compassion is also a virtue they frequently take little account of.
I’ll briefly digress to talk about the various ‘schools’ of liberalism and libertarianism. The most radical, consistent and thorough-going form of libertarianism is of course anarchism. Even anarchists have different ‘schools’ ranging from the ultra–individualistic Stirnerite anarchist, the utilitarian anarchist school of Mackay, the communitarian-based anarchism of Kropotkin and Makhno, the socialist anarchism of Malatesta and Durutti through to the anarcho-Marxism particularly advocated by some German and Italian anarchists.
A whisker away from anarchism are the individualistic libertarians whose political ancestors are Herbert Spencer and Ayn Rand. Both are virtually anarchists though they do allow a tiny role for the state in terms of national defence against external aggression, some role in maintaining law and order within the country and concluding foreign treaties.
Closely related to individualist libertarianism is what is known as minarchist liberalism. This allows the state only slightly more of an interventionist role and assigns to it an additional function of acting as referee in disputes between citizens. Other than that its position is identical with individualistic libertarianism. Both minarchist liberals and individualist libertarians essentially regard the state as an enemy and something that should play as little part as possible in people’s lives.
Then there are classical liberals. They take a more positive view of the place of the state and essentially look on its principal role as being to DEFEND and EXTEND freedom as widely as possible. They also believe that the ‘refereeing’ role of the state often requires it to intervene directly to correct or prevent abuses of liberty by citizens.
My experience and an extensive study of history show that both minarchist liberals and individualistic libertarians tend to be resistant to change (perhaps one reason why so many Americans who are actually monarchist liberals or individualistic libertarians wrongly consider themselves to be conservatives) and extremely hostile towards state intervention in either economic or moral issues. That is much less true of classical liberals although they are always extremely reluctant to extend the power of the state without good reason.
Individualistic libertarians tend to consider themselves conservatives and often describe themselves as such. The same is also true of many minarchist liberals. Classical liberals tend simply to describe themselves as liberals and to be centrist in their general approach to things.
Left-wing libertarians are a rather different kettle of fish. In their ideology the community effectively plays the role of the state and uses varying degrees of coercion ranging from social disapproval to legislation in order to compel conformity. Although they DO place enormous emphasis on freedom it tends to be what John Arden called ‘left-handed liberty.’
Another strain of liberalism is radicalism. This tries to use the power of the state in a proactive way, seeking not simply to correct and prevent abuses but actively encouraging certain types of behaviour and discouraging others. The fruits of this strain are things like equal pay legislation, hate crime law and affirmative action programmes.
Then there are the social liberals who have imbibed a lot of socialist propaganda and IMO tend to overemphasise fairness in such a way that they correct one fault by creating an injustice in the opposite direction. Groups like the ACLU, NOW, the A4A and so on are trying to impose – in what I believe is a misguided attempt to correct genuine problems – an equally unfair and unbalanced tilt to the other extreme.
I find the religious right in America appalling and a total travesty of Our Lord’s teaching. In the same way I look on the social liberals as people who have utterly betrayed the most fundamental principle of liberalism, its overriding love of freedom. Just as the rantings of Glen Beck disgust me, so too does the venom of Michael Moore. And I have no time at all for socialism, let alone Communism.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m a classical liberal. To me it remains the best and fairest political philosophy ever developed.
I’m also going to start a new thread on conservatism!
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