in a Name?
true democratic principle, that none shall have power over the people,
is taken to mean that none shall be able to restrain or elude its
power. The true democratic principle, that the people shall not
be made to do what it does not like, is taken to mean that it shall
never be required to tolerate what it does not like. The true democratic
principle, that every man's free will shall be as unfettered as
possible, is taken to mean that the free will of the collective
people shall be fettered in nothing.
near the turn of the last century, our political
vocabulary underwent a tremendous shift. The term "liberal,"
which before that had referred to those who wished to steadily reduce
government control over people's lives, began to refer to thinkers
advocating more and more expansive government interference in those
lives. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter said at the time
of the transition, "As a supreme, if unintended, compliment, the
enemies of private enterprise have thought it wise to appropriate
in the twentieth century, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises both attempted
to make the term "liberal" again refer to those who love liberty.
Their attempt has been mostly unsuccessful, as the media has refused
to cooperate, and people believe that they already know what the
if we, the lovers of liberty, are not liberals, then what are we?
It is, it would seem to me, a good idea to have a term for everyone
who wishes to significantly roll back the scope of government. Yes,
there are tremendous differences between paleo-conservatives, anarcho-libertarians,
minarchists, flat taxers, constitutionalists, secessionists, economic
conservatives, and so on. But the way I see it, we all want the
bus to be heading in the same direction, and it ain't the one its
going in right now. Once we turn around the bus, we'll have plenty
of time to argue among ourselves about how far to drive it.
terms put forward to replace liberal have so far proved inadequate.
Libertarian is awkward, too much like "antidisestablishmentarian."
It just hasn't caught on as a popular term. Just the other day,
I told an intelligent friend of mine that I was a libertarian. "What's
that?" was her immediate response.
carries along with it much inappropriate baggage, especially the
idea of supporting whatever institutions currently exist simply
because they exist. It brings to mind images of corporate fat cats
and Pentagon generals meeting to safeguard the status quo.
while a technically accurate name for an important segment of the
libertarian movement, sounds to the "man in the street" like someone
who wants to toss bombs at the authorities from inside their own
liberal, the favorite of Cato's Ed Crane, also seems confusing to
me. After all, everyone today, even the Communist Chinese, say that
they're in favor of market mechanisms.
the other day I read an article
by Murray Rothbard where he used a term that caught my eye: "true
liberal." What I find most interesting about the term is that it
almost forces whoever hears it to ask what it means. Simply by adding
the adjective "true," the listener's facile assumptions about what
it means to be liberal are called into question.
term may not work either. But for what its worth, I forward it as
a suggestion, along with my planned response when someone asks me
what I mean by "true liberal":
true liberal believes that opportunity means the chance to determine
our own fate, while false liberals think that opportunity means
we shouldn't be allowed to fail.
true liberal believes that liberty means we can decide on our
own what we wish to risk, while false liberals think it means
that we shouldn't be allowed to do anything "too risky."
true liberal believes, along with Lord Acton, that "It is bad
to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed
by a majority." A false liberal believes that whatever the people
vote for, however oppressive, is acceptable.
true liberal believes that peaceful cooperation is the basis
of human society, and the use of force should be minimized.
A false liberal believes that people need to be coerced, all
the time, so that they act "socially."
true liberal knows that one cost of freedom is that things will
occur that we hadn't foreseen and that we may not like. As long
as the principles of civil society have not been violated, we
know we must tolerate such events. A false liberal thinks that
freedom is OK only until something happens that he doesn't like.
true liberal treats each person as an individual, valuable in
his own right and responsible for his own fate. A false liberal
views people as members of ethnic, racial and other groups,
only important as a representative of his group.
course, this leaves us with a problem. Our audience may say to us,
"If you are a true liberal, then what are the people who call themselves
this can be handled as well. There is a name for the "third-way"
between socialism and laissez-faire, for the economic system that
nominally leaves property in private hands, but subjects it to the
control of the state, that views people primarily as members of
ethnic or racial groups. We can tell the inquirer, "Why, sir, they
are the fascists, of course!"
Callahan is a regular contributor to mises.org.