Wednesday, November 15, 2006


There's been a nice little debate over in Hades about the precise meaning of the term libertarian, and whether it can only be used in an absolute sense: whether it is impossible for a libertarian to accept any sort of state at all. I tend to agree with the DK in that libertarian is probably not the ideal phrase to cover the sort of 'right-wing' opinions we share (more or less) and that the term 'Classical Liberal' would be far better had its meaning not been utterly trraduced by the shower of bastards in the Liberal Democrat party.

But the debate has opened my eyes to the casual misuse that lefties subject the term to. Take Anne Karpf in today's Guardian.

The libertarian line is that the state shouldn't intervene in private life. Quite a comical viewpoint in some ways, because many of those who express it have no hesitation in insisting upon vaccination, compulsory schooling or tougher divorce laws - all examples of how the state regulates our behaviour.

A good first sentence there. The libertarian line is indeed that the state should not intervene in private life. Therefore, by the same logic, those who insist upon compulsory schooling, vaccination or tougher divorce laws are not libertarians. If you look at libertarian as being on the opposite ideological wing to authoritarianism, however, then it can be seen that one can tend towards libertarianism without being an absolutist. It's a perfectly reasonable stance, for example, to believe that the state should have a monopoly of violence (ie an army) but not a monopoly of production. Such a view is more libertarian than socialism (in the old fashioned sense) while still accepting some role for the state.

Anyway, despite that, her sentence basically reads:

Libertarians believe that the state shouldn't intervene in private life. Quite a comical view actually because some people who aren't libertarians by my definition believe that it should.



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