90 Varieties of Libertarian: Which One Are You?

 

Extreme state libertarianismDid you ever notice…

  • that it’s possible to prefer libertarianism for federal policy, and be a Marxist for your state?
  • that many on the Left do it the other way around? (I.e., the more they think nothing at all should come between little Julia and her father/husband/God/the federal government, the more they support Libertarianism for the state governments!)

Outlined below are four distinctions between various types of libertarianism, making for a total of 90 available libertarian positions.

What kind of libertarian are you? Mix and match from the different categories to find the name, and please object to these names and definitions and distinctions. Also, quibble over words since a good definition is a good thing; getting the definitions right is a good activity.

(I myself am a conservative, but I also am a Federal Constitutional Weak Economic and Social Libertarian. And maybe, just maybe, I could go for a Federal Ideal Weak Economic and Social Libertarianism–but weaker.)

Strong vs. Weak Libertarianisms

Strong Libertarianism: Everyone should have the legal right to do whatever he wants, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s rights.

Weak Libertarianism: Generally, everyone should have the legal right to do whatever he wants, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s rights. But it is okay for government to carve out a very few limitations on freedom, if it leads to some greater good.

Economic vs. Social Libertarianisms

Economic Libertarianism: Everyone should have the legal right to do whatever he wants with his own money, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s rights.

Social Libertarianism: Everyone should have the legal right to do whatever he wants with his own family and body and relationships, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s rights.

State vs. Federal Libertarianisms

Federal Libertarianism: The proper way to structure the federal government is along the lines of libertarianism.

Own-State Libertarianism: The proper way to structure the government of my state is along the lines of libertarianism.

All-State Libertarianism: The proper way to structure the government of every state is along the lines of libertarianism.

What Is Allowed by Law vs. What Is Best

Constitutional Libertarianism: The Constitution (state or federal) requires libertarianism.

Ideal Libertarianism: Libertarianism is the best way.

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  1. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    You know, I think one lesson here is this: Grant, just for a moment, that the harshest criticisms of Libertarnianism are correct (Libertarians don’t care about the poor, Libertarianism totally dismantles welfare systems so that old people have to eat dog food, etc., etc.); how precisely is this supposed to count against voting in a Libertarian (to say nothing of a Republican) direction in elections for the federal government?

    • #31
  2. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    My only idea for adding graphics to this post is to put pictures of economists and philosophers up here.

    Evidently a search for “hayek pictures” and a search for “frederick hayek pictures” produce rather different results.

    • #32
  3. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Ed G.:

    Barkha Herman:….The difference between libertarians and conservative at it’s heart lies in the use of government to implement morality, not the morality itself. …

    I’d say the difference is in how we assess harm.

    Agreed. My main problem with the Non-Aggression Principle is that nobody really disagrees with it. The debate is over how to define “aggression.” The Marxist would tell you that the capitalist enriching himself through someone else’s labor is an act of aggression, the Islamist would say that encouraging Muslims to abandon Allah by proselytizing other religions is an act of aggression, the racist would say the same about a black man marrying a white woman thus dirtying the gene pool, etc.

    All of those examples are obviously ridiculous to us, but that doesn’t make them any less sincere.

    And to answer the original question: Weak, Economic, Federal and Own State, Constitutional.

    • #33
  4. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Augustine:

    Again, assuming originalism, . . . how exactly is it legal? Surely Wickard v Filburn, borrowing words from National Review, “stretched the commerce clause, and as a consequence the powers of the federal government, far beyond what the framers had intended.”

    So you want to just assume way 200 plus years of jurisprudence? What is the point in that?

    • #34
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Jamie Lockett:

    Augustine:

    Again, assuming originalism, . . . how exactly is it legal? Surely Wickard v Filburn, borrowing words from National Review, “stretched the commerce clause, and as a consequence the powers of the federal government, far beyond what the framers had intended.”

    So you want to just assume way 200 plus years of jurisprudence? What is the point in that?

    The point, if originalism is correct, is restoring the rule of law.  2,000 years of precedent would count as little against the rule of law as 200 years.

    • #35
  6. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Jamie Lockett:

    Augustine:

    Again, assuming originalism, . . . how exactly is it legal? Surely Wickard v Filburn, borrowing words from National Review, “stretched the commerce clause, and as a consequence the powers of the federal government, far beyond what the framers had intended.”

    So you want to just assume way 200 plus years of jurisprudence? What is the point in that?

    Anyway, how many years of jurisprudence actually oppose originalism?  This is really a question for John Yoo or someone like that, but my suspicion is that originalism was the operative jurisprudence for quite a bit of American history; originalism may well have more years of jurisprudence backing it up than the rejection of originalism has!

    • #36
  7. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Sorry, everyone.  I botched the math the first time.  Consider:

    • Strong or Weak: 2 positions;
    • Economic or Social, or both: 3 positions;
    • Constitutional, Ideal, or both: 3 positions;
    • and Federal only, Own-State only, All-State and Own-State but not Federal, Federal and Own-State, or Federal and All-State: 5 positions.

    2 X 3 X 3 X 5 = 90 available positions that can be called “Libertarian.”

    • #37
  8. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    None. Not a libertarian. I have a question, can this kind of discussion be useful for those of us who want fewer libertarians? Or does it breed more libertarians? I ask because it seems like a number of the things you put in your criteria are sly ways to let libertarians know they’re at the children’s table: It’s ok to say weird things about markets if you’re a constitutionalist, Madison does not mind the abstract concept jargon so long as you do not try to overthrow the regime…

    • #38
  9. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Titus Techera:I have a question, can this kind of discussion be useful for those of us who want fewer libertarians? Or does it breed more libertarians?

    Well, for my part, I have no idea.  I was just thinking a bit more clarity would be nice.

    Example 1 of need for clarity: When I’m not in a position where we can carefully look at definitions, I won’t call myself a “Libertarian.”  But I’m under the impression that a thorough application of originalism, without any new amendments, would eliminate most of what the federal government does.  Would that be a Libertarian model of the federal government?  Most people would call it that.  But this view is different from most forms of Libertarianism; thus: “Weak Federal Constitutional Libertarianism,” unless a better name comes along.

    Example 2 of need for clarity: Some say that a Libertarian model of government is mean or evil or unrealistic or whatever, and therefore you shouldn’t vote in a Libertarian direction (or even in a Republican direction) for the federal government.  But that doesn’t follow.  The premise could be true and the state government still the best place to implement a non-Libertarian model of government.

    (And I think it’s funny that so many liberals are pushing for All-State Libertarianism as hard as they can.)

    • #39
  10. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Augustine:Example 1 of need for clarity: When I’m not in a position where we can carefully look at definitions, I won’t call myself a “Libertarian.” But I’m under the impression that a thorough application of originalism, without any new amendments, would eliminate most of what the federal government does. Would that be a Libertarian model of the federal government? Most people would call it that. But this view is different from most forms of Libertarianism; thus: “Weak Federal Constitutional Libertarianism,” unless a better name comes along.

    Maybe there is a problem with how you name things. Americans who today support the constitutional system & constitutionalism in politics are called conservatives, apparently, because that system is threatened with change. But the Americans who installed that system would likely have been whigs. The Americans who fought off the biggest attack on the constitutional systems called themselves Republicans. I recommend you rather look to this sort of thing, because these are political movements.

    On the other hand, libertarianism–what does that mean in politics? Is it not some kind of abstraction which I guess would be called a theory or a philosophy in these latter days?

    • #40
  11. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    All I know is that I strongly prefer the People’s Front for Judea.

    • #41
  12. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Titus Techera:

    Maybe there is a problem with how you name things. Americans who today support the constitutional system & constitutionalism in politics are called conservatives, apparently, because that system is threatened with change. But the Americans who installed that system would likely have been whigs.

    There sure is a problem, or at least a situation.  “Liberalism” of one century becomes “Conservatism” of another.  (Our Libertarian friends among the Ricochetti might well say that the the “Conservatism” of today is trying to conserve a system that had already lost too much of the original “Liberalism.”)

    • #42
  13. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Augustine:There sure is a problem, or at least a situation. “Liberalism” of one century becomes “Conservatism” of another. (Our Libertarian friends among the Ricochetti might well say that the the “Conservatism” of today is trying to conserve a system that had already lost too much of the original “Liberalism.”)

    Well, people inevitably quarrel about political things, but you know who says & does what. With abstractions like libertarian you know nothing about politics! How is libertarian a name in politics? If you say you stand for the constitutional system set up by the Founders & for constitutionalism in politics–what does being libertarian add to that? How does it change the more fundamental political facts?

    • #43
  14. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Bob Thompson:

    Barkha Herman:

    Bob Thompson:Here’s a question for this discussion that has hobbled my strong libertarian leaning.

    With everyone doing as it suits them, when some create conditions for themselves that require the help of others to survive, how is this to be handled?

    Can co-operation only happen through Government?

    . . .

    The point is that there is no pre-subscribed solution. For each person you ask, there may be a new way to deal with this. Look at spontaneous organizations such as Uber, KickStarter etc. Given no restrictions, people will come up with solutions.

    Most (maybe not quite all) solutions to meet needs, as you describe, succeed on the principle of exchange. This principle is very harsh for parties who have nothing to offer in exchange.

    I’m with you with that opening question, Bob.  It’s one of the reasons I’m not comfortable with more than just 1 or 2 out of 90 possible Libertarianisms.

    Barkha’s right about cooperation not happening only through government, about the importance of innovation, etc.  Along the same lines, the Principle of Comparative Advantage teaches that virtually everyone has something to offer in exchange.

    But at the end of the day, I’m with you; I like a bit of a government safety net in place to fill in the gaps–as long as it’s not a government hammock.

    • #44
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Titus Techera:

    How does it change the more fundamental political facts?

    Sometimes I have some difficulty knowing exactly what you mean.  But assuming you do at least mean that what I want is not politically viable, I daresay you are right.

    I want rule of law, for example.  And that includes (among other things) an alignment of existing federal government with Constitutional requirements and limitations.  This is not politically achievable right now.

    I am pretty optimistic that reaching for it in the future is within the realm of possibility.  For example, if a big federal welfare state conflicts with the original meaning of the Constitution, Step 1 is to let Paul Ryan stabilize it, and Step 2 is either to devolve it to the states enough to fit within Constitutional limitations or to pass some Amendments authorizing it.

    • #45
  16. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Augustine:Sometimes I have some difficulty knowing exactly what you mean. But assuming you do at least mean that what I want is not politically viable, I daresay you are right.I want rule of law, for example. And that includes (among other things) an alignment of existing federal government with Constitutional requirements and limitations. This is not politically achievable right now.

    I am pretty optimistic that reaching for it in the future is within the realm of possibility. For example, if a big federal welfare state conflicts with the original meaning of the Constitution, Step 1 is to let Paul Ryan stabilize it, and Step 2 is either to devolve it to the states enough to fit within Constitutional limitations or to pass some Amendments authorizing it.

    I’d say libertarians are never going to matter politically. I think a lot will move left, some right. But I’d find talk about 50 shades of libertarian less funny if libertarians were a meaningful political force. Otherwise, should not you rather talk about what libertarians do when they mingle with liberals or conservatives?

    As for your two-step, good luck. I believe optimism is unfortunately the right word for your prediction. But whether I am right or wrong, you sound like a guy who wants the GOP to do what its more famous members say. I do not understand where libertarianism enters the picture. If you could explain that, I’d get a sense of what you’re aiming at in this conversation.

    • #46
  17. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Titus Techera:

    I’d say libertarians are never going to matter politically. I think a lot will move left, some right. But I’d find talk about 50 shades of libertarian less funny if libertarians were a meaningful political force. Otherwise, should not you rather talk about what libertarians do when they mingle with liberals or conservatives?

    I think the best they can hope for for now is to shift the Republican party a bit further right.  I would love to hear a proper Libertarian address that question!

    .  . . you sound like a guy who wants the GOP to do what its more famous members say. I do not understand where libertarianism enters the picture.

    I’m a professional philosopher!  Maybe my biggest reason is just figuring out what certain ideas are and how they differ from other ideas.

    But there’s one more reason: Figuring out how those ideas are safe from certain objections!  A distinction between 90 versions of Libertarianism helps to show that various liberal objections to Libertarians, Conservatives, and Republicans are frequently logical failures.

    (E.g., even if Libertarianism were a terrible ethic and a cruel political theory, a Federal shift in a Libertarian direction could still be a very good thing.)

    ——-

    Ok, thanks, everyone.  Close to bedtime in my time zone.  Must go.  Traveling a bit tomorrow.  May take a long time to check in.  Have fun while I’m gone!

    • #47
  18. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    National Individualist American Worker.

    • #48
  19. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @WardRobles

    Why apply “strong” and “weak” labels? Isn’t there a lot more going on here? Why would an open borders advocate be a strong libertarian, but an advocate of protection of the borders to our free country be somehow “weak?” Is it a weakness of American government that we have not had a war on American soil since 1865?

    My problem with some of the more theoretical strains of libertarianism is my life experience that power tends to fill a vacuum. ISIS is more than happy to move into failed states where no effective government exists. In the schoolyard, if a kid does not stand up to a bully, the bullying will never stop. If we have open borders, eventually the newcomers will change the government to suit themselves. My ideal government is small enough to leave me (mostly) alone, and large enough to keep it that way.

    • #49
  20. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Weak/Economic/All-state/Constitutional libertarian here.

    • #50
  21. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Jamie Lockett:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Augustine: (I think I am a Federal Constitutional Weak Economic and Social Libertarian, and possibly a Federal Ideal Weak Economic and Social Libertarian–but weaker.)

    “SPLINTER!”

    I think you mean “SPLITTER!”

    I suspect you are correct.  But it’s funnier my way :{0

    • #51
  22. SParker Member
    SParker
    @SParker

    Barkha Herman:This is not mine, and I take no credit for it, but is relevant:

    I was walking home one evening and came upon a clearly depressed man standing at the edge of a bridge, looking like he was about to jump. I called out to him to wait, and ran over to see what was the matter.

    “It’s this country,” he lamented. “It’s falling into ruin and there’s nothing I can do about it. The election was the last straw. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”

    “Well cheer up,” I said. “We’re all in this together. Say, are you a conservative, or a libertarian?”

    “A libertarian,” he said.

    “That’s great!” I said. “See, you’re not alone. Are you a free-market libertarian or a libertarian socialist?”

    “Free-market libertarian,” he said.

    “Me too!” I said. “Paleo-libertarian or neo-libertarian?”“Paleo-libertarian,” he said.

    “Hey, so am I!” I said. “Chicago or Austrian school of economics?”

    “Austrian,” he said.

    “Me too,” I said. “Hayek or Rothbardian strand?”

    “Rothbardian,” he said.

    “Same here,” I said. “Are you a consequentialist or deontological libertarian?”

    “Consequentialist,” he said.

    So I said, “Die, statist scum!” and pushed him off the bridge.

    For the record, the original of this (as a religious sectarian joke) is from Emo Philips.

    • #52
  23. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Sorry, I came late to this party, but Augustine, where did you get all these categories from?

    • #53
  24. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Welcome, Fred!  At least one of these answers is probably correct, and possibly more than one of them:

    • I made these categories up;
    • God helped me to discover these categories;
    • these categories were already out there, and I stumbled upon them and I thought they could use some names.

    Part of the background was that nice little quiz that went with the Conservartarianism book.  I realized I didn’t know how to answer some of the questions because what is best and what is legal and what is proper for the state and what is proper for the federal government are not necessarily the same things.

    • #54
  25. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    I suspected it was something along those lines.

    Look, while I realize there are obvious differences between libertarians, I’m always weary of putting qualifiers in front of “libertarian” because you end up calling something libertarianism that isn’t libertarianism.

    To that, you lose me in your first line

    that it’s possible to prefer libertarianism for federal policy, and be a Marxist for your state?

    ‘Cause, no, its not.  You can believe in communal living, that’s fine, but if on a state level you coerce everyone into marxism, I don’t know what that it, but it isn’t libertarianism.

    If I may quote David Boaz:

    One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can’t tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism. If a group of people — even a very large group — wanted to purchase land and own it in common, they would be free to do so. The libertarian legal order would require only that no one be coerced into joining or giving up his property.

    So you could voluntarily live in a socialist coven or something, but as soon as it becomes a state coercive policy, that’s not libertarianism.

    That’s why the Amish are awesome libertarians.  They have a very strict set of rules for their societies, but those rules are entirely voluntary, and if a person wants to leave the community, or switch from one ruling Amish ordnung to another, they’re free to do so.

    But even having the specific and strict beliefs that they do, they’re also against using coercive violence to enforce those rules.

    • #55
  26. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Fred Cole:

    That’s a cute quote, but the difference between libertarians & socialists is that socialists might take over a country & rule tyrannically, but libertarians are only going to cry about losing their lunch money.

    Or put it this way, socialists might sell you fairy tales, but libertarians are fairies.

    • #56
  27. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Fred Cole:To that, you lose me in your first line

    that it’s possible to prefer libertarianism for federal policy, and be a Marxist for your state?

    ‘Cause, no, its not. You can believe in communal living, that’s fine, but if on a state level you coerce everyone into marxism, I don’t know what that it, but it isn’t libertarianism.

    Well, thank you for the nice objection!

    It seems to me that this objection would be simply mistaken if the definitions I gave are correct.  They have this key phrase: “should have the legal right.”  Well, it is clearly possible to have more state than federal restrictions on freedom.

    So I take it that you object to that phrase in the definitions (explicitly in the first four, implicitly in all nine).  You would define libertarianism as something broader than a structure of laws.  Do I understand you correctly?

    And how is the best way to describe this broader claim? (Perhaps, for example, “Everyone has the moral right to do whatever he wants . . . .”)

    ADDENDUM

    I’m wary of that option–presenting Libertarianism as a general claim about moral rights.  I was talking about something rather different some time ago, and managed to upset some Libertarians by using that sort of language.

    So here’s another idea: Libertarianism is a specific claims about moral rights, and specifically the moral right to not have freedom forcefully restricted by the government.  (And the moral right is captured well enough in my initial definitions by the should in the phrase “should have the legal right.”)

    Understanding Libertarianism as a moral claim specifically about government helps to bring out that tension you were concerned with: If it’s a violation of moral law for the Federal government to restrict freedom, it can hardly be permissible for a state government to be Marxist and thus restrict freedom so very much.

    Thus your criticism could be correct, and my opening sentence and first bullet point would be mistaken.  But I could keep my definitions, and remain a Federal Constitutional Libertarian but an Own-State Conservative.

    That would be neat.  But I think it’s now my obligation to shut up until such time as you feel like replying.  I’ll do my best!

    • #57
  28. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Augustine- I think part of the problem you’re running into by trying to differentiate between levels of government when it comes to libertarianism is that actual libertarianism does not distinguish between federal, state, and local government. The fact that our constitutional order properly limits the federal government to a scope which is fairly compatible with libertarianism does not necessarily mean that those who support the correct interpretation of the Constitution are in any sense libertarian, particularly when they have profoundly unlibertarian views about the role of state and local government.

    Libertarianism is about what the state, at any level, can legitimately due to its citizens. If your support for a limited federal government is based on nothing more than constitutional fidelity, you aren’t any type of libertarian. It would be much more accurate to call yourself a constitutional conservative.

    The fact is that the current political landscape is such that constitutional conservatives and libertarians have a great deal of common ground as the most important issues of the day relate to the overreach of the federal government (it also helps that the Constitution is heavily influenced by the classical liberal ideals of the nation’s founders), but the political alliance between constitutional conservatives and libertarians is one more of convenience than of ideological affinity.

    When I joined Ricochet some years back my first post was on the subject of constitutional conservatism. The ensuing thread was relevant to this discussion.

    http://ricochet.com/archives/unconstitutional-conservatism/

    • #58
  29. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Salvatore Padula:. . . actual libertarianism does not distinguish between federal, state, and local government.

    I think you are objecting to my distinction between what I called Legal and Ideal Libertarianism, and also to my distinction between State and Federal Libertarianism.

    If I’m not mistaken, you have no objection to the basic phraseology I used–“should have the legal right to do whatever he wants, as long as [etc.]”.

    Rather, you think that those words really mean that it is a moral law that the government should not restrict freedom; accordingly, all true Libertarians are what I called Ideal Libertarians, and that for all levels of government.

    Please let me know if you think I understood you!  Then, God willing, I will be able to consider your objections.  (Eventually–it is nearing bedtime in my time zone.)

    ADDENDUM

    . . . the political alliance between constitutional conservatives and libertarians is one more of convenience than of ideological affinity.

    That may well be.  If so, I say LONG LIVE THE ALLIANCE!

    • #59
  30. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Augustine- I think, perhaps, I am objecting to your efforts to make distinctions where none exist between what you see as different classes of libertarianism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy and, as such, encompasses both the moral and the legal. If you have a moral opposition to non-libertarian state action, but have no objection to it in practice, you are not actually a libertarian. If you have legal objections to non-libertarian state action, but do not think it immoral, you are not a libertarian.

    Beyond that, I will reiterate that libertarianism does not distinguish between levels of government. The distinction you make between state level libertarians and federal level libertarians is not actually one found among libertarians. Those who are only favored a strictly limited government at the federal level are not libertarians of any sort. As I mentioned, they are constitutional conservatives (or liberals, if they favor liberalism at the state level).

    There are indeed many different varieties of libertarianism, but the distinctions you’ve drawn here seem to be primarily between libertarians and non-libertarians who favor some limitation on government.

    • #60
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