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

    Salvatore Padula, This is the sort of thing I was asking for at the beginning–“please object to these names and definitions and distinctions.” Thank you!

    SUMMARY

    You object to my distinctions.  You say my distinction between State and Federal Lib. is incorrect; and so is my distinction between Constitutional and Ideal Lib.  You would define all true Libertarianisms as being what I call “Ideal,” and all true Libertarianisms as being both what I called “Federal” and what I called “All-State.”

    You probably do not object to the words “should have the legal right to do whatever he wants, as long as . . . .”

    I think you would interpret “should have the legal right” as a moral claim about all governmental power; these words thus denote a theory which is Ideal rather than Constitutional, and is automatically applicable to all levels of government.

    I, however, have obviously been using “Libertarianism” in a broader sense, treating the phrase”should have the legal right” as non-specific, ranging over all available uses of “should” and all available applications of “legal.”

    Thus, my broad definition of “Libertarianism” would be simply: The view that 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.

    And your more specific definition of “Libertarianism” would be something like: The view that it is immoral for government to use force to prevent people from doing whatever they want, as long as what they want to do doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s rights.

    RESPONSE

    The first order of business is to figure out if your definition of Libertarianism is good.  Yeah, it is.  I can’t complain about treating Libertarianism as a moral claim about all levels of government.

    The second order of business is to figure out if my definition is just crazy.  No, it isn’t; the dictionary, for example, defines the term very broadly.  And, if I’m not mistaken, a majority of commenters in this thread are ok with this broad use of the term.

    The third order of business is to figure out whether your definition is, overall, better.  It might well be.  I can only take your word for it that “The distinction you make between state level libertarians and federal level libertarians is not actually one found among libertarians.”  That counts for something.

    Then there’s Wikipedia, saying that “The non-aggression principle (NAP) is the foundation of most present-day right-libertarian philosophies. It is a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate.”  That’s much closer to your definition than to mine.  And the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “libertarianism is a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings, and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role for the state.”  That suggests that liberty is fundamental, and government exists to protect it, and thus all true Libertarianism is Ideal rather than Constitutional, and is applicable to all levels of government.  There are some definitions over here that do the same, but I’m tired of copying quotations.

    So your more specific definition of Libertarianism is very well precedented, and at the moment it looks to me like my broader use of the term is not in much use among folk calling themselves Libertarians.

    WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

    I’m curious: Do you accept the distinctions between Strong/Weak Lib. and Social/Economic Lib. (thus allowing for 4 rather than 90 varieties)?

    I may have to adopt your definition of Libertarianism (pending further thought).

    The distinctions I make in the opening post are rather important.  But, if I adopt your definition, they will probably need new names.  That sounds like work.  But fun work.

    I’ve already considered and rejected Classical Liberalism as a name for the broader concept (on the grounds that it won’t fit with the useful distinction between what I called Federal and State Libertarianism).  Maybe Quasi-Libertarianism and Real Libertarianism would do.

    • #61
  2. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Augustine- You’ve given me a bit to consider and I’ve had a few drinks. I shall respond tomorrow.

    • #62
  3. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Salvatore Padula:Augustine- You’ve given me a bit to consider and I’ve had a few drinks. I shall respond tomorrow.

    Jolly good.  I’m still on my first drink of the morning–like all my drinks, a caffeine.

    • #63
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Augustine:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Augustine: 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.

    This label is somewhat confusing to me because there are a lot of economics geeks who are libertarian, and whose interest in economic goods extends far beyond money, seeing money as merely a convenient cost-signaling device and medium of exchange.

    So would you recommend a new name for that definition, a new definition to go with that name, or not even using the same distinction between economic and social libertarianism?

    I would recommend a new name for that category, like “Financial Libertarian”. Too much of economic analysis yields fruitful results when applied to non-monetary things to make “Economic Libertarian” specifically apply to money.

    Gary Becker, for example, was a pioneer in applying economic analysis to transactions that don’t involve money.

    Ronald Coase, who I mentioned before, did, too, though perhaps in a less obvious way.

    And here’s a concrete example:

    The word “rights” generates passionate moral reactions, sometimes too passionate. So passionate it can be hard to appreciate the benefits a system of private property rights, for example, confers to everyone, even the poorest and least. Seeing traditional, private property rights as a way of efficiently allocating knowledge within a society cools things off a little, allows people to step back and appreciate the bigger picture. Individuals are rightfully said to be owners of their property in large part because they, and not others, have the most intimate knowledge of that property, a knowledge costly if not impossible to transmit to third parties. This is hardly a new observation. But it is an economic one, no matter what the title of the man who first made the observation.

    • #64
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Augustine:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Augustine: 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.

    This label is somewhat confusing to me because there are a lot of economics geeks who are libertarian, and whose interest in economic goods extends far beyond money, seeing money as merely a convenient cost-signaling device and medium of exchange.

    So would you recommend a new name for that definition, a new definition to go with that name, or not even using the same distinction between economic and social libertarianism?

    I would recommend a new name for that category, like “Financial Libertarian”. Too much of economic analysis yields fruitful results when applied to non-monetary things to make “Economic Libertarian” specifically apply to money.

    Thanks for the feedback!  My inclination is to keep “Economic” in the name, because “Financial” might more easily connote money.  But my inclination is also to change the definition so it says “property” or “money and “property” rather than simply “money.”

    • #65
  6. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Augustine- My thoughts on the remaining two distinctions are as follows:

    There is certainly a great deal of variety between the particular emphasis any individual libertarian places on various issues, but I don’t think it possible to be a libertarian in the ideological sense without believing that individual liberty should be maximized in all areas of human endeavor. As a result, I am not a fan of distinguishing between social and economic libertarianism.

    The strong/weak distinction is on a much stronger footing and is something that I don’t see many libertarians likely to object to. However, the “very few limitations” carve out in weak libertarianism is a bit problematic as such terminology is used by conservatives and progressives too. Both of those other ideologies tend to pay lip service to individual liberty’s importance, but their conception of the “greater good” is often so expansive that the exception becomes the rule. Instead of carve outs being justified for the greater good under weak libertarianism I would suggest some more precise criteria be used.

    • #66
  7. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Salvatore Padula:Instead of carve outs being justified for the greater good under weak libertarianism I would suggest some more precise criteria be used.

    Yeah, it is a bit vague.  I have no idea how to make that more precise. Hopefully I can forget the economist thing and get back to this later in the week.

    Thanks the commentary, Salvatore!

    • #67
  8. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    My current plan is to redo the whole thing, using terms Quasi-Libertarianism and Real Libertarianism for the broadest distinction, and making what refinements I can in the definition of Economic (Quasi-)Lib. and whatever else comes up.  It would be way too confusing to do it in the original.  It will probably require a new post.

    • #68
  9. hcat Inactive
    hcat
    @hcat

    I deny being a Libertarian because I’m not a Social Libertarian, but I find that I’m very much a City Hall Libertarian and a Land Use and Business Regulation Libertarian – many suburbanites are State and Federal Libertarians and City Hall and HOA Authoritarians. Southerners have traditionally been Federal Libertarians and State and Local Authoritarians.

    • #69
  10. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    hcat:I deny being a Libertarian because I’m not a Social Libertarian, but I find that I’m very much a City Hall Libertarian and a Land Use and Business Regulation Libertarian – many suburbanites are State and Federal Libertarians and City Hall and HOA Authoritarians. Southerners have traditionally been Federal Libertarians and State and Local Authoritarians.

    So you’re okay with the government regulating people’s personal lives?

    • #70
  11. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    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.

    Conservatives sometimes assess harm the same way that liberals always assess harm:  The horrifying feeling that someone, somewhere, is doing something that you don’t like.

    • #71
  12. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Salvatore Padula:. . . I don’t think it possible to be a libertarian in the ideological sense without believing that individual liberty should be maximized in all areas of human endeavor. As a result, I am not a fan of distinguishing between social and economic libertarianism.

    I don’t agree with this.  Maybe it’s weird or irrational or rare, but I think it is possible.  The moral law against coercion could apply to economic transactions but not to sex and family matters, or vice versa.

    • #72
  13. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Augustine:

    Salvatore Padula:. . . I don’t think it possible to be a libertarian in the ideological sense without believing that individual liberty should be maximized in all areas of human endeavor. As a result, I am not a fan of distinguishing between social and economic libertarianism.

    I don’t agree with this. Maybe it’s weird or irrational or rare, but I think it is possible. The moral law against coercion could apply to economic transactions but not to sex and family matters, or vice versa.

    That’s cute, but it’s not really clear why. Surely, no libertarian can believe, on libertarian principle, in irreversible changes when it comes to voluntary human transactions. No kind of exchange or contract can be binding for life or on one’s posterity, right?

    Is slavery compatible with libertarian talk about individual liberty?

    How about marriage without divorce?

    How about binding one’s posterity to some course of action–could it be compatible with one’s liberty to be bound by one’s father to do such & such in order to inherit property?

    • #73
  14. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Titus Techera:

    Augustine:

    Salvatore Padula:. . . I don’t think it possible to be a libertarian in the ideological sense without believing that individual liberty should be maximized in all areas of human endeavor. As a result, I am not a fan of distinguishing between social and economic libertarianism.

    I don’t agree with this. Maybe it’s weird or irrational or rare, but I think it is possible. The moral law against coercion could apply to economic transactions but not to sex and family matters, or vice versa.

    That’s cute, but it’s not really clear why.

    Well, I’m primarily interested in surveying available views at this point.  As far as that priority goes, the only thing that interests me is why this divisibility of Libertarianisms would not be available.

    Surely, no libertarian can believe, on libertarian principle, in irreversible changes when it comes to voluntary human transactions. No kind of exchange or contract can be binding for life or on one’s posterity, right?

    . . .

    How about marriage without divorce?

    How about binding one’s posterity to some course of action–could it be compatible with one’s liberty to be bound by one’s father to do such & such in order to inherit property?

    I can only be a Quasi-Libertarian myself–as defined in comment # 61.  These are interesting questions for the Real Libertarian.  But I won’t try to answer them.

    • #74
  15. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    I think you should explore Conservatarianisn. Charlie Cookes book is a fantastic place to start.

    • #75
  16. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Jamie Lockett:I think you should explore Conservatarianisn. Charlie Cookes book is a fantastic place to start.

    I think this might be the first comment to mention this!

    I’m sure you’re right.  And it strikes me that there are two basic strategies for responding to the opening post by talking about Conservatarianism.  A: Do a similar (but no doubt different) breakdown of varieties of Conservatarianism.  B: Use Conservatarianism to challenge some of the basic assumptions behind my analysis.

    On the second strategy, for example, I wondered if someone was going to suggest that I shouldn’t be talking about Weak Libertarianism at all, on the grounds that Weak Libertarianism is just Conservatarianism!

    I’m inclined to the first strategy myself.  On marijuana, for example, I side with a Federal Constitutional Libertarianism (opening post’s term) or a Federal Constitutional Quasi-Libertarianism (comment # 61’s term).  But I think I’m a Federal Ideal Conservatarian or maybe just a Conservative.

    • #76
  17. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    OK, here’s the new version: http://ricochet.com/96-views-that-have-something-to-do-with-libertarianism/.

    • #77
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