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"Free Exchange":

I don't like most of the terms used to describe libertarian beliefs:

Free markets? Not everything is about economic markets, and left-wing critics have a field day pointing out that government itself establishes the underlying rules of the market.

Market liberal? Again not everything is about economic markets, and just generally, yuck.

Classical liberal? Kind of like a secret handshake, only those in the know have any idea what this means. Besides, many of historical figures often identified as classical liberals wouldn't know what to make of modern libertarianism.

Individualism? Socialism would actually be a better description, if it hadn't been captured by collectivists. At one time, libertarian types were called socialists, and Marxists called themselves libertarians (Chomsky still calls himself a libertarian, last I heard). Too confusing to try to undo this one.

So I thought about an alternative. I like "political pacifist," except that pacifism has never been very popular.

So what do I, and other libertarians, believe in? Free exchange! Or, if you prefer, liberty of exchange. People should have the freedom to exchange goods and services in a market. They should also have the presumptive freedom to volunteer (or not), to pursue the occupations or avocations of their choice, to make whatever love and sex arrangements they want, to use psychoactive substances, to terminate pregnancies, to travel, write, think, create art, and exchange any of their goods, talents, and whatnot for whatever suits them. Of course, there are many caveats to all this, and libertarians will disagree among themselves as to what the limits of free exchange are. Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that our underlying common ideology is free exchange.

I'm not expecting this phrase to get into general circulation, but you never know.

UPDATE: Yeah, I know this has the potential to be confused with a shoppers' platform, but do you have any better ideas?

Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
But David, few people even understand what "libertarian" means.
7.5.2006 9:37pm
An Average American (mail):
David,

That's only half the story. The other half is about accepting responsibility for one's self and one's actions. Our society is twice as decadent as you are making it out to be. People want a free-ride, with the government responsible for their "happiness". But they also want to disavow any responsibility if they are responsible for trampling the rights of "others".

I agree that the government, at all levels, encroaches too tightly on civil rights. On the other hand, too many citizens refuse to assume responsibility for their own actions.

Regards,
An Average American
7.5.2006 9:54pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Everyone I talk to (and I live in Berkeley so it is far from all libertarian types) understands what a libertarian is and I hear the word commonly used in conversation to describe political philosophies that put great weight on individual freedom.

Why not stick with this word. It's a good word and many people know what it means. If the people in Berkeley don't call Chomsky a libertarian I don't think you need to worry about confusion on this point.

On the subject of terminology it would be extremely helpful to coin different terms for pragmatic libertarians and principled libertarians (maybe I just did). By pragmatic libertarian I mean someone who believe that given human nature and the way the world works we should guarantee individual liberty because this best achieves social happiness/success/some other value. A principled libertarian on the other hand is someone who believes there is a fundamental duty of the government not to contravene fundamental rights even if it can be proved to make society happier/more productive/fairer or any other good.

Unfortunatly the lack of a distinction here leads to a great deal of poor thinking (often by young guys) which gives more reaosnable libertarians a bad name. In particular one will often hear some libertarians defend certain freedoms (gun ownership) from arguments purporting to show regulation would lead to a better society/more happiness by invoking the notion of individual rights and then when the justification for protecting individual rights comes up they point out the good effects that frequently come from protecting rights. Yet if they are pragmatic libertarians then they need to argue that this sort of individual right is useful not just that rights in general are often good things (though they could try slipperly slope arguments) and if they are an in principle libertarian the general correlation between rights and good results does more to undermine their position (suggesting something else is really important) than to justify it.

I'm curious would the libertarians on this board call themselves principled or pragmatic libertarians? Also are the libertarians on this board willing to support the right to sell yourself into slavery, i.e., sign a contract giving another person the right to punish or even kill you as they wished in return for money?
7.5.2006 10:39pm
Steve Donohue (mail) (www):
Liberty of Contract?
7.5.2006 10:50pm
Robert Lutton:
So David,

I have been thinking about fireworks. I don't like the fact that the government doesn't allow me to buy fireworks. I do like the fact that since the government bans their sale the number of little kids with their fingers and eyes blown off and out is down. What do you think?

Is this a nazi dividing line for principal and pragmatic?
7.5.2006 10:55pm
Matt Barr (mail) (www):
I always thought libertarianism could be best described by those slogans that used to appear after the intro to the X Files when THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE didn't.

TRUST NO ONE

RESIST OR SERVE

THEY'RE WATCHING

NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY

E PUR SI MUOVE

Maybe not that last one.

Probably doesn't help much with a new name. Sorry.
7.5.2006 11:59pm
Anon Y. Mous:
Free markets? Not everything is about economic markets, and left-wing critics have a field day pointing out that government itself establishes the underlying rules of the market.
...
So what do I, and other libertarians, believe in? Free exchange! Or, if you prefer, liberty of exchange. People should have the freedom to exchange goods and services in a market. They should also have the presumptive freedom to volunteer (or not), to pursue the occupations or avocations of their choice, to make whatever love and sex arrangements they want, to use psychoactive substances, to terminate pregnancies, to travel, write, think, create art, and exchange any of their goods, talents, and whatnot for whatever suits them. Of course, there are many caveats to all this, and libertarians will disagree among themselves as to what the limits of free exchange are. Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that our underlying common ideology is free exchange.

Sounds like you're advocating markets without government regulation. There's already a word for that, but it isn't libertarian: anarchist.
7.6.2006 12:03am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Actually Logicnazi, Bill Mahr considers himself a libertarian, we would have to agree that there is considerable confusion as to the term. As well, most political commentators consider libertarians far right, when anyone familiar with the Nolan Chart would know this is anything but correct.

And, as for pragmatic libertarian, that term was coined years ago, by none other than Bill Safire, to describe a person whose libertarian principles were tempered by a recognition of that which is politically or socially practical (Eugene would be a prime example of this).

Brink Lindsey dealt with this in some detail,back in 2003.

I used this term repeatedly in 2004, during my coverage of the Senatorial candidacy of Judge Jim Gray, whose book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It -- A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs, was quite general in nature. However, (and much at my urging) he focused his campaign platform strictly on removing federal proscription of marijuana - leaving regulation to the several States. Knowing that general decriminalization of drugs is a political non-starter, that's being pragmatic.

Oh, and David: I don't know how to access Samizdata's archives any more. But it occurs to me Perry deHavilland made a similar argument back in 2001-2 = saying that libertarian should be abandoned, in favor of classical liberal. I argued strongly against, saying the word liberal had been so thoroughly co-opted (at least in the Anglosphere), that to attempt it would be tantamount to pissing into the wind.
7.6.2006 12:18am
cxmmc (mail):
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7.6.2006 12:34am
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
"Free institutions and a government that is limited to the protection of life, liberty, and property." That's what this libertarian believes in. Not quite short enough for a bumper sticker, but a clear response to the question "What do you believe in?"
7.6.2006 1:11am
David M. Nieporent (www):
No love for Virginia Postrel's "dynamist"? Okay, it's not quite exactly the same thing as libertarian, but neither are some of the other terms being floated.
7.6.2006 3:28am
Garth (mail) (www):
I’ve thought about using lots of different words to describe my own philosophy (which while libertarian I understand how the word confuses x% of the population and pisses of another y% bcse of misunderstanding). I’ve looked at:

Freeman
Freeican
Freedoman
Individualist
Anti-collectivist
Islander (as in the opposite of “no man is an …”)
Solitarian (this is my second fav.)
Among others…..

My personal favorite:

Freedomanaic
7.6.2006 10:00am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Traditionally, 'libertarian' meant 'anarchist' before we stole it in the '60s. Since libertarians are frequently anarchists, 'libertarian' is not bad.

'Radical Individualist' has also been used.

Walter Knott of Knott's Berry Farm liked 'volunteerist' and that has been used from time to time.

We're probably stuck with 'libertarian' with its latinate roots. I would prefer something based on the germanic root
word 'freedom' but that has become too generalized. 'Freedom' has become meaningless. Even commies are big advocates.

It's interesting that 'liberty' has retained a more 'right wing' flavor even though the related 'liberal' has gone 'left'.
7.6.2006 10:42am
Medis:
I sometimes call myself a "mild libertarian", which probably means something along the sames lines as a "pragmatic libertarian" as defined by logicnazi.

If I had to condense what I meant by that, I would say it is mostly a matter of having a general skepticism and wariness when it comes to governments and other coercive institutions, and a certain amount of general faith in individuals, markets, and other voluntary institutions.

In fact, maybe this is even simpler: I have a relatively strong preference for autonomy.
7.6.2006 11:37am
Bithead (mail) (www):

But David, few people even understand what "libertarian" means.


Particularly, it seems where there is the most issue in this, is among the libertarians, themselves.
7.6.2006 11:55am
Garth (mail) (www):

In fact, maybe this is even simpler: I have a relatively strong preference for autonomy.


Hmmm... How about we call ourselves "automatons"
7.6.2006 1:16pm
sean sorrentino (mail):

Free markets? Not everything is about economic markets, and left-wing critics have a field day pointing out that government itself establishes the underlying rules of the market


this is only because we allow Leftists to misuse the debate terms. remind them that there are two different kinds of economic laws. the first kind is the kind that sets the economic structure. think of these as "rules of the road." we drive on the right side of the road. not because it is better, but because we can't all pick whatever side we want. the second kind are the rules that determine outcome. these are the bad ones.

imagine the difference between a law that says you must not drive faster than 65 MPH, and a law that says you must drive to south. we can accept that the first law attempts to regulate the speed of traffic in order to prevent chaos on the roads. we can debate where to set that speed limit, but we do not consider it to be a huge imposition on our lives. somone telling us that we MUST drive south is determing our destination, and no one should have that kind of authority.

remind those people who attempt to use the false dichotomy of All The Rules I Want vs. No Rules At All, that you are not advocating anarchy. do not let the illogic of others blunt a very good argument for economic freedom.
7.6.2006 2:09pm
Medis:
sean,

Of course, the problem with that analogy is that virtually any rule can be recast as a regulation with the nominal purpose of coordinating the manner in which activities are done. To put it metaphorically, what is "the road"? For example, if we defined all property as "the road", then we would get a very broad sense of what the "rules of the road" could involve. To put the point in legal terms, the difference between substantive rules and procedural rules is not always readily apparent--indeed, drawing this distinction seems to require some prior sense of what counts as a substantive right or interest.

I don't mention this problem to cast doubt on your basic idea. But I think it turns out that one needs a lot of background ideas about what governments in fact can/should be doing, and what they can't/shouldn't be doing, before one can identify exactly which rules are merely regulatory, and which are invalid "impositions on our lives".
7.6.2006 2:32pm
Sigivald (mail):

Free markets? Not everything is about economic markets, and left-wing critics have a field day pointing out that government itself establishes the underlying rules of the market.


Well, plenty of Libertarian types have spent the effort talking about what rules government may/should/must establish for the market (since Libertarians aren't anarchists, they acknowledge the necessity and justification of some state, be it a Hayekian state that includes actual welfare programs, or a Nozickian minimal state), so I can't see why Leftists pointing that out is anything more than a rebuke of a straw-man anarcho-libertarian position.

(Of course governments lay out ground rules like what contracts are enforceable, and how they're enforced. That's what governments are for, as Sean said; and as Medis said, the background is important. Hayek and Nozick, to re-use my favorite ends of the spectrum, both talk about that, too. Nozick does it more systematically and philosophically, in my reading, but I'm more inclined to actually sympathise with Hayek's view.)

Back on topic, why not Hayek's "Old Whig"? It has the disadvantage of not being obviously meaningful, and the advantage of not having any obvious incorrect meanings or associations, at least in the US.
7.6.2006 4:07pm
Linfinitus:
libertarianism:
The view maintaining justifiable force as that which does not agress against others or their property.

Taken to its extreme, however, this would exclude government as a justifiable institution.

I call myself an Austro-libertarian anarcho-capitalist.

Liberty. Property. Peace.
7.6.2006 6:35pm
Joegator (mail):
Bill Maher is about as libertarian as Chairman Mao. Advocating the legalization of drugs does not make one a libertarian.
7.6.2006 6:47pm
JimL (mail):
Libertarianism: Because I want to be treated like a grown-up
7.7.2006 6:14pm