I’ve been thinking about the meanings of words, for about 100 years now (I was born on 4th August 1914 as you all know.)
While “libertarian” means “some sort of “/*.-arian” [star.dot.-arian – remember DOS anyone?] who is kind of in favour of individual liberty (that is to say; about choosing this or that course of action and so on, within any agreed legal framework that acknowledges that power), we are now where we are, in a hegemonic climate that’s deeply deeply hostile to any form of nonconformity with the prevailing and “agreed” terms of public discourse. “Anarchists” of the leftoNazi (the only kind of Nazi) persuasion are however tolerated positively and actively, because they are exactly the opposite of what they say. They are “social”, in fact. (See/google “Enoch Powell” + “social” + “word” + “opposite meaning” .)
I have decided that one reason why “libertarians”, such as we here, have got absolutely nowhere in the last 40 years, during which time we should have creamed the World, is that our word for ourselves is an “intellectual” one, and means nothing positive – and indeed has potentially negative connotations – to nearly all people, which is to say about 7 billion. There are perhaps 250,000 people on this planet who actually know what it means in reality, and most of them are opposed academics (Nazis), leftoidNazi journos, or career-politicoNazis. This is not a good place to begin from, to get where we want to go.
We should retake the word “LIBERAL”. Here I promote a comment from Ian B, as follows:-
I entirely agree with David about taking back “liberal”, though I am not actually sure that we have actually lost it. The Americans have lost the word, but we are not Americans. I have increasingly swapped to just using “liberal”, for instance in Telegraph comment threads and other blog discussions, since “our” usage of the word is very easy to explain and defend when people dispute it, and it often causes amusing consternation among establishment illiberals. Besides all else, “libertarian” seems woefully anachronistic when talking about historical figures like John Locke or JS Mill. I think we should all just get used to “liberal”, and particularly ensure that we don’t qualify it with “classical”, it makes us sound like we’re referring to Ancient Greece. Besides all else, because it is a useful adjective- “I have a liberal view on [X]”. If you want to really upset a progressive feminist, by the way, call her an ultra-conservative. It sets them reeling.
So, what should we call our opponents? Lost Leonardo worries about “puritan”, and it did bother me, and I cast around for something else, but it has grown on me. It may not be useful in every situation, but it is useful in many. It has several advantages; firstly by discussing a struggle between liberal and puritan values, it sets us in a broad historical cultural narrative (which I at least believe is historically justified). Secondly, it is a word that people already know. You see it commonly used. Thirdly, it is perjorative; it was coined as a negative term (by non-Puritans) and has never lost that negative connotation. It implies a joyless negativity and a zealotry therein; and we can bark it out as quickly as the old Commies used to bark “fascist” as an instant putdown without having to spend ten minutes explaining what we mean (unlike Cultural Marxist, or the delightful but not commonplace GramscoFabiaNazi). And fourthly, it puts the average young “progressive”- who likes to pretend they are a hip-swingin’ liberal radical- on the defensive.
But whether or not people like the Puritan Hypothesis, I am very much of the view that the best word we can use for ourselves is “liberal”.
And another one:-
Back on the general culture point, if we need anything it’s liberal (did you see what I did there?) film makers. Currently, the default Hollywood dystopia is one in which the future is controlled by Evil Corporations who impoverish and oppress everyone; invariably economically incoherent since they never explain who, if everyone is a pauper living in shanty towns, actually buys the corporations’ products. A similar astonishing example was the recent Lego Movie, whose evil villain was called “Lord Business”; a movie made to sell the, um, products of a, er, big corporation.
If we need anything, it’s movies that depict the future tyranny as a politically correct Hell of oppressive regulations. I have myself an outline for such a story, which depicts a society at the endpoint of Feminism. But that’s the problem I suppose; even if my script were any good, who would dare produce it?
Ian’s point is that if we start using the word “LIBERAL” liberally, in conversations with Nazis in which we can say we are “liberals” who are in favour of more freedom, then we can get really _up their noses on live radio and television, and enrage the effing bastards.
Even Labour-voting kneejerk morons in Bootle, Barnsley, Bradford, Bolton, Bedwas, understand that when a panellist goes “postal” on live media and the screams and shouts, it means that he/she has actually lost the debate.
(WE ought also actually to not use the specific word LIBERTY, for it sounds like “LIBERTINE” (very very bad), and also we ought not to say “LIBERTARIAN” (incomprehensible, or if not, then bad because unexplained and we haven’t time) – we should use “freedom”, which everyone, even Labour-voting-morons on “estates” understands).
When the BBC calls Sean Gabb and then is forced to announce him as the “Director of the Liberal Alliance”, and he says about things “Well, you know, I do take a quite liberal view about Gay Marriage” and so forth, they will be enraged, but won’t be able to lift a finger. It’s because they are thieves and stole words.
What’s wrong with being a libertine? I remember,in its last days in the 1980s,the old Liberal Party had a President who wanted to ban sportsmen from playing in South Africa, a leader who wanted to ban Page Three pinups,an authoritarian reactionary moralist Deputy Leader, and a youth leader who wanted conscription. I also remember Tony Benn,Ken Livingstone,Roy Hattersley,and the 1980s National Front calling themselves “libertarians”.
Nothing wrong with it at all, unfortunately the word has a great deal of negative baggage and by the time you’ve answered all that you’ve lost the argument.
“libertine” means someone who does not just think that the vices should be legal – but who thinks they should be indulged in (often at the final expense of the taxpayers). It, quite rightly, leads to mental images of a spend thrift bankrupt – dying of the pox.
As for “liberal” – in the United States it has meant someone who wants a BIGGER (not a smaller) government, since at least the 1920s – someone who bashes “big business” and “the rich” and wants to live at the FORCED expense of the taxpayers.
Even in Britain – the “New Liberals” were dominating the liberal seen as far back as the late 19th century (T.H. Green and the rest of the sorry crew) and “Classical Liberals” such Mr John Stewart Mill were rather awful (see my recent post on J.S. Mill over at the Counting Cats blog). Although there were also many good Classical Liberals – the Westminster Review “Radicals” (with their absurd “land question”, and their love of Thomas Hobbes and other supporters of the absolute and unlimited state) were NOT the majority of Classical Liberals.
Even in the 1870s “liberal” meant in the town I am sitting in (just about the centre of England) someone who wanted a local council (i.e. higher local taxes), a Board of Education (again more taxes), government restrictions on the sale of booze, and (for the “advanced” or “radical” liberals) attacks on private land ownership. It was pointed out to me many years ago, when I still went around saying I was a “19th century liberal”, that if I had actually been around in LATE 19th century Kettering I would be exactly what I am now – a Conservative, I would have agreed with the local Liberals on just about nothing.
Actually David far from reclaiming the word “liberal” (just about impossible at this point) – I am more concerned that we may lose the word libertarian (which, by the way, even I can spell – and I am the worst speller in the known universe).
After all if the “anti capitalist” vermin (the “libertarian left”) are “libertarians” – then why is not “Lenin” or “Stalin”? After all the Black Flaggers and the Red Flaggers happily cooperate in the international “Occupy” movement (smash-and-burn international) and such things as the Chicago Teachers Union (they have shared interests in looting the taxpayers and indoctrinating the young with anti capitalist, down-with-the-rich down-with-big-business, propaganda).
Let us reclaim the word “libertarian” (that is at least possible), not try and reclaim the word “liberal” that “Nick” Clegg and co have made their own (and which such types had their claws in – even in the 19th century).
The notion of liberty was spoilt with distinction between positive and negative liberty. It is true that here in the UK it isn’t as bad the US, where liberal pretty much means ‘socialist progressive’.
It is possible that ‘anarchists’ have stolen the world anarchist from the typical private property hating communists, although other words are often used to describe this type of stateless society including ‘libertarian’. Most people would assume libertarians believing in a small state rather than no state however.
I’d like to second Erebus on that. It was a dreadful mistake to accept the usages of “negative freedom,” “negative rights,” “negative liberty” as referring to what libertarians and real liberals (as opposed to libruls, meaning American-style “liberals,” who are only in favor of drugs and sodomy and maligning in word and deed liberal western culture generally, as far as I can tell). Because “negative,” being as it is, for some reason conveys the idea of “negative” (I can’t think why) as in “unacceptable,” “moving backwards, from nothing to even less,” and, in the end, non-existent.
Now for the sake of honesty, I must mention that I’ve read that the word “libertarian” was originally dreamed up back in the 1800’s or perhaps a bit earlier, to signify, roughly, socialists and other nogoodniks — and by themselves, at that. Whether this is so I have no idea.
As to reclaiming the proper meaning of the word “liberal,” it is a noble enterprise if we could get all right-, that is non-left-, thinking people on board. But I think this can only happen if we can get a lot of positive (approving, accepting, adding of good things) presentations of the worth of true liberalism, named and illustrated as such, in entertainment and media and educational establishments.
On the other hand, I am thoroughly sick of people who bemoan the hijacking of one word to mean something entirely different, and don’t do the obvious thing to correct the situation, which is to use the correct words for the two concepts. One person granted my point but said it’s easier to type “gay” than “homosexual.” It’s easier to go along with tyranny than to resist it, too, may I say. And another complains about being “forced” to adopt the misusage, despite the fact that he is at perfect liberty to write “homosexual” when that’s what he means, if he dares to consider the subject at all.
In an age when everybody seems to worship Eric Blair and refers to his essay “Politics and the English Language,” or at least to its main point, six times per day and eight on Sundays, it’s amazing all the defense that misusages of this sort get.
I had another obvious example in mind, but alas it has become lost in the roil of my usual rant.
I’m all for reclaiming the word “liberal”.
To me, the word “libertarian” has always had a nasty artifical academic feel to it and always seems to demand some kind of explanation, during which the listener loses all interest.
So yes, let’s have a nice simple and straightforward word that we can all rally around. And if anyone still wants to know what it means, that’s simple: it stands for freedom.
And if Clegg and his mates grumble, well that that’s hard luck. They’ve had a good run as squatters, but now it’s time for them to move out and give the word back to its rightful owners.