There are times that it seems to me the only difference between a liberal calling themselves a libertarian and a liberal not calling themselves a libertarian is that they like the ethos of one or the other group. Or perhaps they have friends that thought similarly and called themselves libertarians. I don't know - but analytically I find the term to be very undistinctive in a lot of cases. I've talked several times on here about Mark Pennington's defense of libertarianism which to me sounds like a defense of the liberal tradition in general - anyone in the liberal tradition.
I had the same feeling reading this description of John Tomasi's new book, linked to by Don Boudreaux. Like Don, I agree it sounds like an interesting read.
Unlike Don, the description makes me feel like I'm a "libertarian" by Tomasi's standards and Tomasi's argument about the relationship between liberty, property, fairness, justice, etc.. Here it is:
"Can libertarians care about social justice? In Free Market Fairness, John Tomasi argues that they can and should. Drawing simultaneously on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls, Tomasi presents a new theory of liberal justice. This theory, free market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor. Unlike traditional libertarians, Tomasi argues that property rights are best defended not in terms of self-ownership or economic efficiency but as requirements of democratic legitimacy. At the same time, he encourages egalitarians concerned about social justice to listen more sympathetically to the claims ordinary citizens make about the importance of private economic liberty in their daily lives. In place of the familiar social democratic interpretations of social justice, Tomasi offers a "market democratic" conception of social justice: free market fairness. Tomasi argues that free market fairness, with its twin commitment to economic liberty and a fair distribution of goods and opportunities, is a morally superior account of liberal justice. Free market fairness is also a distinctively American ideal. It extends the notion, prominent in America's founding period, that protection of property and promotion of real opportunity are indivisible goals. Indeed, according to Tomasi, free market fairness is social justice, American style."
A lot of people don't think much of this "defining libertarianism" thing. What really interests me about it is that it's a window on how people view others. So when a libertarian offers a definition of "libertarian" that describes particular views on liberty, the market, government, etc. - and they consider someone like me to not be a libertarian, the implication is they think I don't agree with those views of liberty, the market, and government.
It's fascinating to me, then, that in so many cases not only do my views coincide with these definitions of "libertarian" - they coincide quite strongly.
What is it about the way humans think about ideology that this is possible?
I think that's why some of these discussions interest me - because it' offers some insights into a broader class of human behavior and understanding. It's more than just a definition.