Thursday, March 22, 2012

Classical liberalism and libertarianism are absolutely not synonymous

But of course, they are related, as all viewpoints in the liberal tradition have a close relation to classical liberalism.

It's a point we used to discuss on here a lot, although not as much recently. Matt Zwolinski has a great post up on Milton Friedman's liberalism (contrasting it with libertarians) that highlights this point. This is not a matter of changing views over time, it's worth emphasizing - the precursors of modern libertarians were contemporaries of Friedman, after all.


  1. If you get away from trying to figure out what the "true" essences of what "libertarian" and "classical liberal" mean (which, I repeat, is not a real question in any meaningful sense whatsoever), Rothbard boiled the difference down to basically two points.

    -Libertarians are less aggressive to religion than 19th century classical liberals.
    -Libertarians romanticize the effects of universal education run by the state less.

  2. I would say that classical liberals are less idealistic and more compromising. Classical liberals are also more conservative, on average--they're less anarchistic.

  3. There are definitely plenty of us who would take Milton Friedman's view that while great care must be taken when using it, the state can sometimes do good things. On the other hand, you have the Rothbardians who want to privatize the night-watchman. I'm wondering what is the distribution within the libertarian movement.

  4. Friedman self-declared himself as a libertarian (and did so repeatedly during his life). If that is how he wanted to define his views so be it.

    The article doesn't just compare "libertarianism" and classical liberalism, it compares a variety of the former with the latter. Then it gets increasingly sloppy.

    Of course, the whole debate about definitions and so forth is a mug's game to start with. Why people involve themselves in that sort of pin the tail on non-existant donkey game I never know.

    PrometheeFeu: Given the amount of argument that goes on amongst libertarians I have a hard time trying to create that sort of grouping. I do know that libertarian views are mostly better, more sound, etc. than progressive, modern liberal, conservative, etc. views.


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