"Hi Daniel, thank you for posting about this! I guess I ought to clarify a little the motivation behind this project.So right - it's clear that many libertarians think classical liberalism is just libertarianism and that liberal is better suited to describe this crowd and it's not suited to describe "modern liberalism". But this is precisely the point I am disputing, and not a point that I think needs to be clarified.
Some people make the argument that modern liberalism is really consistent with the earlier liberal tradition, but I think the general consensus is that modern liberal theory is really social democratic theory, and modern "classical liberalism" is much more in line with liberalism as it was understood in the 19th century. This is an initiative about classical liberals trying to reclaim their label.
Most people don't know what a classical liberal is, so classical liberals tend to refer to themselves as libertarians. But "libertarian" has a lot of extreme connotations. Within the libertarian umbrella there is a hardcore variety (Ayn Rand, Rothbard, etc) and a more moderate classical liberal variety (the ones who win Nobel Prizes in economics). So classical liberals have always been a little uncomfortable about the libertarian label, and many of us would prefer that libertarianism is a subset of liberalism, rather than the other way around.
Words evolve all the time, of course, but there's no law of linguistics that words can't revert back. With the word "progressive" currently coming back in vogue among the Left, it seems like a ripe time for classical liberals to assert their claim to "liberal" and try to carve out a spot for themselves in the political discourse.
Freedom of contract and freedom of association were centerpieces of 19th century liberalism, and it's a stretch to rectify those values with the labor regulations and other policies associated with modern liberalism. So I do think it's fair to say that the meaning of the word changed - at least, that is what all the signers are asserting. I guess you could say we're all liberals in the very broad sense that we're not monarchists or communists, but I think the term has a little more precision than that.
Anyway, I appreciate you engaging on this issue!"
I don't think you need to broaden the definition of liberal at all. I think it means the exact same thing it used to mean. Over time when a philosophical tradition gains more traction there is more diversity on specific views of course. New ethical and political theories develop that add new wrinkles to the liberal landscape. But my liberal values and priorities today are no different than they were in the 18th century.
It's not unreasonable to make a distinction between classical liberalism and liberalism generally. Classical liberalism is often associated with the view that property rights are implicit in any meaningful sense of liberty. That's certainly my view and I'm no libertarian. We might argue about some modern liberals who are liberals as much as Kevin Frei is but may start to wander away from classical liberalism in that sense. But I think they would be hard to find and hard to define. Modern liberals in the United States at least, even those well to the left of me, still have a strong respect for private property and the market economy. Is it enough respect for private property? Are property rights implicit in their understanding of liberty? For a whole lot of people that would be difficult to assess both because "enough" is tough to get a grasp on and because most people haven't thought about liberty with a sufficient degree of formality to take a position on whether property rights are implicit in a sound understanding of liberty or not. If Kevin Frei is of the "taxation is theft" internet libertarian variety (and I have no idea if he is - it's a hypothetical) then almost nobody makes the cut. But precisely why is Kevin Frei more qualified than somebody else to make the call?