The L Word

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Ever since liberal began to be a term of abuse and folks on the left began fleeing it for progressive, I've hoped that we might finally be able to reclaim that fine word, evocative of the proud tradition of Locke and Mill. Apparently The Economist agrees (subsc.).

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  1. Done!
    Now let’s concentrate on anarchist!

  2. There’s a reason why the definition of liberal went beyond libertarianism in the early 20th Century – because the rise of big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed, on a large scale, by the private sector. Activist government was required to intervene in order to protect the republican values whose program had formerly been restricted to limiting government, back in the day when the government itself was really the only threat to liberty and opportunity (well, the liberty and opportunity of the people who mattered, but let’s leave that for another day).

    If you’d take off the bliders, you’d recognize the huge advances in liberty and opportunity that have come about because of such liberal, activist initiatives like the Civil Rights Act, ADA, the EITC, and the Community Reinvestment Act. The fact that your political model is unable to recognize that these programs liberate people calls into question how well you really understand how your priority value – freedom – actually looks in the modern world.

  3. When I read this piece over the weekend, I was a bit perplexed as to why it didn’t mention the Libertarian Party by name. But I guess that makes sense if you assume it was intended as an insult, like talking about someone standing next to you as if he wasn’t there.

  4. I just wanted to drop a line to all the small “l” libertarians on this board. There’s a good group of people who are trying to change National for the better, and in the direction of a small “l” libertarian model. I know it seems like a lost cause to some, but I’m willing to give it my all in the next 4 years to help transform this party. If our attempts fail, at least I know I’ve given it my all…and I’ll happily step back into the life of political ignorance.

    I’ve been a libertarian for 9 years now, so I’m not naive to think that this can be done overnight. But with enough pressure on National to recognize that the small “l” libertarians are its true constituency, I believe there’s hope for the future.

    When I see blogs popping up all over the place from small “l’s” showing their dissatisfaction with the LP and the way it currently is run, and an article from the fairly new (2003) Executive Director of the LP below…it gives me even more hope.

    Getting serious – and outward bound
    http://www.lp.org/lpnews/0411/fromthedirector.html

    I’ve joined on with a couple other writers here at:
    http://timwest.blogs.com/

    Here are some other blogs from small “l” libertarians:
    http://newlibertarian.blogspot.com/
    http://www.themodernamerican.com/blog/
    http://shadablog.blogs.com/

    National isn’t worthy of your support or mine if it continues along the path it has. But please, keep an open mind about the potential for change. If we are successful, I hope you add your much needed support to the political home we all truly belong in. If Pat Buchanan can scurry back to the Repugs after continually lambasting Bush, then I think we could forgive the LP for its wrongdoings.

    Take a look at the blogs I posted, and bookmark them if you’d like. Take care, Rob D.

  5. Objectivist and libertarians (small and capitalized) are fond of invoking the “words have meaning” rule. I agree that precision in thought and writing is important. I disagree that word meanings are static or that they even should be.

    Words and phrases mean what they do according to how individuals within the culture understand or use them. And, unfortunately the meaning of the term “liberal” in our modern culture has evolved over a long period of time to mean something other than what we wish it did.

    If I describe my philosophy to most people as ‘liberal’ it invokes a certain image (some people reach into the pickup truck for the shotgun hanging on the rack).

    Classical Liberal helps but you still have to explain that term in the context of Jefferson. Even that can be unclear as I discovered when my neighbor Dan described himself as a Jeffersonian classical liberal and a libertarian. Once he found out that I was a real libertarian the disguise fell and it turned out he was just another leftie that happened to like guns.

    Others, like my father (fond of saying “you think I’m conservative? You should see my son”) and my friend Paige (TWC is the most conservative person on the planet) see politics and philosphy as linear rather than circular. I have long since given up being offended by this characterization as conservative (and stopped trying to correct the picture even though it still occasionally rankles).

    I’ve also been labeled as a Nazi, Commie, Faggot, Baby Killer, Reactionary, Cro-Magnon, Racist, Gun Nut, Fascist, Ugly, and lately, Fat and Ugly.

    Certainly too, there is ample ‘label’ confusion in the general public (both informed and not so informed) which lead to the minting of the term ‘libertarian’ (a word that sort of makes me wrinkle my nose in distaste). But as it becomes more widely accepted and applied to ideas that matter by a broad spectrum of the populace, it’s beginning to sound a little less distasteful to me too.

    Whether we can claim or reclaim the term ‘liberal’ is probably about as likely as seeing a million votes for the LP candidate for president in 2008. And I’m not even sure we need to do that. Maybe calling ourselves libertarians is good enough.

  6. Joe,

    …because the rise of big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed, on a large scale, by the private sector.

    All many of us are saying is that the government “fixed” (and will therefore likely continue to fix) a problem IT created. Despite all the blathering by big business in the 19th Century of “Laissez Fair” or “Free Market” or “Capitalism”, it wasn’t. At least not by a libertarian definition.

  7. “because the rise of big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed, on a large scale, by the private sector.”

    Can you reference historical data on this?
    History, like any social subject, is open to interpretation. Interpratations are dependent on one’s premises. Such an assertion must be examined carefully for premise distortion.
    People start with a premise then interpret data to fit the premise. Most historians have done this, and the premise is never examined not alternatives premises aplied to see how they may fit the data. Not only that, but many historians get their information from sources that suffer a similar inadequacy. So making assertions is not that same as discovering and revealing the truth.

    Popular interpretations of history are often in error.

    “Who controls the present, controls the past, whoever controls the past, controls the future.”

  8. WLC, the rise of national (and global) business was abetted by political developments, but ultimately, they were the consequence of technological advancements that allowed manufacturing, transportation, financial, and extractive industries to carry out their operations at a much larger scale. The politicians wouldn’t have fallen into line if the captains of industry hadn’t already been able to command unheard-of fortunes. Blaming the rise of big business on big government puts the cart before the horse.

  9. “There’s a reason why the definition of liberal went beyond libertarianism in the early 20th Century – because the rise of big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed, on a large scale, by the private sector.”

    I hear this argument often, but it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Prior to the availability of Big Corporation jobs, all of these ‘problems’ were still in place. Corporations increased the number of non farm jobs available, but that is all they did. Discrimination was no greater after corporations came into existence than before. Corporations represented a higher percentage of all jobs only because they CREATED those jobs in the first place.

    I can accept the idea that advocates of positive ‘freedom’ dropped the ball while they were in their infancy, only to learn the liberating powers of government regulation later, but the idea that suddenly negative freedom became intolerable with the creation of 10 million new jobs seems silly to me.

  10. big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed

    Joe, we fully understand that statist liberals perceive the world that way. But business really can’t curtail people’s freedom and opportunity (not while it’s acting on the voluntary principles that we call “business”; if it hires hitmen, then obviously that’s different), it can only give people opportunity and the freedom of greater choice. But people are often unhappy with their choices in life and are jealous over other people doing better or are bitter over how others exercise their freedom. Plus, they’re intimidated by change and seek skapegoats. Those are the true sources of the perception you describe.

  11. “The fact that your political model is unable to recognize that these programs liberate people calls into question how well you really understand how your priority value – freedom – actually looks in the modern world.”

    Joe, the left wouldn’t get any argument from anyone if the programs were truly about the simple guarantee of civil rights. But we both know all the laws you cite go well beyond that, taking rights, opportunity, or property from some people to improve the lives of others. That’s not freedom it’s just swapping the unfair treatment of one group for another. The fact that for most people it is more nuisance than blatant oppression makes it tolerable but doesn’t make it right.

    And I think libertarians fully understand how ‘freedom’ looks and is perceived in the real world. That’s exactly why it’s a such tough sell. Patriotic lip service aside, freedom is seen not as a value but as a tool of oppression.

  12. Sam, take for example the creation of company towns. Prior to the industrial revolution, it would have been impossible to organize a society in such a way that gave so much power over the lives of thousands of people to a private property owner, unless one goes back to serfdom. Often, these towns had one road in, or one railroad in, which was owned by the company, and which residents were not allowed to travel on without the corporation’s permission.

    Much of libertarian, property-rights grounded philosophy, with its determination that government should not put limits on, for example, how the company chooses to treat the people it has trapped in its towns, would amount in practice to a revival of feudalism, with the Market taking the place of Divine Right in determining who gets to exercise authority over the daily lives of the populace.

  13. No question that Henry Ford was an oppressor and a tyrant. You’d get fired for smoking (even off the job) or for parking a Chevy or a La Salle in your driveway. But, he also paid the best wages in the business and you didn’t have to work for Ford–there were lots of other choices.

  14. fyodor, the massive decreases in transportation costs for grain that were brought about with the creation of the railroads did not, in practice, give midwestern farmers the choice of selling to raidroad-connected wholesalers, or not. It meant that they sold to those wholesalers, on the terms they provided, or they went broke.

    Combine this with the monopoly ownership of the railroads, which resulted in one set of terms of sale that the farmers could take or leave, and the net result was that the farmers’ ability to function as suppliers in a competetive market (a state often identified by libertarians as the definition of freedom) was reduced, compared to the farmers’ situation that existed when numerous smaller wholesalers made individual arrangements with the farmers. Legal niceties aside, the famers were reduced to peasantry, with the railroad cartel exercising the coercive power necessary to complel them to farm and sell on their terms. Very illiberal.

    By breaking up the monopoly, by limiting the rebate system, and by imposing a modern regulatory regime, on that recognized that the natural barriers to consolidation had been overcome, the Progressive politicians made the system function MORE like a collection of free buyers and sellers operating within a market.

  15. Never mind the fact that the US government is in fact the largest corporation on the planet (replacing the catholic church in size and scope)…

  16. joe,

    So what laws were passed to solve this problem of private, permission-only transportation? The programs you mention don’t seem to address that. Myself, I think if I were a judge and someone came before me on the charge of trespassing on one of those roads, if he were leaving for good or on an emergency, I would throw the case out. Otherwise, I’d say he was participating in a contractual system he’d agreed to by moving there and staying there. I understand that not all judges are as enlightened as I, but then, shit happens. It doesn’t mean one’s freedom was genuinely being curtailed because you entered a situation that you no longer like or wish was better.

  17. Iguana, if Wal Mart causes every other retail operation in town to shut down, how many choices does a retail employee actually have? In that circumstance, Wal Mart has unilaterally set the conditions of retail employment. When a “take it or leave it offer” isn’t accompanied by the opportunity to actually leave it, we are no longer talking about negotiations between free buyers and sellers, but about one side having the power to coerce the other.

  18. fyodor, having the legal right to opt out of a contract is meaningless if you don’t actually have the opportunity to do so. The railroad cartel could tell a farmer, “Find someone else to ship your grain,” but if there was no one else to ship your grain, you didn’t actually have a choice, and therefore there were no negotiations going one.

    I’m curious to hear about your implied “really good reason” exception to property rights, and whether any other libertarians agree with it. It sounds to me like you’re suggesting the government should create a safety valve, and impose on the property rights of big business if it is necessary to allow citizens to exist within a system that provides them with actual, not just paper, freedom and opportunity.

  19. ‘how the company chooses to treat the people it has trapped in its towns,’

    A great example of how the left sees the public at large. To stupid and unimaginative to find the means to move, create a new skill, find employment, essentially live their life without a hand or hand out from the feds.

    ‘opportunity that have come about because of such liberal, activist initiatives like the Civil Rights Act, ADA, the EITC, and the Community Reinvestment Act.’

    It seems to me that now matter what laws are put in place, a good example is emancipation, they are of little use until a cultural shift makes them as moot as they were once useless. You site the ADA; my mother works for a small business and frequently hires/fires for her boss. Before the ADA she had no qualms about hiring disabled people as long as they could do the job. Her boss cannot afford the requisite lawyers to interpret the law for their particular circumstances. The Act is big and the consequences of violating it are bigger yet. Now they only interview the disabled, never hire them. The real impact of the ADA is unclear. However, the wholesale shift of the disabled into the workforce it’s proponents promised never happened.

  20. Joe-
    Wal Mart only has as much power as the competition allows them to have. There are no rules that say someone else with a better idea can’t come along and drive them out of business. Furthermore, nobody is forcing anyone to make their purchases from Wal Mart. Unfortunately, as well intentioned as so many modern “liberal” regulation and protection schemes are, they often leave the door wide open for abuse, or at the very least create the sort of atmosphere where private entities feel they have to try and curry favor with the political party in power at the time. I don’t think there are many true libertarians out there who admire the sort of crony-capitalist system you complain about, but most of us also don’t think that more government control is the answer; it creates its own set of problems.

  21. “So what laws were passed to solve this problem of private, permission-only transportation?”

    Not enough. For the most part, companies who owned company towns were pretty much allowed to keep their charges in a state of servitude, using “consensual” techniques like charging more at the only available store than an employee could possible earn, and requiring full discharge of the ensuing debt upon termination.

    In the theories of libertarians, a person who finds himself in this condition is free to leave. In the real world, he’s not.

  22. “Find someone else to ship your grain

    I’m sure grain was shipped prior to the invention of the railroad. Of course, the railroad was invented nearly at the same time as heavy farm machinery, probably because the railroad allowed one farmer to grow and ship more. Further, railroad cartels (and monoplies) were essentially created by the state (and states), especially via land grants. And keep in mind that the government practically encouraged industrialization and corporatization for military purposes. A few do-gooder acts (ADA, Civil Rights, etc.) are practically insignificant compared to the 2+ centuries of government favoritism.

  23. “A great example of how the left sees the public at large. To stupid and unimaginative to find the means to move, create a new skill, find employment, essentially live their life without a hand or hand out from the feds.”

    Nice strawman you’ve got there. Dirt-poor people with no means of transportation can’t leave a town in which the people who own their debt won’t let them use the train, and the problem is that they’re stupid and unimaginative.

    I anticipate lots of spittle flying out there. This is that reply you’re going to get out of me if you can’t articulate a coherent argument.

    Dave, reasonable points all. But the issue here is not the efficacy of liberal solutions. This a discussion of philosophy and description. An expansionist imperialist doesn’t cease to be expansionist or imperialist just because his war plan fails.

  24. joe,

    Regarding the “really good reason” exception to property rights, I assume you’re refering to my willingness to throw out a case if someone is leaving on a private road for good or on an emergency. First, I’m speaking for myself. I understand it contradicts libertarianism stricly speaking (or at least potentially; see my follwoing points). Second, I believe there’s a principle in the law that acknowledges not having any choice as a valid defense. I’m no lawyer so I’m not sure of that, but I’m operating on that premise. Therefore, it doesn’t necessarily contradict libertarianism because I’m not saying that there was an exception that’s any different than that which we potentially recognize universally. Third, and this is related, I personally believe that a judge should have the ability to exercise a certain degree of what you might call Solomonic justice, ie, be able to look at a particular case and say, this is not what the law was meant to enforce. Obviously this opens the door to abuse by, oh what was it George Wallace called judges he didn’t like?, but I still think it’s necessary to true justice, much like a fully informed jury.

    Anyway, I think the larger point is that I would also recognize that someone living in the situation under a fully voluntary manner has ascented to the terms and has not lost any freedom as a result.

  25. jc,

    “I’m sure grain was shipped prior to the invention of the railroad.” Yes, by cart and barge, at a much higher cost. The creation of a railroad economy put those other means out of business, eliminating them as options for the farmers.

    But I agree, illiberal government policies, such as the creation of monopolies, are not liberal. The question here is whether the “do-gooder acts” are liberal, now whether they have been the dominant strain of activity within our political system.

    As I wrote above, demonstrating that liberalism has been ineffective, or has been politically weak, does not demonstrate that it is not liberal.

  26. fyodor, how can the guy in the town be in a situation of “not having any choice,” and at the same time be “living in the situation under a fully voluntary manner.”

    If he doesn’t have any choice about leaving, his continued presence isn’t really voluntary, is it?

  27. ‘Nice strawman you’ve got there. Dirt-poor people with no means of transportation can’t leave a town in which the people who own their debt won’t let them use the train, and the problem is that they’re stupid and unimaginative.’

    Straw man; arguing a point that was not raised. You claim these poor people cannot leave, I claim they can. Believe it or not, I once traveled from Moscow,ID to SF,CA with a backpack and my thumb. Not much imagination required.

  28. And the wife and kids?

  29. joe,

    If one wants to opt out of the arrangement (which unless he signed a contract to stay a particular amount of time, he has the right to do), and he can only do so by leaving through private property, then he has no recourse to leave the arrangement but by trespassing. As a Solomonic judge, I would say, as long as you were doing this as a means to leave the situation, and did so with the least possible infringement on property rights, okay. Whether others here would agree with me on this, I don’t know nor necessarily care. But if someone were to complain that the tolls on the private road or the company store charged too much, yet was not en route out of the situation, sorry Charlie.

    And as far as people being “too poor” to leave, well that’s a sad situation. But as far as it relates to what we’re talking about, that people sometimes make bad decisions does not mean that those with whom they cooperated in the decision and who are enforcing the consequences of the decision have curtailed their freedom. It just means they made bad decisions or had bad luck and are paying for it, as fate commands. Charity is a better solution than coercion, imperfect as I’m sure you’ll remind me that it is.

  30. Niether had thumbs, sold them for salted beef. Give me a break!

  31. If he doesn’t have any choice about leaving, his continued presence isn’t really voluntary, is it?

    I might have misunderstood you there. And I think you misunderstood me. One always has the choice whether to stay or leave. My point was that if one is surrounded by private property, the only way one can leave is by trespassing. Technically, one should not have put oneself in that position in the first place. While I wouldn’t want to make any generalizations because of the old adage that extreme cases make bad law, as a compassionate judge seeing that someone was trespassing as little as possible to remove himself from an arrangement in which he no longer wanted to participate and which he was under no contractual obligation to continue, I would likely let him off. Part of my reasoning is that one would rationally expect it to be a one time offense, plus the fact that the private property owner helped create the situation by monopolizing the transportation situation. These factors make it different from, say, letting a thief go free because he was starving. Although if the thief stole only the food he needed to stave off hunger and did it with the least mischeif possible, I would certainly be inclined to pass a light sentence.

  32. The ADA gave business owners the freedom to comply with regulations, at their own expense, to serve an often imaginary segment of potential vistors. A great step forward in liberty, indeed.

    Typically the state (in this case, lefty state) ignores those they screw over in the name of “expanding freedom”.

    Why do the railroads owe farmers transport? Was there a long-term contract for carriage in force? Was it even discriminatory by modern feels-good-equality measures? Did Catholic corn have to pay more than Protestant, or perhaps Scot farmers were given land-of-origin rebates?

    Progressive politicians made the system function MORE like a collection of free buyers and sellers operating within a market

    They made it more like their idea of a free market. What existed before their interference was actually a more free market. Under market conditions, sometimes people suffer, until competition or innovation changes the situation. A beauty of the market system is that as suffering and monopolist profits increase, so does the incentive and reward to compete or innovate. Under state control some may suffer less, but all will suffer longer.

    The issue here is not the efficacy of liberal solutions. Rather, the issue is recent misdiagnosis of coercive state force used toward liberal ends as a benefit to liberty.

  33. Ah, the solution to the ‘company town’ is the ‘company nation’. Now the poor workers are no longer in servitude to the ‘company town’, they and their children, and their grand children are in srvitude to the all encampassing state which takes an ever increasing amount of their wealth, sends their sons off to war to kill and be killed, and eventually destroy any dreams they might have in service to ‘the common good’.

    At least when it was just a company town, there was, in fact, the possibility of escape, by walking if necessary. But the state, where does one go to escape the state?

    Those railroads, ah yes the ones that were granted huge tracts of land so the government could transport troops to the west to rub out the natives. Your solution has some drawbacks.

  34. In the great state of Washington, state law forbids me from operating my car without purchasing insurance from a private insurance provider. Futhermore, I am held by law to be insured against uninsured motorists. I cannot get insurance without having uninsured motorist coverage as part of the plan. I have a clean driving record with no violations, married with one child, own a home that is insured, yet pay one of the highest premiums in the nation at $1400 per year. I did have a credit card screw up from college that results in me not getting the best rates due to the small credit report blemish, but I do have a flawless driving record.

    Discuss.

  35. Extorted One-
    Be thankfull it’s not a federal requirement.

  36. Getting back to the point of the post, I took a political phiolosophy course in college simply called “Liberalism” on the schedule of classes.

    Many of the students enrolled (including myself) were shocked that the reading material included Locke, Hobbes, Rawls, and Nozick; and not critical race theory or books by Noam Chomsky. Eventually these students learned quite a bit about classical liberalism. The course also changed me (and maybe others) from a lefty to a devotee of classic liberal philosiphy.

    So, on the plus side, maybe we can use the word to trick a few lefties into learning about liberty…

  37. Involuntary servitude is opposed by libertarians.
    Whether to a ‘company town’ or to the nation/state.

    Individuals have the right to escape enslavement and others who care enough to do something about it have the right to assist. The ‘company town’ problem which is supposedly solved by the ‘company nation’ has become moot. People do not, will not, tolerate ‘company towns’s, which is good. The problem now is that many people accept the ‘company state’ without question.

    I never had a problem with the term ‘libertarian’, go ahead an define it as true liberalism.

  38. What Joe is saying is essentially,

    “According to the liberal, in the nineteenth century there was an individualistic social system in the United States, which, when left unchecked, led inevitably to the ‘strong’ using the forces of a free market to smash and subdue the ‘weak,’ by building gigantic, monopolistic industrial enterprises which dominated and controlled the life of the nation. Then, as this centralization proceeded to snowball, the ‘public’ awoke to its impeding subjugation at the hands of these monopolistic businessmen. The public was stirred by the injustice of it all and demanded reform, whereupon altruistic and far-seeing politicians moved quickly to mash the monopolists with antitrust laws and other regulation of the economy, on behalf of the ever-suffering ‘little man’ who was saved thereby from certain doom. Thus did the American government squash the greedy monopolists and restore competition, equality of opportunity and the like, which was perishing in the unregulated laissez-faire free market economy. Thus did the American state act to save both freedom and capitalism.” Childs

    Childs refutes this and the traditional conservative interpretation of late 1800s American economic history. In general, I agree with Childs. Much of business regulation has actually served to entrench the power of monopolies and oligopolies. The benevolent government of Joe’s imagination has actually been a powerful tool for large, anti-competitive business interests (not to mention the fact that government has done some very naughty thing on its own.)

    As for liberal, like or not the character of words change with time. The word has become dyed red (or at least pink) by talking heads and talk radio. Language is dynamic… find a new word for classic liberal and move on (no pun intended). By the way, the essay by Childs is really worth a read.

  39. If meanings change, they can change back. And as DLC’s post makes clear, “liberal” retains its broader meaning in political philosophy, and is still familiar in that sense (even if not often used colloquially) to most reasonably well educated folks. I bet it could pretty easily be resurrected in that usage in middlebrow political mags & I expect it’d percolate to mass media relatively quickly.

  40. I reccomend the Childs article. The commonly held beliefs of the past are in error.

  41. If meanings change, they can change back. And as DLC’s post makes clear, “liberal” retains its broader meaning in political philosophy, and is still familiar in that sense (even if not often used colloquially) to most reasonably well educated folks.

    Damn straight. Not only that, but liberalism as a political tradition has different meanings in different countries. Sometimes opposite meanings.

    See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/

    Recently I’ve acquired the annoying habit of calling American style liberalism “American Liberalism”.

    I figure if I have to call football “soccer” and American footbal “football” I should be able to say liberal and not have to say libertarian. At least give me that!

    Ok, ok I know it’s a useless exercise. I’ll go back to my corner and sulk.

  42. I welcome the l word. The left wing of the country is giving it up, and the Economist provided some nice things that they may be referred to.

    I embrace it, because “conservatives” have recently taken to calling me a liberal or even one said RINO (which has the nice benefit of creating a mascot). Their definition is that since I am skeptical about Bush I’m a liberal; since I think evolution is a theory, and creationism is a fantasy I’m a liberal; since I don’t think we live in a moral dystopia, I’m a liberal; since I think state building should be left to the sims, I’m a liberal; since I think free trade and open borders are a good idea, I’m a liberal; since I think schooling is a local issue, I’m a liberal; since I watched the Daily Show, and laughed, I’m a liberal; since I don’t think my marriage will fall apart because gays want to…, I’m a liberal; since I have come to believe that I don’t have a home in the Republican party, I’m a liberal…

    Basically since I disagree at times, even just for fun, with the direction of the Republican party I’m a liberal. And chances are, if you have the wrong opinion you will be called a liberal too.

    I was reading the Economist in the office one day, and a co-worker who is a solid neo-con commented that the Economist had great international coverage. He then added that they’re a bunch of unreconstructed liberals. Don’t really know what that means, but I agree with the Economists arguement. Definitions evolve. The term “conservative” is evolving to mean a lot of things that I want nothing to do with. Since nobody seems to want the “liberal” moniker, why not embrace it?

  43. Perhaps you can give us some examples where words have evolved and then returned to original meanings, Mr. Sanchez? With the help of my friendly OED, I can provide far more where the original meaning is lost, probably forever.

    Swim! You starry-eyed salmon, battle against the torrent of Rush Limbaugh and the conservative talking heads.

  44. “There may be room to argue that the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost along a margin of some width. But regardless, the benefits is a real expansion of freedom for people.”

    I suspect that average Americans have no idea of how much ADA costs them.

    If the the ADA resulted in a real expansion of freedom, what about the benefit of Jim Crow?

  45. joe:

    The cost of ADA is not small, and it certainly isn’t limited to zero cost choices for businesses. It is huge. ADA is a trade. The freedom to run your business as you see fit is damaged. The freedom to innovate in certain ways is damaged. The cost of compliance with the regulation is paid, and that is an opportunity cost. The ability of some people to go to stores is enhanced. That ability is not freedom, though, and you have traded actual freedom to buy that ability.

    Some people don’t have cars. It occurs to me that owning a car is the ability to go more places, and some people have more of this ability than others. I am suggesting that it is a mistake to suggest that a hypothetical requirement that everyone must be bought a car should be characterized as a freedom enhancing measure. Before you get all upset about slippery slope arguments, focus on the character of the freedom in question.

    Freedom is the opposite of coercion in the context of political discussions. FDR’s freedom to a good job is classically a fallacy. Do I owe you a good paying job or do you owe me one? Let’s both sit on our butts and see whose job materializes first.

    If you want to suggest that it is the government’s role to enhance the power of some groups at the expense of the freedom of others, that is fine, but it is not accurate to indicate that freedom has been advanced by your policies.

  46. Joe, you said, “..because the rise of big business created a condition in which people’s freedom and opportunity were being curtailed, on a large scale, by the private sector. Activist government was required to intervene in order to protect the republican values whose program had formerly been restricted to limiting government…” Childs embellishes this basic statement somewhat, but the essential logic is the same.

    You follow a familiar pattern, Joe. Every time someone posts a rebuttal you don’t like, you accuse them of 1) an personal attack or 2) misstating what you said. You proposed the same basic argument I have heard from collectivists for years… business got big, business got bad, people got hurt, government saved them.

    Childs (who also skewers the conservative view of history) argues against your point in some detail. Government didn’t save the people, Joe. It entered into a long-term partnership with big business during the Civil War… an arrangement that has survived until today. Your beloved government has protected big businesses… at least when it wasn’t experimenting on civilians, interring Japanese-Americans, conducting witch hunts or invading small countries.

    If you want to lift some real intellectual weight, Joe, read the Childs’ article and come back with something more substantive than I can’t read what you have written on this thread.

  47. Coincidentally, in the other libertarian magazine I subscribe to, I just read this view of the costs and benefits of the ADA. Note: This was not written by a liberal in my head, but by a guy with one leg and three fingers.

  48. joe,

    Your idea of freedom inherently involves the advent of new rules, the violation of which results in being fined or going to jail. There’s pros and cons, I’ll grant you that, but expanding one person’s opportunity (maybe) by threatening to put someone else behind bars if they don’t provide that opportunity just ain’t what freedom is all about.

  49. Concerning the original topic:

    When I first became aware enough to care about politics, I was probably a moderate Democrat. I loved animals and conserving wildlife. I saw lots of problems that needed fixing, and the cost of fixing them was irrelevant. How can you think of costs in matters of right and wrong? And I knew (like everyone else I knew) that the Vietnam War was simply stupid and evil — especially as I approached draft age. I was no older than five when I tried to talk my dad into moving us to Canada so I wouldn’t have to go to war.

    But when I voted for the first time, I voted for Reagan and was basically a Cold Warrior Republican. I didn’t buy the “gov’t is not the solution’ gov’t is the problem” line, but I was worried about the Soviet Union. The Left’s “but the Russians are people just like us” equivalence struck me as nutty. Yes, but “the Russians” aren’t the problem, and “the Russians” don’t make the decisions over in the USSR.

    I gradually became more libertarian (thanks in part to running across REASON in the public [yes, the irony] library). I followed that (reluctanctly) to its logical conclusion, and am now an anarcho-capitalist.

    My dad is a slightly left-of-center moderate independent. He thinks I’m a right-winger. And he can’t understand it. “Knowing the way you were as a kid,” he said, “I was sure you’d grow up to be an extreme liberal.”

    I said, “I did.”

  50. Stevo Threadkiller said:
    “Concerning the original topic:”

    That certainly is a good way to kill a thread, but, naturally, it doesn’t work on me Stevo.

    We’ve arrived at about the same place, Stevo, by evolving our thoughts. May we all continue to evolve. That’s why we’re all here: We’re open to it and not afraid to.

    Now, to get back off thread:
    I grew up in the southern company town of a Dow 30 chemical company. About 80 miles away, my grandfather ran the company store of a phosphate mining company.
    I’m thinking joe took Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song, “Sixteen Tons,” a little too seriously, since my experience with company towns showed not much evidence of loss of freedom.

  51. Ruthless, my comments were about company towns in the 19th century. Conditions changed considerably in the subsequent century.

    So for those of you still clinging to the theory that freedom consists entirely of negative rights, consider the following.

    A gang of squatters occupies your land, and refuses to let you use it. No government involvement anywhere. Have they reduced your freedom? Hell, yes. Some agents of the government are summoned, and they use coercive force to remove the squatters. Is this government activism an expansion of freedom, or an intrusion into freedom?

    Freedom is not just a legal state, but a condition in which people live their lives.

  52. fyodor, is someone who cannot leave the house more free, less free, or just as free, as someone who is able to function in the outside world?

  53. “A gang of squatters occupies your land, and refuses to let you use it. No government involvement anywhere. Have they reduced your freedom? Hell, yes. Some agents of the government are summoned, and they use coercive force to remove the squatters. Is this government activism an expansion of freedom, or an intrusion into freedom?”

    Eh? The right to be secure in property is a negative right. The negative is ‘you can’t occupy my house unless I allow you to do so.’ The negative right to life is that neither the government nor my neighbor can act with the intention to take my life. A positive right to life is everyone owes me whatever I need to live at any given moment.

  54. “is someone who cannot leave the house more free, less free, or just as free, as someone who is able to function in the outside world?”

    We have insufficient information. If you can’t leave because armed men are keeping you in your house, you are less free. If you can’t leave because you have a physical disability, you have the same freedom but less power. I am not less free to run than Mike Vick because he runs much better than I can. I certainly don’t think that Mike needs to put cement shoes on so that my freedom is enhanced.

  55. joe,

    Freedom, like many words, implies many meanings.

    I am not free to flap my arms and fly, does that mean I am not free? I am not free to mug someone and take their money, does that mean I am not free?

    The concept of freedom of which libertarians speak is based on the concept of individual/personal sovereignty that covers one’s self and one’s property. This is not to be violated — unless one violates the same in others.

    Look at it from the opposite side. The force of law is hinged on the threat of the use of force, ie the curtailment of freedom, ie the infringement of personal sovereignty. It is because law infringes sovereignty to enforce its rules that some of us believe it should never be used except to enforce an infringement of sovereignty that has already taken place.

    You essentially espouse the concept of controlling some people in order to assist others be more “free.” And sure, to take an extreme example, if I could punch anyone I like without fear of retribution, I would be more free. To get slightly more realistic, if I could walk into any HR department and demand a job, I would be more free. But these freedoms imply a dominion over others, which makes those people less free. Expanding “freedom” by allowing some to control others is simply not the libertarian’s idea of a free society, for what I hope are clear reasons.

    At this point, you might protest that unless I’m an utter anarchist, I do advocate some social control of others, since I’m not against abolishing law and its enforcement altogether. But now we come back to what I said before. I’m for limiting this control over others to enforcing rules against controlling others. That’s the only thing that justifies it.

    Well, I suppose you’ve probably heard all this before. But there’s really no other way to answer your question without going into detail about what libertarianism is all about.

    Someone who cannot leave the house is not free to leave the house, by definition. But whether that person’s rights are being infringed depends on why he or she cannot leave the house. If it is because he or she is sick or handicapped, no rights are being violated. If squatters occupy my land against my will, then of course I have the right to drive them out, with assistance from the state if necessary. I wonder what your point is about that? In a certain existential sense we are never really free because there are always things we cannot do. I will concur that the point of libertarianism is not necessarily to somehow scientifically maximize freedom. That really cannot be done. It is to setup a legal framework in which official violation of rights is limited to punishing those who have violated the rights of others. Overall, this generally has the effect of maximizing freedom in the sense that the concept is most relevant. Forcing others under threat of violating their rights to help the person who cannot function outside the house is simply not an appropriate way to increase that person’s “freedom.”

    There’s an old saying, I didn’t have time to write a short bit so I wrote a long bit. Either way, I hope I have answered your question. 🙂

  56. joe,

    After reading Jason Ligon’s more succinct posts and thinking about it again, it occurs to me that if I were bed ridden, I would not say, “I am not free to get out of bed.” Rather I would say, “I am not able to get out of bed.” My freedom is curtailed in a certain sense, but once again, the word implies various meanings, and the more notable aspect of the situation is that it is my ability that is curtailed.

  57. “A gang of squatters occupies your land, and refuses to let you use it. No government involvement anywhere. Have they reduced your freedom? Hell, yes. Some agents of the government are summoned, and they use coercive force to remove the squatters. Is this government activism an expansion of freedom, or an intrusion into freedom?”

    Yeah, so. A gang of squatters buys off some politicians to get the government to sieze your property so that squatters can use it.
    What can you do?

    If it was jus the gang of squatters, you could have gotten your neighbors to help you eject the squatters, or maybe hire some muscle to get rid of them. But when the siezure is done through poitical action, you suddenly find yourself in the extreme minority, and even your neighbors can’t help you.
    Better yet, You are a Japanese American during WWII and the government comes along and takes you off to a concentration camp for a couple of years. Meanwhile your business has been destroyed and your property seized and sold off.

    It’s so nice to have the government there to protect us.

  58. One thing that is not too well known in the US is that the word “libertarian” in nineteenth century Europe referred to the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist wing of the revolutionary workers’ movmeent (as distinguished from the “authoritarian” Marxist wing). In France, when after some terrorist acts by anarchists, it became legally dangerous to call yourself an “anarchist” the word “libertarian” was used by anarchists as a euphemism. I still come across complaints on the Net by left-anarchists about how capitalist free-market types stole the word “libertarian.” So if we can get “progressive” (though I would prefer “social democratic”) to replace the modern use of liberal and restore liberal to its original sense, maybe we can also give “libertarian” back to the revolutionary left…

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