Saturday, April 17, 2010

Widerquist's encyclopedia description of libertarianism.

Recently, one corespondent suggested that I define libertarianism. I pointed out that it wasn't my job, that there are tons of people who are professional libertarians who could do it, and have done so.

But I've been rather dissatisfied with the definitions I've seen: usually they are written by people who have drunk the cool-ade so long that they're unaware of their own biases. And usually they focus on only a small part of the libertarian spectrum.

I stumbled upon Karl Widerquist's encyclopedia description of libertarianism, and was very pleased with its thorough and evenhanded descriptions of left, right, and socialist libertarianism.

I've added this one to the So You Want To Discuss Libertarianism.... index at my site.


classicliberal2 said...

The problem with Wilderquist is what he, himself, notes: He isn't describing a tradition; he's describing totally different traditions with totally different roots, and no meaningful common ancestry, except he's using the word "libertarian" to describe them. It's a lot less bother (and a lot more accurate) to simply point out that the "libertarians" of the right aren't libertarians at all, and are simply misusing the word.

Mike Huben said...

He is NOT using the word to describe them: they use the word to describe themselves. He distinguishes each of the three with a different name, and describes them separately. He addresses the questions of what is in common between them besides the name (roots in liberalism and not much else) and where they most clearly disagree.

Frankly, this is the most conscientious definition I've yet seen.

So the problem is not with Wilderquist himself, but rather with the Orwellian right libertarian practice of usurping the language for their own purposes rather than coining new terminology.

Adi said...

That looks as a largely OK overview of the various groups that can be called 'libertarian'. Although I would say most people who do refer to themselves as libertarian are right-libertarian, not a small number of which are anarcho-libertarians. That is to say, anarchism is not a fringe of the market-friendly libertarians.

As for left/socialist libertarians, they tend to refer to themselves as either liberals or plain 'anarchists'.

The designation 'liberal' has morphed from the classical small-state liberals to modern socialist-friendly US liberals, or the corporatist-friendly European varieties.

It does not help, of course, that certain words have a loaded meaning (capitalism, anarchism). Capitalism is often conflated with corporatism or state corporate welfarism. Also, anarchism has become to mean nihilist or terrorist, but in part due to the early 20th century anarcho-syndicalist terrorists.

So some some contextual gardening should be made before introducing these ideas to new audiences.

As for me, I prefer the terms: market-anarchist (instead of anarcho-capitalist), 'minarchist' or 'small-government liberal' for the rest of the right-libertarians.