Diagnostic questions to ask a an ancap/libertarian, before starting a discussion

  • are you an anarchist or minarchist?
    • (may be equivalent to above) can voluntary taxation work? if so, under what circumstances?
  • did slaveowners own their slaves? (gets to whether property is a natural right or a social/political phenomenon)

Are libertarians the successors of the classical liberals?

No, because there is no fundamental difference between "classical" liberalism and modern liberalism

When I talk about my recent book The Future of Liberalism, and especially when I talk to more conservative audiences, I’m frequently asked which liberalism I favor: “classical liberalism” with its preference for the market and its belief in individual freedom, or “modern liberalism” and its reliance on the state and commitment to equality. One thing I know is this tendency to see two different kinds of liberalism is wrong.

It’s true that Adam Smith argued in favor of the market, just as John Maynard Keynes made the case for state intervention. But liberalism, as I define it, means as many people as possible should have as much say as feasible over the direction their lives will take.

Autonomy and equality are goals that transcend the classical/modern divide.

In the 18th century, legacies of feudalism and the rules of mercantilism created a situation in which free markets could both allow people greater control over their lives and at the same time spread that capacity to others. Smith, although claimed today by libertarians, was a liberal, indeed one of the great liberal thinkers, not because he made such a lasting contribution to economic theory but because he developed a moral philosophy respecting both freedom and equality.

Under conditions of contemporary capitalism, by contrast, individual autonomy is threatened by poverty, economic instability, and concentrated corporate power. Using government to control economic fluctuations, as Keynes argued, gave society the capacity both to improve the ability of any one person to become more autonomous as well as to extend the same notion more broadly. Keynes, a member of the British Liberal Party, was never a socialist. He, like Smith, was a liberal because he too respected both freedom and equality.
Autonomy and equality are goals that transcend the classical/modern divide.

But autonomy as well as equality is always constituted in a social context. Liberalism is as much a philosophy of how society ought to be organized as it is a defense of individual autonomy. Indeed one of the tasks in which so many liberal thinkers engaged was to defend and protect the idea of society against its rivals. For Immanuel Kant, this meant defending society against a Rousseauian preference for “nature.” For Thomas Jefferson it meant protecting the capacity for self-government against those who argued that law was God’s province, not that of human beings. Liberalism emerged as a theory of human purpose. We have the power to shape our lives according to purposes we fashion together with others.
- Alan Wolfe - One Liberalism - Contexts

there was a tradition of enlightenment thinkers that was profoundly elitist and interested in finding ideological justifications for the new class of propertied people. Even while Smith was critical of poverty and elitism and defended limited laissez-faire because he saw the State as an instrument of the rich, men like Malthus argued poverty and hierarchy were natural and defended full on laissez-faire because he didn't want the State aiding the poor. Even when Sismondi was critical of economic crisis, J.B Say was trying to prove they were not to blame on capitalism. Even while Rousseau was a defender of democracy, men like Bastiat were against it, Tocqueville had some qualms with it, and even a man as ahead of his time as J.S Mill wasn't quite on-board with universal suffrage (despite supporting votes for women he did not believe the "uneducated" poor should have as much say as the educated). Herbert Spencer was a late 19th century "liberal" who in old age became the father of social darwinism and was the biggest intellectual influence of Murray Rothbard (besides Mises, of course).
The thing is that as history progressed, the "radical" and progressive ideas proposed by classical-liberals were taken up by other movements (socialism, radical republicanism, feminism, abolitionism, progressivism, etc), and everything that was left to self-identified European "liberals" was the elitist side and it's laissez-faire. By the 20th century, "liberalism" outside the US had become a profoundly elitist and conservative tradition, associated to the likes of Mises. Modern neoliberalism (which includes american-libertarians and conservatives) is a continuation of the 20th century elitist liberalism, and not of the 19th and 18th century diverse enlightenment liberalism. The only country where this didn't happen like that was the US: Rather than become elitist conservatives, american self-styled 'liberalism' changed into progressivism and keynesianism, and when the elitist laissez-faire tradition was revived by Ayn Rand, Friedman and Hayek they had to appropriate another name (namely, "libertarian").
So when right-libertarians and neoliberals claim they are the continuation of classical-liberalism, they aren't that wrong - they are the continuation of what is left of classical-liberalism once you removed everything that was good about it.

Everyday (non-ideological, pre-reflective, folk) libertarianism

Pretax incomes are presumed just, the authors posit, for the same reason slavery was once the law of the land: pervasiveness makes legal inventions appear to be natural law.
- David Cay Johnston, "You Can't Take It With You"

Varieties of libertarian ideology

Misc and to-do

A four-letter word beginning with “f” has tragically corrupted the minds of countless innocent Americans. I mean “free,” in the expressions “free market” and “free enterprise.” It is a glorious word, of course, but its association with these morally neutral abstractions generally serves to obscure their often harsh and irrational consequences. In our day, these two catch phrases, illicitly trading on the prestige of “free,” are the first resort of scoundrels.
- <i>The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It</i> by Charles Lindblom. Yale Univ. Press, 296 pp., $26.00. - GeorgeScialabba.Net


Recommended by me

Nothing here yet

These look promising

  • Tomasi: Free Market Fairness: skimmed, looks really good (as in: I don't agree, but good arguments to engage with)
    • pages I found good stuff on, but am too lazy to notate, and which might be good places to start: 169, 211
  • Friedman, Milton: Capitalism and Freedom (recommended by Michael Goodwin: "a defense of economic freedom as a precondition for political freedom")
  • Hayek, Friedrich: The Road to Serfdom (recommended by Michael Goodwin: "Hayek's wide-ranging writings are a pleasure to read. As happened with Adam Smith, however, free-market apologists have oversimplified his ideas to the point of parody.")


What links here?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License