Liberal, Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism


American English has expropriated the word “liberal". It uses it to signify a mishmash in which “lifestyle" must be absolutely free, subject to no rules of common decency and traditionally agreed norms of good taste, while “economic“ freedoms are subject to mild contempt and irony (“free choice between two dozen flavours of ice cream") and subordinated at every turn to labour union privileges, eminent domain, public interest, “positive rights", equal access and the administrative regulation of markets. The “liberal"of English English is replaced by “conservative".

Before this linguistic occupation of their ancient terrain, some liberals started to call themselves “libertarian". This conjures up images of wild devauchery, emancipation from authority, might over right and much else that gives honest citizens goose-pimples. It is doing liberalism no good. Other liberals have opted for calling their creed “classical liberalism." This term is perhaps the worst of all. It is instinctively understood as the opposite of “modern".  It is outdated, fuddy-duddy, 19th century, nice enough and worthy in its own limited way, but not up to the “great challenges of contemporary society".

The point I am trying to make is that retreat and peaceful acquiescence in the colonising infiltration of alien notions does not pay. It does not pay at the level of language any more than at the level of judgments of value and the finding of facts.  The order of the day should be to resist and counter-attack.

Extracts from a speech introducing Liberale Vernunft, Soziale Verwirrung, 27 January 2009 in Zurich.