Libertarians vs Liberal

March 9, 2016 § 1 Comment

What’s a Libertarian? And is it different to being a Liberal?

I used the word Libertarian once, and someone thought I was referring to right-wing conservatives. But if Libertarian just means one who wants to protect liberty then how can that be exclusively attributed to either side of the political spectrum?

Some people might think protecting liberty means less intervention by government. Others might think protecting liberty requires government to step in and regulate banks, markets, welfare and so on so that everyone is equally empowered and has the same access to opportunities.

A while ago I came across a new variation of the term – a latte-sipping Libertarian. Rather than referring to right-wing conservatives, it refers to socially left-leaning intellectuals.

Which sounds very much like the wikipedia entry for ‘Liberal elite’:

…a pejorative term used to describe politically left-leaning people, whose education had traditionally opened the doors to affluence. It is commonly used with the implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the upper class, or upper middle class, and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect.

Personally I find it more useful to think of being liberal as a multi-dimensional concept. You can be liberal on several fronts – the degree of government control, the degree of social and political equality, and the degree of economic freedom.

Someone who is a liberal with regards to government control likes little government intervention. Government should be small, with most services privatised.

A liberal in terms of social and political equality means someone who wants equal social and political rights for people of different races, genders, sexual preferences and so on.

In terms of economic freedom, a liberal likes free market. This dimension might alternatively be conceptualised as a subset of government control.

A democratic socialist for example might be liberal in terms of social and political equality, but less so on government regulation and intervention, and perhaps also economic freedom.

A conservative might be liberal in terms of being anti-government and pro free markets, but not liberal with regards to social and political equality.

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