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Friday, November 7, 2008

Libertarians vs classical liberals

One more note about ideological labels and then I may give that subject a rest for a while. Here's Todd Seavey:
[Will] Wilkinson also sounded a sympathetic note about the idea of a social safety net, saying he sometimes feels ideologically "lonely" when he tells friends that he likes the positions of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman—including their sympathy for policies such as a guaranteed minimum income. Wilkinson's friends on the left denounce him as "a market fundamentalist," but the libertarians can be almost as negative: "They tell me I'm not a libertarian at all."
Brown University political science professor John Tomasi offered a plan for bringing together such feuding factions. Theatrically arranging three cups in front of himself on the podium, Tomasi encouraged libertarians (and liberals) to drink three metaphorical cups of potentially strange-tasting philosophical ideas: (1) Accept that there is a real distinction between classical liberals (who share a somewhat flexible bundle of ideas such as democracy, constitutionalism, and individual rights) and libertarians, adherents of a strict version of property rights that "not many people believe;" (2) accept that some version of "social justice" will seem intuitively appealing to most political thinkers and must be part of our agenda; and (3) recognize that once 1 and 2 are accepted, a friendly empirical conversation about economic policies can proceed.
It seems to me that "libertarian" as defined above ought to be called something like "absolutist propertarian" and ought to exclude not just Hayek and Friedman but anyone who's inadvertently breathed on someone else without a signed contract. But be that as it may, if any such "strict version" becomes the broadly accepted meaning, count me out. And while I've never much liked the term "classical liberal" (it seems a little nostalgic and musty), the "somewhat flexible bundle of ideas" described above is something I would sign onto rather readily.

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