I started to write this post almost three weeks ago. At first, I was going to fisk a socialist who came here pretending to be a libertarian. Then after hearing a segment of Friday night’s Free Talk Live, I was going to explain how the socialists were infiltrating the Libertarian Party in order to neuter it.
Finally, tonight, I realized something much more insidious than even that was happening.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,” it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
So now I’m going to do something a bit different. But first, what do these words mean? If we all agree on the meanings of words, then communication is possible. If not, then we spend our time talking past each other, wasting our time at best, and at worst engaging in bloody protracted wars over a simple misunderstanding.
So I’m going to try to explain all this using very simple words for which all agree on the meanings. Find out after the jump if I succeed or fail.
First, my political philosophy, what there is of it, is simple: All freedom, all the time. Oh, crap, I just used a word on which people can’t agree on the meaning. In fact, they’ve used adjectives to describe the differences in meaning: negative liberty and positive liberty. (How they got those misleading adjectives is another post altogether.) Put simply, negative liberty is the liberty on which the foundation of this country rests: the freedom from interference in one’s personal affairs by any other person. And positive liberty is something for which not even Wikipedia can provide a coherent definition.
These are related to the concepts of negative and positive rights. The negative right is the right to be left alone, while the positive right is the so-called right to have something provided to you, even if at the expense of other people. One can easily see how an asserted positive right infringes on the negative liberty and negative rights of people who just want to be left alone.
So, back to freedom. My definition is this: Freedom consists solely of negative liberty and negative rights as (almost certainly poorly) defined above. There is no such thing as a positive right, as any such thing would involve the partial or complete control of others to provide the positive right. This concept I call slavery, for that is what it is: one person forcing another to do his bidding.
Let me be perfectly clear: He who would claim a positive right would make slaves of those on whom he makes the claim. Do you see now the misappropriation of the terms “positive” and “negative”?
You may have one pet issue for which you want to keep a government around. You may even argue that we need a government for your pet issue. It could be protection from foreign invaders or terrorists. It could be to enforce contracts. Or it could be, as in the case of the socialist under discussion, for the welfare of the poor.
This particular socialist argues that he’s a libertarian, and wants the Libertarian Party to adopt his ideas. But as it turns out, there are two classes of definitions for libertarian in wide use today. The first definition is very close to the one I have already described: the right to be left alone. Until recently, this was the definition used by the LP. It certainly was the one in mind when the LP was founded. The other definition is what puzzled me about people calling themselves libertarians in other countries. For whenever I read about so-called libertarians in Canada, Europe or elsewhere, it seemed that they were espousing socialist ideas, not libertarian ideas.
Thomas Knapp comes close to clearing up my neoconfusionism by explaining the history of the word:
- The word “libertarian” was apparently first used to denote the debate between advocates of free will and advocates of predestination in Christian doctrine.
- Following that, it was used to denote anarchist variants of communism and socialism, as opposed to statist variants (the split in the First International was between the libertarians and the Marxists).
- For about a century, “libertarian” was a term that almost exclusively denoted a Leftist orientation — although not a statist Leftist orientation.
And apparently throughout the rest of the world, the term libertarian is used to refer to what we might call anarcho-communism. I hope I don’t need to tell you that anarcho-communism is as workable as turning lead into gold, and attempts to bring it about will not result in anarcho-communism, but can only result in the other kind of communism. Those who say otherwise are dangling a unicorn in front of your face.
Hopefully I’ve made my words mean what I want them to mean. Words can be used to inform. They can also be used to mislead. I have tried to do the former, by showing how others have been doing the latter. This post is getting too long, so I’ll have much more to say on the dangers of socialism later, including a full explanation of exactly how anti-social it really is. And I have a cookie for whoever figures out the meaning of the picture.