What's a l(L)ibertarian?

Big ‘L,’ small ‘l,’ sex drugs and rock ‘n roll, anti-regulatory, pro absolute free speech, anti-copyright abuse, Randian, States’ Rights, Cuyahoga burning? Pro 2A, roll coal driver, anti-surveillance, socialist-libertarian? What’s it mean we when use that word?


Pot smoking big money shill, anti social justice. Not an ‘l’ libertarian.


A favorite definition of mine of the currently renowned sort:


That is definitely big L. Can’t we still use the word for us small l types?


Um, in writing, maybe? Seems to me that in the U.S. context at least, saying “libertarian” while meaning anything other than that big L type, without some extra explaining, will mostly lead to confusion.


I still encounter it meant both ways out in the wild. Spurred by another conversation I wondered what elements of libertarianism folks around here identify with?

I think of it as meaning generally “anti-authoritarian”, but that covers a political/social/ideological landscape which is very broad.


This just in…

Stopped watch, etc.


Of course the Never Trumpers went dark. They’re just as bad as Trump, if not worse. They don’t oppose him, certainly not on any ideological level. They just acknowledge that he’s a wild card and that they can’t control him.

Principled libertarians (note: I used the small-l) should be pissed right about now. Trump is the antithesis of principled small-l libertarianism.


Ugh, I don’t like libertarianism.

As for as what people mean when they say it, one Libertarian candidate for governor of a state was in favour of bringing back alcohol prohibition (source: my libertarian family member who thought this was absurd - fact check that!). Apocryphal or not “libertarian” basically means so many different things to so many different people it’s almost meaningless.

Which shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Libertarianism is essentially a political philosophy that elevates the value of freedom considerably higher than other political philosophies (I think I can say that pretty uncontroversially). But what does “freedom” mean? You could be a radical, “Even if shackled to a wall I would still be free to choose how I act in that life” person or “Freedom means no one ever tells me I’m wrong” person or anything between. I was watching Netflix’s “Dirk Gently” series last night and an exchange went like this:

“I’m so glad you decided to come with me.”
“Uh… you said you’d kill me if I didn’t.”
“Yeah, but I’m glad you chose coming with me over death. That was nice.”

Insofar as Ken was free, libertarianism might mean nothing at all.

I think what’s wrong with “L” Libertarianism is that it tends to be a bunch of reasonably well-off white dudes talking about the kinds of things that threaten the freedom of reasonably well-off white dudes. So there is concern about not being able to drive the kind of car you want because it doesn’t meet environmental regulations, concern about not being able to say what you want on twitter, and concern about literal (if inexplicable) jack-booted thugs turning the country into an overt authoritarian state that targets white men for oppression.

But to me the whole concept of needed to amplify the value we put of freedom is messed up. We already live in a model which puts a lot of primacy on individual freedom: you can do whatever you want unless there is a law saying you can’t; the government can’t do anything unless there is a law saying it can; we all agree there ought to be a good reason before you pass a new law.

So the obvious problem is that last one. Sure, we ought not pass laws unless there is a good reason, but we’re not in agreement about what constitutes a good reason. I don’t see how more emphasis on freedom is going to clarify that. Does a law against murder increase or decrease freedom? It’s a very open, philosophical question that could leave us talking in circles indefinitely. Instead we have that law because we think it makes fewer people get killed and we don’t think we are losing much of anything to achieve that.

Name me a law where a freedom-based analysis is going to help us figure out if it’s a good idea. I just don’t see it.

That’s my biggest complaint because I’m basically a vacuous philosopher, but I might also point to arguments like: 1) adults understand that freedom always comes with responsibility and we need to acknowledge responsibility as much as freedom; 2a) some libertarian’s are sort of pie-in-the-sky thinkers who say that more freedom will mean more food on the table but there’s just no reason to think this is true; 2b) other libertarians simply say that freedom is more important that food on the table and they are just dumb-as-all-hell.


I agree with @popobawa4u, that libertarianism is, broadly speaking, anti-authoritarianism, but the definition covers a lot of ground, and with @Humbabella, that the term’s rapidly approaching meaninglessness due to people abusing it.

I’m libertarian in the sense that I think the government’s job should strictly defined and limited, rather than the current model of “anything goes if you are rich enough, or the people you want to oppress are unpopular enough, and constitutions make good toilet paper”.

I am anti-libertarian in the sense that I don’t think people should be able to plunder and destroy natural commons like air, water and culture for private profit.


I’m reminded of “every new law creates more outlaws.” (attributed to Moondog)

R. U. Sirius proposed repealing two laws for every new one.


Was he serious?


Oh good lord. Having been a bureaucrat in a government that implemented such a policy, please don’t.


Well, this is the thing. Most people who say they are libertarian end up coming down the position that, “We shouldn’t have much government except for police and military.” Libertarians still want there to be prisons to lock up criminals. (A Jim Jeffries joke was, “You guys talk about ‘freedom’ a lot, but you’ve got the highest incarceration rate in the world. So statistically you are actually the least free country.”) Or, in other words, the only parts of the government we should keep are the parts that deny liberty to people you don’t agree with, not any of the parts that enable liberty.

If “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose” is so obvious, why isn’t “Your freedom to dump waste ends at my clean water supply” equally obvious?

If we wanted to have the most free society of all time, I think probably the most important policy we could implement would be mindfulness and meditation training in elementary schools. Let’s raise a generation of kids who are great at acting on their values even when they are feeling impulsive because of strong emotions; that’s freedom!


As I figure out what I like about the places I go, and what I don’t enjoy about some other places I go, I have realized I am no kind of libertarian. Sure, we may agree on some things, but either way there is too much emphasis on personal freedom and exceptionalism and too little emphasis on interpersonal responsibility and community with either spelling of the word.


privatize gain, socialize risk, repeat.


It means that someone is really good at organising books and knows things like Dewey and stuff.

I’ll show myself out. :slight_smile:


Nodding in agreement. The day I realized that I could sum up all of my agreements with libertarianism with my, “We shouldn’t pass laws unless there is a good reason to pass them” line (e.g. “Free Speech is good” = “Well, is there some good reason to pass a law that says you can’t say ‘X’?” [with the usual answer being, “obviously not”]), I realized that I was absolutely, in no way libertarian.


Most of the libertarians I know would be happy with no police at all, and are opposed to the standing army. I don’t think we in the USA are culturally advanced enough to get along without police, but it’s a valid goal.

See, my libertarian friends would say there is nothing else to libertarianism, and they’d welcome you as a true believer.