Rants and Raves

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

European Republicans, Liberals and Libertarians

I mentioned in my last post that in Europe, that if you call yourself a liberal, it is understood as something far closer to 'libertarian' or even 'conservative' in America.

In America you'd have to say 'classical liberal', since 'liberal' has come to mean something like 'moderate socialist'. (I remember an iconoclastic professor of political science who used to like to point out that Barry Goldwater was a 19th century liberal.)

When this trend started to become more obvious in the 50s (though G.K. Chesterton noticed it far earlier) a now almost forgotten intellectual Frank Chodorov made the suggestion that us old-fashioned liberals call ourselves 'libertarians'. Libertarians thus conceded the term liberal to the leftists.

Nowadays I have heard with my own two ears that some libertarians in various foundations and think tanks are avoiding the term because of the negative branding caused by the flakier (and noisier) "radical libertarians", mostly of the anarchist kind. Ironic because in parts of Europe, the term libertarian has always been close to anarchism.

So what is a conservative in Europe? Well, if a conservative is someone who wants to conserve what he thinks is best about the country and its traditional institutions, then a conservative in Europe has often been something like a royalist. Only in America does it carry the meaning of 'defender of traditional liberty'.

Thus in (say) England, a 'conservative' (or 'tory') is the oppposite of a republican.

Huh, how's that?

An English republican is a leftist who wants to abolish the monarachy and House of Lords and make the United Kingdom into the Republic of Great Britain. In Ireland, a republican was someone who wanted to sever all connection with the United Kingdom and establish a republic in Ireland (hence the Irish Republican Brotherhood and later Irish Republican Army).

If all this seems confusing, remember that up to the beginning of the 20th century libertarians also called themselves 'socialists'. The individualist anarchist writer Benjamin Tucker wrote an essay "State Socialism and Anarchism" wherein he talked about the "two socialisms", one authoritarian and one libertarian. One which wanted to lower heads that were too high, and one which wanted to raise heads which were too low.

All this confusion of terms brings to mind a dispute I had with a Marxist when I referred to the Nazis as "leftists". He was of course outraged and demanded to know how I could say such a thing?

Uh, give me a hint. Is it because they said so way back when?

Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party), sounds real right-wing huh? The Nazis were considered part of the non-Marxist Left, which also included types like Fourierite socialists (who weren't murderous, merely unbelievably flakey).

Clear? As mud you say.

Wait! I still haven't gotten into individualist anarchism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism...

Perhaps another time.


  • At 8:43 AM, Blogger Francis W. Porretto said…

    Probably the ugliest of all open secrets is the ideological unity between socialism and fascism. Mussolini understood it, as did Hitler. Indeed, one of Hitler's less publicized directives to his party was that former communists should be given preference for party membership, over all others.

    Good luck with your treatment of the varieties of anarchism; I've tackled it myself, and while it can be a lot of fun, it gets everyone thinking in terms of tall, mustachioed men in black capes and top hats, who carry little round bombs with fuses sprouting from the top.

  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I used to be an anarchist, but I've got a problem with them. They're just not radical enough for me.

  • At 4:28 AM, Blogger cowbot said…

    As an american ex-pat living in Germany, I am searching in vain for a party that supports "free minds, free markets".

    The entire continent has been conquered by statists, and so thoroughly that no political party exists to oppose them. Democracy itself is become manufactured consent (thanks for the phrase, Noam).

    Those of us who consistently oppose force and fraud, admittedly few in number, are completely marginalized.

    Ok I've just worked myself into a Jesus complex.

  • At 6:43 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Actually Chomsky took that phrase from Walter Lippman - who meant something he approved of by it.

    To borrow a comment myself, Chomsky is both good and original. Unfortunately, what's good in his work is not original and what's original is not good.


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