I like clarity. I like to know what people are talking about, and what they mean when they use a word. Therefore I like definitions. Some might say that I am obsessive about them. But I have observed that the language of all the earth is confused, and even speakers of English have a difficult time understanding each other. And I don’t just refer to the confusion between those in the USA and those in the UK. Hence my efforts to define libertarianism.
The question that is exercising me at the moment is the relationship between libertarianism and classical liberalism. (This is because of a comment left on the last post by Mr. Phil Walker: “I'm not really libertarian, although I would define myself as classically liberal so I'm something of a political cousin.”) And since I find that pictures are often worth several hundred words, I found this picture useful.
What you will notice is that minarchist libertarianism is not marked on it. So clearly it is time to play “spot the ball”. (Do people still play it?) My guess is that minarchism is roughly where the words “Classical liberals” appear. Or possibly just above it, but below the line. After all, we minarchists differ from anarcho-capitalists in that we believe in do not believe in the elimination of the state, we merely believe in minimising it. (I am assuming that the horizontal line in the diagram is the dividing line between those who believe in eliminating the state and those who don’t.) But why doesn’t minarchism appear in the picture? Is it because the man who drew the diagram (Jesús Huerta de Soto) believed that minarchism was basically the same as classical liberalism?
So, is there a difference between minarchism and classical liberalism? And if so, what is it?
Raimondo Cubeddu of the Department of Political Science of the University of Pisa says
It is often difficult to distinguish between 'libertarianism' and 'classical liberalism'. Those two labels are used almost interchangeably by those we may call libertarians of a 'minarchist' persuasion—scholars who, following Locke and Nozick, believe a state is needed in order to achieve effective protection of property rights.However Walter Block (an anarcho-capitalist) says “Adam Smith should be seen as a moderate free enterpriser who appreciated markets but made many, many exceptions. He allowed government all over the place.” (For example, Adam Smith supported public roads, canals and bridges. However, he favoured that these goods should be paid proportionally to their consumption - e.g., putting a toll).
And Alan Ryan, professor of Political Science at Princeton University, argues that the claim from
...contemporary libertarians...that they are classical liberals...is not wholly true. There is at least one strain of libertarian thought represented by Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia that advocates the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes' such as prostitution, drug-taking and unorthodox sexual activities. There is nothing of that in John Locke or Adam Smith.Wikipedia says
While minarchists oppose all government intervention except for defense and dispute resolution, classical liberals make more exceptions and allow state intervention and provision of extraneous public goods such as public transportation and utilities. Therefore, we can claim that minarchism is not the same as classical liberalism because while classical liberals support additional macroeconomic intervention, minarchists only see preventing aggression as the role of the state.But it also says
However, arguments over the similarities are made difficult by the large number of factions in both classical liberalism and libertarianism. For example, minarchist libertarians are not necessarily in favour of complete economic deregulation in the first place and often support tax-funded provision of a select few public goods.Conclusions?
1) It seems to me that there is clear blue water between anarcho-capitalism and minarchist libertarianism. It also seems to me that minarchist libertarianism is actually much closer to classical liberalism, than to anarcho-capitalism. Minarchism and classical liberalism are so close, that they almost run into each other. But they are not quite the same. The basic difference is that classical liberalism allows state macroeconomic intervention and does not believe in the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes.'
2) It seems slightly curious that minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are often lumped together as libertarianism, when classical liberalism is excluded, considering that minarchism actually is much closer to classical liberalism - so close that some treat them as synonymous.
3) It also seems to me that the manifesto of the LPUK is actually somewhere between classical liberalism and minarchist libertarianism. It does allow macroeconomic intervention, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The result is that a lot of anarcho-capitalists will join the party enthusiastically, and then become rather disillusioned.