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LibertariansMost people are familiar to a large degree with the political concepts of "left" and "right". Many have heard the terms "Conservative", "Liberal", "Socialist", "Communist", "Democrat", "Worker's Party", and many other monikers that political parties use to adorn their headquarters. But when it comes to Libertarianism, the most common expression is: The What????

This typically prompts the utterer of such strange idiom into a long-winded explanation about what Libertarianism is and what isn't. Result? Blank stare. Confusion.

And so this hapless person tries again. Nothing works… until one of a handful of key words is used. Then, and only then, the other party in this conversion mutters Ah… Those! Indicating that the conversation is over because it is a bad idea and a gigantic waste of time to argue politics with fringe lunatics. General wisdom recommends not arguing with such people because bystanders may not notice the difference. The debate is over but the question remains. What was the key word that triggered such event? Is it really that bad?

Well… yes, it is.

Today we are going to take a quick look at political defamation through re-definition. It is semantics warfare of the tallest order.


Politics is simply the process of selling you a product. The difference is that defamation laws do not apply to political theories and so opponents can say whatever they want about the politics of the opposing party. They can not only say that such-and-such political theory does not work, but they can also say that that very same theory is crazy, stupid, idiotic, moronic, illogical, immoral and any other appellative they may find handy. This is so because there are no repercussions. As such, political parties with the cleverest marketing people and the biggest public relations budget get away with it and end up winning.

The side effect is that people end up remembering all those "war names", regardless of their truth content and this causes a big problem.

Once these names have been burned into people's minds, people react instinctively simply because our brains are pattern recognition systems. We are hardwired by evolution to go towards known things. We react instantaneously, in this case, for the worse.

For these reasons, it is important that you understand the different negative-appellatives (name calling) that political opponents have used against libertarianism; their "popular" meaning and their "true" meaning.

Armed with this information, you should be able to debunk fairly quickly any misconception, should you choose to do so.


Political name calling is inevitably linked with history and as such, we need to roam through political times to fully understand their meaning.

Liberals and Libertarians

First and foremost it is to be noted that the original name that Libertarians had was simply Liberals. Their political desire was simple: limited government and free markets. This name was simply taken over by socialists past WWII. Socialists simply emptied the word Liberalism and re-filled it with their political socialist principles. Voila! Instant name recognition (in politics this means that people will vote a position simply because they recognize the name, without looking at its principles). As such, true Liberals were forced to search for a different name and they came across Libertarianism, which they adopted. This name is still in use today.


A name that would have fitted quite well would have been Individualism. Unfortunately, this one was contaminated too. At the beginning of the 1900's socialists decimated this name by adding the adjective rugged to it. Of course, in and by itself rugged simply means rough or capable of withstanding abuse. However, when coupled with the word individualism it generates a different connotation "rugged individualism" sounds differently. In reality, it was simply a "sound bite" that socialists used to attach negative meaning to it. In essence, rugged individualism represented a kind of person with whom you wouldn't want to be associated with. It was the kind of person that would steal from the poor to fill their own pockets. It was the kind of person that would abuse the most vulnerable people for their own greed. Furthermore, it represented the kind of person that would always stay on the right side of the law, although barely; a true exploiter.

It is important to note that the term itself, rugged individualist, means nothing. It is the association of this name with negative stereotypes or connotations that does the damage. Hence, Libertarians cannot use the term Individualists because it automatically triggers all these negative recollections.

In reality, individualism simply means that the individual, not the state or the collective comes first. Individualism is the concept that freedom can only be implemented one person at the time. Furthermore, in order for one person to have freedom, said freedom must not be interfered by other person's freedom. Voila! Instant peace and prosperity through voluntary agreements.


This is a French expression which in essence means let do. It refers to the libertarian philosophy that government should not interfere neither in private affairs nor, more importantly, in economic affairs. Unfortunately at the time of its coining mercantilism was all the rage. This prompted a set of "vested interests" to find a way to contaminate and eliminate its political views. In the 1800's mercantilism was the way to get rich quick. It was quite simple; you exported anything and everything to everybody while at the same time you used the government to block any competition against your products. Presto! Instant artificial monopoly. Of course, it did not work for reasons that are too lengthy to get into, but it did allow for a cast of privilege people to become very rich. And so, what did opponents do? They attached the words selfish and materialistic to laissez-faire. Once they have done so, they proceeded to further explain why they were bad.

The concept of selfishness had its negative reputation further enhanced. Selfish people damaged the state and they were bad for society.

The term materialistic was also "improved". It meant that certain people would stop at nothing and consider nothing else to get material goods and services to enhance their wealth for the sake of wealth and nothing more. In other words, materialists were those people who only thought of physical wellbeing for themselves above everything else.

And so, the term laissez-faire was also contaminated and could not be used.

Reality, of course, is quite different.

Selfishness (or self-interest) is an innate human (and evolutionary) condition. We cannot stop being selfish or self-interested no matter how hard we try. It is hardwired in us as the means of survival. The problem is not to remove selfishness, but to allow natural processes to take place by simply avoiding tampering with them. In a free market, selfishness is indeed directed towards improving everybody's lives because the only way to increase one's wealth is through satisfying customers. We all become wealthier by providing what other people want. In a managed market, on the other hand, it is possible to use a shortcut to accumulate wealth. It is possible to get the government to grant you special privileges that will force people to buy your product (whether they want it or not) or to curtail your competition. It is the economic system that determines how selfishness will operate, not the characteristic itself.

Materialism is also an innate human condition. We are material beings and as such we need material (i.e. physical) goods and services. We sincerely doubt that any human being can survive for long on a strict diet of satisfied "spiritual" needs. It is ridiculous to think otherwise. Of course people wish to have material goods and services! That is not the point. Even the mercantilists who profited so handsomely did so by accumulating material goods and services. The point is that materialism leads to markets and again, markets can be used to improve everybody's wealth or just the wealth of a few selected people. It all depends of the economic system. Therefore, the term materialism in its correct understanding is not negative at all. It simply describes a human condition.

Free markets

This term was associated with laissez-faire and hence contaminated by simple proximity. According to socialists, the free market was bad or evil because its ultimate purpose was not the common good. Socialist political theory defines "good" as the increase of "common good" and therefore anything that increased individual good was "bad". The concept of what is good or bad does not originate in absolute moral or ethical terms, it originates in the definition of each political theory. The clever trick is, of course, to get everybody to believe them and this is precisely what they did. The good of the "common good" became "good" and the good of the "individual good" became "bad".

Therefore the concept of "free market" was also rendered unusable.

Reality is quite different. A free market is neutral. A free market does not take moral or ethical sides. All the free market does is to satisfy people's needs to the largest amount with maximum efficiency. A free market does not concern itself with abstract concepts such as "common good" that cannot even be quantified. A free market concerns itself with individual freedom of choice. At the most basic the free market operates under the assumption that we, as individuals, have the freedom or right to choose by ourselves what the best is for us. We have free will and is the exercise of this free will that make us who we are.


This is a philosophical doctrine whose name has fallen in disuse; however its negative connotations remain. Oftentimes Libertarians are called hedonists by other names. However, in essence, these names mean that they are simply seeking pure self-gratification.

The hedonistic philosophical theory states that humans seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore seeking pleasure is "good" while suffering pain is "bad". This philosophy was and still is pretty much opposed by all religions, which means that people have been predisposed against it, which means that it has severe negative connotations. As Libertarians seek the increase of individual wealth through selfishness, they are hedonists.

Reality, again, is quite different. It is true that hedonism seeks self-gratification but this definition is not enough. It so happens that self-gratification is a subjective term. What is pleasurable for one person is hateful for the next one. To solve this problem from a political philosophy point of view, it was declared that for a government to be hedonistically "good" it must provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

But this definition automatically implies that a minority will always be subjected to a minimum good, which is "bad" according to the philosophy.

Libertarianism, on the other hand, declares that each individual person has freedoms which the majority cannot limit or cancel. With Libertarianism, there is no such thing as a majority imposing a minimum good on anybody.


We have seen how semantics and rhetoric has been used to discredit Libertarianism to the point that even to this day these unfounded prejudices abound. The next time somebody throws one of those "bad words" at you, feel free to correct them, now that you have the tools to do so.

Or not. Your choice.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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