Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Email Exchange: Walter Block vs. Chris Rossini on Use of the Word "Libertarian"

Following the post, It Is Time To Make A Stand on the Word "Libertarian"
written by Dr. Walter Block, Chris Rossini replied:

Hello Dr. Block,

Thank you for the fantastic points that you made. I have no disagreements with any of the reasons that you stated for defending the word "libertarian". I especially dislike what is happening to its meaning because of Murray Rothbard's attachment to it. My intellectual life rests on his shoulders.

The only slight disagreement that I have is that I believe we may be a bit further down the road than the word just being 'nibled' at. I think that the degradation is happening rather quickly, and not just by the statists.

First, and I hate to say this, but there are certain members of Congress who use the "libertarian" label, and who have helped quicken the degradation of its meaning.

Second, there are "libertarian" organizations like Cato and Reason who do damage to the word. Cato came out in favor of conscription recently! (See here).

Third, even major platforms like Bloomberg help to hollow the word out. Just this afternoon, I read a piece in Bloomberg by Megan McArdle, who at the very beginning describes herself as a libertarian. She then goes on to rationalize farm subsidies and food stamps. (See here). The same author also highly praises Ben Bernanke!! (See here).

So the word is being attacked from many angles...

While I'm not jumping ship on its use, I do wonder at what point will we have lost? When is it over? We obviously can't call ourselves "Liberals" anymore. A point in time arrived when that word was lost. At what point is libertarian finished?

I don't expect you to know the answer. None of us can, but I don't believe we've reached that point yet.

I'm still going to use the word libertarian...However, if (or when) the time does come that it is lost, I believe "non-interventionist" is a fine replacement. I think it'll be tough for the weeds that grow amongst us to wrap themselves around that word to squeeze the life out of it.

But we're not at that point yet.

Thank you Dr. Block for taking the time to discuss this issue.

Dr. Block emails me (my bold-RW):
Chris’ letter needs all the publicity it can possibly get. I urge you to run it on EPJ if he agrees. We ought to do this systematically, if that is still possible, given the sheer volume of their traitorous behavior: get a list of all their deviations from the non aggression principle.

I’m really shocked at Cato. Imagine that, the draft. As I live and breathe! Is NOTHING sacred? I guess not.

I stand corrected by you. “Nibbled” was a very poor choice of words on my part. I knew that the beltway “libertarians” were weak on theory, but I didn’t realize how appalling it really is. Thanks for opening my eyes as to this evil.

However, I think the case for continued use by us, the good (Rothbardian) guys is still very strong. Perhaps we should adopt the use of LINO for them, libertarians in name only, modeled after RINO, Rupublicans in name only. Your horror stories only make me want to fight even harder against the beltway, Cato, McCardle, etc, LINOs. Mises had a great quote, something to the effect of “Don’t give in to evil, but fight even the harder against it.” Well, the LINOs are pretty despicable. Lookit, if they want to support statism, fine by me. But to besmirch the honorable name “libertarian” really reserves you a low rung at a place somewhere not so nice.

These LINOs will soon enough appropriate for themselves “non interventionist” if we switch to that appellation from “libertarian” and then we’ll have the same intellectual fight all over again. Why not fight them here and now? Hey, I’ve just had a great idea if I say so myself. I’ve got a name, such that if we switch to it, or even just adopt it additionally to libertarian, they will never in a million years try to steal it from us: Rothbardians! Ha. LINO statists, put that in your pipe and smoke it! Double ha ha.


  1. Walter, another option might be to say, "I'm a 'laissez-fairy.'" (Not misspelled)

  2. This discussion is all well and good (The Cato article defending conscription made my blood boil) but alas, there is a big problem with this topic. In the early 90's I subscribed to a very lively little newsletter called The Rothbard-Rockwell Report. Naturally one of it's principle writers was "Mr. Libertarian" himself, Murray Rothbard. Interestingly, he spent a good deal of time eschewing the term "libertarian" and repeatedly referred to himself as a "Paleo-Conservative" or a "Robert Taft Conservative".

    So, it seems like Murray himself long ago rejected the label out of disgust with The Cato Institute and the utterly feckless Libertarian Party. Despite Murray's intellectual perambulations I still call myself a libertarian for lack of a better term. The term "Non-Interventionist" just doesn't have the right sound, and it's better to label one's beliefs with a positive term rather than by reference to that which you oppose.

  3. How about for these pseudo "libertarians," we call 'em wolves in sheep's clothing (or maybe WISCs and pronounce it "wisks")?

  4. De Coster has been calling herself "Rothbardian" for years. I use it too sometimes. Pretty good. Says it all for me.

  5. I've often termed myself a "libertarian of the Rothbard tradition."

  6. Here is a solution that I came up with some years ago:

    Real Fascist Bastards

  7. "Third, even major platforms like Bloomberg help to hollow the word out. Just this afternoon, I read a piece in Bloomberg by Megan McArdle, who at the very beginning describes herself as a libertarian. She then goes on to rationalize farm subsidies and food stamps. (See here). The same author also highly praises Ben Bernanke!! (See here).

    So the word is being attacked from many angles..."

    I think you are wrong to call that an attack. Rather very suddenly libertarianism is in vogue, so non libertarians are just trying to sound cool.

  8. For what it's worth, I find that labels often interfere with the open exchange of ideas. Therefore, I rarely use them at all. I've had many, many discussions/debates/arguments with people from the "libertarian" perspective, but almost never need to utter that word. I focus on the ideas of natural rights and/or non-aggression and it seems to allow for much more fruitful discourse.