Saturday, March 20, 2010

Libertarians Against Capitalism

Sheldon Richman founds a new Facebook group:

We are a group of libertarians who understand that historically the word "capitalism" has meant, not the free market, but crony capitalism -- that is, collusion between business and State at the expense of consumers/workers. Thus we refuse to use the word "capitalism" to describe what we favor: individual liberty in all respects and free, competitive markets. We believe that what we have today IS capitalism -- and we oppose it.

Libertarians Against Capitalism

Walter Block disagrees with the rejection of the word capitalism: might infer that I am as good a candidate as any other libertarian to join Libertarians Against Capitalism. Not so, not so. My main reason is not etymological but rather linguistic. I readily admit that "capitalism" has a bad press, and its historical use is none too salutary either. But, the enemies of libertarianism are always trying to take words away from us. They have already long ago stolen "liberal." We must now call ourselves "classical liberals" if we want to use that appellation at all.

Every word we use to describe ourselves is precious. We must keep them all, jettison none of them. And this includes (classical) liberals, free enterprisers, libertarians, Austro-libertarians, anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, laissez faire capitalists, and, yes, plain old unadorned "capitalists." Ayn Rand, bless her heart, never failed to rally to the banner of capitalism. I do not of course agree with everything she ever wrote, but on this matter I am very grateful to her. There were few wordsmiths in our movement better acquainted with the importance of language.

And Sheldon Richman responds:

Whoa! Block needs to read some history. If anything, we took it from them (to make up for the loss of liberal) ! Libertarian was used by left-wing Spanish anarchists during the 1930s civil war; they were no friends of private property and free trade. Going back further, the word was used by anarcho-socialists after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 because the word anarchist could land them in a heap of trouble. I doubt Block would regard those libertarians as comrades. The French word Libertaire appears to be the origin of our word libertarian, and it seems to have had nothing to do with what Block wants to call capitalism. Quite the opposite.

The word [capitalism] was tainted from the start -- free-market radicals uses it disparagingly -- and it has never lost its taint, despite the efforts of Mises and Rand. It creates confusion not clarity. We have perfectly good words for what we want: the free market and laissez faire, voluntarism and market anarchism.

We don't need the poisonous word capitalism.

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