Why Should Libertarians Care about Terminology?
The first thing in any argument that must be done before any actual attempts to reason with another individual is a defining of terminology that is to be used in an argument — that’s basic debate tactics. How can anyone have a rational discussion with another person if the two or more sides are using the same terms, but are talking about completely different topics? The problem is that, especially in the weaker libertarian spheres, the types of people that are transitioning to or are marginally libertarian, defining terms seems to be forbidden.
If there is an attempt to develop a concrete definition of what a libertarian is, or what a libertarian believes, that person is often labeled a purist or exclusionary for limiting what is, or can be properly called, a libertarian. There’s the Emo Phillips joke about Christian sectarianism, just with Baptist replaced with libertarian, but it really doesn’t fit the situation. Take for example, if I, a devout Pastafarian minister, were to start calling myself a Jehovah’s Witness. In this example, I don’t change my beliefs, or the expression of them to others, who might inquire as to what they are, but I just call myself a Jehovah’s Witness, nonetheless. If someone asks me, “What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?” I could start going on about a beer volcano, a stripper factory, and a giant floating ball of spaghetti and meatballs, then if this person encounters another actual Jehovah’s Witness and they give a totally different account, that person will likely feel that the whole religion is inconsistent and dishonest. They might think I’m a liar, or that the second person is a liar, and denounce the whole kit and caboodle.
Can you imagine how frustrating the job of the second person must be? They’re trying to win converts to their chosen ideology with potential members coming in with an idea that is wildly different than what it really is. The same is true for libertarians that are trying to convince people to accept libertarianism. It’s easier to reach people who have no idea, but are curious, than those who have some idea, but the idea that they have is completely false.
Believe me, this is by design. Often the marginally libertarian, or transitional libertarians, are not quite sold on the whole scope of the ideology themselves, and they feel that any attempt to define it will kick them out, and make them go back to their previous ideology — usually conservatism — with their tails between their legs. The crisis this is causing is wider than a few people hanging onto the fringe of what it means to be a libertarian. News media is picking up on the growing segment of libertarians in society, and sprinkling the term in where it shouldn’t be. There will references to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and the Tea Party — none of which are actually libertarian, but have been labeled as such in an attempt to obfuscate what a libertarian actually is. Again, this is by design. All of these groups represent a dying segment of the U.S. political sphere, and the tying in of libertarians is an attempt to stymie the amazing growth of what was once, itself, considered a dying ideology.
So I’ll leave you with my definition of what a libertarian is, and I bet it’ll surprise a few in how broad it really is:
Libertarian; an individual that consistently opposes the initiation of force to achieve social or economic goals, ranging from classical liberals, to anarchists.
I feel I must add an update to this, as the rise of the Alt-Right has shifted the focus of the fauxbertarians away from traditional conservatives. But don’t be mistaken, the Alt-Right’s inroads into libertarianism were forged by the conservative obfuscation. We must care about the terminology or we will be forced to retreat yet again as the classical liberals were forced out of their term by the progressives. What good-will and recognition we have built will be squandered if we do not fight back. We don’t have to go out and punch nazi’s but we do have to be sticklers about reminding people that libertarian isn’t just a buzzword or a name of a party, it is an ideology that has a definition. If we are to survive this tumultuous period of political realignment, we have to shore up our defenses and be prepared for a future that isn’t so clear.
Originally posted on the now ended libertariangaming.org