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Giving up on good ideological words

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04/07/2010

Concerning Walter’s article today, there is never an end to the argument over words and their meanings in ideological and political discourse. Whenever any word has come to a point of eliciting positive feelings in common use, it is bound to be appropriated, usually in some incomplete or distorted way, by those who want to appeal to its supporters. As was once true of liberalism, it has become true of libertarianism. As it was true of free enterprise, it has also become true of capitalism. To the degree that ideas regarding economic or political freedom gain traction, to that degree will the words and phrases that best describe those concepts be taken over and used by others. This continual process of expropriation cannot be stopped, and it is, in my opinion, absolutely futile to give up the use of adequate words. At my first FEE seminar 40 years ago, it was carefully explained that we were neither conservatives nor libertarians. When I asked what exactly we were, Leonard Read replied that we were all believers in the “freedom philosophy.’ Later that day, Hans Sennholz, in answer to the same question, replied that we were all “advocates of the private-property order.” While deeply affected by what I learned from FEE in 1970, I never had much use for the euphemisms coined in Leonard’s effort to avoid using “libertarian,” which he had once loved, because he was convinced it had been appropriated by ‘anarchists.” His refusal to employ a very useful term for someone who makes liberty a paramount priority achieved nothing. I recommend not giving up on good words, else we lose them all.

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