Short History Of The Word Libertarian
The term libertarian as meaning someone who advocates a capitalist free market only really originated in the 1970s with the birth and growth of the libertarian party in America. Before that the word libertarian was always seen as synonymous with left wing anarchism. People often point to thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and say ‘oh he was a libertarian’. John Stuart Mill would disagree with this as in ‘On Liberty’ he does not use the word libertarian once, he referred to liberty, he was a classical liberal rooted in enlightenment values, in the same way that Locke was a liberal not a libertarian. The word libertarian doesn’t really apply to him, not even as used by the libertarian party in America since he supported state intervention into the market when doing so stopped harm from occurring.
People often then point to William Belsham who they say was the first person to use the word libertarian. If anyone ever says this to you they don’t have any idea of what they’re talking about. He was using libertarian with regards to metaphysics, he was discussing free will VS determinism. I will now quote him directly “Or where is the difference between the Libertarian, who lays that the mind chuses the motive, and the Necessarian, who asserts, that the motive determines the mind, if the volition be the necessary result of all the previous circumstances?” He was using the word libertarian then not in a political sense, since it had yet to be used in it’s political sense when he was writing this essay, but rather he’s using it because it’s a derogatory term. He’s using it the sense of ‘libertine’, meaning someone who has no moral responsibility, and so making a derogatory insult to those who advocate free will. It’s an essay on free will VS determinism, not politics.
It was first used in it’s political sense by the anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque in a letter to Proudhon in 1857. To quote him directly “Flogger of woman and absolute serf of man, Proudhon Magnan, you use your words for a lash. Like a slave-driver you seem delighted to disrobe your beautiful victims (on paper) and flagellate them with invectives. Moderate anarchist, liberal, but not libertarian…” Déjacque went on to publish in New York a journal titled ‘Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social’ between 1858 and 1861. That was it’s first use in a political sense. It proceeded to be adopted by anarchists everywhere as a synonym for anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism and so forth. The reason for this is that at the time if you referred to yourself or your organisation as being anarchist you were likely to be imprisoned, have your organisation banned and wouldn’t be able to print pamphlets or books. So in order to escape the tyranny of law they started adopting the term libertarian. Hence why in Europe the term libertarian has always meant libertarian socialist or libertarian communist. It’s just a short hand and polite way of saying ‘I’m an anarchist’. In America it’s been perverted by the rise of propertarian philosophy in the form of the libertarian party. This has nothing to do with it’s historical roots and I think the original libertarians are turning in their graves seeing the way in which their word is being perverted and bastardised.
It’s therefore not an oxymoron to refer to oneself as a libertarian socialist or libertarian communist, that’s all libertarianism has ever been. Libertarians have always been and always will be opposed to free market capitalism because it is based on authoritarian relationships between the employer and the employee, which is something which violates liberty. Does this mean that all libertarians are opposed to free markets? No it does not since some people advocate non exploitative free markets, in particular mutualist and individualist anarchists. But there also exist non market forms of libertariansm, in particular the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin, Malatesta and Déjacque and the collectivism of Bakunin.
“The Libertarian Party was formed in Westminster, Colorado, in the home of David Nolan on December 11, 1971”
This wiki article points out that Mill was a liberal. He also advocate interventions into the market to enforce his harm principle e.g legislation that protects animals and in his later years went abit socialist by advocating co-ops. But on the whole he advocated laissez faire economic policies.
“Or where is the difference between the Libertarian, who lays that the mind chuses the motive, and the Necessarian, who asserts, that the motive determines the mind, if the volition be the necessary result of all the previous circumstances?”
This wiki article outlines libertarianism within the free vs determinism debate:
Joseph Déjacque letter to Proudhon:
“Flogger of woman and absolute serf of man, Proudhon Magnan, you use your words for a lash. Like a slave-driver you seem delighted to disrobe your beautiful victims (on paper) and flagellate them with invectives. Moderate anarchist, liberal, but not libertarian…”
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