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Can Classical Liberals Take the Word Liberal Back From the Statists?

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liberalism definition then and now

The word liberal isn’t new, it’s been around for hundreds of years. In fact it was even used to describe the Founding Fathers. Liberal used to mean someone who believed in civil liberties and free markets, and didn’t believe in the monarchy. Those that did believe in kings were described as Conservatives because they wanted to keep societies and governments the way they were. Liberals wanted to change that and give freedom back to the people. Basically, a liberal then, is what a libertarian is today. We believe in those same civil liberties and free markets that liberals like Jefferson believed in.

But then the definition of liberal changed with the beginning of the Progressive movement in the early 1900’s. Those people believed they were liberals, because they wanted to change the system, so they took the word and redefined it to match their beliefs. They believed that liberal should mean someone that believes in big government as the one responsible for those civil liberties, and regulating the market. Then they changed government forever and granted it more power than ever before by creating the Federal Reserve System, and passing the 16th Amendment. Their definition of liberal is basically what libertarians now call statists.

Libertarians had to come up with that new word Statist because the Progressives use of the word liberal is so misleading. They only use it still because of the original associations it had with freedom. They don’t believe in any of the civil liberties or free markets that the original liberals believed in, and they don’t deserve to be called liberals. The Statists are proud of the tyrannical big government they’ve created, and wear the word liberal as a badge of honor. That’s even though so many Americans now consider it a dirty word because of that tyranny.

That distaste makes it increasingly unlikely that true liberals, classical liberals, will ever be able to take back the word liberal. The statists have given it such a bad reputation it’s probably not even worth it. While taking the word liberal back would probably never work, appending classical to the front of liberal could. Even though that still relies on the now tainted word.

That’s why most classical liberals now prefer the term Libertarian. It’s a relatively new word, but one that remains true to its original meaning.


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