Defining Classical Liberals

Labels are useful. They indicate the content of objects which could be anything — from cans and bottles to people and institutions.

But labels can also be confusing if they are not properly defined before they are used. I think it is always prudent to define labels before using them. I agree with Confucius that definitions matter above all else. Confucius say[2]:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

I identify as a classical liberal, aka an Old World liberal. I believe in individual freedom, and equality of all persons.  So what exactly is a old world (or classical) liberal? Part of my ideology is described by Murray Rothbard thusly:

The object of the classical liberals was to bring about individual liberty in all of its interrelated aspects. In the economy, taxes were to be drastically reduced, controls and regulations eliminated, and human energy, enterprise, and markets set free to create and produce in exchanges that would benefit everyone and the mass of consumers. Entrepreneurs were to be free at last to compete, to develop, to create. The shackles of control were to be lifted from land, labor, and capital alike. Personal freedom and civil liberty were to be guaranteed against the depredations and tyranny of the king or his minions. Religion, the source of bloody wars for centuries when sects were battling for control of the State, was to be set free from State imposition or interference, so that all religions—or nonreligions—could coexist in peace. Peace, too, was the foreign policy credo of the new classical liberals; the age-old regime of imperial and State aggrandizement for power and pelf was to be replaced by a foreign policy of peace and free trade with all nations. And since war was seen as engendered by standing armies and navies, by military power always seeking expansion, these military establishments were to be replaced by voluntary local militia, by citizen-civilians who would only wish to fight in defense of their own particular homes and neighborhoods.

Thus, the well-known theme of “separation of Church and State” was but one of many interrelated motifs that could be summed up as “separation of the economy from the State,” “separation of speech and press from the State,” “separation of land from the State,” “separation of war and military affairs from the State,” indeed, the separation of the State from virtually everything.

The State, in short, was to be kept extremely small, with a very low, nearly negligible budget.

Of all the labels that can be justifiably attached to me, I enjoy “old world classical liberal” the most. It goes to the root my being, something that I was born as. It’s something that cannot be learned. You’re either born a liberal or you’re not. It’s your intellectual DNA, hard-coded in your brain. How one perceives the world is only partially culturally determined; the major part is nature, not nurture.


This post was motivated by a tweet by @copyleft (click  on  image below for  the original.)


[1] Rothbard’s book For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (1973).(Click on the image at the top of the post to download a free pdf of the book.) The excerpt is from the first chapter titled, “The Libertarian Heritage: The American Revolution and Classical Liberalism.”

[2] That bit of advice is from the “Rectification of Names” by Confucius. Note that I wrote “Confucius say” instead of “Confucius says” because he is being referred to in the plural out of respect for his wisdom.


Author: Atanu Dey


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