Grokking the LP: Big L, little L, what the L?
What's the difference between "Libertarian", with a big L, and "libertarian", with a little L?
The word, "Libertarian", with a capital L, refers to a member of the Libertarian Party, and to the platform and policies of the Libertarian Party. The word, "libertarian", with a little L, refers to a philosophy concerned with maximizing individual freedom.
The Libertarian Party is just one part of a wider libertarian movement. Because of its name, the Libertarian Party may appear to be at the center of the libertarian world, but its not clear that it actually is. Just a small sampling of libertarian organizations that have no direct affiliation with the LP:
- Institute for Justice -- The public interest law firm that recently argued against eminent domain abuse in the Supreme Court
- Movimiento Libertario -- A libertarian political party that has done pretty well in Costa Rica
- AntiWar.com -- Well known for its hard-hitting criticism of the Iraq War
- Cato Institute -- An influential think tank, sometimes accused of being conservative because conservatives have occasionally listened to them
- The Free State Project -- A group of folks who are moving en masse to New Hampshire in the hopes of creating a relatively free place to live.
In a looser sense, liberals, anarchists, and even socialists can also be labeled "libertarian". All of these political philosophies have common roots and an intertwining history. Before the rise of socialism in the early 20th century, Americans used the word "liberal" to mean the same thing we generally mean by "libertarian" today. In other countries, the word, "liberal", still retains this original meaning. I'll write more about the common history of liberalism and libertarianism one of these days.
For this libertarian, the jury is out on whether the Libertarian Party is helping or hindering the greater libertarian movement. For years now, the LP has shown promise of becoming an effective and serious party, but regularly bogs down in in-fighting and other perennial problems.
I have a lot more to say on that subject in future posts. I still hold out hope that I can do my part to help the LP grow up. If the Libertarian Party never gets its act together, it's OK -- the bigger libertarian movement is doing just fine.