Liberty, Liberal, Libertarian

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

Liber: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Liber (“the free one”), also known as Liber Pater (“the free Father”) was a god of viticulture and wine, fertility and freedom. He was a patron deity of Rome’s plebeians and was part of their Aventine Triad. His festival of Liberalia (March 17) became associated with free speech and the rights attached to coming of age. His cult and functions were increasingly associated with Bacchus and his Greek equivalent Dionysus, whose mythologies he came to share.”

Lib·er·ty: [lib-er-tee] noun, plural lib·er·ties. 1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.   3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice. 4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.5. permission granted to a sailor, especially in the navy, to go ashore. (from

With the ongoing discussions, cum arguments, that have flowed back and forth for years on our various threads between our Libertarian, Rand influenced commenters and people of other perspectives, I’d like to explore the similarities and differences that distinguish those three title words all obviously flowing from the same Latin Root. As we see Liber was a Roman God associated with freedom. With the definition of Liberty above we can see that the suffix ty (meaning state of) converts this freedom loving God into a concept of freedom. Al as a suffix which means pertaining to, added to Liber creates a noun connoting someone who believes in Liberty, in other words the political view called Liberal.

Now  Tarian as a suffix connotes: “A believer in something. An advocate of something. (rare) A native or inhabitant of somewhere.” Thus we see that Libertarian connotes by its’ structure a noun which means an advocate of freedom. These three title words therefore all have the same root and each is evocative of the support of freedom, so how come there are not only numerous internecine battles between advocates of Liberty?  Dropping etymology, which is not my area of expertise, I’d like to opine on why this disagreement between advocates of Liberty, thus in some ways disciples of Liber, have led to such angry disputations.

Liberty was the original notion upon which this country was founded. Originally that liberty meant to be free of the imperialist boot of the British Empire, which was extracting excessive taxation from its colonies and thus diminishing profits. Almost all of those who we call our “Founding Fathers” were among the wealthiest of men in the Colonies and thus had economic motivation for ridding themselves of the exploitation of this empire over the sea. Had that alone remained the sole concept of Liberty in the American context, we might have had a far different form of governance. Luckily for us the “Founding Fathers” were men of “The Enlightenment”  and therefore Liberal, when used in the sense of open to freedom of thought from old norms. There is a debate that has raged from the 1960’s as to whether Locke, or republicanism was more influential on the founding fathers, but I’ll leave that to those to whom philosophy is important. I my opinion more salient is the fact that our “Founding Fathers” were open to new forms of governing and that represents Liberal in a general sense of being open to new ideas.

Somewhere along the way Liberal’s meaning also morphed into a political concept and then a partisan one. I think the political usage of Liberal reached its apogee in the Administration of FDR and in the 48 years until Reagan’s election. Liberal politics defined government’s role as one of ensuring citizens of not only freedom, but of equality of opportunity. In FDR’s mind and in the minds of the “thinkers” of his administration the metaphor for life was a race towards success by all the people. Government’s proper role in this should be as a referee that ensures that each citizen starts that race with an equal chance of success or failure, recognizing that for those who “fail” there must be a “safety net” to protect them from total devastation. Conceptually, the Liberal political view boiled down to “we are our brother’s keeper”.

However, as I’ve mentioned our revolution was born in a resentment of taxation and imperial control of economic activities. That too was an important, parallel strain of American political thought and provided the counterweight to Liberal ideology. We can roughly call this important strain of American political discourse Conservative ideology. Proponents of this ideology tended to be alarmed by change that re-imagined a sense of stability and continuity. Its advocates were comforted by what they saw as basic values which included a defined social structure and moral limits of the citizenry through laws that codified religious belief and maintained above all, a sense of order and stability in life and in commerce.

Through our history this Conservative ideology emphasized Christianity as a moral basis of law, which oversaw patriarchy and ensured at least public recognition of restraining people’s “baser” urges such as sexuality and salaciousness. Thus our country, born in liberty, saw our politics as a battle between two differing ideas of what freedom meant. While Conservative ideology sought to limit licentiousness and disruption of the social status quo, it strongly believed in liberty for all forms of financial enterprise. From the Liberal perspective though, financial enterprise must be moderated by regulation, lest it become oppressive to the liberty of the many. These counterpoints of perspective are what is behind our seeming two track American political belief. Public debate in this Country has tended to recognize only these two poles of religious belief and has marginalized other nuances on the political spectrum.

The fact though is that all Conservative ideology is not based solely on a perception of religious morality. Indeed, the truth is that many people of wealth, or aspiring to wealth, are not what you would call religiously called. We all know that even the least comely of people can suddenly have sexual magnetism when you add wealth, fame and/or power to their arsenal of public persona. In all countries and in all times the elite class of humanity has felt themselves above the constraints of public morality. While maintaining outwardly sober lives, their private and yet sometimes unfortunate public excesses have brought them under public censure and made “traditional Conservative values” uncomfortable ones for them to be able live their lives as they please. This created a vacuum of belief in our rigidly bi-polar political system.

There has always been a Libertarian faction in the American political process. This is composed of those individuals against imposing both personal and commercial morality on the populace, most especially when it came to their own predilections. It arose at the birth of our nation in the aversion to taxation and morphed into holding that individual freedom takes precedence over societal interests. While it existed throughout our history  philosophical debate it took a rather turgid popular author, Ayn Rand, to widely popularize it. Her most seminal work “Atlas Shrugged” has become best seller and quasi “bible” to a wide swath of influential thinkers, many possessing wealth and/or influence. While embracing individual freedom in the social sense actually seems similar to Liberal belief, the thinking part ways radically as the Libertarian’s also have an almost mystical concept that the “Free Market” is able to effectively regulate society’s interactions.

This piece is not an exercise in presenting my own political viewpoint, though I imagine many here are aware of what I believe. My aim is to point out how and original concept, borne many thousands of years ago in a so-called “pagan” tradition can take the same root concept and revise (and re-revise) it into political and social philosophy. The God (Demi-God?) Liber represented the human longing to be “free” of the constraints of conventional morality and religious adherence, to be in fact Liberal in action, thought and speech. The Libertarian idea takes that intellectual/emotional freedom and adds in the freedom of commercial interests and by doing so creates a new vision. Via the historical metamorphosis of both language and philosophical concept, the God Liber has given birth to a multitude of strains of political positioning, some of which are antithetical to each other. And so it goes.

I’ve used this piece to restate my own sense that when we allow ourselves to be guided by various concepts that can be defined by “Isms” we lead ourselves astray. Words are tricky things in that each of us can view the same word, deduce the concept it represents and then come to different conclusions as to what they mean and how we should use them. The simple fact is that none of us is given early instruction on how to organize our thought processes. Because thinking is something we each come to individually, much prior to any formal educational process, we are still limited when it comes to true communications with others as much as we pretend the opposite. We fight our political and social battles with words that vary with each beholder. My frustration, at times, as someone who has been a major commenter here is that no matter how clear I think my exposition is, my position will be misunderstood by individuals to whom the same words will have different meanings. While like most humans I don’t hesitate to assert my personal beliefs, there is frustration to be found when others through their perspective find connotations that weren’t my intention. Perhaps the problems we humans have in getting along peacefully, stems from the fact that we have yet to find adequate, broad based means to really communicate with one another. I hope I’ve communicated this clearly, but who knows? Perhaps this is but a sour mood I’ve awakened to on this beautiful morning in the country after weeks of reading the ongoing debates with Libertarians and concluding they are exercises in non-communication.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

58 thoughts on “Liberty, Liberal, Libertarian”

  1. Mike,

    I’ve spent a total of perhaps 10 days in Chicago and I assume I know the City, when all I have are merely random experiences, akin to the story of the “Blind-men and the Elephant”.
    What happens if it’s the wrong elephant?

  2. Malisha:

    I just had a Tiramisu pastry along with the coffee.
    Those were some large cups.
    Was in hurry toward the end of our soiree to audit a lecture 🙂

  3. Well for me it was a rare hunk of Prime Rib, with Asparagus in garlic butter, being I’m on a low carb diet. 🙂

  4. How about wire framed glasses? 🙂

    But thanks for the appreciation, I thought our conversation was so rich, it should not be lost to the ether just as some bloggery.

    1. “I thought our conversation was so rich, it should not be lost to the ether just as some bloggery.”


      I agree, but then I must say you are not the ordinary Libertarian who posts here. You have well thought out positions, you actually read and reply to what’s written and your ideas are not a litany of pre-digested cant. Where I get annoyed with some Libertarians is when all they produce are talking points, which they can’t back up with data. You are well-grounded in your philosophy, even If I disagree with your perspective. We all always need to have our perceptions challenged and to ponder the information, otherwise our minds stultify and we merely parrot the authorities we prefer.

  5. Well, I am the token libertarian on this list, although I have found a few here who mostly agree with me on those issues.

    A couple years ago I had a rather extensive posting conversation with Mike Spindell, and it became the fodder of two articles I wrote on

    “Socialism Begets Authoritarianism”
    “My Dinner with Mike”

    The latter a kind of review of Libertarian viewpoint vs a more liberal one, in the caste of My Dinner with Andre.

    I think Mike understands most of libertarianism, but I would take issue with some of his observations in this article.

    1. Gary T,

      I read and enjoyed your piece “My Dinner With Mike”. Well and fairly done. My only objection was putting me in a tweed jacket, with a scarlet mock turtle. I don’t wear jackets and have never done tweed. The same is true for mock turtles, although I do like turtle necks. As for scarlet, was red perhaps an unconscious characterization on your part fraught with connotation? 🙂 Nice job.

  6. Malisha,
    If you’re looking for the truth out of my mouth, that’s the wrong place. i’ll say anything for a joke
    Continue yours.

  7. @Idealist, cussing does TOO help. You just gotta have the right words.

  8. TonyC,

    Great stuff. It all rang true, but have never been in your shoes, but indeed would hire you. But I was in the international industry to government marketing in the telecom branch, so other lawyers and consultants.

    As for posting problems, try saying prayers. Cussing does not help.

  9. @Idealist: Where did you steal that?

    It is passed on to me from my younger self. I had a previous business career as a consultant. Consultants (like lawyers) are three to five times as expensive as normal salaried workers, and are not typically retained when things are going well (as much as, like attorneys, that really would help people avoid disaster in the first place).

    Instead consultants are typically retained when a project, contract or company teeters on the edge of disaster, and they are finally desperate enough to pay whatever it takes to save it. At least, that was the situation I saw.

    Thus I have had many opportunities to ponder the deep question, “WTF were these people thinking?”. With a real-life example of the consequences and some need to really understand the truth, so that the true extent of the damage could be assessed, and we could come to some idea of what (and who) might be salvaged, and what (and who) must be scrapped or worked around, in order to prevent their personal economic disaster.

    (Note: this is my second try at posting this reply, the first claimed it was “awaiting moderation,” for some reason, and those never get posted…)

  10. Either or, id707, although I will stipulate in this particular instance yours was a misconception.

  11. First you say correction of a misconception and then say correction of a misrepresentation. Which?

    I have not misconceived since I asked for clarification as to the points stated by Nietzche, not my own conception. I may have misquoted, but was unable to judge the validity of his ideas re logic, and expressed a hope for your assistance. It is there to re-read.

    As for misrepresentation, how can a quote be that?

    I did not come looking for a fight, nor will I retreat. Nor am I playing victim in a passive-aggressive game. The position you assume I have is in your mind, not mine.

    I saw Nietzche as coming with ideas seemingly contrary to accepted ones and knowing your expertise wanted to enlist your help. If you see evil intent, you see incorrectly.

    Hopefully sometime I WILL be able to request useage of your resources by offering counter positions from what seem to be experts for your evaluation.

    Thanks for the relative amiability of this exchange.

    Summa summarum: No matter how badly I drive my wheelbarrow, you can at least look neutrally at what it bears, when I ask you: “What is it?”

  12. id707,

    First, the Nirvana fallacy. That Aristotle was not perfect nor were all of his solutions is irrelevant to the fact of the matter that the Law of Identity is critical to the very idea of logic. You cannot discuss anything without defining it first. A=A is not only a key foundational element of logic, it is a key foundational element in that most logical of methodologies, the scientific method.

    Second, that your source (Nietzsche) is defective does not negate his value in the study of Western philosophy (he’s frequently taught as a negative example), but it informs the evaluation of the value of his propositions.

    As to barb? Merely correcting your misconceptions about how I view certainty is not a reflection of any harm you may think you’ve done to me or my positions. It is merely correction of a misrepresentation either intentional or unintentional. Nothing more, nothing less.

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