The Opposite of Libertarianism


In libertarian circles it is a conventional position that the word that describes our opposite is "statism," adherents of which are "statists." I challenge that assumption.

In the first place, most people are unfamiliar with the term “statism.” Its use merely adds to the aura of weirdness and abnormality surrounding the advocacy of liberty. To the extent that voters don't know the definition of “statism,” any argument relying on it cannot help us win elections.

Second, I am not an etymologist and lack data to prove this, but my gut feeling is that libertarian writers in the 1930s to 1960s felt comfortable using the word “statist” because (Ayn Rand comes to mind) they spoke French and viewed “state” as the English translation of état. In the USA, however, “state” specifically refers to one of the 50 states. The better translation of état is “nation” or “government.” So I propose that “statism” be retired in favor of either "nationalism" or "governmentalism" as the word by which we designate the opposite of libertarianism.

To the extent that voters don't know the definition of “statism,” any argument relying on it cannot help us win elections.

“Nationalism” is particularly attractive because it conjures up connotations of National Socialism as the end point of liberty's opponents. “Governmentalism,” on the other hand, pinpoints the government as our nemesis. Yes, “state” can also mean “government,” but I feel that my proposal would best align our language with that of the people we want to reach.

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If a statist wants the government to own (control) an industry, use the word socialist to describe those who favor government power over liberty. Otherwise, *authoritarianism*.

Bruce Alan Martin

Russell Hasan raises some valid points about our use of the generic word "Statism" to describe such "anti-libertarian" things as Socialism, Communism, and Fascism (which, is too-often conflated with anti-semitic genocide, while ignoring the horrible economic atrocities of Il Duce and Der Fuhrer).

However, I must object to using the word "Nationalism" because that word already has a valid meaning, describing notions that are respectable and even attractive, e.g., patriotism, loyalty, preservation of culture, constitutionalism, respect for principle, etc. On the other hand, "Governmentalism" (the only alternative he suggests) hardly rolls off the tongue and probably conveys little or no semantic content to most Americans.

To make matters worse, modern usage has become so irredeemably corrupted that a philosophical position once accurately described by the word "Liberal" must now be referred to as "Classical Liberal" (just as "Acoustic Guitar" now describes what was once known simply as a "Guitar"), while the unqualified word "Liberal" is nowadays used to describe its polar opposite: those who see the state as the ultimate solution to social problems, and who therefore oppose Individual Liberty when it conflicts with their "Progressive" goals.

In this topsy-turvy semantic realignment, the poles have flipped to the degree that those who favor a LESS powerful state (and more power to the people!) are nowadays described as "the Right", while those who seek to expand government power (at the expense of liberty) are called "the Left". (A far cry from the days when those who sat on the Right were loyal to the Ruling Class and the Monarch, while those radical rascals who sought liberty were seated on the Left side of the legislature. Then again, it was not very long ago that the Left's favored color was Red!)

Thomas Paine rightly objected to the Newspeak of his day:

    SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. . . . The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

After introducing "Common Sense" with that observation, he went on to add that:

    Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one:

I thank Rusell Hasan for causing me to rethink the word choice, and join him in search of a better word than "statist" as the antonym for libertarian.


I prefer "authoritarian statism" and "authoritarian statist" to denote our opposite. The latter perfectly, I think, describes those who believe in the authority of the state to tell us how to live our lives and spend and invest our earnings.

The fact you are suggesting that words are important is useful. I have long said, "Words matter." I refuse to call someone commonly referred to today as a liberal, a "liberal." I use the term "pseudo-liberal," because they are false liberals (WE are the true liberals). Likewise, "Progessives" are anything but; I either use the term in quotes or refer to those who think they are progressive as "regressives," because they want to revert to the rule of kings.

We may agree to disagree, but we're thinking along the same lines. More of us need to be cognizant of the fact that words truly matter. They evoke emotion and mental visualizations. Entire arguments can be won or lost on the simple use of the right or wrong words. S.I. Hayakawa's "Language in Thought and Action" showed me how important this is in discourse where, in the first few magnificent pages, he showed how to make "welfare" acceptable by calling it "unemployment insurance."

"Nationalism" has its libertarian adherents (I am one, in fact) and "governmentalism" is, to me, not specific enough (government is, after all, useful for those of us who are limited constitutionalists). But this is a good discussion that should be a much larger one among those of us who believe that telling others how to live their lives is arrogant.

Doug Thorburn

I don't know how I left my name off my post above. I'm an adherent of non-anonymity online.


I actually think "socialism" may be the best single word to denote the opposite of libertarianism. To my ears "governmentalism" sounds rather unusual and exotic, and "nationalism" connotes an ideology of putting one's nation's interests, however they might be defined, ahead of the interests of other nations, without specifically addressing how that impacts the issue of individual autonomy that is at the heart of libertarianism. In other words, nationalists could also be libertarians if they believe strongly that granting individuals more autonomy helps to protect their country from foreign military or economic threats.

Socialism requires the subordination to a large extent of one's individual interests and desires to the needs of the collective, as prescribed and enforced by the government, particularly in the economic realm. This places socialism in fairly clear opposition to libertarianism.

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