A few years ago I tried to explain why I felt more comfortable with the label ‘classical liberal’ than ‘libertarian’. The Australian political identity survey can help see if the distinctions I was trying to make hold up.
One of my claims was that libertarians tend towards a rights-based view of politics. Consistent with this, 59% of the 184 libertarians in the survey supported either a constitutional bill of rights or a statutory charter of rights. By contrast, 52% of the 256 classical liberals preferred leaving the protection of individual freedoms to the democratic system, which among other things allows broader considerations to be taken into account. (Charts containing classical liberal and libertarian views compared, and further analysis can be found here.) However, a large minority of classical liberals want freedoms to be protected by the courts, and a large minority of libertarians preferred the democratic system.
Across most issues, there was a pattern of classical liberals and libertarians being on the same side of a broad debate but with libertarians taking the more radical stance. For example, while 40% of classical liberals chose the most radical option of cutting tax as a proportion of GDP to 20% or less, 57% of libertarians chose that option. While 46% of classical liberals thought that minimum wage laws should be repealed, 59% of libertarians took that view. While 50% of classical liberals would legalise marijuana entirely, 65% of libertarians would do so. As I said in 2006, ‘if libertarianism and classical liberalism are not identical twins they are at least first cousins, which is why classical liberals can end up appearing like “moderate” libertarians.’
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