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Fellows with Friedman

Liberal, Classical Liberal, Libertarian

Peter Berkowitz

Peter Berkowitz recognizes the change in the meaning of the word “liberal.” He notes that the term “liberalism” is often used promote the aggressive use of government to regulate the economy and redistribute wealth. 

Instead, he argues:

 “I have in mind a tradition that comes into being, that crystallizes, really, say, toward the end of the 17th century, in England, the seminal work is John Locke's Two Treatises on government. This is the tradition that, to a very significant extent, informs the founding of the United States, our Constitution. Its fundamental moral premise is that all human beings are by nature free and equal. It says that the task of government is to secure individual rights shared equally by all, rest government on the consent of the governed. It believes that government should be limited; it depends upon free markets and a vibrant civil society; and so on. That's the tradition that I have in mind when I refer to the Liberal Tradition.”

Click here to hear Berkowitz on the origins of liberalism and the importance of John Locke.

Richard Epstein

Richard Epstein also sees a terminological gulf in how the term “liberal” is used. He argues that classical liberals and hardline libertarians agree on many issues; therefore, the differences between them disappear when they start to take on many progressive policies. The grounds on which they may be opposed will differ from group to group, but the opposition will be very strong. 

He uses an example of a monopoly to explain. According to Epstein, neither the classical liberal nor the libertarian believes that the government ought to support or prop up any monopoly institutions where it is possible to have a competitive industry. And so, at that particular point, both are in favor of a smaller government. 

The classical liberal can argue that monopoly has changed output for the worse, so when the government spends money to create a worse situation, it's a clear no-starter. The libertarian, on the other hand, can argue that the government is using force to interfere with profitable relationships and doesn’t necessarily care about the consequences.

Click here to learn more about the differences between classical liberalism and libertarianism.