This article was published in the Summer 1995 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
"Liberty" is a Bad Name
by Richard O. Hammer

 (to table of contents of FNF archives)

What do we libertarians want? Often we say "liberty" or "freedom." But these labels fall short. For one thing statists use these to mean something different. But even worse these labels mislead. By suggesting an absence of restraints these labels suggest that we do not care for order. But we do care about order. Indeed order of a particular sort is what we want.

To show the order which I think we want, join me again in recalling the feeling in a private restaurant. In a restaurant you feel a context of rules. Your behavior is constrained. You know that the owner can kick you out. But usually you are quite happy to accept the rules, because the rules serve you as well as constrain you. This feeling of an environment of rules illustrates, I believe, how most "public" spaces will feel in our envisioned free nation.

Don't get nervous. There will be plenty of liberty in our free nation; no legislation will prohibit you from throwing food. But before you throw food you would be wise to understand what the owner of the establishment expects. So sometimes I wonder if we should drop the label "liberty" and replace it with "law and order".

We modern libertarians are not the first to fail in naming our value. I have the impression that John Locke, Adam Smith, and the American founders used "liberty" and "freedom" much the way we do. And they led us in failing, I believe, to name the order which we desire.

Sometimes I fault Adam Smith for quitting too soon. He, having mastered his speciality, spied an Invisible Hand. But then he quit. If he had kept at it a little longer he might have found the Visible Hand, leaving us a simpler task. With the Visible Hand in sight, we could just point to it. I bet even Hillary would see it.

Several libertarians have suggested alternative labels: classical liberal, market liberal, self government, voluntaryist, and cooperatism. While none of these charms me, the last two at least suggest that we understand that other people, besides ourselves, have rights.

I think a better name would point to spontaneous order, to that order which tends to grow in an environment of property rights. Belief in spontaneous order underlies, for me at least, my trust that people can manage with little or no government. We need a name which points to the force we trust. D

Richard O. Hammer, of Hillsborough, NC, for the time being works full-time on his hobby, the Free Nation Foundation. In the past he has worked as a residential builder and engineer.

 (to table of contents of FNF archives)    (to top of page)