I have had several exchanges recently with people who are sometimes confused by the oft-used political labels; labels like ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘liberal’, ‘conservative’, ‘libertarian’. It is easy to lament labels in general and simply redefine the terms to make them more logical. But language is a dynamic, fluid concept with two sides: the speaking side and the listening side. The purpose language serves is to create common understanding between those who are speaking and those who are listening. The word ‘bitch’ spoken by a vetinarian usually means something slightly different spoken by a rapper from the ‘hood. So we can’t simply opt for more logical, more historically exact labels, desireable as that may be.

I take particular issue, for example, with contemporary political usage of the word ‘liberal’. This term is normally used to describe the positions of the Left… and that’s the problem! On one hand, the Left regard many traditions as dispensible and reject traditional politics in favour of what they feel are better ideas, so they are ‘liberal’ with respect to how free they are under that philosophy to change the institutions and legislation of modern politics. But it is a deceiving term where the CONTENT of those ideas is scrutinised. ‘Liberal’ ideas are typically freedom-quenching and liberty-crushing. With regard to how favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms they are, ‘liberals’ are anything BUT ‘liberal’. So I prefer other slurs such as ‘idiots of the left’.

Nevertheless, we must deal with language as it is commonly understood. And I’d like to outline what I believe people mean by the political labels used most in this blog. It’s a useful exercise for anyone whose regular tool is contemporary political language; and at the very least it will summarise what I mean when I use these terms in other posts. Allow me to start with the one I am most familiar with:

‘Libertarian’. Informed directly by a simple principal of non-aggression which allows individuals the freedom to act in whatever way they choose, with the exception of those actions which infringe on the equal rights of another individual, libertarians therefore believe that the only legitimate purpose of government is to protect those liberties. This results in small government and an unimpeded level of individual freedom; both personal and economic. In most cases, it also means the comprehensive rejection of all traditional forms of government.

‘Liberal’, ‘Left’, ‘Progressive’. Common understanding attributes these terms to one and the same political philosophy, which usually involves a high level of personal freedom (such as the right to take drugs, the right to have a homosexual marriage and the right to have an abortion) and a low level of economic freedom (such as high taxation for redistribution of wealth). Lefties believe in coercing the general public to favour minorities, and are characterised by a collectivist approach to public policy. That which serves ‘the community’ comes first – individual ambitions come second.

‘Conservative’, ‘Right’, ‘Constitutionalist’ (USA). Conservatives value traditional, usually Christian, morality in personal issues (on drugs, homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and seek to defend individual liberty on economic issues (characterised by lower taxes, less government expenditure and the significant role of private business). Their philosophy is collectivist on less issues than that of the Left, but they believe in collective morality and therefore, collectivist coercion on personal issues such as what substances people should be allowed to consume or who individuals should be allowed to have sex with.

‘Capitalist’. This term says nothing about the social, or moral, side of liberty; but refers to the economic system which relies on free trade between consenting individuals and the monetary exchange that results. In this sense, capitalism constitutes one-half of libertarianism, and a capitalist is someone who agrees in principal with the capitalist system.

‘Socialist’. This more principaled, more extreme form of Leftism is influenced by historical figures like Karl Marx, and is entirely, diametrically the opposite of capitalism. Concepts like equal distribution of wealth are socialist ideals.

‘Objectivism’. The philosophy of 20th century thinker Ayn Rand, which, although decidedly libertarian in nature, actually encompasses more than just political philosophy and thus the reason she rejected the term ‘libertarian’. It discusses very particular ways of approaching other disciplines, such as a strong rejection of theistic belief. To make it overly simplistic, one might put it like this: Libertarianism + Atheism + a few other smaller Randisms = Objectivism. An objectivist is already a libertarian, but some libertarians have additional beliefs that may or may not correlate with objectivism.

‘Neocon’. Short for ‘neo-conservative’, it describes the basic political approach of the administration of the 43rd President of the United States, George W Bush. It differs slightly from traditional conservativism, particularly in its approach to foreign policy, which is decidedly more interventionist (exhibited primarily by the War on Terror and the controversial war in Iraq).

‘Environmentalist’. This should be distinguished from environmental scientists, who merely observe and theorise on activity related to the environment, without walking it into the political arena. The ‘environmentalist’ is one who attempts to influence or change government policy on environmental issues, who seeks to advance a political agenda based on the theories of such scientists.

‘Mooreon’. One who agrees with Michael Moore.

‘Moonbat’, ‘Moonbeam’. These are Voice of Reason aliases for Guardian columnist, left-wing activist, enviro-whack-job and general pillock, George Monbiot.

‘Namby-pamby’. A reference to a certain breed of leftist mentality which lacks depth of any kind and sees other people as weak, victims, frail leaves blowing in the wind, in need of much nursing and support through their lives in this dangerous world. In actual fact, they are usually describing themselves and not the general public, who tend to have a natural sense that they are masters of their own destiny.

‘Vegetarian’. Someone who hasn’t yet figured out that, according to the ultimate conclusion of their philosophy, they really should be vegan.

‘Vegan’. Someone who hasn’t yet figured out that, according to the ultimate conclusion of their philosophy, nature is not on their side.

‘PETA’. Perpetually Entrenched in Tyrannical Animalism. Pervasive Excrement of Treacherous Assholes.

I hope this clears up any ambiguity.

John Wright