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Dan Klein on the Origins and Meaning of the Word “Liberal”

Among the windmills at which I tilt is the misuse, in the English-speaking world, of the word “liberal.”  I refuse to concede that honorable term to those who champion the initiation of physical force (or its threat) as an acceptable means of governing or changing society.  I’m content to call such people “Progressives” (always with quotation marks, because there’s almost nothing progressive about “Progressivism”) but, perhaps inconsistently, I have never been able to bring myself to call such people or their means “liberal,” or to call their cause “liberalism.”  I have always regarded myself as a liberal.  And I still do.

“Illiberals” or “statists” are more appropriate descriptors of “Progressives.”  (I have a slight preference for the term “statists.”)

In this speech last week in Stockholm, my GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein explores the origins, meanings, and history of the use of the term “liberal.”


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