Libertarian Propaganda Terms

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Libertarian and conservative think-tanks have labored mightily to make propaganda terms such as free market part of the thinking of ordinary people. Most libertarians have no idea how they are manipulated by this perversion of language and how it creates their ideology. Frames, phatic expression, shibboleth, terms of art: very simply, they have a coded meaning for libertarians that is not standard English.

Libertarians have continued anti-communist and cold-war propaganda traditions and added their own terminology and newspeak. They have de-emphasized ideas promoting religion, and emphasized ideas about capitalism.

With decades of promotion, some of these terms have come into common usage or have been commonly associated with the libertarian propaganda meanings. These are commonly used in Framing.

"Coercion" and "initiation of physical aggression" are the most common. Basically, they boil down to this: "Rights are force we like. Coercion is force we don't like."

A fun way to learn about this propaganda is to play LINGO: Libertarian propaganda term BINGO. It doesn't have as many terms as this page, but it is a good start.

A Is A (3 links)
Also known as the law of identity, is a worthless piece of philosophical drivel that plainly doesn't apply to the real world and seems to be unnecessary in mathematics. Objectivists use it as a shibboleth.
A dog-whistle term that pretends to give a formal, axiomatic basis for Austrian Economics. This redefinition excludes much actual human economic behavior. Also "Action".
Big Government (4 links)
Isn't it strange that all first-world countries have big government? Maybe it's a good thing, and not the bogeyman of libertarians and the right.
Capitalism, Markets and Laissez-Faire (15 links)
Libertarian ideology worships these gods with feet of clay, and wishes no limits to them. History and common sense tell us that limits must be imposed on them, they must be regulated.
To a libertarian, private charity is the only charity because "taxation is theft". Private charity has always been horribly insufficient and manipulative in addition.
Class War (33 links)
Libertarianism is an astroturf pawn created by the first-class citizens (large corporations and the ultra-wealthy) in the class war against ordinary people (the 99%.) The first-class citizens have subverted representative government with propaganda, lobbying, campaign finance and revolving-door politics. The result is greater inequality due to state support of the wealthy.
Classical Liberalism (7 links)
To libertarians, it is short for "classical liberal economics" or "classical economics": pre-marginalist, pre-Keynesian economics such as Manchesterism. That has nothing to do with POLITICAL liberal ideas such as democracy. Libertarian use of the term classical liberalism is designed to ignore the political goals that early liberals actually stood for. By cherry-picking quotes and positions, and ignoring much, libertarians claim classical liberals were just like modern libertarians and neoliberals.
Collectivism is at the other end of a spectrum that includes individualism. Minarchists are collectivists: they emphasize our interdependence in a minimal state. Anarchists too can be collectivists, if some decision making is interdependent and not totally individual. Libertarian denunciation of collectivism simply means they do not want collective solutions except where their ideology needs them.
Crimes Without Victims
[Or victimless crimes.] If this term was explained honestly, it would be "crimes where we choose not to count the perpetrator as a victim and conveniently ignore distributed or indirect harms to family, friends, and other people through the environment, social relationships, and institutions."
Democide (4 links)
R. J. Rummel's term for "killing of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder". It conveniently excludes private and commercial killing, especially by slow causes such as tobacco and pollution. It also conveniently overlooks lives saved by the efforts of the same governments. Democide numbers are much smaller than the numbers of lives saved by government eradication of smallpox, let alone other vaccination, potable water and sewerage projects.
Democracy (propaganda sense)
A code term for having a market-oriented economy open to Western capital. This has nothing to do with either modern constitutional representative democracy or ancient direct democracy.
Dictatorship Of The Masses
A putdown of democracy that pretends that modern governments are not constitutional representative democracies. And ignores the fact that modern democratic governments do not act like governments run by dictators.
Distortion of the Market
Distort is such a loaded word! Economists use shift for almost any other factor.
Economic Freedom (propaganda) (1 link)
Libertarian ideas of economic freedom are like freedom to sail your yacht where ever you like, even if your wake swamps other boats. Great if you have a yacht! But not valuable to everybody, and sometimes harmful. See: Globalization, Free Trade and Economic Freedom.
Economic Liberty (propaganda)
Another glittering generality that sounds good until you realize that it allows the requirements for well-functioning markets to be undermined by monopoly, bad information and other failures. See: Globalization, Free Trade and Economic Freedom
Economically Illiterate (1 link)
An accusation leveled when opponents disagree with Economics 101 fallacies.
Egalitarian (1 link)
A libertarian dog-whistle term, usually referring to strawman positions such as redistributing organs and not admitting that people have different abilities.
Equal Opportunity (5 links)
Is insufficient to reduce inequality, and often used as a distraction. Everybody has equal opportunity in a lottery, but the end result is one rich person and many others who are poorer. We shouldn't manage society to concentrate wealth, but rather to spread it.
Fiat Money (2 links)
Fiat money (or fiat currency) is a genuine economics term that applies to all the dominant currencies in the world. Libertarians hate the idea that currency has value because government says so, and use the term derisively. They would prefer to switch to gold or bitcoin or some other non-governmental scheme.
Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal
Glittering generalities that conceal crucial differences. If you got your wish for fiscally conservative and socially liberal from the libertarians, it would be like wishes from a monkey's paw. The results of the wish would be so horrible you'd unwish it.
Force and Fraud
Not normal definitions: redefined to be anything libertarians dislike. See: Coercion.
Free Market (19 links)
"Free Market" (for libertarians) is a propaganda term, by which libertarians actually mean unregulated markets. Free markets cannot exist: they are an ideal model in economic theory. The vast majority of uses of "free market" are actually about real, regulated, imperfect markets, which are very little like free market models. Truly free markets would include markets for anything, including murder, and require perfect information and perfect competition. I recommend "unregulated market" instead of the propaganda term "free market".
Free Market Environmentalism (2 links)
An astroturf public relations effort to privatize public lands, enriching large corporations. Evolved from the Sagebrush Rebellion and Wise Use Movement. Financed in part by the Koch brothers. Cliven Bundy was one of the dupes in this movement. Also used to describe tradeable pollution permits, but states decide how much pollution to allow.
Freedom (propaganda)
Libertarians prattle a great deal about freedom, but seldom define it well. Freedom is the practical ability to stop people from interfering with your activities. This is a positive, active, costly definition.
Gang rape is democracy. (1 link)
'Five people say "Yes," one person says "No," and the majority rules.' Which is why every democratic state has laws legalizing gang rape. The real-world example of rape is by capitalism. It's called slavery, where people are property and can be raped, tortured, starved or murdered at the arbitrary will of the owner.
Globalization, Free Trade and Economic Freedom (32 links)
Code for "let business run the world: the heck with the populace." The anti-liberal dominance of plutocratic property and business over popular sovereignty. Historically, we could extend these concepts to include buying, owning, and selling slaves. The arguments made then were the same. Used by propagandists to trump other freedoms. Also known as economic liberty.
Government Failure (2 links)
Generally used as a distraction from arguments about market failure -- an invalid demand for perfection from government. What matters is what combination of government and/or market is optimal.
Grasping Hand
Greed Is Good (2 links)
Libertarians like to think their greed is good, but think labor unionists are greedy and thus bad. Greed is different than desire for wealth: it is desire for wealth without enough regard for whether others are harmed.
An attempt by faculty at GMU to have an obscure viewpoint of economics associated with one of their own, much as Hayekian is used by them to refer to another economics viewpoint.
Hayekian (propaganda) (2 links)
Almost any reference to Hayek. A political viewpoint masquerading as economic science. A dog whistle signifying rejection of Keynesian ideas.
Used by libertarians in the oxymoronic "government something is illegitimate." Oxymoronic because a primary meaning of legitimate is "legal", which is determined by government. When a libertarian says something stupid such as "government ownership of territory is illegitimate" what they really mean is that they dislike it. Debasing legitimacy to be merely opinion runs smack into the is-ought problem, and one person's opinion is no better than another's for such moral claims. No claim or argument, including libertarian claims and arguments, is valid to such a universally skeptical strategy.
Individual Choice (1 link)
Individual choice is a misleading concept: individuals do not control the choices available and are heavily influenced by advertising, propaganda, and other irrational factors. It also focuses attention away from alternatives, such as social choice.
Individualism (3 links)
While individualism is nice, it is also a ploy to distract us from the fact that we are all interdependent outside of markets: child rearing, care of the sick and aged, friendships, defense, management of the commons and a host of other things.
Initiation of Force (4 links)
Another deceptive libertarian shibboleth. All property and indeed all real rights are based on violence, coercion, initiation of force. Libertarians claim there is an invisible right to property which magically exempts property from being intrinsically violent. In other words, they deceptively hide the violence they like as a mystical, made-up "right".
Inviolable Private Sphere of Rights
A classic reification. But also grossly misleading: actual (legal) rights cannot be inviolable because that would be incredibly expensive. Nor can rights be sphere-like: innumerable exceptions must be carved out to prevent conflict, to reflect what people actually care about and to keep enforcement costs down. A better topological model would be a swiss cheese.
Invisible Hand (2 links)
One analogy used by Adam Smith has been inflated into a full-blown economic mythology. If there is an "invisible hand", it drives concentration of wealth and power instead of economic equilibrium.
It's my money! (10 links)
Short for "I earned it, so it is entirely my property." The most common libertarian complaint against taxation of income. Completely mistaken because (a) your income is not solely your product and (b) there might be many pre-existing claims against your income, including rents, alimony, tithes, debts, taxes, etc. Fallaciously used to claim "taxation is theft" and "taxation is slavery".
Job Creators (1 link)
Often it is claimed that entrepreneurs, investors or businessmen create jobs. A half-truth: they much rather would discard jobs. Consumers create demand that necessitates job creation.
John Galt (1 link)
The magical libertarian of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, even more implausible than her other characters. A Prester John figure presiding over a fictional libertarian utopia.
Laissez Faire (16 links)
Laissez faire is a hypocritical propaganda term: it is government that creates a capitalist environment, advantaging capitalists over others. Unregulated Market is a more honest term. History shows pretty clearly that unregulated, unfettered capitalism is a brutal environment where wealth accumulates in the hands of an elite leaving most people in poverty, deeply vulnerable to the inevitable economic shocks that follow.
Liberalism (propaganda sense)
Libertarian (propaganda sense) (2 links)
In the United States, this word was stolen from the left-wing anarchists, and its meaning changed to the current right-wing sense.
Liberty (propaganda)
The objective of libertarian liberty is to take power from public institutions and put it in the hands of private property owners. This merely changes who has liberty, removing the liberty to decide public policy from voters and giving it to the rich.
Liberty Upsets Patterns (1 link)
A saying of Robert Nozick. But property is a pattern, and real liberty would not observe it. Patterns of liberty are also upset when people have the liberty to politically organize. But this is really a tautology: patterns only exist because liberty is restrained.
Life (Randian sense)
Limited Government (propaganda) (2 links)
Libertarians mean limited to enforce their ideology. The real meaning of limited government is to create a stable, self-limited mechanism that performs the functions desired by the populace.
Ideologically, it means something like "everything that happens in the economy without direct government intervention." Market really means the institution of trade. The internal economy of centrally planned firms such as Walmart is not market activity.
Markets in Everything (1 link)
A propaganda theme at Marginal Revolution blog. Be amazed at the triumph of markets everywhere, but don't notice that they are often missing, noxious or poor substitutes for government. Markets are tools, like fire: but you wouldn't want fire in everything.
Maximal Individual Freedom
Men With Guns
Oh, horror! Laws are enforced by men with guns! But all rights in any social system (including anarchism) are enforced coercively. And isn't it funny that the same Constitution that libertarians claim supports private gun ownership clearly empowers the state to enforce laws.
Methodological Individualism (propaganda) (8 links)
Individuals always exist within and are entwined with societies. Actually adhering to methodological individualism would mean ignoring families, households, corporations, governments and all other social groups in analysis. It is obviously stupid to ignore these sorts of emergent properties. A greedy reductionist (in the words of Daniel Dennett) attempt to oppose "collectivist" theories with invalid models of atomistic individuals.
Militias (1 link)
In the USA, "militia" is a euphemism for private, nongovernment, nonprofessional armies created for political purposes. Many of these militia's members are libertarians. Private armies like these militias are frequently a tool of coercion: after the Civil War, private armies played a major role in instituting Jim Crow by terrorizing blacks. Hitler and Mussolini both rose to power through their private armies.
Minimal Government
Money Power (1 link)
"The Money Power" is an old populist term for a conspiracy of Jewish bankers to control currencies and finance. Gold was the defense against the Jews in this paranoid theory. It is often a dog whistle in support of goldbuggery.
Moochers, Makers and Takers (1 link)
Randroid division of the world into good guys and bad guys. Came to prominence in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, to his detriment.
Natural Rights (9 links)
Natural Rights has always been a propaganda term, from its first invention as an answer to the rights of kings. Nobody has yet really answered Jeremy Bentham's charge of "nonsense on stilts". Most libertarianism (Nozick, for example) is still behind the times here. Also known as "unalienable rights" or "inalienable rights".
Night Watchman State
The "night watchman" idea is fundamentally stupid. There is no real-world equivalent where ONLY a night watchman is used.
Non-Aggression (16 links)
The "non-aggression axiom" , also known as non-coercion, is one of the most widely repeated bits of libertarian propaganda. It simply means "we want to coerce you to live by our rules whether you like it or not." "Steal my candy bar? Then you must die!" It is an incoherent piece of rhetoric.
Objectivism (propaganda sense)
Permissionless Innovation (1 link)
Evasion of regulation, based on the view that entrepreneurs and “innovators” are the lifeblood of society, and must be allowed to push forward without needing to ask for “permission” from government, for the good of society. It is license to harm; it is a demand that government not intrude in exactly the area that government is meant for -- to protect the general welfare of citizens.
Political Correctness (2 links)
World English Dictionary: "demonstrating progressive ideals, esp by avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, esp concerning race and gender". Since WWII, there has been an enormous success of political correctness. Right wing (and libertarian) press mercilessly mocked PC in the 1990's with exaggerated examples, making stereotypes of it.
Politically Incorrect
A sneering badge of honor among many libertarians who revel in their ideological freedom to ignore and despise the unfortunate.
Private Property (2 links)
Libertarians use this term to emphasize their beliefs that government should not or can not own property, nor interfere with use of property nor tax property. It serves as a shibboleth (dog-whistle) for libertarians and other right-wingers.
Rational (7 links)
Usually, "rational" is a Humpty-Dumpty word, that means whatever the user finds is convenient to club his oponents with. Either by defining rationality to specifically disclude an opponent's methods (as objectivists do) or by making rationality so diffuse that all the users methods are included (much the same way new-agers use the term "energy". Actual human rationality consists of MANY methods besides logic, notably informal fallacies and heuristic reasoning.)
Rational Choice Theory (3 links)
A field of economic theory that is notorious for many pathologies. See also Public Choice Theory, which uses rational choice methodologies.
Reason (propaganda sense) (1 link)
Most libertarian ideas of "reason" really boil down to the fallacy of appeal to consequences for the individual. Things like "doing what you need to live". The problem is not with that mode of thinking, because everybody does it, but the libertarian pretense that somehow they are magically more logical or know special foundational truths.
Redistribution (propaganda sense) (3 links)
A term that assumes that there is some original (or current) distribution that should be privileged. But since all distribution is socially determined and continually changing, it is really just a statement about dislike of change. Government systems libertarians dislike are "redistribution". But every corporation is an autocratic socialist organization that redistributes income to the employees and owners. Why don't libertarians complain about that?
Rights (propaganda)
Libertarians have attempted to capture this Enlightenment term for governments created by and run by their subjects, and change the meaning to mean individual anarchism.
Hayek and others make a big deal about how markets are self-organizing. But many other things are self organizing, such as government and families. But the amount of self-organizing a market can do is based on a number of factors produced by governments, such as stable property.
Self-Ownership (11 links)
No human society has ever treated people as their own inviolate property. Even if self-ownership was only an aspirational goal, it could not be implemented for children or incompetents. Libertarians frequently base their philosophy on this imagined right. In modern society, persons have "body rights": they do not own their bodies, but do have limited property rights in them.
Small Government
Socialism (propaganda) (1 link)
The great bugaboo of Capitalism because it threatens the wealth of the very rich. But a normal part of every nation's Mixed Economy: law, rights, property, police, defense, roads and other infrastructure are all socialistically produced. Capitalists view any social ownership as an opportunity for their own private ownership, and thus denounce socialism.
Socialism Is Slavery (2 links)
Randian black-and-white nonsense based on the lie that tyrannical rule by Communist Parties is exactly socialism and exactly what's going on in all those Scandinavian nations. Slavery is a capitalist phenomenon, for profit. Profit to capitalist slaveowners or to tyrants.
Sound Science
Spontaneous Order (3 links)
Use of "spontaneous order" by libertarians is a propaganda term popularized by Friedrich von Hayek. It is meant to imply that no design is needed to create the order, while distracting from the fact that real human environments have major designs such as property and other institutions. Any environment will have a spontaneous order, whether or not any part of it is designed, coerced, or planned.
State monopoly on violence
This is a bad misdirection from Max Weber. The state has a monopoly on JUDGING what violence is LEGAL. This allows the state to permit and regulate violence by lesser governments and private parties, as well as making some of its own violence legal. We deliberately delegate much violence to the public state, because private parties are too partial when unregulated.
Taxation Is Theft (11 links)
A prize libertarian slogan that ignores facts of pre-existing ownership by government. Because government owns its territory, it gets to make rules like any other owner. See: A Non-Libertarian FAQ: 5.5 Taxation is theft. Taxation is also the price we pay for being part of a society. Libertarians want a free lunch from society, but conveniently forget the TANSTAAFL dictum that David Friedman likes to recite: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. If you want to be free of society, go ahead and be a hermit.
The Magic Of The Market
An appeal to blind faith in markets, ignoring inconvenient experience of how markets often fail and haven't solved certain problems historically.
Unexpected Consequences (1 link)
Libertarians love to claim government will fail because of unexpected consequences. Yet libertarians are not immune to unexpected consequences.
Vast, Right-Wing Conspiracy (23 links)
A term used by Hillary Clinton, which like politically Incorrect is sneered at by libertarians. Hillary was wrong: there are several vast, right-wing conspiracies, aimed at corporatism, movement conservatism, plutocracy, and theocracy, each with their respective billionaire sponsors. Koch, Scaife, Ahmundson, Coors, Murdoch, etc. The Kochtopus is probably foremost among them in the US, and the Mont Pelerin Society globally. Libertarians are among the cats paws of these conspiracies.
Victimless Crime
Voluntary (4 links)
Libertarians conflate many senses of the word voluntary (and consent) and exclude others to suit their ideological needs of the moment. To libertarians, being forced to live in a system of laissez faire capitalism is voluntary for everyone because you could die instead. All government is considered involuntary, even though you can exit. And paradoxically, all voluntary exchange is based on involuntary systems of rights (primarily enforced by government.) See also Voluntaryism and private charity (voluntarism).


One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses. Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child's understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.
Sebastian Haffner, "Defying Hitler: A Memoir", pg. 17.
The key to understanding this, and to understanding Libertarianism itself, is to realize that their concept of individual freedom is the "whopper" of "right to have the State back up business". That's a wild definition of freedom.
Seth Finkelstein, "Libertarianism Makes You Stupid"
Libertarians are for "individual rights", and against "force" and "fraud" - just as THEY define it. Their use of these words, however, when examined in detail, is not likely to accord with the common meanings of these terms.
Seth Finkelstein, "Libertarianism Makes You Stupid"
We have to start by decoding a whole system of intellectual distortion before you can even talk.
Noam Chomsky, "Libertarianism vs. American Libertarianism @5:00"
The appeal of the NAP [Non-Aggression Principle] lies in its apparent simplicity and intuitive plausibility (tautologies tend to be intuitively plausible), but it’s typically deployed in a way that amounts to a kind of shell game: I argue that socialism must be rejected on the grounds that it violates this one simple moral principle, and hope my interlocutor doesn’t notice that I’ve essentially begged the question by baking a theory of strong property rights incompatible with socialism into my conception of “aggression,” when of course libertarian property rights are ultimately backed by the threat of (individual or state) violence as well.
Julian Sanchez, "The Non-Aggression Principle Can’t Be Salvaged -- and Isn’t Even a Principle"
The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they ... have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretense that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most effective way to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning.... Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.... If one has not one's self experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion which it creates... And the confusion becomes worse because this change of meaning of words describing political ideals is not a single event but a continuous process, a technique employed consciously or unconsciously to direct the people. Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.
The Road to Serfdom, p. 157-159.