Miscellany:Desirable and undesirable terminology

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This is an attempt to figure out what words libertarians should use to mean what.


Libertarians use this to mean the use of force, threat of force, or fraud to violate rights to life, liberty or property. The "international community" of states has famously never been able to reach agreement on what constitutes "aggression" because they don't want their hands to be tied from using military force in response to what they deem sufficient provocation.
A vague term; it can mean that you live on a particular continent or that you're from the United States or identify yourself as part of the American people.
A shorter word for self-determination. It might also imply mobility to go where one pleases without being tethered by restrictions. An autonomous person is also an autocrat over his own life.
A word sometimes used in place of "police, prosecutors, and other officials involved in investigating and punishing behavior that violates the government's statutes and regulations". Some libertarians find it objectionable because of the distinction between power and authority; the state has power to punish cannabis consumption, for instance, but not the authority.
Used by some people to mean someone who's free rather than a subject. Others consider it to have implications of allegiance to a certain government. Thus, "free citizen" would be an oxymoron.
Civil disobedience
Sometimes used to mean "resistance to civil government"; other times used to mean only "nonviolent" civil resistance.
One's own idea of what is right. People sometimes say, "We should be free to act according to conscience" without regard for the fact that one might infringe on other's freedom if, for instance, his conscience tells him that it is okay to murder.
Consenting adults
For those who assume that children are incapable of consent, a redundant phrase because they could just say "consenters" or "consenting persons". For those who assume that children are capable of consent, a way of dodging the inevitable follow-up question "What about children?" by setting oneself up to be able to say, "I said adults."
Behavior that's contrary to law. Anarcho-capitalists refer to the government as a criminal. Legal positivists use the word to mean any behavior that's contrary to the government's
Criminal justice system
A phrase that makes some libertarians cringe because most of what the system does is unjust. Therefore, some libertarians prefer "criminal injustice system" because the system is both criminal and unjust.
Death tax
Another word for "estate tax" that doesn't conjure up imagery of a person who is so rich as to live on an estate.
Not being generous enough for some people's tastes, or engaging in consensual activities or transactions that some people feel are a bad idea for one party or the other.
Has a precise meaning according to The Market for Liberty that could be accurately applied to the U.S. Government; however, the mainstream usually just uses it to refer to the system of government that existed in German under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini. The far-right is sometimes jokingly called fascist, but really it's just an alias for "Nazi" at this point, in the eyes of the common person.
Fiscally liberal
This should mean disinclined to tax people for the support of government programs, since liberalism is a philosophy of freedom. In an Orwellian twist, it has come to mean the exact opposite.
Free country
Arguably an oxymoron. It's unclear how free a country would have to be to qualify as a "free country"; every country's government probably considers the country to be free, or at least claims to.
Financial support extended as charity. This has a negative connotation compared to "contribution". The assumption is that a "handout" is given to help a person help himself, while a "contribution" is given to help a person help others. In reality, a contribution to, say, a charitable organization is used to pay the salaries of the workers (thus putting those workers in a financial position to do and enjoy more than just charitable deeds), and a handout to a private individual may enable him to not only help himself but help others in various ways. So the distinction is somewhat arbitrary.
A term sometimes used by newspapers in place of "undocumented workers" because it fits in headlines better. Possibly objectionable terminology to those who point out that natural law says that these people have done nothing illegal, and it is the legislation punishing them that in fact is illegal or unlawful.
Anti-libertarian. "Illiberal" is kind of a fun word because usually the only people who use it are the British, who regard its opposite as "liberal". The word "liberal" has been taken over by leftist writers, but for some reason they always say "far-right", "conservative", etc. rather than "illiberal" to describe their opponents. So, "illiberal" still unambiguously means "anti-libertarian" and can be used as a reminder of what liberalism once meant.
Can mean self-determination, but also has the implication of financial independence so might be inaccurate in the case of, e.g., a sovereign person or country who relies of handouts from others.
A hard-to-say word that jury nullification activists sometimes eschew in favor of "jury member" when they're passing out educational materials concerning jury rights.
Used by some libertarians to mean "natural law". Used by most people in place of "legislation" since it's a lot shorter of a word, and because most people have never heard of or don't support the idea of natural law.
Law-abiding citizen
Typically (mis-)used to mean a person who, because of his obedience to the state, deserves to be treated a certain way by the state. One could argue that "law-abiding citizen" is actually an oxymoron, because a person who obeys the state (an allegedly "good citizen") often has to break natural law in doing so, by helping the state oppress others.
God and/or nature, in the eyes of natural law theorists. Members of the legislature, in the eyes of most people.
Usually used to mean far-left, but libertarians who can't stomach calling the politically left "liberal" may instead just call them leftist. There doesn't seem to be any other word. If they're going to rip off our words, we might as well call them what we want to call them.
Legal positivism
Should we use this phrase, or should we call it "legislative positivism"?
Manmade rules forcibly imposed on others. Mainstream writers usually use "legislation" to refer to statutes in the context of their being proposed or enacted by legislators.
Used to mean libertarian, but then Rothbard and a bunch of others had to surrender the fight concerning that and start calling leftists "liberals".
The theory that government is bad, so it should only do really important things.
A term that has come to be associated with ethical issues concerning sex and drugs rather than concerning the use of physical force against others. Within libertarian circles, I think people will usually know what you're talking about, but the wider public tends to associate it with a different connotation.
A term some people dislike because it defines something in terms of what it isn't. A can of beer could be considered a non-aggressor because it doesn't attack anything. On the other hand, people use the word "non-participant", "non-smoker", etc. all the time. People also say that they believe in "nonviolence".
Getting some sort of benefit out of an activity one engages in with a person, or enjoying looking at that person.
[Please give a libertarian definition]
"Peaceful people" is used to mean either "non-aggressive people" or "pacifistic people" who do not resist aggression. The ambiguity leads some people who consider force justified in self-defense, or in defense of others against an aggressor, to instead say "non-aggressive people" or "non-aggressors". Often people who want to legalize drugs, prostitution, and other behaviors not involving the use of defensive force will say that "peaceful" activities shouldn't be treated as crimes; this does nothing to defend the actions of those who use reasonable force to protect life, liberty and property from aggressors, without forcibly harming non-aggressors.
Private school
Isn't there a word or phrase for this that doesn't sound so exclusive?
Public school
A school supported by public funds. Some libertarians prefer the term "state school" or "government school". Some say "gun-run schools" to emphasize that the police forcibly compel people to go, under threat of foster "care", juvenile detention and other penalties. Also, "gun-run" rhymes nicely. Also known as "daytime detention centers"
Social contract
An agreement that people supposedly consent to by remaining in a geographical region, much as people supposedly consent to an End User License Agreement by breaking a seal on a DVD-ROM.
Social justice
The forcing of one's preferences on others at gunpoint, as opposed to seeking after justice as it's ordinarily defined. Walter E. Williams states, "But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you - and why?"
Social Security
"Socialist insecurity", some libertarians call it
Having no legal obligation to obey a higher authority. Arguably "sovereign state" is an oxymoron because nothing can be higher than the individual's sovereignty. It's debatable whether individuals can voluntarily and irrevocably choose to pool their individual sovereignty in a binding way; but even if so, this would not be binding on those who did not agree to it.
A group of people who organized to use force to make everyone in a certain geographical area (the extent of which is usually limited only by the difficulties of settling marine, space, and antarctic territory, and by the threat of force from other states if the state's agents cross certain geographical bounds) obey them. Some Americans prefer to say "government" to distinguish between countries and U.S. states.
Unprovoked attack
This is sometimes used to mean "unjustified use of force". Some statists will say that any use of force that isn't sanctioned by the state is an unprovoked attack. They do not regard the state's use of force as a provocation.
Victimless crime
Arguably an oxymoron, if you deem "crime" to be only behavior that's against natural law. A lot of non-libertarians seem to have trouble understanding the concept; they think that any behavior that harms a person (such as a person's heroin habit having an adverse effect on his finances and his ability to care for his children) has a victim, i.e. the person(s) adversely affected. They also view the taxpayer as the victim of a person who engages in self-destructive behavior, if the government then extends that person a bailout. It is true the taxpayer is a victim, but the crime was committed by the government.
Sometimes used to mean "aggression", sometimes used to mean any use of force against another human being.
Statists describe your "agreement" to live under statist rule as voluntary, because you had a choice between living under statist government A, or moving out of the country to live under statist government B, and you chose either A or B. The police use this to mean that you do what they tell you under threat of their laying hands on you, without their having to actually lay hands on you.
Sometimes used to mean, "the government that claims to act on my behalf" or "my fellow Americans with whom I disagree".

See also

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