The Moral Case for Economic Liberty: Classical_Liberalism_vs_Libertarianism
By John Tomasi, PhD
The classical liberal framework is pioneered by radical English thinkers such as John Lilburne and John Locke, developed in the American context by Founders such as James Madison.
Classical liberals affirm what we might call a thick conception of economic liberty. They tend to interpret each category of private economic liberty as having a wide scope. Further, classical liberals see the wide-ranging economic liberties as being especially weighty compared to other social values. They see economic liberties as having a political status comparable to that of the other traditional liberal rights and liberties, such as liberties of speech and association. But classical liberals do not treat economic liberties as moral absolutes or as in any way more basic than the other fundamental rights and liberties. While important, such liberties do not trump every other social concern.
This last feature distinguishes classical liberalism from a closely related but importantly distinct tradition that we might call libertarianism. By libertarians, I am thinking of historical figures such as Lysander Spooner and more recent writers such as Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, and Ayn Rand.
Classical liberals and libertarians share an appreciation for the great institutional and personal importance of private economic liberty, but while classical liberals see economic liberties as being among the weightiest rights, libertarians tend to see property rights as the weightiest rights of all and even as moral absolutes.
Thus, unlike the libertarians, classical liberals accept that even the weightiest economic liberties can sometimes be curtailed or regulated to preserve other foundational liberties and sometimes to allow the pursuit of other important social purposes as well. For example, classical liberals would not think the state should enforce contracts that alienate citizens from their other basic rights and liberties. Second, classical liberals traditionally grant that governments have some (albeit carefully limited) powers of eminent domain. They also recognize that governments have the power to act to maintain free and competitive markets (for example, by regulating or breaking up monopolies of scarce resources or by forbidding various forms of collusion and price fixing).
Democracy, Law and Order, and Economic Grwoth/2014 Index of Economic Freedom