Sunday, October 31, 2004

Definitions, Part 2: State and Individual

All of these definitions come from and / or Wikipedia, to which I provide links to the appropriate entries below. I have modified some of the Wikipedia material, however, to take into account information in other entries in the Wikipedia and elsewhere, and for stylistic reasons. Because these Websites may change, please understand that, for the sake of consistency, the following (and, where they conflict, NOT the current definitions which the links lead to) are the definitions I will use on this blog.

Capitalism: An economic system based on private ownership of capital [syn: capitalist economy] [ant: socialism] (Source: WordNet ® 2.0, Princeton University, at [Note: I am avoiding the the communist definition of capitalism. I want to use this word in its simplist form.]

Collectivism: In general, a term used to describe a theoretical or practical emphasis on the group, as opposed to (and seen by its opponents to be at the expense of), the individual. It is thus directly opposed to individualism, although many collectivists also derive their philosophy from a concern for the well being of the individual. Some types of collectivism state that the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual, while others argue that, since any group is ultimately made up of individuals, the individual serves his own interests by serving the group's interests (in other words, as the group prospers, all members of the group prosper). Collectivism may also be associated with enforced altruism, such as publicly funded medicine. There is much baggage with the term, and it is considered diametrically opposed to individualism and libertarianism, with Noam Chomsky and Ayn Rand among its detractors. Marxism, communism and democratic socialism, as well as some labor organizations and certain forms of anarchism are it's most ardent proponents. (Wikipedia)

Free market economy: An idealized form of market economy in which buyers and sellers are permitted to carry out transactions based solely on mutual agreement without interventionism in the form of taxes, subsidies, regulation, or government provision of goods or services beyond simply the protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts. The free market is a mainstay of ideologies such as minarchism, libertarianism, and 19th century liberalism, as well as the Western understanding of capitalism. It is anathema to communism and some variants of socialism, although modern liberalism and other variants of socialism seek only to mitigate what they see as the problems of an unrestrained free market. (Wikipedia)

Laissez-faire: Short for "laissez faire, laissez passer," a French phrase meaning to "let things alone, let them pass". First used by the eighteenth century Physiocrats as an injunction against government interference with trade, it is now used as a synonym for strict free market economics. Adam Smith played a large role in popularizing laissez-faire economic theories in English-speaking countries.

Laissez faire (imperative) is distinct from laisser faire (infinitive), which refers to a careless attitude in the application of a policy, implying a lack of consideration, or thought.

The laissez-faire school of thought holds a pure capitalist or free market view, that capitalism is best left to its own devices — that it will dispense with inefficiencies in a more deliberate and quick manner than any legislating body could. The basic idea is that less government interference makes for a better system. (Wikipedia)

Libertarianism: A political philosophy which advocates individual rights and a limited government. Libertarians believe that individuals should be free to do anything they want, so long as they do not infringe upon what they believe to be the equal rights of others. In this respect they agree with many other modern political ideologies. The difference arises from the definition of "rights". For libertarians, there are no material "positive rights" (such as to food, shelter, or health care), only "negative rights" (such as to not be assaulted, abused or robbed). Libertarians further believe that the only legitimate use of force, whether public or private, is to protect these rights. The key rights libertarians believe in are life, liberty and property, and they believe these rights belong to individuals, not groups (nations, classes, races, etc.). (Wikipedia) [Please note that the word "libertarian," like the word "liberal," has VERY different meanings in the US and Europe. For this blog, I use the US definition, which has only been in common use since about 1950. Before that, libertarianism meant something else; see the Wikipedia link for more details.]

Statism: The practice or doctrine of giving a centralized government control over economic planning and policy. (Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, at From the Wikipedia: In general, statists believe that individual rights are in no way natural or absolute, but that they are social constructs; in other words, rights and freedoms are not assigned by nature or some other higher authority, but by human society itself. For example, we have the right to life not because there is anything natural about it (after all, nature does not condemn murder), but because the majority of the human population has agreed that it is in their common interest to respect this right. Therefore, individual rights cannot be separated from the public good, since the public good is the reason why individual rights exist in the first place. If one accepts that a state is necessary to protect individual rights, then one also accepts that a state is necessary to carry out other actions for the public good. (Wikipedia)

Also, see my post Definitions, Part 1: Socialism.

UPDATE: Just a quick note: When reading my definitions posts, my Oxymoronism: Definitions and the Individual post should be kept in mind.

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