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A Reader’s Guide to Liberalism | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on January 10, 2021

Some historians such as the paleoconservative scholar Paul Gottfried make the case that old school liberalism transitioned into a more progressive statism centered on social engineering and behavioral control starting in the 1900s. In his book, After Liberalism, Gottfried documents how the restrained liberalism of the 19th century gradually vanished, to be later replaced by its modern-day successor.

https://libertarianinstitute.org/articles/a-readers-guide-to-liberalism/

After Liberalism

Has the definition of “liberal” changed over time?

One of the more compelling debates in American intellectual circles concerns classical liberalism vs modern liberalism.

In American parlance, the word liberal is used reflexively, often without much deep thought about its origin. It usually refers to individuals associated with the contemporary left and loosely connected to the Democratic Party. However, liberal did not always have that connotation in American politics.

To understand these changes, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to learn how its meaning has evolved over time.

Classical Liberalism vs. Modern Liberalism

Originally, liberalism was associated with a political philosophy of governance that protected individual rights, called for checks on government, encouraged economic freedom, and was centered around individualism.

In the present, we see liberalism generally associated with the modern-day political Left which is more focused on using the state to proactively promote egalitarianism and purge society of perceived blights such as racism, oppression, and patriarchal institutions.

The proactive role for the state to modify behavior would seem foreign to the liberals of yore, who generally believed in a restrained state. Crucial historical developments such as the Progressive Era, World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II forever changed American politics, and by extension, politics in the West.

One of the more profound changes was the way the word “liberal” would be used in political speech.

What Changed

Some historians such as the paleoconservative scholar Paul Gottfried make the case that old school liberalism transitioned into a more progressive statism centered on social engineering and behavioral control starting in the 1900s. In his book, After Liberalism, Gottfried documents how the restrained liberalism of the 19th century gradually vanished, to be later replaced by its modern-day successor.

Gottfried argued that “Liberalism is increasingly adrift. Having gone over to social planning earlier in the century, it had to jettison its nineteenth-century heritage in return for humanitarian and ‘scientific’ goals.” The rise of the Progressive Movement at the end of the 19th century, which came about in response to the perceived injustices of the Gilded Age, started to plant the seeds of 19th century liberalism’s destruction.

From Laissez-Faire Capitalism to Welfare Capitalism

Welfare capitalism was a reasonable compromise for those skeptical of both the market and totalitarian economic systems such as Communism. This contemporary political economy generally features a system of progressive taxation, national wage standards, state-run pension systems, and welfare programs for the poor.

On the behavioral front, liberal states in the past century frequently turned to anti-discrimination laws and administrative edicts to purge society of undesirable behavior such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. Top-down state activism was justified under the banner of promoting social justice.

How Progressivism Grew

Many progressive reformers started out locally, but this was only one step in their quest for power. Their vision was to make their way to the top and use the levers of state power to mold American society along scientific lines. Although Progressives had an elitist outlook, they saw mass democracy as one tool to overthrow the previous political order.

The Impact of War on Liberalism

World War I was a major catalyst for governments across the West to assume greater powers than previously imagined. It is often forgotten that a battery of commissions set up during this period inspired a number of New Deal era agencies. Progressives did not see war-time measures as temporary, but rather stepping stones for even larger interventions that would become permanent in times of peace.

Education as a Tool to Socialize the Masses

Progressives were busy on the education front as well. They recognized the power of public education as a tool to socialize the masses. So they did not waste any time to impose their beliefs on the malleable minds of America’s youth.

Educators such as Thomas Dewey were energetic about using public education to spread progressive liberal ideas and socialize the American public. Dewey originally championed progressivism, but grew tired of the term over time.

Gottfried observed that other ideological currents taking root in the early 1900s, compelled reformers like Dewey to describe their approach as “liberal” by default:

“When Dewey decided to characterize his proposed social reforms as ‘liberal,’ he had already tried out ‘progressive,’ ‘corporate,’ and ‘organic.’ The rise of fascism may have rendered rhetorically problematic the last two alternatives to “liberal.” And since there were competitors for ‘progressive’ associated with the reform wings of the two major national parties, Dewey and his confreres may have become ‘liberals’ faute de mieux.”

The Transformational Era of the New Deal

Once the New Deal rolled around, the word “liberal” took on a whole different meaning in American parlance. In Gottfried’s view, the rise of the managerial state — a technocratic state that occupies itself with modifying people’s behavior — during the Progressive Era and its subsequent consolidation during the interventionist period of the New Deal is what put an end to the liberal current of the 19th century.

The economist John Maynard Keynes played an integral role throughout the New Deal in normalizing government intervention in the economy. His public policy prescriptions of massive government spending and bureaucratic administration were a radical departure from the previous laissez-faire paradigm of divided powers, bourgeois morality, and a robust civil society to keep the state in check.

The Civil Rights Revolution’s Knockout Punch

The Great Society reforms of the 1960s further accelerated the ascent of modern-day liberalism after anti-discrimination laws and welfare became the norm. Once the 1960s ended, American liberalism became a force for social reconstruction that made the liberalism of the previous century look even quainter.

Gottfried contended that “Liberalism now survives as a series of social programs informed by a vague egalitarian spirit, and it maintains its power by pointing its finger accusingly at antiliberals.” The constant desire to reshape society is part and parcel of the modern-day liberal experiment.

What is Modern Liberalism

Modern-day liberalism mostly refers to the mass democratic philosophy that center-Left political parties across the West — from liberal internationalists to social democrats — have thoroughly embraced. The way one can define modern liberalism is by characterizing it as a system which features a mixed economy with an activist state that is involved in molding people’s behaviors.

Classical liberals believed in the protection of private property, free speech, and a robust civil society. Modern liberals were more in favor of using the state as a vehicle of promoting social change. They are by no means communists. Modern liberals still believe in private property and civil society outside of the state.

But for the modern-day liberal, these institutions could be exploited and co-opted to serve managerial elites’ ends. Modern liberals ultimately conceded that a functioning market was necessary for funding a welfare state.

What is Classical Liberalism

Figuring out the difference between classical liberalism and modern liberalism requires us to go back to the origins of liberalism itself. English philosopher John Locke is largely credited as the founder of classical liberalism and his example serves as a good starting point for any classical liberal vs modern liberal analysis.

His famous Two Treatises of Civil Government functioned as the definitive text for liberal governance in a time when Europe was largely marked by absolutist monarchies. Locke did not believe in the divine right of kings but was rather of the view that governments needed the consent of the governed in order to have legitimacy.

Locke’s emphasis on “pre-political” rights was revolutionary in that it placed the individual at the forefront of any political order. In addition, individuals could set up their own governments and disband them if they felt that they no longer protected their rights.

For Locke, the government’s only legitimate function was to protect life and property. His ideas would play integral roles during the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution.

The American Revolution’s Liberal Origins

In the case of the American Revolution, a number of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence drew heavily from Locke. They used his ideology as a basis of rebelling against the British government, which they perceived as a government that usurped its legitimate functions and violated traditional English liberties.

America’s Liberal Experiment in Action

Subsequently, the founding generation drew from Lockean principles to codify a number of civil liberties and limited government functions in the U.S. constitution.  These included a separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches and the protection of liberties such as the freedom of religion, free speech, freedom to peacefully assemble, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, and due process.

The French’s Role in Influencing American Governance

The separation of powers was largely inspired by liberal thinkers such as the French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu and his Enlightenment counterparts who championed a social contract of sorts between individuals and the state. Under this political order, the rule of law, equal rights among rulers and the ruled, and the ability for citizens to petition their government would be safeguarded.

How Classical Liberalism Provided the Intellectual Backbone for Capitalism

Classical liberalism wasn’t just confined to the political sphere. Economists such as Adam Smith took the logic of liberalism and applied it to economic policy. Smith became a firm believer in a capitalist economy that promoted free commerce between nations, as opposed to the prevailing mercantilist model that European preferred at the time.

Similar to Locke’s political works, Smith’s Wealth of Nations became one of the most influential pieces of economic literature in human history and put the field of economics on the map.

Classical Liberalism’s Peak in the 19th Century

By the mid-19th century, liberalism reached a turning point after the British Empire embraced global free trade through its repeal of the Corn Laws. From that point until World War I, Britain and most of the West enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity, relative peace, and a gradual transition to constitutional democratic rule.

For many historians of liberalism, the Gilded Age or Belle Epoque (Beautiful Era) was the height of personal freedom in the West combined with a level of economic growth that was never seen before thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

Given these historical contrasts, it’s no surprise why many historians like to participate in the classical liberal vs modern liberal discussion. Upon deep inspection, there are clear differences in these ideological strands, which merit considerable analysis.

Classical Liberalism vs Modern Liberalism on the Nolan Chart

Nolan Chart

The Nolan chart was named after David Nolan, a respected activist who was heavily involved in the liberty movement. This chart has helped determine how Americans identify themselves on the political spectrum. It went beyond the typical liberalism vs. conservatism debates of the 1900s and added a twist by including criteria that was generally associated with libertarianism.

The chart is divided into four quadrants that list political viewpoints along two axes, which highlight economic and personal freedom.

The classical liberal respect for individual liberties and a restrained state has lived on in modern-day libertarianism. Most classical liberals would likely score in the lower part of the libertarian quadrant closer towards the centrist bloc.

Liberals in the present, on the other hand, would probably land more on the left hand progressive quadrant, with some sliding downwards towards statism. Their economic views put them well to the left of all free-market liberals.

That said, there are some progressives and contemporary liberals who share similar views with free-market liberals regarding civil liberties.

Liberalism’s Comeback

19th century liberal ideas have witnessed somewhat of a comeback but with a slightly more radical twist after World War II. Economists such as Friedrich A. Hayek and Milton Friedman helped supply the intellectual ammo that sparked a resurgence in liberal thought and the subsequent entrance of libertarianism in American politics.

The Differences Between Classical Liberals and Libertarians

Although there are considerable degrees of overlap between classical liberals and libertarians, the latter tend to be more radical in their views of the role the state plays in society and how much government intervention should be tolerated.

For many sects of libertarianism, the state should only be limited to the provision of defense, the court system, and law enforcement. The more anarchist wings of this movement tend to believe that the private sector and civil society can assume all competencies of the state.

Where Liberalism Stands Now

As much as some would like to deny it, the definition of words matter. They can have different meanings depending on the country, time, or place. In the rest of the Anglosphere, liberal is generally associated with the free-market Right.

The same is the case in Spanish-speaking countries. However, this has not been the case in the American context. Political movements tend to come and go throughout history.

The Percieved Triumph of Liberalism Against Communism

The 20th century largely saw the demise of 19th century liberalism and ushered in a completely different paradigm. The waning years of the Cold War witnessed the demise of Soviet-style totalitarianism and the perceived triumph of liberal democracy.

Political leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan provided the public policies and political leadership that allowed for market-based liberalism to thrive and set itself apart from central planning.

The New Liberal Consensus

By the 1990s, market-based economies were generally accepted by elites and became the order of the day. This became embodied in “neoliberalism”, a resurgence of economic liberalism in the form of lower tariffs, multilateral trade, less stringent migration, moves towards privatization of state enterprises, and slightly sleeker welfare states.

Neoliberal Dominance 

In contrast to its distant 19th century ancestor, neoliberalism was not as pro-liberty and still maintained the managerial state and the concomitant social engineering measures that were established in the 1960s. Regardless, the ideological dominance of neoliberalism cannot be denied as most of the globe has embraced some form of market economy and has largely rejected Soviet-style central planning.

Although the New Deal saw a leftist shift on economics issues, “neoliberals” of the post-Cold War era started taking more market-based positions on multilateral free trade and immigration.

The Fragile Nature of the Post-Cold War Order 

At a glance, post-Cold War liberals have appeared to engage in a form of “fusionism”, wherein they blend free-market positions on immigration and trade, with more left collectivist positions on education, healthcare, free speech, gender relations, and freedom of association.

The emergence of “wokism” has further perverted liberalism, as its collectivism has now become more racialized and has taken on an iconoclastic form now that basic gender relations, appreciation for a nation’s history, and free speech are all being called into question.

Many liberals have grudgingly moved along with this new trend of leftism. Indeed, a 90s neoliberal would likely shudder at the prospect of any member of the woke generation coming into power.

The Challenge of Resurrecting Liberal Ideas

Several public intellectuals such as American political commentator Dave Rubin and psychology professor Jordan Peterson have made attempts to resurrect old liberalism in a time when political discourse is threatened by cancel culture and anti-free speech forces on the Left.

Based on the new political challenges of the 21st century, classically liberal ideas have a tall task in front of them in trying to become relevant again in political movements on the Right. Nationalism and conservatism are the most influential movements on the Right at the moment and they have generally become less liberal over time.

Regardless of the changing political ecosystem, it would still benefit people to understand the classical liberalism vs. modern liberalism debate in order to make sense of our ever-changing political environment.

This article was originally featured at the Libertas Bella blog

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Doug Casey on the Dangers of Global Regulation – Casey Research

Posted by M. C. on July 13, 2020

Doug Casey: It’s really quite simple. To repeat,
governments shouldn’t decide anything. There shouldn’t be an American
trade policy, a French trade policy, an Australian trade policy, or any
other trade policy. These things shouldn’t exist. People in whatever
country should simply produce, buy, and sell. Whether that’s from their
own country or from other countries. Forget about “national policy” with
its ridiculous distinctions and labels.

https://www.caseyresearch.com/daily-dispatch/doug-casey-on-the-dangers-of-global-regulation/

Rachel’s note: Regular readers know Doug Casey believes you can always bet on the government to do the wrong thing. Whether it’s the dangerous response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or overregulation abroad, government intervention often creates more problems than it solves.

And today, Doug discusses the dangers surrounding globalism… and explains why we actually live in a fascist system…

Daily Dispatch: Doug, we’d like to get your take on the question of “Globalist vs. Globalism.” Not so long ago, the right was in favor of embracing a global economy, in order to access cheaper labor and other benefits of outsourcing. Whereas the left was against that whole idea, as they wanted to be more protectionist in their local economy.

But now, to the average man at least, that seems to have flipped. Now the right seems to be more protectionist, and the left wants to be more global. Is that an overly simplistic take on things? What’s your view?

Doug Casey: Well, to start with, these are just labels that don’t really mean anything – other than deciding what variety of statism you want.

The truth is that individuals and companies should be able to trade with each other with absolutely no restrictions, interference, or comment of any type from governments. No quotas, no duties, no incentives… nothing.

Governments bring absolutely nothing to the party. It’s a sham, a myth, and a delusion that government acts in the interest of the country it controls. Government (and the people who control it) act in their own interests and those of their cronies. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, and runs counter to what we were taught in grade school civics, or what sanctimonious Deep Staters like to repeat. But it’s the case with late-stage U.S. “capitalism.”

“Globalists,” “Globalism,” there’s barely any difference. It’s just busybodies deciding what products the real producers may or may not create, and what entrepreneurs can or can’t do. Saying one is good and the other is bad is the wrong way to look at it. It politicizes the question.

Daily Dispatch: Okay. What about all the noise about NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement], and the trade deals the U.K. wants to do now that it has left the European Union?

Doug Casey: It’s really quite simple. To repeat, governments shouldn’t decide anything. There shouldn’t be an American trade policy, a French trade policy, an Australian trade policy, or any other trade policy. These things shouldn’t exist. People in whatever country should simply produce, buy, and sell. Whether that’s from their own country or from other countries. Forget about “national policy” with its ridiculous distinctions and labels.

Daily Dispatch: While you mention it, one of the things that has been quite amusing about Brexit are the “Remainers” (those who wanted to stay in the EU), who seem to think that if the U.K. doesn’t have a trade deal with the European Union, then suddenly all trade will stop.

They don’t seem to understand that you don’t need to have a deal between countries in order to trade. Businesses and individuals can just buy things. I can buy something from you. You can buy something from me. As long as we’re a willing buyer and seller, that’s all you need to trade.

Doug Casey: That’s absolutely correct, whether we’re talking about the European Union or NAFTA trade deals between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It’s unnecessary and unproductive trying to regulate trade with documents the size of an old New York telephone book.

Few people are aware that there are 50,000 employees of the European Union in and around Brussels – not counting lawyers, lobbyists, and hangers-on. Not one of these people serves a useful purpose. But they get fat salaries, expense accounts, and bribes. As Tacitus said 2,000 years ago, “The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the society.”

The European Union started out as a free trade organization after World War II – its purpose was to facilitate trade. But it’s grown into a giant dysfunctional bureaucracy. If the EU simply eliminated trade barriers, duties, and regulations, you wouldn’t need any of these people. They’re basically “useless mouths.” But that’s just the opposite of what they do. The European Parliament constantly passes more laws, which reduce personal freedoms. And those laws have to be enforced, which constantly increases taxes.

I’m all for Brexit. The British hopefully will no longer be constrained by the ridiculous regulations that come out of Brussels telling them how to make beer, cheese, or whether shops are allowed to sell eggs by the dozen.

Switzerland isn’t an EU member, and it does just fine.

Daily Dispatch: Related to this issue is the idea that Western governments seem to be pursuing the idea of a global tax or global wealth taxes. You could say that the West is bullying developing nations in the area of “tax competitiveness,” in the same way they’re bullying them with trade in general.

For instance, the West doesn’t want developing countries to have, say, a coal industry. It wants the developing countries to be more considerate of environmental issues. That just doesn’t seem fair. These countries are trying to drag themselves out of poverty while the West is forcing on them rules that will keep them in poverty. Then, in order to satisfy their guilt, they say, “Well, let’s give them billions of dollars in aid instead.” Which we know just goes to the corrupt leaders anyway. Right?

Doug Casey: Yes, of course. There’s this ridiculous concept of harmonizing tax policies, which devastates poor countries. The only reason that you would want to invest in a poor backward country is because costs may be lower, and the government might leave you alone. They can only attract investment if low taxes and regulation make it worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], and similar clubs the governments of advanced countries belong to, are trying to get backward countries to impose the same level of taxes and regulations that they do. Which will keep these countries as serfdoms and colonies. And it gets worse, because the foreign aid that they give to these countries just acts to cement them to the bottom of the economic ladder.

Foreign aid only further enriches the rich people in those countries, who are rich mostly because they’re politically well-connected. In fact, foreign aid is nothing but a “transfer of wealth” scam from poor people in rich countries, to rich people in poor countries.

The fact that the talking heads on television, magazine writers, and politicians all take this seriously, like it’s the way the world should work, is highly destructive. The average guy gives these authority figures completely undeserved credence. People ought to point out that the king has no clothes, and his minions are idiots.

Daily Dispatch: Kenya’s clothing industry is a good example of this. It was quite substantial up until the 1980s. There are several reasons for its decline, but one of the major factors was the Western charities that convinced Westerners to donate clothing, which was then shipped to Africa and effectively dumped into the local economy.

Ever since then, whenever you see footage of third-world countries, you notice that the kids and adults are wearing European soccer shirts or NBA basketball shirts. You know they haven’t paid the $100 or $200 that these things cost. They’ve been donated from the West. It’s an example of how these kinds of practices can destroy local industries.

Doug Casey: That’s exactly right. Locally produced items, no matter what their price or quality, can’t compete with free goods. And it’s worse than that, actually, because the same thing happens with food. Western farmers lobby their governments to buy surplus cheese, wheat, sugar, and whatever else, and then give these things to third-world countries. They say it’s charity. But it actually destroys the local farmers in these countries.

And then when the aid stops or diminishes, there are no farmers left – they’ve all had to move to the city. Now the country has a real problem on its hands. Here’s the takeaway: All foreign aid to backward countries should be abolished. It’s counterproductive, at best. It impoverishes Western taxpayers and destroys the productive capacity of the recipients.

But look, this is all a question of government intervention. It’s not capitalism, in fact, technically, it’s fascism. People don’t understand that we don’t have capitalist systems anywhere today. Capitalism is a system where there is no taxation and no regulation – it’s a total free market.

Instead, today we have fascism – a term that was coined by Mussolini, who was philosophically a socialist who realized direct state ownership didn’t work as well as corporate ownership. Fascism has little to do with jackboots and parades – those are just convenient decorations. Fascism basically promotes a “partnership” between the state and corporations.

You have to remember that the U.S. government is an entity with a life of its own – as are General Motors, Google, General Electric, or whatever. They work together for their mutual benefit. The general welfare of the citizens is secondary.

Daily Dispatch: And yet people still blame capitalism.

Doug Casey: Yes, because the population in general, the media, and the politicians are too stupid to understand the real definition of capitalism. Everybody repeats the same myths to each other – they did it in the Soviet Union until it collapsed.

You see this all the time, where some mainstream fool will say that capitalism is broken and we need to fix it. But capitalism isn’t broken at all, because the current economies aren’t capitalist. If they were truly capitalist, then the system wouldn’t be broken.

The system they criticize is actually the same system they helped to perpetuate. It’s, as I say, a fascist system whereby governments and big corporations work together at the expense of the individual. Look how degraded the U.S. has become. Nearly half the country was quite ready to vote for Bernie Sanders, because he said he’d give them free stuff.

It’s perverse. The Greater Depression is going to be nasty indeed…

Daily Dispatch: Thanks for speaking with us today, Doug.

Doug Casey: You’re welcome.

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