Sunday, November 25, 2012

Liberalism Then and Now...

by: Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA
Liberty
-vs- Tyranny


True 18th century Classical Liberalism, the basis of a limited central government, individualism, and property rights is at great odds with modern liberalism. The following from reason.com points up the essential differences quite well.

In The Future of Liberalism (2009), Alan Wolfe writes that the true heirs to the liberalism of John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson are not today’s classical liberals (libertarians (emphasis mine)), but rather the other kind of liberals, those who would use government power to assure autonomy and equality for all. Such “modern liberalism,” for Wolfe, is simply an updating of the original: In the eighteenth century, political power crushed autonomy and equality, requiring a free market as the antidote; now private corporate power under capitalism does the same, but this time the remedy is active government.

Early in his book Wolfe writes:

The core substantive principle of liberalism is this: As many people as possible should have as much say as is feasible over the direction their lives will take. Expressed in this form, liberalism, as in the days of John Locke, is committed both to liberty and to equality. . . . [Emphasis in original.]

With respect to liberty, liberals want for the person what Thomas Jefferson wanted for the country: independence. Dependency, for liberals, cripples. . . . When we have no choice but to accept someone else’s power over us, we fail to think for ourselves, are confined to conditions of existence resembling an endless struggle for survival, are unable to plan for the future, and cannot posses elementary human dignity. The autonomous life is therefore the best life. We have the potential, and are therefore responsible for realizing it, to be masters of our own destiny.

This sounds pretty good, no? Being subject to another’s arbitrary will clashes with the liberal spirit, which projects the ideal of mastery of one’s destiny even as one cooperates with others for mutual benefit.

Equality as Core Value

I also agree with Wolfe that equality is a core value of classical liberalism, but not as he means it. True liberal equality is not income equality; nor is it merely equality of liberty or equality under the law. The first would require continuous violent state interference with voluntary exchange, while the other two are inadequate in themselves. By equality, I mean what Roderick Long calls, per Locke, “equality of authority.” For Locke a state of equality is one in which “all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank . . . should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection . . . .”

But now I must part ways with Wolfe because he has an utterly self-defeating idea of how to secure everyone’s mastery over his or her own one’s destiny: the welfare state. Judging by the history and nature of the state, we must conclude that Wolfe’s program would lead not to liberation but rather to subjugation of the individual. Wolfe has things turned topsy-turvy:

To advocate today what Smith advocated yesterday—a free market unregulated by government—is to foster greater, rather than lesser, dependency and less, rather than more, equality. . . . [I]n the highly organized and concentrated forms taken by capitalism in the contemporary world, removing government from the marketplace does not allow large numbers of people to become entrepreneurs in ways that enable them to set the terms by which their lives will be led; it instead allows firms to reduce their obligations to their employees and thereby make them more dependent on the vagaries of the market.

Impersonal Market Forces

The latter part of the quote has some validity, but before I get to that, let’s look at the general point. I take Wolfe to be saying—and he reinforces the point in this discussion with Russ Roberts—that one is less autonomous when subject to impersonal market forces than when subject to political forces ostensibly designed to ensure autonomy and equality. This strikes me as entirely wrong.

Admittedly, in a freed economy no one person or group would control the market forces (the law of supply and demand, and so on) to which we all must adjust as we carry out our plans. That would seem to impinge on our autonomy. But these forces are called impersonal precisely because they are not the product of any single will or directed at any chosen objective. Rather the term market forces simply refers to the spontaneous, orderly, and essential process (the price system) generated by other people’s freedom to choose what to buy and sell. In other words, each individual’s autonomy is bounded by each other individual’s autonomy. While we all must take prices and other people’s choices into account as we make our plans, we each have great leeway in the marketplace through which we can minimize our vulnerability to the arbitrary will of others. If one person won’t deal with you, someone else most likely will, so the prospect of being victimized by, say, invidious discrimination shrinks. {Read More}

27 comments:

  1. If supply and demand was still the way things work, that would be fine, but that is not the world today, it was the world then.
    You keep spewing what should be instead of looking at ways to solve our problems with what we have to deal with realistically.
    An old saying, "You have your head in the clouds."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you will Anonymous, as you will...

      Without thinking liberally...

      Delete
    2. As it is, as it is

      Delete
  2. I disagree with Wolfe. He sounds like a modern-day liberal inventing stuff.

    "the other kind of liberals, those who would use government power to assure autonomy and equality for all."

    Where are these mythical liberals he speaks of?

    He's full of it Libertarians are the torchbearers of our founders, not these mythical liberals he conjures out of thin air.

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  3. Silver, you are dead on. The statement "the other kind of liberals, those who would use government power to assure autonomy and equality for all." has nothing to do with modern liberalism, which seeks to increase government power at the direct expense of the autonomy of the people and insists on inequality in so many ways.

    Here is one case in which liberals insist on a racist policy designed specifically to make sure that people aren't treated equally. This sort of unjust treatment is a sacrament among today's liberals.

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  4. Silver, that is in fact how today's liberals see things. You assume we are statists who want to dominate your life, just as many liberals assume you do.

    Real educated liberal thinking people want to balance state power against personal liberty just as you conservatives do, but just in different ways and degrees.

    We are not anti-capitalistic, and you seriously need to get that.

    JMJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seriously... Or are you the epitome of clueless?

      Delete
    2. Gee, Mr. Fiftyeight, you're so smart! What a deep comment!

      Idiot.

      JMJ

      Delete
    3. Unfortunately, Jersey, these liberals tend to want to tip the balance toward state power and against personal liberty in most areas. There are exceptions, like gay marriage, but for the most part liberals tend to favor the interests of the rulers over those of the ruled.

      Delete
    4. Idiot? Based on my opinion of your obvious attempt to redefine liberals... Okay, you may not be clueless. But in the sense that you think intelligent people will believe "educated liberal thinking people want to balance state power against personal liberty just as you conservatives do"...
      Epitome of clueless!

      Delete
    5. And your opinion is, just that, your opinion.

      Liberalism was redefined by progressives over many years. Look at it in relation to Classical Liberalism. If you understand C/L at all.

      Delete
    6. "Redefine liberals?" I am liberal! What are you talking about!

      Look, you have to stop listening to how other people define other people and try to actually listen to how people define themselves. It will give you are faaaaaaaaar more realistic and accurate (and far less hyperbolic, ridiculous, paranoid) picture of what they're really thinking.

      This is only a matter of your opinion. The FACT is that "liberals" think very differently than you guys think we do.

      When you guys talk about government power, what you're really talking about is taxes, regulation, etc. And yes, liberals do want their to be taxes and regulations. We do want a proactive government that helps with our lives. But there's a huge difference between that wanting the "rulers" to have their "interests" sated. It seems to me that the idiot "conservatives" who voted GOP all those years and therefore gave us Citizens United want that, dmarks.

      As for "classical liberalism," whatever. Welcome to today. Different world.

      JMJ

      Delete
    7. Fact is jmj that actions over time speak louder than words. Which I might add is why I am no longer a rEpublican. In fact I'm thinking Rand was correct on political parties as well. But I won't bore you with such mundane things.

      Delete
    8. And one great fact is that America always fared better for the majority of Americans during periods of "liberal" governance, even during war.

      You always talk about "classical liberalism." Well, did it ever occur to you that if we could time-travel a "classical liberal," we'd find liberals then would probably think the same way liberals do today?

      Liberal is Liberal. It is Liberated. It is Freedom. And it is RESPONSIBILITY. And that extends to far more than just personal needs or necessities to live.

      JMJ

      Delete
  5. To all of those people who seemingly fear corporations more than the government, in the words of economist Robert Higgs, "A corporation wasn't responsible for the Holocaust. A corporation wasn't responsible for Pol Pot's "killing fields". A corporation wasn't responsible for the gulags in Stalinist Russia. A corporation wasn't responsible for the mass starvation in Maoist China."......Walmart? Ooh, I'm scared.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. .

      Oh, can I play too?

      A corporation closed the company/factory/plant where I was working. A corporation shipped the equipment that was in the company/factory/plant off to China. It was a corporation that raided the company/factory/plant's workers' pension/retirement plans. It was a corporation that laid me off. It was the corporation that declared "bankruptcy". It was the corporation that refused to pay unemployment compensation claims.

      Oh how government is bad; right?

      Ema Nymton
      ~@:o?
      .

      Delete
    2. So Ema, are you then suggesting that government nationalize businesses so everyone has a position for life, universal equality, and then things would be better?

      If not then answer the question. Directly if you don't mind.

      Delete
    3. .

      "... are you then suggesting that government nationalize businesses ...

      No. I am suggesting that corporations nationalize governments. You know. Like in central American banana republics or China. Then youse guys will happily shout the meaningless Madison Avenue slogans "Freedom" and "Liberty" from big bad government.

      Ya. That's the ticket.

      Ema Nymton
      ~@:o?
      .

      Delete
    4. Ema, some would say we have a banana republic already, I'm sure you've heard. That aside methinks your answer is comical. And perhaps a bit bananary.

      Delete
  6. Will: Excellent point.

    I saw a campaign ad/image earlier this year showing Somalia. It was against Republicans, and they used Somalia as an example of a place with small government.

    What a pathetic argument. They really had to scrape the globe to find and example of the evils of small government.

    Is there anyone who wouldn't much rather live in Somalia, than in Mao's China, Pol Pot, Stalin's Russia, than in Somalia?

    -------------------

    And yes, Will. Let's scrape the globe for the worst evils of corporations. Let's see. 8,000 at Bhopal? That's less than how many were dying per day in a typical excessive action of big government. And Bhopal was an accident. The deaths on the Killing Fields are all on purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been using the "Somalia" example for years. That's not new.

      It makes a very simple point about a very simplistic metric. The "amount" of government in our modern American lives at any given point in time rarely represents such a simple integer.

      Less government = less government. You get what you pay for, be careful what you wish for, etc, etc...

      JMJ

      Delete
    2. Hm, let's see here, who do I pick; the Thomas Edisons, Steve Jobses, Henry Fords, Walt Disneys, Eli Whitneys, Oprah Winfreys, Dorothy Gerbers, Alexander Graham Bells, Clarance Birdseyes, Samuel McIntires, Robert Fultons, William Randolph Hearsts, Charles Goodyears, and John D. Rockefellers of the world, or the idiots who gave us the Alien and Sedition Act, the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Enlarged Homestead Act, Strategic Hamlet (not to mention the Vietnam War in general), Prohibition, Watergate, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ethanol subsidies, the Shah of Iran, Amtrak, nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cash for Clunkers, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, etc., etc., etc.?....Ah, yeah, that's a really tough one, Jersey. NOT!.

      Delete
    3. I'm guessing you know which of these would be my pick Will.

      Delete
    4. You're not down with Cash for Clunkers, Les?

      Delete
  7. Jersey: You would have credibility if reality actually reflected what you are saying. It does not.

    The founding fathers would run screaming from today's "liberal" Democrat party, or better, launch fusillades and cannonades at them after identifying them as the enemy to free people that they are.

    Mainstream libertarians, ie Reason Mag, Hayek, are the group that is philosophically closest to the Founding Fathers.

    Progressives are statists. Those are your roots and the aims have not changed. It's been a one hundred year Long March for you guys. Own it.

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  8. They would run even faster from Republicans.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm not exactly sure what the precise metric is but I'm pretty sure that they'd probably run from both.

    ReplyDelete

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