Ralph Raico is required reading for anyone who's concerned with preserving our liberal history and principles. I'm talking about actual liberalism, not the social democracy that passes for liberalism today. And, although the Left rightly rejects a direct comparison between modern liberalism and Soviet style socialism/communism, we have to understand the influence of Marx on the Left if we are to understand the growing conflict between statists and anti-statists -- it's far more serious than the superficial differences bandied about by "conservatives" and "liberals".
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I can't recommend Ralph Raico's Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School highly enough. The sources he provides are worth buying the book. Who can say why liberalism took a statist turn and is now practically indistinquishable from other social-reform movements which become ardently anti-capitalist? Most liberals will deny they are anti-capitalist in nature, it's just that capitalism requires a certain amount of regulation, and when left unfettered, they say, it becomes the means by which powerful financial interests gain control of society and benefit at the expense of society's most vulnerable citizens.
When liberals begin making this case, it's only a matter of time before the anti-capitalism is evident. It's hardly much different from what Marx taught. Liberals want to have it both ways, but it's impossible. Mixed economies have failed. What we see in nation after nation which allows government to intervene in the economy for the purposes of social justice, fairness, income equality, affirmative action, human nourishment, environmental protection, or any other purpose which statists have decided are necessary for the betterment of the collective, is the encroachment of the State and the disempowerment of the private sector.
One theory is that it's base power-grabbing, which is a strong theory to refute. We only have to cursorily read history to understand the role of power in the behavior of humans throughout recorded time. There's a long history of the few dominating the many with periodic rebellions and battles for freedom. It appeared after the Enlightenment as if humankind had once and for all claimed liberty as the constant good, but then the 20th century brought forward the deadliest reaction to freedom known to man. The urge to control and dominate is strong in some humans, and ordinary people can defend freedom only with diligence. Once ordinary people give unlimited power to the few to do what's best for the whole, the benvolent few soon expand power and control as far as they can get by with. The idea that a few intelligent leaders in any society can determine the best courses of action for the many is an old idea (conservatives like Burke are notorious for holding this belief) that should no longer have any validity. That's one reason I'm writing these posts regarding liberalism -- at one time, liberalism fought against domination of the few over the many. I want to find out what went wrong.
In his collection of essays, Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School, Ralph Raico writes:
Understandably enough, the current disfavor in which socialism has fallen has spurred what Raimondo Cubeddu (1997:138) refers to as "the frenzy to proclaim oneself a liberal." Many writers today have recourse to the stratagem of "inventing for oneself a 'liberalism' according to one's own tastes" and passing it off as an "evolution" from past ideas. "The superabundance of liberalisms," Cubedda warns, "like that of money, ends up by debasing everything and emptying everything of meaning."
In truth, a survey of the literature on liberalism reveals a condition of conceptual mayhem. One root cause of this is the frequent attempt to accomodate all important political groups that have called themselves "liberal." This is an approach favored by some British scholars in particular, in whose conception of liberalism the doings and sayings of the Bristish Liberal Party of the twentieth century weigh mightily (e.g. Eccleshall 1986: Vincent 1988).
There is no doubt that after around 1900 the Liberal Party in Britain veered increasingly in a statist direction. In the United States a similar transformation took place within the Democratic Party---once "the party of Jefferson and Jackson"--at a somewhat later date. But the shifts, evident also in Continental parties that kept the liberal name, are easily explained by the dynamics of democratic electoral politics.
Faced with the competition of collectivist ideas, liberal parties produced a new breed of "political entrepreneurs," men skilled at mobilizing "rent-seeking" constituencies, i.e., those who use the state to enhance their economic position. In order to gain power, these leaders revised the liberal program to the point where it was "practically indistinguishable from the democratic and social-reformist ideas, ending up by accepting the notion of the state as an instrument for redesigning society to produce particular ends." (Cubedda 1997:26)
This "liberal" transformation is my basic concern. The Democratic Party has been particularly successful in building a coalition of "rent-seeking constituencies" to the point that now around half the nation has developed an unhealthy dependency on interventionist government in a concerted effort to empower, increasingly, the State. As the statists seek to redesign society to produce particular ends, we must ask what ends and whether this is what we have in mind for American governance. I propose that this transformation of the Democratic Party is illiberal and antithetical to liberal principles.
Most modern liberals bristle at the mention of principles, but this is the problem. When modern liberals are confronted, like a chameleon they change colors and hide behind a concocted rationalization that's part of the nuanced pragmatism so popular among the statists who call themselves liberals. Liberalism can't mean whatever the liberal finds convenient at the moment -- this renders liberalism meaningless.
At one point liberalism was a brave and exciting threat to State absolutism. Liberals fought the forces which oppressed, planned and controlled, championing the individual and the rights of humans to freely interact and guide their own fortunes and destinies. Liberals released creative economic powers that changed the world in ways that no one of antiquity could have imagined.
A combination of success in the area of science and good old fashioned desire to dominate and control led liberalism astray, helped along by intellectuals who made their livings tearing down capitalism. Successes in the natural sciences caused some to believe that designing society could be successful too. Using the writing of Ralph Raico and his many sources, I'll at least address a few questions regarding modern liberalism that are particularly troubling. One of my quixotic purposes is to reclaim the term liberal from those who have turned out to be very illiberal.