Post by Mr. B1ack Post by abelard
At around the turn of the 19th century, the Liberal Party split into
State Liberals and old-time Liberals, a confused disease from which
they still suffer.
It is the State Liberals that can be characterised as Socialists, and
they came into close alliance with the Fabians/Labour/Socialist
parties (multiple leftist parties including Communists). This led to
the destruction and confusion of serious Liberalism, and the collapse
of the Liberal Party.
This problem has led the United Kingdom Liberal Parties to be
muddle-headed ever since.
The fine details of British politics escape me. "Liberal"
and "conservative" don't mean exactly the same things
as in the USA - a whole different laundry list of goals
and principles and agendas attached.
HERE we have very few actual liberals anymore.
Instead we have "brand-name Liberals" who are
not particularly liberal at all - ideologically left-wing,
The "conservatives" are kind-of "brand name" as well.
Their party also works towards an ever-larger, more
powerful, central State. A bit more sensible than the
"liberals", but that's all relative. I'm not entirely sure
what they're "conserving" anymore either - in theory
it meant preserving "the best", resisting fads.
Trump is not a liberal, a "Liberal", a conservative
or a "Conservative". Can't put him into anyones
carefully-prepared pigeonholes. He represents a
trend in US politics though ... away from the
ideological extremism which had been growing
in Washington and more towards a practical
utilitarian vision for government. Trump was not
the ideal drummer boy for this, but he's the ONLY
one of the recent set of candidates who seemed
interested in useful changes.
Some would call this "rudderless" leadership, but
frankly those with functional rudders had been
steering us towards the rim of the earth of late,
towards oblivion. Pin-headed ideologues are not
going to lead you any place you want to go.
Very very well stated!
The Left (which is why I seldom use Liberal/Conservative) isnt aware
that what they call Conservatives today..are actually by
Classical Liberalism is defined as a group of people supporting the
Constitution, smaller government, freedom FROM government and freedom
of action, thought and deed.
Conservatism is defined as just the opposite.
The terms became switched in the early 20th century and the poor
bastards have lost all concept that it was indeed switched.
Todays Left is properly known as NEW Liberals
Hey Leftards..feel free to Google it. Here..let me help..being such
putzs and unwilling to open your beady lil eyes....
Classical Liberalism vs. Modern Liberalism and Modern Conservatism
By John C. Goodman
In the history of politics, there is only one fundamental, abiding
issue: It is individualism vs. collectivism. Do individuals have the
right to pursue their own happiness, as Thomas Jefferson thought and
as the Declaration of Independence deemed self-evident? Or do we have
an obligation to live our lives for the community or the state, as
most societies have claimed throughout most of history?
Yet if this is the paramount political issue, why is it not
forthrightly debated in presidential elections and in other contests
for public office? The reason is that American political debates tend
to be dominated by modern liberalism and modern conservatism
approaches to politics that are properly called sociologies rather
Modern liberalism is not completely collectivist; nor is it completely
individualistic. It has elements of both doctrines. The same is true
of conservatism. Neither view provides a coherent approach to
politics, built up from first principles. Instead, they both reflect a
process that is akin to picking items from a dinner menu. What is
chosen is a matter of taste rather than a matter of thought. Just as
people with similar tastes in food tend to frequent the same
restaurants, people with the same tastes in politics tend to vote for
the same candidates.
What that leaves us with are candidates, platforms and political
parties whose ideas are inconsistent and often incoherent. The
thoughtful voter may sometimes vote for the conservative, sometimes
for the liberal and sometimes just abstain.
The classical liberal perspective will not solve this problem, but it
will help us better understand it.
Classical Liberalism as an Ideology
Classical liberalism was the political philosophy of the Founding
Fathers. It permeates the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and many
other documents produced by the people who created the American system
of government. Many emancipationists who opposed slavery were
essentially classical liberals, as were the suffragettes, who fought
for equal rights for women. 1
Basically, classical liberalism is based on a belief in liberty. Even
today, one of the clearest statements of this philosophy is found in
the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, most people believed that
rights came from government. People thought they had only such rights
as government elected to give them. But following British philosopher
John Locke, Jefferson argued that its the other way around. People
have rights apart from government, as part of their nature. Further,
people can both form governments and dissolve them. The only
legitimate purpose of government is to protect these rights.
The 19th century was the century of classical liberalism. Partly for
that reason it was also the century of ever-increasing economic and
political liberty, relative international peace, relative price
stability and unprecedented economic growth. By contrast, the 20th
century was the century that rejected classical liberalism. Partly for
that reason, it was the century of dictatorship, depression and war.
Nearly 265 million people were killed by their own governments (in
addition to all the deaths from wars!) in the 20th century more than
in any previous century and possibly more than in all previous
centuries combined. 2
All forms of collectivism in the 20th century rejected the classical
liberal notion of rights and all asserted in their own way that need
is a claim. For the communists, the needs of the class (proletariat)
were a claim against every individual. For the Nazis, the needs of the
race were a claim. For fascists (Italian-style) and for architects of
the welfare state, the needs of society as a whole were a claim. Since
in all these systems the state is the personification of the class,
the race, society as a whole, etc., all these ideologies imply that,
to one degree or another, individuals have an obligation to live for
Yet, the ideas of liberty survived. Indeed, almost everything that is
good about modern liberalism (mainly its defense of civil liberties)
comes from classical liberalism. And almost everything that is good
about modern conservatism (mainly its defense of economic liberties)
also comes from classical liberalism.
Modern Liberalism and Modern Conservatism as Sociologies
One of the difficulties in describing political ideas is that the
people who hold them are invariably more varied and complex than the
ideas themselves. Take Southern Democrats, for example. For most of
the 20th century, right up through the 1960s and even into the 1970s,
virtually every Democratic politician in the South was an advocate of
segregation and Jim Crow laws. This group included Arkansas Sen. J.
William Fulbright (a favorite of the liberal media because of his
opposition to the Vietnam War); North Carolinas Sen. Sam Ervin (an
ardent constitutionalist and another liberal favorite because his
Senate hearings led to the downfall of Richard Nixon); Lyndon Johnson
(who as president changed his public views on race and pushed through
the Civil Rights Act of 1964); such economic populists as Louisiana
Gov. Huey Long and Alabama Gov. George Wallace; West Virginia Sen.
Robert Byrd, one-time Ku Klux Klan member and king of pork on Capitol
Hill; and small government types, such as South Carolinas Sen. Strom
Thurmond (who changed his views on race, began hiring black staffers
and then switched parties and became a Republican).
This group held the balance of political power in Congress throughout
most of the post-World War II period. To even try to use words like
conservative and liberal when describing them is more likely to
mislead than to shed any useful light. With that caution, let us
attempt a brief summary.
As reflected on the editorial pages of The New York Times, in the New
Republic, and in Slate and other forums, contemporary liberals tend to
believe in an almost unrestricted right to abortion and actively
encourage stem cell research and sometimes even euthanasia. Yet they
think the state should never execute someone, not even a vicious
serial killer. As reflected in National Review, the Weekly Standard
and other forums, contemporary conservatives tend to hold the opposite
Liberals tend to believe that marijuana consumption should be legal,
even for recreational use. Yet they are quite content to have the
government deny terminal cancer patients access to experimental drugs.
Conservatives tend to hold the opposite opinion.
In elections, most liberals support restricting the role of financial
capital (money); but they want no restrictions on real capital
(printing presses, radio and TV broadcast facilities) or
organizational capital (labor union get-out-the-vote resources). Most
conservatives are at least consistent in opposing almost any
restriction other than mandatory disclosure.
By and large, conservatives believe in punishment, liberals in
rehabilitation. Conservatives believe in tough love; liberals are more
likely to coddle. Conservatives tend to favor school choice; liberals
tend to oppose it. Many anti-war liberals support the military draft;
many pro-war conservatives oppose conscription.
Is there some theory that connects these diverse views and gives them
coherence? Perhaps. But it is doubtful that a garden-variety liberal
or conservative could produce such a theory. Instead, how a person
selects from the menu of policy options is more likely to be
determined by where he went to school, where he lives and with whom he
socializes. These choices reflect socialization, rather than abstract
There is, however, one difference between conservatives and liberals
that is neither random nor chaotic. It is a difference that is
systematic and predictable.
Whereas conservatism and liberalism are both outgrowths of classical
liberal thought, they differ in what they accept and reject of their
intellectual roots. Conservatism tends to accept the classical liberal
commitment to economic liberty but rejects many of its applications to
the noneconomic realm. Liberalism accepts the classical liberal
commitment to civil liberties but largely rejects the idea of economic
As libertarians are wont to say, liberals want government in the
boardroom but not in the bedroom. Conservatives want the reverse. Much
more is involved, however, than bedrooms and boardrooms.
The Sociology of Modern Liberalism
Most liberals at least mainstream liberals believe you should be
able to say anything you like (other than yelling fire in a crowded
theater), no matter how much it offends and, for the most part, no
matter how seditious. They also believe you should be able to publish
almost anything as a matter of right. But they reject the idea of
economic rights. They reject, for example, the notion of a right to
freely sell ones services in the labor market. The New York Times in
particular supports minimum wage legislation that keeps people from
working if they cannot produce at least $7.25 an hour.
Similarly, in the liberal view of the world, the butcher, the baker
and the candlestick maker have no fundamental right to enter their
chosen professions and sell their goods to the public. The medieval
guilds that Adam Smith criticized were in this view not violating any
fundamental rights when they restricted entry, controlled prices and
output and imposed other monopolistic constraints. The same principle
applies to modern special interest legislation.
Liberals are not advocates of special interest legislation per se. But
they are apologists for it in the sense they believe that economic
regulations should be decided by democratic political institutions,
not by court-enforced rights to freedom of contract. So if butchers,
bakers and candlestick makers succeed in obtaining special interest
favors from government at the expense of everyone else, that is a
legitimate exercise of political power.
The New York Times believes that you have a right to engage in almost
any sexual activity in the privacy of your own bedroom. But the Times
does not believe you have a fundamental right to rent your bedroom (or
any other room) to your sexual partner or to anyone else for that
matter. Indeed, the Times is fully supportive of the principle of
government regulation of who can rent to whom, for how long, under
what circumstances, and at what price.
The liberals view of rights is closely connected to the issue of
trust. The editorial page of The New York Times does not trust
government to read our mail or listen to our phone calls even if the
caller is talking to young Arab males behaving suspiciously. Yet the
Times editorial writers are completely comfortable with having
government control their retirement income, even though Social
Security has been managed like a Ponzi scheme. They are also willing
to cede control to government over their (and everyone elses) health
care, including the power to make rationing decisions about who lives
and who dies!
The Sociology of Modern Conservatism
Most conservatives at least mainstream conservatives believe in
economic rights. Individuals should be able to freely sell their labor
to any buyer or enter almost any profession and sell goods and
services to the market as a matter of freedom of exchange. Any
restrictions on these rights are justified only if there is some
overriding general welfare concern.
Conservatives are far more willing than liberals to restrict freedom
of thought and expression, however. For example, some believe that
anyone should be able to make a flag (with wages and working
conditions determined in a free labor market) and anyone should be
able to sell a flag (fetching whatever price the market will bear),
but they are quite willing to impose government controls on what can
be done with the flag, including how it can be displayed, whether it
can be worn, etc.
Is flag desecration obnoxious, reprehensible and unpatriotic? Of
course. But the First Amendment was not written to protect the views
of the majority. It was written to protect dissent.
Many conservatives, given a free hand, would impose additional
government restrictions on our noneconomic liberties. In the past,
conservatives were quite willing to control the books and magazines we
read, the movies we watch, etc. These were the same people who
believed that what went on in the workplace was none of the
At the time of its founding, America was one of the few countries in
the world that did not have a state religion. This was no accident or
oversight. The founders themselves were a religiously diverse group.
Thomas Jefferson removed all mystical (spiritual) references from the
Bible and bequeathed us the Jefferson Bible. Tom Paines Age of Reason
was a wholesale attack on Christianity. And although the overwhelming
majority at the time were Christian, Americas second and third
presidents (Jefferson and Adams) were Deists and some argue that
Washington was as well. 5
The founders clearly did not intend to remove religion from the public
square. They did intend for the American system of government, at
least at the federal level, to be pluralistic and tolerant with
respect to religion. This is in contrast to some modern conservatives
who would like to use the power of the state to impose their religious
views on the culture.
Conservatism, Liberalism and the Courts
As noted in Classical Liberalism the U.S. Supreme Court has
increasingly sided with the liberal view of rights over the
conservative view. Throughout the 20th century, Court rulings
strengthened substantive First Amendment rights, as well as procedural
rights related to most noneconomic liberties. At the same time, the
Court weakened (indeed, eliminated) constitutional protections for
substantive economic rights.
As a result, you have today an almost unrestrained constitutional
right to say whatever you want to say.
In any attempt by government to limit your speech, the Court will
start with the presumption that you are exercising your First
Amendment rights and the burden of proof will be on government to show
why there is a compelling public interest in restraining you.
On the other hand, you have virtually no constitutionally protected
rights to acquire and own property or engage in voluntary exchange.
There is almost no constitutional constraint on governments power to
prevent you from entering virtually any profession or to regulate what
you produce, how you produce it, or the terms under which you sell
your output to others.
In any conflict over governments economic regulatory power and your
freedom of action, the Court will presume the government is acting
within its authority and you will face a very strong burden to prove
Platonic Roots of Conservative and Liberal Sociologies
The distinction between economic and civil liberties actually has its
roots in philosophy. It rests on an idea that goes all the way back to
Plato. Whether the distinction is between consciousness and reality,
mind and body, mental and physical, spiritual and material, etc., all
philosophers in the Platonic tradition have focused on two
fundamentally different dimensions of human life. And following Plato,
they have all believed that the world of thought is somehow more
important, more moral, and more pure than the world of everyday
affairs, and certainly more so than the world of commerce.
What follows from that distinction? Actually not very much. One could
argue (as liberals do) that unimpeded thought and the benefits that
flow from it are too important to be left to politicians to regulate
the way they regulate commodities. Or one could argue (as
conservatives do) that culture and mores and the ideas that nurture
and support them are too important to be left to the vagaries of a
laissez faire market for ideas.
The Impossibility of Consistent Conservative and Liberal Thought
Regardless of ones view of the mind-body dichotomy, the case for
freedom of thought is not stronger than, weaker than, or any different
from the case for freedom of contract. Just as there are externalities
in the world of commerce, so there are externalities in the world of
ideas. Just as public goods exist in the economy, so there are
public-good type ideas in the culture. For every argument against a
laissez faire economy, there is an equally persuasive argument against
laissez faire cultures, laissez faire mores and a completely free
market for ideas.
Or if the case for government intervention is stronger in one realm
than in the other it is not clear where the stronger case lies. This
helps us understand why consistent classical liberalism makes no
distinction between freedom of thought and freedom of commerce. Both
are subsumed under the general notion that people have a right to
pursue their own happiness in any realm.
Any attempt to argue for differential rights fails on close
examination. As noted, most liberals favor minimum wage laws that
prevent common laborers from working if they cannot produce goods and
services worth, say, $7.25 an hour. Yet these very same pundits would
recoil in horror at the idea of a law which prevents people from being
authors, playwrights and artists unless they can produce a minimum
annual income. On what basis can one argue for economic freedom for
musicians, painters and novelists while denying it to everyone else?
There is no basis.
There is an even more fundamental problem with applying Platonic
distinctions to politics. Although in theory we can separate mind and
body, spiritual and material, etc., in practice these realms are not
separable. Freedom of speech is a meaningless right without the
economic right to acquire space, buy a megaphone and invite others to
hear your message. Freedom of press is a meaningless right if one does
not have the economic right to buy paper, ink and printing presses.
Freedom of association is a meaningless right if one cannot own
property or rent property or otherwise acquire the right to use the
premises where a group can assemble.
The idea that political rights are meaningless without economic rights
was made abundantly clear in one of the presidential elections in
Russia, where international chess star Garry Kasparov sought to
challenge President Vladimir Putins hand-picked successor. Russian
law requires that each candidate be endorsed at a meeting of at least
500 citizens. Yet under pressure from Putin, every landlord in Moscow
refused to rent Kasparovs group a hall where they could hold a
meeting. Unable to acquire the economic right to exercise his
political right, Kasparov was forced to withdraw from the race.
Conservatism, Liberalism and the Reform of Institutions
Classical liberals were reformers. Throughout the 19th century, they
reformed economic and civil institutions abolishing slavery,
extending the right to vote to blacks and eventually to women,
expanding the protections of the Bill of Rights to state and local
governments and creating a largely free market economy. Indeed, part
of the notion of what it meant to be a liberal was to favor reform.
In the 20th century, those with a zeal for reform continued calling
themselves liberals, even as they abandon the belief in economic
freedom, while those who resisted reform took to mantel of
conservatism. In the words of National Review publisher, William F.
Buckley, conservatives were standing athwart history and crying
This aspect of the two sociologies is most unfortunate.
As the last century grew to a close it became obvious all over the
world that economic collectivism did not work. Communism didnt work,
socialism didnt work, Fascism didnt work and the welfare state
didnt work. So in the economic realm the great need was to privatize,
deregulate, and empower individual citizens.
The natural people to lead this reformation were conservatives, who
profess belief in the goals. Yet conservatives lacked in the needed
skills, having spent the better part of a century on defense. This may
explain why so often needed reforms have been implemented in other
countries by parties of the left. Even in the United States, the
effort to deregulate our most oppressive regulatory agencies began
under President Jimmy Carter and had the support of such liberal
stalwarts as Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Other Varieties of Liberalism and Conservatism
Not all liberals think alike. Nor do all conservatives. Two strands of
these sociologies deserve special attention, particularly in light of
the contrast with classical liberalism.
Liberal Aberration: Political Correctness and the Emergence of Group
A variation of modern liberalism is popular among faculties at college
campuses. Its adherents reject not only the idea of individual
economic rights, but also the idea of individual rights as such.
Instead, they believe that people enjoy rights and incur obligations
as members of groups.
On this view, a black American should enjoy rights that are denied to
white Americans not because of some injury or harm one has done to
the other or because of some contract, but merely because one is black
and one is white. Similarly, Native American Indians should have
rights that a black does not have. A woman should have rights that a
man does not have.
Adherents of this view believe there is no such thing as an individual
right to freedom of speech or expression or association. What rights
or privileges you have depend on what group you are a member of, and
the state may properly enforce such distinctions. For example, speech
that is permissible if the speaker is black might be actionable if the
speaker were white, Asian or Hispanic, depending on how the speech
affects the sensibilities of other blacks. Or if blacks or Hispanics,
say, form groups and exclude others, that is generally permissible;
but the same actions by a group of whites or any of the European
ethnic groups would probably be proscribed.
Assigning rights and responsibilities to groups rather than
individuals is at the heart of collectivism. Political correctness is
a sort of barnyard version of collectivism. In this sense, the type of
liberalism that is popular on college campuses is far more consistent
than mainstream liberalism. This version of liberalism rejects
individualism as such.
Such consistency, however, exists only in the abstract. In practice,
politically correct liberalism is anything but consistent. For
example, the standard justification for giving group A more rights
than group B is some injustice committed by Bs ancestors against As
ancestors. Yet among the black students at Harvard University (all of
whom presumably qualify for racial preferences), only one-third are
unambiguous descendants of slaves. More than half are immigrants!
Harvard and many other prestigious universities are assigning
privileges to students not based on past grievances but on skin color
Conservative Aberration: Protectionism and the Rise of Tribal Politics
There is a strand of conservatism that rejects the thinking of
mainstream economists for the last 200 years. As represented most
visibly by columnist and sometime presidential candidate Pat Buchanan,
this group of thinkers wants government to impose tariffs and quotas
and other restrictions to prevent foreigners from competing with
domestic companies and their workers. 7
Yet as Adam Smith explained more than two centuries ago, trade does
not reduce the number of jobs. Instead it changes the nature of work
people do. Furthermore, trade is income enhancing. It makes citizens
better off, on the average, than they otherwise would have been
although some individual incomes may fall as others rise in the
process. So what Buchanans agenda is really about is not saving jobs
or protecting incomes. Its about saving some jobs at the expense of
other jobs and preventing some peoples income losses at the expense
of other peoples income gains.
Conservatives who hold these beliefs view the world from the right in
exactly the same way as some trade unionists view the world from the
left. They believe that people are entitled to their jobs for no other
reason than thats what they happen to be doing. They are entitled to
their current incomes for no other reason than thats what they happen
to be earning.
Readers of What Is Classical Liberalism? will have no difficulty
seeing that Buchanans views are a small scale version of the economic
views of Franklin Roosevelt. Whereas Buchanan focuses on trade,
Roosevelt understood that jobs and incomes are threatened by exchange
as such. Whereas Buchanan wants to freeze in place the international
economy, Roosevelt wanted to freeze in place the domestic economy.
The motives are the same. The vision is the same. And although these
views today sometimes parade under the progressive label (at least
when the advocate is on the political left), they are anything but
progressive. The desire to freeze economic relationships and prevent
the kind of creative destruction that is essential in all growing
economies is the epitome of reactionary thought.
Buchanan is not only an economic protectionist, he is also a cultural
protectionist who wants to stop the flow of immigration. There are
legitimate (classical liberal) reasons to be concerned about illegal
immigration not the least of which is the practice of subsidizing it
with free education, free medical care and other public services.
Buchanans main objection is different. He wants government to protect
the culture from immigrants. Also, Buchanan would go much further than
most other conservatives in restricting freedom of expression.
Although they are viewed as poles apart, Buchanan actually has a lot
in common with the politically correct crowd on college campuses. He
believes, for example, that Christians, Muslims and Jews should not
have to tolerate irreverent insults to their beliefs and has even
hinted that it may be permissible to outlaw blasphemy.
Historical Roots of Conservatism and Liberalism
Where do conservatism and liberalism come from? Strangely, this is a
question that is rarely asked. It is even more rarely answered.
In American politics these days, it is increasingly common for those
on the left to call themselves progressives rather than liberals.
The term is apt in the sense that much of modern liberalism has its
roots in the Progressive Era, which flourished in the first several
decades of the 20th century. Interestingly, much of contemporary
conservatism also finds its roots in that era. In fact its probably
fair to say that while the best of modern liberal and conservative
ideas are extensions of classical liberalism, their worst ideas are
products of progressivism. 8
To many people, the term Progressive Era evokes fond caricatures of
Teddy Roosevelt and such reforms as safe food, the elimination of
child labor and the eight-hour work day. Yet real progressivism was
much more profound and far more sinister. Here is how Jonah Goldberg
describes the World War I presidency of Woodrow Wilson: 9
The first appearance of modern totalitarianism in the Western world
wasnt in Italy or Germany but in the United States of America. How
else would you describe a country where the worlds first modern
propaganda ministry was established; political prisoners by the
thousands were harassed, beaten, spied upon, and thrown in jail simply
for expressing private opinions; the national leader accused
foreigners and immigrants of injecting treasonous poison into the
American bloodstream; newspapers and magazines were shut down for
criticizing the government; nearly a hundred thousand government
propaganda agents were sent out among the people to whip up support
for the regime and its war; college professors imposed loyalty oaths
on their colleagues; nearly a quarter-million goons were given legal
authority to intimidate and beat slackers and dissenters; and
leading artists and writers dedicated their crafts to proselytizing
for the government?
Some readers may be inclined to dismiss these tyrannies as unfortunate
excesses of wartime, much as Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus
and trampled on other constitutional liberties during the Civil War.
The difference is that Lincoln truly believed in Jeffersonian
democracy and classical liberal principles. Wilson, by contrast, was
our first Ph.D. in the White House, and in his books and other
writings he made clear his complete rejection of the ideas of
Jefferson and classical liberalism. As Ronald Pestritto notes, liberty
in his view, was not found in freedom from state actions but instead
in ones obedience to the laws of the state. 10
Wilson was by no means alone. He was at the epicenter of an
intellectual trend that swept the Western world in the early part of
the last century. In Russia there was Bolshevism. In Italy, Fascism.
In America, Britain and other parts of Europe, the new ideas were
called progressivism. There were, of course, many differences
political, moral and otherwise in the content of these isms and huge
differences in resulting policies. But all had one thing in common:
they saw classical liberalism as the intellectual enemy and they
disliked liberalism far more than they disliked the ideas of each
At the time of the Wilson presidency, progressives did not view the
exercise of state power and the violation of individual rights as a
war-time exception to be set aside in times of peace. To the contrary,
Herbert Croly (founding editor of the New Republic), John Dewey
(father of progressive education), Walter Lippmann (perhaps the
centurys most influential political writer), Richard Ely (founder of
the American Economic Association) and many others saw war as an
opportunity to rid the country of classical liberalism and the
doctrine of laissez faire.
In fact, the primary domestic objective of progressives was to create
in peacetime what Wilson had accomplished during war. They were able
to do so a little more than a decade later. Franklin Roosevelt was
Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Wilson, and when he led
Democrats back to the White House in 1932 he brought with him an army
of intellectuals and bureaucrats who shared the progressive-era
vision. Indeed, most of the alphabet soup of agencies set up during
the Great Depression were continuations of various boards and
committees set up during World War I.
Perhaps because of World War II, the revelations of all the gory
details of the Nazi Holocaust, and the subsequent Cold War, it quickly
became inconvenient, if not acutely embarrassing, for historians and
other commentators to remind people of the state of intellectual
relations before hostilities broke out. At that time, it was
commonplace for intellectuals on the left to be enamored of Lenins
communist regime in Russia. And almost everyone who was enamored of
Lenin was also an admirer of Mussolinis Fascist government in Italy.
For example, General Hugh Iron Pants Johnson, who ran Roosevelts
National Recovery Administration (NRA) kept a picture of Mussolini
hanging on his wall. The admiration was often mutual. Some writers for
publications in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy wrote of their
fascination with Roosevelts New Deal.
What was the political philosophy that all these very diverse people
shared? Basically, the idea that nations are organic entities in need
of direction by an avant-garde of scientific experts and social
planners, who would erode the artificial, legal or cultural
boundaries between family and state, public and private, business and
the public good 11 As Goldberg explains: 12
The reason so many progressives were intrigued by both Mussolinis and
Lenins experiments is simple: they saw their reflection in the
European looking glass. Philosophically, organizationally, and
politically the progressives were as close to authentic, homegrown
fascists as any movement America has ever produced. Militaristic,
fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist, deeply involved in the
promotion of Darwinian eugenics, enamored of the Bismarckian welfare
state, statist beyond modern reckoning, the progressives represented
the American flowering of a transatlantic movement, a profound
reorientation toward the Hegelian and Darwinian collectivism imported
from Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.
What was the progressives approach to economic policy? Given Teddy
Roosevelts attacks on the trusts and the muckraking novels of Upton
Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, one might be inclined to think that
progressives were anti-business. Yet nothing could be further from the
As the leftist historian Gabriel Kolko has documented, the Interstate
Commerce Commission (ICC) our first federal regulatory agency was
dominated by, and served the interest of, the railroads. Similarly,
the regulatory apparatus created by the Meat Inspection Act of 1906
served the interests of large meat packers. Safety standards were
invariably already being met or were easily accommodated by large
companies. But the regulations forced many small enterprises out of
business and made it difficult for new ones to enter the industry.
This same pattern of regulatory agencies serving the interests of
the regulated was repeated with the establishment of almost all
subsequent regulatory agencies as well. For this reason, Kolko called
the entire Progressive Era the triumph of conservatism. 13
The practices Kolko described were elevated to a refined science by
Wilsons War Industries Board (WIB) during World War I. Trade
associations were allowed to organize along industry lines
controlling output, setting prices and effectively functioning as an
industry-by-industry system of cartels. By the time Franklin Roosevelt
established the NRA during the Depression years, planners could draw
not only upon the experience of the Wilson-era WIB, but also on the
far more extensive experience of Mussolinis Italian economy which
was organized in the same way.
There are even more eerie transatlantic parallels. The symbol of the
NRA was the Blue Eagle, which businesses were expected to hang on
their doors to show compliance with NRA rules. Newspapers in both
America and Germany compared the Blue Eagle to the swastika and the
German Reich eagle. A quasi-official army of informants and even goon
squads helped monitor compliance. Nuremberg-style Blue Eagle rallies
were held, including a gathering of 10,000 strong at Madison Square
Garden. A New York City Blue Eagle parade was larger than the
ticker-tape parade celebrating Charles Lindberghs crossing of the
Through the NRA, the federal government backed by the full force of
criminal law intruded into virtually every transaction. An immigrant
dry cleaner spent three months in jail for charging 35 cents to press
a suit when the code required a minimum charge of 40 cents. Another
case one that went all the way to the Supreme Court involved
immigrant brothers who ran a small poultry business. Among the laws
they were accused of violating was a requirement that buyers of
chickens not select the chicken they were buying. Instead the buyer
needed to reach into the coop and take the first chicken that came to
hand. (The reason: buyers would be tempted to take the best chicken,
leaving less desirable options for other buyers.) 15
In Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (the so-called sick
chicken case), a unanimous Supreme Court declared the NRA
unconstitutional. Roosevelt responded by trying to intimidate the
justices and by asking Congress to expand the number of justices so
that he could pack the court with judges more to his liking. Although
he lost the battle, Roosevelt eventually won the war. Today it is
highly unlikely that an NRA would be declared unconstitutional.
The interests of progressive era intellectuals was not limited to
economics. They saw the state as properly involved in almost every
aspect of social life. Herbert Croly envisioned a state that would
even regulate who could marry and procreate. In this respect, he
reflected the almost universal belief of progressives in eugenics.
These days, there is a tendency to think that interest in racial
purity began and ended in Hitlers Germany. In fact, virtually all
intellectuals on the left in the early 20th century believed in state
involvement in promoting a better gene pool. These included H.G.
Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb (founders of
Fabian Socialism), Harold Laski (the most respected British political
scientist of the 20th century) and John Maynard Keynes (the most
famous economist of the 20th century). Pro-eugenics articles routinely
appeared in the leftwing New Statesman, the Manchester Guardian and in
the United States in the New Republic. 16
One of the ugliest stains on American public policy during the 20th
century was the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans during World
War II by the Roosevelt Administration. Another stain is the
re-segregation of the White House under Wilson. One writer argues that
these acts were consistent with the personal racial views of the
presidents and that the Democratic Party has a long history of racial
bias it would like to forget. 17 But similar views appeared in early
editions of the conservative, pro-Republican National Review as well.
The worst excesses on the right in the 20th century are usually
associated with Senator Joe McCarthy; the hearings of the House
Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), including pressuring
Hollywood actors to reveal their political activities and name the
identities of their colleagues; and domestic surveillance of political
Yet all of these activities have roots in the Progressive Era as well.
Joe McCarthy started his political life as a Democrat (and later
switched to be a Republican) in Wisconsin the most pro-progressive
state in the union. As Goldberg observes, Red baiting, witch hunts,
censorship and the like were a tradition in good standing among
Wisconsin progressives and populists. The HUAC was founded by another
progressive Democrat, Samuel Dickstein, to investigate German
sympathizers. During the Brown scare of the 1940s, radio journalist
Walter Winchell read the names of isolationists on the radio, calling
them Americans we can do without. Even American communists in this
period supplied the names of German sympathizers. 19
Civilian surveillance under American presidents in the modern era (for
example under Republicans Richard Nixon and George W. Bush and under
Democrats John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) are extensions of what went
on earlier in the century. However, modern surveillance does not begin
to compare in magnitude to what went on during the Wilson and
The Need for a Neoclassical Synthesis
The use of the word progressive by modern liberals is appropriate
to the degree that it reminds us of the historical and intellectual
roots of much of liberal thinking. But there is another sense in which
the word is very misleading. In general, there is nothing truly
progressive about modern progressives. That is, nothing in their
thinking is forward looking. Invariably, the social model they have in
mind is in the distant past. Many explicitly admit they would like to
resurrect Roosevelts New Deal. 20
In this sense, most people on the left who use the word progressive
are actually reactionaries. And the problem is not only on the left.
In general, the greatest intellectual danger we face is from
reactionaries on the left and right.
Reactionaries (mainly on the left, but sometimes also on the right)
want to freeze the economy preserving the current allocation of jobs
and the incomes that derive from those jobs. Although their current
focus is on opposition to globalization and international trade,
consistency requires them to oppose virtually all of the creative
destruction that Joseph Schumpeter said was inevitable in any
dynamic, capitalistic economy.
Reactionaries (mainly on the right, but sometimes also on the left)
want to freeze the culture. They see new ideas, different religions
and different cultures as threats to their world view. Rather than
allow ideas, religions and mores to compete in a pluralistic, tolerant
society, they want to use the power of government to force their ideas
Against these threats to liberty, the basic classical liberal
understanding of rights is a powerful defense. I may disagree with the
wage you work for, the conditions you work under, the hours you work
and even the profession you have chosen. But in a free labor market,
you do not have to ask my permission (or the permission of anyone
else) in order to exercise your right to work. The same principle
applies to the world of ideas. In a free society, you should not have
to ask my permission (or anyone elses permission) to write a book,
read a book, give a speech, hear a speech, read a magazine, watch a
movie or listen to rock music.
The intellectual framework developed in the 18th and 19th centuries,
however, is not sufficient. 21 Two hundred years ago there were no
weapons of mass destruction no nuclear arms, no biological or
chemical weapons. There was also no threat of global warming, and
mankinds ability to harm the environment was much more limited than
today. 22 Also, there are today new frontiers. How do we determine who
gets what satellite space in upper earth orbit, or who has rights to
minerals on the floor of the sea? The ideas of John Locke may
illuminate our search for answers, but they do not offer simple
To meet these newer challenges, what is needed is a neoclassical
synthesis a political theory that incorporates the best of modern
conservatism and modern liberalism and discards the worst. I call such
a theory neoclassical liberalism because it builds on the foundation
laid by the founding fathers and brings the spirit of their concept of
liberty into the 21st century.
We shall develop these ideas in future essays.
David Boaz,Libertarianism: A Primer (New York, N.Y.: Free Press,
Rudolph J. Rummel,Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder
since 1900 (Berlin- Hamburg-Munster: Lit Verlag, 1998).
A number of studies have discovered that conservatives and
liberals have different personality types. See, for example, Mathew
Wolssner and April Kelly-Wolssner, Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives
Dont Get Doctorates, American Enterprise Institute, forthcoming.
Barack Obama, for example, has been described as a civil
liberalism who nonetheless favors all manner of government
intervention into the economy. See Jeffrey Rosen, A Card Carrying
Civil Libertarian,The New York Times, March 1, 2008.
David L. Holms,The Faith of the Founding Fathers (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2006).
Sara Rimer and Karen W. Arenson, Top Colleges Take More Blacks,
but Which Ones?New York Times, June 24, 2004.
Patrick J. Buchanan,Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and
Greed Are Tearing America Apart (New York, N.Y.: Thomas Dunne Books,
See Ronald J. Pestritto, Liberals, Conservatives and Limited
Government: Are We All Progressives Now? Unpublished manuscript,
January 28, 2008.
Jonah Goldberg,Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American
Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 2007), pp. 11-12.
Ronald J. Pestritto,Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern
Liberalism(Lanham, Md.: Roman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 55.
Goldberg,Liberal Fascism, pp. 247 and 297.
Gabriel Kolko,The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of
American History, 1900-1916(New York, N.Y.: Free Press, 1963).
Goldberg,Liberal Fascism, pp. 153-155.
Amity Shlaes,The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great
Depression(New York, N.Y.: Harper Collins, 2007), ch. 8.
Goldberg,Liberal Fascism, 7.
Bruce Bartlett,Wrong on Race: The Democratic Partys Buried
Past(New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Paul Krugman,The Conscience of a Liberal(New York, N.Y.: W.W.
Norton, 2007), pp. 101-104.
See, for example, Krugman,Conscience of a Liberal.
John C. Goodman, Do Inalienable Rights Allow Punishment,Liberty,
Vol. 10, Issue 5, May 1997; and John C. Goodman, N-Space: the Final
Frontier,Liberty, Vol. 13, Issue 7, July 1999.
For an example of how a naïve application of the 18th century view
of rights applied to modern problems can lead to silliness, see Murray
Rothbards views on pollution; Murray Rothbard, Law, Property Rights
and Air Pollution,The CATO Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, spring 1982.
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