I am reading a fascinating little book published in 1904,
The writer makes me jump from one interesting idea to another, either taken directly from the book or inspired by it. I do not know with which idea to begin.
For starters, I shall confine myself to a simple, yet momentous observation, namely that liberalism has changed significantly since the era of its heyday in the 19th century.
In its contemporaneously dominant adoption by global social democracy, many, indeed, too many inhibitions, taboos, and reservations of classical liberalism are being breached, burdening the economy, jeopardising a balanced political system (one ensuring that no single force in society exerts absolute dominance), and undermining personal freedom - all of which being important pillars of the robust conditions of freedom.
Crude ideological stereotypes of socialist origin - above all, the chimaera of inequality - are being used to leverage insufferably invasive and collectivist attacks on our free societies.
In no small measure, I conjecture, however, these social democratic excesses are being invited by an inability, and - perhaps more deeply causative - a long-standing unwillingness of the classical liberal to enter the political fray so as to delineate his position from social democratic conceit, on the one hand, and anarchist utopianism, on the other hand.
The challenge is that many of the social democratic policies are quite compatible with (robust conditions of) liberty, while some of these have tremendous popular appeal (like certain elements of the welfare state), though there may be other and far better approaches to the respective issues. But if there is no politically vital force to represent these better, genuinely liberal approaches, social democracy is destined to become the dominant political force.
It would probably take an entire book to retrace the many roads that have led to a world in which liberals have become either
- social democrats, or
- crypto-anarchists sporting an anti-political attitude that incapacitates them to use the powerful tools of politics and the state to turn liberalism into a living thing, rather than a pious creed for personal edification with no public significance.
As Scherger seems to imply convincingly, the liberalism of the 19th century did include great expectations for and a vision of the state as a liberating force - why this vision has vanished, why modern libertarians have practically reversed the original liberal view of politics and the state remains a puzzle, that I think, we should pay more attention to, so as to regain the ability to see freedom where she exists and not only complain about her being absent or violated:
These declarations of the Rights of Man [most importantly in America, but also in France and later in Germany and other places, so far as they were American-inspired] mark a new ear in the history of mankind.
The humanitarian spirit underlies them-the conception that each individual citizen is entitled to the concern of the State; that this personality is of infinite worth and is a purpose of creation; that he should be recognized as an individual, as a man.
The principles they contain became the creed of Liberalism. The nineteenth century war pre-eminently the century of Liberalism.
(Scherger, G. (1904), The Evolution of Modern Liberty ..., pp. 5 - 6, Skyhorse Publishing-empahisis added)
Note that the great achievements of the age of liberalism rely on
- state enforcement,
- political mobilisation and, hence, increasingly on
- a thoroughly democratic public.
Perhaps no other century witnessed greater and more numerous reforms and a greater extension of individual liberty.
This century is marked by the abolition of slavery in all civilized countries, by the extension of the elective franchise, by the emancipation of woman, by the popularization of government, and by countless other reforms.
(Ibid, emphasis added)
Continued at Birth of American Freedom - Government and Democracy.