One of our commenters has a reasonable request. It got me to thinking.
Cynthia of California said:
Can we please drop the word “liberals” in these comments? There are Classical Liberals and there are Leftists (often also referred to as Progressives), and they are *not* the same.
As I consider myself one and not the other, thank G-d.
Cynthia has a point, though if she’s a Classical Liberal then she may be all by herself in California. I remember well the politics and policies of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Scoop Jackson. Even Joe Lieberman fell into that category — at least he was forced to leave the Democrat Party as it turned toward a bloated welfare state and away from individual liberties. When Moynihan retired from the Senate and Hillary Clinton assumed his New York seat, I think he died of a broken heart.
Here is a brief introduction from George Mason University:
Consider this [edited] snip from “Discover the Networks” to be the Cliff Notes on this subject:
When the term “liberalism” (derived from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “pertaining to a free man”) first emerged in the early 1800s, its hallmarks were a belief in: individual rights (which included civil liberties, political equality, freedom of conscience, and freedom of thought); the rule of law; limited government; private property; and laissez faire economics. Moreover, liberalism favored a pluralistic secular state and opposed all efforts to link religion to the government. It also believed strongly in the idea of progress, but stressed, unlike socialism, that progress should take place by means of orderly, legal procedures rather than by revolutionary upheaval.
In other words, liberty could not be separated from the means used to attain it.
These would remain the defining characteristics of liberalism throughout the liberal epoch, generally identified as the period of 1815-1914. It was a time of industrial development, unprecedented growth in both population and living standards, expansion of individual liberties and social tolerance, the abolition of slavery and serfdom, a reprieve from major wars, and the waning of political authoritarianism.
The foregoing liberal ideals did not coalesce in a vacuum. Classical liberalism grew out of the 17th-century Age of Reason and the 18th-century Enlightenment. This was a period when:
Western culture broke its long-held faith in the presumptive and everlasting authority of the past, and embraced instead the notion that human beings were capable of progressing beyond the knowledge and insights of ancient scholars and writers;
skepticism gained unprecedented prestige, making it acceptable to doubt every tenet of conventional wisdom or tradition that could not be readily justified by a valid criterion of truth;
man’s willingness to admit his ignorance about things that could not be proved by scientific method, was seen as a proper humility, preferable to feigned certainty;
legislators, philosophers and the common man alike endeavored to devise better ways of governing and of treating their fellow citizens;
the culture came to believe that “natural” human motivations such as the pursuit of happiness — which eventually would be enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — were every bit as constant and predictable as the natural laws that governed the orbits of the planets;
the West came to understand that each person’s knowledge and beliefs were limited to his experiences and surroundings, a realization that promoted tolerance for other cultures, faiths, and worldviews;
it was widely believed that a commercial, secular, and religiously diversified state was much to be preferred over a state dominated by the elite of any single faith; and
a free-market, laissez faire economy was seen as the system best suited for the creation of wealth.
These views were proposed and advanced by a host of giants in the fields of philosophy, economics, and science — among them Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, the Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume, Joseph Butler, Denis Diderot, and Adam Smith.
There is more here, including how the Left managed to co-opt the term and abuse it.
Cynthia got me to thinking further on this topic.
What if the Reformation of our political and cultural life were to come from the Left? It’s not likely, given their enthrallment with Communism and the multi-culti pottage Progressives have been sold and have eaten…still and all, what if?? It certainly is food for thought — to grandly slosh my metaphors here, it is pregnant with possibility. Oops, that might be one quick abortion. Never mind.
No overview would be complete without a reference to Wikipedia. Is the subject old enough to be a safe one for Wiki? See what you think.
Keep in mind the differences between English and French liberalism (an important distinction that “Discover the Networks” didn’t distinguish), recognizing that American colonial thought was built on an English foundation. With that said, Frederic Bastiat is enjoying a renaissance within some circles in America, even as he has been largely forgotten in France.
If my pondering leaves you feeling reactively angry, well… just keep it cool in the comments, please. Precious neologisms like “libtard” got old years ago…
And thanks to Cynthia for the thought experiment.