Doug Smith: When is a liberal not a liberal

21 Aug

This is the first part of a series on the history and evolution of liberalism in America.

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Doug Smith: Free State Patriot history and society editor

August 21, 2017

 

 

Well, the flippant answer is 1900.  But a more reasoned answer must ask first, what is liberalism? As happens so often, the word has been hijacked.  Orwell warned of this practice. Up is down. Truth is a lie. War is peace. 2 plus 2 equals 5, Winston Smith.

Words are important. Meaning is important. If we permit people to undermine meaning, they can mask actions and intentions. If I like chocolate all my life, and suddenly we call it butterscotch, we make a lie of my frame of reference.

The father of classical liberalism is widely considered to be John Locke. He believed that people were equal and had the right to defend their life, health, liberty, or possessions. That phrase was condensed into Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence. He believed that individuals had the right to own their property and goods based upon their own labor to produce them.

Classical liberalism, as opposed to what passes for liberalism after Woodrow Wilson, is in favor of private property rights and a free economy, guarantees of freedoms codified into law in the Constitution. From Wilson forward, the term Liberal came to mean something it is not.  The modern “liberal “is more the egalitarian of the French revolution; emphasizing state control of property, markets, and equalization of outcomes by government picking winners and losers.  We have seen that where this is practiced, the only winners are those in government power, and private citizens, who find they have no rights that the government does not choose to give them, see those rights decreasing as the power of the state increases. The losers are the folks waiting in line in Moscow for bread, the millions murdered because they had no wall to protect them from the psychotic whims of Stalin.

This is the dangerous fantasy put forth by Wilson’s ” Living Document” view of the Constitution. Rather than an agreed wall between the individual and the state, the Wilson New liberals see it as a fluid contract, subject to the perceived notions of those currently in power as to the needs of the people.

Imagine if you signed a contract to buy a house for a certain sum. 5 years into the contract, the governor decided that all homes should cost 20% more, and now, regardless of the agreement you had made, you were forced to borrow additional money and send it to the seller. With, of course, a taxed sop to the government. Or suppose you were the seller, and he decided that you had sold your house for too much, and you had to borrow money and refund it to the buyer, years after the fact.

You wouldn’t like it so much.  That wall of iron words took years, and much effort to get the agreement of enough citizens and states to ratify it and enter a contract.  The idea that the contract is living and can change with time would make it useless, and meaningless. It could come to mean anything at any time.  Recognizing how hard it was to ratify, and that future citizens may, indeed wish to alter it, Madison and the framers included specific steps to do so, and made it as difficult to alter as to pass initially. They protected the individual from the whim of a government official, or a vocal minority, or a small but insistent majority. If you wish to change this contract, you must persuade a decisive majority that the change is beneficial.

Our government as a rule of law, not lawyers, or nobles, or kings, affords that protection to all our citizens.  The liberal judge who looks between the lines and finds things we must do as a government undermines those protections for every citizen.

So then, the classical liberal, as the term was used for over 200 years, places its trust and support of the individual’s rights to property, self-determination, and personal liberty and responsibility. The citizen, in the view of a classical liberal, resides in the state, not under the state.

The egalitarian, or “social” liberal, has a very different world view indeed. Next article, we shall lift the veil of the Wilsonian “liberal” and look at the iron hammer lurking there to supplant the iron words of the Constitution he so disdains.

 

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