The Paw Print
These terms are thought to define the 2 main groups of political leadership in America. Democrats are seen as being liberal and Republicans as conservative. The surprising thing about these two terms, liberal and conservative, is that the meanings have completely changed over the last 200 years! The degree to which they have changed is enormous. It amounts to a complete reversal of their old meanings.
In the 1700’s the main form of government was monarchies. This was a system of centralized control by royal families. During this time a conservative was traditionalist who supported a monarchy system of government. Conservatives were seen as those clinging to the past, much as they are seen today.
Liberalism was a system which drew on the ideas of the Enlightenment period philosophers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Adam Smith. The core philosophy was based on limited government, individual liberty (from where the term liberal came from), property rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and free markets. Liberalism was seen during this time as the system of the future i.e. progressive.
During the time period of Classical liberalism, there occurred the largest growth in human prosperity that had ever occurred in human history. Free markets, the increase of guaranteed rights of the people via constitutions and the abolition of slavery are all liberal improvements which made this prosperity possible. These advances could never have happened under the oppressive system of monarchies.
During the beginning of the classical liberal period, popular culture supported the ideas behind liberalism and was opposed to the elite class of royal monarchies. But after this explosion of prosperity, a new class of business leaders became the new elite class. Popular culture artists and writers then turned on this new privileged class. Out of this climate arose new theories to oppose the movement toward individualism. These theories were known as collectivism. These theories were based on the works of intellectuals such as Robert Owen, Frederick Engels and Karl Marx. They believed in the state having a larger role in people’s lives. The state should be used as an instrument of social change.
So during this time classical liberalism became conservative and went on the defensive. Socialism became the new liberalism as was now seen as the way of the future or the more progressive movement. These theories caused an increase in the prevalence of nationalism. The idea that the people and the state are inseparable.
The nationalist mindset is what gave rise to the many wars of the 20th century and was in total opposition to classical liberalism. This nationalist ideology was the tool used by both the Nazis (National Socialist German Workers Party) and the Soviet Union to enslave their people into believing that the will of the state trumped their own individual will.
The problem with socialists using the name liberalism is that their system is not based on liberty; it is based on using government to achieve social or progressive change. This brings up the problem of what exactly liberty is. Liberty is defined as freedom from authoritative or external control. If a government must impose it’s policies in order to make social change, it will necessarily have to violate people’s liberty.
What is the main difference between classical liberalism and modern liberalism? It is the idea of self-ownership.
Do you own yourself? Does everybody own everybody? Or do the ruling elite own everybody? Classical liberalism which is now known as libertarianism believes that everyone owns themselves. Socialism promotes the idea that everybody works together, in other words that everyone owns everyone. This is of course not true because everyone does not make the decisions under socialism. This is also true of democracy because under democracy even though people vote on issues, only the majority wins. This majority are represented by government officials. The fact is that under these systems the elites in the government claim to own you.
When you think of socialism do you immediately think of communist Russia? The fact is that it is not necessarily an all or none system. Would you believe that in America, most of the new major programs and policies of the 20th century have their origins in socialist theory?
In the 1800’s a group in England was formed called the Fabian Society. They came about after communists had failed badly in trying to get support in overthrowing the government. The Fabian socialists believed that the more effective way of gaining power was to indoctrinate young scholars who would then infiltrate governments, educational institutions and political parties to implement socialist policies incrementally over time. It would be an evolution rather than a revolution. George Bernard Shaw of the Fabian Society described their tactics as “stealth, intrigue, subversion, and the deception of never calling socialism by its right name.”
Maybe this is why the Fabian Society chose a wolf wearing a sheep skin as their symbol (as seen in the picture for this article).
Now while the Soviet Union may have fallen, the idea of socialism is far from dead. I have seen countless articles in popular magazines such as Adbusters declaring that capitalism is dead. The fact is that capitalism existed even under Soviet Russia via black markets. How would Adbusters explain that communist China only became prosperous after it instituted a capitalist economy? Or the enormous difference in prosperity between North Korea and South Korea?
Capitalism is portrayed in our popular culture as a greedy, selfish system. There is a paradox here though, which system is more selfish? One in which people do not wish to use force on others or one in which people use the government to steal and use force on others for their own benefit? Sadly, under our current system we are not given the 1st choice. Both Democrats and Republicans use government as a tool of war, theft and coercion. According to recent polls, 60% of American’s would like to see a 3rd party candidate in 2016. What is the 3rd largest political party in America? The Libertarian Party.
I believe the future that most people would like to see is one of less government control and more freedom. How can anyone say that less freedom is progressive? The trend of the 20th century toward more government control is temporary. The overall progress, if you look at mankind’s history, is one toward more individual freedom and away from serfdom. To watch a video about classical liberalism go to newamericangovernment.org.