Classical Liberalism and Conservatism

by Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA

For many years I have called myself an independent conservative, extolling the values of a limited government, the rule of law, and fiscal responsibility. These principles have always made a great deal of sense to me, whether from a philosophical/political view or just from a practical common sense reality.

During my recent period of inactivity from blogging I have returned to my first love, the study of American history. If for no other reason than it gives me great pleasure to learn and relearn I shall be satisfied with my endeavor, though it likely will curtail my blogging activities for the foreseeable future. But I digress.

Recently I have begun to believe that terminology, or labels that are used to define political thought, are completely meaningless. Either the terminology has completely lost its original meaning or been bastardized through manipulation. In either case labels and terms are rendered meaningless.

If one were asked what it means to be a liberal, progressive, conservative, reactionary, socialist, fascist, or any number of other terms it is likely a boilerplate answer would be given. An answer no doubt approved of by the "masters" of the particular ideology the person questioned believes to be true.

As an independent conservative I have always believed that classical liberalism was indeed the foundation of conservative thought. While framed in modern terminology Rational Nation USA's conservative manifesto is drawn largely from principles held by classical liberals. Perhaps this is why so many modern liberals seem to posses an almost hatred towards any individual or organization that claims the conservative mantra. It seems they in part fail to understand their own political beginnings. Or are ashamed of them. But again I digress.

In my search for additional material on classical liberalism and conservatism I happened across the following. It is entitled "Classical Liberalism: The Best Of Political Creeds." Written in 1999 it is well written and thought provoking. The following are the closing two paragraphs of the essay.

"Classical liberalism contains many conservative elements, but it is a proactive doctrine built around the core value of liberty under the rule of law. The classical liberal is prepared to innovate in order to improve the institutions which safeguard that core value. One major task for the classical liberals of the future is to take up the challenge posed by Karl R. Popper: in order to fortify our political institutions from misuse and abuse by bad rulers, we must re-construct them according to plans that first settle the question of “How shall we guarantee control of the rulers?” before the old traditional question of "Who shall be the rulers?" is considered."

"Modern-day classical liberals have excelled in governing, but they have had to do so under the conservative label. President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are both admirers and students of Hayek and both are classical liberals in the truest sense. In the United States of America there are literally thousands of politicians whose ideological trappings are drawn from classical liberalism, but who, of necessity, must co-habit with arch-conservatives in the Republican Party. It is to be hoped that classical liberals of the future will be able to march proudly under their own political banner."

For those conservatives who are interested the link to the complete essay is here. The results of the 2010 mid terms are indeed rewarding and a testament to much hard work by millions of good Americans. Soon it will be time to govern... January is when the rubber meets the road. Perhaps the new Congress, particularly the conservatives and Republicans ought to read the above essay.

It is time the conservative movement lives the values on which it defines itself. If it does it has a long and successful future as will our nation. If it fails to do so any post election exuberance will be short lived.

Cross posted to Rational Nation USA.


  1. Great article and very true. I have struggled with labels as well over the last several years. I do not call myself a conservative anymore since it does not accurately represent my philosophical views. Mostly because some modern day "conservatives" are no different than liberals in their desire to control the individual. I too have been using the term classic liberal more and more.

    As for Ronald Reagan, I am a huge admirer, so I mean no disrespect. I am just curious to get your view on whether you think his bailout of Chrysler conflicts with the views of classical liberalism.

  2. Yes, I believe in the purest sense it did.

    Chrysler's bailout however was peanuts compared to todays bailout and Chrysler paid back the note in full and ahead of time.

    The bottom line though I do believe it is in conflict with CL.


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