The Confusion of Classical Liberalism -vs- Conservatism

by: Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA
Liberty -vs- Tyranny

Thomas Jefferson, arguably one of America’s foremost “Classical Liberals.” Given the reality that many, if not most today haven’t a clue what the term Classical Liberalism actually means in the historical reference the following is an apt definition and explanation of the term.

{Ludwig von Mises} 1. Liberalism

The philosophers, sociologists, and economists of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth century formulated a political program that served as a guide to social policy first in England and the United States, then on the European continent, and finally in the other parts of the inhabited world as well. Nowhere was this program ever completely carried out. Even in England, which has been called the homeland of liberalism and the model liberal country, the proponents of liberal policies never succeeded in winning all their demands. In the rest of the world only parts of the liberal program were adopted, while others, no less important, were either rejected from the very first or discarded after a short time. Only with some exaggeration can one say that the world once lived through a liberal era. Liberalism was never permitted to come to full fruition.

Nevertheless, brief and all too limited as the supremacy of liberal ideas was, it sufficed to change the face of the earth. A magnificent economic development took place. The release of man’s productive powers multiplied the means of subsistence many times over. On the eve of the World War (which was itself the result of a long and bitter struggle against the liberal spirit and which ushered in a period of still more bitter attacks on liberal principles), the world was incomparably more densely populated than it had ever been, and each inhabitant could live incomparably better than had been possible in earlier centuries. The prosperity that liberalism had created reduced considerably infant mortality, which had been the pitiless scourge of earlier ages, and, as a result of the improvement in living conditions, lengthened the average span of life.

Nor did this prosperity flow only to a select class of privileged persons. On the eve of the World War the worker in the industrial nations of Europe, in the United States, and in the overseas dominions of England lived better and more graciously than the nobleman of not too long before. Not only could he eat and drink according to his desire; he could give his children a better education; he could, if he wished, take part in the intellectual and cultural life of his nation; and, if he possessed enough talent and energy, he could, without difficulty, raise his social position. It was precisely in the countries that had gone the farthest in adopting the liberal program that the top of the social pyramid was composed, in the main, not of those who had, from their very birth, enjoyed a privileged position by virtue of the wealth or high rank of their parents, but of those who, under favorable conditions, had worked their way up from straitened circumstances by their own power. The barriers that had in earlier ages separated lords and serfs had fallen. Now there were only citizens with equal rights. No one was handicapped or persecuted on account of his nationality, his opinions, or his faith. Domestic Political and religious persecutions had ceased, and international wars began to become less frequent. Optimists were already hailing the dawn of the age of eternal peace.

But events have turned out otherwise. In the nineteenth century strong and violent opponents of liberalism sprang up who succeeded in wiping out a great part of what had been gained by the liberals. The world today wants to hear no more of liberalism. Outside England the term “liberalism” is frankly proscribed. In England, there are, to be sure, still “liberals,” but most of them are so in name only. In fact, they are rather moderate socialists. Everywhere today political power is in the hands of the antiliberal parties. The program of antiliberalism unleashed the forces that gave rise to the great World War and, by virtue of import and export quotas, tariffs, migration barriers, and similar measures, has brought the nations of the world to the point of mutual isolation. Within each nation it has led to socialist experiments whose result has been a reduction in the productivity of labor and a concomitant increase in want and misery. Whoever does not deliberately close his eyes to the facts must recognize everywhere the signs of an approaching catastrophe in world economy. Antiliberalism is heading toward a general collapse of civilization.

If one wants to know what liberalism is and what it aims at, one cannot simply turn to history for the information and inquire what the liberal politicians stood for and what they accomplished. For liberalism nowhere succeeded in carrying out its program as it had intended. {Read More}

If you continue reading the entire work your understanding of classical liberalism, and how it, more than anything the modern conservative movement represents {post Barry Goldwater to offer a reference)is the real champion of limited government and maximum individual liberty. Especially as pertains to property rights.

Interestingly enough the man to your immediate left represents classical liberalism more than any individual politician in either the republican party or the democratic party today. It is no surprise that both the democratic and republican party marginalize the man. He stands against almost everything the power base in both party’s stand for. Which in a nutshell is larger and more intrusive government control over the life of the individual. In other words the trend backwards towards the belief the individual, or people in general serve the state. Which is, in a nutshell what the American colonies specifically and classical liberalism rebelled against.

Oh how history tends to repeat itself.

Via: Memeorandum


Chuck said…

"Oh how history tends to repeat itself."

Yes. Ron Paul's electoral history does repeat itself.

Chuck said…

Thomas Jefferson would have had Ron Paul publicly hanged. You know little more of Jefferson than the pretty picture you draped your post with.

Rational Nation USA said…

And you know less, hehehe!

John said…

Thanks Les!
The statements above yours bring to mind the the phrase "Ignorance is bliss"… (no intention of insult, but rather constructive)
I was corrected a few years back when I made the mistake of calling a "Progressive socialist" a Liberal… but even then I knew that the Democrat party had been hi-jacked by latter. (The only progress we've seen from them is towards communism)
And in the same way, "Conservatism" has become less conserving! After all, how is it conservative to move away from your original ideology? Here is my point in case!
So to anyone who will not read this, then you would be no different than those "Liberal egg sucking dogs" that hi-jacked the Democrat party… or a narrow minded buffoon who thinks he has it all figured out!

To anyone that may feel offended, it is not my intention and I apologize. I care about ALL people.

The Right Guy said…

I think you need to edit your article in that what I think you meant to say was that Ron Paul "represents classical liberalism more than any politician in either the republican party or the democratic party today". Even that isn't true, but the original statement is not at al true. I am quite certain there individual republicans in the country that are more authentically classical liberal than Ron. I might agree if you compared him to the other candidates in the last debate, then it's a true statement.

Ron Paul's greatest problem isn't that he's a classical liberal, it's that most people don't trust him for whatever reason, whether rational or irrational. Politics is a popularity contest and he can't seem to connect with even enough voters of his own party to win anything on the presidential level. This isn't unsubstantiated opinion at all. I agree with Ron on most things, but he reminds of an odd ball or asperger's type socially. To put it another way, if he had Mitt or Herman's style, he'd go a lot farther. It is what it is. He's not a bad guy, but he doesn't have it to win in this country at this time in history.

Rational Nation USA said…

TRG – Point understood and your argument valid. It does more closely represent the intent as written.
Thanks for your clarity.

Winning popularity contests does not make one a leader. No need to cite examples I am sure..

The Right Guy said…

True, but it seems that perception often trumps reality, or as my bosses boss likes to say, perception is reality. I disagree on principle, but empirically, it seems to be what we observe.

Left Coast Rebel said…

Chuck: Read TRG's response to Les re: Ron Paul. Read it again. Digest it. That's how one makes a point while at the same time respecting (and, gasp! tolerating the opinion of others, even if one is in complete disagreement).

For example: TRG could have said, "Ron Paul is batsh#it crazy, and you are a f#cking retard for liking him!"

(sound like someone here who has long worn out his welcome at this site?)

My point stands.

The Right Guy said…

Some people think he is. He is a perfect example of being right, but incorrect. Harken to the Fed Ex commercial where the boss said the same thing as the underling had just before, but when the boss did it, it was a good idea. The boss said, you went like this, I went like that, demonstrating a difference in hand gestures. All I can say is that I can relate to Paul in that way as I work for the government, and not only that, it's 90% women where I work so, what matters is how you say it, not what you say. It's like tossing logic on the scrap heap and everything becomes a political game.

In this case, Ron is already in politics and while he is successful on the local level, when pursuing national office, one has to appeal to a much broader audience that doesn't know you like your local people or "family" do. He just doesn't come across in the right way to connect and/or convince enough people to be successful in terms of winning.

That said, I think we could do a whole lot worse with some of the other candidates than Ron Paul and quite possibly, he is the salve that we need to fix our economic problems. What I don't see is someone in him that is Reaganesque in that he would put a capital A in America again with a huge sense of pride that I felt in 1980.

Now, I am curious as to why TJ would publicly hang Ron Paul. I am sure Lincoln would have and quite possibly FDR as well. 🙂

ecc102 said…


If you really do eliminate Chuck and his lack of manners and bankruptcy in being able, even for the briefest of moments, to behave like a civilized American and not some uncircumsized Philistine, I would consider that a wonderful and early Christmas present. Actually, many of us would.

So, stop teasing, LCR. You know what you gotta do.

Left Coast Rebel said…

Great thoughts, Right Guy. And no, TJ would have not sent Paul to the gallows… that's a new one to me and totally unsubstantiated.

Ecc: It will be one or the other. I will have my finger poised over the "delete forever" button here for the next three days as I have them off. Happy Thanksgiving 😉

K T Cat said…

I've been listening to Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism from Audible. I get this argument much better now, but I'm not sure it really matters.

Nick Rowe said…

I agree with you on this one Les, and i doubt Paul would have a long walk to a short rope.

But TJ also commented that the amendment process would prevent the nation from being run by its "barbarous ancestors."

I often look at the Framer's intent as a social contract as I'm sure you do. But it's presumptuous to suggest any of us would know what the founders would do or say or think in the modern context.

Washington's warning about "entangling alliances" was made in a time before Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons, ICBMs, aircraft carriers, submarines and international terrorist groups. They didn't live through the Great Depression, the Civil War, or the Civil Rights movement.

Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1776, but the Founder's understanding of international trade and economics was archaic. Even Smith believed in the labor theory of value that Marx relied upon.

The Constitution served the immediate concern of creating our Union, and it did so by compromising on slavery. The Connecticut Compromise was not the product of genius, but the residue of political pragmatism.

It is fine to seek guidance on our founding principles, but it is folly to worship them. Many lawfully enacted amendments changed what you hold sacred. These amendments passed because our elected representatives and state legislatures realized the old rules weren't working.

If you want to amend the Constitution, count me in. But if you look at the history of such amendments, it has never been an easy path. And some were mistakes.

Ron Paul's beliefs about a gold standard and the Fed are anachronistic. He doesn't recall why we abandoned the former and adopted the latter to begin with. Not all his views are grounded in economic or political realities.

Nick Rowe said…

Well, if you're going to ban Chuck, then ban me too.

Yes, he can be acerbic, terse and gruff, but I think there are too many 'thin skins' here who focus more on his delivery than his message.

Chuck, if you're listening, please stick around and try to ease up. Pause before you hit Post Comment and lighten up. I'd rather have anyone here as a friend than the average Demon Rat. And we need to find unity for this election.

Sure, we have a forum of like minded people, but banning runs the risk of turning it into a mutual admiration society.

I get what Chuck's saying almost all the time. He makes valid criticisms, in a laconic fashion. I understand that the blog posts are often just free expression without deep thought; it just flows. The comments from him are an important reality check. Think of it as Spock with a beard from the ISS Enterprise.

The gallows comment today was uncharacteristically unChucklike. It lacked the substantive basis in fact he is often critical of. But it wasn't offensive either.

Today, I was watching Frank Luntz on Fox. He had a group of Republicans who were quite annoyed that Romney skipped the state. Even if he knew he was going to come in last place, he should have showed up out of respect. While the Iowa primary may be irrelevant, the state is vital in the general election. Mitt needed to remain at least a palatable alternative to Obama, and not hope people will hold their noses and vote. Unless he has a winning strategy that doesn't involve Iowa and he's already put it in Obamas column. This may have been a big blunder.

Best wishes to all. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Right Guy said…

The problem with social contracts is that we never sign them.

Grant Davies said…

Good post Les. If people are talking about the differences and similarities and what the basic philosophies are, we all benefit from the added understanding of the different options.

I like it (the back and forth) because I'm convinced that when all the rhetoric is finally washed away and only real information is left, an educated citizenry will tend to choose freedom over slavery and general philosophy over politics and political parties.

It's ideas that matter most, not personalities of politicians or people who comment on sites like this. Having said that, I urge people who comment to make their post as they feel it, then hit the edit button before the "post comment" button and remove all references to others or comments about personalities, leaving only comments on concepts or ideas.

If we watch our sharp tongues and put on our thinking caps, this site will be all the better off because of it. It's the adult thing to do.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Even as screwed up as things are right now, we have much to be thankful for and a lot of work left to do.

Chuck said…

I'm glad I missed this conversation. I wish I'd never stumbled upon it.

There is true and untrue. There is also selling.

I don't sell online.

Chuck said…

There is also spite. Call me guilty when the subject is Ron Paul.

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