Classical Liberalism was birthed over eight hundred year ago with the signing of the Magna Carta, Magna Carta Libertatum, Medieval Latin for “Great Charter of the Liberties”, in 1215. This was the first crack in the “Divine Right of Kings”, which eventually led to the recognition of the “divine rights” of all people as endowed by their Creator as proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence.
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The beginnings of Classical Liberalism began over eight hundred years ago with the signing of the Magna Carta, Magna Carta Libertatum, Medieval Latin for “Great Charter of the Liberties”, in 1215. This was the first crack in the “Divine Right of Kings”, which eventually led to the recognition of the “divine rights” of all people as endowed by their Creator proclaimed publically in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. With this document, the world’s oldest democracy was founded. How did we get from that historic moment of fierce bravery and unity to today’s deep and growing divisions?
Classical Liberalism continued to find its voice. By the mid-19th century, it stood for economic and civil liberties, including the separation of church and state, with a limited government under the rule of law, private property, and market-based economies. Simply put, Liberalism stood for economic and civil liberties. Remember, under various monarchies and dictatorships in previous centuries, limited government, the rule of law, civil liberties and free economies were simply unthinkable.
By the early 20th Century, a schism appeared with Liberals emphasizing the civil liberties part, and Conservatives emphasizing the economic liberties. Why the schism? Was it legitimate in that certain people thought that one or the other was getting short shrift and needed more attention and resources? Or was it artificially created to give the impression that one view, either the Liberals’ or Conservatives’, was correct, and the other incorrect–dead wrong, in fact? My guess is that both Liberals and Conservatives started on this divided road with the best of intentions; however, once they discovered that each part of the split in Classical Liberalism had its own enthusiastic audience, those two parts of the Classical movement, the two political parties, Democrats and Republicans, warmed to the self-serving task of widening the divide. But the answer to this who dunnit does not matter; today, most voices are all in on deepening and widening the gap–the division–in the body politic. And they are doing it for their own–and their party’s–benefit. For all they care, the country can pick up the pieces later. And whatever happens, both parties will blame the other. And you and I will be left holding the bag. Most certainly our children or grandchildren will be left with the empty bag.
Worse, this is clearly a false choice: Why would an entire country be pushed unnecessarily–and dangerously–into choosing between civil and economic liberties? And how did the definition of civil liberties come to include an expanding welfare system? For that matter, how did those espousing economic liberties allow a huge and growing bureaucracy, including a 70K federal page tax code?
While we are at it, how did it happen that the separation of church and state part of Classical Liberalism’s civil liberties now prohibits things like a high school coach praying on the field at a game? At the time we revolted against England, the Church of England, established by Henry the Eighth’s ego and lust, was their main religion. Our Founders were not exorcising God from all public places. They simply did not want the Church of England to somehow or in some way morph into anything like the Church of America. The issue was with a state religion, not with religion itself. On the other hand, the French Revolution some 20 years later was in part a revolt against religion. The Catholic Church had an enormous and undue influence in French life, with disastrous consequences. This key part of the French Revolution is captured by a quote, “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Denis Diderot. Nothing approaching that was happening in America. Q. Why are we acting as if that was a part of our past that needs to be completely eradicated? A. It fits an agenda. Does it fit yours?
When I look back at the origins of Classical Liberalism, I am tempted to call myself a Classic Liberal. But those of you who know anything about my political philosophy know how I abhor all labels, so let’s look at the core policies I promote:
- A limited and efficient government, standing on personal responsibility as its foundation.
- A citizenry personally committed to being our Brother’s Keepers.
- Secure Borders with generous immigration policies.
- School Choice.
- Strong defense.
- Term Limits.
- Free Trade.
What party is that?
Both sides of the split in Classical Liberalism, civil liberties and economic liberties, need to increase the size of government–efficiency be damned–in order to spend the money needed to gather–buy–our votes. If that is not what we want, we need to send loud and clear signals about what we do want. The squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease. There is a growing chorus crying out for, among other things, the government, obviously funded by taxpayers, to supply more free stuff. If that is what you want, all you need to do is stay silent. If not, step up and be heard. And stay stepped up.
Now it is time for our usual parting thought. For us at Results With Reason, it is not only change your thinking, change your life. It is change your thinking, change your actions, change the world. And if you can do it in love and enjoy the people around you at the same time, all the better. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.
Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.
Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.