In his column in the Jan. 1 issue of this newspaper Dr. Ken Wolf defined “liberal” as “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values ... favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded.” These words sound deceptively virtuous and remind me of Satan’s conversation with Eve in the Garden of Eden.
When defining liberalism, one must distinguish between classical and modern liberalism on the one hand and between political and economic liberalism on the other. Inspired by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, classical political liberalism arose in the 16th and 17th centuries in response to papal and royal absolutism. It found theoretical expression in Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” (1690) and Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws” (1748), and practical expression in the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the United States Constitution (1787).
Classical economic liberalism, sometimes called laissez-faire economics, arose about the same time in response to mercantilism “... which was intended ... to unify and increase the power and especially the monetary wealth of a nation by strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy ...” (Note the phrase strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy.) This was the policy Europeans used with their American colonies and is China’s economic policy today.
Classical economic liberalism found theoretical expression in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” (1776) and practical expression in Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s three reports to Congress (1790-1791). Their essence was capitalism.
Yes, both articulations of classical liberalism embodied change, reform and discarding traditional values, but that is not what made them good. What made them good was their content, the values they were based on and espoused, and what they achieved when implemented. Human beings are not saints; thus, both articulations are imperfect but, nevertheless, they have provided more liberty, more prosperity and more happiness to more people for more time than any other political or economic system in history. That must be remembered, above all else.
Today’s American conservatives are classical liberals. We really believe in the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and are very skeptical of proposals to change the system they designed. We follow the great British political theorist and statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) in believing that, when change is truly necessary, it should occur in small increments. Another way of putting it is that we do not believe that change is necessarily progress, and we oppose change for the sake of change and change that contradicts or undermines our fundamental values and principles.
What does modern liberalism advocate? As I said in a previous column, liberals support infanticide and late-term partial-birth abortion under the mantra of women’s health; they oppose criminalizing the execution of babies who miraculously survive attempted abortions; they removed all references to God from the 2016 Democrat Party platform; they now want to remove the phrase “so help me God” from the oath of truthfulness of witnesses in public testimony and “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance; and they promote gambling and smoking marijuana to raise public revenue.
It is liberals who want to overturn the results of a constitutional election because they hate the winner. It is liberals who want to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is liberals who have ignored the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution and established “sanctuary” cities contrary to law. It is liberals who attempt to silence, often with violence, those who have other views. It is liberals who make fools of themselves by elevating movie stars who do little more than look good and read lines written by others to the status of climate experts and proclaim that a few puny efforts by man can overturn the awesome power of nature. And, it is liberals who have turned city streets into filthy cesspools of used syringes, urine and feces.
The change liberals desire is bad change. It makes our country worse, not better. So no, I don’t want a happy “liberal” new year. Not now. Not ever.
Winfield H. Rose taught political science at Murray State University for 39 years and is now retired. He is active in the Calloway County GOP, but speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations.
Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.