Classical Liberalism vs. Modern Liberalism and Modern Conservatism
In the history of politics, there is only one fundamental, abiding issue: It is individualism vs. collectivism. Do individuals have the right to pursue their own happiness, as Thomas Jefferson thought and as the Declaration of Independence deemed self-evident? Or do we have an obligation to live our lives for the community or the state, as most societies have claimed throughout most of history? Yet if this is the paramount political issue, why is it not forthrightly debated in presidential elections and in other contests for public office? The reason is that American political debates tend to be dominated by modern liberalism and modern conservatism — approaches to politics that are properly called ―sociologies‖ rather than ―ideologies.‖ Modern liberalism is not completely collectivist; nor is it completely individualistic. It has elements of both doctrines. The same is true of conservatism. Neither view provides a coherent approach to politics, built up from first principles. Instead, they both reflect a process that is akin to picking items from a dinner menu. What is chosen is a matter of taste rather than a matter of thought. Just as people with similar tastes in food tend to frequent the same restaurants, people with the same tastes in politics tend to vote for the same candidates. What that leaves us with are candidates, platforms and political parties whose ideas are inconsistent and often incoherent. The thoughtful voter may sometimes vote for the conservative, sometimes for the liberal and sometimes just abstain. The classical liberal perspective will not solve this problem, but it will help us better understand it.
Classical Liberalism as an Ideology
Classical liberalism was the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers. It permeates the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and many other documents produced by the people who created the American system of government. Many...