Philosopher and economics expert Joanne Baldine, Ph.D. offers the following: “According to classical liberalism, the idea of liberty – as the word suggests – is preeminent. It’s the idea around which many people from different political persuasions still unite…. You will find both the ‘arch-conservative’ and the ‘extreme liberal’ agree on this point: that is, the importance of liberty. Still, the interpretations of liberty differ, depending on whom you ask.” She goes on to highlight “…the key liberalist ideas that issue from the people I consider to be the most important architects of liberalism: John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill.” In this blog, I will share a few thoughts about each of these thinkers, and many others, as well. The goal is to see what this idea of liberty is all about. I start off slow and get to the heart of the matter. Anything that the two polarities of the political spectrum can agree upon is worth exploring!
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” ~ Eveyln Beatrice Hall
“For the record, liberalism wasn’t invented in the 18th century; it goes way back to the 1st century with Cicero – someone who spoke about liberty a good deal. His ideas actually influenced a lot of these Enlightenment thinkers. But even before Cicero, Aristotle talked about what it was to be a free man – and indeed, he did mean men” ~ Joanne Baldine. In Aristotle’s time, many people were not free; they were under the control of someone who owned them, someone they were married to, clerics, governments, etc. Astonishingly, Aristotle was so embedded in the cultures he was a part of that he didn’t argue against slavery. Well, another blog for another day. “A consistent liberalist doctrine didn’t emerge until the 17th century. This became the basis for libertarian doctrine,” Baldine shows. As we know, thinkers and writers such as Locke, Montesquieu, Hume and Smith were either influential to or contemporary with Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and the like. It’s amazing to think about, actually. Indeed, The Wealth of Nations as it is commonly called, written by that moral philosopher Adam Smith (yes, you read that right), was published in 1776.
“Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority – literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social, and even political.” ~ Ignazio Silone
Baldine notes that “It was mainly the royal absolutism of the Bourbons in France, the Stuarts in England, and the Hapsburgs in the Netherlands that people were reacting to. The monarchs and aristocrats attempted to govern individuals without restraint.” Indeed, though the Magna Carta was forced on the king of England in 1215, five hundred years had passed, and philosophers and individuals were nowhere near democracy – or a true republic. As can be seen from the play Les Miserables, people all across the land were chafing under the rule of tyrants and velvet-doubleted nobles. “The history of liberty is the history of limitations on the power of the government,” said Woodrow Wilson. Obviously, George III got under the American colonist’s skins in a big way. In fact, life was so promising that one would have no trouble picturing the kinds of acts and attitudes characterizing the crown and the governors of England that led Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, and John Adams to be willing to risk life, liberty and property to throw off that yoke. “The government was set to protect man from criminals – and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government,” contributess poster-girl for libertarianism,
“You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it! If you do not, I shall repent it in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it!” ~ John Adams
She goes on to note that another thing that played a role in the advent of liberalism was reason. The Enlightenment. I always think of serious intellectuals such as Voltaire, Francis Bacon, Denis Diderot, and the Marquis de Condorcet when I hear that word, and it brings up a sense of hope and intrigue to imagine the quills that were put to parchment and the courageous acts of free-thinking, reasoning, and rationality that prospered in the long, dusky shadows cast by kings. I am reminded of a noble song by the rock group Rush, whose lyrics to the song “A Farewell to Kings” include: “When they turn the pages of history/ When these days have passed long ago/ Will they think of us with sadness/ For the seeds that we let grow?” Indeed, we made incredible progress toward liberty since 1650, and have lost some of it, too. That is significant, because “Without Freedom of thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty without Freedom of speech” ~ Benjamin Franklin. He also portended: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“The most dangerous thing about Communism is not its economic theory, but its assumption that it is the right of the State to control a man’s thoughts.” ~ Lawrence M. Horton
Baldine notes that “Reason played a role, as did individualism.” She believes that liberty, reason, and individuality not only affected persons’ perceptions of the monarchy, but “they had the effect of officially, if not subliminally, undermining even the authority of religion.” One look at deism and Voltaire’s life and one can see what she means! It has been said that Voltaire changed an entire continent, and that men shuddered to think that he would turn his quill on them, so great a writer and so popular was he. “Spinoza and Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire, different as their philosophies were, all shared this passionate faith in reason; they all felt the common bond of fighting for a new, truly enlightened, free and human world,” noted the erudite humanist and psychotherapist, Erich Fromm. Two quotations on liberty I always loved of Voltaire’s are: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.” And: “Liberty of thought is the life of the soul.” He was commenting on freethinking as the best part of humanity; a virtue indeed.
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” ~ Adam Smith
“Someone who could think for himself was someone who was, essentially, free” Baldine adds. She mentions: “People began to see that the more you reasoned, the more you learned, the freer you can be.” As well: “The idea of a person has changed under the influence of liberalism. A person gradually became known as an individual with his own integrity, a person who could think for him- or herself. To choose her own ends. That’s what a free person is. And that of course led to the idea that a person could craft oneself.” She is extolling the virtue of self-betterment, progressivism, and a true kind of freedom to become what one is capable of. She contrasts that with a communitarian ethic, where “the community is the basic social unit – versus the individual.” The Enlightenment and more modern ways of thinking served to transform a person from one who merely plays a role into a more individualistic entity. The locus of being migrated to the place right between the eyes. She claims that persons “were no longer ‘a hyphenated being’, defined by their role as a member in a certain clan, class, family, society, religion, society, or nation-state.” She is noting that embeddedness and interconnectedness was growing less significant. Freedom to be a self was becoming more and more possible. Freedom from dominance and interference. Roles and identities remained important, but individuality has been more meaningful since Locke and others began to publish about liberty, government, and human potential. I am in favor of this trend, though obviously we have to stop short of “only looking out for #1”. One shouldn’t consider oneself an island and too quickly forsake the goal of being one’s “brother’s keeper.” The long history of human evolution does show ample evidence of solitariness and self-concern, true; but it also shows how social and connected we all are.
“Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril.” ~ William Lloyd Garrison
The rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were thought about, written on, and discussed fervently. To read about or watch a movie about the architects of America is to see a group of remarkable individuals in discourse, trying to deal with the challenges of how to create a government that will respect rights and be stable over time. The fact that these well-heeled white men virtually ignored the outgroups of women, Africans, and the poor is another blog for another day. Regardless, protecting minimal rights is about the beginning and the end of libertarianism, in fact: the government is constituted to preserve and protect the rights of the individual. It’s a negative right, in a way: preventing some entity from interfering with and impinging upon the freedom of the person. The rule of law is valued more highly than the rule of governments, according to the libertarian principle. Some of these thinkers, in fact, even view taxation as a kind of tyranny because one has an inviolable right to the fruits of one’s labor. It is theorized that society benefits from everyone freely engaged in business: “In intending only his own gain, …he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of society more effectively than when he really intends to promote it” (Smith). Whether this is true in fact remains a question. Imagine if all corporate boards were empowered to pursue their own gain pretty much without oversight. It is only one step from where we currently find ourselves. Cut corporate taxes in half, as Trump recommends, and you only worsen the situation for society, the data show.
“If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.” ~ Winston Churchill
True libertarianism is an austere and extreme form of a social contract which basically says: “Why should a person have to work only to have some of their income taken and redistributed to others who are either less capable, less motivated, or just generally not me? Government is stupid, corrupt, and self-perpetuating; people out there in the world are not really part of my circle, so keep them all out of my pocket and away from my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Some bureaucrats and career politicians shouldn’t be able to create a mountain of regulations which hamper my business from being profitable. The market, unfortunately, is rigged, but it is supposed to be sovereign and free, and government should ideally just keep its hands off. Let capitalism work – it is humanity’s greatest creation and has the potential to make us all freer. I deserve my guns, my beliefs, my rights, and my money – and you all can do whatever you want. I know myself and my needs and my choices better than any other individual or politician. I will help others if I choose; compelling me to give up my hard-earned dollars to some persons I don’t even know is just wrong. We should have certain minimal functions of government – roads and defense and the like; let the private sector and individuals do the rest as they see fit. If you empower a government, all it will do is grow and expand and serve itself.”
“The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.” ~ Edmund Burke
A fundamental concern egalitarian liberals (modern-day “progressives”) have about a free market – unfettered by supervision, regulation, and correction – is that things will go awry to some degree, from time to time (sometimes stupendously). Free market god Milton Friedman, writing in the 1950s, characterizes the criticism in this manner: “A private free-enterprise economy, it is said, is inherently unstable. Left to itself, it will produce recurrent cycles of boom and bust. The government must therefore step in to keep things on an even keel.” He notes that such arguments were a major impetus toward the New Deal (Franklin Roosevelt, Henry A. Wallace, et. al.) reforms that, despite subterfuge and resistance on the part of conservatives, were partially effective and valued by the public. The market cares even less about humanity (and the frailties thereof) than do humans, which is really saying something. In fact, corporations – what the SCOTUS and plutocratic/oligarchic types have made omnipresent in society – have been successfully likened to a sociopath (the psychiatric/criminal term). I believe the burden of proof should be on libertarians and free market capitalists to show that an unrestrained market does indeed produce more and more good. Otherwise, I will continue to believe that it is “irrational exuberance” based on chasing a buck that has propelled Wall Street and associated industries to become such behemoths – many “too big to fail.”
“Drawing a line between providing for the common social values required for a stable society, on the one hand, and indoctrination inhibiting freedom of thought and belief on the other, is another of those vague boundaries that is easier to mention than to define.” ~ Milton Friedman
I will happily point out, though, that one thing that lefties and righties seem to agree upon is the fact that we are getting a raw deal if we allow private corporations and Wall Street to privatize gains and socialize losses. Bailouts are anathema to almost anyone’s definition of a well-functioning system. I will point out that Friedman believes that the government creates such dysfunction, pointing specifically to the Federal Reserve System. He notes that because of high tax burdens, tariffs, regulatory commissions, government price and wage fixing, “What we urgently need, for both economic stability and growth, is a reduction of government intervention, not an increase.” I am not wise enough to know if he is correct or incorrect at this stage in my intellectual development. I do see that Friedman also contends that “The Great Depression in the United States, far from being a sign of the inherent instability of the private enterprise system, is a testament to how much harm can be done by mistakes on the part of a few men when they wield vast power over the monetary system of a country.”
“As Congress debates new security measures, military spending, energy policies, economic stimulus packages, and various bailout requests, wouldn’t it be better if we knew that elected officials had to answer to the people who vote instead of wealthy individuals and corporate donors whose profits or failure may depend on how those new initiatives are carried out?” ~ Bill Moyers
To get back to fundamentals for a minute, Baldine notes that though Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated for liberty and the integrity of the individual, it is John Locke (1632-1704), David Hume (1711-1776), Adam Smith (1723-1790) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who were primary in the philosophy of liberty and the individual. She especially recommends Mill’s brilliant essay, On Liberty. John Locke, who also greatly influenced modern psychology, was a big proponent of private property and discussed how one creates/claims it; David Hume, one of the most charismatic individuals ever to hold a quill, felt that justice is not in fact a natural right but a human invention/artifact; Adam Smith “is often the person regarded as justifying self-interest as the key to a robust economy, but that’s a very skewed vision of [him]; and Mill “was a very strong advocate of individualism, and he shaped most Western democracies with his ideas about liberty.”
“‘Libertarian liberals,’ like Robert Nozick and Friedrich Hayek, argue that government should respect basic civil and political liberties, and also the right to the fruits of our labor as conferred by the market economy; redistributive policies that tax the rich to help the poor thus violate our rights. Egalitarian liberals like Rawls disagree.” ~ Michael J. Sandel
I can appreciate Mill’s elevation of self-determination and self-development. Indeed, meaning, fulfillment, happiness, and personal growth are major interests of mine and I can see those hallmark ideas reflected in many diverse thinkers throughout the ages. I can also see that Smith’s noting that self-interest among fairly equal individuals encourages a certain kind of natural progression is probably correct. Self-interest isn’t tantamount to evil, I wouldn’t say. And in a perfect world, perhaps the market (a truly free market) would be sufficient to right certain social wrongs – like, who cares if your baker is African American or other? However, I also see quite a lot of machinations and self-serving behavior taking place if hundreds of thousands (or millions) of men (and increasingly, women) are free to do pretty much whatever they want that doesn’t violate a minimal number of laws.
“[Despite being anti-government, Reagan] spent enormous sums on the military while cutting social programs for the poor. He reduced taxes on the wealthy, doubled both the military budget and the national debt, and in a revolutionary change, transformed the United States from the world’s leading creditor nation in 1981 into the biggest debtor nation by 1985. He deregulated industries, eroded environmental standards (defiantly ripping down the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had put on the White House roof), weakened the middle-class, busted unions, heightened racial divides, widened the gap between rich and poor, and abetted companies in shipping manufacturing jobs abroad. He deregulated Savings and Loan institutions which led to the first giant “too big to fail” government bailouts of troubled banks and failed S&Ls which, by 1995, would cost the taxpayers $87,000,000,000. Under the guise of privatization and Reagan’s extolling of market forces, Wall Street went on an enormous “greed is good” looting binge that resulted in the worst stock market collapse since the Great Depression (in October 1987).” ~ Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham & Oliver Stone
I would want to point out that one of the major differences in philosophy between libertarians/classical liberals/conservatives and progressives/liberals/egalitarians/communitarians is in perceptions about liberty. There are a few salient differences. Libertarians have a largely negative view of freedom: the freedom from interference. Beyond that, you’re on your own. Don’t ask me for anything and don’t expect me to pitch in if I don’t want to. Think of Thoreau alone in the woods. Let’s call the other group simply liberals: they are willing to tolerate more government and more regulation and more taxation not because they like these things per se, but because their positive view of freedom is that we are all together in communities and societies, and no person is an island unto himself. The ability of a person to access freedom is best kept alive and open by an allied group of leaders and servants who are supposed to have the entire group’s best interests in mind.
“Life is not fair. It is tempting to believe that government can rectify what nature has spawned.” ~ Milton Friedman
An example is the fact that affirmative action is an attempt to say, essentially: “Hey, when ya’ll were left alone, things got way out of whack. The best solution to elevate values such as equality, justice, and freedom is now to create some adult-like limits on behaviors. No you cannot lynch black people; no, monopolies are not okay; no, the lunch counter is not going to be separated by race; no, corporations cannot have total control.” Ideally, the people (all of whom are in a social contract) need some looking out for because well over a hundred million individuals makes for a very complicated and fractious society. People want fire departments, low-cost college, health care, free lunches for poor people, regulation of Wall Street, and government is here to see it through. The fact that government is at times corrupt, stupid, misguided, sprawling, expensive and permanent is what libertarians would bristle about. Liberals fear corporations more than they do government, and it’s the opposite for libertarians.
“Too many people who break the rules end up as winners – and learn that crime pays. Two core pillars of the American idea, optimism and egalitarianism, are being eroded. Taking their place is the cynicism of an Anxious Class that believes, rightly, that the rules aren’t fair; and the hubris of a Winning Class that lives by its own rules.” ~ David Callahan
As well, liberals worry that unless there is a certain “leveling of the playing field,” adequate economic justice, and a certain measure of government-led protection of the positive rights of liberty, that only the cream of the crop will enjoy society’s benefits. “A hungry man is not a free man” said Adlai Stevenson. If you stack upon someone all the challenges of race, class, religion, educational attainment/quality, sexuality, geography and the like, it can become increasingly difficult for the individual to actualize their potential – to become what they are free to be. If things are wrong with society – and there inarguably are myriad ways in which people, animals, and the environment suffer on a daily basis – then “to give up the task of reforming society is to give up one’s responsibility as a free man”, according to Alan Paton. Indeed, “It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison, and yet not free – to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel, and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel, and act” wrote intellectual powerhouse, Aldous Huxley.
“In defending laissez-faire principles against egalitarian objections, [Milton] Friedman made a surprising concession. He acknowledged that those who grow up in wealthy families and attend elite schools have an unfair advantage over those from less privileged backgrounds. He also conceded that those who, through no doing of their own, inherit talents and gifts have an unfair advantage over others.” ~ Michael J. Sandel
Here is Arthur Goldhammer’s take on this nuance: “What impressed [French writer Alexis de] Tocqueville about the United States [in the 1800s] was that life’s horizons were free of impediments for the many and not just the few – at least in principle. Practice was another matter: the French a traveler was given to overestimating social mobility in a democratic America, but many Americans, then as now, are prone to the same error.” At their best, liberals are not the designers and perpetuators of failing social programs and overtaxation, but proponents of a truly level playing field from which every single member of society benefits. This is a trade-off from “the state of nature” to civilized, progressive society that modern liberals are willing to make. They would rather try to reform government than to neuter it, destroy it, or, as it were, “drown it in the bathtub.” Liberals have a fundamentally different view of human nature and the relationships between human beings than libertarians, despite their mutual love of freedom. Consider this: “The ‘natural benevolence’ that David Hume attributed to our species is a function of precisely this capacity for what is today generally called empathy.” In drawing attention to empathy and benevolence, education writer Alfie Kohn is noting that (in my estimation) we needn’t keep other people at arm’s distance from us; there is not a zombie-like faction of “takers”, as Mitt Romney called them, who only want to receive the fruits of our labor, giving nothing in return. Liberals believe that individuals will do what they can, and that a marginal performance in school or the professional world tends to reflect social and environmental factors more than dispositional ones. We should radically look to the least among us and offer the helping hand they are looking for (by and large). It is theorized that the political Right – buoyed by the moneyed interests as it is – drives a wedge between peoples of the same social class so as to cause resentment that one group is doing all the giving and the other, all the taking. It was the point of Mitt Romney’s barb about the 47% being “takers.”
“Individual liberty obviously can never be fully realized if men and women must work devastatingly long hours simply to feed and shelter their families. Only if individuals have time that they can dispose of freely as they see fit can liberty be truly meaningful.” ~ Gar Alperovitz
However, if society is in a state of decay, which I think it is to a large degree, then it becomes more “dog eat dog” and one has a greater tendency to “look out for #1” and damn everyone else. In an extremely diverse and increasingly fractious society of over 300,000,000 people, it can be really difficult to see the other as relevant, important, and connected. I get that. Liberals say: “What can we do to include, to take care of, to help others so that they will be more self-sufficient individuals, better able to self-actualize.” Libertarians have a hard time getting there. Some of them hardly see a need for schools, prisons, the Postal Service, the military, space exploration, and the fire department to be public and tax-funded, so they just aren’t going to see someone on the opposite end of the grid as someone they should concern themselves with. I mean, a follower of Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Ayn Rand might not wish unknown masses ill, but they definitely don’t see that after school programs and the arts are particularly worth being taxed for. Unfortunately, politicians and academicians such as Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Alan Greenspan, and Arthur Laffer had/have a fair amount of power and influence, and the budgetary and fiscal and economic priorities of Reagan through George W. Bush reflect that. It is argued, however, whether crony capitalism is the spawn of a laissez faire approach to governing, or in fact liberalism gone awry. From what I know of social psychology – and it pains me to assert this – the movement to the Right that have, by and large, characterized the economics of America since 1980 might actually be creating social decay. I sometimes get the feeling that “the invisible hand” appears to be giving much of society great advantage and the rest, the finger.
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
Libertarians would be able to retort that government often does harm – either due to ineptitude or corruption – and that that is the very reason to clip its wings. For example, did Joseph McCarthy come from the business world, or was he a Senator? The “Hollywood blacklist” was engaged in voluntarily in response, and if it weren’t for free market forces, it could have been a much longer, darker time. Clearly, the whole anti-Soviet ideology that sucked so much oxygen out of the room was mainly governmental (with a bit of help from the military-industrial complex). Either it functioned to reduce attention to social matters (e.g., Jim Crow) or it was a straight-ahead paranoia by “all the president’s men.” Either way, I am sure that most businesses didn’t much care for the whole thing. I also reflect with distaste on states that have instituted “right to work” laws, which means, where the rubber meets the road, that employees can be fired for virtually any reason and that union membership is highly discouraged. That is not a fair effect of a free market, that the power of industry lobbying lawmakers. There is a very strong correlation between the preferences of the moneyed class and the laws that are passed and approved of by the SCOTUS. It is only under extraordinary circumstances that bourgeois sentiment is not the law of the land (e.g., by vigorous and sustained non-violent resistance social movements). It’s not that an individual is entitled to work at a particular workplace, but when you stack up the power of the capitalist against the power of the worker, one can see the stark imbalance. You know the second Golden Rule – the one with the gold makes the rules.
“If you want to be free, there is but one way; it is to guarantee an equally full measure of liberty to all your neighbors. There is no other.” ~ Carl Shurz
Indeed, free-marketeers have an undying faith in the ability of the market to unbiasedly figure things out. Milton Friedman: “The groups in our society that have the most at stake in the preservation and strengthening of competitive capitalism are those minority groups which can most easily become the object of the distrust and enmity of the majority….” Indeed, in pre-war Germany, it was government that provided the power of Hitler to warp an otherwise fairly sophisticated citizenry into a cowed and vicious mob. I imagine that save for the manufacturers of war materiel, businesses in Germany would have preferred to avoid the whole matter (and maybe to get a better deal from the winners of World War I). That tyranny of the majority may be assuaged by a strong market, I am just not sure. I can see it going both ways. I also would note that the majority (say, 99% of Americans) are left with a shockingly small piece of the pie if the 1% is acting with fairness and justice. The simplest explanation is that the 1% have, if this were Monopoly, all the hotels and most of the houses, and it’s your turn to roll.
“I believe capitalism will eventually be replaced by a communitarian ethic where the rights and care of all beings will be taken into consideration, not just the greed of a corporate few.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
Friedman seems pretty fair-minded in his book Capitalism and Freedom (especially by white male in the 1950s standards). He notes, for example, “I believe strongly that the color of a man’s skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by those external characteristics.” I assume that goes for women, as well. So, it’s not that he is an obviously unjust and bigoted individual. I’m sure he would happily bake a cake for a lesbian couple if he were a baker. However, a referee who writes all the rules out and then proceeds to blindfold him- or herself is not exactly biased, either. To wit: “Fair employment practice commissions that have the task of preventing ‘discrimination’ in employment by reason of race, color, or religion have been established in a number of states. Such legislation clearly involves interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts with one another. It subjects any such contract to approval or disapproval by the state.” Howard Zinn answers this unbelievably-laissez-faire approach with the following belief:
“I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive in a situation like that is to collaborate with whatever is going on. And I, as a teacher, do not want to be a collaborator with whatever is happening in the world. I want myself, as a teacher, and I want you, as students, to intercede with whatever is happening in the world.”
In conclusion, there is a line of thinking that can be described as libertarian/classical liberal/conservative/free-market capitalistic/laissez-faire capitalistic, and it holds water, but leaks. To mix metaphors, a society baked according to such principles will leave the bread unleavened because the yeast of love and other Christian virtues would be missing. At least in modern times, I have a hard time believing that the best we can expect from government – which is comprised of fellow citizens, it is worth emphasizing – is to make roads and keep a standing army. I just don’t have enough faith in “the market” – which is led by Wall Street and comprised of thousands of multinational corporations. These heartless, soulless Frankensteins whose #1 charge is to return money to shareholders do provide jobs, and some tax revenue, but that is about the best that can be said for them. Relentless focus on quarterly profits has created a “get rich quick scheme” writ large. Using labor from China, enriching Silicon Valley executives, and storing profits offshore is classic corporate/sociopathic behavior. Shame on such corporate leaders. Many upper managers make more while they sleep for one night than workers on Main Street make in a week’s worth of difficult labor. Since the era of slavery, it should be obvious that libertarianism breaks down in practice. Here is a snapshot of a trial in which African-American defendants were facing jail – what has been termed by Michelle Alexander “the new Jim Crow”: “These people are the children of slavery. If the race that we belong to owes anything to any human being, or to any power in the universe, they owe it to these black men.” ~ Clarence Darrow
“In order that a select few might live in great opulence, millions of people work hard for an entire lifetime, never completely free from financial insecurity, and at great cost to the quality of their lives. The complaint made against this social arrangement is not that the very rich have so much more than the rest of us but that their superabundance and endless accumulation comes at the expense of everyone and everything else, including our communities and our environment.” ~ Michael Parenti
The CEOs of many corporations (while earning 150, 200, 300 times the pay of other workers) on behalf of their Brahmin directors often bring about much LOT of suffering. Consider Enron, or think about the chicanery that Bernie Madoff was able to pull off before he was too exhausted to continue. Income inequality is a function of a crony-capitalistic market wielding way too much power. Liberals and libertarians argue about which approach to governing is largely responsible for this farcical state of affairs; libertarians point to the fact that the corruption is a by-product of government, not due to a lack thereof. I’m just not learned enough to confidently tease that apart. I do know that things have gotten worse as the market has gained power, but that is only a correlation.
“There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States’ rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.” ~ Lyndon B. Johnson
If we don’t have a government in this democratic republic of ours that is worth much, we are abandoning a huge bulwark against rule by the wealthy (timocracy, plutocracy, etc.). Perhaps that is the system that was designed by the founders of the United States – many of whom were slaveholders. I will say that throughout the centuries, some of the social programs put into place by liberals (often without verification of the efficacy of such programs, such as program evaluation) have been misguided or expensive. Pork and lobbying and Citizens United are all odious. I agree that onerous regulation is not helpful. Unions do tend to become corrupt as they grow and age. I think of public housing high-rise buildings in inner cities, with their drug problems and gang prevalence and mass incarceration, and I see a mutant created by both overzealous “welfare statism” and the kind of libertarianism where the foxes are left to babysit the chickens. Obviously, military adventurism is a vice engaged in by both Johnson and Bush, Democrat and Republican.
“The great danger that America faces is that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual. Each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who will then speak for America? Who will look out for the common good?” ~ Barbara Jordan
Typically, the critique of liberals one sees on Fox News is a caricature meant to serve a nefarious function. Most of the best things this country has seen were a result of activists and dreamers and courageous souls who spent time, energy and money (and risked life and limb, oftentimes) trying to improve their lot. Think of the Civil Rights movement; it was born of a progressive impulse; a desire to say “I demand my natural rights, those in part codified by the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.” I don’t know if there were any libertarians involved in the struggle for myriad rights; they tend to be white males who are often quite satisfied with the rights they possess. Indeed, by and large, when I think of the deeply significant ways in which capitalism can run amok (from Charles Dickens’ London through to Martin Shkrelli in 2017), it seems obvious to me that libertarianism is a dream that is not fit to actually be the guiding principle of modern society. Though both liberals and libertarians love liberty, it is the more active, positive, and socially-responsible version heralded by the former that wins the day. The blood on the field of liberty, since 1861, has been spilt largely by those who possess a buoyant progressivism and have a deep longing for equality in their hearts.
“Today, as people have become ever more doubtful of the ability of the government to deal with our problems, we are increasingly drawn to the single-issue groups and special interest organizations to ensure that whatever else happens our own personal views and our own private interests are protected. This is a disturbing factor in American political life. It tends to distort our purposes because the national interest is not always the sum of all our single or special interests. We are all Americans together – and we must not forget that the common good is our common interest and our individual responsibility.” ~ Jimmy Carter
Here are ten additional quotations on liberty, individualism, libertarianism, liberalism, politics, government, and the like. Let me first point out a podcast I did with two experts on freedom and allied topics (and threats to liberty).
“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the State and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.” ~ Henry A. Wallace
“We are committed with our lives to building a different model and a different future for humanity, the Earth, and other species. We have envisaged a moral alternative to economic globalization and we will not rest until we see it realized.” ~ Maude Barlow
“The minimal state is the most extensive state that can be justified. Any state more extensive violates people’s rights.” ~ Robert Nozick
“As the pie gets bigger, we all get a larger slice. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ as the saying goes. But in these days of reactionary ascendancy, a rising tide lifts all yachts and drowns many people. In certain respects, the political economy really is zero-sum.” ~ Michael Parenti
“There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal.” ~ Friedrich von Hayek
“It will be important, if the Democratic party succumbs to Wall Street domination, to have a new party to let the people of the world know that those who believe in peace and understanding still have some means of expression…. It would provide the evidence that the United States has not gone completely imperialistic and psychopathic.” ~ Henry A. Wallace
“All social values – liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect – are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these values is to everyone’s advantage.” ~ John Rawls
“..if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.” ~ Karl Popper
“An ideologically broad range of financiers and elite business managers—Warren Buffett, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Vanguard’s John Bogle, McKinsey’s Dominic Barton, Allianz’s Mohamed El-Erian and others—have started to speak out publicly about the need for a new and more inclusive type of capitalism, one that also helps businesses make better long-term decisions rather than focusing only on the next quarter. The Pope has become a vocal critic of modern market capitalism, lambasting the ‘idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy’ in which ‘man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.’ ~ Rana Foorohar
“Only the merest quarter-turn of the heart separates us from a material abundance beyond the fondest dream of anyone present. Selfishness has ceased to be the mainspring of progress…. There is something more…. There is a new social machinery in the making…. Let us maintain sweet and kindly hearts toward each other, however great the difficulties ahead.” Henry A. Wallace