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Liberal v. Liberalism – A Study in Irony

American history has borne witness to the progressive nature (no pun intended) of liberalism from championing individual rights to curtailing them. Classical liberalism, the type championed by Thomas Jefferson and company, sought to expand the realm of the individual by restraining government. Modern liberals seek to expand the realm of the state by restraining individuals. The result is a gutted notion of American independence, and a pretentious commitment to personal freedom used only in election cycles. Make no mistake; modern liberals are the enemy of classical liberalism.

In Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, the modern father of free-market philosophy argues that an emphasis on the individual is necessary for the advancement of society. The paradox proven by history is that a focus on the collective undermines both the individual and society, while a focus on the individual betters both. Great breakthroughs, from the discovery of America by Columbus, to the discovery of penicillin, were the product of personal initiative. In fact, many breakthroughs in science and technology, business and commerce, were not only achieved by individual initiative, but by individuals operating outside of government grants and conventional wisdom.

Even Christopher Columbus’ voyage, though financed by King Ferdinand of Spain, wasn’t a government-chartered program. Columbus had determined to find a shortcut to the Indies, well before King Ferdinand decided to get in on the action. Columbus was actually denied support from numerous European governments, before he secured the support of Spain. Had his voyage been contingent on government programs, this enterprising Italian wouldn’t have discovered America. Thomas Jefferson summed it up well in saying, “the government that governs best governs least.” Unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit is the sure-fire way to jump-start a successful economy.

Modern liberalism rests on the laurels afforded it by classical liberals. The commitment of classical liberals to individual rights made America the world’s first meritocracy. Folks who live in freedom find fulfillment by living in the realization that we are created in the Image of God. The hallmark characteristic of this image is the ability to create, or, in the case of mere mortals, recreate (as we can’t create the raw materials). A fervent commitment to the folks, as opposed to a foolhardy focus on the collective, is a necessary precondition of political and economic freedom. Let’s pull together as conservatives here in South Carolina to build a state where individual rights are championed, economic freedom flourishes, and our cultural capital, steeped in our Judeo-Christian heritage, is the foundation.

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