It’s impossible to pin an exact date on the emergence of a political and social philosophy, but most scholars agree that classical liberalism began with the French revolution of 1789 and came to full bloom with the European revolutions of 1848. Then the authority of the monarchy and the church were thrown off and the individual emerged supreme.
In every line of philosophical thought there are many schools. While there never was a single strain of liberalism, classical liberalism was based on the belief that most people are basically good and can be counted on to do the right thing. They also embraced capitalism and its self correcting mechanisms, had a deep respect for progress, and a faith in science.
As the United States came of age after the Civil War, classical liberalism was one of the more influential guiding principles of government, embracing as it did the theory of individual freedom or rugged individualism. The classical liberals viewed the state as the enemy of liberty. Liberalism embraced laisez-fair constitutionalism, individualism, the free market, and the free exchange of ideas. It was the function of government to protect these concepts.
Gradually classical liberalism began to change into il-liberal statism. In America the transformation began under President T. Roosevelt with his anti-big business programs and positions. He was followed by President Wilson and his New Freedom agenda. In Europe the utopian statist fantasy emerged in the forms of National Socialism, fascism, and communism.
The belief that man is inherently good morphed into the belief of the perfectibility of man, and the belief it is the duty of the government to force perfection onto those who resist for the good of the larger society. Liberal Socialism, communism, Marxism or any political utopian ideology often requires a massive use of force against individuals. The individual is born to serve the collective and the individual must cooperate or be imprisoned or murdered.
The jump from liberalism to liberal authoritarian, or utopian, statism is most visibly seen in the old USSR. The Soviet Empire was a laboratory for many utopian fantasies. After years of suffering, decline, and millions of deaths, the people threw it off. Still the idea of the attainable utopia persists. In the west the jump has been progressing at a much slower rate than the Russian Revolution. The fantasy of human perfectibility has not died.
The modern American Democrat Party has evolved from liberalism to liberal utopian statism over the last 100 years. The utopian statists considers government a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class). They have come to believe if only they enact enough laws, rules, regulations, and bans, human nature and society will be perfect.
Statists believe people are basically bad, evil, or stupid. They can’t be counted on to decide which light bulbs to use or how much water their toilets should flush. The government dictates what color you can paint your house and what plants you can grow in its yard. The government and laws should control how people live their lives.
Liberal statists reject liberty. Liberty is too messy, too sloppy. Instead they work toward the regimentation of society. Uniformity. Central planning. Statists are turning the people from sovereigns into subjects. Instead of being ruled by a monarch or a dictator, liberal statists enjoy being ruled by the amorphous concept of government. They believe that daily chaos and tragedy can be conquered by human intellect and government power.
In addition to eschewing individualism, the liberal statists reject free markets, limited government, and other tenants of classical liberalism. liberals tend to see science as a tool for their political agendas instead of progress. Statists look for collective solutions to individual problems, and whenever necessary, these so-called solutions are imposed on the people, often against their will.
A good example of a statist approach to a problem can be seen in the response to the school shooting in Connecticut. Liberal statists have cried out for more gun laws, forced registration of all firearms, restrictions on sales, etc. The underlying principles running through all of this proposed legislation is effects law abiding citizens almost exclusively, and it would not have stopped the tragic school murders, but it furthers the regimentation of society and diminishes the individual.
The tolerant liberal society has been replaced by intolerance. Success is trashed. Law abiding citizens are punished for no reason. There has been no outcry about the recent call for everyone to register guns. Or install black boxes in cars. Or compile a national medical database. Each of these and hundreds of other proposals helps chip away at liberty.
An off-shoot of liberal statism is social-welfarism. Basically it is a philosophy that says all members of a society are responsible for all others. Like statism, it is usually forced on the population by a government elite. The only way to equalize rewards is to take from those who have earned and give to those who have not. And that requires the kind of redistributionist regime the America’s Founding Fathers would have risen up against. As Obama’s American utopia rises, the old republic falls.
Liberal social-welfarism is based on the notion of equality. But the American Union was not founded on the principle of equality, when equality. The word “equality” is not mentioned in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Federalist Papers. The word “liberty” was mentioned hundreds of times in these documents.
What has replaced classical liberalism in today’s world? Not conservatism. Like liberal statism, today’s conservatism seeks to impose its values on citizens. The libertarian philosophy is emerging for those who do not worship at the altar of the government.
Libertarianism seems to be where classical liberals are drawn. Libertarianism a political philosophy which advocates minimizing coercion and emphasizes freedom, liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with a greatly reduced state or in its extreme form no political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals.