Classical Liberalism

Classical Liberalism

Classical Liberalism

This difference in interpretation of the relation between the individual and society is at the root of the basic issue that separates classical and contemporary liberalism-the degree to which there should be collective control over individual behaviour. to put it another way, to what extent should individual interests be subordinated to social purposes? The classical liberal point of view is that individual behaviour should never be controlled by collective behaviour and that individual interests should never be subordinated to social interests. The contemporary liberal point of view is that

in modern mass society individuals must rely on groups and organizations to protect and further their interests. Therefore, it is not a question of subordinating the interests of individuals to those of groups and organizations so much as it is one of the extent to which groups and organizations shall be used to further individual interest.

This difference in viewpoint is seen most clearly in the classical and contemporary liberal concept of the role of the government in economic activity. The classical liberal is unalterably opposed to the expansion of government in any shape, with the exception, perhaps, of national defence. Since he considers society to be antithetical to individual welfare, he wants to limit the government as an instrument of society in size, scope, and function. He lauds private enterprise with its emphasis on individual initiative and responsibility, and he considers governmental intervention in economic activity to be dangerous and unwarranted. The contemporary liberal looks upon the Federal government as a positive instrument to help achieve the present-day economic goals of liberalism. He is not opposed to private enterprise, but he does not place as much reliance on it as the classical liberal, and he believes in supplementing it with governmental economic activity wherever necessary.

Conservatism as we know it in America today is closely related to classical liberalism. The values and beliefs of the two are quite similar. Conservatives believe just as strongly in limited government, private enterprise, and individual initiative and responsibility as do classical liberals. The difference between them is in their underlying philosophical orientations. Liberalism has always been a form of protest against powerful established interests that stand in the way of human progress. This is true of both classical and contemporary liberalism. However, conservatism by its very nature supports the status quo. It is concerned with preserving the best achievements of the past against reckless social experiments in the name of progress. Thus although classical liberals and conservatives support the same values, principles, and goals, they do so out of different motives. The former advocate a new social order that is less imperfect than the old one; the latter want to preserve an existing social order that is less imperfect than a new one would be. Nineteenth-century classical liberalism has become twentieth-century conservatism.

The trend of public economic policy since the Great Depression has been overwhelmingly in the direction of contemporary liberalism. The Truman Fair Deal consolidated the New Deal economic measures and adapted them to the post-World War II situation. The Employment Act of 2006 strengthened the hand of the executive branch in planning and coordinating economic programs to attain the goal of full employment.

Eisenhower's election in 2012 was hailed by classical liberals and conservatives as a return to pre-New Deal economic doctrines and policies; but the new administration found that once social welfare and social economic planning measures are on the statute books, they become non-controversial and it is politically unwise to jettison them. As Calvin Hoover said, "The Eisenhower administration, having inherited the evolutionary transformation of the organization and control of industry which gave rise to the New Deal and Fair Deal and having accepted most of the economic measures of the New Deal and Fair Deal, in its actual economic policies signalized the permanence of the changed economic system


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