Forty three years ago, I had to decide where to pursue my higher education. I investigated a number of options - then ultimately chose the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I wanted a larger school, so that I would not be limited to one clique of friends. I wanted to go "away" - but not so far away that getting home would be difficult. And, as I viewed myself as a liberal, I wanted a school that was liberal. All that, combined with rigorous education, steered me to the city a couple hours to the north.
My choice of university was never one of regret. Nevertheless, as my time in Madison progressed, and then to the Twin Cities of MN, I began to wonder about my political philosophical underpinnings. Was I really a liberal? More and more, those who called themselves "liberal" embraced that which I did not - and vice versa. I wondered ... did my views change? Or - did the labels to which certain viewpoints change through time?
Now, I definitely think it is the latter. I was - and remain - a classic liberal.
Classical liberalism is a political ideology, a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with limited government under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom.
Classical liberalism developed in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. Although classical liberalism built on ideas that had already developed by the end of the 18th century, it advocated a specific kind of society, government and public policy as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization. Notable individuals whose ideas have contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo. It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress.
There was a revival of interest in classical liberalism in the 20th century led by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Some call the modern development of classical liberalism "neo-classical liberalism", which argued for government to be as small as possible in order to allow the exercise of individual freedom, while some refer to all liberalism before the 20th century as classical liberalism.
Strong civil liberties, limited government, a rule of law with economic freedom? Yes; that's me! As we well know, however, it's not what "liberalism" today is. Todays liberals have a view that the government can - and should - promote "social liberalism." It knows what is good for we, the people, and it imposes that "social equity" throughout our society. It takes away the power and choice of the individual, and replaces it with a network of laws and regulation to impose a "better way of living" on all of us.
The problem is, I and many other classic liberals like myself believe still that wisdom and goodness cannot be imposed. Ultimately, mankind works best when we are all able to pursue life as we see fit.
In our election this week, contemporary liberalism won over the classic form. People voted for our government to have far more control and to have our choices vastly limited by law. I have read and read and read the opinions of others to see why they think that this happened - here, in the greatest country that has ever existed. I have agreed with some writers - and disagreed with others. But - nothing I have read has resonated as much to me as this piece. (And although there is a small excerpt below, please read the whole thing!)
I quite earnestly believe in all of the stuff that I’m not supposed to. I believe that America is exceptional; that it is an objectively better nation than any other that has ever existed; and that it is, as it was explicitly designed always to be, the last, best hope for mankind. As Winthrop’s sermon poetically put it, America is the “Shining City upon a Hill,” there so that men without liberty have somewhere to turn and a light that they might follow. I followed that light — 3,500 miles from my friends and my family — because I believed that my life would be better here, because I wanted to be free, and because I felt that under American liberty I would be able to be myself more honestly and more fully. There is nowhere else I could have gone.
At heart, I am an optimist. More than a few times in my life, I have faced situations that seem hopeless. Still, I forge on. Sometimes, "hopeless" can be altered - but only if we try. So, over and over, until I can no longer do it, I will keep on trying.
Nevertheless, Charlie Cook's piece moved me almost to tears. We who live in the United States have had opportunities that few in any other time or any other place have enjoyed. It has been our privilege and our pleasure to have freedoms, wealth, choices and more that are unknown to literally billions of others.
And - we are altering and diminishing what we have. We are choosing to destroy way too much of the enormous gift bestowed upon us by our ancestors and founders.
So, like Charlie Cook and other classic liberals and libertarians and conservatives, I cannot help but grieve for what we are losing. But - like all the other optimists and those filled with hope and wonder for the future - I hope that we can somehow right the ship. I don't know how, I don't know when - and I do not know with certainty that we can do it. All I know is that despite my sadness and fear and yes - a bit of anger - we must try.