Classical Liberalism vs. Modern Liberalism

What's the best way to secure everyone's mastery over his or her own destiny?


In The Future of Liberalism (2009), Alan Wolfe writes that the true heirs to the liberalism of John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson are not today's classical liberals (libertarians), but rather the other kind of liberals, those who would use government power to assure autonomy and equality for all. Such "modern liberalism," for Wolfe, is simply an updating of the original: In the eighteenth century, political power crushed autonomy and equality, requiring a free market as the antidote; now private corporate power under capitalism does the same, but this time the remedy is active government.

Early in his book Wolfe writes:

The core substantive principle of liberalism is this: As many people as possible should have as much say as is feasible over the direction their lives will take. Expressed in this form, liberalism, as in the days of John Locke, is committed both to liberty and to equality. . . . [Emphasis in original.]

With respect to liberty, liberals want for the person what Thomas Jefferson wanted for the country: independence. Dependency, for liberals, cripples. . . . When we have no choice but to accept someone else's power over us, we fail to think for ourselves, are confined to conditions of existence resembling an endless struggle for survival, are unable to plan for the future, and cannot posses elementary human dignity. The autonomous life is therefore the best life. We have the potential, and are therefore responsible for realizing it, to be masters of our own destiny.

This sounds pretty good, no? Being subject to another's arbitrary will clashes with the liberal spirit, which projects the ideal of mastery of one's destiny even as one cooperates with others for mutual benefit.

Equality as Core Value

I also agree with Wolfe that equality is a core value of classical liberalism, but not as he means it. True liberal equality is not income equality; nor is it merely equality of liberty or equality under the law. The first would require continuous violent state interference with voluntary exchange, while the other two are inadequate in themselves. By equality, I mean what Roderick Long calls, per Locke, "equality of authority." For Locke a state of equality is one in which "all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank . . . should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection . . . ."

But now I must part ways with Wolfe because he has an utterly self-defeating idea of how to secure everyone's mastery over his or her own one's destiny: the welfare state. Judging by the history and nature of the state, we must conclude that Wolfe's program would lead not to liberation but rather to subjugation of the individual. Wolfe has things turned topsy-turvy:

To advocate today what Smith advocated yesterday—a free market unregulated by government—is to foster greater, rather than lesser, dependency and less, rather than more, equality. . . . [I]n the highly organized and concentrated forms taken by capitalism in the contemporary world, removing government from the marketplace does not allow large numbers of people to become entrepreneurs in ways that enable them to set the terms by which their lives will be led; it instead allows firms to reduce their obligations to their employees and thereby make them more dependent on the vagaries of the market.

Impersonal Market Forces

The latter part of the quote has some validity, but before I get to that, let's look at the general point. I take Wolfe to be saying—and he reinforces the point in this discussion with Russ Roberts—that one is less autonomous when subject to impersonal market forces than when subject to political forces ostensibly designed to ensure autonomy and equality. This strikes me as entirely wrong.

Admittedly, in a freed economy no one person or group would control the market forces (the law of supply and demand, and so on) to which we all must adjust as we carry out our plans. That would seem to impinge on our autonomy. But these forces are called impersonal precisely because they are not the product of any single will or directed at any chosen objective. Rather the term market  forces simply refers to the spontaneous, orderly, and essential process (the price system) generated by other people's freedom to choose what to buy and sell. In other words, each individual's autonomy is bounded by each other individual's autonomy. While we all must take prices and other people's choices into account as we make our plans, we each have great leeway in the marketplace through which we can minimize our vulnerability to the arbitrary will of others. If one person won't deal with you, someone else most likely will, so the prospect of being victimized by, say, invidious discrimination shrinks. ("Money talks.") Thus the maximum degree of individual autonomy is fully compatible with life in the marketplace, especially as the extent of the market expands. (Of course this is not to suggest that all of life is lived in the marketplace.)

The market is not only compatible with autonomy, it also essential to it. In contrast to the market, Wolfe's alternative, the state, uses force (or the threat thereof) to work its will. If you don't like what one set of politicians decrees, you can't simply select another. And there's no opting out. There is an inequality of authority.

Wolfe is grossly naive about the democratic state. Because they lack both the requisite knowledge and incentives, government officials are not responsive to average people beyond the superficial gestures politicians have to make to get obtain and retain power. No one vote counts, and the governmental apparatus is inevitably captured by well-organized interest groups, predominantly associated with big business, that have the time, wealth, and motivation to have the system rigged to their advantage through exploitative, anticompetitive interventions. (Majority rule would be no better.) Any "welfare" for low-income people is more in the nature of hush money to prevent civil strife. Wolfe's belief that the State can be the protector of the autonomy and equality of regular people is puzzling because government action–rooted in coercion—by its very nature undermines autonomy and fosters dependency.

Capitalism versus the Freed Market

Wolfe is right to be concerned about "the highly organized and concentrated forms taken by capitalism in the contemporary world." That system does indeed undermine autonomy and equality. Where he goes wrong is in equating the "capitalist" economy with the free market. Thus he is guilty of what Kevin Carson calls "vulgar liberalism" and Roderick Long calls "left-conflationism": attributing the evils of corporatism to its antithesis, the freed market. (It's the mirror image of the view that defends business conduct in the corporate state on the grounds that the free market wouldn't permit such conduct if it did not efficiently serve consumers.)

Contrary to Wolfe, fully "removing government from the marketplace"—that is, abolishing privileges as well as regulations—would not foster dependency. Rather, it would eliminate the myriad government-maintained barriers to competition from worker-managed firms, partnerships, and self-employment. Those barriers increase people's dependency on the arbitrary will of others. Freeing the market would end the monetary manipulation and bailout authority that encourage banks and other firms to take undue risks that subject workers to business cycles and prolonged unemployment. In sum, a freed market would mean the end to all the privileges that produce the evils to which Wolfe rightly objects but misattributes to market forces.

"Man in any complex society," F. A. Hayek wrote in "Individualism: True and False," "can have no choice but between adjusting himself to what to him must seem the blind forces of the social process and obeying the orders of a superior. So long as he knows only the hard discipline of the market, he may well think the direction by some other intelligent human brain preferable; but, when he tries it, he soon discovers that the former still leaves him at least some choice, while the latter leaves him none, and that it is better to have a choice between unpleasant alternatives than being coerced into one."

If the alternative we face is between grappling with market forces and trusting a ruling elite to orchestrate just social outcomes, anyone concerned with autonomy and equality should choose the market. A benevolent, peaceful state is not on the menu.

This article originally appeared at The Freeman.

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  1. So in shorter terms: The proglodyte Wolfe is just dressing up his soft fascism by appropriating the pedigree of Liberalism.

    (Los serviles mienten.)

  2. Run this through the translator again, Sheldon.

  3. War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength.

    The modern "liberal" is indistinguishable from a fascist.

    1. The modern "liberal" is indistinguishable from a fascist.

      1. Fascism is a right-wing disease with its racism, nationalism, militarism, propaganda, corporatism, and overt religiosity all gelling around a cultural conformity. Fascists do hate liberals after all.

        Nice try though - any college student knows better.

        1. Fascism is a left wing disease because it is build on the idea of the state and collective ruling over the individual and the concept of collective guilt. Killing Jews because they are collectively guilty of ruining the world is no different than killing the bourgeois.

          Mussolini was a communist before he became fascist. His economic views didn't change. FDR and the New Deal Liberals were great admirers of both Hitler's and Mussolini's economic policies.

          Sure any college student thinks differently. That is because they are profoundly ignorant and have never read basic history.

          You of course don't know any different because you are a retarded, demonic little weirdo sock puppet.

          1. Shrike's understanding of the word is wrong, but "fascism" also does not require collective guilt. It is simply a system where individuals and businesses are forced to work for the health of the state, the primary difference with communism being that a facade of private property is retained.

            The USSR was just as militarist, propagandist, and racist as the Nazis and Mussolini's Fascists. So treating that as some sine qua non of fascism is kind of bizarre, but not for skrike.

            1. "fascism" also does not require collective guilt.

              Yes it does. Fascism is about blood. The racial element of fascism is necessarily about collective guilt. Someone is guilty because they are not of the blood and from an inferior race.

              1. fas?cism? ?[fash-iz-uhm] Show IPA
                ( sometimes initial capital letter ) a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

              2. Fascism is about blood. The racial element of fascism is necessarily about collective guilt.

                Not quite.

                Fascism is about unity as in unifying all of society's disparate parts into a whole, which has a manifested personality embodied by the supreme leader.

                The theoretical difference between fascism and socialism is that fascism retains the illusion of private ownership and is the ultimate end of the nation-state. While socialism requires collective ownership and is transnationalist, the successor to the nation-state.

                The reality is that the two forms as actually practiced are indistinguishable for each other.

                1. "Fascism is about unity"

                  Yeah, this. That's why the symbol is the fasces. The unity doesn't have to be ethnic or racial, it's just that ethnic or racial unity are the easiest forms of unity to foster and they provide plenty of other groups to unify against.

                2. Bullshit - the left wing disease of Marxism is about equality.

                  Fascism IS about unity as you say but equality is dismissed entirely in favor of protected religion and races. That is why fascism is right-wing. They don't want "others" mixing in. Muslims are right-wing in the Middle East.

                  Liberalism is the antidote for both.

                  1. No, Marxist fascism is about class unity rather than national unity. Regular fascism tends to emphasize national unity, where national identity often includes religious or racial factors but need not do so.

                  2. Perhaps you are confusing the tenets of the National Socialist German Workers' Party with fascism.

                    And the straining to fit a variety of political positions into "right-wing" is tiresome.

                    1. "Right" and "left" are meaningless labels that we really ought to have abandoned a long time ago. After all, what, objectively, makes an ideology "left" as opposed to "right"?

                      Authoritarian, libertarian, socialist, etc are all descriptive terms. Left and right simply aren't.

              3. The racial element is not a factor in most forms of fascism. I think John is conflating fascism with Nazism.

            2. The founder of fascism was Mussolini and Mussolini was a SOCIALIST.

              It's you that needs to go back to the books.

              The left will never be able, no matter how they try, to come to terms with the fact it is their ideology that committed mass murder on scales not seen in the 20th century.

          2. Arguably all major governments of that generation were fascist to varying degrees and under different names.

        2. right-wing disease with its racism

          Racism like eugenics? You mean that racism? You know like Margaret Sanger who wanted to use abortion to control the lower races? Like that?

          The entire progressive project was built on racism by racists for racist purpose. How many times do we have rub your nose in that sorry shit before you stop coming around here and spewing it?

          1. We're talking liberals, you idiot.

            Conservatives like yourself hate freedom because you strive for cultural conformity. That is why you want to take over schools - to fill young minds with your Christian (or Muslim) propaganda.

            Fortunately, our Constitution is liberal/secular and you lose.

            1. No, we're talking liberals. You're parroting bullshit leftist talking points to try and hide the fact that historically, those "right-wing diseases" were originally championed by the left.

        3. Fascism is neither right nor left. It's down, and it's libertarianism's opposite.


          1. It is leftist. It is collective guilty, subservience of the individual to the state and a religious faith in collective action.

            1. The actual system cannot be described using a linear model. It's two dimensional. A statist believes in a state controlled economic system AND strict adherence to state controlled social rules. IOW, it is the worst of the left AND the worst of the right.

              1. Classical liberals were not libertarians. They believed the state has some place in preserving and promoting civic institutions. You can't call someone like Burke a libertarian.

                And both fascists and communists believe in state control over social rules. Both hated what they considered to be decadent bourgeois culture.

                1. You can't call someone like Burke a libertarian.

                  Burke was not a classical liberal. He adopted some of their fashions, but those were only his outer garments - underneath he was a conservative of his day.

                2. The basic economic concept of fascism does not concern social rules. The governments that favored fascism also concerned themselves with social rules. Whether social control is associated with "left" or "right" or both only depends what kind of social control is being implemented.

                  Libertarians who are not anarchist generally do believe the state should run civic institutions- like courts.

                3. Classical liberals were not libertarians. They believed the state has some place in preserving and promoting civic institutions.

                  That's not, in principle, inconsistent with libertarianism, which seeks to limit the political/state realm and foster the civic realm. Along the borders, the state will either oppose or support the civic realm. Libertarians can vote for "support".

              2. It's not even two dimensions. Gun rights and school choice, for example, don't fit in the correct places if you assume conservatives favor economic liberty and social control while liberals favor economic control and social liberty.

                It has as many dimensions as there are issues.

                1. Liberals have never favored social liberty. They have always been about enforcing a strict cultural norm on the country. If you think they favor social liberty, ask a liberal sometime about evangelicals or home schoolers.

                  1. Or abortion. Or the right to eat whatever you want. Or the right to smoke. Or the right...

                    Never mind.

                2. Models NEVER predict with 100% accuracy. They are all approximations. A 100% accurate model is reality itself.

                  Nolan just happens to provide a better political model than the standard right-left.

        4. "Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State."

          Is there anything Barack Obama and his gang see as being out of bounds for State intervention? No. As Nock put it:

          "The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student sees in them only the one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power."

        5. Oh, and I might point out, too, that Tom Daschle invoked the fasces as the symbol of the Democratic Party more than a decade ago, without even realizing it.

          1. If you doubt me:

            "There's a wonderful movie, The Straight Story. It's about an old farmer named Alvin Straight. He wants to see his brother one last time to make peace before one of them dies ? only Alvin can't drive anymore because his eyes are bad and his hips are worse. So he rides his John Deere lawn mower nearly 300 miles. On the road, he meets a young woman who's in a lot of trouble. He tells her that when his children were little, he would hand them a stick, and tell them to break it. And they would, just like that. Then, he'd put the sticks in a bundle and ask his kids to break it. They couldn't. He gave them some advice: "That bundle is family. "That bundle is our community. We are stronger together than we are alone." That is the simplest description I know of our party's core belief."

            1. I think they turned that demonstration into a gag on Growing Pains* - the dad tried teaching his teenager the lesson but the kid easily broke both the stick and the bundle.

              *Wild guess on what show it was - it was that era.

            2. I 1st heard that attributed to A. Lincoln.

        6. What a load of hogwash, Shriek. Fascism drew on socialist thinkers, used socialist rhetoric, defined itself in socialist terms and drew its leadership from socialist circles. At least the Soviets who first tried to palm off the notion of fascism as a conservative phenomenon had enough honesty to claim it as "false socialism".

        7. To arrive at a consideration of whether fascism is a left or right ideology, consider that there is a fascist regime in power in the world right now - in Argentina. Their history traces directly to the Peronist movement. Now, consider, which side lends the most support to that government?

        8. Racism is a collectivist idea. The right wing is anti-collectivist.

          The left-wing is pro-collectivist. The left has always been the source of institutionalized racism.

          And it always will be.

          The left sees groups.

          The right sees individuals.

  4. "I believe I made it clear that I am in favor of it, because I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free."
    Maybe the reason Rand couldn't write better fiction is because it just won't stay fictional.

    1. It's fashionable to roll one's eyes at some of the dialogue in Atlas Shrugged, but compare what "liberals" say today against it, and despair.

      It's Rand's world, we're just living in it.

      1. Several years ago, I turned a "liberal" friend on to AS. He came back to me, after the first few chapters, complaining about the negative characterization of the villains and how nobody was actually like this (over the top). I challenged him to compare it with what he sees on the news every night.

        He's now a convert.

        We ARE living it. For as over the top as it was in 1957, her nightmare has come to fruition.

        1. It really wasn't that over the top for 1957. It was just over the top for 1957 America. Those kinds of villains had been running Europe since the 1920s.

        2. We ARE living it. For as over the top as it was in 1957, her nightmare has come to fruition.


          Ayn lived through the 1930s and the New Deal. You really cannot get much more over the top in America then the New Deal.

        3. My niece was like that, too, a devotee of Chomsky. She's not an objectivist because of her faith, but otherwise, she's hardcore libertarian/Randian.

        4. The world is not full of heroes and villains. Life is not a bad novel.

      2. Yes, I was just reading a Washington Post editorial today which talked about "the jobs created by unemployment benefits, food stamps and welfare payments".

        When your at this level of stupid it's really hard to top, no matter how lurid your villians.

        1. Rand's villains are cartoonish and comic book.
          Just not as cartoonish and comic book as the modern left.

  5. ...a state of equality is one in which "all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank . . . should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection...

    Throwing rank ie social status in as a qualifier effectively neutralizes the entire concept.

  6. it instead allows firms to reduce their obligations to their employees and thereby make them more dependent on the vagaries of the market.

    The only obligation that an employer has is to pay the previously agreed upon price for whatever labor has been provided.

    Do consumers have obligations to the merchants that they buy from, beyond paying for the goods the receive?

    Do employers have obligations to the firms that employ them beyond and honest days effort?

    This douchebag is longing for a return to feudalism.

    1. If you are "dependent" on the vagarities of the market, you're doing it wrong.

      Every businessman worth his salt knows that you don't sit and bemoan the fact that your customers don't what what your selling. You change what you're selling to keep up with what your customers want. American workers need to learn this lesson but quick.

      1. I get what you're saying, but I think VGZ is pointing out a different fallacy. Wolfe doesn't like unregulated capitalism in the workplace because workers would be "dependent on the vagaries of the market" if we didn't make employers treat them well, he says.

        But the elephant in the room that he's ignoring is that even if every single person in the world was equal and self-employed, they'd still be dependent on the market, or even if we do have workplace regulation, the employer is dependent on the market! And you can't, despite what a lot of leftists think, just wave a magic "make stuff better" wand: if people don't want American widgets anymore, then American widget companies are in trouble, and American widget company employees are in trouble no matter how many regulations we pass. Ultimately, you can't get away from the market unless you go 100% command economy where you can tell everyone what to buy and sell...and we've seen how well that worked out.

  7. Why aren't all of the articles showing up on the main Reason page? I see some of them lately only if I scroll through the blog. This is stupid.

  8. http://abcnews.go.com/Internat.....Cao1kTgIUs

    Too good for all that bourgeois bullshit marriage stuff. But okay with demanding the wifely inheritance. Stigg Larson's partner refused to marry him because they were good communists. But if Sweden, if you don't get married, you are not entitled to shit when your partner dies. Once Larsson' estate got rich, Trotskyite wife decided that maybe property and martital inheritance were just bad for other people.

    1. if you don't get married, you are not entitled to shit when your partner dies

      Ouch. How long do they make you hold it in? After a couple of weeks they probably have to do it surgically.

    2. The only thing that should matter regarding inheritance when I die is who I specify to receive anything in a will or contract. And if no will or contract exists, then marriage and blood relatives are a good secondary alternative, but being a spouse or blood relative should not necessarily entitle anyone to receive anything.

    3. They could have done a will if they wanted to stay unmarried. Didn't think of that, I guess.

      1. I think the issue was that his estate wasn't really worth shit until well after he was dead and buried.

    4. And if I intend to transfer assets to anybody, I will make it happen before I die so that it will be much more likely that the assets will make it to the person I want to have them. It is probably best to convert cash to a more durable commodity before giving it away.

      1. It is probably best to convert cash to a more durable commodity before giving it away.

        If by durable, you also mean untraceable, I agree.

    5. Speaking of this ...

      I think a lot of money could be saved in Social Security by reforming the way that spousal benefits work.

      Origionally, Social Security was set up when most women stayed at home. So they got sposal benefits when their husband started collecting.

      But these days, most people retiring are two-income houeholds, which allows both partners to collect BOTH spousal benefits AND their regular social security checks. There was a hot article on Google last week detailing how people could game the social security system that way to maximize their returns.

      They could probably save billions of dollars by changing it so that you only get spousal benefits if you havn't personally accumulated the 40 quarters of work required to qualify for benefits yourself.

      1. What, do you hate women or something?

        1. I hate men who collect spousal benefits off their wives paychecks.

          But seriously, if you are a woman are you seriously going to be deterred from a lifetime of income just so you can get spousal benefits in your old age?

          Will anyone seriously argue that women are somehow morally entitled to get two social security checks, to make up for the horror of having had a career?

          1. Would be interested in a link to that story. Spousal benefits are only paid if potential amount is more than the person's own earned benefit according to SSA. I gone through it with my mother (who qualified) and and my wife (who didn't). Neither one gets two checks.


            1. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/ru.....w-now.html

              It has to do with the "file and suspend" strategy. One spouse files and suspends so that the other can receiver benefits under his (or her) social security, starting at age 62. He doesn't collect benefits until age 70, which maximizes his payments, since she's also not collecting benefits under HER policy she can also wait until she's 70, maximizing her eventual payout, but keep the money she collects from spousal benefits under his policy.

              I think it probably works in both directions too. The two checks aren't concurrent, they are consecutive. Once you hit 70 you get your own benefits, but it games the system since you are collecting early under you spouses plan while also delaying in order to up your own benefits.

              1. Ok, gotcha. That I have heard about, or other ways to start benefits and later revise them.

                The linked article makes it sound like it will only work for one spouse. Having touched a small part of the when to start payments, it's a total game from start to finish. The disability side is even worse.

  9. Today's liberals seem to see liberty as something belonging to the collective not the individual. Society has rights, not the individual. The market is a tool of the state, not of the private citizen making the free choices of commerce.

    1. To liberals the individual only has liberty because the state grants it to him. Listen to shreek or Tony sometime. They say it without apology. And yes they are sockpuppets, but people really do think like that.

  10. I'll be damned; I just made this comment from my iPhone, and mobile commenting actually looks like it's now working the way it should be.

    Very nicely done, exploited capitalist peasants of the Kochtopus!

  11. Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    Fascism is a right-wing disease with its racism [sic],

    Shrikey, please stop showcasing your ignorance.

    nationalism, militarism, propaganda, corporatism,

    Soviet communism was also nationalistic, militaristic, full of propaganda, and corporativist.

    and overt religiosity

    All socialism is religious. It is the belief that government can make men virtuous.

    1. ..."and I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave." Mal Reynolds, "Serenity".

  12. Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    Bullshit - the left wing disease of Marxism is about equality.

    Actually, no. Equality was NEVER the basic principle of Marxism. The central principle, the pillar of Marxism, is achieving the rise of MAN from the evils of historical human struggle. It is, in its entirety, a religious expectation of a paradise on Earth, achieved through a great upheaval (the Revolution), not unlike an apocalypse.

    "Equality" may be one of the results of this transition for man, just like being closer to God is the result for millenarians, but it isn't the philosophical basis for communism.

    Fascism IS about unity as you say but equality is dismissed entirely in favor of protected religion and races.

    You're conflating several issues, the reason being that you're an ignorant fool. Whereas certain religions or races are protected by a government, it is an ancillary result of State action to consolidate its power, not the raison d'etre of Fascism.

    That is why fascism is right-wing.

    No, the reason you think is right-wing is because you're an ignorant fool.

  13. Wolfe is grossly naive about the democratic state.

    Well, the important issue is that the 50% plus one are just as naive as he is, which screws the rest.

  14. But now I must part ways with Wolfe because he has an utterly self-defeating idea of how to secure everyone's mastery over his or her own one's destiny: the welfare state.

    That is the basic flaw.
    "Modern liberalism" treats the state as if it were a perfect entity incapable of abusing it's power. They argue that "democracy" is the cure for all ills and the legitimacy behind all laws. Anything the majority ratifies is - essentially by definition - is not an "abuse", because the majority said so. Thus, we can have laws restricting private behavior because it imposes health care costs on the public - costs the public chose to take on voluntarily.

    But no person is really free if they are dependent on charity or welfare. Liberals like to argue that everyone is interdependent in a modern economy, so they all owe society for the existence of, well, other people to trade with. But being "dependent" on the existence of people willing to make an exchange is not the same as being dependent on a handout. Rather, a person can be self-sufficient by being able to offer something people are willing to trade for, and being able to adapt to what those other people want, rather than by depending on others to keep buying the same things. Liberals can't tell the difference between those latter two - a subtle difference. Independence requires the ability to adapt to economic demands as they exist, not be dependent on either a static economy or a welfare program.

  15. ""Modern liberalism" treats the state as if it were a perfect entity incapable of abusing it's power."

    See, this is where I truly have trouble comprehending the mindset of today's liberals/progressives.

    There is no degree of power that they would not entrust to Obama, since they assume he and his cronies will use it wisely and justly.

    However, it doesn't take much imagination to imagine a future GOP president with the power same that Obama has ururped. Obviously, Bush was a very recent example of a Republican abusing government power. Imagine someone like Palin with the ability to indefinitely detain someone accused of "terrorism." Imagine Santorum making executive decisions about health insurance companies regarding birth control. One would think at least some liberals would rather the government not have these powers at all, even if it limited Obama, because it would also limit a future president Bachman.

    So I have to wonder if progressives assume Obama will be in power forever. Or perhaps they assume that another GOP president will never be elected.

    1. No, I don't think they assume Obama y cronies (or their counterparts in other countries y jurisdictions) will always use power wisely y justly. I think, however, that they think they're working toward that ideal, and that as long as Obama or whomever keeps the seat warm by exercising that power, the muscle of power will grow from exercise and be closer to perfect in the next person's hands, and so on toward utopia. I think they'd be satisfied to give Bachman that power temporarily, just so it doesn't atrophy from disuse.

      1. I think this is right. "Progressivism" is about Progress. They believe they have History (writ large) on their side and as long as they keep pushing forward, whatever the set backs they will progress towards the goal. It's understood to be a long-term process, a constant, never-ending battle against the forces of regression.

    2. Which is why this:
      should be included in every high school civics class.

  16. Has the state of the argument advanced much beyond Hobhouse?

    What I think we could use here are examples. I'd like to see specific cases where you could argue with Wolfe as to which regime produces more autonomy for more people, rather than just arguing in general. Does his book have many?

  17. I can think of one way in which Sheldon's vision does not fulfill Wolfe's criterion, although I don't know whether Wolfe's does either. A lot of people think that one's work career is a principal part of the direction of that person's life; if we were to give it primacy, then a regime of producer rather than consumer sovereignty would appear to be ideal. If everyone got paid the same regardless of what type of work they did, then they could choose their career and hence life direction without regard to the value of their work to others.

    Of course the counter to that is that we're so much richer when we work to produce for people's desires that we can then better afford to do the things we really want to do as hobbies.

    Their comeback to that is that it doesn't have the same meaning if it's just a hobby. The rejoinder that is, yeah, no shit, make-work doesn't have much meaning either.

    1. If everyone got to work in the career field of their choice half the population would be movie stars and the other half would be rock stars.
      The benefit of the market is that it forces people to tune their skills towards producing things other people want. Your choice as a free person navigating the marketplace is to make the choices that optimize your well being, trading off personal satisfaction for monetary rewards as you see fit.

      What modern liberals would have is to restrict the choices of some people to demand what they want (or offer the skills they have) in the market in order to expand the options of others. There is no expansion of one persons freedom in the market without a restriction on someone else's.

      Ultimately, that leads to less optimal outcomes because it is a more constrained "state space", in algorithmic terms, in which to search.

      1. Half and half is a little too stark. How about 49.9% and 49.9%?

        I would be either choose to build guns or furniture...maybe both. Alas...only hobbies.

  18. Upthread Francisco told an interesting story about giving a liberal friend a copy of Atlas Shrugged.
    I have a similar story, but with a not so happy ending.

    Half way through the second chapter my liberal friend returned the book and said " I dont think I can read that. The way those people are portrayed, I mean, I see stuff that makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me very uncomfortable."

    Yeah, he actually said that. I was speechless.

    1. Hope you told him that it makes all of us feel uncomfortable, which is precisely why some of us keep reading.

      1. Then you graduated into 10th grade. Right? There is more philosophical depth and real-world relevance on any number of TV shows in the past decade than an Ayn Rand novel. People are not starkly heroes and villains. Nobody is the single master of his own fate, however much teenage boys like to think they are.

  19. Just like how liberalism has been turned upside down, thus the need to distinguish between classical and modern (though from what I understand, the classical definitions is still used in parts of Europe) as well as the birth of libertarianism, the same is true of "left-wing".

    Bastiat was literal left-winger. The label comes from the side you sat on at the national assembly. For a while, classical liberals and radical proto-libertarians, at least in Europe, were also left-wingers.

    1. This is true. However what is ignored is that the original Radical Left were the Jacobins.

      1. Also classical liberalism is being alluded to when one speaks of "liberal democracy" and "liberalization" of laws (e.g. drugs).

  20. The basic problem here has to do with the definition of "autonomy."

    If you define it as "I can do whatever I want", then, yes, not having absolute power means your autonomy is limited. Hell, even having to pay for stuff you want is a limitation on your autonomy.

    That seems to be Wolfe's definition. that not being able to have or do anything you want is a restriction on your autonomy, and that the state can increase your autonomy by giving you stuff.

    Of course, this ignores that the state can only do so at the cost of someone else's autonomy.

  21. Libertarianism really has little to do with the evolution of liberal thought. It's an anomalous cult-like thing dreamed up as the intellectual justification for every form of plutocratic abuse under the sun. It's highly anti-liberal, but like all successful cults uses pleasing language to lure the weak-minded.

    None of you should disagree with this if you give it some thought. Every single discussion of liberty we have is not about actual real-world liberty, but theoretical liberty. It amounts to little more than doubletalk. As a blunt example, a social safety net, by the numbers, quite obviously leads to a net gain in liberty. The wealthy person loses a little trivial liberty as accounted for by the higher taxes, but the poor person gains essential liberties associated with financial security. Libertarians would have us believe that the wealthy person is harmed and the poor person is getting away with a crime. Yet since, as I'm reminded often, you're not anarchists, all those taxpayer-funded services that protect the wealthy person's wealth are somehow OK. Funny how every single caveat to your first principles benefits "property owners"--suggesting libertarianism is liberalism stuck in an 18th century form or, as I think, the intellectual backbone of plutocracy.

    1. Tony says:

      Libertarianism really has little to do with the evolution of liberal thought. It's an anomalous cult-like thing dreamed up as the intellectual justification for every form of plutocratic abuse under the sun. It's highly anti-liberal...

      But, then counters

      suggesting libertarianism is liberalism stuck in an 18th century form...

      Isn't having virulent arguments with yourself a sign of mental illness?

    2. It's amazing how some people can spend all their time arguing with a group of people about their beliefs, and yet learn absolutely nothing about what they actually think.

      1. It's amazing that you guys haven't learned what you actually think.

        1. So, you think you know what we think better than we do?

          Tony, you really are weapons grade stupid.

  22. I should say fraudulent intellectual backbone, as it fails to be a consistent system. And nobody to my knowledge has successfully defended it as such without appeals to a magical constitution or magical natural rights the enumeration of which libertarians get to decide.

    1. Tony said:
      "I should say fraudulent intellectual backbone, as it fails to be a consistent system."

      This is in stark contrast to all other political parties in this country, which represent diverse coalitions of absolutely consistent purists, with strong ethical and moral justifications for every thought they have.

  23. OK wow that jsut makes no sense at all dude, None.


  24. Fascism, socialism, communism, progressivism, conservatism, "liberalism", it's all a fucking smokescreen. You are either an authoritarian statist who despises personal, individual liberty and the inherent rights we should all be granted with at birth or you are not. Comparing "classical liberalism" with what is called liberalism nowadays is pointless. Modern liberalism has nothing at all to do with the actual meaning of the word "liberal". There is only one meaningful political distinction and it's between those who endorse liberty and those who do not. The rest is just horse shit. There are well intentioned people who consider themselves liberals and well intentioned people who consider themselves conservatives and both of these groups has been fooled into thinking that their "thought leaders" are on the side of humanity.

  25. "...it instead allows firms to reduce their obligations to their employees and thereby make them more dependent on the vagaries of the market."

    While I have voted Libertarian in the last 5 Presidential elections, the above concept has always concerned me. The recent banking/mortgage fiasco is additional proof that, if it's left entirely to them, those that have the power will take advantage of those that don't.

    Those with the power have consistently worked historically to halt creative destruction; I suggest this is why we have no energy program and continue to rely on oil.

    With no government 'protection' (regulations) the powerful (and wealthy) will get stronger (and wealthier) - they will pay less taxes and get more benefits - while the rest of us will pay more in taxes, get less in benefits, have our incomes lowered and so on.

    How do we reduce regulations to the degree we Libertarians desire while keeping the 'system' honest? Someone is going to make decisions, rules and regulations. Why will those that have the power become less selfish?

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