Sheldon Richman on Classical Liberalism vs. Modern Liberalism


In The Future of Liberalism, 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. Unfortunately, writes Sheldon Richman, Wolfe has settled on 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, Richman notes, we must conclude that Wolfe's program would lead not to liberation but rather to subjugation of the individual.