Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Different Look at Classical Liberalism

In an interesting coincidence a book review over on Mises expands on my post of Aug. 2 by referencing Tucker, deTocqueville and the process that may in fact lead to a sacrifice of liberty.

This is also interesting in light of a conversation I had last week with my brother who is an advocate of liberty and atheist. He tends to dismiss the institution of religion with a hostility that is intense and masks any effort to understand the role that religion plays in civil society.

Tucker writes:

It was during this period that Ralph Raico went to work on his dissertation. He hit the target with an extended discussion of three massively important figures in the history of liberalism for whom a religious orientation, and an overarching moral framework, was central for their thought: French Protestant Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), French Catholic Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859), and Lord Acton (1834–1902).

All three were distinguished for

consistent antistatism,

appreciation for modernity and commerce,

love of liberty and its identification with human rights,

a conviction in favor of social institutions such as churches and cultural norms, and

a belief that liberty is not a moral end in itself but rather a means toward a higher end.

Ours is a varied tradition of secularists, yes, but also of deeply pious thinkers. What drew them all together was a conviction that liberty is the mother and not the daughter of order.

What's more, these thinkers are people whom conservatives have tended to revere if only in passing, but have they really studied their thought to see their radicalism, their deep love of freedom, and their true attachment to the old-liberal cause?

Raico provides a detailed reading of their work in all these respects and shows that one need not embrace statism, and that one can be a consistent and full-blown liberal in the classical tradition, and not come anywhere near fulfilling the stereotype that conservatives were then creating of libertarians.

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