CAPITALISM IN A FREE SOCIETY
Liberalism: American and European
Friedman states that the proper label for his economic views is "liberalism," but he goes on to say that this term has acquired a far different meaning in the United States than "it did in the nineteenth century or does today over much of the Continent of Europe." (p. 5) It is well to note, on the face of this statement, that Friedman's views on liberalism do not derive from American founding principles, but from the European theorists of the 19th century and before.
and as i have mentioned before, all our options in american politics are essentially variants of liberalism.
This is true; but I think it is possible to make a fairly sharp distinction between American liberalism and European liberalism, based on the degree of self-governance afforded the people. This is what I try to show. I also believe that some American conservatives and libertarians are so much influenced by European thinking that they have to some extent abandoned the American model and have developed a contempt for some of the chief features of American liberalism, especially in dealing with certain concepts, such as democracy, majority rule, and popular sovereignty.
agreed. i think i make the same argument (though in different terms) below. just reiterating the point that all american politics in the current era can be traced to liberalism.
some conservatives blend classical liberal economic policy with a sort of parochial religiosity; libertarians invoke classical liberal economic theories as well as an extreme version of liberal individualism; modern american liberals emphasize the "equality" and "fraternity" aspects of the holy trinity of 19th century politics (i.e., liberty, equality and fraternity). this emphasis has actually led to the development of government programs and socialist-type ideologies precisely because the classical liberal notions of individualism tended to erode the social fabric, replacing a more realistic notion of an embodied and concretely located (in society, as well as history and geography) person with an idealistic notion of an autonomous, essentially isolated being (and as i have mentioned before, i do not accept the label of "individualism" because it does not even suggest personhood).
Agreed. But I am suggesting that this brand of Individualism arises largely from the European influence, traced along a direct line from Locke and J.S. Mill, without the re-direction given Locke and Sidney by Jefferson and the other democrat-republicans in the early years of the republic.John
understood. which is why i make sure to connect libertarianism with classical liberalism--i.e., the liberalism of europe in the 18th century.
an interesting book working along these lines is jacques maritain's "the person and the common good". he argues that our political options essentially embody two extremes: that of the materialistic, autonomous individual on the one hand; and that of the organic subsumation of the individual under some totality on the other. neither view, he argues, is tenable:
"in the final analysis, the relation of the individual to society must not be conceived after the atomistic and mechanistic pattern of bourgeois individualism which destroys the organic social totality, or after the biological and animal pattern of the statist or racist totalitarian conception which swallows up the person, here reduced to a mere histological element of behemoth or leviathan, in the body of the state, or after the biological and industrial pattern of the communistic conception which ordains the entire person, like a worker in the great human hive, to the proper work of the social whole. the relation of the individual to society must be conceived after an irreducibly human and specifically ethicosocial pattern, that is, personalist and communalist at the same time; the organization to be accomplished is one of liberties. but an organization of liberties is unthinkable apart from the moral realities of justice and civil amity, which, on the natural and temporal plane, correspond to what the gospel calls brotherly love on the spiritual and supernatural plane." (maritain, the person and the common good, pp. 101-2)
instead, he proposes a social philosophy of the person (as opposed to the "individual"), which has had an influence on my thinking. essentially, for maritain, the person, though an individual of sorts (and especially in the material sense--i.e., precisely located and differentiated from other material beings) contains a spiritual element as well, and it is this spiritual element (though one might say "intellectual" just as well) that forms the basis for a person's involvement in society:
"...the human being is caught between two poles; a material pole, which, in reality, does not concern the true person but rather the shadow of personality or what, in the strict sense, is called individuality, and a spiritual pole, which does concern true personality." (maritain, p. 33)
"...individuality is rooted in matter in as much as matter requires the occupation in space of a position distinct from every other position. matter itself is a kind of non-being, a mere potency or ability to receive forms and undergo substantial mutations....corporeal beings are individual because of "matter with its quantity designated". their specific form and their essence are not individual by reason of their own entity but by reason of their transcendental relation to matter understood as implying position in space." (maritain, p. 35)
"as an individual, each of us is a fragment of a species, a part of the universe, a unique point in the immense web of cosmic, ethnical, historical forces and influences--and bound by their laws. each of us is subject to the determinism of the physical world. nonetheless, each of us is also a person and, as such, is not controlled by the stars. our whole being subsists in virtue of the subsistence of the spiritual soul which is in us a principle of creative unity, independence and liberty." (maritain, p. 38)
the complete personality, on the other hand, "requires the communications of knowledge and love....each of us requires communication with other and the others in the order of knowledge and love. personality, or its essence, requires a dialogue in which souls really communicate." (maritain, p. 42)
as i have said elsewhere, maritain argues that persons develop in and through societies; i.e., the society in which a person develops is a necessary factor (though not of itself entirely sufficient) in that person's development, but this does not imply that the person is subsumed within that society. rather, the person is both constitutive of and constituted by society:
"for the person requires membership in a society in virtue both of its dignity and its needs. animal groups or colonies are called societies only in an improper sense. they are collective wholes constituted of mere individuals. society in the proper sense, human society, is a society of persons....the social unit is the person." (maritain, p. 47)
for example, "reason requires development through character training [which is the basis behind the "liberal arts"], education and the cooperation of other men, and because society is thus indispensable to the accomplishment of human dignity." (maritain, p. 49)
this avoids the extremes whereby society is merely constituted by individuals (i.e., the libertarian position of friedman, thatcher, and others) or is completely deterministic of the person (fascist or communist regimes). his main point is what we have been arguing all along, namely that individuals don't succeed in this world without society:
"the person as such is a whole, an open and generous whole. in truth, if human society were a society of pure persons, the good of society and the good of each person would be one and the same good. but man is very far from being a pure person; the human person is the person of a poor material individual, of an animal born more helpless than any other animal. though the person as such is an independent whole and that which is noblest in all of nature [by virtue of rationality], nonetheless the human person is at the lowest degree of personality--naked and miserable, indigent and full of wants. when it enters into society with its kind, therefore, it happens that, by reason of its deficiencies--evidences of its condition as an individual in the species--the human person is present as part of a whole which is greater and better than its parts, and of which the common good is worth more than the good of each part. yet, because of personality as such and the perfections which it implies as an independent and open whole, the human person requires membership in society. whence, as previously noted, it is essential to the good of the social whole to flow back in some fashion upon the person of each member. it is the human person who enters into society; as an individual, it enters society as a part whose proper good is inferior to the good of the whole (of the whole constituted of persons). but the good of the whole is what it is, and so superior to the private good, only if it benefits the individual persons, is redistributed to them and respects their dignity." (maritain, pp. 59-61)
what he is saying in this last passage is that, while the good of the whole is superior to the good of the individual (as individual, and not as a person, which maritain makes clear), but only if the good of the whole benefits each and every individual person in an equitable manner.
his idea of the common good also fits in nicely with jefferson's conception of self-government.
My view is, I hope, Jeffersonian. I must agree, that everything you have said thus far about Maritain's view is perfectly consonant with Jefferson's. It might be said to be complementary, because Jefferson did not go into this level of society/individual theory, mainly because he did not need to; it was not an issue in his time, but became one later in the 19th century.John
i would not know, but i think i could assume that maritain was familiar with jefferson's writings.
the common good is (emphatically) not the desire of society as society (i.e., as subsuming the individual), but is the desire of society as a distinct community of persons. which is to say, the common good is that which benefits society by benefitting the person and vice versa (hearkening back to marx's line: the condition for the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. whether or not this is tautological is beside the point--for tautological truths may be true none-the-less--the core meaning of it is, the proper conception of the social is as a community, and not merely an agglomeration, of persons, and, by extension, the proper conception of the common good is as that which benefits the person as a member of the community and not strictly the society itself or its individual members):
"the common good is common because it is received in persons, each one of whom is as a mirror of the whole....the end of society, therefore, is neither the individual good nor the collection of the individual goods of each of the persons who constitute it." (maritain, pp. 49-50)
"the common good of the city is neither the mere collection of private goods, nor the proper good of a whole which, like the species with respect to its individuals or the hive with respect to its bees, relates the parts to itself alone and sacrifices them to itself. it is the good human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in good living. it is therefore common to both the whole and the parts into which it flows back and which, in turn, must benefit from it." (maritain, pp. 50-51)
"thus, that which constitutes the common good of political society is not only: the collection of public commodities and services--the roads, ports, schools, etc., which the organization of common life presupposes; a sound fiscal condition of the state and its military power; the body of just laws, good customs and wise institutions, which provide the nation with its structure; the heritage of its great historical remembrances, its symbols and its glories, its living traditions and cultural treasures. the common good includes all of these and something more besides--something more profound, more concrete, and more human. for it includes also, and above all, the whole sum itself of these [human persons]; a sum which is quite different from a simple collection of juxtaposed units....it includes the sum or sociological integration of all the civic conscience, political virtues and sense of right and liberty, of all the activity, material prosperity and spiritual riches, of unconsciously operative hereditary wisdom, of moral rectitude, justice, friendship, happiness, virtue and heroism in the individual lives of its members. for these things all are, in a certain measure, communicable and so revert to each member, helping him perfect his life and liberty of person. they all constitute the good human life of the multitude." (maritain, pp. 52-53)
this is a sentiment echoed in many important thinkers, among many religions (one may find it in judaic, buddhist, taoist, and hindu for certain), and is embodied in nearly ever major radical ideology (this point is shared, i have argued earlier, by jefferson and the anarchists). of course, the difficulty in instituting such a society (as community of persons), is that it runs counter to the major ideologies of power in that it stresses the ability of persons (and societies qua persons) to self-government; this is a position countering directly the essentialized (one might say "timeless truths") stance of the libertarians, who would argue against notions of self-government in favor of some transcendental ideal as well as the totalitarianism at the other end of the spectrum--both of which fall under the rubric of "blueprint" societies.Eyler
Precisely! It is amazing how we have approached the same truths through different spokesmen.
This matter of American founding principles as opposed to the European theorists has been discussed elsewhere (see Individual Rights & Popular Sovereignty), by examining how Jefferson took Locke's theories and evolved them into the American principles of self-government, whereas the European liberals kept those same theories, but limited them to an individual's rightful claims against a sovereign government authority. The American system is one of national self-government; European liberalism speaks nothing of the concept of self-government. In fact, Locke's second treatise on government doesn't even mention the word "self-government." It is a singularly American idea, and that is the fundamental difference.
Some might say that this is a distinction without a difference. While it is true that Locke does not speak of self-government, he DOES speak of consent of the governed. Isn't that really the same thing? Doesn't a government that seeks the consent of those it governs, actually give acknowledgment to popular sovereignty?
there is a difference, and i will tell you why. the difference between self-government and "consent of the governed" is that in the latter case the governor is still distinct from the governed; the governed may be allowed to choose governors or voice their opinions, but the fact remains that they are not actively involved in governance. in self-government, on the other hand, the only governor is the governed themselves. i think that's it.
"as tutor to our commercialized civilization, consumerist culture has been teaching antipathy to government and a misplaced faith in privatization and markets. rather than serving personal needs in the name of social goods, the market has turned to the manufacture of human needs at the expense of social goods in an economy of endless consumption. it replaces citizens with consumers, urging us to regard ourselves, even in civic clothes, as "customers" of state bureaucracies and clients of government. but as consumers we get choice without power: individual selections from an agenda we do not control and with social consequences we cannot deal with" (from "more democracy! more revolution!" by benjamin barber, oct 26 issue of 'the nation', 1998)
the "consent of the governed" approach views the governed as "customers" of government; we have choices, but no real power. but with self-government, we have both choice and power, because the power rests in the governed. that's the difference between self-government and consent; where lies the power. though a despot may in some small measure abide by popular appeals, he still holds the power; the despot has a more subtle power, though, in that he awards the populus some concessions precisely to win or keep their favor.
I think you are on to something. The form of government that results in self-government is markedly different from that which relies merely on consent of the governed. American self-government has resulted in the separation of powers at many levels, and this has the primary effect of protecting against the tyranny of any single branch. But in addition, having two houses of legislature, just like having a separation between the legislative and the executive branches, tends to divide power, and in doing so places MORE POWER in the hands of the people. These different legislators, as well as the President himself, must appeal directly to the American people. Power is not all placed in one political organization, where a single group can control the outcome and direct the administration of the whole government top to bottom. The separate appeals to the voters from these candidates for the various branches (House, Senate, President), being on a more individual-candidate basis rather than on the selection of a political party, gives the people themselves more and diverse choices. Even having one party dominate the legislature and another dominate the executive, while often ridiculed as an outcome in the United States, has a certain balancing effect and will tend to eliminate extremism in either branch of government, if there is a tendency toward extremism at any given time. Having the whole government apparatus controlled by one party, as is the case in British politics, would remove power from the people, and place greater power in the political parties. To Jefferson, the breaking up of political power structures was much preferred.
"It is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:122
So, a bicameral legislature and a popularly elected president, instead of a prime minister selected, and a government formed, by the political party in power, tends toward GREATER democracy, not less.
Consent of the governed is too vague, too unspecific. Like you say, it admits a greater distinction between the governors and the governed. Whereas under American self-government, the way things are set-up, with a bicameral legislature and an executive separate from the legislature, that really puts the people in the driver's seat. Separation of powers forces ALL the branches to appeal directly to the people, and it is the decision of the people that tends to become the focal point of political direction, not the decision of the party leaders. The people themselves are more actively involved in the governing process under our system, than they would be under the parliamentary system where they merely give their consent to a party structure and its assessment of needs. The ends have similarities, of course; but one is more sensitive to the will of the people than the other.
Although the difference between self-government and merely consent of the governed is quite real, there is no sharp dividing line; it is more a matter of degree. As Jefferson states it, even in this country, the degree of popular control has not been pushed as far as it might be:
"The full experiment of a government democratical, but representative, was and is still reserved for us. The idea... has been carried by us more or less into all our legislative and executive departments; but it has not yet, by any of us, been pushed into all the ramifications of the system, so far as to leave no authority existing not responsible to the people; whose rights, however, to the exercise and fruits of their own industry can never be protected against the selfishness of rulers not subject to their control at short periods... My most earnest wish is to see the republican element of popular control pushed to the maximum of its practicable exercise. I shall then believe that our government may be pure and perpetual." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816. ME 15:65
Under the Parliamentary system, you might have a sovereign monarch and a Parliament who both recognize that, if they wish to keep their heads on their shoulders, they had better recognize the demands of their people for the recognition of certain rights and the institution of certain kinds of government legislative programs that the people want. Nothing new about that: Jefferson recognized that even in a despotic government, the despots are not totally uninfluenced by the governed.
"A court has no affections; but those of the people whom they govern influence their decisions, even in the most arbitrary governments." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1785. ME 5:12
In the Parliamentary system, you have persons with a social consciousness who take the lead in compelling the monarch (who once thought he ruled by the divine right of kings) to adhere to certain demands. It was not unusual, when these kinds of demands were first made, for a divinely ordained king who refused to comply, to experience a separation between his head and the rest of his body.
But all of that is still not quite the same as an electorate that is not trying to wrest its rights and demands from someone who thinks he is their sovereign, but rather acts as an electorate that has established itself as the ultimate sovereign decider, and itself makes this choice from a display of candidates who come to it for its voter-approval. In other words, our Constitution and organization of the governing powers themselves establish the manner in which power is exercised, and leave the choice more directly to the people. Clearly, a government that responds only to the gross demands of its population, while it may to some extent be eliciting the consent of the governed, can hardly be described as an example of self-government. Rather, it is an example of what happens when self-government is suppressed. As Jefferson described it,
"If this avenue [i.e., the expression of the voice of the whole people] be shut to the call of sufferance, it will make itself heard through that of force, and we shall go on as other nations are doing in the endless circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation; and oppression, rebellion, reformation again; and so on forever." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:43
Under the European liberal viewpoint, laissez-faire principles became one avenue for freeing the individual from an oppressive central government. Free trade was an outcome of this freedom from a sovereign government's dominating influence. The parliamentary system became the arena for the advocates of individual rights and interests in opposition to government interests. The concept that governments should serve the public interests has been well established for some time, for as Macaulay wrote in 1832,
"That governments exist only for the good of the people, appears to be the most obvious and simple of all truths." --from the essay, "Mirabeau."
Nevertheless, there was also well established the concept that governments were a separate agency, descended from a long line of absolute rulers whose power originally derived from the "divine right of kings." At an early stage, all rights and privileges were the bequest of this absolute ruler, from whom, over time, more and more were demanded and extracted. This absolute power was mitigated significantly in England as a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when James II was removed from the throne, and then replaced with William III, who, by implication, had no claim upon the throne except through his appointment by Parliament. This, like the election of an American president by the nation's people, left no doubt who was the ultimate dispenser of political power. But it was not until after the American Revolution that government itself was conceived as an "arm of the people," not as a sovereign to be resisted and restrained. The agency for this restraint under the European view of government, had been, not the people (through the electoral process), but the Parliament. And even later on in European governments, when the Prime Minister became de facto head of state (in the absence of a king, or the presence of a figure-head king or president), that chief executive was chosen by the political party in power, and was not directly chosen by, or responsible to, the people of the nation. Such distinctions may off-hand seem merely arbitrary, and of little or no significance with respect to the wielding of executive power. But when combined with other aspects of the institution of an independent executive and a weakened party control of Congress, the American system established a government that was much more directly responsive and accountable to the people as a whole than the Parliamentary system had ever been.
The concept of a "government of the people" was never fully established in Europe, however. The struggle to restrain the power of an absolute ruler eventually resolved itself into government structured around the principles of a political party, not a government founded on the natural rights of its citizens and in itself philosophically free of political party ideology. The people elected to Parliament, not individuals who would do their will and happened to be members of a particular political party, but rather individuals who represented a political party and its ideology. The European governments thus were formed and shaped by party theory and ideology, and were subject to significant change upon the election of a new party to leadership, whereas the American government was formed and shaped by principles that were not the possession of any political party. Another result of this difference is the splintering of political parties under the Parliamentary system, since the number of possible ideologies that can be expressed as a political party are almost infinite. The American political parties are less clearly focused, and therefore less subject to splintering. These differences are often confused, overlooked and misunderstood, but they are highly significant. Somewhat like Archimedes' fulcrum, these subtle changes in the basic organization and responsibilities of the departments of government and their relationships to the electorate result in great differences in the ways governments and their people respond to one another. Under the parliamentary system, the executive is still separated and shielded from the people -- to a lesser degree, perhaps, but still in the same manner, as the kings of old were independent of the people.
The result of these differences is that liberalism in Europe took a different course than liberalism in America. In Europe, it became the theory of rights that the people, considered as separate individual human beings, claim against the governmental organization of the state. In America, it became the practice of the people, acting as a collection of self-governing individuals as they determine the course that government takes. The American concept of liberalism developed differently, because European liberalism does not rely on the concept of popular self-government, and thus must seek the rights to life, liberty, and property, based on philosophical or ideological theories and demands; whereas American liberalism, recognizing the right of the people to decide the course of government, with or without resort to philosophical theory, relies on the political power of the people themselves, not on theories.
Another curious outcome of all this is that European liberalism necessarily becomes highly dependent on its theoreticians to tell it what to do and where to go, whereas the American system, being an investiture of political power, functions without necessarily being aware of the theory behind its own functioning. The influence of socialism also functioned differently in America than it did in Europe. The latter required elaborate theories, which then shaped the ideology of political parties and determined government policy. For the Americans, it was not a matter of embracing an ideology, which was then implemented in all possible ways; rather, it was a matter of rational choice, of experimentally trying this and trying that as ways of seeking progress and improvements for the public good. Hence, it was always described as "creeping socialism." In his opposition to socialist influence in America, however, Friedman attacks it in the European fashion as a system, not as a series of rational choices that sometimes work, and sometimes don't.
and you also, in america, see how socialist idea(l)s and self-government are not mutually incompatible. given that it is a peoples' right to determine the economic and political conditions under and through which (both terms, i think, are necessary, and are expressed in different ways), it remains up to the people to decide if they want direct government "intervention" in the economy (as they obviously did when they consistently re-elected roosevelt). when such intervention is no longer required or desired, it may be done away with. but this does not mean that the reversion to a non-interventionist government role is the natural or better state of things, only that that is how the people desired their government at that particular time.
Yes! Yes! Yes!John
should the time arise, again, when the people decide on the need for an interventionist government, then so be it. you may argue against it, but you cannot expect to hold up some transcendental ideal as a wall against change. you see this sort of hubris (i.e., the idea that people are coming back to the good and right after a brief foray into bad ideas) amongst many conservatives today. yes, republicans stormed congress in 1994, but so what? it doesn't mean that the people have established a conservative precedent for our national future, merely that they (though i use "they" loosely as less than a half of all registered voters participated--representing perhaps one fifth of our society at most) have chosen a slightly more conservative tack for government for the time being. a time will come when voters are dissatisfied with conservative practices, and will move back towards the left, but this will not last forever either.
This is precisely how democracy works. And it drives the ideologues nuts.
Friedman writes: "Beginning in the late nineteenth century, and especially after 1930 in the United States, the term liberalism came to be associated with a very different emphasis, particularly in economic policy. It came to be associated with a readiness to rely primarily on the state rather than on private voluntary arrangements to achieve objectives regarded as desirable." (p. 5) But what Friedman does not take into account is that in the United States, the people, who are the ultimate sovereign controllers of the government, feel themselves free to use that government in ways that serve their collective interests. And although some of the uses they choose may or may not be wise, nevertheless what he views as a reliance on the powers of the state rather than on private voluntary arrangements, are choices they have made and that they have the right to make, whether Friedman likes them or not. And in making such determinations, they feel that they are fulfilling, in an ultimate sense, the objects of liberalism; for if the object of liberalism is human liberty and freedom, what could more fully meet that object than a whole nation of free people deciding the course of government for themselves?
exactly; this is why the personalist, jeffersonian, radical, etc., view of the political is so feared by the status quo. all these views place the power of change in the hands of the people, instead of some ruling class. of course, the status quo itself changes, and cannot be essentially identified with any given label (though we might, in general, refer to it as "conservative" in the sense that it is not progressive). in some cases, the status quo will be fascism, in others communism (of various shades), in others (neo)liberalism. in all cases, what you have is an established order, whether elected or not makes no difference, that has decided to use any means necessary to secure and maintain its ideological hegemony. and this, of course, is the very antithesis of self-government. self-government is itself, of course, a type of hegemony (as this is unavoidable), but it is not instituted from above (i.e., from the transcendent), but rather from below (i.e., from the people themselves); so while the people maintain their political hegemony (as the sole source of political power), there is no concomitant ideological hegemony to which they are committed (other than, one could say, the principle of self-government itself). political hegemony itself is neither a good or bad thing; it just is (like power--it may be used for constructive or destructive ends).Eyler
I must confess that all along, I had thought our points of agreement almost accidental, and that the agreement was not really in depth. But the above discussion convinces me otherwise. Somehow, we seem to have approached what is basically the same point, but from different views.
well, part of this is in relation to one of my projects, which is to develop a theory of (secular, radical) personhood that encompasses practice as well as theory. the social theory class i am taking now has given me the impetus to do research along these lines, which has led me to a (re)reading and deeper understanding of maritain, buber, and others. my view as is (i.e., as unformulated) is essentially of the person as developing in and through society, involving both deterministic factors and free will, existing as both a member of an "organic" whole and as an individual being.Eyler
Since Friedman has already discounted any constructive use of central government for the good of the people as a whole, we could expect him to give no quarter to any kind of state-sponsored programs. But we must recognize that, in an advanced civilization, the individual not only enjoys access to a high level of freedom and prosperity, but the society as a whole discovers ways of taking care of itself collectively that, rather than being oppressive and limiting, actually increase the freedom and prosperity that we all enjoy; and they do this with certain types of programs that may be generally beyond the means of all but the most wealthy members of society if approached individually. The only real objection to these programs is from those whose ideological prejudices are offended by them. Invariably, these are also people with sufficient wealth so that these programs are no benefit to them individually, and thus resent the contribution which they are compelled to make towards them. Thus, to the opponents, these programs become ways of promoting "state intervention and paternalism which classical liberalism fought" (p. 5), and of increasing dependency and of destroying initiative -- not their own, of course, because they are "enlightened liberals"; but that of those other unfortunate members of society about whom they pretend to be so deeply concerned.
Friedman says these new kinds of liberals castigate "true liberals as reactionary!" (p. 6) Since the word reactionary means a tendency to return to an outmoded political or social order, the term may have some justification if, indeed, society has advanced, new conditions have emerged, and a new mode of living and relating of persons to one another has become established. Under such changed circumstances, anyone who wishes to cling to the forms and methods that governed society in the past and in simpler times could certainly be characterized as reactionary. The question then becomes, has society changed? Are the conditions of life, are economic relationships, are the demands of a technological society, all different today than they were one hundred years ago? Well, of course they are. And the redefinition of liberalism noted by Friedman over the past 100 years is naturally to be expected. As Jefferson wrote,
"Nothing... is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:48
And as long as we adhere to the recognition of these inherent and unalienable rights, as long as new policies are intent on facing up to new challenges while implementing these rights, we have nothing to fear. Spurious charges of paternalism and state intervention should never be allowed to prevail over policy changes and programs that are designed to respect unalienable rights in a time of social change. These are just the complaints of those who view society's advances as detracting from their own. But as Jefferson wrote,
"Lay down true principles and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendency of the people." -- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:35
Friedman states that "the nineteenth-century liberal favored political decentralization," and "the twentieth-century liberal favors centralized government." There are all kinds of shades of liberals, as their are of any other political designation. We think, however, that establishing rigid ideological positions is folly. These issues should be decided on a case-by-case basis. If the nature of the problem demands a centralized solution, then by all means we should not refrain from such solutions because we are committed to decentralization as an ideological straightjacket. And similarly, if a decentralized solution gets the best results, that is surely the way to go. If our immutable principle is human rights, we should be flexible with all these other secondary means.
It is interesting to watch Friedman defend his reactionary views by explaining why they should not be labeled conservative, even though he is harkening back to political theories that are over 100 years old. "The nineteenth-century liberal," he writes, "was a radical, both in the etymological sense of going to the root of the matter, and in the political sense of favoring major changes in social institutions." (p. 6) He then proceeds to explain how he does not wish to "conserve" these recent state interventions, but that he does wish to "conserve" those interventions in the past that have promoted "freedom." But except for re-establishing the social institutions that fostered this freedom a century ago, Friedman does not describe any "major changes in social institutions" that he would like to see implemented now. His major changes are to undo the efforts towards progress of the last 100 years.
The term liberal, in its political sense, is defined as one who supports human rights, is open-minded, progressive, and not a strict observer of traditional or established forms. It also includes those who advocate greater individual participation in government. Words can be tricky, and everyone tries to identify with a label that reflects well on oneself. Everyone also claims to support human rights, even though that support, in practical terms, may favor one's own interests and not take into consideration the rights of others. There is no mention by Friedman of the individual's participation in government, but rather an appeal to century-old ideas in dealing with contemporary social issues -- ideas that aren't even built on American founding principles of self-government, but on European theories that wrest political power away from monarchies and similar forms of governmental sovereignty. Such views could hardly qualify Friedman to call himself a liberal.