...continued from Part 1.
Many of us take this for granted, but this was revolutionary (and often "treasonous") talk in a world of kings, nobles, state-granted monopolies, politicized economic controls, crippling taxes, and constant wars that had more to do with business interests than with the people actually dying in them. In that mercantilist world, you were considered a "subject," not a "citizen," of whatever government you lived under. You did not own your own body. Your property could be taken at any moment by the whim of a king or baron or even a soldier. You could be kidnapped, given a gun/sword/spear and a uniform, and be sent around the world or just two miles down the road to kill and conquer people that never harmed you. Or, your land could be invaded and you and your family killed because some king wanted your land. This was life for the vast majority of people that have ever lived.
The classical liberal movement was only barely successful in Great Britain, which was already a superpower with colonies and protectorates around the world and wasn't about to give that up. However, even those relatively small gains in economic and personal freedom unleashed a wave of creativity and industry and were largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution in Britain, one of the largest continued increases in the standard of living for the average person that the world has ever seen.
The liberal movement saw its greatest success here in America. The classical liberals behind the American Revolution were "radicals" in their day, rebelling against the "status quo" of war, taxes, controls, monopolies, corruption, executive power, and big government in general. The Founding Fathers were such "extremists" that the form of government they decided on afterward was beyond what was considered possible at the time.
Even during the Revolution, however, there were very powerful forces working to undermine classical liberalism in America. The ruling classes of the world, such as the kings, nobles, international banking houses, and industry leaders were deeply threatened by classical liberal ideas and wished to preserve the mercantilist system of empires like Great Britain: poverty and serfdom for the masses and luxury and power for the elites. So at first you had the "liberals" and "radicals" fighting for individual liberty and economic freedom against the "conservatives" who sought to undo everything accomplished by the classical liberals, but then things started to get confusing.
|A very confused ideology.|
These conservative/semi-conservative forces were hugely successful in the 19th century, largely due to their ability to use government resources to influence public opinion through schooling. Whether we're talking about priests during the Middles Ages or college professors today, rulers have always allied themselves with and legitimized an "intellectual caste" that serves only to justify any action taken by the state.
As these conservative and socialist forces gained ground, liberals became content to simply guard what they had already won. Instead of constantly pushing for progress and refining theory, the classical liberals lost interest in principle and began to compromise and focus on gradual change (which results in no change at all). The aforementioned alliance between the statists and the "intellectual caste" began to take its toll as well, as laissez-faire liberal ideas were successfully re-branded as reactionary, outdated, and even conservative, while the statists re-branded themselves as "progressives" and "liberals." The socialists were able to assume for themselves the "left" wing and became the movement of change, hope, and progress, while pushing liberals/libertarians in the middle or "moderate" position of a confusing spectrum where the left wing's unlimited state power is opposed to the right wing's unlimited state power.
The result was the Civil War
|William Jennings Bryan|
|Stood on principle. Elected 12 times.|
Why? Because libertarians (and anarchists like myself) are steering the discussion back toward personal liberty and individualism and away from authority and collectivism while the establishment Republicans were perfectly content to ride the coattails of the Democrats into a future of high-tech feudalism. What Ron Paul did with his presidential campaigns is what libertarians must continue to do: educate people that left versus right, Democrat versus Republican is pointless. It's a centuries-old war between liberty and power that is going to keep being fought until humans evolve past their need/desire for government.
Return to Part 1.
Recommended reading (click links or pictures to purchase from Amazon.com):
by Murray Rothbard
by Ron Paul