Goodbye to Classical Liberalism…
People are always saying this… especially people my age. Marcus Tullius Cicero, born in 106 B.C. and therefore even older than I am, is famous for his declaration that the world was going to hell in a hand basket, “O tempora! O mores!” (“Oh, what times! Oh, what behavior!”)
The trouble is… sometimes Cicero and I are right.
Cicero, the greatest orator of the Roman Republic, was denouncing the political conspirator Catiline.
Catiline was a “reformer” who ran for the Roman Consulship on a platform – this will sound familiar – of increased benefits for disadvantaged plebeians and tabulae novae (“clean slates”) universal debt cancelation. Then, when he lost the election, he tried to overthrow the Roman government.
Catiline was the SPQR Bernie Sanders. Except, as a social-justice warrior, Catiline actually was a warrior and his army of supporters really was armed – with swords instead of bongs, hacky-sacks, and $5 campaign contributions.
Rome’s legions killed Catiline in 62 B.C. But the Catiline Conspiracy was just one episode in a long stretch of Roman political polarization and vicious partisan in-fighting that resulted, in 44 B.C., in Julius Caesar being made dictator for life.
Liberty means free and responsible individuals. Free and responsible individuals have a lot to do – exercising their freedoms and shouldering their responsibilities.
That didn’t last long… Caesar was assassinated the next month. Nevertheless, Cicero was right (and also dead in 43 B.C. by order of Augustus, the next Caesar). After almost 500 years, that was the end of the world for the Roman Republic.
And this is the end of the world for Classical Liberalism.
Civil liberties. Free speech. Property rights. Rule of Law. Representative democracy. Free enterprise and free trade.
Is this the end for America’s #1 tech company?
George Gilder has been called “The Technology Prophet.” He predicted the iPhone technology 13 years BEFORE its release. And now he’s calling for the fall of probably the most powerful tech company in America. Get the incredible story here…
These are the ideas of Classical Liberalism. Since 1776, the fortunate among us have been living in places where those ideas were embraced.
Yes, sometimes it’s been an awkward embrace. We’ve watched Classical Liberalism get a clumsy “Joe Biden hug” from advocates for greater political interference in private life. When it comes to Classical Liberalism, “populists” want the Classical to be more pop, and “liberals” want the Liberal to dispense largess more liberally.
But the core ideas persisted, and they produced excellent results.
In the middle of the last century, fascism was defeated and its totalitarian sister ideology, communism, was contained by Classical Liberalism.
Classical Liberals caused “Imperialism” to be booed off the world stage – reduced to making guest appearances in the prattle of poli sci class academic phonies.
Classical Liberals changed “Colonialism” from an international villainy into international tourist destinations like the British Virgin Islands.
In the 1980s, the tower of human misery constructed by the communists fell on its architects. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot joined Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in the collapsed basement of Hell.
The Internet treats user privacy with the same respect that snakes get in a cage at a carnival sideshow.
The personal freedoms embodied in Classical Liberalism went a long way toward destroying all the other theoretical justifications for oppression such as segregation, apartheid, and theocracy.
Given a chance, Classical Liberalism could even banish prejudice and bigotry. Liberty means free and responsible individuals. Free and responsible individuals have a lot to do – exercising their freedoms and shouldering their responsibilities. No set of principles, however noble, can prevent people from detesting one another, but Classical Liberalism can keep people otherwise occupied and engaged.
An example from the 1960s: During the height of the civil rights struggle, Atlanta’s sort-of-but-not-really pro-integration mayor, Ivan Allen, came up with a weasel-word slogan to indicate that the local white establishment, although not fully reconciled to civil liberties and equality before the law, was willing to – as it’s called these days – move on: “Atlanta, a City Too Busy To Hate.”
We would hate – but we’re just so busy!
Under the aegis of Classical Liberalism, Earth thrived. Global per capita GDP went, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $3,900 in 1950 to $17,300 in 2017. Thank you, civil liberties, free speech, property rights, rule of law, representative democracy, and free enterprise and free trade.
As the tenets of Classical Liberalism spread, the governmental practice of oppression seemed to be fading.
In 1945, only the lucky few could be called citizens of a free country.
Today, 39% of the world’s population has political freedom, another 24% has partial freedom, and 74% of the world’s 195 nations are at least free enough to give Classical Liberalism a try.
So says Freedom House, the nonpartisan advocacy organization for democracy, which is so nonpartisan that it was founded in 1941 by defeated presidential candidate Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Such, at one time, were the powers of faith in Classical Liberalism… Imagine, today, an advocacy organization founded by Hillary Clinton and Melania Trump).
Classical Liberalism has had a good run. Now it’s about to get run over… by a bus full of stupid “post-capitalist” political trends – the new socialism, the new nationalism, the new trade-war mercantilism, and the new social media platforms that drive this bus. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, and the countless candidates running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are all on board. So are the Brexiteers and so, for that matter, are the maniacally micro-regulating bureaucrats of the EU that the Brexiteers want to leave.
Wave goodbye to Classical Liberalism.
Or you could just wave at the camera you’re facing on your phone or computer. Too late to put a sticky note over it. Your civil liberties are already gone, swiped left. Neither a click falls on a keypad nor a finger taps a touch screen without the Internet seeing.
You are a fly caught in the World Wide Web. Classical Liberalism gets eaten by a Surveillance State.
Civil liberties – and the free will needed to exercise them – are impossible when someone knows everything about you. And someone does… Probably it’s just that twerp in a T-shirt Mark Zuckerberg, who has got your every word, worry, action, attraction, emotion, motion, and notion stored in the Cloud. But how long before a more serious person – or thing – hacks in and starts running your life? (Kamala Harris, Jared Kushner, George Soros, the NSA, the UN, the alt-right, the IRS, the Bavarian Illuminati – you can bet that what hacks you will be the person or thing that keeps you up at night.)
And how do you know they haven’t done it already? How hard can it be? The Internet treats user privacy with the same respect that snakes get in a cage at a carnival sideshow. And Zuckerberg is a 35-year-old still wearing his underwear in public. His mother no doubt writes his password on the waistband of his Y-fronts with a laundry pen.
Plus, the average cost of an Internet connection in the U.S. is $67.17 a month, so free speech isn’t free anymore, anyway.
Property rights will be next to go. Here, too, the Internet aids and abets, particularly in the destruction of intellectual property rights. Take it from me … I spent 40 years as a print journalist. “Content Is Free” – that’s the founding concept of the Internet. Now I’m a “content provider.” And… Content Is Free.
Our remaining property rights – that is, our rights to physical property – will be sacrificed either to the campaign for income equality or to the campaign against climate change. This depends on which end of the world comes first – everybody on Earth in bankruptcy court (total global debt is now $244 trillion, three times the size of the world economy) or everybody on Earth crammed into the last 1,878 vertical feet of Mt. Everest because of the rising sea level.
In the former case, a horde of people will show up at polling places under the impression that voting machines are like the slots at Mohegan Sun. If they pull the lever often enough, there will be a huge payout.
The Internet tells me (for free) that, using the broadest definition of “money” (cash plus all banking and money-market account balances), there’s about $80 trillion in the world. The world’s population is 7.5 billion. Dividing it equally, we each get $10,666.67.
We’ll blow through that pretty fast, and the aftermath will be interesting. I’d make some technical recommendations about what to do in this situation, but the Second Amendment is just one more property right soon to be dispensed with.
Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades… as its basic tenets– including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world.
In the latter climate change end-of-the-world case, we’ll all die, which makes abiding by the principles of Classical Liberalism extra hard. But before we die, we’ll panic.
I understand why people are bothered by climate change. It bothers me four times a year – arthritic winter, allergic spring, summertime bedroom A/C window unit falling out and smashing the patio furniture, and my Harris Tweed sport coat full of moth holes in the fall. But we’ve let our annoyance be turned into abject fear. I’m sure our Earthly home could use some tidying, climatologically. But when the house is a mess, you get out the mop and the broom… You don’t call 911.
In our panic, we’ll demand strict government regulation to prevent carbon emissions. And most carbon emissions result from the exercise of property rights.
Among the property that belongs to you is a pair of lungs. The Internet tells me (for free again) that those lungs emit 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide a day. Multiply by world population, and that’s 17.25 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide, which is much more than the 209 billion pounds of carbon dioxide that burning fossil fuels emits daily.
You can see where the regulatory direction is headed… Exhaling to be allowed by licensed permit only, and deep sighs forbidden under any circumstances. And, speaking of exercising your property rights, the lungs of long-distance joggers, gym rats, hot yoga practitioners, and others who engage in vigorous physical activity can emit as much as eight times the average amount of CO2. The police would run you down, except that would cause even more global warming, so they’ll shoot you from a distance.
(Yes, yes, I know… The experts try to explain to me that breathing isn’t like burning fossil fuels because breathing doesn’t involve “sequestered carbon.” But I’m as dumb as the next voter and don’t know sequester from Ryan Seacrest. Or, anyway, I’m as dumb as Elizabeth Warren who, when she introduces the federal law against breathing, will tell us that only the rich have to hold their breath.)
Your possessions will go away. And, since “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” the rule of law goes with them. (That “nine-tenths” adage isn’t just about squatters’ rights or who has borrowed the car. The first purpose of law is to protect property, and foremost in protection comes that property most precious to you: your ownership of yourself as a free person. Without property, there is no freedom.)
If rule of law goes away, so does representative democracy – the legal system of checks and balances that’s entrusted with both guidance by majorities and protection of individuals. When government takes ownership of everything, the result is either the terror of collectivism or the horror of crony capitalism or, as in China, both. The checks bounce, and the balances are weighted by the thumbs of special interests.
Also, lacking civil liberties and property rights, representative democracy is left with nothing to represent except the will of the mob or – as it’s called these days – “activism.”
We already live in a country where activists are snatching the role once played by duly elected and duly appointed officials.
When Dr. Frankenstein is up to something in his castle, does modern America send the county building inspector to check if the electrical wiring is safe? Not when a large group of activists with pitchforks and torches is available to chase Dr. Frankenstein back to the local urgent care facility and make him provide Medicare for All.
As I mentioned, the collapse of Classical Liberalism is by no means just an American problem. The same Freedom House that brought us the good news about the growth of democracy since World War II brings us bad news in its most recent report, “Freedom in the World 2018:”
• Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades… as its basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world.
• Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
And how will the end of the Classical Liberal world affect free enterprise and free trade?
Imagine even a trip to the grocery store without Classical Liberalism. How about Mexican tonight? But first, you need civil liberties just to leave your house. And no matter what you think about immigration, if Latin-Americans didn’t have civil liberties, you wouldn’t know squat about Mexican food. You’d be making tacos by rolling liverwurst in Aunt Jemima pancakes and seasoning it with pumpkin pie spice.
The grocery store requires free speech to advertise its specials. You could be paying twice as much for the corn tortillas as you would have paid at the other grocery store down the road. Except, without property rights, there might not be another grocery store down the road. In fact, there might not be any grocery stores at all. You’ll have to wait for dinner until there’s a government taco handout. Furthermore, absent rule of law, just how old is that guacamole?
And lastly, although you might not think representative democracy would come into play at the checkout counter, what if Elizabeth Warren becomes America’s Julius Caesar and the kid who’s bagging your groceries gets denounced O tempore! O mores! for not sequestering your carbon?