On Liberalism

For the most part, liberalism is a socioeconomic and sociopolitical byproduct of the European enlightenment and a repudiation of cultural traditions such as the rule of absolute monarchs and the domination of the church over society. The central organizing principle of a liberal system is individual freedom and liberty as opposed to the absolute rule of monarchs, despots, and priests. Liberalism is more of a mental or social disposition rather than a strictly defined concept or term. Christopher Freiman has broadly defined the term liberty as “the family of views united by certain institutional commitments, such as the legal recognition of civil liberties, robust private property rights, freedom of exchange, and freedom of contract; the central place of markets in the production and distribution of goods; and the minimization of forcible interference in people’s private choices.”

Freedom and liberty are always preferable to control and authoritarianism. But as James Madison once argued, freedom must be balanced with ethical, moral, and religious duties and obligations in order to sustain itself, lest a society spirals out of control and into the hands of a tyrannical regime. Although free-market purists like Henry Hazlitt once viewed the relationship between the state and the market as one that is based on a zero-sum paradigm, the exigencies of a modern and globalized world suggest that we have to transcend the zero-sum paradigm and forge a compromise and consensus between the state and the market. Either a compromise and consensus must take place between the state and the market, or the market must take precedence over the machinations of the state if we hope to salvage our liberal-democratic order.

Entrepreneurship is enabled by a liberal system, whereas authoritarian systems usually stifle entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not necessarily about making money. Entrepreneurship is more about rewards rather than profits, whereas conventional business is more about profits rather than rewards. Arguably, entrepreneurship equates to the use of money as a means of finding solutions to the world’s problems. Global and societal order enables the individual and the market to operate efficiently and smoothly, thus allowing people to find solutions to their own problems as well as society’s problems.

But how does one establish order and thus enable the search for the solution? There are perhaps six mechanisms towards establishing order, only one of which is truly viable. For one, there is a military solution, which is obsolete due to our strategic context, namely, “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). Politics means imposing ideas on one another, which is a futile enterprise. Law is largely an instrument of politics. Strategy is also obsolete due to the strategic context based on MAD. Also, diplomacy equates to broken promises, as once argued by the humanist and political scientist G. Lowes Dickinson. Thus, our solution is largely an economic solution. Upon reflection, one can conclude that aside from a couple of concrete measures towards criminal justice reform such as the legalization and regulation of common vices like gambling, marijuana, and prostitution, along with an economic safety net and the usual measures aimed at boosting productivity and growth such as cutting taxes, opening markets for exports, infrastructure projects, and putting money into people’s hands to boost consumption, there is not much we can alter or change in our liberal world system unless there is a fundamental and systemic shift towards populism or Marxism, which in the end would be a regrettable move.

It is also worth noting that growth is defined as the overall increase in economic activity, whereas productivity is defined as the relationship between inputs and outputs. At the moment, China’s annual growth rate is at around 6.6 percent, whereas America’s annual growth rate is hovering around 2.9 percent. It would perhaps be wise for American policymakers to address this disparity in growth rates between America and China. Nevertheless, there are four ontological states and world systems remaining in a postmodern epoch, namely, liberalism, Marxism, populism, and natural religion. It is important to note that liberalism is not antithetical to social welfare or religion. As evinced by the teachings of Max Weber, capitalism and thus liberalism includes a “spirit” that advances a set of ethics, morals, and values such as punctuality, hard work, and moderation. What liberalism is antithetical towards is the state’s collectivization of a society’s wealth and resources, along with the imposition of a religious creed or doctrine by the state as well as the absolute rule of the majority over the minority.

Thus, the core tenets of liberalism are capitalism, constitutionalism, and individualism, all of which are undergirded by the principles of individual freedom and individual liberty. To borrow from the historian James Traub, liberalism is defined to a large extent by “a broad faith in free markets, a modest commitment to deploying the state to protect vulnerable citizens and promote public goods, and a bedrock respect for individual rights.” Based on these core tenets, the state is then designed to have a minimal role in people’s lives, and the core task of the state is simply the upkeep of low taxes, an independent judiciary, and the imposition of peace and security through its monopoly of force in order to preserve individual freedoms and rights.

Edmund Fawcett has argued that liberalism is undergirded by four basic ideas, namely, “acknowledgment of inescapable ethical and material conflict within society, distrust of power, faith in human progress, and respect for people regardless of whatever they think and whoever they are.” However, in recent times, liberalism as a life force and a world system has been largely diminished as a result of big government, high taxes, and imperialism overseas, thus leaving the homeland vulnerable to corruption, decay, and radicals of both populist and Marxist orientation. The most fundamental choice we are faced with is determining the nature of our society.

As Karl Popper once wrote, there are two types of societies. On one hand, there are closed societies that are “magical or tribal or collectivist” by nature, and on the other hand there are open societies based on individualism and choice. Only a handful of societies have evolved from being a closed society vexed by magic, tribalism, and collectivism to an open society based on individualism and choice. Moreover, most of the societies we deem as open are situated in the Western world. Evolution and progress are slow, and if we are to expect the rest of the world to adopt Western values such as freedom and liberty, these values cannot be imposed by sudden force, as was attempted in the early 21st century by the neoconservative establishment here in the United States.

Thus, liberalism is an incredibly fragile world system, and it is constantly under threat from within and from the outside unless a basic sense of awareness arises which in turn sustains such a fragile world system. Our duty and responsibility as citizens, thinkers, and writers is to spread that sense of awareness so that this incredibly fragile world system does not falter. If we actually fulfill our duty as citizens, writers, and thinkers in preserving this incredibly fragile world system, in turn we would actually be preserving and upholding the highest of our most basic human ideals and values, namely, faith, hope, and progress.

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