Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Rights of Man and Liberalism

"The extension of an order of peace beyond the small purpose-oriented organization became thus possible by the extension of purpose-independent ('formal') rules of just conduct to the relations with other men who did not pursue the same concrete ends or hold the same values except those abstract rules - rules which did not impose obligations for particular actions (which always presuppose a concrete end) but consisted solely in prohibitions from infringing the protected domain of each which these rules enable us to determine. Liberalism is therefore inseparable from the institution of private property which is the name we usually give to the material part of this protected individual domain." F. A. Hayek, "The Principles of a Liberal Social Order, " September 1, 1966

Much has changed since 1966. Liberalism is still on the march, having won its staring contest with Marxism just over a decade ago. However, many challenges still remain.

In order to realize how the words of Adam Smith and of Hayek concern the spread of liberty and its sustainability, we must remember its beginnings in the modern world, and its growth.

Private property is inseparable from liberalism. So says the learned; however, evidence of this can be found in the first major spurt of classical liberalism in the modern age. In 1763, the horrific and world-wide Seven Years War came to a close. Tens of thousands were dead, strewn across the different continents on both land and sea. The Constitutionalist, but Rowdy king of England, George III needed the currency to pay off the massive war debts that his nation had acquired fighting the French.

The jewels of the British Empire were its Thirteen American colonies, which supplied the Isles with tobacco, indigo, cotton, corn, lumber, and other massively important goods. Britain came out from a Civil War and an attempted invasion by the Spanish Crown the most powerful nation in Europe. Their first permanent settlement in the New World was Jamestowne, founded in 1607. Since then, the British expanded and acquired the smaller colonies of New Netherland and New Sweden.

By 1763, things were in full swing. The mercantilist system had served the Crown well, and grew richer by the day, despite the debt. The monarchy had just gained Canada from the Catholic French, including its massive supplies of furs and timber. These supplies would create an even more austere trading situation, as British interests spread into Jamaica, India, and Africa.

But how to pay for all of this? Great Britain still entailed that nagging war debt. Since the colonies contained so much coin and resources, perhaps the payment of this debt could be sped forward. Taxes soon appeared in America after the passage by Parliament. Taxes on tea, taxes on newspapers, taxes on everything.

The American colonists, being students of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Burke, whether knowingly or not, would not stand for the suspension or restrictions on their right to trade. The fundamental rights and privileges of life, liberty, and property were enshrined in the hearts, minds, and souls of the colonists, many of whose ancestors came to escape persecution or the unjust lack of property.

The words of Montesquieu, Descartes, and Smith, as well as those mentioned above, served to remind the few that wanted to hear it how the world was destined for so much more, if only the last vestiges of the feudal system and mercantilism could be thrown off and replaced by liberty; true liberty. Many are called liberals today that do not realize the great meaning and responsibility of that title. The rights of representative governments, inalienable rights, and that of property, otherwise known as the pursuit of happiness were forefront and vital.

So the Yanks would not take it, but went forward aggressively while diplomatically. The King and Parliament were petitioned, told of the grievances that the Colonists had to suffer at the hands of the British legislation. Many entreaties were made many times, however, in almost all English corners, it fell on deaf ears. Edmund Burke, the great Scottish thinker, heard them and broadcast them to the House of Commons, but they also were deaf.

In America, thinkers of our own rose up to articulate our concerns and needs. Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense expressing the feelings of those under the British yoke in words for the common man, while not betraying the intellectual basis for his pamphlet and feelings. Firebrand of Virginia Patrick Henry shouted to the legislature: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Allow it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death” These words, along with Paine’s, helped stoke the flames of American patriotism, of rebellion to outside authority bent on denying their rights.

Free trade and liberalism went hand in hand in causing the American Revolution. Man finally learned to put nothing before his God-given rights, and the words of Hayek could be heard echoing in that past. The shots at Lexington and Concord shouted “Don’t tread on me!”

This is just one example of how Hayek’s words are golden, even before they were spoken. Truths are truths, no matter when.

Even today these lessons live on as strong as ever. Look no further than the collapse of Marxism throughout Europe, the Soviet Union, and Mongolia. Liberalism spreads like wildfire, spreading with it hope and the inherent freedom it enables.

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1 comment:

Editor said...

Perhaps liberalism 300 years meant one thing, but today it means big government, and that peoples only get rights from the government not God.

Conservatism is 100% in line with the founding fathers view of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happyness (property), liberalism is 100% against that.

Conservatism is freedom, liberalism is closely related to its ugly sisters marxism, socialism, and communism today.

Perhaps liberal in meaning means something, but the liberalism in practice today is closer to communism then freedom my friend.

Only Conservatism can bring real freedom.