Hats off to Sheldon Richman of the Foundation for Economic Education for his essay “I, Liberal” on true liberalism.
The bastardization of a great idea has long been a sore spot for me, to which this post from last year will attest:
Coercion is opposed to true liberalism
The heart of the matter is this lament from over a century ago by Herbert Spencer: “How is it that Liberalism … has grown more and more coercive in legislation?”
Before the word was hijacked in the Progressive Era … a liberal supported private property, free markets, and the rule of law as a bulwark against the state. The words “liberal” and “liberty” obviously share the same root. They originate in the Latin word for “free.”
Richman goes on to quote from The Economist of Nov. 4 as well as Spencer, who worked at The Economist in the 19th century. Here’s The Economist on “what liberalism used to mean”:
The idea, with its roots in English and Scottish political philosophy of the 18th century, speaks up for individual rights and freedoms,and challenges over-mighty government and other forms of power. In that sense, traditional English liberalism favoured small government — but, crucially, it viewed a government’s efforts to legislate religion and personal morality as sceptically as it regarded the attempt to regulate trade ….
Spencer wrote, and I think it’s worth repeating that this was well over a century ago, that
it seems needful to remind everybody what Liberalism was in the past, that they may perceive its unlikeness to the so-called Liberalism of the present. … They have lost sight of the truth that in past times Liberalism habitually stood for individual freedom versus State-coercion.