The View From 1776

Whence Came the Liberals?

      http://www.thomasbrewton.com/index.php/weblog/whence_came_the_liberals/

Liberal-socialism is a 19th century ideology that afflicted the United States long after The Declaration of independence and the writing of our Constitution.

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A reader emailed the following:

“Enjoyed your article Who Are the Moral Free Riders?? Seems there is a lot of misinformation about the origins of things.? PBS in its Education?History?program only traces back to Jefferson, ignoring any colonial efforts towards education.? The Catholic split shows that the “public” school was in fact too Protestant.?
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Do you have any thoughts about the origins of liberal thought in the colonies.? It seems that the Puritains?held the?work ethic, the Jamestown speculators used indentured servants and slaves, and the Pennsylvania seems to be the pluralistic colony under William Penn.? Pennsylvania is?said to have?even been?a haven to the displaced Indians.? Where would the liberals fit in prior to Jefferson?”

My reply:

Thanks very much for your interest.

I don’t believe that there were any significant numbers of liberals in the colonies prior to Jefferson, and I wouldn’t call him a liberal in the sense that the word is used today.

As you may be aware, the word liberal has been hijacked by the socialists.  The original liberals were people like Adam Smith and Edmund Burke.  The word was then literally descriptive: Smith, Burke, and contemporary Americans like Adams and Jefferson, believed that the government that governs least is the best government.  The free market-place and laissez-faire were original liberalism in England, becoming dominant in the decades before 1776 (which coincidentally is the publication date for Adam Smith’s famous “Wealth of Nations.”)  In our War of Independence, this liberalism, harking back to John Locke and the 1689 English Glorious Revolution, held that any ruler who tramples upon the inalienable, natural-law rights of individuals to life, liberty, and private property (“no taxation without representation”) has thereby forfeited his right to rule.

The hallmark of the original liberalism upon which England’s constitution and our own were based is that the ruler is always subject to the laws of God and Nature’s God, as Jefferson put it in the Declaration.  In contrast, modern-day liberal-socialists hold that this is selfish greediness, that the only proper mode of political organization is to socialize all individual property in order to produce equal distribution of wealth, which theoretically brings perfection to human life.  Liberals dismiss God and declare that their own ideology is superior.

After the Civil War, when big, interstate business came into existence, the Progressive movement absorbed the secular humanism of Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity and its concepts of secular justice, via people like John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin (another coincidence: Mill’s and Darwin’s best known works were both published in 1859).  God, spiritual religion, and timeless morality (in the sense, for example, of the Ten Commandments) were dismissed as unscientific ignorance, to be replaced by the intellectual concepts of human regulatory councils who would define the ways people were to conduct their daily lives in order to perfect human society.

The Progressive movement, of which Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were more or less exemplars, merged officially with the American Socialist party in the 1920s, creating today’s liberal-socialists.

In that regard, see:

The Decline of Western Civilization: Explanatory Notes - Part Four

How Socialists Stole Liberalism

What is Liberalism?

Who Are the Liberal-Socialists?

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