The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism
Chapter 6: The Soul of Classical Liberalism
6. The soul of classical liberalism* . . . the bizarre fact that alone among the great political currents, liberalism has no ideology. Anthony de Jasay, 1997 INTRODUCTION During the ideologically dark days of the 1950s, my colleague Warren Nutter often referred to ‘saving the books’ as the minimal objective of like-minded classical liberals. F.A. Hayek, throughout a longlife career, effectively broadened this objective to that of ‘saving the ideas.’ In a certain sense, both of these objectives have been achieved; the books are still being read, and the ideas are more widely understood than they were a half-century past. My thesis here is that, despite these successes, we have, over more than a century, failed to ‘save the soul’ of classical liberalism. Books and ideas are, of course, necessary, but alone they are not sufficient to insure the viability of effectively free societies. I hope that my thesis provokes interest along several dimensions. I shall try to respond in advance to the obvious questions. What do I mean by the soul of classical liberalism? And what is intended when I say that there has been a failure to save this soul during the whole socialist epoch? Most important, what can, and should, be done now by those of us who self-referentially qualify? Finally, I relate the argument to an understanding of the ‘soul’ of the Mont Pelerin Society, with implications for the Society’s purpose in the new century. SCIENCE, SELF-INTEREST AND SOUL The first George Bush, sometime during his presidency, derisively referred...
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