Needed: A New Era of Classical Liberalism

Classical liberal thinker and economist Ludwig von Mises (author of “Human Action” and “Socialism”) wrote the following nearly a century ago:

Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous and habit forming drugs. But once a principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music?

Because none of today’s leaders think in principle — only in narrow specifics — this is the argument being lost. The argument is that of classical liberalism. “Liberalism” in the original sense meant minimal government. It was the underlying attitude and philosophy of the American founders and its early leaders, most notably Thomas Jefferson.

Classical liberalism enjoyed only a brief moment of glory before it was eclipsed by the modern “progressive” idea of the state as all things to all people. America has endured a War on Poverty, which resulted in only more (and permanent) poverty for the people it was supposed to help; a War on Drugs, which resulted in probably greater demand for drugs, not to mention impairing the ability of our federal government to fight real threats, like terrorists; and the War on whatever happens to be the political clichof the moment.

Tens of trillions of dollars in debt later, and there’s still no end in sight for all that the “benevolent providence” of Democratic-Republican Big Government seeks to provide. There’s really little left for government to restrict, subsidize or otherwise control — other than our books, our websites, our television, movies and plays … will those be next?

And don’t you dare say, “It can’t happen here.” I hear Democrats screaming about the need to “Hush Rush.” It’s for our own good, they claim, to use the FCC to restrict what they consider hateful speech. I hear Republicans screaming about the need to force adults into unwanted parenthood, and to prevent gay people from having the private associations of their own choosing.

Each special interest gang wants to inhibit the liberty of the other. Economic liberty is almost completely dead in practice, and long ago perished in principle. I hear nobody defending liberty — all liberty — on principle.

Too few Americans grasp the principle that the government big enough to control and regulate one thing will soon be big and strong enough to control everything else. Today’s “progressives” scream that the government should stay out of the womb and the bedroom, but they have no problem with the government reaching into the doctor’s office, the bank account and just about everywhere else.

Ludwig von Mises is an unsung hero of intellectual history and economics. Even a century ago he understood that Big Government — designed for any purpose — inevitably leads to few or no liberties.

We desperately need a new era of classical liberalism. Good government should be judged as the government which does the least. People will be responsible for their own lives and their own destinies. “Cruel and unkind” not to use government to spend other people’s money, you say? Well, watch what happens when all that money runs out. Watch what happens when taxes go up to 80 and 90 percent, just to fund Medicare. Watch what happens when there are fewer and fewer rich people to demonize and tax. The fake money machine cannot run up its debt indefinitely. At that point, Americans will continue to blame the political party of their choosing. But they will only have themselves to blame.