Nothing could be further from classical liberalism than the American "liberalism" of today. The two are polar opposites. Classical liberalism is about the flourishing of the individual and the community through the free action of individuals. Modern liberalism is about government deciding what is good for the individual and imposing its decisions by force. That is precisely what Adam Smith and all the great classical liberals opposed.
The slogan of modern liberlism is "equality", meaning not equality of opportunity but forced equality of outcome. In practice that amounts to efforts by government to hobble the more energetic and intelligent members of society so that that they don't reap "unjust" rewards. The inevitable result is the triumph of the lazy, the stupid and the mediocre. Let me modify that a bit. Under "liberalism" energetic and intelligent people do triumph, but they do so by demagoguery and dishonesty rather than by acting for the benefit of all.
Modern liberalism suffers from several problems. One is the question of legitimacy. Why should a particular class, say Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Alan Wolfe, and the faculties of the elite universities rule the rest of us? Is Nancy a countesss? Is Alan a duke?
Another problem is that the lust for leveling will likely destroy our society economically. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Affirmative action/political correctness has trashed most of the humanities and social science departments in American universities. But hitherto math and physical science have for most part part escaped unscathed. But since the election of you- know-who the feminist mafia smells blood. They are demanding quotas in math and the hard sciences. You don’t have to have a Larry Summers size IQ to see where that will lead.
What Wolfe doesn’t understand is just how fragile are the achievements of western civilization and how large is the threat posed to those achievements by the Orwellian perversion of the definition of the liberalism.
April 15, 2009 4:00 AM
Update: From Jonah Goldberg.