[b:a12ca2e1a3][u:a12ca2e1a3]On Classical Liberalism, the Enlightenment and Humanism[/u:a12ca2e1a3]
An acquaintance of mine some years back, first name-Anthony, loved to insist that his political philosophy was Classical Liberalism. I often found this absurd because Anthony was a Republican who favored George W. Bush’s "American-interests" interventualism in the Middle East, Capital Punishment, capitalism, and other mainly conservative or neo-conservative (or fascist) ideals.
His argument was that modern Liberalism (New Deal Liberalism or Social Democracy), with its Democratic (capital ‘D’) economic and social ideals, were an abandonment of Enlightenment politics - of which both of us being atheists, perhaps of the humanist kind, held dear. Anthony never called himself a conservative, never mind a neo-conservative or fascist, and tried to convince me that my form of Liberalism was wrongheaded.
As I was, at the time, a Social Democrat, he might have been right. Today, I see social democracy as a humanistic band-aid to cover the wounds of capitalism and state authoritarianism for a short while - long enough to fool some into thinking things have gotten better, but not long enough to turn away conservatives, neo-conservatives and fascists for all time. In short, it was and is impossible to maintain, as it is still authoritarian, elitist by control, and meant to mask a real disease underneath (capitalism). Recall, FDR said the New Deal saved capitalism. But is capitalism worth saving?
To me, it seemed then - and now - that conservatives and Right-Libertarians have appropriated Classical Liberalism (the politics of the Enlightenment) for themselves. They get away with it (superficially. and with most Americans whom, after all, only think superficially), because Classical Liberalism seems to better "fit" conservatism or Right-Libertarianism than it does the New Deal Democrats or Social Democrats (both born of state socialist and state capitalist ideals).
Because these two advocate for ‘big government’ in just the way Conservatives (small government and big military) and Right-Libertarians (absolutely unrestricted free market) argue they do. And although big government can sometimes lead to humanistic reforms like Social Security and, perhaps one day, national health care as in Europe and Canada, it often cannot survive the ups and downs of the market, the corruptness of capitalism and/or escape the authoritarianism of state socialism/state capitalism.
So, was Classical Liberalism, a philosophy certainly not like big government state socialism or state capitalism, ever the same thing as conservatism (of any variety), or of Right-Libertarianism?
Noam Chomsky (a scholar Anthony despised, it seems to me, because Chomsky speaks the truth on this issue), talks about Classical Liberalism in a short book (based on a 1970 talk) called Government in the Future. For the record, many others speak to this as well from Michael Albert to Ted Honderich to Takis Fotopoulos to Stephen Bronner, etc.
He points out that…
"the modern conservative tends to regard himself as the lineal decedent of the classical liberal. But I think that can be only maintained from an extremely superficial point of view, as one can see by studying more carefully the fundamental ideas of classical libertarian thought ... one must say (after doing their homework), that classical liberal ideas in their essence, though not in the way they (wound up being) developed, are profoundly anti-capitalistic. The essence of these ideas must be destroyed for them to serve as an ideology of modern industrial capitalism. Its (classical liberalism) doctrine is that state functions should be drastically limited, but this familiar characterization is a very superficial one. More deeply, the classical liberal view develops from a certain concept of human nature, one that stresses the importance of diversity and free creation (among other things), and therefore this view is in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism with its wage slavery, its alienated labor, and its hierarchic and authoritarian principles of social and economic organization ... classical libertarian thought (Enlightenment thought) is opposed to the concepts of possessive individualism that are intrinsic to capitalist ideology. For this reason, classical liberal thought seeks to eliminate social fetters and to replace them with social bonds, and not with competitive greed, predatory individualism, and not, of course, with corporate empires - state or private. Classical, libertarian thought seems to me, therefore, to lead directly to libertarian-socialism, or anarchism if you like ... (As for the free market), as Karl Polanyi, for one, has pointed out, the self-adjusting market ‘could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.’"
So it seems that the American Founding Fathers - and their Enlightenment counterpart and later philosophers (Hume, Kant, Mill, Marx, Paine, Humboldt, Rousseau & Bakunin) - saw a sort of Classical Liberalism which would not lead to Conservatism or American Libertarianism (right-libertarianism) any more than to state socialism or state capitalism in the New Deal or Swedish form (the latter kinds being efforts to humanize the former).
No, indeed, classical liberalism (based on the Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, etc) leads directly to libertarian-socialism.*
To those "humanists" who think the Enlightenment was only about reason vs. religion, recall that it was also about these things. To the extent that modern humanism is based on Enlightenment principles, it must reject conservative politics and economics. It must, once it has done that, reject modern Liberal or state socialist/communist politics as well. It must reject capitalism and it must also reject Right-Libertarianism as there is no such thing as a truly free-market - even the conservatives and Right-Libertarians know this, they just say otherwise.
Enlightenment humanism is one which is libertarian-socialist as far as politics and economics are concerned. Based on what we know of human nature, from our experience and intuitions to humanism’s self-defining egalitarianism, humanists should embrace a definition of their philosophy which is internally consistent with all of this; that is, "Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy, informed by scientific naturalism, wherein human society is founded on non-hierarchal, democratic principles. Humanism promotes individual freedom, mutual cooperation, equitable allocation of natural and artifical resources, and the guaranteed opportunity for all people to reach their full potentials."
PS: I fully understand that Humanist Manifesto I and II (the two defining documents of modern humanism) advocate for a statist solution (I is more socialist and II is open to markets and a regulated capitalism), as they were products of the 20th century. Kurtz’s Manifesto 2000 is even more friendly to markets, capitalism and social democracy as Kurtz also is a product of the 20th century. Still, the many messages IN the manifestos seem to call for a better system than these. I think its time for humanism to move into the 21st century, become radical again, and take off the statist training wheels. 21st Century humanism should become Libertarian-Socialist.[/b:a12ca2e1a3]