The Green Papers Commentary
 

OF LIBERTIES, RIGHTS AND POWERS (Part THREE)
Just how far is too far--
in the battle
for America's hearts and minds? (chapter A)

Friday, June 9, 2006

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

Americans had always regarded their country as morally superior to other countries. In an inarticulate way they thought of the New World as a place set apart by God until such time as people were ready to discard medieval ways and adopt a simpler, more natural form of society. The United States, in particular, was young, virtuous, progressive; and, as all Americans knew, she had a mission: the sacred mission of preserving her institutions as a beacon of hope for all mankind. For Americans still envisaged their Revolution as a turning point in the long, dismal history of man; before 1776 the road had been rough and dusty, apparently leading nowhere, but after that year it veered sharply toward a future that was bright.

CHARLES S. CAMPBELL
from THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN FOREIGN RELATIONS: 1865-1900

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The crisis of the individual arises out of the crisis of liberal democracy, a form of society built on the recognition of man's right to liberty, personal identity and moral responsibility. This crisis, in turn, is part of the crisis of a changing social order whose drives may lead to greater liberty, or to an absolute state whose power-needs destroy liberty. True, liberal democracy has not fully promoted libertarian values, and that is one cause of the crisis. But this is also true: it provides the freedoms and mechanisms that can be used to rid itself of injustices and correct maladjustments.

LEWIS COREY
Essay: 'ECONOMIC PLANNING WITHOUT STATISM: Planning in the Framework of Liberty'-- from EUROPEAN IDEOLOGIES: Feliks Gross, ed.

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Put aside, for purposes of this Commentary, the question of whether or not it is even possible to have government-overseen economic planning without at least some form of Statism (the answer to which depends largely on how one defines the very term 'Statism': many of you reading this, doubtless, see what they would call small-'s' [more or less benign] "statism" as merely what most political observers and economic analysts refer to as the so-called "Social Welfare State" or "the Mixed Economy" [that is: a mixture of Libertarian Capitalism and Democratic Socialism]; others of you reading this piece would opine that what they see as capital-'S' [largely malignant] Statism is nothing less than the very essence of Soviet Communism [or, at the very least, a journey well along the path to same], as Libertarian Capitalism cannot possibly coexist with Socialism- that is: there can be no state-based economic planning at all within "the Framework of Liberty" [to borrow the subhead of Lewis Corey's essay from which I have quoted above] and that even minimal Social Welfare, in any event, is- in the main- something less than democratic and certainly not at all republican [something with which the first group of readers I cited might well disagree]-- and, doubtless, there will be many readers of this piece who would view either of these two views, as I have stated them, as extremes) and please note that, regardless of which side of the issues mentioned in the preceding long parenthetical statement the reader happens to be on (and exactly where on one's particular side one happens to be), this Commentary is not the place for me to now get in the middle of that particular argument!

Corey went on to opine, in his essay from which I have quoted above, that such "liberal democracy" (which I have, in my own Commentaries for this website, called either "Republican Democracy" or, where necessary in order to include constitutional monarchies with democratic political systems, "Constitutionalist Democracy") faces four basic dangers: first, from what he called "the diehards of capitalist 'economic individualism' " (Corey argued that true laissez-faire capitalism had given way, by the end of World War II, to what he termed "monopoly capitalism that limits or destroys economic freedom as well as human liberty"); next, from Fascism which he defined as having been "spawned by a liberal democracy not wholly clean of feudal survivals, racial discrimination and hatreds, and by monopoly reaction against liberty" (to Corey, Fascism represented "a frustration of progressive social change" [italics his], "a total negation of individual liberty, dignity and self-development" and was merely "barbarism in scientific, technological modern dress").

The third threat to Liberal (what I would call Constitutionalist) Democracy, according to Corey, is that from Communism, which he perceived as "a perversion of progressive social change [again, italics his]" that "arose out of an earlier socialism that throbbed with passion for greater social justice and liberty" but only ended up creating a polity which merely "destroys liberty and degrades the individual" (much like Fascism), "a society in which the people move and have their being exclusively in the state". And, finally, the fourth threat to his "liberal democracy", is that from what Corey considered a "more subtle danger": "the drift of an increasing number of 'liberals' toward totalitarian ideas. These liberals, in their rejection of free enterprise, also reject, or at least belittle, the libertarian values identified with free enterprise". Corey accused these, whom he referred to as "totalitarian liberals", of being people who "think and act as if the final answer to all problems of social change is a constant enlargement of state power. They increase the danger of submergence of the individual in an all-inclusive statism".

Say what you might about Corey's analysis and whether or not it might still apply now nearly six decades after he first wrote it back in 1948, my own immediate thought upon reading it is that his warning is at least partially lost to us today because of the way we Americans ourselves, at times quite casually, bandy about the terms "conservative" and "liberal" nowadays in early 21st Century political discourse: it is almost as if, while in the rather thick fog generated by excessive polarization between the lowest common denominator definitions of what is "conservative" and who is a "liberal", we in the vortex of the argument can't honestly know what a "liberal" (or, for that matter, a "conservative") actually is!

Thus, I find it most interesting that, in his discussion of the fourth and final danger to what I myself call Constitutionalist Democracy, Corey- at first- places the word "liberal" within quotation marks, and I see far more in his having done so than a mere dismissal- with a simple wave of his hand- of the "totalitarian liberals" of his rather oxymoronic nomenclature: instead, I see a recognition- on Corey's part- that, by the year 1948 in which he was writing, the term "liberal"- despite its already widespread political usage in contradistinction to the term "conservative"- no longer meant what it once did.

Nowadays, in the year 2006, it seems even less so!

In order to fully understand the word "liberal" and, perhaps, then- if only in the context of this Commentary- rescue the term from both those on the Left who so boldly claim the word "liberal" for themselves while, at the same time, denigrating the very Liberty the concept of "liberalism" originally championed and those many conservative pundits and politicians who have, in their Rightist zeal, drowned the word "liberal" deep within a veritable "pea soup" of rather mindless pejoration (it is these on the Right who would argue that Corey's fourth danger transmogrifying into his third is an inevitable by-product of "liberalism" in and of itself whilst conveniently forgetting that extreme forms of their own views might well lead to the first two of Corey's dangers), we have to first understand from whence the term "liberal" came (as well as to what those who took on this label were opposed)-- we also have to understand from what the term "conservative" originally derived: only then can one fully understand the essence of that "liberal democracy" Lewis Corey sought to warn against the four dangers to it he perceived.

The term "liberal" in its original meaning and sense had, despite the rantings (where not also ravings) of many a conservative anti-academic (these being those who blame that which they most strongly decry in modern American society principally on Liberal Arts studies and its professors), nothing whatsoever to do with the vagaries of modern Politics and is, nowadays, perhaps best seen in the term Liberal Arts (as in "College of Liberal Arts", the one-time name of the college within Boston University from which I myself received my bachelor's degree now nearly three decades ago). Liberal Arts, meanwhile, is, quite simply, a direct translation from the Latin Artes Liberales- literally, "the works of a free man": in other words, "arts" (which, in the Middle Ages, also had the connotation of "fields of study") of which a "free man" (who, in the Middle Ages, was- by definition- a person of relatively "high" birth and social status and, hence, no little wealth- usually in the form of [real] property) was expected to have knowledge: originally, the Quadrivium of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music and the Trivium of Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic.

Hence, the term "liberal"- were this word to have been used to describe someone back in the Middle Ages- would originally have been used to indicate, quite literally, a freeman (and, in those days, always a man!) as opposed to, say, a serf/peasant working land actually owned by his local lord of the manor.

Nowadays, of course, a Liberal Arts course of study is intended to imbue the college or university student with a more general knowledge of the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences- together embracing a far larger catalog of such "arts" than that of the medieval university (for instance, in the Boston U. I myself attended back in the mid-1970s, these three larger branches of knowledge each had 7 fields of study: thus, there were a grand total of 21 possible Majors from which the student in CLA [the abbreviation for our College within B.U.] could choose): it is this, then, that is the modern equivalent of that "study worthy of a free person" the term Liberal Arts was, and still is, meant to express and the term itself has nothing whatsoever to do with Liberalism as a political or sociocultural philosophy (though it is interesting for me to observe that my CLA has had its name changed by Boston University to CAS [for College of Arts and Sciences] and one cannot help but wonder just how much this change was, indeed, a response to baser political pressure on the parts of those who inadvertently misunderstood- or, for that matter, purposely misstated- the real reason for the term "liberal" in the college's previous name).

As can easily be seen in the discussion so far, the "freedom" and "liberty" which flowed from the medieval concept of a "freeman" were rather limited in both scope and dissemination among the populace by the rules and regulations of the all-encompassing Feudalism of the age, an age of hereditary and other artificial, where not also arbitrary, hierarchies established throughout Western Christendom. It was an age in which the rules and regulations of state were made and enforced by kings and princes who ruled by Divine Right assisted by a clergy that preached a God who fairly smiled upon this order: relations between king and baron, lord and serf, burgesses and Crown, were quite strictly regulated by law and custom, though such laws and customs were not necessarily enforced at all fairly. Advancement within feudal society- what we today would call "upward mobility"- was, at best, difficult and, where heredity could not possibly be a factor, was achieved largely by currying favor with the powers-that-were or "marrying well": and much of this was, of course, open only to those already within at least the middling ranks of the higher classes, for this was a time during which the most intelligent peasant could not realistically dream of ever being considered to be of as high a station in society as even the dullest baronet.

The Protestant Reformation and the ensuing misnamed CounterReformation (which instead, indeed, well reformed Roman Catholicism from within) did virtually nothing to change the essential order of things either politically or socially: for example, a compromise between the competing Protestantisms of Luther and Calvin might well have led to the doctrine of cui regio eius religio ("whose is the territory, his be the religion") but the cui of the formulation would- at the start- be the ruler, not the ruled: thus, it would be the prince, and not the people- the king and not his subjects- who would, from now on in Protestant countries, determine just which religious denomination would become the established one in his realm (and it would be the ruler who would decide just how much toleration- or none at all- would be shown to those within his jurisdiction who failed to conform to the established sect).

As a result, these kings and princes freed from allegiance to the Papacy by their (note: not necessarily their subjects') adherence to Protestantism nonetheless continued to rule by Divine Right, establishing National Churches with themselves as temporal heads, while even those rulers who still remained Roman Catholic also adhered to the notion that, as their wearing of a crown was as much- if not more- ordained by God as their mere happening to have been sired by a predecessor or at least a predecessor's own progeny, their subjects (note well that these were not at all "citizens") should treat the ruler with the same reverence with which they were also expected to treat the Pope and especially God Himself (although a ruler who made a choice between Protestantism and Catholicism that was too out of line with the religious leanings of his subjects would find himself with a simmering cauldron of political and social difficulties that would make said subjects rather difficult to govern [a perfect example of this was the untenable relationship, in the late 16th Century, between the Catholic Habsburgs and the Protestants of the Netherlands they ruled]). "Hear, and Obey" were the primary watchwords of the day, not "hear, and discuss"-- and certainly not "hear, and dissent"! The Age of Feudalism, therefore, easily gave way- as the Medieval period was being succeeded by the Modern- to an Age of Absolutism: and it was to this very Absolutism that so-called "classical" (that is, the original form of) Liberalism was opposed as much as it was also an answer to the last dying embers of Feudalism itself.

L.T. Hobhouse, in his 1911 monograph entitled Liberalism, identified nine basic types of Liberty as the very essence of this "classical" Liberalism- these "liberties" being: civil, fiscal, personal, social, economic, domestic, administrative, international and political. Civil liberty is best expressed in the oft-used (as well as often misused) dictum providing for "a government of laws, and not of men"; thus, the very idea of civil liberty was a direct, frontal assault on one of the major tenets of Feudalism and its step-child, Absolutism: that the rulers (the "men" originally referred to in said dictum) could- as temporal agents (whether directly [king or prince] or indirectly [vassal or nobleman]) of the Almighty- almost by definition do no wrong and, therefore, the principal duty of the subjects of a ruler- at whatever level of feudal governance- was mere abject obedience. Against this concept was the Liberal idea, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that persons "are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"- an idea that, when seen against the feudal background, is a clear "shot across the bow" of political systems in which any and all liberty can only be had at the sufferance of the ruler; in addition, the notion that liberties can only be "secured" by "governments... deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" in that same Declaration is an obvious "slap in the face" to the notion that the ruler governs of right as well as by grace of God (along with the concomitant notion that liberties may only flow from the ruler as the "fountainhead of Justice"): in classical Liberalism, the tables are, indeed, turned-- for, as is clearly stated in the Declaration, it is the People who rule the rulers, rather than the other way round, and it is the People who hold their Rights by grace of God (or, if you will, Providence or- for that matter- Nature itself).

Fiscal liberty is best described with the famous American dictum of "No Taxation without Representation". Personal liberty includes those rights which together might best be considered as "Freedom of Mind", the classic formulation of which is seen in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, one which allows for "no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...": thus, in classical Liberalism, no man could be compelled to think what either a religious or political institution might wish him to think; he could freely exchange his profoundest thoughts with his fellows-- or not-- pretty much unfettered (subject only to largely unwritten rules of interpersonal comity and public decency, as well as the requirement that he speak or write the truth, or at least his own reasonable opinion as to the truth, of a given matter under discussion). Social liberty is the notion that established class structures or advantages due to heredity still firmly entrenched within the post-feudal social fabric were to be prohibited: as far as Law and governance was concerned, "all men" were, indeed, "created equal". Closely related to this is economic liberty, in which freedom of association (perhaps best seen as it is stated in the First Amendment already referred to, in which one has the freedom "peacefully to assemble" [or not assemble] with whomever one chose) was applied to the largely unfettered formation of business organizations with little, if any, government regulation and interference; the old feudal socioeconomic relationships implied by, for example, vassalage were no longer to be considered valid.

Domestic liberty is, in turn, closely related to economic liberty and includes the concept that, above all, Marriage is a contract between the marital partners no less than those contracts which are part and parcel of the business relationships encouraged via economic liberty. Administrative liberty is an idea best expressed in the term Self-Determination and this, in turn, was to become an important concept behind both, on the global scale, the independence of Nation-States and, on the local scale, the concept of so-called "home rule". International liberty, although related to the independence of Nation-States implied by Self-Determination, is actually the notion that such Nation-States, although politically independent, are- nevertheless- also economically interdependent: Capitalism, the economic system engendered by classical Liberalism, depends on the relatively uninterrupted flow of goods and services between one polity and another. Finally, there is political liberty, best expressed in the concept of Popular Sovereignty: the idea that society- along with its governing institutions- is solely of, by and for the People (to here borrow Abraham Lincoln's famous phrasing from his Gettysburg Address): in a sense, political liberty brings us full circle back to the very first of the nine liberties claimed by classical Liberalism- civil liberty.

There are a few observations to be made here about classical Liberalism as outlined by Hobhouse: the first, and perhaps most obvious, one being that- as is perhaps true of any attempt to so systematically define and organize politicoeconomic principles underlying any society- it contains more than its fair share of inherent contradictions. To here take just one example: economic liberty combined with international liberty implies goods and services freely crossing borders, yet administrative liberty combined with political liberty implies that the People on one side of that border, besides having the freedom to not purchase what might be offered them, also have the sovereign power to- by law, if necessary- forbid outright the sale of such items. Thus, the very essence of Politics within classical Liberalism is- only as it relates to this example by way of illustration, of course- explained largely by the terms of the debate- if not also battle!- over which should prevail: the right of a business on one side of the border to sell something on the other side of that border, or the right of the People on the other side to not have said "something" sold within their own jurisdiction; either position can theoretically be justified on the basis of the principles of classical Liberalism!

Secondly, it has to be fairly understood that what "classical" Liberalism might have been, in the 18th Century that gave it birth, was not necessarily all of what it was to become, even in the early 20th Century in which Hobhouse himself was writing: that is, there are clear differences between what the nine liberties heretofore noted originally implied and what they came to imply over time-- a few rather obvious examples follow:

Personal liberty originally only applied, at its fullest, to men of property (and, yes, it was almost always men- despite the clear implication within the concept of domestic liberty that women should have the same property rights as men, at least within a marital relationship)- that is, Real Property [land]: those without a freehold in real estate were not deemed, even in classical Liberalism, to at all even need Representation (which, in its original concept, meant representation principally in the legislative branch of government), since taxation- in the 18th Century- primarily consisted of levies against the value of said property (sales, excise and income taxes being, for the most part, more modern innovations: since, by very definition, only men of property needed to vote in such a polity, poll taxes were also seen as taxes on property, albethey indirectly so).

Meanwhile, as regards social liberty in 18th century Liberalism, there was no pretense whatsoever as to there also being a concomitant social equality: the same freedom of association protected by the First Amendment (as noted earlier in this piece) permitted a group of equal gentlemen to keep others who were, under the law, equally gentlemen (for, in the classical Liberal formulation, all free men [the "liberales" themselves] were "gentlemen", not just the nobility) out of their private political and social organizations, even where the religion or race of these "others" was simply not at all to their liking. The notion that "just because we're equals under Law does not mean you are not inferior to me in other spheres!" was perfectly acceptable within the original 18th century formulation of classical Liberalism. In addition, as the American experiment with Constitutional Democracy was to, at least during its first "four score and seven years", so clearly show, classical Liberalism did not, in and of itself, at all prohibit Slavery!

As with social liberty, economic liberty did not at all imply economic equality: a social class structure organized under Law might well have been verboten in classical Liberalism, but even the most disparate differences between freely-achieved economic classes were allowed and, to at least some extent, even encouraged!: the key here is that "upward mobility" (the idea that a man of the poorest birth potentially joining the circle of the most wealthy during the course of his adulthood without the artificial obstacles of what amounted to a caste system having been placed in his way) was, in fact, a major element of classical Liberalism (and, indeed, was actually the most effective "dagger plunged into the heart" of a dying Feudalism in which poverty was ever to be an obstacle to even the most diligent among the poor), yet it was not seen as the job of the state to directly facilitate such upward mobility but merely to indirectly allow the intelligent, hard-working man to rise above his humble beginnings through his own wits and effort (thus, artificial obstacles to upward mobility created by excessive governmental economic regulation were to be verboten as well: what governmental economic regulation there might be was, within classical 18th century Liberalism, solely dedicated to more easily allowing the free flow of goods and operation of services [at least within a given jurisdiction], rather than impede it simply because some other sphere of the economy, or even another socioeconomic class, might happen to be suffering under the vagaries of the free marketplace).

But perhaps the most important difference between classical Liberalism as it first emerged and what it was to evolve into over the ensuing years, decades and centuries was the fact that, for the most part, these nine liberties were, in the 18th Century, viewed as being more "reactive" than "proactive"- where a "proactive" liberty entails the right of a person to do something, while a "reactive" liberty entails the right of a person to not have something done to a him or her (that is, the liberty itself acts as a restraint on others who might otherwise interfere with the free application of that liberty). In a sense, this "proactive" versus "reactive" application of the nine liberties is at least somewhat akin to the difference between "passive" and "active" politicolegal elements I have already discussed in a previous installment of this series of my Commentaries.

As time went on, the nine liberties of classical Liberalism tended to become at least somewhat more proactive (and, therefore, less reactive) and many- if not most- of the political battles within Liberal (or, if you will, Constitutional) Democracy, as it evolved throughout the 19th and 20th Century, involved just how reactive or proactive a given liberty applied to a particular social or economic (or even cultural) situation should be.

And this certainly remains true down to the present day!

To use, as an all too obvious example, a rather controversial issue of the day here in the United States of America even as I write this: the proponents of permitting legal Gay Marriage hereabouts argue that, as Marriage is a contract freely entered into by the parties to said relationship (an essential element of what Hobhouse defined as domestic liberty), a State of this Union not allowing some consenting adults to enter into such a contract, while- at the same time- allowing many other consenting adults to do so, is a violation of a person's (regardless of his or her sexual orientation) inherent "right to" enter into said marriage contract (hence, here we have a proactive application of said domestic liberty-- and one that is, at its heart, no more proactive than a heterosexual asserting his or her right to enter into a marriage contract).

[Here, if only for the record, is the constitutional form of the above argument here in America: that- as the reason a State (which is, after all, a secular- and not a religious- entity) is permitted to regulate Marriage is 1. because the Church (a term which, despite its innate Christian origin, also includes- as a legal/constitutional term of art- synagogue, or temple, or mosque, or ashram, etc.), which once governed Marriage under the English Law that is the legal inheritance of the USofA, is no longer established in America (the First Amendment- as well as the Constitutions of the States themselves- prohibiting such Establishment of Religion) and can, therefore, no longer govern Marriage as it relates to secular Law (after all, which religion's marital regulations would otherwise apply?) and 2. the only rational secular basis for such State regulation is to allow the State to protect the marital relationship between the two people who are so married- then a State denying one class of persons (homosexuals) the protection afforded by Marriage that said State yet allows to another class of persons (heterosexuals) is a violation of the admonition, within the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that [n]o State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The attempt by opponents of legalizing Gay Marriage in the USofA to have Congress adopt an Amendment to that same Constitution, by 2/3 vote in each house, disallowing any construction of the Constitution that would otherwise permit the practice and, thus, send it out for ratification by at least 3/4 of the constituent States of the American Union is in direct response to the above argument (an argument that said opponents see as merely the product of so-called "judicial activism" [even though, as I have just shown, the argument they so oppose is, indeed, clearly based on the actual text of the document itself- hence, not at all "activist": then again, the political definition of "judicial activism" hereabouts is but a populist degeneration of the technical definition of same used within the legal system itself])

In its original 18th century concept, however, domestic liberty was more "reactive" than it is perceived by most today (for even those to whom Marriage is only to be allowed between a man and a woman have a more "proactive" view of marital rights than was prevalent within Constitutionalist Democracy some two centuries ago), in that it was largely seen as protecting those in the marital relationship from something as much, if not more, than giving the married couple the right to do something. While, yes, the two people who wished to marry did, in fact, have the right to so marry (subject to legally-established limitations as to, for example, Age of Consent and, yes, the marriage had to be an intergender one), one of the principal purposes of the domestic liberty intrinsic to the marital contract was to protect the two who so wished to marry from, say, coercion (for instance: keep in mind that the formulation, which still survives as part of the so-called "traditional" wedding ceremony, to the effect of "if there be anyone who believes these two should not be joined in wedlock, let him speak now or forever hold his peace" was once an actual open invitation to someone of superior rank who had the legal power to prevent the marriage from even taking place).

The view that Marriage was a contract between only the two who were so married was, therefore, a direct, purposeful counterpoint to the older notion that persons other than the bride and groom (whether the father of the bride or even the lord of the manor who owned the land on which the couple lived and worked) might also be considered as at least ancillary parties to the marriage and this view (the "reactive" one: the marriage contract as a restraint against those who were no longer to be considered parties to it) was the more important within the earliest applications of classical Liberalism.

The fact that a marriage being a contract solely between the bride and groom also implied the freedom of the two to arrange their own marriage apart from any conditions which might otherwise be imposed by outsiders (that is, the "proactive" Right to Marry) was, originally, but a secondary consideration. Only once the old, feudal order had receded enough in time (and, thus, could no longer "rear its ugly head" as post-feudal society modernized) would the more "proactive" aspects of domestic liberty begin to come to the fore.

[In a way, then, the argument between the proponents and opponents of Gay Marriage currently ongoing here in the United States, and which I cited above in order to better illustrate my point, is as much a disagreement over the social, political and even cultural efficacy of "proactive" versus "reactive" forms of domestic liberty as it might be about whether homosexuals should legally be allowed to marry in the first place]

The examples I have stated above regarding the differences between the original conception of the liberties inherent within classical Liberalism and the later application of these liberites within the Liberal Democracy that would emerge therefrom are, of course, but the tip of the proverbial "iceberg" and are merely cited herein as illustrations of the fact that what the average American, today, might well perceive as his or her inherent "Right" (as I had first used that term back in Part ONE of this series of Commentaries) was not necessarily ever thus, going back to the very origins of the principles underlaying classical Liberalism (likewise, what the majority today might not see as at all part and parcel of a "liberty" as, say, outlined by Hobhouse- such as Gay Marriage, which the majority of Americans still clearly oppose in some form or fashion- may well, in future, yet become so seen).

Analogies can be drawn, utilizing the examples I have already cited, between the way any of the nine liberties might be perceived today and how a given liberty would have been seen differently in the earliest forms of classical Liberalism. Meanwhile, it is quite clear that those who would have been considered "liberal" as regards their political philosophy in the late 18th Century would, almost certainly, not be considered all that "liberal" nowadays and this much, at least, must be understood as I now turn to those who were to emerge as the principal opponents of classical Liberalism.

For it was true that Absolutism had just about run its principal course within the mainstream of Western History by the time the American Patriots began- however inadvertently at the start- to throw off the British yoke by firing their "shot heard round the world" beside Emerson's "rude bridge that arched the flood" in the Spring of 1775. L'etat c'est moi Louis XIV of France, perhaps the essence- if not the pinnacle- of the Age of Absolutism, had been dead for 60 years by then and his great-great-great grandson, Louis XVI- already on the French throne- while so soon to be formally allied with those upstart, nascent classical Liberal republicans across the Atlantic (if only because the war they had kicked off was well tying down Britain, at the time France's natural enemy and rival) was, not all that long thereafter to suffer his own dire fate at the hands of those of his subjects so well fired up by classical Liberalism's principles (however much, or little, of the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood were actually to be directly applied immediately in post-Revolutionary France).

Meanwhile, King George III of Great Britain was, by the mid-1770's which gave birth to the American Revolution, already the world's premier constitutional monarch- despite the Patriots' own defining of him as "Tyrant" and "Despot"- and, thus, was hardly the "poster child" for Absolutism Louis XVI would soon be or Louis XIV had, as an historical figure, already become (it is, indeed, rather ironic that the "anti-feudal" [in the ways I pointed out earlier in this piece] American Declaration of Independence was written as a complaint against a monarch who was, in fact, far less "feudal" or "absolute" a ruler than that very Declaration claimed). Over the century and a quarter following the French Revolution (despite the "rollercoaster ride"- between Republic and Empire- France itself would be on during most of that time), Constitutionalism- whether in a monarchical or republican form- would make quite the broad sweep throughout Western Civilization.

The last Absolutists in the West (though, in reality, these ruled a vast land precariously doing a tightrope act between East and West- as it still does to this very day: this, of course, being Russia) would be those of the Czarist regime: once the Romanovs were ousted (despite Russia's so soon descending into an abyss of anti-libertarian Sovietism), traditional Absolutism was pretty much a dead letter in the West and, henceforth, Absolutist monarchs were only to be found amongst the various and sundry sheiks and maharajas outside the West, while those in the West who would, during the 20th into the 21st Century, claim absolute power over the workings of the state would be doing so in the name of Totalitarianism (a form of "absolutism" which would be claimed, by its proponents, to have been derived from the will of the People, not that of the Divine).

However, the earliest in a series of rebellions in the name of the People against Absolutists (whether real [Louis XVI] or imagined [George III]) did not at all lead down a road destined to end in total victory for classical Liberal republicans- whether or not the "republic" in question might even be a "crowned" one (to here borrow H.G. Wells' own description of his native Britain)- and this was true even in the back then-brand new, no-doubt-at-all republican, United States of America. For there were certainly those, as the 18th Century drew to a close, who strongly felt that the ramifications of classical Liberalism (even with the various caveats noted within the observations on the original sense of classical Liberalism immediately following my admittedly cursory summary of Hobhouse's outline of its nine liberties earlier in this piece) were still at least somewhat radical for their time: those who so felt this way came to be known as Conservatives, whom I will discuss in a future Part FOUR.

 


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