Commentary: Reagan Reed
Today is a day to reflect upon the things which make this great country of ours worth celebrating. There are lots of things that make America great: The fact that we happen to sit on the best piece of geography in the world, an incredibly diverse, talented, and creative population, and perhaps some luck. However, in my opinion, the greatest thing about this country are the principles upon which it was founded.
Ultimately, America was founded on the ideals of what political philosophers call “classical liberalism”. The Declaration of Independence in particular is a document thoroughly steeped in the philosophy of 18th century classical liberalism. Now, before my conservative readers send me hate mail, I should clarify that classical liberalism has a totally different meaning from what the word “liberal” means in the vernacular of modern American politics. In fact, woke progressivism is very illiberal. The best definition I could find for classical liberalism actually comes from Wikipedia:
“Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism that advocates free market and laissez-faire economics; civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on limited government, economic freedom, and political freedom.”
If that sound a lot like conservatism, that’s because traditional American conservatism is essentially just classical liberalism. Americans who want to conserve the classical liberalism of the American founding have traditionally been conservatives, while those who want to depart from classical liberalism by giving the government more power to interfere in the economy or society have traditionally been progressives.
This makes American conservatism fundamentally different from European conservatism. While American conservatives seek to conserve a classically liberal revolutionary ideal, European conservatives historically sought to conserve blood and soil, throne and alter. The Torries in Britain were historically the royalist party. Even our usage of “left” and “right” to describe the political spectrum comes from the French assembly where the monarchists and clergy sat on the right side.
Traditional American conservativism is unique in that we are actually conserving a revolution, albeit in many respects it was a conservative revolution. The American Revolution is itself unique among revolutions.
These days, the American founding is under attack from extreme elements on both right and left. On the left, the woke 1619 Project types propound the lie that America was founded on racism and white supremacy, and that the Constitution is an outdated relic produced by dead white slave owners. On the right, the “National Conservative” post-liberal integralists believe America was built on a foundation of sand, destined to produce decadence and libertine-ism, and would instead essentially have us return to a pre-Enlightenment Catholic theocracy. The populist/ nationalist Buchananist right which has become ascendant in the GOP in recent years is more in line with the European right than with what we have come to know as conservatism in America.
Across the world, authoritarianism is on the rise. America’s great power competitor, China, is ruled by a regime that believes a totalitarian government is necessary to navigate the complex and rapidly changing world of the 21st century. They mock American liberty and individualism as being weak and chaotic, and predict our freedom will be our downfall.
They are all wrong.
There is a reason the U.S. is the richest, freest, and most powerful nation on earth. It is because liberty, limited government, and free market capitalism work. Classical liberalism works.
Free market capitalism allowed us to overwhelm Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan when it came to production during World War II. While the Soviet Union collapsed like an unstable building, the U.S. and the rest of the free world emerged from the Cold War stronger than every. I believe that ultimately, when the history books are written 100 years from now, they will record how American liberty prevailed against the totalitarianism of the Chinese Communist Party.
The ideals of the American founding are right, good, true, and the key to our success. That is why I strongly believe it is worth making every effort, every sacrifice, to preserve them.
When I say that I am a conservative, what I mean is that I am conserving the classical liberalism of the American founding. Free markets, civil liberties, rule of law, limited government, economic freedom, and political freedom. These ideas are the cornerstone of our republic.
A republic, if we can keep it.
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One thought on “Conserving the Classical Liberalism of the American Founding”
Well stated! Excellent piece thanks!