11.23.2011 2

The definition of liberalism has changed greatly over time

By Adam Bitely — Many people—unfortunately—associate the term “liberalism” with the ideology commonly held by people who associate themselves with Barack Obama, progressivism, Occupy Wall Street, and the Democratic National Committee.

But are supporters of the above causes, politicians, and parties really “liberals?”

In the modern sense of the term as it applied to American politics, the answer would be yes. But if we were to go back in time about 200 years or so, modern day American liberals would not agree with their “liberal” forefathers.

Think of the revolutionary period in American history. American patriots rallying around the cause of “No taxation without representation,” fear of centralized governments that ruled with great authority, and a great desire for the relationship that people have with their government to forever change to one of the people holding their government in check.

American liberals in 1776, the most famous of which are known as the Founding Fathers, supported limiting the power of government as much as possible. They believed that government powers needed checks at every turn, and that power would naturally corrupt.

Furthermore, these “liberals” did not subscribe to the view that empowering the government with more and more power would lead to a better society. They stood against such expansions as they already knew what happened when the government’s size and scope was beyond control. That is why the Constitution was designed the way it was, pitting each branch of government against the other, so that no one branch would grow powerful beyond control.

As George Mason University Professor of Economics Don Boudreaux recently wrote at CafeHayek.com, “Experience and reason recommended to liberalism’s founders the opposite view, namely, restraining the power of government might not be sufficient to ensure harmony and widespread wealth, but it is certainly necessary.”

But it in the modern day, the American liberal is associated with an ideology that supports ever-expanding government powers intended to correct the ills of society. To the modern American liberal, there is no problem that a politician should not be able to solve. The modern American liberal believes the government is needed to even the playing field, and redistribute from those who have to those who have not. The modern American liberal foresees the government making our lives pain-free and directing society towards prosperity.

Simply put, the modern American liberal has an ideology based in pure fantasy.

Ludwig von Mises once wrote when the definition of liberalism was much different, “Imagine a world order in which liberalism is supreme . . . there is private property in the means of production. The working of the market is not hampered by government interference. There are no trade barriers; men can live and work where they want.”

If Mises were alive today, he would have to use the word libertarianism in place of liberalism to describe the world where government stayed out of the market and no barriers to exchange existed. The liberals of 200 years ago are now referred to as classical liberals, and the modern day people who have a similar distrust of centralized government and the powers they have in the market place are now referred to as libertarians.

What a strange world it is when you consider just how much the definition of liberalism has changed. From the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to ObamaCare in 2010, the term “liberalism” has come to stand for entirely different meanings as the power of the government has expanded.

Adam Bitely is the Editor-in-Chief of NetRightDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @AdamBitely.

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