Lost Language, Lost Liberalism

A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.

Freedom  Rejoinders


Rae, John. 1884. Contemporary Socialism. Charles Scribners and Sons: New York.

[86-87] Society has long since declared no man shall be enslaved; society has more recently declared no man shall be ignorant; society now declares no man shall be without property. He cannot be really free without property any more than he can be really free without knowledge. He has been released successively from a state of legal dependence and from a state of intellectual dependence; he must now be released from a state of economical dependence. This is his final emancipation, which is necessary to enable him to reap any fruits from the other two, and it cannot take place without a complete transformation of present industrial arrangements. It is a common mistake to say that socialists take their stand on equality. They really take their stand on freedom. They argue that the positive side of freedom is development, and if every man has a right to freedom, then every man has a right to the possibility of development. From this right, however, they allege the existing industrial system absolutely excludes the great majority. The freeman cannot realize his freedom, the individual cannot realize his individuality, without a certain external economical basis of work and enjoyment, and the best way to furnish him with this is to clothe him in various ways with collective property.

[365-366] There is still another and even more important spring of progress that would be stifled by socialism — freedom. Freedom is, of course, a direct and integral element in any worthy human ideal, for it is an indispensable condition for individual development, but here it comes into consideration as an equally indispensable condition of social progress. Political philosophers, like W. von Humboldt and J. S. Mill, who have pled strongly for the wildest possible extension of individual freedom, have made their plea in the interests of society itself. They looked on individuality as the living seed of progress; without individuality no variation of type or differentiation of function would be possible; and without freedom there could be no individuality. Under a regime of socialism freedom would be choked. Take, for example, a point of great importance both for personal and for social development, the choice of occupations. Socialism promises a free choice of occupations; but that is vain, for the relative numbers that are now required in any particular occupation are necessarily determined by the demands of consumers for the particular commodity the occupation in question sets itself to supply. Freedom of choice is, therefore, limited at present by natural conditions, which cause no murmuring; but these natural conditions would still exist under the socialist regime, and yet they would perforce appear in the guise of legal and artificial restrictions. It would be the choice of the State that would determine who should enter the more desirable occupations, and not the choice of the individuals themselves.

 

Robertson, Edward Stanley. 1892. “The Impracticability of Socialism” in A Plea for Liberty: An Argument against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation edited by Thomas Mackay. John Murray: London.

[53] Freedom, indeed, is almost the only thing that law can secure. Law cannot secure equality, nor can it secure prosperity. In the direction of equality, all that law can do is to secure fair play, which is equality of rights but is not equality of conditions. … Socialism, disguise it how we may, is the negation of Freedom. That it is so, and that it is also a scheme not capable of producing even material comfort in exchange for the abnegation of Freedom, I think the foregoing considerations amply prove.

 

Henry Sidgwick (1838 –1900) was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He was one of the founders and first president of the Society for Psychical Research, a member of the Metaphysical Society, and promoted the higher education of women.

Henry Sidgwick (1838 –1900) was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He was one of the founders and first president of the Society for Psychical Research, a member of the Metaphysical Society, and promoted the higher education of women.

Sidgwick, Henry. 1893. The Methods of Ethics, fifth ed. Macmillan and Co.: London.

[276-277] For it is commonly thought that the individual’s right to Freedom includes the right of appropriating material things. But, if Freedom be understood strictly, I do not see that it implies more than his right to non-interference while actually using such things as can only be used by one person at once: the right to prevent others from using at any future time anything that an individual has once seized seems an interference with the free action of others beyond what is needed to secure the freedom, strictly speaking, of the appropriator. It may perhaps be said that a man, in appropriating a particular thing, does not interfere with the freedom of others, because the rest of the world is still open to them.

 

Flint, Robert. 1894. Socialism. Isbister and Co.: London.

[241] Then, what guarantees have Collectivists to give us that men would be as free as they ought to be even as regards consumption, that is spending and enjoying what they have earned? None. The Collectivist State would be the sole producer, and every individual would have to take just what it pleased to produce. At present demand rules supply; in the collectivist system supply would rule demand. The State might have the most capricious views as to what people should eat or drink, how they should dress, what books they should read, and the like; and being the sole producer and distributor of meat and drink, the sole manufacturer of cloth and sole tailoring and dressmaking establishment, the sole publisher and supplier of books, individuals would have to submit to all its caprices. The promised freedom of enjoyment or consumption would thus, in all probability, be very slight and illusory.

[248-249] My general conclusion, then, is that a Collectivist State can neither establish itself nor maintain itself; that Collectivism is incapable of any solid and stable realisation. Nor is it desirable that it should be realised; for it is Socialism in the proper sense of the term—Socialism as essentially exclusive of liberty and inclusive of slavery. It would make the State enormously strong as compared with individuals, and individuals excessively weak as compared with the State. It would place every man in a position of absolute dependence on Government, with no real security for any kind of freedom.

 

Thomas Francis Bayard (1828 – 1898) was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party, who served three terms as U.S. Senator from Delaware, and as U.S. Secretary of State, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Thomas Francis Bayard (1828 – 1898) was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party, who served three terms as U.S. Senator from Delaware, and as U.S. Secretary of State, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Bayard, Thomas Francis. 1895. Individual Freedom. George H. Ellis: Boston.

[9] For the freedom of its individual members is the essential basis of the freedom of the State. The movement of the day, sometimes open, sometimes concealed in the robes of philanthropy and paternalism, but more often discernible in policies purely selfish, is toward State Socialism, as an opposing force to Autocracy. But either is Despotism…

[29] Equally unreasonable and impracticable would it be that the amount and quality of labour to be performed within the prescribed number of hours should be also regulated, and with equal logic establish the amount of wages to be paid for the labour so performed—for all three features are requisite to effect the purpose intended, which is to substitute State control for the right of individual contract.

This is not personal freedom—it is State servitude; and the institution of property would inevitably perish under its grinding power.

 

Tandy, Francis Dashwood. 1896. Voluntary Socialism. Francis D. Tandy: Denver.

[53] While everyone is willing to endorse the principle of Equal Freedom, not more than one per cent of those individuals knows what it means. They daily advocate measures which are diametrically opposed to it and expect to attain good results.

The only way a man can invade the liberty of another is by doing something. A man cannot violate another's liberty by remaining passive, unless by so doing he breaks the terms of a contract. So any form of compulsion to act, or as Spencer calls it, ‘positive regulation,is contrary to Equal Freedom. ‘Negative regulationis the only form which is permissible. Nor are all acts to be subject to this negative regulation.

[56] If a man voluntarily contracts to perform certain actions, a failure on his part to fulfil the contract must be considered in the light of an invasion. He made the contract expecting to receive some benefit in return for his services. If, after receiving that supposed benefit, he refuses to pay the price agreed upon—this is what a breach of contract virtually means—he is receiving something for nothing. To say that it is inconsistent with Equal Freedom to compel a man to act, is, under these circumstances, about as sensible as to say that the liberty of the thief is invaded when he is compelled to return his plunder to its rightful owner. If a man finds that the benefit he derives from a contract is not as great as he supposed it would be, this is no excuse for any violation of the contract. He should have known what he was doing in the first place. Any mistake of his must be borne by himself. The other party has performed his part and is justified in claiming his reward.

 

Hector Carsewell Macpherson (1851 – 1924) was a prolific Scottish writer and journalist who published books, pamphlets and articles on history, biography, politics, religion, and other subjects.

Hector Carsewell Macpherson (1851 – 1924) was a prolific Scottish writer and journalist who published books, pamphlets and articles on history, biography, politics, religion, and other subjects.

MacPherson, Hector. 1899. Adam Smith. Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier

[116-177] [In 1897] the number of workpeople employed in private establishment who secured the adoption of the eight hours’ day more that equalled the number for the previous four years. If, then, such satisfactory progress is being made in this direction, where is the necessity for the intervention of the State? Such interference could not be applied all round, and it would hamper the natural developments which are now taking place. These Board of Trade statistics are a practical endorsement of the theory on which the old Liberal based their faith—namely, that freedom for the people to work out their own salvation is the true path of progress.

 

Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster (1855 – 1909) was a British politician and writer. He notably served as Secretary of State for War from 1903 to 1905.

Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster (1855 – 1909) was a British politician and writer. He notably served as Secretary of State for War from 1903 to 1905.

Arnold-Forster, Hugh Oakeley. 1908. English Socialism of To-day. Smith, Elder, and Co.: London.  

[156] The Socialist Government was now fully established. It soon began to show what the reign of freedom really meant. … On March 22 the Socialist troops opened fire in broad daylight upon a procession of peaceable and unarmed citizens who were on their way to the headquarters of the Commune to make representations in favour of peace and reconciliation. Seven persons were shot dead and many others wounded.

 

William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910) was a classical liberal American academic and "held the first professorship in sociology" at Yale College. For many years he had a reputation as one of the most influential teachers there.

William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910) was a classical liberal American academic and "held the first professorship in sociology" at Yale College. For many years he had a reputation as one of the most influential teachers there.

Sumner, William Graham. 1913. Earth-Hunger and Other Essays. Yale University Press: New Haven.

[136] In many cases there is, no doubt, in the use of language, a conscious exaggeration, which is allowable for rhetorical effect; but it is easy to note the actual effect on uncritical people when such language comes to be taken literally. In fact, since, during the present century, all slavery has come to be considered detestable, and all freedom has come to be considered good, the terms ‘freedom’ and ‘slaveryhave become easy and current terms, which it is assumed that every one understands without trouble, so that they can be used as current coin of discussion. When it is assumed and admitted that each one of us ought to be free, that is commonly supposed to mean that no one of us ought to be under any disagreeable constraint in his activities or in the use of his time.

[147] But the resources of civilization are capital; and so it follows that the capitalists are free, or, to avoid ambiguities in the word capitalist, that the rich are free. Popular language, which speaks of the rich as independent, has long carried for an affirmation upon this point.

 

Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (1880 – 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English.

Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (1880 – 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English.

Mencken, Henry Louis. 1919. Prejudices, first series. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 

[168-169] The Russian Bolsheviki, whose doings have furnished a great deal of immensely interesting material to the student of popular psychology, put the principle into plain words. Once they were in the saddle, they decreed the abolition of the old imperial censorship and announced that speech would be free henceforth—but only so long as it kept within the bounds of the Bolshevist revelation! In other words, any citizen was free to think and speak whatever he pleased—but only so long as it did not violate certain fundamental ideas. This is precisely the sort of freedom that has prevailed in the United States since the first days.

 

Brett, Oliver. 1921. A Defense of Liberty. G. P. Putnams Sons: New York.

[59-60] Liberals are and must be the enemies of the Static State. … The difference between the Conservative view of life as represented by Karl Marx and the Liberal view is admirably stated by Lord Acton when he says that ‘the end of government is liberty not happiness, or prosperity, or power, or the adaptation of national law to national character, or enlightenment, or the promotion of virtue; the end of government is that the private individual should not feel the pressure of public authority, and should direct his life by the influences that are within him, not around him.’

The Static State of Karl Marx may make us happy and prosperous, virtuous and enlightened, but it cannot make us free, because its whole essence is the pressure of public authority.

 

Knight, Frank. 1971 [1921]. Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[351] Freedom refers or should refer to the range of choices open to a person, and in its broad sense is nearly synonymous with ‘power.’ Freedom of contract, on the other hand, means simply absence of formal restraint in disposal of ‘one’s own.’ … The actual content of freedom of contract depends entirely on what one owns.

 

Knight, Frank, H. 1929. “Freedom as Fact and Criterion,” International Journal of Ethics 39(2): 129-147.

[133n.5] In our opinion it is unwise to attempt to vindicate freedom as an ideal by defining it to include power. Thus Graham Wallas calls freedom the capacity for continuous initiative, others distinguish between positive and negative freedom. It is surely better to work out clearly the relations between freedom and power as distinct factors in conduct.

 

Coyle, David Cushman. 1938. Roads to a New America. Little, Brown and Company: Boston.

[190] But the capitalist system, what is left of it, is of prime importance because with all its weakness and inefficiency, it is the main area of freedom. If freedom is worth anything to us, a good place to apply our effort and money is in protecting the capitalist system and if possible enlarging its scope.

 

Knight, Frank H. 1936. “The Place of Marginal Economics in a Collectivist System,” The American Economic Review 26(1): 255-266.

[258] Any attempt to predict in anything like concrete detail the actual character and course of economic life under collectivism is manifestly absurd. The most general meaning of collectivism is unification of economic life under centralized political control, in contrast with individual freedom of choice under conditions determined by the social-economic status of the individuals and by various prices set by the quasi-mechanical interaction of their choices in various markets.

[260] The postulate of individual freedom of choice of occupation raises the problem of the organization of production. … In order to predict anything whatever, we must first eliminate by assumption the possibility that the government would exploit its position as a monopolistic owner of innumerable essentials of economic life. This would give absolute power over every detail of all life, and negate the fundamental assumption of individual freedom.

 

Lionel Charles Robbins (1898 – 1984) was a British economist and head of the economics department at the London School of Economics. 

Lionel Charles Robbins (1898 – 1984) was a British economist and head of the economics department at the London School of Economics. 

Robbins, Lionel. 1938. Economic Planning and International Order. Macmillan and Co.: London.

[220] International communism aims at more wealth and more freedom for all. But the means it proposes may involve the frustration of just these ends.

 

Chamberlin, William Henry. 1938. Collectivism, A False Utopia. The Macmillan Company: New York.

[179] So it would seem that fascism and communism, which have so much in common in their criticisms of democratic institutions, are also united in offering a highly authoritarian substitute for the liberal state which is based on political democracy and individual liberty. The sole difference between them is that fascism is more honest in not holding out any prospect of a realization of freedom in any future, near or remote.

[191] A typical socialist critique of the liberal position might be summed up as follows. … Capitalism, with its competitive struggle for international markets and its frequent crisis, is historically predestined to lead to war or to fascism, or to both. Consequently socialism is the sole road to freedom and plenty, the sole means of conserving what is best in the liberal tradition.

[203] Socialism…[is] a road not to freedom but to dictatorship and counter-dictatorship, to civil war of the fiercest kind.

[227] Socialism cannot be a road to plenty because it cannot be a road to freedom.

 

Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (1881 – 1973) was a philosopher, economist, sociologist, and classical liberal.

Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (1881 – 1973) was a philosopher, economist, sociologist, and classical liberal.

Mises, Ludwig von. [1949] 2007. Human Action, Vol. II. Liberty Fund: Indianapolis.

[283] In a totalitarian hegemonic society the only freedom that is left to the individual, because it cannot be denied to him, is the freedom to commit suicide.

[285] ‘Planning for Freedom’ has lately become the most popular slogan of the champions of totalitarian government and the Russification of all nations.

[287] The substitution of economic planning for the market economy removes all freedom and leaves to the individual merely the right to obey.

 

Philbrook, Clarence. 1953. “Capitalism and the Rule of Love,” Southern Economic Journal 19(4): 458-466.

[465] As to signals to guide action, the logic of the traditional liberal rests on the ideas that life is best viewed as a quest for the good life—a seeking for the details of behavior and attitude which constitute the correct content of what some would describe as loving God, others as experiencing truth: it is this in contrast to a process of maximizing the satisfaction of a set of known values. If there is a way of advancing us all toward higher understanding and realization of values, that way consists of maximizing the satisfaction of a set of known values. If there is a way of advancing us all toward higher understanding an realization of values, that way consists in each spirit’s searching freely, experimenting, making errors, learning, and sharing with others its discoveries. Indeed, man is simply not man unless he participated in such a quest. Thus, the thing to be guarded, even at tremendous cost if necessary, is freedom, in the common-sense meaning of freedom from arbitrary dictation to one soul by another—a meaning, incidentally, known to all before some reformers resorted to semantic trickery and corrupted our universe of discourse. We must not, then, guide action by decisions made by uneasy (or even easy) compromise among the fifty-one per cent and forced upon the forty-nine, except where there is simply no other way available. What the rule of love calls for above all surely is non-interference with the quest.

 

Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006) was an American economist, statistician, and writer who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades. He was a recipient of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and is known for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy. As a leader of the Chicago school of economics, he profoundly influenced the research agenda of the economics profession.

Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006) was an American economist, statistician, and writer who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades. He was a recipient of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and is known for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy. As a leader of the Chicago school of economics, he profoundly influenced the research agenda of the economics profession.

Friedman, Milton. [1962] 1982. Capitalism and Freedom. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

[5] As it developed in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, the intellectual movement that went under the name of liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in society. … Beginning in the nineteenth century, and especially after 1930 in the United States, the term liberalism came to be associated with a very different emphasis, particularly in economic policy. It came to be associated with readiness to rely primarily on the state rather than on private voluntary arrangements to achieve objectives regarded as desirable. The catchwords became welfare and equality rather than freedom.

[5-6] The nineteenth-century liberal regarded an extension of freedom as the most effective way to promote welfare and equality; the twentieth-century liberal regards welfare and equality as either prerequisites of or alternatives to freedom. In the name of welfare and equality, the twentieth-century liberal has come to favor a revival of the very policies of state intervention and paternalism against which classical liberalism fought.

 

Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901 – 1990) was an English philosopher and political theorist who wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and philosophy of law. 

Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901 – 1990) was an English philosopher and political theorist who wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and philosophy of law. 

Oakeshott, Michael. 1991. Rationalism in Politics and other Essays. Liberty Fund: Indianapolis.

[386-387] We are instructed to distinguish between ‘positive’ and ‘negative freedom, between the ‘oldand ‘newfreedom, between ‘social, ‘political, ‘civil, ‘economicand ‘personalfreedom; we are told that freedom is the ‘recognition of necessity; and we are taught that all that matters is ‘inner freedomand that this is to be identified with equality and with power: there is no end to the abuse we have suffered.

 



4L is authored by Daniel B. Klein, Professor of Economics, JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute; email: dklein@gmu.edu

Quotations compiled by Ryan Daza & Daniel B. Klein