The Child of Liberalism

Anyone interested in what shaped the United States’ founding generation’s views on human nature, virtue and purpose ought to read Carl J. Richard’s The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome and the American Enlightenment. Richard’s comprehensive study of the founders’ classical reading provides a clear and useful reference point to square back to when confronting modern problems.

The founding fathers, as you are likely aware, were a fascinating group of individuals whose ideologies were as distinct as their personal backgrounds. Richard notes that they lived in an era that “witnessed a shift form ‘classical republicanism,’which emphasized civic duty and social cohesion, to ‘liberalism’ (or ‘modern republicanism’), which stressed individual rights and the self-regulating marketplace.”

Richard went on to note that “Classical Republicanism was, in many ways, the parent of liberalism. The birth of liberalism was messy, painful and debilitating to the parent. Liberalism has since reached a hardy old age and seems destined to outlive even its own prodigal son, Marxism. Whether it will serve as parent to yet another ideology remains to be seen.” An intriguing thought, wouldn’t you say?

While much on earth has changed due to the scientific and commercial advances over the last couple of decades, I venture to say that human nature has not changed one iota. The risk of devolving into absolutism is no less likely than it was in the early years of our country.

Granted there is much more momentum in the direction of liberalism and its underlying tenets, but the possibility is still there, especially given the propensity on the part of so many to refuse to exercise the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with their individual rights and decline the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing political discourse in any meaningful (read: not just complaining) way.

While I am not convinced that human nature was always as problematic and slippery as it is now, it is what it is at the moment and there remains a great need to continue to have societal structures in place that keep it under control. One particular quality that must be emphasized and reinforced is the matter of restraint. Unrestrained, human nature tends toward excess, as is evidenced by the challenges facing the administrators of our states across the country.

Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, spoke at a recent TED conference on the theme of state budgets and education, a topic in terrible need of a fresh and saner perspective. Gates’ presentation is just ten minutes long, nevertheless it is chock-full of food for thought:

Bill Gates on TED

When Gates’ talk is set against the backdrop of the recent data on Detroit’s population crash over the last decade (http://tinyurl.com/47hz4ax), it is clear to me that our old accounting and our former ways are no longer valid in the new reality.

We live in a time as tumultuous as that of our founding fathers. While they were faced with the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Financial Revolution, the Commercial Revolution, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and more, we are faced with the new realities ushered in by the Globalization of Trade, the failure of Communism, the Information Revolution, the Rise of the East and more.

In my experience in small business, the component parts of a corporation are most easily moved during times of tumult. If the principle applies in a broader sense, I have to wonder if we are witnessing as well as being offered the chance to participate in the conception of the child of Liberalism?

If so, we had better be on our toes. We had better look at the problems we face with the understanding that the world and the way things work have changed – not just incrementally, insignificantly and temporarily – but appreciably, and for good. To fail to do so puts us at risk of regression in a time when forward and upward movement is just as possible and likely an outcome.

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5 Responses to The Child of Liberalism

  1. Colin says:

    I think that many people in our country feel that their vote doesn’t matter, or that many times we are left with the choice between voting for two equally bad people to represent us. It seems to be that the only way out of a situation like that is personal responsibility. Just like in the beginning times of our country, we need to really take a look at where we are goin and if that’s really where we want to go.

  2. mchoya says:

    Very interesting post. The times are what they are but it is exciting to look at the larger context and be conscious about staying on the track of forward movement. Thank you for the book recommendation and TED link!

  3. Isabelle says:

    Very thought provoking post – it’s time to see things in a different light and that we do have the power to make a difference and implement and actively participate change.

  4. strawberryfields says:

    The book you mention sounds interesting, I’ll have to add it to my Kindle list.
    I was one of those people who didn’t regard my vote as important but the last two elections have shaken me out of my sleep. Both parties seem to only be interested in their survival. It’s time for those of us who have been spectators to get involved or we’ll be a party instead of a republic.
    Thanks for the nudge!

  5. Duffer says:

    What a great opportunity for each of us to contribute. The other day a fine young man who has a service oriented company was lamenting upon the state of the economy and the world as a whole, and wondering how it could change at this stage of the game. My suggestion to him was to be an example to others in the way that he feels life should be led. It is in this way that the world will become what it was meant to be – an individual effort that over time that can and will make a difference.

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