Lesson on liberalism
Ashton Miller III’s recent letter denouncing “free health care” offers insight into the prevailing American ethos of neoliberalism.
References to liberalism are confusing, yet all refer to a social order based on a market economy. “Liberalism” (with a capital L) took form when 17th-18th century merchants sought to free themselves from mercantile constraints imposed by kings and nobility. It emphasized freedom in economic affairs that could come only with freedom from kings who claimed to rule by divine right. As their revolutions succeeded, merchants and bankers envisioned a social contract governed by constitutional (or contractual) government.
Market and technological advances led to the industrial revolution, which in turn led to corporate dominance over the new laboring classes who now sought to free themselves from corporate control. The effort was called “liberalism” (small l), seeking liberty and justice for all, employing strategies of labor unions, universal suffrage, and “big government” to protect the interests of labor.
Big business, humbled by the Great Depression and reconciled to labor’s needs during World War II, begrudgingly tolerated liberalism during the New Deal. But the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s initiated a reassertion of corporate dominance. “Neoliberalism” reaffirms the legitimacy of corporate dominion and attacks the ethos and structures that affirm liberty and justice for all.
Ayn Rand/Frederick Hayek neoliberals seem like the ant who stands atop an anthill and proclaims himself self-made and responsible for no one but himself. A sober corrective might be found in the Book of Amos or in Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” DAVID SIXBEY