Les­son on lib­er­al­ism

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES -

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

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