Best of Biblical Conservatism: Letter Bag: The Difference Between Classical Liberalism and Modern Liberalism

Today, on Best of Biblical Conservatism, we have one of our most popular posts of all time!

I received an annonymous comment recently (for the sake of this post, we'll call that person Anny) on an a post on a post from a few weeks ago that I wanted to address it here.  The post was Dissecting the Liberal Talking Points: The Tea Party isn't Going Anywhere.  Here was the comment:

Liberalism: political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others; but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. As the revolutionary American pamphleteer Thomas Paine expressed it in Common Sense (1776), government is at best “a necessary evil.” Laws, judges, and police are needed to secure the individual’s life and liberty, but their coercive power may also be turned against him." (and it continues...)

The Tea Party is therefore liberal.

It's an interesting point, Anny.  It's wrong, but it's an interesting point. What this individual doesn't recognize is the difference between Classical liberalism and Modern liberalism.  The definition given above is the definition of Classical liberalism.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, Classical liberalism is focused on liberty.  It supports small government, individual rights, and the Constitution.  When our nation was founded, it was a relatively liberal idea, which is to say it was to the left of the monarchy.  (Conservatism is to the left of monarch too, by the way.)

You see, in 1776 and 1787, Anny, the ideas that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution espoused were radical.  They aren't radical anymore.  Our founders created these values new, now we conservatives try to maintain them.

Modern liberalism is not about small government, it's about big government.  It's not about individual freedom, it's about group conformity and government telling you what's good for you. Modern liberalism does not recognize that government can pose a threat to sees government as the solution to problems. 

Modern liberalism is the polar opposite as Classical liberalism.  Classical liberalism is now known as conservatism.

What Anny said is a perfect example of an etymological fallacy.  For those of you who don't have degrees in Communications, an etymological fallacy "is a genetic fallacy that holds, erroneously, that the historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day meaning." (For those of you from Palm Beach County, FL, that means believing that what a word originally meant is what it means today.)

Liberal doesn't mean what it meant in our founders day.  The same is true of many other words.  In 1776 if a man had a "gay kid" that meant they had a "happy baby goat."  Does it mean that now, Anny?  Of course not.  Few people think of a kid as a baby goat anymore, even though that is the origin of the word, and few people still think gay means happy.

In short, the Tea Party is Classically liberal, which is synonymous with Modern conservatism.  Sorry, Anny, but in our modern context the Tea Party is conservative.

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