Humane Liberalism

Related imageAs mentioned before, the newest issue of Dialogue was just released. The first article of the new issue is Robert Rees’ “Reimagining the Restoration: Why Liberalism is the Ultimate Flowering of Mormonism.” Rees attempts to redeem the word from its current negative connotations in American society, reviewing its meaning in the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. He further connects to Joseph Smith’s statement that God “is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive” (pg. 4). Rees goes on to emphasize liberal commitments to earth stewardship, gender equality, the poor, peace, education, etc.

The article reminded me of a recent essay by economic historian Deirdre McCloskey titled “Manifesto for a New American Liberalism, or How to Be a Humane Libertarian.” As McCloskey notes, “Outside the United States libertarianism is still called plain “liberalism,” as in the usage of the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, with no “neo-” about it” (pg. 1). “Liberals 1.0 don’t like violence,” she continues. “They are friends of the voluntary market order, as against the policy-heavy feudal order or bureaucratic order or military-industrial order. They are, as Hayek declared, “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution,” against the various parties of left and right which wish “to impose [by violence] upon the world a preconceived rational pattern.” In McCloskey’s view, “humane liberals are very far from being against poor people. Nor are they ungenerous, or lacking in pity. Nor are they strictly pacifist, willing to surrender in the face of an invasion. But they believe that in achieving such goods as charity and security the polity should not turn carelessly to violence, at home or abroad, whether for leftish or rightish purposes, whether to help the poor or to police the world. We should depend chiefly on voluntary agreements, such as exchange-tested betterment, or treaties, or civil conversation, or the gift of grace, or a majority voting constrained by civil rights for the minority” (pg. 2). She explains,

Such a humane liberalism has for two centuries worked on the whole astonishingly well. For one thing it produced increasingly free people, which (we moderns think) is a great good in itself. Slaves, women, colonial people, gays, handicapped, and above all the poor, from which almost all of us come, have been increasingly allowed since 1776 to pursue their own projects consistent with not using physical violence to interfere with other people’s projects. As someone put it: In the eighteenth century kings had rights and women had none. Now it’s the other way around. And—quite surprisingly—the new liberalism, by inspiriting for the first time in history a great mass of ordinary people, produced a massive explosion of betterments. 

…The Enrichment was, I say again in case you missed it, three thousand percent per person, near enough, utterly unprecedented. The goods and services available to even the poorest rose by that astounding figure, in a world in which mere doublings, increases of merely 100 percent, had been rare and temporary, as in the glory of fifth-century Greece or the vigor of the Song Dynasty. In every earlier case, the little industrial revolutions had reverted eventually to a real income per head in today’s prices of about $3 a day, which was the human condition since the caves. Consider trying to live on $3 a day, as many people worldwide still do (though during the past forty years their number has fallen like a stone). After 1800 there was no reversion. On the contrary, in every one of the forty or so recessions since 1800 the real income per head after a recession exceeded what it had been at the previous peak. Up, up, up. Even including the $3- a-day people in Chad and Zimbabwe, world real income per head has increased during the past two centuries by a factor of ten, and by a factor of thirty as I said, in the countries that were lucky, and liberally wise. Hong Kong. South Korea. Botswana. The material and cultural enrichment bids fair to spread now to the world.

And the enrichment has been equalizing. Nowadays in places like Japan and the United States the poorest make more, corrected for inflation, than did the top quarter or so two centuries ago (pgs. 4-5).

The whole thing is worth reading. Check it out.