Brownstone » Brownstone Institute Journal » Did Liberalism Fail?
did liberalism fail?

Did Liberalism Fail?

SHARE | PRINT | EMAIL

If we are going to survive we need a coherent political philosophy. I’m not convinced that we have one right now. In the movement for medical freedom we’ve gotten really good at describing the current crisis and critiquing the other side. But our platform seems to be: “Please stop poisoning and killing us.” If that were enough, we would have already won by now.

Underneath our pleas for bodily autonomy, I think that we’re actually arguing for a return to political and economic liberalism (free people and free markets). But I think that we need to have a conversation about the limitations and contradictions of that approach. The question I would like for us to discuss is…

Did Liberalism Fail?

Let’s start by defining some terms:

Liberalism has two branches — political liberalism and economic liberalism.

Most everyone likes political liberalism (or at least they did, before Covid):

  • Freedom of speech.
  • Freedom of religion.
  • Freedom of assembly.
  • Constitutions, courts, the rule of law.
  • Elections, government by the consent of the governed.

These are all huge improvements over rule by kings, pharaohs, or priests.

Political liberalism tends to produce economic liberalism:

  • The freedom to trade.
  • Markets.
  • The right to private property.
  • The right to make money, the right to entrepreneurship.

Everyone is motivated by money to some extent (even if it’s not always the deciding factor). So politically free people generally demand economic freedoms.

Adam Smith’s Classical Economic Liberalism

Many of our ideas about economic liberalism come to us from Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. That’s what I was studying in my Ph.D. program before I started to work on autism and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. But as I hope to show, there are ways in which these issues intersect.

Wealth of Nations is 1,000 pages across two volumes and covers a lot of ground. But one of the things that people take from the book is Smith’s discussion of “the baker, the brewer, and the butcher.”

Smith’s argument is that if the baker, the brewer, and the butcher just stay in their lane (as we would say these days) and focus on making their business the best that it can be, “the invisible hand of the market” will produce a highly efficient equilibrium of supply and demand that solves distributional issues of who gets what better than any government planning ever could. So markets are thus moral and the pursuit of private profit produces public virtue, the public good.

And that’s the economic system that we’ve lived under for the last 250 years.

But we immediately come upon a paradox:

The wealth of Scotland during Smith’s era did not come from the baker, the brewer, and the butcher.

The wealth of Scotland during Smith’s era came from the fact that Scottish merchants cornered the market for slave-grown tobacco in the colony of Virginia through the creative use of credit. Scottish merchants backed by Scottish banks built stores throughout the Chesapeake to extend credit to farmers in return for a promise to sell their tobacco crop to the store when it came in. Tobacco was heavily dependent upon slave labor because when harvesting the leaves nicotine gets onto the skin and into the bloodstream and it’s so intense that it causes nausea — so, free people generally don’t like to pick tobacco. And tobacco is incredibly profitable because it’s addictive.

Colonialism in general and slavery in particular created a huge market for Scottish manufactured goods including shackles, sugar pans (for processing sugar cane), shovels, cannons, and guns.

So in Smith’s era there were millions of pounds sterling of slave-generated wealth flowing into Scotland and that’s what funded the flourishing of art and culture in Glasgow and Edinburgh. And yes, tobacco merchants and those employed at the Carron ironworks (across the bay from where Smith lived) probably spent money at the baker, the brewer, and the butcher. But Smith’s economic liberalism was not the source of Scottish wealth — the wealth was mostly derived from empire.

That’s not necessarily to say that political and economic liberalism aren’t fantastic — just that Smith gives them more credit than they deserve and glosses over the rest.

Political and Economic Liberalism from Smith to the Present

Let’s walk through the next two hundred years of liberalism in just a few sentences so that we can get to the present crisis:

  • With the American Revolution the US became a laboratory for political and economic liberalism.
  • The US fought a civil war to end slavery. The 14th Amendment granted African Americans the rights of citizenship in 1868.
  • Women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
  • The US (along with our liberal allies in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) won World War II because we were able to build tanks, boats, planes, and bombs faster and better than Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, or Imperial Japan.
  • African Americans overcame a century of Jim Crow laws with the passage of the 24th Amendment (prohibiting poll taxes) in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (directing the Attorney General to enforce the right to vote for African Americans).

These are unequivocal advances for humanity.

But horrible things happened as well. Economic liberalism created cycles of boom and bust. The historical record suggests that England weaponized economic liberalism in ways that caused the potato famine in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century (1845 – 1852). Unbridled liberalism can produce sweat shops, child labor, sex trafficking, and environmental exploitation.

Indeed one cannot shake the perception that liberalism and empire always seem to go hand-in-hand, that democracy going back all the way to the days of ancient Greece is only possible because of empire and exploitation. Back when I was teaching political science in the days before Covid, one of my students, a refugee from Syria said, “Liberalism is just the velvet glove that hides the iron fist of authoritarianism.”

In the 20th century, the flourishing of liberalism in the US and Europe happened while the US military carpet-bombed civilians in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The US blessed the genocide in Indonesia. And the CIA overthrew democratic governments throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

So for the last 70 years or so, we have had liberalism at home for certain people and neocolonialism abroad.

But then at some point, there were no new lands left to conquer and the violence that used to be directed outward to secure resources and markets is now directed inward at citizens throughout the developed world. What’s being colonized now are our bodies, our cells, and our DNA itself.

The Collapse of Liberalism

In the space of just 75 days at the start of 2020, political liberalism disappeared from the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

  • Freedom of speech? Gone.
  • Freedom of assembly? Gone.
  • The Constitution? Gone.

With nary a word of protest from the so-called liberals (what we now call “progressives”) in our society.

Economic liberalism disappeared shortly thereafter:

  • The global economy was turned off in March of 2020.
  • Multinational corporations (Amazon, Target, Home Depot) were given special status while small businesses were closed (many of them permanently).
  • Property owners were barred from collecting rent.
  • Unelected bureaucrats divided the workforce into “essential” and “nonessential.”
  • Government took over the economy and flooded it with newly printed money, triggering a massive increase in inflation.

With nary a word of protest from classical economic liberals (what we now call “conservatives” in the US).

This is all profoundly strange. Political and economic liberalism were hegemonic for 250 years and then they disappeared, poof, with no shots fired and no debate. Modern liberal democracy was so dominant that renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in 1989 that we had reached “the end of history.” And then 31 years later it was gone.

Stakeholder Fascism

In place of liberalism, a system of Stakeholder Fascism was imposed from above. In the 20th century, fascism was organized along racial, ethnic, and national lines. Stakeholder Fascism is different — it’s a sort of raw class warfare where the ruling class declared war on the rest of humanity because they can, because it is profitable to do so. As I have argued before I also think the ruling class is killing us because it’s exciting for them (see: theory #8).

There are about 10 cartels that control the US but the main interests driving Stakeholder Fascism are:

  • Big Pharma;
  • Big Tech;
  • Military contractors; and
  • Government.

Civil society is just expected to obey. Everything is decided by executive order. Government by the consent of the governed disappeared. The ideology that now governs our country operates from the belief that:

  • The Pharma State owns your body.
  • The Pharma State is all-knowing.
  • The Pharma State is infallible.
  • The Pharma State is going to reduce costs by having fewer useless eaters.

That’s the political and economic ideology of the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, the largest investment managers, academia, science and medicine, and nearly all elite institutions in this country. This is not some projected future dystopia, this is the ideology that governs our country right now.

Between creating a weaponized virus, blocking access to off-the-shelf treatments, imposing deadly hospital protocols, authorizing toxic Remdesivir, and injecting the most dangerous vaccines in history, Stakeholder Fascism has already killed over 7 million people worldwide.

Is Liberalism the Culprit or the Victim?

Here’s what I’m still trying to figure out though: is the current crisis the result of the failures of liberalism?

On the one hand, we have the Marxian critique that liberalism always leads to fascism. The argument goes something like this:

  • Economic liberalism may be fine for a generation or two.
  • But talent is not evenly distributed across society.
  • Bottlenecks and cartels are profitable.
  • Competition gives way to rent-seeking behavior that impedes economic growth.
  • Soon wealth becomes concentrated in a few hands, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and wealthy corporations take over government and use it to serve their own ends — which is a pretty good description of what happened in 2020.

If that’s the case, we should want to find an alternative to liberalism.

But on the other hand, one can make a very strong case that the current crisis is an assault on liberalism. In which case the movement for medical freedom should be fighting for a return to liberalism. Legendary Substacker eugyppius argued along similar lines in his article, “The Slow Death of Progressive History and the Fading Promise of the Liberal Future:”

  • People were finally able to find each other on the internet;
  • The world was democratizing (i.e. liberalism was actually happening for a growing share of the population); and
  • I would add: Parents of vaccine-injured children were able to compare notes with each other and figure out how their kids got hurt.

That freaked out the ruling class and they declared war on us via Covid.

But before we get too comfortable with the idea that liberalism is the path forward, I have a few more questions to ask:

If liberalism is so great, how did we end up with Stakeholder Fascism run by the very same people who claimed to be liberals?

Can liberalism ever survive on its own in the absence of empire? Can liberalism exist in the absence of the trillions of dollars of stimulus generated by exploitation?

A different way of saying that is, has liberalism actually ever been tried top to bottom in a society, and if so, would it work and what would it look like? I’ve got a feeling that it looks like a sort of Mennonite community with very modest incomes and standards of living. (Not Amish, but Amish-adjacent = Mennonite.) No one is driving a Tesla in those communities because the baker, the brewer, and butcher don’t actually generate that much economic activity.

And if a return to liberalism is what we want, what safeguards need to be in place so that the fascists don’t take over again the next time they want to increase quarterly profits?

Conclusion

The other side is crystal clear on what they want. They have a political philosophy — Stakeholder Fascism. Yes, they will dress it up with pretty names and call it “public health,” “saving the planet,” or “saving grandma” — as fascism always does. Everyone from the World Health Organization to the World Economic Forum to the US.Congress to the US media has their marching orders.

They are executing the plan. And the plan is Stakeholder Fascism. The people doing this to us like Stakeholder Fascism, they think that it is the natural order of things, and they appear delighted by the collapse of modern liberal democracy.

If we are going to survive, we need to tell a better story than them. Right now it feels like the story we are telling is that when we take power we will just return to classical political and economic liberalism — and things will be better this time. But what I’m trying to suggest is that there are holes in that story. Liberalism right now feels like a Maginot Line and once again the fascists just drove around it.

If we are going to survive we need a coherent political philosophy that people can call their own. If we are going to propose that liberalism is the way forward we need to be able to explain why it was so quickly abandoned in 2020 and how we will address the contradictions inherent in liberalism going forward.

I think that we have the better story — we believe in the sovereignty of the individual and the sanctity of individuals and families. But humans are flawed creatures, we are both light and darkness. Liberalism unleashes human flourishing and creativity better than any other path in history. But any theory built around the sovereignty of the individual inevitably bumps up against human weakness and human frailty as well.

Republished from the author’s Substack



Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
For reprints, please set the canonical link back to the original Brownstone Institute Article and Author.

Author

  • Toby Rogers

    Toby Rogers has a Ph.D. in political economy from the University of Sydney in Australia and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, Berkeley. His research focus is on regulatory capture and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Rogers does grassroots political organizing with medical freedom groups across the country working to stop the epidemic of chronic illness in children. He writes about the political economy of public health on Substack.

    View all posts

Donate Today

Your financial backing of Brownstone Institute goes to support writers, lawyers, scientists, economists, and other people of courage who have been professionally purged and displaced during the upheaval of our times. You can help get the truth out through their ongoing work.

Subscribe to Brownstone for More News

Stay Informed with Brownstone Institute