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Lockdown Is Not Liberalism’s Endgame

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Matthew Crawford rightly decries covid fear-mongering and restrictions, yet he too quickly blames this dystopian turn on flaws inherent in liberalism (“Covid was liberalism’s endgame,” May 21). 

It’s true that one branch of liberalism, embracing the notion that humankind can be perfected through reason and science, leads logically to the tyranny of society being treated – as it has so terribly been treated since March 2020 – as a science project. This branch is more accurately called “Progressivism.” 

But another, truer branch of liberalism rejects this folly. The liberalism of Adam Smith, Tocqueville, Lord Acton, and F.A. Hayek – the wise liberalism of the American revolution rather than the conceited liberalism of the French – features at its core a steadfast fear of centralized power. Alongside this fear is an equally steadfast tolerance for individuals in freely choosing the ends they pursue as well as in choosing the means for these pursuits. 

Among the greatest fears of true liberals is the hell that awaits humanity at the end of every utopian quest. And so the promise of true liberalism never was heaven on earth. Instead, it’s the obtainable, much more modest – yet supremely important – goal of ensuring for each individual maximum possible scope to peacefully live as he or she chooses, with no ‘nudging’ allowed and with coercion used only to counter coercion.

As summarized by Thomas Sowell, freedom under a truly liberal order “is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters.’”

True liberalism would never have countenanced the tyranny that those who presumed themselves to be our ‘betters’ wrought over the past two years. 

Author

  • Donald J. Boudreaux, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University, where he is affiliated with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center. His research focuses on international trade and antitrust law. He writes at Cafe Hayak.


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