The Enlightenment — A triumph of classical not modern liberalism!

Journal/Website: 
Exclusive for HaciendaPublishing.com
Article Type: 
Commentary
Published Date: 
Thursday, October 1, 2015

In a recent op-ed entitled, “The ‘Enlightenment’ keeps on winning,” James A. Haught, an editor emeritus of a West Virginia newspaper, asserts in his latest column that since the advent of the Enlightenment, for three centuries, liberals have scored a string of historical victories over conservatives, and he “hopes the progressive pattern keeps rolling forever.”

Haught writes: “Around three centuries ago, major thinkers began advocating democracy, human rights and personal freedoms. Their period became known as the Enlightenment. It launched the long-running liberals-versus-conservatives John Lockeconflict still driving much of today’s politics.” After scantily listing the contributions of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704; photo, right), Baron Montesquieu (1689-1755) and even Voltaire, he goes on to characterize our Founders: “Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, etc. were brilliant radicals who absorbed the Enlightenment ideas and incorporated them into the first modern democracy.”

Yes, our Founding Fathers were brilliant men, sons of the Enlightenment, but as to being called “radicals” that is subject to debate, as is the assertion of their alleged founding of the first modern democracy. But from there, it gets worse.  In fact I was astounded at the mischaracterizations used to force through his arguments — namely that the Enlightenment liberalism has triumphed and will continue to triumph over intransigent conservatism. Haught writes:

The Enlightenment not only produced modern democracy, it also laid the foundation of liberal political values still winning victories today. For three centuries, by fits and starts, Western progress has been mostly a chronicle of progressives defeating conservative resistance. Reformers repeatedly toppled old privileges, hierarchies and establishments.

And then gloating Haught goes on with his litany: “Look at the historical record: Conservatives tried to retain slavery, but they lost. They tried to block voting by women, but they lost. The tried to prevent couples from using birth control, but they lost. The tried to obstruct Social Security pensions for oldsters, but they lost. They tried to outlaw labor unions, but they lost.” He goes on to list 15 more alleged conservative defeats.

There is some truth to what he writes, nevertheless glaring errors sully his thesis. So where do we begin? First of all, democracy began with ancient Greece, not with the Enlightenment (listen to Pericles’ Funeral Oration during the Peloponnesian War [431-404 B.C.] and read the arguments in Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics). And here is perhaps my biggest objection to his thesis: The modern liberal vs. conservative political conflict of today did not begin with the Enlightenment; it originated later in the 19th century, consequent to the upheaval of the French Revolution, fomented with Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto (1848), and crystallized with the meeting of the left-wing socialists and communists at the First International (1866).

The political-philosophical arguments of the Enlightenment involved support for mercantilism, privileges of the nobility, divine rights of kings, and other royalist prerogatives championed by the “old conservative” monarchists, later the Tories in England; whereas classical liberals fought for natural rights, personal freedom, free trade, freedom of worship and limited government as members of the Whig opposition. These concepts were and Edmund Burkeremain largely anathema to today’s socialist, collectivist, progressive, and intolerant modern liberals, who are anti-religion, believe in big government and worship the State. In fact, the founder of the modern conservative movement, Edmund Burke (1729-1797; photo, left), was a leading Whig politician (a classical liberal) who later parted ways with his former Whig-classical liberal confreres, including his long time friend Charles James Fox (1749-1806), over the radicalism of the French Revolution. While condemning the French revolutionist radicals, Burke supported the colonists and American independence. As Burke himself illustrates, then, classical liberals are more in tune with today’s conservatives and libertarians, and are the philosophical complete opposite of modern liberals, who are at heart progressive socialists. Just ask Democrat presidential candidate, socialist Bernie Sanders, who at this moment is climbing in the democratic polls.

As to the asserted positivism reinforcing modern liberalism (socialism), one should recall that 200 years of beneficially evolving changes in ancient Greek (Athenian) democracy and 500 years of the Roman Republic were followed by empire, the Dark Ages, feudalism, and monarchism (not to mention the savagery in many parts of the world) for nearly two millennia until the 20th century. So conservatism should not be buried just yet.James Madison

In Haught’s column, the word “Democracy” is made to come out of the mouths of the enlightenment philosophers, who for the most part hardly ever uttered it (they considered themselves constitutionalists or republicans), and it is even bandied about as a household word of the American Founding Fathers, but as mentioned, the Founders were no fans of mass democracy, and the word is nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, whereas “a Republican form of government” is guaranteed to the States in the Union (Article IV, Section 4).

It is true conservatives tend to dislike change and agree with the axiom of Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) that the experience of the ages should not be disregarded. As such they have militated for preserving traditional institutions that have benefited mankind and that promoted stability, law, and order; but in the end conservatives have also discarded institutions and policies that have been found iniquitous or unworkable. Occasionally, strife, rarely civil war has been necessary, but by and large change has come peacefully by constitutional means, at least in America. Moreover, following the conservative dictum of preserving good institutions and discarding the unworkable, some conservatives may have come to agree with some political changes but not with others. Even in defeat, conservatives provide a great service by promoting reasonable debate, allowing beneficial reforms to come about after sober reflection rather than as a result of unrestrained passions incited by demagogic politicians.

Lenin, Mao, StalinAt first glance, Mr. Haught seems to have carried the day with his clever litany of so-called liberal victories over conservative intransigence. But close perusal, as we have done, reveals holes or rather a sieve in his arguments by which a cascade of historic mischaracterizations wash down the drain of casuistry in political philosophy.

Mr. Haught fails to account for the brutal (progressive) leftist revolutions, such as the French Revolution (1789-1795), the Russian Revolution and Soviet gulag state (1917-1991), Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), etc., and other excesses of liberalism once consolidated. He also confuses polar opposites — i.e., classical vs. modern liberalism. Thus, his “historical record” of the supposedly unending victories of liberalism over conservatism becomes seriously flawed if not outright deceptive. Yet, with all the historic evils of humanity ascribed to conservatives, while ostensibly the liberals are the (false) knights in shinning armor, his thesis becomes laughable.

The parody, though, I admit, at first made me chuckled — until I soberly recalled the end result of unrestrained modern liberalism (progressivism) and the excesses of socialism finally incarnated in the evils of communism and the 100 million hapless victims of collectivism, exterminated by their own governments in attempting to create egalitarian workers paradises — not unlike those dystopias Mr. Haught wants to re-create with his excessive victories, but where like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some megalomaniac, demagogic pigs come out on top and are always more equal than others and where in the end rivers of blood flow through the stables of the collective farms and gulags of those regimes.

References

1. Blaylock RL. Collectivism, secular humanism, scientific positivism (scientism) and centralized state power — Part 2: Centralization of power. Hacienda Publishing.com, August 14, 2015. 

2. Blaylock RL. Collectivism, secular humanism, scientific positivism (scientism) and centralized state power — Part 1: A most dangerous admixture. Hacienda Publishing.com, August 14, 2015.  

3. Blaylock RL. Managed Truth: The Great Danger to Our Republic. Medical Sentinel 1998;3(6):92-93. 

4. Faria MA. Religious morality (and secular humanism) in Western civilization as precursors to medical ethics: A historic perspective. Surg Neurol Int 2015;6:105. 

5. Faria MA. Classical Liberalism vs Modern Liberalism (Socialism) — A Primer. HaciendaPublishing.com, May 21, 2012. 

6. Faria MA. Stalin, Communists, and fatal statistics. The Macon Telegraph, January 8, 2012. 

7. Faria MA. Liberal orthodoxy and the squelching of political or scientific dissent. HaciendaPublishing.com, August 19, 2013. 

8. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part I): The totalitarian left from Communism to Social Democracy. HaciendaPublishing.com, September 28, 2011. 

9. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part II) — The Center: A Democracy or a Constitutional Republic? HaciendaPublishing.com, October 14, 2011. 

10. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part III) — The Extreme Right: Anarchism. HaciendaPublishing.com, October 21, 2011. 

11. Durant W. The Story of Civilization. Volume 2: The Life of Greece, 1939; Volume 7: The Age of Reason Begins, 1961; Volume 9: The Age of Voltaire, 1965; Volume 10: Rousseau and Revolution, 1967, etc. are recommended as general background reading.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D., is a retired professor of neurosurgery and the author of Cuba in Revolution — Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002). His website is: www.haciendapub.com.

A short  and unillustrated version of this article first appeared in the Macon Telegraph, October 1, 2015.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. The Enlightenment — A triumph of classical not modern liberalism! HaciendaPublishing.com, September 29, 2015. Available from: http://haciendapub.com/articles/enlightenment-%E2%80%94-triumph-classical-not-modern-liberalism 

Copyright © 2015 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD

Your rating: None Average: 5 (8 votes)
Comments on this post

Freedom of speech curtailed by political correctness?

In a recent article decrying political correctness to the point that not only our speech but even our emotions are manipulated, my friend Dr. David Stolinsky writes: “Is it possible to be too civilized, like a pampered dog that no longer barks when criminals break in? … Have we reached the point that many people believe anger is always wrong? Have we confused petty anger over personal slights with righteous indignation over real evil?”

What Dr. Stolinsky alludes to is the gradual conditioning and implementation the illiberal, authoritarian policy described so well in George Orwell’s 1984: The impairment of freedom of speech and the utter simplification of language so as to control our thoughts, actions, even our emotions. As the words and phrases disappear from the lexicon, the meaning of those words is also washed off from the conscience of the captive population.

Modern liberals, better described as authoritarian progressives are intolerant of freedom of speech, and now define what is considered politically and socially acceptable speech and thoughts, wielding the weapons of political correctness, which in Orwell’s 1984 become “thought crimes” (today’s euphemism for some selective “hate crimes.”) Just as Big Brother and his thought police in Orwell’s 1984 destroyed freedom, created perpetual wars, and indoctrinated the people that freedom is slavery and that ignorance is strength — illiberal progressives are doing the same today to create manageable and malleable thought automatons.

Submissive automatons are easily managed,who like slaves do not rebel to tyranny. They accept it, obey, and don’t get angry— unless told to do so by their masters! — MAF

Thoughts for Today!

My friend and sometimes debating partner Rolando sent us his "Thoughts for Today." Harsh judgment, perhaps, but given the degree of declivity in morality and education, and the assault on the family and religion, I suspect they are not far from the true state of affairs and need wider dissemination and greater awareness.

Here are my Thoughts for Today:

The world is all going to hell in a hand basket and doing so rapidly. I fear that the end is near. Only intervention by Jesus and God can stop this roaring mass of destruction. The people are generally distracted, stupid, apathetic and brainwashed to the hilt. The youth, for the most part, are morons. Civility has disappeared and the "Me" generation--that is, the self-absorbed, self-centered, selfish, irritating youth are dominant. People are covered in tattoos, body piercings and other signs of insanity. If one looks at pictures of prison inmates and the crowd at Wal-Mart or any shopping center--they look the same. Our society has swallowed the whole philosophy of egalitarianism and collectivism whole. These idiots, who cannot stand to have their parents tell them anything are protesting to convert our country into a collectivist hell-hole where the power elite will tell them everything--what to wear, what to eat, what job they will hold, were to live, what they can and cannot say--everything. They are so lost in their utopian vision they cannot see the monstrous government they are helping create. They swoon around words like "hope & change" "progress," "world citizen," "cosmic justice," and "new world order" thinking they represent some magical, utopian world where it will rain lemonade and the streets will be made of fudge. They scream that conservatives are closed minded while they jam their fingers in their ears when anyone of intelligence is trying to show them the hell they are creating. They never read books written by those who have lived in these collectivist hells or suffered under totalitarian governments--no they read about lollypops and teddybears and the utopian world swirling around in their empty heads. Even when they are sitting their asses in a gulag they will still not understand that they created the system that will ultimately kill them.

They express my frustration with the modern generation. There are a number of excellent youngsters but they are overwhelmed by the babbling idiots.

Bless you both,

Rolando

What are your thoughts?

Victories of Liberalism?

Well said. Conservatism begins with an honest definition of natural rights and limited government. Conservatism/libertarianism is not the culprit for all the nations ills to have been corrected by compassionate liberals. Conservatives believe each individual owns ones-self, and the basic right of an individual is to be free of oppression from others. While liberals maintain health care, etc. is a human right, that is not objectively a valid assertion. To maintain such requires arbiters, line crossing, moral judgements, and so on. Rather than make a human rights argument, they should simply posit on moral grounds that we are born with a conscience, and we should use it for good. Charity at the point of a gun is not compassion.

A very fine article. As you say there is no relation of today's liberalism to that of those past, so we have a labeling disconnect. One might fairly argue that slavery was anti-conservative, and certainly anti-libertarian in that it existed at the behest of government-the correlation being that each individual owns him/herself which is antithetical to the notion that a collective of citizens under the rubric of governance has a right that supersedes the right of the individual.

The primary function of government is, or should be, to protect the collective from another entity that would do harm, and further to protect the individual from the collective.

Today's (modern) liberalism has little or nothing in common with classical liberalism. It's all about labels. For instance one could fairly argue slavery was/is anti-conservative, and certainly anti-libertarian.

That is to say that those who believe in limited government and individual rights would prefer that no individual, or collection of individuals is entitled to the property or un-remunerated labor of another. We had no right to it under slavery, and contrary to contemporary liberalism we have not inherent right to it now.

And as to conservatism?

As you may have noticed, Jefferson Thomas, in the context of my article above I was asked by a wolf in sheep's clothing if there was also a classical vs. modern conservatism paradigm similar to the classical vs. modern liberalism. He suspected there was and I was even asked to write an article about it. I have done so:

http://haciendapub.com/articles/historical-meaning-political-conservatism

I hope you enjoy it and pass the word to those inquiring. Thanks again for your interest. MAF