The first ideology that David T. Koyzis explains in his book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (InterVarsity Press, 2003) is called “Liberalism.” Again, by using this term, political scientists do not mean popular definition of “liberal” in American political debates (as opposed to Republican Conservativism) but an over-arching political ideology that has a commitment to individuality. The American political system has the individual at it's heart, and the political debates deal with the differing views on how to ensure individuals their rights and offord them with equal opportunity.
I’m into the next chapter in Koyzis’ book now (on the ideology of Conservativism), but before we go there, we should understand the development of liberalism is America (since this is the political ideology that we all work in as American, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat). Koyzis maps out five stages of development.
The Stages of Liberalism’s Development
Koyzis states that Western liberalism has gradually expanded both the range of freedom for individuals as well as the role of government to protect these freedoms.
- Stage 1—“Hobbesian Commonwealth”: Koyzis calls this “pre-liberal” in that it laid the foundations of individual rights (especially the right to self-preservation) while at the same time affirmed a sovereign state.
- Stage 2—“Night Watchman State”: Expanded on Hobbes in that we have the right to both preserve our life as well as earning a livelihood. This is where free market capitalism enters into the formula. In the same year as Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, which laid out the economic implications of liberalism: individual competition (which was new in that it moved economic competition from nations [“mercantilism”] to individuals). Capitalism is economic individualism: each person is to act in his own self-interest. It is said that altruism is not helpful to a capitalistic system, for when each individual seeks his or her own self-interest, an “invisible hand” leads the process for the best of all in society. The government, then, is put in the place of referee over the “game” of capitalism, setting the rules and making sure all play by those rules; but in no way is the government to attempt to determine the outcome. Some even likened this economic game to “social Darwinism,” in which the fittest survive in an economic society. The government, then just watches over the activity, making sure all play by the rules.
- Stage 3—“Regulatory State”: After a while, the inevitable dark side of unchecked capitalism (especially when the industrial revolution created the abuse of labor and the formation of monopolies) reared its ugly head. Therefore, the government was no longer seen as the only potential abridgment of individual freedom; private concentrations of power also endangered it. Therefore, the role of government was advanced to include the protection from infringements from nonstate centers of power. The Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts of 1890 and 1914 epitomized this new regulatory state. Theodore Roosevelt believed that the federal government must control “industrial baronage.”
- Stage 4—“Equal Opportunity State”: Liberal ideology continued to morph as it was realized that not only are people limited in their opportunities by public and private centers of power but also by impersonal factors such as insufficient economic resources, whatever the source of this lack may be. “If life is indeed a game, then the contestants have by no means got an equal start. Some have taken off from the starting gate with an extra advantage that will tend to favor their ultimate victory, while others are not only laboring under various handicaps, but may not have reached the gate at all.” Liberalism has a heightened sense of fair-play, so it often reexamines the rules of the game so that everyone gets a “fair-shake.” And since the “game” of life begins with every generation, if one’s parents have fared poorly in the last round, it will affect one’s chances to get ahead in their own round.
Koyzis makes this analysis: “It is at this point that the analogy to a game begins to break down, which demonstrates once more a central weakness of liberal individualism: it is not only unable to account for the ontological status of community; it also ignores the connectedness of individuals to previous and succeeding generations. It pretends that the individual is an isolated runner in the race, whose success or failure depends wholly on herself.”
- Stage 5—“Choice Enhancement State”: Since liberalism is dedicated to the desires of the individual, their will naturally be conflicts among individuals when they seek those desires. “The task of liberalism, therefore, is to try to accommodate these desires as much as possible in a reasonably peaceful and stable manner. But in no case should the liberal state attempt to prejudge the choices lying before individuals, since that would be an undue limitation on freedom of choice.” There is therefore a refusal to “legislate morality” in a purely liberal ideology. But this causes problems in that there are consequences for some individualistic behaviors that actually cause harm to society. In the quest to validate all lifestyle choices, liberals call upon government to ameliorate, if not altogether eliminate, such consequences so they can continue to engage in the quest for a utopia where everyone can do what she wants to do. Koyzis writes, “This final stage of liberalism demands that government effectively subsidize irresponsible behavior for fear that doing otherwise risks making the government into a potentially oppressive legislator of the good life.”
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