The sage Lew Rockwell wrote this piece in 1996, during another one of those tribal conflicts we call federal presidential elections.
It is important reading for those of us who quickly call ourselves ‘libertarians’, accepting the pessimism and hopelessness that hangs on that label. It reminds us that we are part of a proud tradition that has proven its success and popularity worldwide since the Age of Enlightenment, and even back to antiquity: liberalism.
We are so lost since the democratic socialists cloaked themselves in our name, liberal, to mask the alien horror of their proposals as they imposed them upon the world’s most liberal people: the Americans. Now, it seems the most effective of us call ourselves ‘conservatives’, explaining that we seek to conserve the liberties of our founding generation. But those liberal ideas that we seek to conserve were then, and remain, progressive, radical, and revolutionary across time and culture. The true conservatives and reactionaries, those who wish to control and restrict the “unfettered” free market, are now called ‘liberals’.
Is it any wonder that we are fooled time and again by the rhetoric of true conservatives, who we have come to believe are our natural allies when they are truly our enemies? Is it any wonder that we find no solace with the supposed liberals, who have used our concepts of liberty, equality, and peace to further their agenda of authority, stratification, and war?
We have allowed semantics to cleave us from our identity and our noble tradition. We are liberals. Liberalism is the most successful system the world has seen. Not only did it produce the great States of America, but it is the reigning ideology in Europe, the Pacific Rim, and anywhere else people have been able to lift themselves from poverty and misery. Liberalism is about decentralization, property rights, the rule of law, republicanism, and civil society. It is the common thread the makes Norway, even with its famous “social safety net”, more similar to Virginia or Hong Kong than Cuba or Libya.
So, stop putting yourself in a little box. Stop obsessing over the intricacies of private road systems and collecting signatures for ballot access. Stop giving yourself heartburn tracking the relentless advance of tyranny. Those exercises are useful, but fruitless until we reclaim our identity. We are liberals, and every human being on the planet is desperate to live in the societies we build. Hold up your head and look around: all that is good is your legacy.