Classical Liberalism: How Small Government Can Regain Its Voice
The late Andrew Breitbart said that politics is downstream from culture. Essentially, political battles are won or lost based on the culture from which voters derive their values. For conservatives, this has meant appealing to an American culture deeply rooted in family and religious values, and for years, this was a successful strategy. However, in today’s increasingly secular America, these same appeals are no longer popular with most of the electorate, making it an uphill battle for conservatives to find strong support. If there is going to be a voice for small government in the future, something needs to change.
Some commentators are saying that this election is an example of what politics could look like in a post-Christian nation: a populist-nationalist candidate on one side and a far-left progressive on the other, much in the way parties are divided in Europe. If true, this leaves supporters of small government with few good options going forward. Both sides will grow government to a great degree; the only choice is in where you want that growth to occur.
However, this potential realignment of government-grower versus government-grower, authoritarian versus authoritarian, is certainly not set in stone. Donald Trump was nominated with the lowest percentage of popular support in the Republican primaries in 48 years. Hillary Clinton only won with the entire weight of the establishment behind her - and the corruption that accompanied it - against a 73-year-old socialist. The weak support of the two candidates is reflected in the polls, in which both have struggled to near 50 percent. Most importantly, both candidates are doing horrendously among young people, the drivers of American culture.
If what Breitbart said was true, then the candidates have weak support because they don’t reflect the culture as it currently stands. They are both post-Christian politicians, but as baby boomers, they have their strongest appeal with the oldest among us and not much else. There is a clear void that needs to be filled to properly represent the culture, and supporters of small government are already laying the groundwork for such a solution.
The answer? Classical liberalism - the philosophy that uses reason alone to determine that mankind was born free and that protecting this freedom is the best way to advance society. Arising in the Enlightenment period of 17th century Europe, classical liberalism inspired the founders to declare independence from Great Britain, and it has been a part of the fabric of this nation ever since.
For instance, many Americans take for granted that all men are created equal or that we have certain rights like freedom of speech and the right to privacy. This is a truly unique phenomenon in the scope of human history. The principles and values of classical liberalism are enshrined in American culture because they are what the nation was founded upon, unlike any other country on Earth.
Three of America’s mainstream ideologies have stemmed from a classical liberal culture: conservatism, libertarianism, and liberalism. Their own spin on the ideology of their roots follows as a result of the primary goal of each - preserving the social order, preserving liberty, and solving social problems, respectively. While these goals have put the competing ideologies at odds with each other over the past several decades, they must unite lest they let the fascists and Marxists gaining in power bring about the end of the “liberal consensus” (in the classical sense) these three ideologies have forged, which Ross Douthat identifies as a possibility.
A coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and reasonable liberals can emerge by returning to the classical liberal tradition of their roots. Conservatives would have to drop their tendency to bring religion into politics. Libertarians would have to drop their tendency to see no legitimate role for government at all. Liberals would have to drop their tendency to use the government as a vehicle for social change. If done properly, this could create a governing majority that wants to reduce the size and power of government in a secularized America.
Leading figures are already at work trying to make this coalition emerge. Milo Yiannopoulos, though not a traditional conservative by any means, wants such a coalition to arise in opposition to the authoritarians, in particular the “social-justice-warrior” left, but also the religious right. He believes that a Donald Trump presidency would blow up the system so much that a natural political realignment of libertarian versus authoritarian, rather than left versus right, would occur.
Outside of the conservative movement, Austin Petersen, who was a presidential candidate during the primaries for the Libertarian Party, is attempting to bridge the gap between libertarians and tea-party conservatives. Dave Rubin, a liberal show host, has made an enemy of the “regressive left” and now describes himself as a classical liberal.
The three figures are most similar in their avid defense for free speech. While there may be disagreement as to specific policies, all conservatives, libertarians, and liberals should be able to agree that any differences should be worked out through well-reasoned debate and that the truth can be discovered in such a fashion. This makes them diametrically opposed to the authoritarians who will use whatever means necessary to achieve the end of a better government for their particular base, disregarding the rest of the country. A classical liberal coalition would seek to create a smaller government that is for no one and therefore is for everyone.
A radical center, socially liberal, fiscally conservative coalition could make the revolutionary change that this country desperately needs to happen today. The alternative - a perpetuation of a populist-nationalist, far-left progressive political dichotomy - will destroy this country as founded. Conservatives, libertarians, and liberals must overcome their differences to take on the most pressing threat of an overbearing, tyrannical state. If this election cycle is any indication, they're not going to defeat it on their own.
Trevor Louis is the founder of youngwhigs.com, a conservative blog featuring young writers. He attends Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC.