Did (Classical) Liberalism Fail? If It Had, Things Would Be Much Worse Than They Are
“Liberalism failed” is increasingly a mantra among some American conservatives. By “liberalism” they don’t mean the ideology of what most of the world calls “social democrats.” They mean classical liberalism, or the ideology of lassize-faire. (This ideology’s modern name is “libertarianism.”) The fact liberalism is not universally popular — and unable to foil all the plans of social democrats and other leftists at every turn — apparently means we ought to throw the who thing in the dustbin of history. (See here, here, and here.)
This would be disastrous.
“Failed” by What Standard?
First of all, when anti-liberals insist the ideology has failed, we must ask ourselves: by what standard has liberalism failed? I suppose “failure” is the right word if we define a failed ideology as “any ideology that is not enthusiastically and dogmatically believed by an overwhelming majority of the population in a given time or place.”
Certainly, that would describe any number of ideologies, just as it describes, for example, Marxism in most of the world. While many conservatives and other rightists like to hyperbolically claim Marxism is ascendant everywhere, this is obviously untrue. If Marxism were nearly as popular as its enemies say, there would be virtually no international trade, private property everywhere would have been all but abolished, the Chinese would still be starving to death by the millions, and most of the world would be living like the people of the old Soviet Union.
But is Marxism a failed ideology? It doesn’t appear so since an enthusiastic minority continues to push for its widespread adoption. The fact these people have yet to abolish private property, however, hardly proves Marxism has “failed.” It just remains a minority position. It could gain more ground at any time. Indeed, this may be the case right now.
Yet, many of the same people who are quick to declare minority-preferred Marxism to be wildly successful declare liberalism to be a failure, because, well, it’s only preferred by a minority of the population.
Note the double standard: if Marxism continues to hold sway over onl
Article from Mises Wire