The Decline and Triumph of Classical Liberalism (Pt. 1) - Learn Liberty

The Decline and Triumph of Classical Liberalism (Pt. 1) – Learn Liberty

From the IHS Vault: Dr. Davies traces the decline of classical liberal/libertarian ideas from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century. He describes how the case for classical liberal ideas grew stale and fell prey to competing ideologies like socialism, fascism, and welfare liberalism. Filmed at the 2006 IHS seminar “Advanced Studies in Freedom” at Bryn Mawr College. Produced by Inextinguishable Productions.

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I'm going to start off with a gloomy lecture because what I'm going to have to tell you about today is a rather sad or gloomy story at least from our point of view and it's a story of the decline of classical liberalism a process which as I say here begins in the 1860s accelerates quite dramatically after about 1890 and reaches its climax or low point from our point of view really in the 1940s and what this means is that essentially classical liberal ideas cease to be the agenda-setting ideas up to about the 1860s or 1870s maybe even to a bit after that classical liberal thinking classical liberal ideas and movements are the ones that set the agenda other movements tend to react to them and I'll explain the later lecture how this happens and what its effects are but by the time you get certainly the 1890s or even more so later on the 1920s or 30s eh this is no longer the case the agenda is being driven by a quite different set of ideas collectivism of various kinds basically and the result of this of course is the world that takes shape in the first half the 20th century and even subsequently is shaped and determined not by classical liberal ideas not by ideas about Liberty but by other in ideas that are inimical to that and that explains a great deal of the world in which we now live now as I say this process when you talk about the decline of classical liberalism what we mean by this well it's a process which has a number of aspects and these aspects are all importantly all interlock with each other it's a political process what that means is that classical liberal parties either become marginalized and unimportant or are taken over and transformed and become social liberal or social democratic parties so the Liberal Party in Great Britain the party of Gladstone and Cobden and bright is taken over by liberal imperialists and becomes the social Liberal Party of Lloyd George at Asquith in the United States the Democratic Party which under Grover Cleveland and William Tilden is the party of free trade limited government low taxation and federalism becomes under Woodrow Wilson and even more of under Franklin Roosevelt what it is now the party essentially of a social democratic form of liberalism and this process happens elsewhere as well happens in Italy in Germany in France in fact in France and Germany classical liberalism is effectively wiped out as a serious political movement by the nineteen hundreds which is why Friedrich Hayek for example famous observed that there France is the most hopeless country there is for classical liberalism yet another reason to support the Italians the it's also an intellectual decline as I said if you were to list all the major intellectuals active in various fields of intellectual inquiry in the early 19th century most of them are and certainly most important ones are classical liberals of one kind or another this is no longer the case by say the nineteen hundreds or the 1920s there are still some classical liberal intellectuals left people like Ludwig von Mises that Nigel mentioned yesterday but they are no longer typical of the intellectual media the intellectual media has come to be dominated by other kinds of ideas including some which are now regarded as deeply unfashionable but I'll say more about that there's also a cultural aspect to this something which I'll return to because it's enormously important in the early 19th century many of the great artistic cultural figures the major composers the major writers the major artists are ardent supporters of liberal ideas and cultural life generally tends to articulate or embody liberal ideas ideas about individualism freedom and a particular vision of how the world should be by the 1890s need more than 1900 s one of the most dramatic changes that has taken places will see is that artists authors people that's all generally have become deeply hostile to classical liberal ideas and to bourgeois modernity generally authors like absinthe flerbert' Zola people that kind whatever qualities they have another respects are strongly opposed to and critical of the liberal order that have been created in the 19th century and because cultural affairs of this kind have such a huge impact on the way the majority of the population think and feel about the this is perhaps on the most important aspects of the decline and finally it has a sociological element this is perhaps more controversial but I would argue that there are a number of changes in social organization structure which have the effect at least in the short medium term of weakening the position of classical liberalism and strengthening the position of various kinds of collectivist ideologies now to start this story you need to go back to the 1860s a particularly receptive Bolton here will be 1863 that years in some ways the climax of the process I'll be looking at in a subsequent lecture of the great triumphs of early liberalism what happens in 1863 well of course I don't need to say over here perhaps in 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation is issued marking the the end or the start at the end of the institution of chattel slavery in the United States I don't go into the argument about you know what Lincoln's motives were or why he did it and how he did it the point is that that was an enormous victory because it marked the overthrow not only of a substantial large part of the world holding on to large numbers people slaves but also the defeat of an explicitly pro-slavery ideology but also on the other side of the world in 1863 the so-called liberators our Tsar Alexander the second signed the proclamation which emancipated Russia's rural population from serfdom another huge victory for the cause of Liberty however hedged about by the provisions which went along with it so you could say that in 1863 things were looking very good for classical liberalism two years earlier France and Britain had signed the so-called Cobden Chevalier Treaty which ended 300 years of trade war between England and France and created basically the largest free trade area the world has ever seen by creating complete free trade between the British Empire and France and its dependencies so everything seemed to be going in a particular direction the direction of less government more free trade greater individual liberty greater freedom of thought and the like and that's how most people saw it most people thought that that was the way things were going to go the general vision of the future that most people had was that it was going to be one in which the world became more and more steadily and progressively liberal if you read the writings of people like John Stuart Miller for example that's clearly the kind of future that he foresees and he's not unusual and if this is how most people thought so the anti that rules the conservatives of the time are in terribly gloomy states they really think that they have had it and that the whole battle has gone to their opponents to the Liberals but in fact what happens is the exact opposite that was as good as it got and for the next 80 90 years the tide which has been flowing so strongly in one direction suddenly reverses and it starts to go out so what actually happens well the end the last third of the 19th century the period between roughly 1817 1914 is known to most historians by a name that the French gave to it the Belle Epoque the beautiful epoch John said something about this in his lecture yesterday there's two things going on with this this time on the one hand on the surface the triumph of liberalism and Liberty continues the Bell epoch is in many ways a wonderful era in human history hence the name that is given it's an age of an enormous flowering of culture it's the age of an enormous explosion of music musical creation of art of literature a great flowering if you like of human culture and achievement it's also an age of absolutely unprecedented economic growth after about 1870 the general rate of economic growth in most parts of the world suddenly jumps up from about one and a half percent to 3 percent or more it's hard to emphasize how unprecedented this is before 1870 nowhere in the world with the possible exception of China in the 13th century had grown by more than about one and a half percent per annum and most places had not even seen that the general pattern had been for economists remained stagnant or to grow at minuscule rates suddenly after 1870 the whole underlying rate of economic growth accelerates dramatically and the result is that between 1870 and 1914 you have the large increase or rise in human living standards in the whole of history up to that point the average income in the United Kingdom for example goes up by a factor of three between 1870 and 1914 in the space of one lifetime people are three times better off than they had been at the start of that period nothing like this had ever happened before also the whole world becomes vastly more interconnected you get what historians now call the first globalization in many ways in fact the world economy is more globalized by 1900 or 1914 than it is now for example in 1914 there are only two countries in Europe that you need a passport to enter these are the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and every one regards this is a sign of how backward they are everywhere else if you want to go to Britain or France or Spain or indeed the United States or Canada you just get in a boat or a train and you go there none of these damn logs and so you have to go through these saves with border controls and people asking you intrusive questions about what your business is and millions of people do it there are unprecedented ly large movements of people all around the world in the Belle époque two and a half million Italians go to live in Argentina for example between 1895 and 1914 there's massive migration into the United States large-scale migration into Great Britain for the first time in several hundred years in fact that's why we have a large Jewish community in Manchester where I come from most of them were taken in by people who are told that they were being going to take them to from Russia to New York and then they drop them off in Liverpool it took them a while to realize that this wasn't New York but a while after a while they settle down so in that sense the world was more integrated it was also more integrated in terms of capital investment the proportion of capital invested outside its area of origin before 1914 was much higher than it is even today something like fifty five percent of all British capital was invested outside the British Empire which mainly in the United States but also in Latin America and in Europe nothing the figures today are pretty high but nothing what they were then so the world is growing highly integrated this is the age also of great technological breakthroughs it sees the invention of most of the technologies that shape them on world the internal combustion engine the telephone the Telegraph the electric motor modern steel manufacturing modern chemicals these are all created this time it's a period of enormous commercial enterprise and it's a period also with great confidence in progress this is an age where people contrary to what you might imagine do not look back at the past with nostalgic people in the 1880s or 1890s are constantly going on not how bad things are compared to the good old days but how much better things were than they had been 100 years earlier so that's the visible side but underneath this all sorts of dark currents are going on as John described it basically there's a huge intellectual shift going on and all sorts of ideas which had been formally discredited are suddenly becoming modish and capturing the intellectual high ground what are some of these ideas well imperialism for example up until the from about the 1770s through to the 1860s most people thought that imperialism was a waste of time and money Benjamin Disraeli of all people British conservative prime minister the man who later on makes Queen Victoria Empress of India he says to one of his friends these colonies are a millstone round our necks and I wish that we were rid of them and he was simply expressing what most people thought that was the general idea empires were a morally bad and B just a waste of time and money by the time you get to the 1870s everyone has to have an empire if you don't have an empire you aren't a member of the club of big nations 1878 there's the Berlin conference key date for two reasons the 1878 in that year they sit down and they cut up Africa the hole that was just carved up between the various imperial powers and there's a great expansion of the idea that imperialism is actually a good thing the idea that it's part of the process by which you bring civilization to the rest of the planet it suddenly becomes a positive a view held widely on the left by the way Fabian socialists Marxists are ardent Pro imperialists marked as a supporter of imperialism a fact that is often forgotten because he sees it as part of the process of human improvement for many parts of the world another thing is protectionism 1878 is a very bad date for a number of reasons it's also the year in which Germany abandons free trade and adopts protectionism which is a disastrous move because by this time Germany has been the country that everyone else wants to imitate it's the country that everyone regards as being the most modern country on the planet and I'm afraid it's a sad thing to say but if you look back at almost all the bad ideas I'm going to talk about the country that produces them most effectively is Germany and it's Germany that then influences the rest of the world the progressive movement here in the United States of which more in a moment is also basically getting all of its ideas from Germany from the German University System and elsewhere so although we still have this integrated world economy appearing there's an increasing political movement in the direction of protectionism and planned or thar kkuk economic development with governments providing most of the development there's also the rise of collectivism the growth of the idea that is not individuals who matter but collectives nations races the state in general the idea is that the collective group should have primacy that individuals should and ought to sacrifice their own welfare their own happiness their own goals to some kind of collective good now of course what that means in reality is that they have to sacrifice their own welfare and benefit to the interests of the people who control or who define what that collective good is when people say oh you must sacrifice your good for the good of the nation what that actually means in practice is that you will sacrifice your own interests for the interests of the power elite the people who control or define what the nation is and this is a flaw and that you can find all over the place there's also a great revival of millet RISM one of the great achievements of liberal thinking in the 18th and early 19th century had been to make it generally accepted that war was a bad thing you may think what is that obvious well it's not historically most thinkers have thought that war is actually a good thing because it encourages heroism and the martial heroic virtues of bravery magnanimity and the like but by the 1860s most people had you know come round to the view that no war is pretty much a bad idea and it's not something that you want to encourage and people do genuinely look for all sorts of other ways of avoiding wars a lot of international disputes are increasingly settled by the mid 19th century by arbitration so Great Britain the United States for example have disputes over the border II the boundary of the Oregon Territory and over the Bayne border and a number of other things but these never lead to Wars because instead the United States and the British Empire resort to arbitration they ask the Swiss or the Swedish to sort out the matters neutral arbitrators and they agree with the the findings now by the time you get to 1880s or 1890s the idea that war is good has become very prevalent there's an enormous movement of popular militarism in most part of the world people volunteering for military service in large numbers desperately keen to join the military and the idea that being a soldier or is a good thing or but war is an activity that brings out the highest levels of human virtue this idea is amazingly widespread when war broke out in 1914 how did most people react were they dismayed no they were ecstatically excited and enthusiastic there's a man called Rupert Brooke an English poet and wow how did he react when the war broke out in 1914 he wrote a poem which begins now god be thanked to his masters with his hour what he was saying was he wants to give thanks to God because God hadn't brought a war at a time when he could fight it and that was not an unusual attitude very common he actually didn't get his wish he died from typhoid on the way to fight he's buried buried somewhere on the and of course you and he wasn't as I say he wasn't alone in this this attitude though so that's another change that is going on at this time and then all sorts of other ideas begin to appear some of which I'll talk about later such as the idea of eugenics a very popular idea in the late 19th early 20th century the idea then that is that you should breed human beings to improve the quality of the breeding stock the way you do livestock or animals an idea invented by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton but rapidly taken up by other people an example of the ethical collectivism that is such a predominant feature and there's also what I mentioned a cultural aspect of it now in the early 19th century most of the great writers most of the great composers are ardent liberals and this is reflected in their works stond are for example is a great liberal books like Charterhouse of Parma scarless and black these are books which attack the ancien régime and elevate the values of individualism and of Liberty the same is true the work speak like Schiller Goethe Manzoni the author of the betroth the greatest work of talion literature also will be like Giuseppe Verdi most of Verdi's offerors are essentially da basic works of art but they also have a strongly liberal or libertarian message ones like Rigoletto for example are partly amongst other things about the corrupting effects of political power but the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto himself are seen as being perverted or distorted by arbitrary power the same is true in Aida now by the time you get to the 1880s or 1890s this has changed the artists have become deeply hostile to bourgeois liberal society flow there is an example Madame Bovary his greatest novel is not just about a woman who's frustrated in her private life and decides he is going to have an affair it's also a scathing savage attack upon what flubber sees as the stultifying narrow mentality of the bourgeois under the liberal civilization that they have created and the same is true in other areas as well in music for example and in West ravines be for example a great composer however is also again hostile to the world that he sees himself growing up in the world of the Belle époque and in many ways this is more profound and more significant than the other changes because for every person who gets their ideas about the world from reading works of philosophy or economics there are hundreds whose vision of the world is shaped by reading the products of popular culture or by going to in those days the theatre say these days movies or things of that sort so cultural producers if you like have a much more profound impact upon the world than you might imagine they are you know in the famous expression the unacknowledged legislators of mankind which is what somebody said poets once were and also there are certain aspects of the cultural change at this time which are often not discussed or known which are profoundly significant one of them is a sharp move away from rationalism towards irrationalism this takes a number of forms the decline of classicism and the rise of modernist experimentation which is often you know interesting or creative but which is also often linked to irrationalist ideas ideas that did decry the power of Reason the power of the intellect to understand the world and present the world as being chaotic or disorderly and one of the most striking aspects of this later 19th century intellectual movement is the revival of occultism the in sudden upsurge of interest in the occult in strange frankly bonkers ideas about things like lost continents and ancient races which are amazingly influential all sorts of famous people are interested in influenced by these ideas and they feed into a whole number of later political movements not least movements such as fascism particularly German variety so there's a kind of hole cut under current of cultural change going on so to summarize what is happening in the years up to 1914 is on the one hand overtly on the surface a process of economic growth and development of development of a modern society and civilization which is deeply profoundly liberal based on the principles of free trade free contract individual liberty constitutional government and life but underneath this intellectually the tide has moved decisively in the opposite direction and this is both cultural and political now what this leads to is a kind of realignment of politics and a redefinition of what left and right are and this realignment plays a crucial part in many of the other shifts I've mentioned I've got some dates up here these are all dates if you like which are markers for this process and for some of the bad things that happen 1875 is when the Germans adopt the policy of state directed industrial investment already mentioned 1878 1896 is the year in which the Democratic Party – nominating William Jennings Bryan brakes decisively with the legacy of Grover Cleveland and other four earlier leaders 1913 bad day for a whole number of reasons but particularly here in the United States because it's the date when the progressives gained their decisive political victory with two key constitutional amendments the amendment which makes possible federal income tax which transforms the fiscal basis of the federal government and perhaps even more significantly the institution of direct elections for Senators which completely transforms the relationship between state legislatures and the federal Congress and in so doing transforms the nature the relationship between state and federal government and changes American the American federal system now the thing is this up until that what happens is that during the p.m. talking about the terms right and left undergo a profound shift these are a slippery words what do they mean one of the reasons why they're slippery is because their meaning changes over time from about the 1780s through to the 1880s left and right means roughly this the left are people who think that the modern world is broadly a good thing they liked and welcomed the changes that modernity has brought so what does that mean well what that means is until the 88 is to be on the left is to be in favor of less government because one of the changes that has taken place is for the size of government to generally decline if a government to become less extensive it means being in favor of broadly the separation of church and state means being in favor of free trade of individualism and of the sweeping away of the traditional controls and restraints imposed on society by the states of the ancien régime so from the 1880s 1780s rather to the 1880s to be on the left to be pro modern means to be broadly speaking very broadly defined to be classically liberal it means to be in favor of individualism less government greater individual autonomy and freedom and that's what progress is defined as meaning progress up until the 1880s means of movement in the direction of a smaller state a less extensive role for government and a greater role for private initiative private agreement private contract now what that happens is that in the 1880s a huge debate takes place it takes place everywhere in the United States in Britain in Canada in France in Germany it's the debate between two sides who define themselves as being the individualist and the collectivists the individualist people like in the British case Herbert Spencer argue for the traditional view but progress means a movement in the direction of greater Liberty and less government a movement to Spencer put it away from military societies dominated by hierarchical status relationships to industrial societies dominated by contract and free agreement between free individuals the collectivists their opponents argued on the contrary that progress meant a movement in the direction of greater collectivism greater action by the collectivity by society as a whole in a conscious way pursuit of collective interests and that meant a larger role for government in so far as government is the agency through which the collectivity the nation or the people express their interest and make their decisions and I'm afraid the debate is one quite decisively by the collectivist sign and so what happens is that by say 1890 progress has been really find progress now means not a movement in the direction of greater individualism and great solidity but a movement in the direction of greater collectivism and a more expansive role for government now what does that do for classical liberals what it means is that quite suddenly they find themselves cast as conservatives instead of being the party of Progress they become the party that is opposed to progress because progress has now been defined to mean a movement in the direction of larger government and what you find is a kind of strange shuffling of the political pact before this argument takes place the basic division is between liberals on one side and conservatives on the other the conservatives of people who don't like modernity who basically think that we ought to go back to the ancien régime the world of absolute monarchy and confessional states where the church has an active political role now the division is rather between socialists of various kinds ranging from moderate ones to extreme ones and a kind of coalition of liberals and conservatives but some conservatives have moved over to this side and you also get the revival sudden appearance of the ideology of fascism which is a kind of curious combination of those two ideas so people move from one side of the political spectrum to another and many people who had thought themselves to be on the far left or their life suddenly find that they're categorized as being on the right now this has huge implications it's worth thinking about what it means for liberals it means that classical liberals have to make alliances with conservatives it means that they are no longer able to present themselves and their ideas as being actually progressive forward-looking even though they themselves still think that they are because if they try to do so people will say you can't possibly progressive you're against government everyone know that progress means government having a larger role to play in society and what that means is they're on the defensive classical liberalism is putting to a permanently defensive posture by this shift it's no longer the agenda-setting aggressive set of beliefs and policies it's now become instead a defensive negative set of ideas Dizz aimed and really just at stopping the movement or halt slowing down the movement in the direction of larger government and greater political power for elites and others now it's worth saying something I'll flag up something which I'll talk about in a later lecture which is that part of the problem here was that in the course of the earlier part of the 19th century liberals had adopted a notion of progress which was deeply flawed I'll just flag up this up right now essentially they moved away from a negative definition of progress the idea of improvement to a positive definition of progress and a Seabee who work out what that is but basically that had been a big mistake and it was what had left them open to this reverse Hizbullah versa more now why does this happen why is it that this kind of transformation of the idea of progress takes place why is it that classical liberals find themselves suddenly almost flipped over from being the agenda-setting aggressive parties becoming the passive defensive part of the political debate why is it that all these cultural changes and political changes take place which leave classical liberals by the 1900's in such a weak and vulnerable position why does imperialism go from being a you know despised and eccentric views being the officially progressive and popular view why is there such an upsurge in collectivism ethical cultural both a popular level and at the elite level now there's a number of reasons which I'll quickly go through I want you to think about you know how these work and why they happen and what the significance of them is one of the reasons is just that liberals become complacent the problem is as I said in the 1860s everyone thought that the Liberals have won the battle but the future was definitely theirs when you start to think like that it's very dangerous become very complacent you no longer bother to keep yourself on the ball to keep your ideas fresh developing to renew them in the face of changes and challenges the Liberals if you like took their eye off the ball they did not bother to develop or to strengthen or to test their ideas they just assumed that the tide of history would sweep them on without them having to do any paddling if you will and of course they were wrong think that analogy something similar has happened to the Socialists left in our own time they were so convinced that the tide of history was going in their direction that they were completely unable to know what to deal do when people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan appeared on the scene or when the Soviet Union collapsed after 1989 this just did not fit in with their picture of how history was going and they did not know how to respond to it similarly classical liberals were dumbfounded and at a loss to know what to do when suddenly all the things they fought had been defeated like collectivism and bellicosity suddenly had a big revival and so that kind of intellectual complacency a lack of alertness cost them very dearly another problem is a generational shift what happened was that the classical liberal movement both in politics and in intellectual life did not renew itself if you look at say the terms of politics there's a generation of political activists and leaders who appear in the 1820s or 1830s when these people crash on the scene through death in the 1880s or 1890s they're not replaced for some reason there is not a kind of generational recruitment or renewal of the movement it becomes increasingly a movement of old men and women now one reason for this is a sociological change it's a change in the nature of political and intellectual leadership you get the replacement of amateur politicians who come from a commercial or a land owning or working background by professional politicians machine politicians and this involves a change in the nature of the kind of people who became politicians is one reason why the classical liberal political class did not renew itself in terms of intellectuals the big change is the move from what you might called amateur or part-time intellectuals like John Stuart Mill for example who was actually a civil servant works at the India office by full-time salaried university professors and the rise of the university again was not anticipated and had the effect of changing the composition and the nature of the intellectual class and again what it meant was that the classical liberal intelligentsia view life did not renew itself so there's a distinct generational shift or move now what this reflects is a wider set of changes in the social order and in the nature of government and the failure of liberals to understand what was going on and to respond to it one of these is the rise of modern business now in many ways this was a good thing as far as the classical liberals are concerned because it was what really laid the foundation for the enormous explosion of growth and prosperity that had I've spoken earlier on but it also had some social effects which were damaging to classical liberalism as a political and social movement it tended to remove or to transform the classes that they had drawn most their support and leadership from specifically the artisan and small producer classes historically large business leaders business leaders of large organized firms that is the managerial class that appears at this time is not broadly sympathetic to classical liberalism individuals may be but the class as a whole on average is not most of the historic leadership of classical liberal movements has come from self-employed people artisans and what you might call entrepreneurs people who own run their own firms similarly at the level of employees the replacement of a large degree of self-employment by mass employment in large integrated productive facilities creates a kind of experience of collectivism in people's daily life which tends to affect the way they see the world and again this actually does not benefit liberalism in a whole waise but the really significant change is a change in the nature of government and the critical thing here is the rise of nationalism as the basis of political power now give me give an example of how this works nationalism is a modern doctrine nationality that is a national consciousness the awareness of being a member of a national group that has a long history that goes back you know thousands of years but until the 19th century until really the mid 19th century that did not have any bearing on your politics if you went to some of the 18th century and you said no what are you what's your nationality they would say oh I'm a German or an Italian or Englishman a Frenchman something like that but if you ask them what's your political status they would answer my saying oh I am a loyal subject of prince or King so-and-so in other words their political identity was defined in terms of who they owed allegiance to and that was separate and distinct from their national identity which was to do with culture and language miss something now nationalism says that those two things are the same and by the 1880s or 1890s nationalism had swept the board the idea was just taken for granted everywhere that your political identity was defined by your national identity now why is that damaging for classical liberalism well it's because it means that people increasingly identify themselves with the government in other words they see the state under which they live as being an expression or outgrowth of their own personal identity and this means that they are prepared to do things that previously they would not have been now for example the modern French state ruled over by the deeply unimpressive Jacques Chirac takes just over 50% of GDP now the 17th century French state ruled by the vastly more impressive louis xiv lagron monarch it never got to spend more than 10% of GDP now in louis xiv i guarantee that if he had tried to collect 50% of GDP in taxes in 17th century France there would have been dead tax collectors hanging from every tree in France things got pretty bad as it was mean there were major tax revolts in his reign and lots of tax collectors did get strung up to trees usually by their innards this was the favorite French peasants way of dealing with tax collectors cut them open and string them up by their guts to a tree seriously the I'm not kidding that's exactly what they did not and that's why a not a job with the high life expectancy being a tax collector in 17th century France now today people do that willingly again think about the attitude towards war in the 17th or 18th century people thought of war as something that their gruel is did which had nothing to do with them by the time we get to 1914 millions of people see the war that their government has got involved in as something that involves them and there's a max move to volunteer with tragic results as anyone who's been to the Great battlefields of the Western Front can attest and that's because of nationalism is because people identify the government with themselves they think that the state is not just an institution or a collection of people of power over them it is in some sense an expression or an outgrowth of their national identity this was not foreseen and classical liberals were blindsided by the impact of nationalism and the way it led to a transformation in the nature of the state and of government and in many ways I think they still haven't come to terms with it one things you think about is well what is why is nationalism such a problem for classical liberalism at the same time ruling groups in various parts of the world respond to the economic growth of the Bell epoch by moving towards protectionism and imperialism why do they do this well it raises another issue that is worth thinking about our ruling elites really in favor of economic growth well yes but only up to a point economic growth is is economic growth good for everybody well it's certainly good for most people but if you're already at the top of the social tree is it really good for you then maybe not and increasingly one of the constant themes in history but particularly this period is that ruling elites look to try and actually slow down economic growth quite consciously or to channel it or control it in certain ways and so part of the movement against classical liberalism is they move it against it by powerful groups in various societies because they see their position as being threatened by the kind of liberal order that had grown up in the 19th century and something which I've already mentioned which is a change in the attitude of the artists and the cultural class now expanding this bit more what you see with modern capitalism is the emergence of what contemporary author calls the creative class people that is who make a living out of artistic production in the modern context things like filmmaking radio and television production writing of novels and books of all kinds artistic work all that kind of thing now of course there have always been people like this but until the modern world till the 19th century there are very very small minority they really are because society cannot afford to support more than a small number of artists most people have to be working out there in the fields growing food or the rest of society is going to collapse to the extent that artists do exist they depend upon patrons they depend upon somebody with wealth and power a king or a prince or a very wealthy merchant buying stuff off them and keeping them as a kind of pet if you will now things do begin to things do begin to shift during the Renaissance during the racehorses Italy you find that artists become a bit like modern football stars very much sought-after and there is a kind of active transfer market in relation to Italy where various kings and princes will compete with each others to have the biggest and most famous stars and just as today you'll find Football Club Chairman moaning and bitching about how my god we've paid 20 million for this player and he's only scored two goals and been injured half the season well in the same way if you read the correspondence of Renaissance Prince's they're things like my god I paid 10 million escudos to get hold of this Michelangelo and all the guy has done is carve half a statue and so something very similar but there's no doubt that ultimate power is still the same real commercial art really only first appears in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century Rembrandt for example is one of the first artists who's actually able to make a living himself he has virtually a factory by the way all these Rembrandt paintings you see half them were actually done by the people he employed in this factory he just signed his name at the bottom seriously and he just did the original sketch he was not politically but again that's marginal but by the time you of the 19th century suddenly the growth of wealth and the appearance of commercial society means that you can now have you can actually make a living out of being a professional writer artist musician or whatever on a much larger scale than before but aren't grateful oh no not at all on the contrary they actually resent the society and the economy that makes this possible why is this this is something worth thinking about one reason I think is because increasingly they are hostile to what they see as the repressive stultifying nature of bourgeois respectability which they identify with liberalism and so there is a conflict if you like between their own set of values the kind of lifestyle that they like or the way they want to live and what they see is the repressive nature of the social order that they live in but whatever it is this this new creative classes appears although it's created by and made possible by liberal capitalism they actually become deeply hostile to it and it's interesting think about who the possible exceptions are and why this may have happened now finally to conclude what happens of course is then the two world wars it is hard to overemphasize what an incredible catastrophe the period from 1914 to 1945 actually is not only of course are millions of people killed both in the two wars and in by the totalitarian states that arise as a result of World War one but also there's an incredible damage done to the whole world economy you may not realize but the proportion of total world economic output accounted for by world trade does not reach the level it was at in 1914 until only about a dozen years ago it's not until 1990 that we fully recover from the move away from a more open world economy that took place with the outbreak of war in 1914 world economic growth slows down dramatically between 1914 and 1945 several parts of the world which has been doing brilliantly well up until 1914 notably China and India suddenly suffer an economic catastrophe other parts of the world such as Argentina for example undergo a kind of collapse and never recover the kind of liberal optimism and growth that they've been known for 1914 so it's hard to emphasize that what a total catastrophe that period of human history is what an unmitigated disaster and it's worth saying that by 1940 compared to the 1860s the future looks incredibly dark it's worth actually what one things which will cheer you up if you ever feel depressed about the stage of current politics which I do quite frequently what whatever if you ever do feel depressed about that there's a certain way of curing your depression and that is to go and look at newspaper reports from the 1930 to the 1940s look why will that cheer you up well because if you read that you will realize just how far away from liberalism things have move by that point and how far we've moved back towards it since then in the 1930s 1940s for example all sorts of proposals that would be regarded as utterly outrageous even by people on the Left today were regarded as completely normal progressive sensible proposals for example that the government should decide what job everybody did and should have the power to allocate people to jobs this was taken perfectly seriously and widely advocated in 1930s 1940s the idea of eugenics the idea that the government should compulsorily sterilize people who are quote unfit unquote in order to improve the breeding stock widely adopted widely seen as progressive so the point is that by the 1940s you would say that the whole cause of Liberty appeared to be virtually extinct and that was the kind of end point of the process that I've been talking about the interesting thing of course is that in fact since then it has revived and one of the questions we need to think about really is why did that happen why do things just not keep on going from bad to worse after 1940 and the other questions that you need to think about now if when you go into breakout groups are things like well what was was there any one thing we can point to that really drove this decline was it inevitable or was it something that was fortuitous and could have been avoided can we say that certain parts that certain people are specifically to blame you're going to add identify a bad guy who are the bad guys what is the nature of government that changes so much at this time can you think about the social groups that gained from it


  1. 35:07 "the replacement of a large degree of self-employment by mass employment in large, integrated productive facilities creates a kind of experience of collectivism in people's daily life which tends to affect the way the see the world." No. Working for 14 hours a day for a meager pay and in horrible conditions creates a whole different kind of experience. What a sly and dishonest way to describe the miserable working conditions in which newly emerging industrial capitalists put their workers into, not even mentioning the suffering of the peoples of imperial colonies.
    Basically proves how easily you can take human pain and turn it into a reasonably sounding self-justifying sentence.
    I'm not an opponent of liberalism, but I was hoping to hear a more credible lecture on how the classical liberal ideology of the first half of the 19th century – that is looking for ways to oppose the "divine" right of monarchy and make people more free – has repetitively undergone a vast paradigm shift by transforming into an ideology of oppression, this time in the hands of private business. Back in the aftermath of the Industrial revolution it was the emerging class of industrial capitalists exploiting the factory workers and destroying the colonies; today the picture is more complicated with financiers, bankers, good old industrial capitalists, tech billionaires, etc.– altogether buying politicians and basically writing legislation. Europe is doing slightly better than the US, but not radically differently.
    Power has shifted from the state into private (corporate more recently) business–John Stuart Mill or Adam Smith would be very surprised to see the kind of outcome the philosophy they nourished has produced.
    This should be obvious, even just by looking at the business press these days.

  2. I'm liberal and I find this course helpful and clear to me many point about the history of Liberalism. I find it incarnated in human nature. In all the societies there're liberal people. It's not limited to the west, but it's a universal project. Nationalism contradict liberalism because we are ruled under one idea, culture, religion, and we identify ourselves with the government. Suppose that a state who rules many ethnics groups as Serbia, those ethnics groupe will never tolerate to be unrecognized by the government and they suffer from the forced annihilation into a strange nation. The former Iraqi regime wanted to arabise the Kurdish people and that went to many wars that endure more than one hundred years of war between Kurds and the fourth state sharing their land.
    Wars were between liberal and conservative parties in latine america, as in Mexico and Colombia.

  3. The only thing is, Jersey shore is easy to watch and understand. This video uses big words and bigger ideas.
    Ten minutes of this video equals more content than three Jersey Shore episodes, possibly seasons.

  4. 44:09 can someone show me the data for that? That is an extremely compelling statement, as I feel like the traditional story is that WWII is the reason economies exploded with wealth [or at least with the US leading the way.. it's a very Keynesian story as well obviously]

  5. Its not bunk its just not delivering on what you think govt. should deliver. Some people believe that the quality of life rising for all people and being free are inherently good. Others believe that quality of life being similar or equal amongst all citizens is more important and justifies loss of freedom. So when you say it does not benefit all, what do you really mean? No system benefits everybody financially, so considering that, isnt it better to be broke and free not broke and enslaved.

  6. It is obvious to me why things didn't get steadily worse from the 40's onward. 1: The Holocaust, the Gulag Archipelago, Pol Pot's Mountain of Skulls, etc. 2: The Cold War created a contrast between freedom (as in classical liberalism) and a totalitarian collectivism, 3: The writings of individuals such as Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Muggeridge, Kolakowski, Solzenitzyn, etc, 4: the more recent collapse of collectivism overtly (Eastern Europe, USSR) and discreetly (China, Vietnam, India).

  7. To put it concisely, the left became corrupted by Marxian political theory ignorant of the fact that Marx's conclusions were incorrect. It was not industrialism that created the horrible living conditions but the failure of government to effectively manage and keep pace with large migration of people from the farm to the cities. Marx's solution was to increase the size and scope of the entity that failed. Marxism is a contradiction and that is why it will never work.

  8. Classical liberal ideas haven't died. They've come back with a vengeance when they murdered Bretton Woods. They came to dominate Reaganomics and the Thatcher regime, which dominate politics to this day. Free trade and free market faiths tyrannize the Washington consensus and all WTO/IMF organizations

    In fact it's Keynesianism that has died when it was forcibly converted to classical liberalism by the likes of Hicks-Hansen, Viner, Samuelson, who you should remember if you took any econ courses.

  9. The reason why a liberal party becomes more social , is because they start to realize that liberal philosophy is BUNK. and does not work for the benefit of the whole of the people.

  10. 27 minutes into this, he keeps casting individual freedom as being connected to industrialization, which to me means the labor movement, from this perspective, is a negative. I see no reason to give him more of my time if he's going to ignore the fact that the rich who owned the factories had the power, and abused it, thus creating situations such as we see described in something like The Jungle. This power difference continues, with labor regulations helping, but not solving, the problem.

  11. Liked the video for the most part but I was disappointed that he has bought into the myth of Lincoln and the Yankee caricature of the antebellum south, slaver did exist but was dying only a small number of the population owned slaves, southern society at the time lacked the wide spread racism of the north and were extremely liberal when compared to new england, I am using liberal in its classical usage.

  12. @spartan2600 What you are proposing is the redistribution of wealth in the interest of fairness. I want fairness as well. You know what pisses me off, good looking girls tends to have sex with good looking guys or guys with money. I have neither. In the interest of fairness, can this utopia of yours compel good looking girls to have sex with me? Personally, I don't care much about housing or money. If you can redistribute sex, I'm right with you.

  13. @spartan2600 Everybody is greedy. Corporations, rich bosses, employees, me, you and evrybody else. We all want to pay as little as possible for the services we receive. If I invest money in a business, I expect a certain return on investment. That means operating at the lowest cost possible including employee cost. That is sound business practice as long as corporations are not using force to compel people to work for them. But u can't compel corporations to hire unionize worker as well.

  14. @rosihantu1 In places like Sweden, everyone has a job that pays well, but if not, they get help from the government like subsidized housing, food, healthcare, etc. The welfare system is skeletal in the US, therefore there are more people in poverty and homeless.

  15. @rosihantu1 I don't know what you see, but the fact is that the poverty rate in the US is generally accepted to be around 20%. I also don't know what country you're from, but there are very few jobs in the US. There are 6 unemployed people for every 1 job opening. Also, most people who live in poverty ARE employed! The problem is that the greedy corporations and rich bosses pay very little in the US, mainly because we don't have many unions.

  16. @rosihantu1 The reality is that the countries with the lowest poverty and homelessness rates have the most extensive welfare systems- all the Scandinavian nations, France, Germany and Israel from close to its founding until the 1980's when it undertook neoliberal reforms.

  17. @spartan2600 Do you think that having a great welfare system, will reduce poverty? And what incentives to work would one person have if they can continue suckling on the government teat? FOr a start, I don't believe the 15-20% poverty rate, solely based on the number of fat asses I see living in the trailer parks. And if it is true, I suggest that you study why the poor are poor in the first place. Trust me there are always jobs around, only not at the wages you want.

  18. @rosihantu1 There's a reason the United States, the richest nation in the history of the world has a 15-20% poverty rate that is rapidly increasing, and Finland, a nation with virtually no natural resources but a very democratic government with a great welfare system has poverty below 2% and the world's best (public) education system.

  19. @rosihantu1 We need taxes to pay for public schools, healthcare for the poor etc. The reason the Koch get subsidized by the government isn't because we collect taxes whatsoever, its because the government is corrupted and undemocratic.

    I don't keep what I earn, the multi-millionaire that owns the company I work at steals a large share of what I produce. Same with the people who have to work for the Koch's companies. We need the government to care for the needy, private charities don't cut it.

  20. @spartan2600 Well bless your liberal heart. You know how best to prevent taxpayer largess from falling into the hands ofthe Koch billionaire (assuming that is true in the firt place)? Don't collect so much tax that you can simply give it away willi nilly. You keep what you earn. I keep what I earn. If you want to help out your fellow man, do it out of your own pocket.

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