Classic liberalism: What your college professor didn’t teach you

By Christian Rose
Reader Contributor

The American left is becoming increasingly insufferable. Eight years of Barack Obama’s stewardship of the fundamental progressive reshaping of our political landscape, cultural identity, and central-planning-style-economics have made the left soft. During the former president’s tenure, they knew he had it all handled. They thought it would last forever.

So, it wasn’t necessary to keep tabs on government and politics. Instead, any focus on change was directed almost entirely at social justice. Anyone who pushed back was quickly labeled homophobic, bigoted, or racist. In the process the left forgot how to speak to the average working-class voter. They never took the time to teach young liberals how to win hearts and minds. They forgot how to debate.

But most importantly, these past eight years proved that they never really understood the meaning of liberalism. You see, liberalism isn’t about social justice, or healthcare for all, or equal results for everyone. What’s currently taught by our ivy-league political science professors, or even philosophy professors in Idaho, might be called neo-liberalism, social liberalism or Obama liberalism. But, it’s certainly not classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism can aptly be described as a political ideology that values the freedom of individuals — including the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets — as well as limited government.

But classical liberalism, unlike Obama’s liberalism, would also argue for a diminished state interference. Government’s very limited role should include protection of individual rights and to only provide services that cannot be provided by the free market, such as protection against foreign invaders as well as enforcement of private property rights, contract law and common law violations.

Our “rights,” as they were imagined by our founders, are best known as “negative rights.” These negative rights require that we all abstain from interfering with the actions of others. “Rights,” as described by the modern left, are what is known as “positive rights.”

Don’t be confused by the terminology. Positive rights compel others, i.e. the state, to provide you a good or service. These rights empower the government over the individual. Positive rights almost always lead to tyranny.

So when the modern left compares the United States negatively to Canada, for example, they most certainly are not describing classical liberalism. They’re describing Obama’s version of liberalism. In fact, it’s not really “liberal” at all. It’s statist.

In “liberal” Canada, citizens do enjoy a wide range of government-provided services: single-payer healthcare, much lower college tuition and 50 weeks of paid maternity leave, for example. The government is compelled by law to provide these services, all at the expense of taxpayers. Agree with these policies or not, fine. But they are most certainly not classically liberal.

Notwithstanding, over 52,000 Canadians sought non-emergency healthcare in foreign countries in 2014. They weren’t forced to do this because they’re freer, healthier and better educated. They did this because Canada’s healthcare system is over-burdened and inefficient. Sure, if you have a life-threatening condition that requires immediate care, you’ll get treatment. Beyond that, you’re essentially on your own.

Long wait times are main reason Canadian citizens seek healthcare outside the country. A 2014 study by the Commonwealth Fund, a private American health care reform and international health policy organization, found Canada had the second-worst overall ranking among the health care systems of 11 industrialized nations and ranked last in the wait-time category. Another report by The Fraser Institute suggests that, on average, a Canadian patient waits 9.8 weeks to receive medical treatment after seeing a specialist. Couple that with an average wait time of 8.5 weeks before they see the doctor that refers them to a specialist, and the wait time is more than four months.

This doesn’t look “classically liberal” to me. It looks statist.

If the Obama liberal wants to prioritize government-provided programs like health care, free- or low-cost college tuition and maternity leave, fine. We’re free to disagree. Just don’t call them classical liberal ideals. These programs value the collective, rather than the individual. They prioritize positive rights and empower government over the negative rights of the individual. They lead to inefficiencies, waste, abuse, and always end in tyranny.

Yes, the modern left has become increasingly insufferable. A constant drone of “Russia, Russia, Russia” is all we hear 24/7. Sure, the left is upset. But if it’s change they want, they must be willing to admit that they got the last eight years all wrong. Obama didn’t lead his followers to the promised land. He led them to historic state losses, over 1,000 seats nationwide, and finally to morally corrupt candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Like it or not, the rest of America didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy Obama liberalism. If the left really wants to start winning again, it should stop listening to the establishment media and political class. Stop listening to left-wing professors that twist the real meaning of classical liberalism into something Adam Smith never intended.

Embrace true classical liberalism. Or, get used to losing.

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