Thursday, July 15, 2004

Classical Liberalism

from The eJournal Website

Q: Prof. Chomsky, you have said in the past that you respect "conservatism" and that there are many true "conservatives" who oppose what the Bush Administration is doing. I want to ask is there such a thing as classical conservatism and how different is that conservatism from the alleged conservatism practiced by the likes of Thatcher, Reagan, Bush 1, Brian Mulroney and Bush 2?

A: If by "conservatism" one means "classical liberalism" (a traditional conception), then, yes, I think there is much there that deserves respect. Personally, I agree with Rudolf Rocker (and others) that classical liberal ideals were destroyed by capitalism, and that resurrecting them is a step towards advancing towards libertarian socialism (anarchism, in one sense of that term).

If by "conservatives" one means those who at least approach these ideals in some way--e.g., by opposing the resort to state violence in the interests of pathological creations of state power such as corporations--then, yes, I think there is a lot to respect in these circles as well.

But if by "conservative" one means radical statist reactionaries of the Reaganite-Thatcher-Bushite type, that's a wholly different matter. They simply defame the honorable term "conservative"--which is not to say that I would personally align myself with genuine conservatives, though (again speaking personally) I do respect them.


Sheryl said...

I wonder who he is including in this classical liberal concept?

Traditionally it has been the militias and groups like the NRA who claimed to dislike big government. The branch davidians or the Timothy McVeighs of the world. As best I can tell, they are all blindly following the republicans.

Did you see that report on NOW way back in 2002 about how Ashcroft was protecting gun owners over national security? think a lot of gun owners are stupid enough to think that as long as they have a pistol under their pillows that they are actually safe from government tyrrany.

J.R. Boyd said...

In terms of classical liberalism, he's including the founding fathers, who viewed government as a leading threat to liberty.

That lots of people distrust centralized governmental power makes perfect sense, although some people have more rational ways of interpreting and responding to the threat than others. Forming your own militia in order to fight off the Army obviously doesn't make sense considering you could just call your senator and work to change policies (because you aren't going to beat the army anyway, no matter how many guns you own). Similarly, the NRA seems to view automatic rifles as better protection against government meddling than simply repealing parts of the Patriot Act. Everyone agrees that government in itself is dangerous, and should be limited in certain areas, but not everyone agrees on where the actual danger lies, or how best to address it.

In terms of Republicans, their shtick is simply to attack big government in areas that benefit communities (social programs), while expanding it in areas that serve their constituency (the ownership class). They do it all under the banner of less government, but that's just for popular consumption. That the federal government has expanded under each successive Republican president since WWII is a good indication of how serious they are about limiting government. In fact, the corporate business community depends on government intervention and protection on their behalf; they in fact demand it.

With the advent of huge concentrations of power in the form of corporate control of resources, many people concerned with freedom see a usefulness in using the government, which is at least partially democratic, to influence corporate power, which is not. This is the history that contemporary "liberalism" has come out of, and why it does not borrow the anti-government language that "conservatives" take from legitimate traditions of liberalism and misleadingly apply them to contemporary circumstances.

Thanks for your input, Sheryl.