All Commentary
Tuesday, January 1, 1985

A Page on Freedom: Number 15

Liberalism Stands for Freedom

In the last two decades, we have gone a long way from the liberal concepts of individual freedom, limited government, equality under the law and the rule of law as contrasted with the rule of men. This trend is the result of neo-liberalism which has changed the popular meaning of the term “liberalism” so that to most people today it stands for a philosophy diametrically opposed to traditional liberalism.

Traditional liberalism regards government as a necessary evil. It fears government and seeks to impose restraints upon its power. As Woodrow Wilson expressed it, “The history of liberty is the history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.” Today’s neo-lib-erals believe in increasing the authority of the state at the expense of individual liberty. Communists look upon the centralization of all power in the state as a necessary prelude to the police state which is their goal. But, many neo-liberals abhor the police state. They merely want to dogood and improve the lot of mankind. But they want the government to have unlimited power to do good. They look upon the citizen with suspicion and upon the government with approval. They seek to build a government of unlimited powers to control and regiment the individual for the good of society, to prevent the strong from taking advantage of the weak, to offset inequalities in incomes and wealth, and to play the historic role of Robin Hood who robbed the rich and distributed some of the proceeds to the poor. Neo-liberals unwittingly are playing the communist game. They mean well but they fail to recognize the harsh truth of Lord Acton’s dictum: “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” If we follow them we shall end as slaves of an authoritarian state. That is not the goal of neo-liberals but it is nevertheless the destination toward which they are headed.

—Towner Phelan, October 1948