During a time of Prussian nationalism, Wilhelm von Humboldt wanted to limit the activities of the state as severely as possible. When he was dismissed for his radical views in 1819, Humboldt refused the pension offered to him by the king.
If a date were to be put on the rebirth of classical liberalism, it would be 1922, the year of the publication of Socialism, by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. By the end of the century, the old, authentic liberalism was alive and well, stronger than it had been for a hundred years.
For reasons still unclear, the tide began to turn against the liberals. Part of the reason is surely the rise of the new class of intellectuals that proliferated everywhere. That they owed their very existence to the wealth generated by the capitalist system did not prevent most of them from incessantly gnawing away at capitalism, indicting it for every problem they could point to in modern society.
As the modern age began, royal absolutism became the main tendency of the time. The first people to revolt against this system were the Dutch. After winning their independence from Spain they established a radically decentralized state with no king and little power at the federal level.
If we are to understand how development can be promoted in the poorer countries today, we must understand the historical process which transformed developed countries in the past, and why this process failed to take place elsewhere.
In Mises’ Liberalism we have a timeless statement of classical liberalism by the thinker who is acknowledged as its greatest twentieth century champion. Lucidly and unflinchingly he shows it to be the only system consonant with individual freedom and personal autonomy, as well as with modern industrialized society. It is the work we must consult and ponder if we wish to understand what liberalism means and where it stands in the struggle of ideologies that will continue to shape the future.