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Reply #245: You may be right... [View All]

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anaxarchos Donating Member (963 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-08-07 10:21 PM
Response to Reply #170
245. You may be right...
Edited on Mon Oct-08-07 10:40 PM by anaxarchos
Hello Philly Bob

As you no doubt know, neo means new, as in a modern re-interpretation of an older idea. For the last couple of decades it has been a joke that neo has come to mean not. Thus, neo-conservatives are clearly not old-fashioned conservatives (who have now been dubbed paleo-conservatives) on almost any important issue. Instead, they are the advocates of a new imperialism (neo-imperialism?).

Neo-liberal is more complicated. It has sometimes been used to describe the Democratic Party equivalents of PNAC and the neo-cons, and sometimes to describe Libertarians. The Libertarian angle is confusing though, because the target keeps moving.

The original description that these characters gave to themselves was classical liberals. The problem is that liberalism, whatever one may think of it, has been a largely unbroken tradition for well over a century. The Libertarian reference is to a very reactionary form of British liberalism that traces back to the earlier part of the 19th century and pre-dates John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. The high point for those classics was that they advocated letting Ireland starve during the potato famine rather than to provide relief, and negatively impact grain markets. Certainly they were reactionary enough but were they Libertarian?

The problem which arises is two fold. On the one hand, no two classical liberals agree on much other than in a pro forma loyalty to free markets and a hysterical opposition to big government and socialism. On the other hand, classical liberalism is a set of modern conclusions looking for a historical rationale. As such, the fit with 19th century pre-liberal liberalism is not a good one. What is needed is a political philosophy hostile to government interference in the economy, but which, at the same time, promotes the primacy of private property above all other rights, and the cult of the atomic individual. In a century dominated by the Rights of Man, it is hard to find a custom fit to such a selective agenda. The result is a rightward drift in the search for Libertarian traditions which, given the time period involved, also means a continuous drift backward in history.

Libertarian writers of various persuasions alternately claim and then reject various philosophical roots. From 19th century British reactionaries with a nominal loyalty to Locke and Hume, we drift backward to Burke who criticized the French Revolution and the new Democratic ideals (this is a favorite of Christian Libertarians who claim that the American Revolution was a conservative counter-revolution against the rise of the Democratic doctrines). But Burke doesnt fit well either, so we drift back to Hobbes (Leviathan). Hobbes at least has the advantage of promoting property right above most other rights, but the drift does not stop with him. The last time I looked, Libertarianism claimed its roots in some obscure medieval perspectives based in Salamanca and everyone since was accused of being insufficiently pure. I suppose by now that the Libertarians have traced their real roots to Marcus Aurelius.

In my opinion, there are no traditions to classical liberalism. They were entirely and opportunistically made up as part of a political strategy. As proof of this, I would note that Libertarian writings on Libertarian traditions always post-date (sometimes by decades) the Libertarian proposals which are supposed to be based on such traditions. Ignoring everything else, an unknown tradition aint a "tradition", is it? It is end-to-end rubbish.

Forgive the length of my answer but the short of it is that, in this case, the joke is correct: neo-liberal means not-a-liberal.

On your Rockefeller connection, you may well be right. Clearly the Volker Fund is the cash sparkplug for this stuff in the early 1940s but it is foggy to me before that point. Roehner, in the Nobel Prize sidebar, agrees with you. The University of Chicago is also clearly important well before my narrative begins. The truth is that I have yet to find usable material on this.

Perhaps we will both dig more

Cheers,
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