(L85) Modern & Classic Liberalism: Knowing the Difference

1.) What is classical liberalism?

Classical liberalism exhibits the understanding of the freedom of the individual from government interference. Some of the ideals that classic liberals believed in were freedom of speech and press, religious liberty, private property, and (in most cases, with few exceptions), a laissez-faire economy. Many aspects of classical liberalism could be compared to anarchism or voluntarism in today’s societies; however, liberalism in the United States today is something completely different than what it used to be. Nowadays, liberals are people searching for greater government intervention, rather than greater freedom, and equality of outcome, rather than opportunity. One great example of a liberal today would be President Barack Obama.

2.) Choose one of the works discussed in lesson 83 and explain how it reflects the principles of classical liberalism.

Of Frederick Bastiat’s works discussed in lesson 83, What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen is one of the more impacting essays. The central idea of this essay is to educate people and bring their attention to the side of the story which is often left untold. An example from Bastiat’s own works would be the Broken Window Fallacy, in which he brings light to the fact that, when someone’s window is broken, it is not a positive contribution society. Some would argue that in fact, it is, because it brings business to the window maker, but what that person is being ignorant to is the fact that, had that person’s window never been broken, the money used to pay for the new window would have been spent elsewhere in society. This is the unseen.
This would have been a win-win situation for the buyer and the seller, whereas having to replace damaged property is only a gain for the seller. On a larger scale, Bastiat is telling people to look at what is actually being done with their money. What is the afterward of transfer from hand to talon? When taxpayer money is used to build a bridge, is the bridge all that there is to behold? Is the seen the only relevant factor?
Look behind the magic curtain, and all your wildest dreams, you’ll realize, have been your nightmare all along. You contributed to society; paid your taxes, and with that, you’ve been told, a bridge has been built. But that bridge wasn’t really built with your money, and you didn’t really contribute to anything except uncontested theft. These themes of limited government, and wanting to know the whole truth perfectly capture the essence of classical liberalism.

3.) Discuss several classical liberal themes that can be found in the work of Benjamin Constant.

Some great points of focus for Benjamin Constant are moral education, and limited government. These are two major themes of classical liberalism, and he is a standard representative for such ideals. He also believed in a checks and balances system, and was adamant that liberty could provide a lifestyle to develop and enrich persons as a whole.


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