23 October 2021 ~ 0 Comentarios

“Liberalism” in the 21st Century

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

I begin by establishing an elementary distinction. The liberalism I am referring to has nothing to do with the meaning of that word in the United States. The liberal ideas that I support (or those that support me) are those that are defined as such in the rest of the world. It has to do with small and efficient states, very aware of property rights, with governments limited by written law, with freedoms and democracy, and organized around the market.

I go on.

The effort of the “hotheads” to destroy liberalism is huge. (Peruvians, with that humorous ability they have to put nicknames, call them “thermo-cephalic”). The hotheads have opened fire to liberalism from the radical left and the most conservative right, almost always religious. They have invented an expression, “neoliberalism,” to strike ideas more easily. However, they have not been able to destroy them, why? Because of what follows below.

In the 18th century, when modern liberalism began to take root, the goal was to bury the “absolutist monarchies,” and with them the system of privileges that characterized the “ancient regime,” handing over sovereignty to people. This was fully achieved during the American Revolution of 1776 with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. In England, in that same year, a fundamental book was published to understand the logic, sometimes counterintuitive, of liberalism: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith. In any case, the British industrial revolution emerged and remained until Germany, first, and the United States, later, picked up the baton.

The 19th century was that of the Latin American republics. It began as a response to Napoleon, who had taken the Spanish royal family prisoner. From King Carlos IV to his wife María Luisa de Parma, allegedly linked to the true ruler, Don Manuel Godoy, and to his son, the pitiful Fernando VII.

Latin Americans began the wars of independence by giving “cheers” to Ferdinand VII and ended them by wishing him “death.” Then the so-called liberals took care, roughly, to educate the people, to eliminate the importance that the Catholic religion had had, during the Spanish Conquest and Colonization, to legalize divorce, and of course, to fight the conservatives giving no quarter. In Europe it was the years of Mazzini and Garibaldi, the two Giuseppe who left a deep mark in Italy and Latin America.

The years between 1870 and 1914 were a period of world growth driven by liberal ideas. It was, really, the “belle époque”. But fascism and communism spoiled everything. From the 1914 to 1945, until the end of World War II, and even until 1989, with the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disappearance of the USSR, a period of “fascination with the state” ensued. On the one hand the ideas of Marxists and their fascist cousins, and on the other, in opposition, Keynesianism, although democratic, dominated Western thought.

In 1947 Don Salvador de Madariaga, an anti-Franco exile in London, wrote a founding manifesto of the Liberal International. He complained that between 1914 and the second postwar period (which was actually the “cold war”), what had happened was the disappearance of liberal ideas. That way of facing coexistence had to be revived. After all, in those years the Mont Pelerin Society had been created in Switzerland and the most prominent economists and thinkers – Hayek, Mises, Friedman – vindicated liberal thought.

Indeed, there is no more absurd criterion than to reject liberalism arguing that “they are ideas of the past.” No. They are ideas of the present because there is an intention to listen to new social trends and incorporate them into the demands of liberalism, as long as they are not in conflict with the programmatic bases.

You can be liberal and believe that there is a right on one’s own body to use drugs, as Friednan, Benegas Lynch and Gloria Alvarez think. They don’t recommend that stupidity, but they recognize that right. The same thing happens with the “Me-too,” the “correction in the language” so as not to hurt anyone unnecessarily, or the ability to get under the skin of blacks and understand that, at this point, it makes no sense to defend Southern symbols.

Therefore, liberalism is alive and well. It has been that way and it will always be.

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