Liberal and Conservative

One of the great ironies of today is that the philosophy which used to be called “classic liberalism” is now called conservatism (in the US). As Gary Becker explains, the Republican party is home to many who have the Locke/Hume/Smith viewpoint. But there are other people in the Republican party whose values are very different. One big group are the social conservatives. Social conservatives follow a Burkean logic that says we shouldn’t mess with social institutions that work (marriage, for example) and, furthermore, we should should use the power of government to promote social goals. As Becker explains, this is anathema to classic liberals. To add some confusion to the mix, the Republican Party is also home to the “neocons”, who believe in aggressive promotion of democracy abroad.

The essence of Locke/Hume/Smith thinking is the recognition that government is a terribly inefficient way of getting things done. The reasons are well known and nothing can be done about it. Therefore, it behooves us to rely on government as little as possible, limiting it to functions that are otherwise improbable (sewer systems) and rare cases where the benefits of government action are so great that we should accept the horrible inefficienies (military). As Becker explain, L-H-S followers don’t think government will be very good at promoting social goals or spreading democracy abroad.

In some ways, L-H-S conservatives are very much like Democratic liberals. Most Democrats don’t believe that government should do everything, but they have a higher estimation of government’s capabilities.


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