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The Left is engaged in a full attack on true liberalism and it is an attack on the rights of the individual: life, liberty, property, speech, due process of law, and other enumerated and unenumerated rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. These rights are themselves the very underpinnings of Western civilization and are together an unambiguous force for good in the world. Joe Lonsdale has written a declaration regarding the powerful legal, political, and economic philosophies that have served as the bases of Western civilization and its successes and which have, as a consequence, been adopted around the globe. Lonsdale, in his mid-30s, is an “American entrepreneur and technology investor” and founder of The Cicero Institute, an organization dedicated to encouraging “public-sector entrepreneurship to address America’s most pressing problems.”

I love Lonsdale’s full-throated advocacy for Western principles. Their articulation over three centuries ago by an enlightened “patriarchy” (as today’s social justice warriors might call them) managed to upset an entrenched and rapacious oligarchy, over time lifting whole populations out of subjugation and penury. Ultimately, this upheaval made possible the legal recognition of the same rights for all individuals, regardless of race and gender. Lonsdale’s insistence on the appropriate use of the word “liberal” is refreshing. It should (but won’t) serve as a corrective to the towering ignorance of those who accept “liberalism” when used as a cover for statism.

I’m going to quote “liberally” from Lonsdale’s piece because it speaks so well for itself, but if you’ve made it this far then you should read Lonsdale’s essay in its entirety.

“[John] Locke’s moral insight is ‘liberalism’, a principle of mutual restraint inspired by the inviolable rights of others to design their own lives. Freedom is life in accordance with reason; reason compels us to respect the freedoms of others. By respecting the rights of others, we guarantee our own.

This Enlightenment thinking was put into practice in the Glorious Revolution in 1688 in Britain, and especially in the founding of America, where Locke’s liberalism formed the backbone of the new republic. To be sure, in practice there were deep contradictions—the founders were simultaneously freedom fighters and slave-owners—but the institutional architecture was in place. The West’s new framework of property rights and political freedoms unleashed a surge of creative energy, enabling a three-century miracle of growth, prosperity and unimaginable wonders of innovation.

It didn’t have to happen that way. The natural order of things is for life to be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (in the words of Thomas Hobbes, a contemporary of Locke). Western civilisation is a great artifice: a liberal framework that enshrines property rights, allowing us to restrain most forms of tribalism, participate in free markets and prosper by serving others regardless of their identities.

These political rights of treating people equally and letting them get on with their business had a hugely beneficial effect on society and the economy. Consider that historically speaking, it is actually unnatural for the best ideas to dominate and spread, thus allowing entrepreneurs to displace incumbent, vested interests. More common is for force or hierarchy, not the meritocracy of ideas, to win. However, the West established a cultural and legal environment where a competition of clever ideas and activities could flourish. 

Lonsdale offers several examples of the malignant effects of forsaking these Western ideals. The hallmark of all these failures is an abandonment of the individual as the true and natural rights-holder and productive force. Here are Lonsdale’s  closing paragraphs:

As pre-Enlightenment modes of value-signaling, tribalism and power-politics come to the fore on campus and social media, we must reaffirm our commitment to Western liberal values by actually putting them into practice. Only a rational order which enshrines individual rights to person and property, and expands opportunities for all, will create the stability and economic progress necessary to quell populist discontent.  

Unsurprisingly the anti-liberal, top-down parts of our society are experiencing cost-disease and decay. The West enabled a market order where the best ideas win, no matter whose idea it was. We need to remind ourselves of how unusual the miracle of our political economy is and enact its lessons. Only then can we save the concept of ‘Western civilisation’ and spread its benefits of freedom and prosperity—not just for people in the West, but for everyone.”