One of the most striking facts about American history is how in a country born in old-style liberalism, the meaning of liberalism would not only change but be completely upended: liberalism now means its opposite. In this massively important work of intellectual history, historian Arthur Ekirch explains that the change is bound up with attitudes towards militarism. It is an important event that this work, first published in 1967, is now in a new, modernized edition.
The foreword to this beautifully written and passionate account is by Robert Higgs.
Liberalism once meant embrace of commerce and material progress, but this presumes an environment of peace and diplomacy as a means of resolving conflict. War, however, means the socialization of society's productive structure. Once the American liberals of the late 19th century and early 20th century came to approve of war, they were faced with a conflict: embrace state control in all areas or become advocates of peace. Business faced the same issue: oppose war and embrace free enterprise, or reconcile yourself to leviathan.
It was within the turmoil of this intellectual battle that the meaning of liberalism changed. Liberals embraced militarism and dragged liberalism down with it. That dramatic shift led to the invention of this creature called conservatism, the meaning of which also began to shift with the political winds.
This is no small semantic shift. It is a shift concerning how we see the role of government in society. We need to understand it in order to combat it and hold up genuine liberalism as a social ideal.
If you would like to submit a video review of your own please contact the Mises Store.
Austrian Economics, Freedom and Peace