Liberalism as a form of government is intended to preserve separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive branches. It is intended to preserve basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly, the right to vote, freedom of the press and freedom of movement. Liberal governments champion the idea of containing the government to working within the interests of the governed.
The 20th Century proved to be a trying time for Liberalism, as the prevalence of Monarchies and Nationalist Movements were sporadic. Later, Communism would spread not only in Russia, but throughout the whole world. Threatening Liberal ideals and economic policies. Liberal Democracies, or Bourgeois Democracies in the Marxist Sense, are the logical next step all Monarchist and feudal nations must embark on. Industrialization rapidly expands and concentrates the industrial proletariat, and thus leads to new material conditions that no longer require Feudalism or the monarchy. Capital is consolidated between the major companies and the government that is ruled by the wealthy.
This material reality led to the growth of Communist and Nationalist tendencies. Communism grew during this period because Capitalism was excessively brutal and exploitative. While Liberal Democracies claimed to champion rights of man, Liberalism did not specify which man was eligible to receive these rights. Typically, the wealthy land and factory owners benefited. Poor Whites, and the Black Community, as well as Italians, Jews, Chinese and other oppressed nationalities of the time, were frequently denied these rights and freedoms. This led to not only critiques and general disdain, but outward rebellion as seen during the Battle of Blair Mountain, The Ludlow Massacre, and the Great Steel Strike of 1919 in Gary, Indiana. Marx was correct when stating Liberal Democracies are democracies for the wealthy, or Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie. Which is complete control and subordination of society for the capitalist classes interests.
Nationalism was also a reaction to Liberalism, but instead of providing the freedoms Liberalism promised to all like Communism fought for, Nationalism saw Liberalism as a degeneration of the Human Spirit and a threat to the nation’s security. Mussolini and Hitler both saw Liberalism as threats to the security of the nation. For Mussolini, Italy needed to eliminate Liberalism as fighting with the Liberal governments during World War I resulted in poor compensation for the Italian nation. In Germany Liberal attitudes and “degeneracy”, prostitution, religious freedom, privatization, and demilitarization, were seen by Hitler as the causes for Germany’s decline and only the NSDAP’s program could reverse these “mistakes” and restores Germany’s former glory.
These trends in the Early 20th Century set the stage for the Post-World War II Era and the Cold War. After the war we see the Liberal governance applied to Post World War Two Germany and Western Europe. This was the great conquest of Liberalism, the defeat of Fascism resulted in an ideological conflict between Liberalism, and Communism. One of the first things done to solidify the hold of Liberalism was issuing the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This was done to label all nations that did not conform to any clause within this declaration as enemies of Human Freedom. This was targeted mainly at the Soviet Union. Article 17 of the declaration states, “Everyone has the right to own property as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this property.”. Article 27 Section 2 states, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author.”. While the USSR complied with most of the clauses within the Declaration, it could not comply with Article 17 and 27 as commodities and the means of production were held in common. Thus, justification for the Cold War interventions and arms build ups were justified to defend liberty at home and spread liberty abroad. However, many of the signatories of the Declaration were in violation of more than two of the articles.
The United States has routinely violated the Declaration of Rights, along with many other western nations in this period. As the West became increasingly paranoid about the rise of Communism, Liberalism and its ideals of freedom of association, freedom from cruel punishment, and innocence before guilt, seemed to slip away.
From 1949–1954 Articles 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 18, 19, 20, 23 section 4 were routinely violated to root out Communists within various levels of American society. One of the elements of Liberalism so cherished by staunch Liberals is the right to associate with whatever group you choose, and to believe in any political ideology you see fit. However, these same staunch Liberals would be completely okay with the show trials of McCarthyism, and fully supported the Red Scare, Union Busting, and the early American interventions in Korea and for the early parts of Vietnam.
The Vietnam war saw the beginning of the end of Classical Liberalism, as America was set on the path towards Neo-liberalism. The ideals of Thomas Paine were beginning to be replaced with the demands of the Military Industrial Complex. Everything in American society was to be geared towards the war effort and capitalism. Incidents like Kent State and the Mai Lai Massacre. Both of these incidents showed the spirit of Classical Liberalism held by the American People, but in direct opposition to the government’s interest, a government that was supposed to hold these same views. Protestors were executed at Kent State by the National Guard, and Major Thompson was ostracized by the government and military for turning the guns on his helicopter towards American soldiers tasked with exterminating the village of Mai Lai. Only in 1998 did he get awarded the Soldiers Medal. Both of these parties highlighted the end of liberalism. Both of these incidences show that the American Government no longer held the virtues of its founding thinkers, or the goals of the UN Declaration of Rights.
During the Reagan years, Neo-Liberalism was solidified. Neo-liberalism is the primacy of the free market to regulate society, as opposed to Classical Liberalism’s “welfare state” which sought to eliminate poverty and other social ills to ensure that individual liberty was achievable for all citizens. “Neo-liberal ideology and policies became increasingly influential, as illustrated by the British Labour Party’s official abandonment of its commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production” in 1995 and by the cautiously pragmatic policies of the Labour Party and the U.S. Democratic Party from the 1990s. As national economies became more interdependent in the new era of economic globalization, Neo-liberals also promoted free-trade policies and the free movement of international capital.”. Neo-liberalism led to the solidification of American Hegemony and the conditions of America we see today because of a Marxist economic theory of capitalism. To Marx, Capitalism must continuously expand to new markets in order to survive. This is why the Cold War was essential in global history. Capitalism could not expand if more nations embraced Communism and nationalized its industries, and Communism could not expand if NATO brought more nations under its gun. Neo-liberalism defeated Communism because Neo-liberalism embraced this theory and put money that would have been used for social welfare into the Military Industrial Complex.
This Cold War attitude of a large military and limited public spending is why the US entered the 21st Century by invading Iraq, and Afghanistan. The policy continued with overthrowing Libya, establishing AFRICOM, bombing Somalia, intervention in Syria, and contributing the the genocide in Yemen. The result of these wars being declining living standards for Americans, which is akin to a “recolonization” of America, as Huey Newton put it, “We have actually an imperialistic variation of imperialism. The jockeying for positions of power is inside of the mother country now, so, in fact, the American people have become colonized. At one time I thought only Black were colonized. But I think we have to change our rhetoric to an extent because the whole American people have been colonized, if you view exploitation as a colonized effect. Seventy-six companies have exploited everyone. American people are a colonized people even more so than the people in developing countries where the military operates.”.
Now, the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century has shown us Neo-liberalism is collapsing. America is completely failing to improve infrastructure, quality of life, management of COVID prevention, Vaccine Distribution, and the new economic crisis. We have strayed very far from Classical Liberal ideals and continue to enact Neo-liberal policies that no longer serve the interests of the American people, let alone the United States Government.
NEWTON, H. P. (2019). HUEY P. NEWTON READER. SEVEN STORIES Press.
Smith, N. (2014, November 25). Neoliberalism. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/neoliberalism
Universal declaration of human rights. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2020). The Communist manifesto. Singapore: Origami Books.
Morgan, E. P. (1992). 60’s experience: Hard lessons about modern america. Temple Univ.
Ray, M. (2003, June 13). My Lai Massacre. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/event/My-Lai-Massacre
Helikson, N. (2018, October 1). Hugh Thompson Jr. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Thompson_Jr.