What is liberalism? Liberalism is many things, among which is: it’s the best culture, society, and civilization humanly possible. Liberalism is the definitive last word on these three subjects — at least as a fundamental base — and constitutes nothing less than perfection. It’s also an ideal that can never be completely realized. But sentient and potentially-rational beings should always try. And nowadays humans can, and should, come extremely close, extremely quick.
Liberalism itself, however, can no more be completely defined and explained than can truth, virtue, greatness, or happiness. But a fully-liberal culture does create a civilization in which the sacred individual and his society achieve the absolute maximum of these four. Under liberalism, truth, virtue, greatness, and happiness is highly present in all of peoples’ essences, behaviors, and institutions.
But more particularly, and in general, liberalism can be defined as that culture which manifests: (1) a philosophy of reason, rationality, logic, and science (2) a morality of individualism, self-interest, and personal happiness (3) a politics of liberty, justice, and individual rights (4) an esthetics of vivacity, dynamism, greatness, and triumph, and (5) a spirituality of exhilaration, nobility, sublimity, transcendence, and the infinite.
All of these terms and definitions are meant, believe it or not, normally. All the explanations and expatiations of the words and concepts above are natural and common sensical; they involve no jargon, specialized terminology, or idiosyncratic meanings. The only point probably worth noting here is that, as with poets, someone well-schooled in liberalism will use these terms with a good deal more precision, profundity, understanding, and meaning than the typical layman.
On a primitive level, liberalism can be defined and explained as being complete freedom (“liberation”) from what anthropologists refer to as the “ignorance and superstition” of tribalists and savages. All cognitive primitivism and artificial limitations vanish under liberalism; the sentient, thinking apparatus is fully realized, deployed, and exploited. Thus, the liberal has a completely free mind, heart, and soul. And all three tend to sing, dance, and soar.
In a historical sense, liberalism can also be seen as the good and great of the only four truly high civilizations in world history: classic Greece, classic Rome, classic Europe, and classic America. All four of these confederations are long gone. This is so, even tho’ the corpses and zombies of all four continue to exist, at least in some sense. But the ideas and spirit of these classic liberal societies live on.
Liberalism can also be seen as the thought and spirit of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment generally, particularly as manifested by Britain, France, and America around the cultural height of the planet: the late 1700s. Liberalism can be understood as the completely realized ideas, ideals, and culture of Burke and Smith, Voltaire and Diderot, Jefferson and Franklin. All of these individuals are the enlightened, uplifted product of an earlier radical English belief-system of nominalism, mechanicalism, materialism, empiricism, and reasonism. And these four noble intellectual institutions, in turn, were mostly created and elaborated by the Founding Fathers of the modern world: Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. All were heroic Englishmen from the 1600s.
Finally, in contemporary terms, liberalism can be thought of as the correction, extension, and perfection of the two great proto-liberal movements of today: libertarianism and objectivism.
And if contemporary badly-compromised liberal democracy is truly the end of history governmentally — as almost everyone says it is — then pure cultural liberalism is the ultraend of history. Liberalism is the clear and definitive last word on, not merely politics, but philosophy, morality, esthetics, spirituality, and more.
2 februari 2005