In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism

By Ebeling, Richard M. | Freeman, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism


Ebeling, Richard M., Freeman


In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism by David Conway Ashgate Publishing * 2004 * 210 pages * $79.95

Classical liberalism is a universal philosophy of the social good. It argues that the individual should be recognized as possessing the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property, which neither private individuals nor political authorities should be permitted to violate or abridge. The role of government in the classical-liberal ideal is protector and respecter of those rights, and very little else.

Classical liberalism is universal because the rights to life, liberty, and property are not reserved for any special people or nation. Every individual, everywhere and at any time, is entitled to those rights. For the classical liberal, history is the story of the struggle for liberty.

The tradition of liberty has been the heritage of only a tiny number of nations. Its focal point over the last several centuries has been Great Britain and the United States, with a few other countries in the shadow of their influence. And for a hundred years now, the tradition in those countries has been under constant attack by proponents of various forms of collectivism, from the mild to the extreme.

If this heritage were to be completely lost in those few countries, it would be a loss not only for them, but also for the entire world. How shall the heritage of liberty be preserved, therefore, in Great Britain and the United States? This is the question political philosopher David Conway attempts to answer in his recent work, In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism.

Liberty is under attack, Conway warns, from the ideology of political correctness and multiculturalism. Government economic and social policies, and the curriculum in public schools, are undermining both the practice of liberty and any knowledge of its history and importance. The idea of group and collective "rights" based on race, gender, ethnicity, and social "class" has replaced the ideal of individual liberty. The ethics of coercive redistribution of wealth has superseded the principles of inviolate private property and self-responsibility.

What needs to be restored, Conway argues, is a national awareness of and patriotic pride in being a Briton or an American born into the ideal of liberty. In no way does Conway fall into the trap of "my country right or wrong." He would consider that a false and twisted sense of patriotism rightly understood.

He refers to and extensively quotes from leading figures of liberty over the last three centuries to demonstrate that it was once understood that what made someone a "real" Briton or American was the knowledge that his forebears had fought for personal, social, economic, and political liberty. That is what created much of the national identity, political loyalty, and social spirit in Britain and America.

The central question then arises over how that older sense of what it means to be an American (or a Briton) can be restored. The issue is not the desirability of a rebirth of a national spirit of liberty. …

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