The Liberal Tradition: A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom

The Liberal Tradition: A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom

The Liberal Tradition: A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom

The Liberal Tradition: A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom

Excerpt

The crying need of modern liberalism is for a clearer perception of principle. A great tradition--the oldest and richest in political history--is all but lost in a fog of careless words and empty phrases. Particularly in America, the term "liberal" is being used to cover policies ranging from nineteenth-century laissez faire to dictatorial collectivism; more, it is being deliberately misapplied by persons whose programs, whatever their merits, are in temper and outlook, as to means as well as ends, radically alien to the liberal tradition. This has become possible because the public and the popular press have almost forgotten the existence of political principle in the sense in which Jefferson and Lincoln, Acton and Gladstone understood it; nor have they found in recent events, domestic or international, much to remind them.

The political life of our time has shown a passion for quick returns. Since the century opened, popular attention in France, Germany, England, America has been increasingly focused on short-run tangible objectives. Measures to bring specific material benefits to the nation, or to whatever groups or classes could secure control, have engrossed the public interest, raising the political temperature while they shortened the political perspective; so that along with considerable achievement there developed a growing instability. A new and dangerous temper pervaded public life as the ability to envisage policy in the larger and more permanent sense tended to disappear. The kangaroo beat both the donkey and the elephant.

But the true life of a community is not a series of violent jumps to particular objectives; it is a constant process demanding a steady sense of direction, a continuous realization of principles not exhausted in their application to a transitory set of circumstances. The lapse of such a sense, the ignorance of such principles, have disastrous consequences. The bewilderment and cynicism of our younger citizens are due less to the complexity of the problems they are called upon to face than to the failure of the older genera-

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