We live at time when, increasingly, the U.S. government operates in arbitrary and discretionary ways. Government regulatory agencies seemingly have unrestrained powers over land-use, business manufacturing and enterprise, the workplace and the environment under broad legislative mandates. And proposals are now frequently being made for ad hoc restrictions and prohibitions on freedoms of speech, press, religion and association. The principle and practice of individual liberty, therefore, is under serious attack.
The history of liberty and prosperity is inseparable from the practice of free enterprise and respect for the rule of law. Both are products of the spirit of classical liberalism. But a correct understanding of free enterprise, the rule of law, and liberalism (rightly understood) is greatly lacking in the world today.
Historically, liberalism is the political philosophy of individual liberty. It proclaims and insists that the individual is to be free to think, speak, and write as he wishes; to believe and worship as he wishes; and to peacefully live his life as he wishes. Another way of saying this is to quote from Lord Acton’s definition: “By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and custom, and opinion.” For this reason, he declared that the securing of liberty “is the highest political end.”
Lord Acton did not say, you will notice, that liberty is the highest end, but rather the highest political end. In the wider context of a man’s life, political and economic liberty are means to other ends. What ends? Those that give meaning and purpose to man’s sojourn on earth. Classical liberalism does not deny that there may be or is one ultimate Truth, or one moral “right,” or one correct conception of “the good” and “the beautiful.”
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