We are in an ideological monsoon, an era that is seemingly dominated by either red flags or brown shirts — an alternative is always tantalizing. An ideological response to an ideological crisis. That crisis, this crisis — the crises of Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon — is a crisis of nativism.
This cacophony of world leaders and their groups are united by their nativism — that various groups of citizens are not, in fact, genuine and legitimate members of society. They are instead an existential threat that must be quashed. This noxious brew is further mixed with anti-pluralist populism, wherein society is divided into two homogenous groups — the elites and the people. The people are the embodiment of virtue; the elites are the embodiment of vice. The elites have been disadvantaging the people, and the only way for the people to reclaim their power is investing powers into a Wise and Virtuous Leader.
To face down nativist anti-pluralist populism — the status quo cannot do, or cannot do forever. The power of nativism is derived from genuine grievance, there is a there, there. Things have gone wrong, our systems are broken, and people are hurt. But any successful response to nativism must not ignore nor give into nativist appeals. We can’t make nice with the devil, and we can’t pretend that the devil isn’t there.
So instead of relitigating the messy history and understanding of, for example, neoliberalism, I instead prefer another term — Liberal Radicalism. Explicitly tying a revivalist liberalism to the tradition of the Radical Republicans and English Radicals. The premise of Liberal Radicalism is simple, the rejection of revolution, reaction, the status quo — and an embrace of Reconstruction. Not wishing to burn down the present, but instead to rebuild from it to build for our common future. Reconstruction is not an idle task, is not an easy task, is not a pleasant task. But when forced to choose from between bitter rejuvenation, or slow degradation, or yet worse our annihilation — the choice is simple. Reconstruction and rejuvenation.
Instead of listing and delving deep into arcane theory, the easiest way to concretely explain Liberal Radicalism is a homebrew ideological (pseudo-)equation.
In short. Markets are good. Welfare is good. Land is Power.
To be a little bit more long-winded. Fredrich Hayek is correct that price mechanisms can be efficient and effective for allocating most goods. Prices can turn communities into supercomputers. Henry George is correct that land is power and that the rents from land are a primary source of inequality. John Rawls is correct that to endeavor to build a just society, that we must operate under the veil of ignorance and ensure that on-ramps to opportunity are plentiful, accessible, equitable. Society should not seek to build a safety net, but rather a solid foundation— where people can build or rebuild towards success. Open markets and universalism, with a keen eye towards rent-seeking, can guarantee an open, equal, and prosperous society. However, all of that must be wrapped in active anti-racism and active opposition to all forms of bigotry. An open society must be open to all those acting in good faith and with honest hearts.
Liberal Radicals should articulate and strive to ensconce four fundamental principles — four freedoms. They are Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Self, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Freedom of Speech is the encapsulation of the political rights necessary for the good functioning of open democracy — the right vote, to speech, to assembly, to petition, etc. Freedom of Self is the freedom from bigotry and oppression — freedom to be oneself, which of course includes freedom of conscience and worship beyond protection from oppression. Freedom from Want is the understanding that those who are hungry are not free and that an unequal society is not a free society. Finally, Freedom of Fear, that people have an absolute right to live free from tyranny and that right does not stop at any border.
When it comes to government intervention, Liberal Radicals should look to SAVE — towards Simplicity, Accessibility, Visibility, and Efficiency. Government programs should be as simple and accessible as possible. Their benefits should be clear as day and clearly limited — not just hidden away in tax rebates. However, they must be efficient in so that they actually achieve their intended outcome. Government is not about profit-margins, it about delivery of services.
When it comes to government structure, Liberal Radicals should look towards a sort of Majoritarian Madisonian-ism. That is to say, Legislative primacy, where the legislature is the most powerful branch of government, restored to its place as the primary policymaker — not the judiciary or the executive. But that government can be dangerous, and there must be mechanisms where ambition can be set against ambition. Government must be able to act; government must also be able to be stopped.
Further, while focused on the rights of individuals and communities, Liberal Radicalism must look to restore, rebuild, and reconstruction institutions. Security, equality, and prosperity must not depend on the conduct of Men of Virtue but rather on the continuous work of institutions. Or in the parlance of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson — Liberal Radicals must build inclusive institutions and replace extractive ones. The bone of institutions outlive the flesh of mortals, and thus must the fulcrum of Reconstruction.
When it comes to foreign policy matters, Liberal Radicals must be fundamentally internationalist in orientation. That nations are strongest, safest, and most prosperous when working together. That international institution must be rebuilt, maintained, and led because the need for justice does not end at national borders. When it comes to interventionism, the Liberal Radical maxim is simple — do not start fights, but end them. Tyrants must not be able to butcher their people, but countries should not be blood-thirsty war machines perpetually at war for the sake of war. We must not leap eagerly to war and force, as war is never good — but there are things that are worse than war. Liberal Radicals must seek to speak often and carry a sharp spear.
At the heart of Liberal Radicalism is an embrace of the Twin Tailed Radicalism of the Radical Republicans and the English Radicals — those that sought to create an open, inclusive, multiethnic American democratic republic and those that sought to create an open, inclusive British constitutional monarchy. Liberal Radicals must realize that genuine, inclusive liberal democracy is not built by small steps alone — that there should be moderation in all things, especially moderation.
Democracy is non-negotiable; neither is liberty. That liberal, justice, and equality are the cornerstones of an open society, but they must be realized — not simply stated. And their realization requires big structural change. Or rather that, Realization requires Reconstruction.
(I would like to end this post with a caveat: this is not an evangelical argument. I don’t expect anyone to see the light and adopt the label “Liberal Radical,” it is not even a label I use frequently. Ideological labels are about conveying understanding, and it is hard to understand a homebrew ideology on its face. That is why, for now, I prefer to use liberal or progressive liberal because that is a much more powerful signal. However, that is always subject to change.)