Top scholars question limitless government, teach timeless truths
FreeCons represent a wide variety of backgrounds, philosophies, professional expertise, and leadership roles. That’s one of the strengths of our movement.
For example, some of the most eloquent signatories of the Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles have spent most of their time not opining about the latest political developments but instead studying and imparting timeless truths about the human condition.
Professors and campus leaders were among the first to join our movement last summer. Since then, we’d added dozens of additional signatories from colleges and universities across the country.
Here are some examples of prominent FreeCons in academia.
Harmony of interests
Catherine K. Pakaluk is associate professor and director of social research at the Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business. A former recipient of the Acton Institute’ Novak Award, Pakaluk is a prolific scholar and a FreeCon signatory.
In a recent National Review essay, she explored interactions between the politics of liberty and the politics of order by comparing Adam Smith’s understanding of social organization to traditional Catholic teaching on human communities.
In a way that strongly resembles later anthropological models, Smith offered a four-stage theory of societal development. The first stage is small hunter-gatherer bands which naturally cling together, like a group of families. Through the ensuing societal stages — shepherds, agriculture, and commerce — society becomes more complex.
At each stage, an individual “stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes,” as Smith put it. Pakaluk argued that Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, made a similar observation: “It is natural for man, more than for any other animal, to be a social and political animal, to live in a group.”
Smith didn’t offer “theories about why people come together to cooperate for the good,” Pakaluk concluded. “Rather, resonant with the deepest commitments of Catholic thought, Smith looked to the nature of human institutions and the divine ordering of things, to supply the ends — and the limits — for the political domain.”
Act of instruction
Andy Taylor is a professor of political science and director of the Free and Open Societies Project at North Carolina State University's School of Public and International Affairs. He formerly headed the university’s Department of Political Science as well as the North Carolina Political Science Association.
In a recent Carolina Journal column, Taylor explained his decision to sign the Freedom Conservatism statement. “As a college professor, I see my endorsement as an important act of inspiration and instruction.”
He observed that today’s college students “have little knowledge of the advice the giants of Freedom Conservatism have given us.”
Taylor wrote that he shares “Edmund Burke’s views about the importance of institutions such as the family, church, and civic organizations. But they should not be exploited as instruments of division, to turn members against nonmembers. They are where we find deep human connection. Freedom Conservatives recognize others’ humanity and individuality.”
Jon Murphy is an assistant professor of economics at Louisiana’s Nicholls State University. He’s also a research fellow at Syracuse University’s Institute for an Entrepreneurial Society and a FreeCon signatory.
In a EconLog post, Murphy described protectionism as coming “back into vogue” and explored both its theoretical basis and its real-world consequences.
Except for cases in which trade in defense-related products could endanger national security, free trade is the better policy for America to follow, he argued.
Numerous studies show that “protectionism has caused more harm than good,” Nicholls wrote. For example, the tariffs imposed by former President Trump — and in many cases extended by President Biden — “have reduced net American income by about $1.4 billion per month since going into effect.”
“By its own goals,” he concluded, “protectionism has failed.”
Equality, liberty, justice
Daniel Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He leads the Smithian Political Economy program at GMU Economics and is the chief editor of Econ Journal Watch. He’s also a FreeCon signatory.
One of Klein’s research interests is the origin and usage of the term liberal — referring not to modern-day progressives but to the classical liberalism of Adam Smith and many of America’s founders.
Using literature searches, Klein found that the political adjective “liberal” was established in the 1770s, followed soon after by the noun “liberalism” to describe a political philosophy of limited government.
“It was only around 1900 that the term began to take on the opposite meaning,” Klein wrote in a recent American Institute for Economic Research essay. “And that take-up was promoted by Franklin D. Roosevelt and others, and the new meaning came to dominate the United States and Canada, whose soft power further boosted the leftist meaning elsewhere.”
Unfortunately, the use of liberalism as a synonym for left-wing progressivism has become widespread. “Those who favor less government need a name for that Smithian outlook,” he concluded.
We Freedom Conservatives have a suggestion . . .
• Writing in The North State Journal, conservative activist Karl Beckstein described the rivalry between FreeCons and right-leaning populists as an “idea primary” that may prove at least as important as the political primaries of 2024. “Freedom Conservatives believe the primary role of providing for the ‘common good’ sits with the family, churches, businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations, with the government playing a secondary role,” Beckstein wrote.
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