Walter Russell Mead on American Classical Liberalism, culturally tenacious but politically stuck:
For some in the GOP, following a long line of classically liberal analysis that has centuries of history behind it, inequality not only may not be that bad: it could actually be good. And even if it is bad, efforts to fix it through government policy are likely to do more harm than good. Inequality is a natural result of the human condition, these people argue. Some people are smarter, harder working, more talented or just luckier than others, and in a free society in which people can use their talents to the fullest, some people are going to wind up richer than others.
But, argue the classical liberals, by giving free rein to the talents and ambitions of the strongest, we are setting in motion a process which over the long run will make everyone better off. The talented will invent new technologies, discover new drugs, make compelling art and otherwise enhance the general human storehouse through their own unfettered pursuit of happiness. Any heavy handed government efforts to keep the talented from becoming too successful will slow down the pace of innovation and change that historically has seen living standards for average people skyrocket over the last three hundred years. This idea isn’t going away anytime soon and the reality that three hundred years of capitalist development has in fact raised living standards to unprecedented levels in much of the world suggests that there may even be some truth in it.
Nevertheless, in its purest and most dogmatic form, out there where Ron Paul communes with the spirit of Ayn Rand on the open range, libertarian ideology isn’t going to dominate mainstream American politics for the foreseeable future. I’ve argued before that the United States is becoming more libertarian and individualistic over the long run, but there is no sign that Americans want to drink their libertarianism straight from the bottle — especially when that would mean abandoning government programs that benefit the middle class.
The framework of historical understanding in which this description is embedded is far richer and — in the productive-problematic sense — fatalistic (so read it all).