Hyphenated Liberalism Part II: Utopian, Democratic, Revolutionary, and State Liberalism

[Eugène Delacroix, “Liberty leading the People on the Barricade” (1830)]

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

I thought it might be interesting when discussing the different kinds of “liberalism” to borrow from the common practice of distinguishing between the different types of socialism which have appeared over the past 100 years or so, namely utopian socialism, democratic socialism, revolutionary socialism, and state socialism. I think there are some striking parallels:

  • utopian socialism: believers form voluntary communities to put socialist ideas into practice; they exist within the broader society; the idea is to show that socialist ways of organising life and work are “better” than the free market (wages, free market prices, profits); examples include Charles Fourier, Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and Victor Considerant. Karl Marx was scathing in his criticism of “utopian socialism” and as a contrast regarded his own form of revolutionary socialism as the true “scientific socialism.”
  • democratic socialism: socialist party is formed in order to get votes at elections; when a majority of votes are received the socialist program will be enacted piecemeal though parliament; it may take decades to enact the complete socialist program; examples are the Labour Party in England and the Labor Party in Australia (inspired by the ideas of late 19thC “Fabian socialism”), the Social Democratic Party in Germany, and the Socialist Party in France and elsewhere. This form of socialism might also be described as “bottom up” socialism as the driving force behind it comes from organisations of ordinary workers and people in the form of trade unions or mass political parties.
  • revolutionary socialism: the socialist party seizes power in a coup d’état or revolution and uses violence to destroy the old system and remove “capitalists” from positions of power and ownership; replaced initially by workers cooperatives (soviets) to run factories; when these fail they are replaced by party appointed managers who then carry out “Five Year Plans” (central planning) set by the party leadership (state capitalism); examples are the Bolsheviks in Russia, the Chinese Communist Party
  • state socialism: the state sets economic goals, determines how production is to be carried (and by whom), and what industries get investment for expansion and continued production; attempts to abolish or strictly regulate how much profit can be made; SS can be established by revolution (Russian Bolshevik model), in wartime (Kriegssozialismus – Germany in WW1). This form of socialism might also be described as “top down” socialism as the driving force behind it comes from established political and military elites in order to stave off the threat from below of socialist or labor parties, or to organise the economy in order to fight a long war.

The “liberal” version of these kinds of regimes are / would be utopian liberalism, democratic liberalism, revolutionary liberalism, state liberalism:

  • utopian liberalism: believers create experimental, voluntary communities in order to show that ‘freedom works”; Ayn Rand’s “Galt’s Gulch” fantasy / ideal; the “free state” movement where CLs/L move to a small state, get elected to state and local government and enact CL policies (or cutting back on existing taxation, legislation and regulation), possibly with intention of eventually seceding from the larger political unit (the nation state); see Anthony Comegna, “A History of Libertarian Utopianism”, in Visions of Liberty. Edited by Aaron Ross Power and Paul Matzko (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2020), pp. 319-28 – online; Kingsley Widmer “Utopia and Liberty: A Bibliographical Essay” Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought , vol. IV, no. 4, Winter 1981 – Online; Mikayla Novak, “Conceptions of utopia in modern liberal thought: Is there a liberal utopia?” Utopian Studies (forthcoming); Alan Clardy. “Galt’s Gulch: Ayn Rand’s Utopian Delusion.” Utopian Studies, vol. 23, no. 1, Penn State University Press, 2012, pp. 238–62.
  • democratic liberalism (also “reformist liberalism”): a CL or L party is formed with a platform of policies which it would like to see enacted (the most radical in my view was the Workers Party platform of 1975); candidates stand for election and attempt to get their policies enacted by parliament; then “rollback” the state over time; the model is the Benthamite / Millian Reform Party of the 1830s, the English Liberal Party (1859) especially during the PM of William Gladstone; modern attempts are the American Libertarian Party (1969??) and the Australian Workers Party. See Joseph Hamburger, James Mill and the Art of Revolution (Yale: Yale University Press, 1963) and Intellectuals in Politics: John Stuart Mill and the Philosophic Radicals (Yale: Yale University Press, 1965); Robert Kelley, The Transatlantic Persuasion: The Liberal-Democratic Mind in the Age of Gladstone (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1969).
  • revolutionary liberalism: CLs fight a revolution against an oppressive state, win power and enact a new Constitution with limited powers granted to the state; model is the American Revolution and perhaps the first stage of French Revolution (before the Jacobin seizure of power), also some CLs who were active participants in the European-wide 1848 Revolutions. See the literature on the American and French (or “transatlantic” revolutions) as liberal revolutions: Murrary N. Rothbard, “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty” Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought (Spring 1965, no. 1), pp. 4-22; Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. Revised edition. (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1978), “Preface. The Libertarian Heritage: The American Revolution and Classical Liberalism,” pp. 1-19. Online at Mises Wire; Robert Nisbet, “The Social Impact of the Revolution.” In America’s Continuing Revolution: An Act of Conservation (Washington: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1975); Jonathan Israel, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton University Press, 2014), The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848 (Princeton University Press, 2017), and The Enlightenment That Failed: Ideas, Revolution, and Democratic Defeat, 1748-1830 (Oxford University Press, 2019).
  • state liberalism: another word to describe the “new liberalism” of the late 19thC and today’s “neoliberalism” where the state is seen not as the enemy of liberty but the means by which an expanded notion of liberty can be put into place; state regulation of “excesses” of free market / capitalism, “safety net” welfare state, compulsory state funded education, considerable regulation of private life (“nanny state”); examples include the Australian Liberal Party 1945, the American Democratic Party, most of the centre left/right political parties in Europe and Australia.