The Economist at 175

A few weeks ago returning from Mexico City, I read the “manifesto” of The Economist magazine written on its 175th anniversary – 1843.  It was a defense of “liberalism.”

The Economist called for a revival of “liberalism” which has lost sight, it said, of its own essential values, saying “Liberalism made the modern world but the modern world is turning against it.”  The magazine defines “liberalism” as a “universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.”

This “liberalism” is positioned between the social Darwinist “neo-liberalism” of micro-economic fundamentalists on the libertarian right and collectivist regimentation on the left for the betterment of the “people.”

The Economist argued that “True Liberals contend that societies can change gradually for the better and from the bottom up. They differ from revolutionaries because they reject the idea that individuals should be coerced into accepting someone else’s beliefs. They differ from conservatives because they assert that aristocracy and hierarchy, indeed all concentrations of power, tend to become sources of oppression.”

It occurred to me that the vision and mission of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism is precisely this “liberalism.”  Our Principles for Business, ethical government as a public trust, responsible debate on the part of civil society and responsible use of wealth to enhance social and human capitals define a working program of “liberal” civilization.

I would add that “liberalism” resumes that individuals have a moral sense, a moral sense that does not need to be imposed by the state or any righteous hierarchy and a moral sense that keeps those with power from abusing it.  “Liberalism” presumes that individuals each have a station in life which carries with it burdens and privileges and a responsibility to serve a higher purpose.

This “liberalism” echoes the balancing between extremes of Aristotle, the Doctrine of the Mean of Confucius, the Mizan of the Qur’an and the middle way of Buddhism.