Daniel B. Klein, “Smith, Hume, and Burke as Policy Liberals and Polity Conservatives” (March 2020)
In this edition of Liberty Matters, Daniel Klein, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, sketches the liberalism of Smith, Hume, and Burke, and argues that it was a worldly liberalism, sensitive to the coarse clay of humankind and to liberty’s dependence on stable, functional polity. Klein distinguishes polity issues and policy issues (“policy” in a sense tailored to that distinction). Smith, Hume, and Burke leaned toward policy liberalization. But the liberal outlook accepts and engages, even enjoys, the sticky moral and cultural circumstances that give the polity its color and character—making for stability and functionality. The troika were policy liberals and polity conservatives, and their conservative liberalism, Klein suggests, is the best understanding of classical liberalism—which, he also suggests, is the wisest and most virtuous political outlook for the modern world.