Krugman is No Liberal

Further to Cord’s post below, a real liberal, not a statist claiming to be one, would be familiar with John Stuart Mill’s argument that minorities need small government to protect them from the “tyranny of the majority“:

The “people” who exercise the power, are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised, and the “self-government” spoken of, is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals, loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests democracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations “the tyranny of the majority” is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.

Mill goes on to warn that limits on government are not enough, for the tyranny of the majority can also operate through convention – and this is what distinguishes the liberal Mill from the conservative. However, in a world where the liberal victory over convention is well-nigh complete, it is the limitation of the power of government over individuals that is more important. That is where liberalism has failed, because people who presumptuously call themselves liberals have been seduced by the power of the state and seek to use it to impose their own view of the world on everyone. The fatal conceit that Hayek, another great liberal who despised the idea that he might be thought of as conservative, warned against as leading down the road to serfdom has so completely infected modern liberalism that it has become the establishment that Mill warned against (perhaps Nobel laureates form the new aristocracy of this establishment).

It is perhaps a jape by history that conservatives have become the prime guardians of real liberty, but once liberty becomes a tradition, conservatives are bound to uphold it. Mill would recognize this, and approve heartily. If he does not know this, Krugman is not only no liberal, but he is no intellectual either.