It was a great television piece that would help shape American conservatism for the next 35 years. In a 1979 interview, Phil Donahue and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman discussed political power, capitalism, and greed. To counter Donahue’s argument about the problems with an economic system and society based on greed, Friedman responded, “You know, I think you’re taking a lot of things for granted. Just tell me where in the world you’re going to find these angels who are going to organize society for us.”
At that moment, Friedman crystallized an idea that dates back to Enlightenment philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke — humans are and will always be fallible beings, so consolidating power in a select group of people through the force of government does not lead to a virtuous or prosperous society. The world will always have bad and flawed actors, which means that a society based on individual freedom and limited government is the best way to mitigate the risk of bad actors in consolidated pools of power like the economy and government.
Today, I join more than 70 other conservative leaders nationwide by lending my signature to a statement of principles on Freedom Conservatism. My decision arises from a growing concern over the escalating wave of authoritarianism from the left and right, which threatens the United States and extends its ominous reach around the globe.
We are witnessing a disheartening trend of self-described conservatives saying that the conservatism of the American Founders and Friedman-esque capitalism are no longer relevant in the 21st century. Their answer is to redefine conservatism in such a way that government power should be embraced to alter society. And this redefining of conservatism, sometimes called national conservatism, forsakes America’s distinctive creed. This creed upholds the intrinsic value of individual liberty as indispensable to the nation’s moral and physical strength.
Conserving individual freedoms is essential for preserving American greatness and virtue in the years ahead. As John Adams wisely noted, “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” We foster an environment where diverse ideas can thrive and be debated openly by safeguarding individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. This encourages innovation, progress, and the pursuit of truth. It also prevents the concentration of power in the hands of a few, reducing the risk of corruption and abuse. Protecting individual liberties ensures that moral authority and character remain at the forefront of leadership and decision-making. When citizens can express their opinions and contribute to the democratic process, they become active participants in shaping their society’s future. Preserving individual freedoms is not just a legal or political matter; it is deeply tied to America’s core values and principles — a commitment to liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all. By upholding these principles, we ensure that America remains a beacon of hope, an inspiration to other nations, and a virtuous society for generations to come.
The ethos of freedom conservatism, as epitomized by the statement released today, grows from the philosophy of John Locke. Locke’s ideas, rooted in the Age of Enlightenment, emphasize individuals’ inherent rights and freedoms as the bedrock of a just and prosperous society. The spirit of freedom conservatism echoes Locke’s profound belief in the sanctity of individual liberty, limited government, and the principles of free-market economics. It upholds the conviction that a society governed by these ideals is conducive to personal fulfillment, autonomy, economic prosperity, and societal harmony.
By conserving freedom, we are aligning ourselves with the essence of Locke’s Enlightenment ideals and serving as torchbearers of a virtuous tradition that has shaped the very fabric of America. In a time when the values that once unified us are under siege, conservatives must rally together to reaffirm the crucial importance of individual liberty in safeguarding our great nation’s moral integrity and physical strength.
The American blend of capitalism and republicanism has proven to be a remarkable force in combating poverty and advancing societal progress. The capitalist system, emphasizing free markets, competition, and private property rights, has fostered economic growth and opportunity. Capitalism has unleashed unparalleled levels of prosperity by allowing individuals to innovate, invest, and pursue their own economic interests. The system has lifted countless people out of poverty. Simultaneously, this American blend created the environment for advancements in civil rights, voting rights, and educational innovation and defeated authoritarian regimes abroad.
As some seek to make conservatism more relevant in American politics, now is not the time to abandon its rich history of preserving freedom. Now is the moment to embrace freedom as a policy concept, not leave it. That is why I define myself as a FreeCon — a freedom conservative.