Koyzis observes that liberalism exists in many different forms today. Indeed, many of the debates between the right and left in American life are debates between differing kinds of liberals. In elucidating this, Koyzis notes that there are several stages to liberalism. The first stage might be labeled “proto-liberal.” In this stage the ideas of a state of nature in which the individual is sovereign is proposed. From this it follows that sovereign individual precedes the community or the body politic. In this period the form of government might still be an absolute monarchy, but the rationale is laid for oppressed individuals to unite to overthrow a tyrant.
The second stage Koyzis labels “the night watchman state.” In this stage of liberalism, government’s role is to ensure the protection of private property. Government should not intrude upon the marketplace as that limits a person’s economic freedom. By the late nineteenth century many people were concerned about large monopolies. They thought that these businesses, and not government only, had the power to threaten people’s freedom. So in the third stage of liberalism the “regulatory state” is born. Koyzis said that “‘reform’ liberals” thought they could use government power to protect people’s freedom from powerful nongovernmental entities.
In the fourth stage of liberalism government adds another role to come “the equal opportunity state.” According to Koyzis, FDR’s “four freedoms” are an example of this stage of liberalism. The second stage liberals, often called “classical liberals,” thought that government should be limited so that individuals had the “space to pursue their own interests as they see fit.” But equal opportunity liberals note that poor children do not have the same opportunities that children of well-to-do parents have.
Koyzis thinks that this progression reveals a weakness in liberalism:
[Liberal individualism] is not only unable to account for the ontological status of community; it also ignores the connectedness of individuals to previous and succeeding generations. It pretends that the individual is an isolated runner in the race, whose success or failure depends wholly on herself. When it becomes apparent that this is not the case—that is, when liberals bump up against reality—they are often driven to pursue policies quite at variance with classical liberalism’s initial antistatist orientation. This late liberals came to embrace the welfare state.
A fifth stage of liberalism, according to Koyzis, is “the choice enhancement state.” There is a long background to this stage. Prior to liberalism, philosophers and theologians believed that “there is a substantive good which human beings or their political leaders are obliged by their nature to follow.” But Thomas Hobbes declared, “There is no such, finis ultimus, utmost aim, nor summum bonum, greatest good, as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers.” Every individual can decide for himself what he thinks the good life should be for him. Koyzis notes, “The task of liberalism, therefore, is to try to accommodate these desires as much as possible. . . . But in no case should the liberal state attempt to prejudge the choices lying before individuals, since that would be an undue limitation on freedom of choice.” In previous eras, non-liberal elements in society (such as widely held religious beliefs) placed a check on this aspect of liberalism. But now the liberal idea that government should not legislate morality has become a commonplace. These ideas have consequences:
Government may decline to ‘stigmatize’ divorcees or to place legal obstacles in their way, but it cannot proclaim that divorce will have no deleterious effects on the parties involved and on the larger society. It may similarly abstain from adversely judging nonmarital intercourse, but it cannot decree that unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases will not proliferate. Government may legally affirm that single-parent families are ‘just as valid’ as two-parent families, but it cannot declare that there will be no negative fallout from the choice to end a marriage or that fatherlessness will not leave its impact on the lives of the offspring.
When these undesirable consequences do occur, rather than acknowledge that the quest to validate all lifestyle choices equally is a utopian one doomed to failure, fifth-stage liberals increasingly call on government to ameliorate, if not altogether eliminate, such consequences so they can continue to engage in this fruitless quest. This inevitably leads to an expansion of the scope of government that is difficult to contain within any borders whatever. . . . This final stage of liberalism demands that government effectively subsidize irresponsible behavior for fear that doing otherwise risks making government into a potentially oppressive legislator of the good life.
From a Christian perspective, certain forms of liberalism are better than others. However, Koyzis has identified two major flaws. First, liberty is viewed as the ultimate value, and every individual is allowed to choose his own definition of the good life. On a practical level this does not bode well for social cohesion, but from a Christian perspective it denies the grand truth that God’s glory should be the end of every individual and society because God’s glory is the end for which God created the world. Second, later stages of liberalism try to cushion people from the consequences of violating the structures that God built into his creation. But a society cannot continuously press against the norms God has built into his world without suffering the consequences of living contrary to creation.
Source: David T. Koyzis, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 53-64.