Wiki gives us The Oxford Companion to Philosophy's definition of Ideology, as:
"An ideology is a set of beliefs and values attributed to a person or group of persons, especially as held for reasons which are not purely epistemic", of which the last part, "held for reasons which are not purely epistemic", is, ironically, meaningful, in that it means that an ideology's beliefs are held with no philosophical roots in reality or grounds for understanding and believing those beliefs to be true - they are simply those positions which they prefer, or as Pragmatism would later popularize it, held not because they are True, but because they seem to 'work' for them... at the moment... for the moment. Of course by that justification, arguing by logical fallacies should be A-Ok too, since, no matter how misleading, untrue and illogical those arguments might be, they do 'work' to win people over to your position, right? You see the issue there?
Don't worry, I'm not going to go over how it's being peddled in our school systems today, but it might be useful to glance at the answers that a couple typical graduates of Higher Ed have given to the question of what Ideology & its role is, such as these from Quora, to get a glimpse at how, and how confidently, it works in practice. This first one comes from someone having a B.S. in Sociology & English Literature, from the Tennessee Technological University (2008), who answered:
"Ideology is the study of beliefs of a society within the basis of political or economic systems..."IOW, within the frame of what you already are pleased to believe (with or without any basis for those beliefs), Ideology furnishes you with the political & economic positions that 'you' find acceptable... with no deeper basis than what 'your' ideology finds it useful to believe. Not only is your role in such thinking, kept to a minimum, but a person could get dizzy from the circularity in the thinking, such as it is.
Another wise guy, having an M.S. in Public Administration & Labor Relations no less, from the University of Illinois at Springfield (2015), tells us:
"Ideology doesn’t exist because it has a function in society, it exists as a result (or consequence of) sentient thought.", which should call into question whether or not the words 'sentient', 'ideology' or 'thought', mean what he thinks they mean (or that he cares what they mean, beyond their usefulness in his statement), as the term "Ideology" wasn't coined until 1796 (we'll get to that in a minute); or else... does he perhaps think that there was no 'sentient thought' prior to that?
But to see a clearer example of what sorts of positions that ideological thinking leads a person's mind into, we need only look at one of those that I've mentioned several times in this series of posts (and then at some of the ramifications we're feeling from it today), where my Libertarian friend urged that America lift its tariffs with Communist China, and instead engage in:
"...unilateral, unrestricted, free trade..."That is a sentiment which most supporters of 'Free Trade!' enthusiastically support. Fortunately for our purposes here, because Ideology by nature skips over and evades reality (in favor of what appears to 'work'), we only need to take a closer look at what such sentiments do in reality mean (and ignore), to reveal the illusion that Ideology spins in theory and cause & effect.
Once you brush past the veil of 'liberty' that 'Free Trade!''rs wave in your face and look at the roots of what they're saying, it becomes clear that they chase the lure of low prices which doing business with Communist China dangles before them, by willfully ignoring the fact that those bargains can only be offered to them, because of the nature of what Communist China in reality is:
- to persist in advocating for 'Free Trade!' with Communist China, requires ignoring, evading, or denying that the those actions and practices are implicitly endorsing policies which are fundamentally at war with the concepts and principles of individual rights, private property, profits and Rule of Law, which Liberty and a Free Market are based upon and cannot exist without. In addition to that, because Communist China is and always has been actively abusing and imposing its powers upon its own people, and upon other nations - both indirectly today through the theft of intellectual property, and explicitly through direct threats of power - 'trading' with them, means enriching, enabling, and aiding & abetting a direct threat to the existence of Liberty and a Free Market. Promoters of 'Free Trade! with the totalitarian power of Communist China, have vastly enriched it with wealth from America and The West for decades, to the point that it has become a viable threat to both. Why? In order to get a pragmatic bargain that 'works' for them. For the moment. Until that moment's gone (like now?).
- a state that is explicitly founded upon the forcible elimination of private property (how does someone trade what isn't theirs?),
- a state in which all of their billion people are forcibly deprived of any & all recognition of their individual rights and their power to exercise them,
- a state that has a sizable number of their own people physically enslaved in order to produce some products at a 'good price',
- a state in which no business is permitted to operate without the 'partnership' of that murderous state,
- a state whose businesses would not exist without their ongoing theft of the intellectual property of other nation's people,
- a state in which none of its people are 'free' to engage in trade,
The ability to trade freely is an impossibility for any citizen of Communist China, and yet most Libertarians shamelessly promote the notion. The ideology of 'Free Trade!' is concerned only with their financial ledger's facts & figures, and having no deeper interest or concern for their ideas lack of 'epistemic roots' in what is real and true, they blithely endanger that Liberty which they so boldly proclaim to care so very much about (which should also call into question what their notion of 'liberty' is).
With just a little attention given to those pesky 'epestimic roots' that ideology shields its thinkers minds from, it becomes clear that 'Free Trade!' can have no legitimate meaning. 'Ideological Thinking' is unconcerned with the wider reality which its ideological positions give no serious thought to, and it escapes those issues, by pragmatically caring only about 'the facts' it can see and tally.
That is an example of what 'ideological thinking' means.
And for a real life example of what 'ideological thinking' actually means when engaged in over the long term, you need look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic. Communist China's suppression of the news and outright lying about the severity of COVID-19 for months, because "...for reasons which are not purely epistemic..." they didn't think that lives and truth stacked up to the need of those in power to seem respectable and in control, they enabled the disease to become a global pandemic which has ended the lives of thousands, and has caused unprecedented disruption, hardship and economic devastation throughout America, The West, and the rest of the world. Such is the 'penny wise, pound foolish' nature of the ideology of 'Free Trade!'.
That is what results from following Ideological thinking, and that is why it is worth our taking a closer look at Ideology's roots in our relatively recent history, and the hand that even some of our most respected Founding Fathers had in enabling its weeds to spread and infest our lives today.
The Ideological weeds in our Founders garden
The United States of America was founded as a result of revolutionary developments in political philosophy that were rooted in a broad understanding of History, Philosophy, Ethics & Morality, which Jefferson ironically (we'll see what's ironic about it in a moment) called the 'harmonizing sentiments of the day', whose purely epistemic roots drew deeply from "...the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c...". The combination of those ideas and sentiments brought a 3D depth to political philosophy that had been absent from history beforehand, bringing into focus not only the individual, and not only the state, but the importance of recognizing the nature and requirements of both, and of their balanced relationship. That culmination is what became apparent in the reality of American Exceptionalism; all of which is necessarily disregarded and discarded, as a consequence of accepting a blinkered 'Ideology' as a guide & starting point for your thinking.
What Ideology amounts to and requires of you in practice, is that you close one mental eye towards what is True, in order to pursue what you find pleases you enough to want to force it to 'work', for the moment, at the moment, and without a thought for what may come in the next moment. AKA Pragmatism (See above points on Communist China for reference).
The Pro-Regressive Left (and Right), as well as most of those who see themselves as being 'on The Right', and as friends of 'Liberty!', have been indulging in ideological thinking for a solid two centuries. 'Free Trade!' (as distinct from a Free Market) is just one more variant of doing what I described in the previous post, as throwing a conceptual throw rug of 'Free Trade!' over the steadily expanding hole in the American mind. It's adherents are blind to how reducing the world to a matter of economics (reminder: It was Karl Marx who famously proposed a new 'Economic Interpretation of History') moves philosophy, morality and law, to that of a sideshow status, flattening the newly acheived 3D vision, to that of a scattering of 2-D images and ideological divides, a mental closing of one eye that effectively derails those who were looking for something more than surface appearances only. There are consequential consequences to the spread of that depthless point of view.
If a Free Market could have existed without the understanding that had been developed by our Founder's era, it would have existed long before America came into being.
But it didn't.
The Free Market requires more than the two dimensional thinking of flatly material pursuits; food & shelter, possessions, comfort, avoidance of pain is not enough, man only really lives by seeking more than bread alone. More materials is not enough. More wealth, is not enough. More government(!) is not enough.
The 'more' that is needed, is a sense of more that is more concerned with quality, than quantity. A prerequisite of a Free Market, is a people who look upwards and wonder what is true, good & Just and seek to emulate it. That sort of thinking is what leads to a desire for living a good life and leads to a people who do see every mans home as being his castle, and which leads to a view of government that supports them in their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
The three dimensional view of life, is what a Free Market is a result of - not a cause of, but what it results from. It requires reflective reasoning built upon valuing the importance of the truths found in Jefferson's ' harmonizing sentiments of the day', while remaining conscious that you might be wrong "...If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too...". For if a people's thinking is not being guided by a quest for what is true, it will be guided by what some want to be accepted as if it were true, in order to get what they most passionately desire - and in case you missed it, that is what the pursuit of power is and means. It's not only the powerful who pursue power, and when all levels of society become engaged in that passionate pursuit, then that entire society is at risk of realizing what Lord Acton warned against, that "... power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Going down the path of disregarding a concern for the 'epistemic roots' in what we believe, means taking our collective emotions and passions as our guides, and leads to the unceasing need for more power to 'make things work' regardless of their being true and right, and that is how Ideology progressively wins the day - 'for the greater good', of course. In such a society as that, it should be no surprise that their markets will be ruled in a similar manner to the minds of those who people them. Which... is where we are today.
How did we get here? Well, without going into the long answer (a somewhat larger thumbnail of which I gave here), the short answer is... with help from the very best of intentions of people like Thomas Jefferson.
One of our earliest pivot points that I've found outside of the standard flow of the Ivory Tower, came well after Rousseau and Kant, and well before Hegel, Marx & the American Pragmatists (Pierce, Dewey & James), and it came with truly good intentions in pursuit of seemingly logical directions of thought, via the works of a prominent Frenchmen named Destutt de Tracy, who in 1796, was the first person to coin the term: Ideology. More ironically, and with more than a little bit of poetic injustice, he devised it as being a new "science of ideas", which he latter incorporated into his work "A Treatise on Political Economy", which was greatly admired by no less a leading light of our Founding Fathers, than (sound the ironic drum roll please): Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson liked de Tracy's work so much, that he translated it into English himself, wrote an introduction to it, saw to it that it was published in America, and highly recommended it to all who'd pay attention.
On the bright side, in Jefferson's introduction to Tracy's work, he draws very favorable attention to one who I've mentioned here often, Jean Baptist Say, whose works Jefferson elevates (correctly, IMHO) above that of the lesser quality (though trail blazing) works of Adam Smith, noting that,
"...In France, John Baptist Say has the merit of producing a very superior work on the subject of Political economy. his arrangement is luminous, ideas clear, style perspicuous, and the whole subject brought within half the volume of Smith’s work, add to this considerable advances in correctness and extension of principles....", which I couldn't agree with more. But as I noted in the previous post, even in the works of Say, you could begin to see the unstable issues emerging in the still new field of Political Economy, which the latter state of modern Economics would exploit with help from the likes of J.S. Mill, transforming it into what we typically, tragically, refer to now as 'Classical Liberalism'. Jefferson continued with:
"....The work of Senator Tracy, now announced, comes forward with all the lights of his predecessors in the science, and with the advantages of further experience, more discussion, and greater maturity of subject. it is certainly distinguished by important traits; a cogency of logic which has never been exceeded in any work, a rigorous enchainment of ideas, and constant recurrence to it to keep it in the reader’s view, a fearless pursuit of truth whithersoever it leads...", which I couldn't disagree with more, not just in regards to the content, but to de Tracy's goal itself.
The problem begins by ignoring the deeper meaning of terms being used, and attempting to utilize them based upon their appearances only. It ceases to be Science, and becomes only Scientism, when you disregard the nature and meaning (those pesky 'epistemic roots' again) of what science is. Science is preceded by, defined in, and enabled by, Philosophy, which is what defines and clarifies the nature of quantifying and calculating, let alone those things that can be quantified and calculated, and the attempt to apply a 'science of ideas', to that which defines ideas and science itself, flies in the face of logic. Reminder: Logic as a subject is found and defined within philosophy, not science; it's a subset of Epistemology, which is the 'epistem' in 'epistemic roots', without which there can be nothing 'logical' about its rules. Science itself, and indeed the Scientific Method, are philosophic terms which are what make modern science possible - to put it another way, bootstraps are useful for pulling on your boots, but not so much for lifting yourself up by. Such a notion also collides with one of those central 'harmonizing sentiments' of the day that Jefferson had in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence, from the once familiar Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle's, that,
"...it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs...", to even seek further precision than the subject allows, introduces errors and corruption into both what is sought and into your accepted means of seeking it. Ignoring those truths won't stop you from thinking of course, but it will alter and degrade the nature and quality of those thoughts which you persist in thinking through them. Tracy & Jefferson's good intentions, turned a blind eye to common sense, and had far more to do with Scientism, than Science (to be fair, that's a distinction that wasn't yet understood in their time), and among other things, it helped transform the still profound nature of education which Jefferson enjoyed in his day, into the ever more pathetic slop that's been served up to our youth in higher & lower 'educational institutions' down to our day.
Curiously, in a letter written to a young protege of his, Jefferson himself recognized that Tracy's thinking was at least partially flawed. He wrote a short summary of the better points to his friend, noting that laws should be restricted to cases involving the violation of another's rights, and of "...the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society..." so that,
"...When the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right. The trial of every law by one of these texts, would lessen much the labors of our legislators, and lighten equally our municipal codes...", and to that point he goes on to praise deTracy's volume as "...a work of the first order of merit now in the press at Washington, by Destutt Tracy, on the subject of political economy...", but then remarkably in the very next line of the same letter, he points out a concern he had with Tracy's thinking which is a fundamental flaw of it,
"...He promises a future work on morals, in which I lament to see that he will adopt the principles of Hobbes, or humiliation to human nature; that the sense of justice and injustice is not derived from our natural organization, but founded on convention only. I lament this the more, as he is unquestionably the ablest writer living, on abstract subjects. ..."Somehow Jefferson compartmentalized the contradictions between his praise for Tracy's Political Economy, a field which still had 'epistemic roots' that were founded in an understanding of the nature of man and those actions he might rightfully take and justly defend, and his proposed 'science of ideas' which was clearly founded in a deeply flawed understanding of the nature of man, individual rights, morality and Justice. The idea that a view which saw justice as being derived from 'convention only' could lead to a reasonable view of Justice in any area, is a vision that can only be achieved with one eye closed.
In Jefferson's defense, and with all great and due respect to him, he's displaying one of those blind spots that he shared with the "The Quantifying Spirit" of the Age of Enlightenment. That spirit showed up in an inclination and enthusiasm for drawing often hasty conclusions from observations that served (and flattered) people's own calculative and quantitative assessments, and lent to any such effort, the appearance of doing 'science!' (much of which today we'd call 'Scientism'). France was ground zero for this way of thinking, and with Jefferson being a Francophile himself, his views naturally leaned towards the French side of the Enlightenment. This was especially visible in their vaunted 'Encyclopédie', which was packed full of conclusions that were drawn from a prideful faith in their own intellect's ability to believe that they'd understood all they needed to know about a matter, once having put their own thoughts through a rationalistic series of deductive 'if this, then that' steps ( the roots of which go at least as far back as Descartes' notion that truth could be considered to be '...all the things which we very clearly and distinctly conceive are true...'), and with much dubious quantitative 'proof's such as Tracy's work is chalk full of, they endorsed (as people are prone to do in all times) numerous confident deductions which have since been exposed as patent nonsense. That spirit of the day fostered a materialistic tendency to subject all subjects to such 'scientific' analysis, as de Tracy especially demonstrated, by working and writing to have his 'science of ideas', supplant the place of Theology in the French Encyclopedia, , and he also diligently worked to discredit any Philosophy that was not as strictly materialistic as his own, in which he concluded that human thoughts were simply triggered by 'the senses & feelings' in the environment. In particular his conception of 'The Will', is one whose spirit would soon after be reflected and expanded upon by Hegel, and still later by Marx, and which later still would have grave implications for early 20th Century Germany and the entire world. But in their time, lacking what might appear in our time to be a clear path to disaster, they were seen as an equivalent to reasonable reflection and consideration.
The British side of the Enlightenment, OTOH (which had its own issues, especially in Nominalism, and which in its extremes led to the cynicism & skepticism of Adam Smith's best friend, David Hume), was at least more inclined towards the presumption that such clever thinking was likely to hold many an unseen error, and so should be met cautiously.
Nowhere was the Enlightenment's divide between French & British views more clearly on display, than in their respective feelings towards the French Revolution, as seen in the views taken by Thomas Jefferson, and one of those who had been an intellectual ally during the American Revolution, Edmund Burke.
Simplifying matters a bit, those of like mind with Jefferson, took a deductive view of how the high minded ideals involved were sure to lead to positive results, to the effect of:
'The French want liberty and equality for all, and as liberty and equality are good, their revolution will lead to more liberty and equality for all as it did in the American Revolution.'Burke, being less inclined to believe that such ideals could encompass all of the important factors involved, began his assessment with the evidence provided by his own eyes, and working up from there, he found himself troubled early on with concerns for how wrongly the French Revolution was likely to turn out. His thoughts went more along the lines of:
'The French people are very different in experience, habit, temperment and knowledge from the American people, and as any power acquired by them in the name of 'liberty and equality' is unlikely to be restrained as it was in America, the power that their revolution gives them is unlikely to be exercised well in the end.'Burke wrote extensively about those concerns in his "Reflections on the Revolution in France", which infuriated Thomas Jefferson and others such as Thomas Paine, who both called Burke every name in the book, calling him a fool and a turncoat for daring to speak against their beloved French Revolution. Yet as the French Revolution developed and put power into the hands of the likes of Robespierre, who ushered in the mass murders of "The Terror" (very nearly costing Thomas Paine his own head), as Burke had warned, it was his assessment of the two revolutions, that history showed to be the more realistic and accurate.
This isn't to somehow say that Burke was a greater figure or thinker than Jefferson (there is more than a little in Burke's vision of conservatism that we are better off without), but only to point out that there was something in Jefferson's thinking that blinded him to seeing what stood out very clearly to Burke, and on that score, the French Revolution proved him horrifically correct. The vision of the French intellectuals, and deTracy and his 'Ideology' was very representative of them, saw society as a deterministic science experiment in which man and society could be 'reformed' (which is a very different thing from believing that they can be improved) and were quick to think that what they consciously observed was all that needed to be considered, they ignored their own ignorance of the depths of society's operations, which was a prescription for disaster - not because they weren't brilliant, but because they presumed to understand what they could not know about the deeper structures of society & culture. That blindness has persisted on down the years into our time today - Left, Right & Libertarian - at least in part by means of the ideological path forged by Antoine Destutt de Tracy.
deTracy's attempt to devise a 'science of ideas', is but one example of the spirit of the time, and the widespread tendency in fields ranging from political economy, to history, philosophy & especially in education, to close one eye towards the West's philosophical roots, while focusing their remaining gaze upon shallower perceptions & measurements of social & economic effects. Both Napoleon and Karl Marx despised deTracy, but only for the 'laissez-faire' conclusions which he happened to prefer - de Tracy's methods, OTOH, were very much to their liking, leading as they did, away from the concept of Natural Law that America was founded upon, and towards those growing notions of "Positivist Law", which Utilitarianism, Positivism, 'Progressivism' and Totalitarianism would necessarily derive from. In his 'Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s ’Spirit of Laws’', de Tracy roundly criticized Montesquieu’s ’The Spirit of Laws’ (the single most referenced book by the Framers of the Constitution of the United States of America), and in the process de Tracy rejected the basis of law as it understood by our Founders, whose roots stretched back through Montesquieu, Locke, Sidney, Coke, Cicero and Aristotle, AKA: Jefferson's 'harmonizing sentiments of the day'. As one biographer noted,
"...Rejecting Montesquieu's proposition that laws are necessary relations deriving from the nature of things, Tracy substituted the idea that a law in society is:, which could have been nothing less than music to the ears of Napoleon, Marx, and every subsequent 'do gooder's tyrannical impulse to 'do good!' unto their neighbor, against their will... for their own good.
"a rule prescribed for our actions by an authority we regard as having the right to make this law..."
Being able to claim a 'science of ideas' was very useful in devising & selling a materialistically determined 'justice derived from convention', and such methods were, and are still, eagerly adopted and used to justify abandoning the earlier 'outmoded idea', that a meaningful sense of Justice could or should be derived from a recognition of human nature and especially that,
...these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..., and of course without that basis, there was no need to think that a governments laws should be restricted to upholding those 'epistemic roots'. The materialist ethos that de Tracy helped advance, such as in his notions of the Will, would be idealized and amplified tenfold by much worse figures in the decades to come, such as in Hegel's Historicism, and helped expose the West to the anti-Aristotelian thought which enabled them to fit under the banner of 'Science!' (aka: 'scientism') that Karl Marx would find so useful in his marketing of Communism to the intelligentsia.
Also in keeping with the spirit of the times, the 'Right' soon identified with the new 'science of ideas' of Tracy's Ideology, which painlessly trimmed them of their intentions to conserve the older 'outmoded' systems of thought, they cheerfully exchanged Adam Smith's less tangible term of 'Natural Liberty', for Marx's easily quantifiable 'Capitalism', and in that re-branding of their views & positions, it took only an additional nudge from the likes of J.S. Mill's 'Classical Liberalism', for 'The Right' to willingly dumb down the meaning of Liberty from the Founder's understanding of it, to that of Mill's notion of it being little more than a 'freedom from restraint'. Just as a 'science of ideas' has little room for thoughts of ethics & the like, a Liberty that in practice translates into the freedom to run away from your responsibilities, has little use for an ideal of Justice that depends upon a reasonable consideration of the responsibilities that are an inherent component of the exercising of individual rights, or for the notion of those rights being upheld under laws that restricted the awesome powers of government to that purpose ('just think of all 'the good' we could do, without those restrictions!', said both the pro-regressive Left & Right), yet that was the primrose path that 'The Right' eagerly strolled down, especially in America.
Never forget that it was 'The Right', and specifically the new Republican Party, that first pushed for federal intervention in Education in the mid 1860's, and which promoted the ideal of exchanging the understanding and practice of Education which our Founder's era was formed from, for a mandatory means of training the populace in useful skills for getting a good job and improving the economy. Yes, the Left expanded on that, but 'The Right' began it, and that too was a result of the emerging ideology of 'economic thinking'. The adoption of ideological thinking by Pro-Regressive Leftists, Libertarians and Conservatives, meant that they no longer gave much thought to what an economy results from, and so focusing upon the appearances they most desired to see in the end (which meant implicitly adopting a credo of 'the ends justify the means'), people began self sorting themselves into one of the ideologically 'opposing' camps of economic thinking: Capitalists or Socialists.
But how much did that really matter? After all, pro-regressively speaking, what does it matter which side is in control at the moment, when accepting either side still means leading 'The West' further from its roots? Flip the coin all you want, go ahead and call out 'Heads or Tails', but both sides are still sides of the same worthless counterfeit coin. Other than their traditional fondness for custom & religion, little of substance remained to distinguish 'Conservatives' from Progressives, Socialists and Communists, beyond their 'Capitalist' approach to economic policies of serving 'the greater good', and not surprisingly, in nearly every confrontation with 20th Century 'Progressives', the more consistently unreasonable approach won, and liberty progressively lost.
And even if their economic goals were somehow achieved, what of it?! Nowhere in all of the thousands of years of history of all manner of trading between individuals, cities, states, has economic prosperity succeeded in transforming political systems and tyrannies, into systems which respected the individual rights (or what passed for some semblance of the concept) of their own people, or of any other's. In those few scattered historical periods where economic prosperity flared up relative to the alternatives surrounding them - periods such as the heights of Greece, Rome, the Carolingian & Italian Renaissances and the Venetian Republics - they prospered because their people had less reason to fear being robbed by either thieving thug, thieving prince or thieving mob, and their peoples were able to operate more freely and more securely in their possessions. But even that is a result of law & culture, not trade. And still their growing prosperity failed to deliver liberty to their people - Why? What was absent then, and would not even begin to emerge until the late 17th century Europe, and only then finally begin to blossom into the Industrial Revolutions of Great Britain & America? What was missing, and Why?
Liberty, as our Founders era would come to recognize it, only became conceivable after the Judeo-Christian ethical ideal of every life being of equal value no matter their wealth or position, was wedded to the Greco-Roman ideal of justice being achieved through a republic of laws. From there the age old quest to preserve power so as to preserve the privileges & possessions of those in power, gradually gave way to the equality of all before the law, and with the growing ideal of 'Every man's home is his castle' and the growing understanding of individual rights, the power of the state began to be transformed, through its laws, into a means of forming a common defense of each individual's life, rights and property, and that is what brought to light the first glimmerings of Liberty in all of known history. That ideal, which became explicit in the political writings of John Locke, circulated and reached widespread popular understanding, especially in America (see James Madison's essay on Property), was most fully realized with the establishment of the United States of America, within which people could potentially act, speak, associate and yes, trade freely, without fear of being plundered by either thieving thug, thieving prince or thieving mob. Liberty had finally become a reality, and then and only then, was it possible for some degree of a Free Market to exist.
That 'depth perception' of actual Liberty is immediately lost in the ideological pursuit of 'economic policies' which pursue little more than immediate 'economic' gain, because Ideology by definition lacks an ethical & moral viewpoint and so filters out what truly sets Liberty and Tyranny apart. An economy is not a thing to be prodded and pursued as a first cause, it is what results from how well, or poorly, a society engages in those pursuits of culture, religion, philosophy, education, governance & judiciary, which actually are its first causes. To attempt to create, or to maintain liberty, via a nation's economy, is an ideological attempt to reverse cause & effect, and is as impossible as it should be ludicrous. Yet that is what 'Free Trade!''rs preach.
When we close one eye and focus only on the Economics of 'Free Trade!', we ignore and even degrade the actual incalculables of society's framework which that economy cannot exist for long without. Taking a calculative and economic view of 'justice derived from convention', minimizes and endangers the very things that makes a free economy possible in the first place. Seeking profits from such nations as Communist China, implicitly requires a willingness to trade a Free Market for 'Free Trade!', and Liberty for the 'freedom from restraint' & responsibility, all of which share in the pragmatic ideal of 'justice derived from convention'. No one should be surprised to find that a people such as that, would happily send their children to schools so they can 'get a good job', and there should be little to no surprise that such a people would have little or no grasp of their own history, nor that a people who already have one eye firmly closed, would be more than willing to accept any story, told by friend or foe, claiming to be their history. See reforms such as 'Common Core', and 'News' such as The New York Times '1619 Project'... and the last 150 years of wacademia, if you doubt it.
Yet when I say that Liberty is not about 'economics', many if not most of my friends shake their heads and echo Bill Clinton's 'It's the economy stupid!', answering: "Yes, It IS about economics.", and I patiently(!... well...) reply to them, that no, it is not, and that believing it is, is why we lose. Our youth gravitate towards the like of Bernie Sanders & Elizabeth Warren & AOC, because they at least make pretensions of caring about morality, and as our modern 'education' has failed to equip them with the 3D depth perception needed to see the meaninglessness of their words, any 2D facsimile will do.
To sum it up ridiculously briefly, the ideas which have culminated in the various strains of Marxism, have very nearly undone The West in general and America in particular, through the acceptance of the ideas and methods of ideological thinking. That habit of seeing ourselves through the 2D economic lens of 'Capitalism', rather than through the 3D vision of a Free Market, has necessarily replaced actual Justice, with that cardboard cutout of 'Social Justice'. Getting us to look at ourselves and the world through the 'economic interpretation of history', has eliminated those ideals from the mainstream thinking that had made The West in general, and America in particular, historically exceptional. Exchanging Western civilization's philosophical crown jewels of ethics, epistemology & metaphysics - which are the prerequisites for recognizing, understanding, and caring about what is True - for those pragmatic results that seem to 'work' so usefully at the present moment, is the process of exchanging the love of wisdom, for the pursuit of power.
It was our Founders' familiarity with the long & rough history of Western Civilization's development, that led them to the revolutionary idea of putting government in service to the liberty of its citizenry, by making upholding and defending their Individual Rights, its central purpose. The first imperfect stirrings of a Free Market, were the result of that growing understanding, and it will not long endure without it. Our modern attempts to support or defend our 'economic system' on the basis of economic analysis alone, is doomed to... the progressive loss of liberty which we are all experiencing right now, a loss that has tragically been made possible with a huge assist from 'The Right', as both Conservatives & Libertarians have adopted the essentials of the ideological ground which Marxist thought was built upon, and every battle we engage in on that battlefield, is foreordained to be a loss. What the 'Free Trade!'rs determine to be "...an economic reality...", doesn't take a broad enough spectrum of reality into account to be representative of it. Blind to the deeper issues that their 'economic reality' ignores, 'Free Trade!'rs are sure to be every bit as shocked at the repercussions which must follow from turning a blind eye to the responsibilities inherent in Liberty, as Jefferson & Paine were shocked at the slaughter & degradation which followed from that fundamental nature of the French Revolution, which they were blind to.
Economics is a result, not a cause. The ideological attempt to either reverse cause & effect, or to ignore their relevance, has not and will not work out well in the end... and despite Keynes's quip that 'in the end we're all dead', most of us today will very likely live to regret the attempt.