One key idea subsequently advanced by conservative liberals was the need for a strong but limited state to 1) establish and defend constitutional and legal institutions that upheld a competitive market order against all comers (especially crony capitalists), and 2) protect democratic political arrangements from demagogues and mass movements. Here they drew upon a long-standing continental European tradition of public law which emphasized the state playing a disinterested role that tempered everyday political pressures.
But conservative liberals were also convinced that the best institutions would not suffice to resist predatory behavior by socialists, corporatists, and crony businessmen if such structures were not animated by moral principles that put some things beyond majority vote and the tyranny of the immediate. As Dyson shows, conservative liberals invested as much energy in trying to persuade their audiences of this imperative as they did in thinking about economics.
According to Dyson, many ordo-liberals and conservative liberals turned to Roman law, Kantian philosophy, or natural law theory as potential sources for normative foundations for freedom. The writings of Goethe, Lord Acton, and Tocqueville were also common reference-points. Some, like Rüstow and the liberal and anti-Christian philosopher Louis Rougier, focused on Enlightenment, humanist and classical sources.
But it was religion that featured most prominently in conservative liberal meditations on these issues. Most conservative liberals were strongly religious (one of them, Dietze, even served as President of the Evangelical Church in Germany from 1955 until 1961). They were adamant about the need to associate the market economy with Christian values—often to the point, Dyson notes, of irritating secular-minded liberals.
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