Liberal or Conservative?

The old terms of liberal and conservative are outdated. They made some sense during the Cold War, when you could often separate people based on their perception of the communist threat, but as time goes on they are less and less accurate, even as they are used more and more to divide us. Too many on both sides have lost the ability to make reasonable distinctions. Below I will share my capsule version of a governing philosophy. You tell me what you call it, and maybe share yours.

I am for a free market. A free market REQUIRES a strong and honest government to set rules and protect contracts. But while government creates conditions for prosperity, it does not directly manage the process of prosperity. To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, government is responsible for maintaining the basic conditions where most people can pursue happiness, but is under no obligation to guarantee success to anybody. I favor a society where people are free to make choices and experience the consequences of those choices - good and bad. Equality before the law is essential; equally of results is a bad thing, since diversity of opinion and choices must produce inequality. I believe in the rule of law applied consistently to individuals w/o regard to their status in any racial, ethnic or gender categories. People need to be free to establish associations and combinations to pursue their joint interests, but these acquire their "rights" only as a derivation of the rights of the individuals involved. Groups should have no rights other than those that members freely give them and that non member freely choose to accept.

We live in an increasingly interconnected world and free exchange of exchange of good, ideas and even people is generally desirable. But all these interconnections will not make the world a perfect place. There is still evil in the world. Government's first duty is to establish security against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have seen war. It is a hideous thing that lead to brutality even by heretofore gentle people. But it is also an intensely human activity that can be managed but never vanquished. It is best avoided by strength tempered with generosity. If it cannot be avoided, it is best fought someplace else and decisively.

A free people has rights and responsibilities. Nobody, rich or poor, is entitled to a free ride. IMO, our current society too much emphasizes rights over responsibilities. I can think of a long list of rights that people boldly and emphatically claim for themselves. Unfortunately, too many think that responsibilities, even simple ones like taking care of themselves or their families, is something for others. People may be generous (and it is a good thing if they are) but nobody owes you anything simply by virtue of your being here.

I believe that America is fundamentally a just and a good society, taking into account the fundamental fallibility of all human endeavor (I don't believe that perfection is possible or that the pursuit of perfection is desirable.) And I believe that America's most salient characteristic is its ability to adapt and transform itself.

This makes me optimistic about the future. Despite all the problems I believe we face, life is generally good for most Americans and getting better. My caveat is that I fear that too often our ability to feel grateful for what got has atrophied. And most of us have the tools needed for the pursuit of happiness but do not or will not use them. Still, I have confidence that my kids will live a better life than I do, just as my life is better than my father's. I don't like pessimists. I have confidence in human ingenuity, intelligence and innovation.

I suspect that many of you find this inconsistent. I call it pragmatic. I am not sure what things work best and I understand that nothing works best in all situation. I try to do more of what works well and less of what doesn't. I believe in a process, more than a plan. There is a time for peace and a time for war and it is not inconsistent to choose differently based on different circumstances.

So, is this liberal or conservative?

Posted by Christine & John at July 25, 2011 5:09 PM
Comment #326426

I will vote your comments conservative.

Posted by: Royal Flush at July 25, 2011 7:27 PM
Comment #326427


In the 50’s a conservative would be a right-wing extremist today.

That means that there has been a shift in philosophy. You are correct that today more people expect others to meet their wants, desires, and needs.

An old slogan describes what I believe is correct as far as government is concerned. “The least form of government is the best form of government”. And that goes right to the basic element of society, the family. The family should do what it can do for itself. If it requires a higher level, go to it.

When it comes to markets, that same philosophy rules. Have only the rules necessary to implement the rule of law.

I have said it more than once. The machinery of government in the United States of America and the several states, it the best machinery operating. The operators of that machinery, unfortunately, have not been shown to be the top of the line operators.

Posted by: tom humes at July 25, 2011 7:30 PM
Comment #326432

tom humes,

“In the 50’s a conservative would be a right-wing extremist today.”

Ah yes… the Communist Witch Hunts and the persecution of Jews, Blacks and Irish during the 50’s. Everybody not Conservative was a communist i.e. Walt Disney. Attacks by rhetoric without evidence or even common sense.

Senator Joseph McCarthy’s legacy lives on.

Posted by: Aldous at July 25, 2011 8:15 PM
Comment #326437


Your philosophy, as presented here, is undoubtedly liberal. I’m busy at work at the moment, but if I get some free time I’ll discuss the details.

Posted by: Warped Reality at July 25, 2011 8:42 PM
Comment #326440


Good. Let’s get rid of that affirmative action (group rights), give people the freedom to do business and limit the size of government.

I agree that it is “liberal” in the classical sense, but liberalism moved away from it.Remember that Ronald Reagan used to say that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party left him.

You know what I think will be the least accepted by our liberal colleagues. I think the flat out statement that America is a good and just country will be nuanced and modified out of existence. But let’s see. Maybe I am wrong.

Posted by: C&J at July 25, 2011 9:20 PM
Comment #326445


Getting rid of “group rights” such as affirmative action is a great idea. Everybody should be treated equal regardless of race, creed, color, sex, ethnic origin, etc. Unfortunately, that has not been our history. There has been a history of legal and de facto discrimination against certain groups within our society. Indeed, denial of basic human rights for some groups.

Affirmative action is nothing more than an effort to right past wrongs. It is the recognition that certain groups have been disadvantaged not for decades but for centuries within our society. That history cannot be wiped out immediately. The impact was profound. Affirmative action may not be the answer to that history. However, it demonstrates that Americans have a conscience and a willingness to right past grievances.

Posted by: Rich at July 25, 2011 9:51 PM
Comment #326448


It made sense in 1963. It makes much less in our much more diverse world almost fifty years later. I suppose your could make some argument for justice for the descendents of slaves, but affirmative action today stresses mere “diversity” defined as racial or ethnic heritage.

When affirmative action was invented, it was supposed to “cast a wider net” and be more inclusive. This is still a good goal. The de-facto quotas and specific targets are not.

It is interesting that in immigrant from China will be treated differently from an immigrant from Africa, neither of whose ancestors were in America to be oppressed, because of the color of their skin. What past wrong does it correct for the son or daughter of one to be favored in university admissions or a job search?

I go with what Martin Luther King said, that we should judge people by the content of their characters and not by the color of their skins.

But we are straying from the subject. My fault. I opened the door, but we might want to stay more general.

Posted by: C&J at July 25, 2011 10:09 PM
Comment #326452


I wouldn’t call you either.

Frankly I think your pragmatism trumps ideology every time.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at July 25, 2011 10:32 PM
Comment #326455
Good. Let’s get rid of that affirmative action (group rights), give people the freedom to do business and limit the size of government.

Generally, these are all things I support. Affirmative action was a good idea back in the ’60s when there was still a great deal of racial inequality. Things are a bit different nowadays; overt, institutional inequality is nonexistent and it is generally not socially acceptable for one to commit other varieties of discrimination. Of course there is more work to do, but soon most Americans will be like me, born after most of the racial struggles were fought.Edit:I wrote the previous paragraph before reading C&J’s most recent comment. In light of that comment, it seems that my words are mostly redundant and they are leading the conversation astray. Feel free to skip this if you want.

The freedom to do whatever one wants to do so long as those actions do not adversely impact anyone else’s rights is a cornerstone of liberalism. However, when commercial activity has external costs (or benefits) it usually results in a market failure and out political government must step in with appropriate regulations or other policies.

Re limiting government: It depends which government you are talking about. We have a political government, but we also have governments rooted in other areas such as business, religions etc. I agree that we should limit the sum of all those governments, but I think it is foolish to cut back on one while at the same time letting another grow by an even larger amount.

I agree that it is “liberal” in the classical sense, but liberalism moved away from it.
I don’t deny that there is a gap between modern progressivism and classical liberalism. However, those gaps pale in comparison to the chasm that lies between conservatism and classical liberalism. American Conservatism likes to dress in borrowed robes, but if look at the root of the creed it is apparent that conservatism and classical liberalism are incompatible.
America is a good and just country
No objections here. This is why I’m proud to be an American. Of course, we are always in pursuit of a “more perfect union”, so we’ve got plenty of work to do if we want to be known as the most good or most just country ever to exist on the Earth. Posted by: Warped Reality at July 25, 2011 10:36 PM
Comment #326492


There are market failures and government failures. Sometimes government failures designed to address market failures are worse than the original problem.

Not every problem has a solution acceptable to everybody and some problems don’t have solutions at all. IMO, what we call liberalism today overreached in the 1960s when some people thought that government could right all the things they considered wrong with society.IMO liberalism is very good at identifying problems, but the proposed solutions are not up to the task on many cases.

Liberals hate poverty, as do conservatives. But we saw in the 1970s that the war on poverty in too many cases exacerbated the misery of the poor. The legions of idealistic social workers and creators of housing projects actually caused - on balance - harm.

On the other hand, the poor were helped immensely by the reduction in crime and violence as well as welfare reform, which many liberal politicians thought were heartless and would hurt the poor.

I think it is important to understand that identifying the problem and feeling bad about it, is not the same as having a viable solution and that sometimes things go wrong not in spite of but BECAUSE of our best efforts. The best solution might be to do less, or even nothing. Certainly this is preferable to doing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, if anything is put into the political sphere, the option of doing less or doing nothing is difficult to employ. That is why we need to avoid allowing too many things become political and limit government.

Posted by: C&J at July 26, 2011 1:50 PM
Comment #326616

It seems to me the first order of business would be to actually identify definitions for conservative and liberal. John Locke’s definition differs from the 21st century use as rhetoric which differs from the definition commonly accepted as an International Relations theory.

For my two sense I’ve always identified conservative and progressive as opposites. One aims to conserve the status quo while the other attempts to reform or change. Call me old school, but it seems that much of the language used in contemporary political discussion has lost it’s roots and can be used without regard to traditional meanings. While Republicans can rightfully be identified as social conservatives, their attempts to fundamentally alter (for better or worse) long standing social programs should be considered progressive solutions. In this way, calls to abolish social security or medicare would actually be regressive….

As far as classical liberalism goes, I believe that it was largely discredited in the early 20th century, with the death knell being 1937… People largely began to see the federal government as a force for good in the economy instead of an overbearing blight.

As far as your views, you seem to have a bent toward classic liberalism, in that the government should protect individual rights and allow people the ability to succeed or fail based on ability and not skin color, gender, religion etc. I would also label you an idealist in thinking that this is possible…
If you believe that globalization is happening, although it should be tempered by national self-interests, you are a Realist in International Relations.

“And I believe that America’s most salient characteristic is its ability to adapt and transform itself.”

Taking this quote out of context would identify you as a progressive. As time moves on and circumstances change, ones understanding of the world and approach to solutions should change as well. I don’t think you’d give license to wholesale changes in society (such as the French Revolution), merely small tweaks along the way. Ed Burke would be proud.

Maybe most of what I have to say is Kerfluffle, but identifying and articulating political philosophies appeals to me far more than blaming the other party for mountains of DOOM!

Most Humbly yours

Posted by: carl at July 27, 2011 10:01 PM
Comment #326748

“People need to be free to establish associations and combinations to pursue their joint interests, but these acquire their “rights” only as a derivation of the rights of the individuals involved. “

Does that mean you oppose the legal construct of corporate personhood?

You are right that the definitions have been blurred. For example, if one sees equality of opportunity as a desirable goal then one must support a stiff inheritance tax on dynastic wealth. If welfare causes indolence then large inheritance does also. Its the same argument.But “conservatives” always are opposed to inheritance taxes.
BHO is more acurrately described as a moderate conservative in his approach to governance. His signature HC plan is little different that one put forth by the Heritage Foundation and Mitt Rohmny. Funny watching them twist to try and distance themselves but it is still a conservative plan. It doesn’t even have a public option.No matter how far to the right BHO moves the right will have to move farther because the racist core of the Republican Party can never agree to give any legitimacy to a Black president.There is no race card here. I am not playing cards, just describing the obvious.
Its blind partisanship and racist fear mongering that has turned the “conservative” movement from seeking to find practical solutions to real problems. It has not been possible to have a rational debate about tax policy since Reagan. The right holds a quasi-religious belief that lower taxes for the wealthy will produce more revenue even though there is not one shred of evidence to support that contention and indeed the opposite occurs.The sooner the right gets their house in order,takes out the trash and starts looking for practical solutions that benefit the country instead of the Koch brothers, the better off the country and world will be.

Posted by: bills at July 31, 2011 3:46 AM
Comment #326750


“if one sees equality of opportunity as a desirable goal…” I don’t see this as a very attainable goal. IMO we should make opportunities available, but not try to fine tune it too much.

No two people on this earth have equal opportunities. I was from a relatively poor family, but I am smarter than lots of the rich kids and so have had opportunities they did not. Is that fair? Some people are better looking or have an easier time of things for various personality reasons. It is just nearly impossible to fine tune this.
If you were to create precisely equal opportunity legally and economically, all the differences among people would become the result of genetic potential and ingrained habits. This is already happening to a great extent and it is maybe not something we want. When other factors influence achievement, we can have intelligent poor people who can take care of themselves and others. As “equal opportunities” draw them out of poor communities, the stratification of society becomes more real and permanent.

I don’t have a solution. But you do notice that since merit has become more important in our society, inequality has NOT diminished.

Re racism – I really do not think it is a strong reason why people oppose President Obama. His approval ratings were in the 90s when he was first elected in office. That means that many who voted against him still supported him as president … at first. IMO many people supported him BECAUSE he was black. They wanted to give him an extra chance. But his policies have been disappointing.

Jimmy Carter was not black, yet the country turned against him when his promises of hope turned out to be empty.

Posted by: C&J at July 31, 2011 8:18 AM
Comment #326767

The Republican party has a socially conservative core, with a racist inner core, that is controlled by a classic liberal wrapper. The party inherited the socially conservative and racist elements when the Democratic party included people of color within the progressive movement.

But, we should keep in mind that not all the racists left the Democratic party. I know a couple of people, staunch Democrats, that refused to vote for Obama because he was black.

Today, both parties are controlled primarily by classic liberalism, with the Democrats straddling a line, trying to hold on to the progressives.

Obama has turned out to be more like the wolf in progressive clothing. Classic liberal liberals like what Obama has been doing and if the truth were admitted, so do a lot of classic liberal conservatives.

What would be a conservative position on products and procedures such as GMOs, Fracking, and a rubber stamped prescription drug industry?

Individualism: the poor man goes it alone until or unless he becomes rich enough to join the team. Some receive membership by right of birth and some wealthy people are not good team members, George Soros.

Today, it is taboo for Republicans to oppose the president because he is black. But, you can oppose him because he is an African, a Muslim, because he is a racist that hates white people, etc.

If you are opposed to Obama for any of the above reasons, the Republican party would prefer you not vote Republican.

For all the progress, racism is still a part of our society, and will remain so for as long as we have to include the word black in comments.

Posted by: jlw at July 31, 2011 3:22 PM
Comment #326769

I assume that we are all looking forward to the day when all enemies, foreign and domestic, includes all who oppose a free market.

Posted by: jlw at July 31, 2011 3:38 PM
Comment #326805


People are free to oppose the free market. But it is a lot like being opposed to gravity. You can fall hard or soft, but nobody can repeal the laws of supply and demand.

There are actually few people around today who really oppose the free market. Socialist/communist/Nazis have all been discredited. We are now talking about degrees of free market and how much state or social control can be imposed on it before it begins to break down. We have come a long way from the benighted days of my youth when some people really believed in the planned alternatives.

You mention Obama being a wolf in progressive clothing. I think they he really believes in government primacy, but he is smart enough to know that it doesn’t work and that he has to accommodate the free market if he wants America to be prosperous.

“What would be a conservative position on products and procedures such as GMOs, Fracking, and a rubber stamped prescription drug industry?” More or less the same as the pragmatic and scientific position and (good for him) close to What Obama is doing on those things.

Posted by: C&J at July 31, 2011 8:57 PM
Comment #326817

I am so relieved to know that free market and the laws of supply and demand are one and the same. I thought there were a few Latin words in the definition. My mistake.

Posted by: jlw at August 1, 2011 12:02 AM
Comment #326824

I do not recall screeching demands to see John McCain’s birth certificate or rallies calling him”that Panamanian” instead of” that Kenyan”applied to BHO.

Posted by: bills at August 1, 2011 6:45 AM
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