The Big Green Reflection

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What do liberals believe?

I encountered this from, which seems to be a blog by Eric Alterman. I don't really know much about the context, I just cliked on a link from the main page. Anyway, I found this reader's definition of "liberal" very interesting. It is a clear, concise, intelligent definition. Here it is:

Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Chicago

Here's a try at defining liberalism, though the term is best understood in relation to its mirror opposite. The Latin roots help a lot. Conservatives are primarily concerned with conserving wealth, power, and privilege. Since most of them already possess these, they know how good it is to be wealthy, powerful, and privileged -- a $50K tax cut is not at all abstract -- and will fight like hell to remain so. As someone (Barbara Ehrenreich?) once said, it may be tiresome to clean your own bathroom, but the chore is positively humiliating if you once hired someone to do it for you. Conservatives, Buckley said, stand athwart history and say Stop! (I would add, easy to say when you're standing on the spot that says pass go and collect $500.) Their conundrum is that even Buckley cannot stop time. They must choose what to conserve and they choose best when they favor civility, rule of law, responsibility, and classical aesthetic values.

Liberals are interested in expanding liberty. The term originally developed in British politics, as England evolved into a constitutional monarchy. Liberals wanted to expand the franchise and conservatives resisted. In the U.S. the terms were most useful during the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s. Everyone who believed African-Americans should have the right to vote was a liberal. Everyone who didn't was a conservative. Adam Smith, too, was a liberal, because he wanted to expand economic liberty beyond royal concessions, and liberals remain market-oriented. The conundrum for liberals is that expanding liberty for those who do not have it inevitably pinches those who do, even if all it does is dilute their vote as it has in the Deep South since the Voting Rights Act passed into law.

Liberals believe you should be able to do with your property as you please, unless you impinge on others. Conservatives, such as would-be appellate judge Janice Brown, believe zoning is theft. Liberals want to be confident when they buy a suburban house that their upwind neighbor can't turn the backyard into a hog farm.

Liberals believe labor should have the right to organize into unions, just as capital
organizes into corporations.

Liberals believe liberty expands when people have reasonable expectations of each other through fraud and liability statutes; conservatives prefer caveat emptor.

Liberals also understand that economic development sometimes destroys markets, leading to oligopolies and monopolies, and these must be regulated or commerce becomes extortion. Liberals don't resent Bill Gates for becoming wealthy by building a successful business, but they don't want him to have sole control of the software business, either.

Liberals have also reluctantly concluded from the evidence that modern medicine has outstripped the privately financed, fee-for-service system, which now makes no more sense than private ownership of New York City streets.

Liberals understand that modern economies can have disastrous effects unforeseeable by even the most prudent. Poverty is poor soil for liberty, so they favor unemployment compensation and other temporary relief measures for those with the capacity to adjust, and a Social Security system for the disabled, dependents, and the elderly, who cannot.

Liberals believe government should be constrained from interfering in private life. How we worship, what we read and watch, our reproduction choices, and how and to whom we make love (minors and coercion excluded) are private matters. The government need only acknowledge marriage as a boilerplate contract giving both parties certain rights and obligations. Whether they are the same race or same sex is none of government's business.

Liberals believe the public sphere should be governed by empiricism, which requires an intellectual discipline best developed through education and the free expression of ideas. Good public schools expand liberty for everyone, regardless of their parents' educational achievement.

Sorry, but liberal and conservative don't seem to be useful terms in foreign policy. Journalists like to use the terms, but that only muddies the waters, which are already fairly murky. Isolationist vs. internationalist and unilateralist vs. multilateralist seem more relevant. Right now of course, it's the fantasists vs. the empiricists. And Bateman is king empiricist in my book.

Call it what you want, but how can anyone not believe in this view?


  • That was very very funny Thanks for the laugh - and I hope you don't actually belive that

    By Bladesinger66, at 6:18 AM  

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