Monday, March 7, 2011

Conservative vs Liberal

Conservative vs. Liberal

I don’t find these terms particularly useful in defining political positions, because they so closely align with the left-wing/right-wing model rather than the spherical modelspherical model. But it might be useful to look at the definitions, to understand the ideologies better and be better able to place them accurately on the political sphere of the spherical model.

Conservative implies something is being conserved, or retained. Historically, conserving has implied keeping the status quo. But in our freedom sphere, the status quo is only worth conserving if the society is already in the freedom zone, the upper arctic circle. Otherwise, getting to that freedom zone might require significant change from the status quo, even revolution, as it did for our founding fathers. If we think of “conservatism” as just avoiding change, then it’s no wonder there’s so much rebellion against it. We all want things to get better—better for us as adults than as children; better for our children and grandchildren than for us.

John Locke, whose writings were paramount in the minds of the writers of the US Constitution, was an early “liberal” thinker, classically speaking. The founding fathers were classic liberals. Since the US Constitution is, pretty much by definition, located in that northern freedom zone, liberal must not mean now what it meant then.

“Liber” is Latin for “free,” implying freedom, or freely giving. It has often implied being educated and open-minded, open to ideas different from what one already holds. In fact, that was the definition I had in mind when I used the word to describe myself in my late teens, even though at that time I was already a Reaganite conservative. I was entering a liberal arts field. I loved reading and learning new things. I was open to truth wherever I could find it and hungrily searched for it. But I wasn’t in any way what liberal has come to mean: government elites giving largesse to a supposedly victimized lower class.

This new definition of liberal shows how the language is often misused to dupe a public lacking in critical thinking skills. If you’re young and impressionable, and someone says, “Which do you believe in: being liberal, because you care about people and want them taken care of, and finding solutions to societal problems; or being conservative, where you keep everything the same old way without solving anything, and you’re told how you have to be and can’t change?” Well, who wouldn’t want to be liberal?

But the problem is, being liberal, or giving, when you’re the government, means you’re doing it with the people’s money—taking on their personal responsibility. Let’s try wording the question this way: "Which is better: government taking your earned income by force and doling it out to someone they want to give it to who hasn’t worked for it, or people giving freely of what they have earned to ease the burdens of those who are in need?" With a better worded question, it becomes evident that the truly “liberal” or freely giving way is the non-governmental way. A liberally giving government does not equate with a liberally giving society; in fact, it gets in the way of it, because it deprives the people of the means and motive to freely give.

[In late 2006, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism."  His study showed that conservatives (who take the responsibility for giving upon themselves) are much more charitable than liberals (who put the responsibility for giving upon government, alleviating themselves from the need to be charitable). The study found that people who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition--Percentage-wise, my household last year gave 60 times more than the overtly “liberal” Al Gore household. It so happens our carbon footprint was smaller too, unless you count the indulgences, er, rather, carbon offsets he purchased, which, of course, we could not afford.—So “conserving” doesn’t mean holding onto your own stuff; it means conserving the freedom zone, where freely giving is likely to be a chosen behavior.]

Conservatism during various European monarchies of the past several centuries meant keeping the ruling class in place, doing nothing to upset the stratification and immobility between social classes, and the religious belief that God created the ruling class and the proletariat and appointed them to their various stations. But on our spherical model, monarchies are exclusively in the southern hemisphere; freedom in a monarchy depends entirely on the kindness and wisdom of a ruler who has never experienced the problems of eking out a living and being subject to a ruler’s unjust whims. It’s possible for there to be peace, harmony, order, and relative economic freedom within a monarchy—but examples through history are exceedingly rare. Monarchs are more likely to be despotic than just, because there’s nothing but the unlikely uprising of the people to keep them in check. The trend has been away from “the divine right of kings” toward written laws controlled by a parliament, usually elected, and a judiciary subject to the laws rather than the whims of the ruler. That’s progress. Most examples of law-bound monarchies (like Britain, for example) manage to float around and below the equator, unable to let their people fully realize freedom. But they beat oppressive serfdom.

Our relatively young US Constitution is a radical experiment of free thinkers. So it’s surprising how quickly the label “conservative” has attached to abiding by this brilliant document, and how much resistance there is to “conserving” it from "liberals," who claim they are pursuing individual freedom and social progress (another word misused by liberals to mean moving toward tyrannical rule by an elite class rather than actual progress).

So, when I use the words conservative and liberal, I’m likely to mean something quite different from today’s media.

What is being conserved in conservatism? I maintain that it’s civilization. Where we know what causes civilization, it is incumbent upon us to maintain that standard and prevent decay. We need to conserve the value of marriage and family. We need to conserve personal responsibility. We need to conserve retaining our inalienable rights, spelled out to prevent government from usurping those rights as governments tend naturally to do. We need to conserve economic freedom—free markets that thrive without either undue regulation or unrestrained monopolies. We need to value religion for the uplifting influence it has on individuals and conserve religious freedom.

When we are (classically) liberal, we need to be tolerant, even welcoming, of people whose ideas differ from our own, trusting that they will also respect our beliefs even when they choose not to adopt them as their own. When we are (classically) liberal, we need to be willing to give freely of our abundance to aid those who are struggling—we need to actually care about people instead of abdicating that responsibility to an unfeeling government entity.

When we are (classically) liberal in our thinking, it means that we will read and study and search always for the truth, and value it highly wherever we find it—and we will pass along truths we have found to our children and help them learn how to search for and recognize truth for themselves.

So it is possible to be both conservative and liberal (using appropriate definitions of these words) within that upper freedom zone. It is not possible to conserve civilization nor to progress toward better civilization outside that zone. It is impossible to make civilized progress by allowing government undue control over our private will.

More tomorrow on what is the role of government.

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