In a piece about the presidential primaries at Talking Points Memo, Jim Sleeper writes the following:
Two great American crosscurrents — of liberal communal provision, without which conservative individuality can’t flourish, and of conservative personal responsibility, without which even the best liberal social engineering produces clients, cogs, or worse – can converge only if John McCain and Barack Obama face off.
You can read his piece and decide for yourself about the candidates. I want to focus on his mentioning of individual success and individual responsibility. It echoes what I laid out as the start of what I see as the moral foundation of the progressive movement:
First of all, I start with the inherent dignity, value, and rights of the individual person. Obviously this is a big moral theme in the western tradition and the history of the United States. It’s even been accepted by the rest of the world.
But rights are one side of the coin – with rights come responsibilities. Having freedom also imposes duties to others.
You can read the rest of the post here.
I’ve written a post before about how I don’t want to be called a centrist, but I feel I have a hard time avoiding that label since Sleeper’s quote rings so true with me. He seems to want to bolster both liberalism and conservatism, inviting a centrist position. At the same time, though, Sleeper’s quote seems to read like much of that “Third Way” talk we’ve been forced to suffer through since the Clinton-Blair years. “Third Way” does not ring true with me.
So, where’s that leave me?
Well, let’s see. I reaffirm that the foundation of the progressive movement, as I see it, remains with individual rights and responsibilities. I call this combination “liberty” in order to distinguish it from “freedom”, even though the dictionary definition of the two words is pretty much the same. Freedom is critical for liberty, as I define it, but we only have true liberty when we combine it with the responsibilities freedom brings. Otherwise, we have simple libertinism.
Liberty was at the heart of liberalism as a historical and intellectual movement. Liberty and liberalism were also at the heart of the American experience. Let’s not forget that “liberty” is the term that our founders used to describe what it was they were willing to fight at die for.
Okay, so what about this “Third Way”/centrist problem? Well, I guess I would say that supporting liberty, as I’ve outlined it, is essentially liberalism, and not some hybrid between conservatism and liberalism. I would say that standing up for liberalism means requiring both freedom and responsibility from individuals. So, in essence, I guess I would reject personal responsibility as being an essentially conservative idea. I plant it firmly in the tradition of liberalism and responsibility. I won’t concede that ground to the conservative movement. And I won’t travel a “Third Way”.