Monthly Archives: March 2008

Roll more credits

I just wanted to point out again that I’m indebted to a number of recent authors who helped me puzzle through modern liberalism. I wanted to call one out and mention a few more that I forgot.

First of all, Bernie Horn’s “Framing the Future” is a great book. Some of his language comes straight through into my writing. I didn’t put footnotes in my previous posts, so to avoid someone accusing me of plagiarism, I’ll mention him again.

As for someone I failed to mention, I was introduced to how liberalism addresses luck by Matt Miller in his great book “The 2% Solution”, even though Miller calls himself a centrist.

And lastly, Sam Harris in his “Letter to Christian Nation” helped me to understand how important the question of suffering is when discussing morality. I also recently found Bart Ehrman’s “God’s Problem”, which I just started reading today.

Yeah, I love books.

Some shorthand versions of liberalism vs. conservatism

Another in the series of conclusions I reached recently about how to define/talk about liberalism. Here are some short-hand comparisons.

Conservative is:

“I empathize with you, but I can’t/won’t help. It’s the moral responsibility of people to stand on their own two feet.”

Liberal is:

“I empathize with you, and I will help. It’s the moral responsibility of people to help one another.”

Conservative is:

“I’m going to take care of myself and my own. And you should, too. And if you don’t – or can’t – well, that’s just the way it is. Life isn’t fair. Or quite possibly, you deserve it, as God has ordained. Either way, it’s a cold, hard world, and that’s just tough. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and someone will give you charity.”

Liberal is:

“We have to look out for others, while also looking out for ourselves. We have a moral obligation to do so. Some people – for whatever reason – don’t come into this world with the same breaks, the same opportunities, as others. But they shouldn’t suffer for that. We should all work to give people the same opportunities in life and look out for one another. It’s then up to the people to take advantage of those opportunities, if they are able. It’s a cold, hard world, and that’s why we have to work to make it better. Otherwise we’re little better than animals.”

Liberalism is ennobling. It speaks to the better angels of our nature.
Conservatism is degrading. It drags us down to our animal nature.

Conservatives are low taxes, small government, strong defense, and traditional values.
Liberals are necessary taxes, limited government, fair markets, mutual responsibility, physical and economic security, and Enlightenment values.

Liberal philosophy takes personal responsibility for creating freedom, opportunity, and security for all.
Conservative philosophy abdicates responsibility for freedom, opportunity, and security for all.

Progressive – people are fundamentally good
Conservative – people are fundamentally bad

Conservatism is about fear.
Progressivism is about hope.

Progressives understand the world is complex and approach with it with caution and humility.
Conservatives think the world is simple and approach it with reckless abandon.

Conservatism demands unquestioning acceptance of revealed, subjective, traditional truths.
Liberalism believes in questioning truth and seeking out evidence.

Conservatism is about autocracy.
Liberalism is about democracy.

Liberalism is mainstream.
Conservatism is extremist.

What is liberalism? 2

A second crack at a definition of liberalism…

Liberals believe in the inherent dignity of each individual human life. Each individual is entitled to freedom – of thought, action, association and conscience. Everyone has the right to the opportunity to become the greatest, most fully developed human being that they can be. Liberalism wants to develop truly autonomous individuals, capable of joining in a meaningful and fair way with other individuals in society.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to care for ourselves and to care for others. We all, together, owe one another a fair shot at a decent life. In turn, we, as individuals, owe everyone else ethical behavior. We must show empathy for one another and take responsibility for ourselves and others.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to see to it that individual’s opportunities in life are not limited by the circumstances of their birth – by sheer dumb luck.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to reduce suffering in the world. We are our brother’s keeper.

Liberals believe in freedom, opportunity, and security for every last person.

Out of these core values, other principles emerge.

Democracy is the best system of government, because it is rule by the individuals who are governed.

Managed Capitalism is the best system of economic organization. Capitalism by itself is capable of bringing people together in remarkable ways to achieve remarkable results. But capitalism by itself can also fail to be moral, stabilize itself, and address human suffering. It’s moral to reduce coercion of individuals to the greatest amount possible – coercion both by government and by economic forces. True freedom is both political and economic.

Truth is arrived at through freedom of thought, reflection, evidence, and argumentation. Free inquiry and argumentation and evidence come out of individual freedom of thought. Once we have freedom of thought and freedom of expression, we have questioning of dogma and a recognition of reason and evidence as a new source of truth.

Most of the public virtues flow from all of these values – freedom, equality, opportunity, fairness, justice, and personal security and economic security. Still, there is a mutual responsibility. Because of these public rights, individuals owe back personal duties, including honesty, integrity, respect, and work.

Liberalism is both idealistic and practical. One important tradition from conservatism that should be acknowledged is a suspicion of idealists and idealism – an awareness of human fallibility. American understand this, but they also don’t give up on the American Dream.

What is liberalism? 1

Liberals believe in the inherent dignity of each individual human life. Each individual is entitled to freedom – of thought, action, association and conscience.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to care for ourselves and to care for others.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to see to it that individual’s opportunities in life are not limited by the circumstances of their birth – by sheer dumb luck.

Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to reduce suffering in the world. We are our brother’s keeper.

Liberals believe in freedom, opportunity, and security for every last person.

Out of these core values, other principles emerge. Two of which are:

Democracy is the best system of government, because it is rule by the individuals who are governed.

Truth is arrived at through freedom of thought, reflection, evidence, and argumentation.

I’m back

After a long time off from the blog, I’m back.

I spent the time I usually use to write this blog to dive deeply into researching what I set up as the essential question of this blog: What are liberalism and the progressive movement all about?

I’ve come up with some answers. I haven’t refined all of my thoughts or language, but I decided to start posting anyway and see how things shake out from there.

First, credit where it’s due and a hearty thanks. Several authors have published books in the last three or four years exploring modern liberalism. I’m indebted to them all, and you’ll often see their language pop up in my writing about liberalism. As a kind of reading list, here they are:

“Why We’re Liberals”, Eric Alterman
“Reason”, Robert Reich
“A Liberal Tool Kit”, David Coates
“Stand Up, Fight Back”, E.J. Dionne
“Return of the ‘L’ Word”, Douglas Massey
“The Conscience of a Liberal”, Paul Krugman

And five more that I recommend the most:

“The Political Brain”, Drew Westen
“Thinking Points”, George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute
“Listen to Your Mother: Stand Up Straight!”, Robert Creamer
“Being Right Is Not Enough”, Paul Waldman
“Framing the Future”, Bernie Horn

I’ve written before about how liberalism and the progressive movement have arrived a rare moment in time when they can seize the initiative in national and world affairs. The morals, values, ideas, and arguments laid out in these books will help to point the way.

Some interesting items

It’s been another one of those weeks, and will continue to be, so light posting. But here are some interesting things I’ve found recently.

Certain? Not so fast

I think that an essential part of the liberal worldview is its attitude toward certainty. I am suspicious of people who just know they’re right, and I think this suspicion is encapsulated in liberalism. Distrust of unexamined and untested knowledge is a central tenant of science. I think liberals also, as a general rule, want people to understand one another, and to try to understand carries the risk that you might be wrong in your attitudes, perceptions, etc. All that said, here’s a great article in Salon on certainty and the scientific study of it.

What’s with that word “progressive” anyway?

A writer talks about the historical definition of the word “progressive”. He says it initially was used by the leftist (his word) element of liberalism. Later it was taken over by the centrists. Now, it’s kind of up for grabs. As for me, I think “progressive” does indicate a more moderate – or yes, centrist – model of liberalism. Perhaps you could call it “classical liberal” or just “traditional liberal”. It’s an interesting article. The author himself contrasts leftist and/or radical with liberal. This article is one of a series, and I spotted in the comments of one of those articles someone who said that the leftists should call themselves “neo-communists” and leave liberal and progressive alone.

Liberal youth

An interesting article here on how the liberal movement needs to connect with youth. Also take note of how “bootstrap” Republican operative wannabe’s have an entire gravy train laid out before them. If only there was a fraction of that for liberal writers.

Security uber alles

Some thoughts on how the recent emphasis on physical security – to the detriment of personal liberties, etc. – is downright un-American.