Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away.... Wait, that was Star Wars.
A couple of years ago there was a failed experiment called Themestream.com that was, for all intents and purposes, a really BIG multiuser blog. The primary difference between Themestream and the blogs was that contributors were supposed to post not just little bits and pieces they found interesting, but essays. It was a site for aspiring writers, whether those writers were op-ed producers or poets or fiction authors, and the site paid you to write, (at least at first) based on the number of hits your pieces garnered. It produced a surprising amount of really good stuff. C.D. Harris, of Ipse Dixit was one of the better contributors. There was one author, C.D. Cameron, I wish I could find again. Hopefully he's blogging somewhere if he's not writing professionally (which he should be.) Alas, the experiment failed and Themestream bit the dust.
I was a contributor there almost from inception, and I learned to polish my writing quite a bit. I also practiced the then-unamed art of "fisking" on some of the pieces written by others. In perusing The Truth Laid Bear's New Blog Showcase (see post below), I noticed that there were several contributors of the
I entitled it:
Liberal v. Conservative: Both are Necessary (Names have been changed to protect the
John Doe's article "The Aims and Abilities of Liberals and Conservatives" was quite interesting and thought-provoking. As a conservative-leaning libertarian type, I thought I'd comment on the article, but there was so much to comment on, I thought that perhaps a response article would be a better choice.
On Basic Philosophy:
Mr. Doe writes that "Liberals are nomads" who are open-minded and have widely varying viewpoints due to their "various travels", and who have a hard time getting together because they "live in separate truths, with no single reality dominating their lives". This is, he says, in opposition to conservatives who "exist in cliques" because they "largely possess one mind." ("We are Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.") Conservatives, he writes, "have the ability to mobilize very quickly by repeating the same thought until they convince themselves of it." (I cannot help, however, in reflecting just how fast the Liberals mobilized themselves and repeated "we must count all the votes" until they convinced themselves that it had not happened.) ("No Blood for Ooooiiiiilllllll!!!!" comes to mind presently. And "BUSH LIED!" And others, but I digress.)
"Conservatives", he says, "may not communicate the truth, but they have the ability to change reality so that it reflects their truth."
Excuse me? If Liberals "live in separate truths" then what makes the Conservative version of "truth" any less valid than the myriad Liberal versions? Because more than one person believes it at any one time? This strikes me as psychobabble. Is there "truth" at all? How does one judge? It seems to me that the objective criteria is: is your version of "truth" consistent with observable reality? If not, it doesn't matter if you're Liberal or Conservative, you're wrong.
On Liberal v. Conservative and Government:
He continues with a discussion of the difference in how Liberals and Conservatives view the role of government. I agree with his description to a large extent, but not his reasoning. "Liberals", he writes, "believe in the power of government, and people, because they fundamentally believe that human beings have the ability to improve themselves and their behavior." Ok, well and good. He also writes "Liberals have a fundamental faith in the ability of humans to better themselves and act appropriately when the situation calls for it."
Oh really? Then why do Liberals find it necessary to use Government to coerce people to do things they think are obvious and necessary? If Liberals truly believe that humans will "act appropriately when the situation calls for it", then isn't legally mandated behavior contraindicated? Why, for example, is it necessary for us to pass a law requiring the government to take hard-earned money from its citizens and use it to support those less fortunate than ourselves? If humans will "act appropriately when the situation calls for it", shouldn't that behavior be voluntary and automatic?
"Conservatives", he writes, "believe humans are mostly stuck with a terrible nature, and cannot really do much to over come (sic) it, at least not with human help. They believe that any organized efforts to improve the human condition will only make things worse." Well, yes and no. We believe that some people are stuck with a "terrible nature", and that given the opportunity, those few can cause some real damage. Overall, however, we believe that most people are good and decent or at least neutral, and will do the right thing when the situation calls for it without being forced to by law. You see, we've looked at history and noted those occasions when those few with that "terrible nature" have taken control and the mayhem that has resulted.
He writes further, "Thus governments, while necessary to prevent total chaos - which can lead to the worst of human behavior - are inherently evil because they are simply the tools of humans to either coerce other humans into evil acts, or to make humans the slaves of evil acts. Government is supposed to be held at bay, like a dog on a leash. If there must be government, conservatives don't trust people to run it. They trust written laws and procedures to make sure human behavior stays in check." Again, yes and no. Again, Conservatives trust most people to do the right thing MOST of the time, but we understand that there are those who will not. We understand that those who will not are attracted to power, and government is nothing if not power.
In that vein, I must disagree with his assertion that "the worst of human behavior" results from total chaos. That is not correct. The worst of human behavior occurs when humans are directed by a malignant governing force. That is why government should be held at bay like a dog on a leash. Examples: the organized slaughter of Native Americans by our own government (in violation of our own laws, by the way), the Holocaust under Hitler, the Stalinist purges, China's "Cultural Revolution", the "Killing Fields" of the Khmer Rouge... the list is nearly endless of governments who have killed large numbers of their own people. This does not even touch on wars between nations. Therefore it is simply prudent to make the accumulation of power very difficult through written law and procedure and to enforce those laws and procedures. These limits aren't there to stop the majority from doing what is necessary, but to restrict the few who will abuse the system for their own gain at the cost of the rest of us.
"Liberals", he writes, "believe that collective human efforts bring out the best in people". On the other hand, he says: "Conservatives believe that collective human efforts can only bring out the worst in people, robbing people of their individuality and coercing people with the 'General Will' ". BZZZT! I don't think so! The difference, Mr. Doe, is in whether the "collective human effort" is voluntary, or coerced. The space program of the 1960's was a perfect example. It was a government program. It was a "collective human effort" that was incredibly well supported by those directly involved. In fact, I daresay that if those who worked on the project hadn't involved themselves to the incredible levels that they did, it would have failed. The "general will" was behind it, but those involved were dedicated on a voluntary basis.
Contrast this project with the democratically popular idea of "universal health care" in which all people have access to government sponsored medical attention. Sounds great, but one of the restrictions in the original plan was if you paid the doctor for better care, you both went to jail. This means that you are coerced into settling for a lower standard of health care than you might otherwise afford. You'll note, that idea died a rapid death here. It does work to varying degrees in other countries, but you'll note that our system - as obviously flawed as it is - attracts people from all over the world (including our neighbor to the North) for better health care than they can get at home.
On the Constitution and Government Expansion:
Mr. Doe writes: "Liberals apply a loose-constructionist interpretation to the Constitution. Conservatives apply a strict-constructionist interpretation." Truer words were never written. I sometimes wonder if Liberals have actually bothered to read the Constitution before attempting to "interpret" it. It's a clearly written document, not overly long. It even includes rules by which it can be modified. But instead of actually following those rules in order to form the kind of government Liberals think we should be living under, they'd rather just "interpret" what they think it should mean. I object to that. I guess that makes me a "strict-constructionist". Guilty as charged.
"Liberals believe", Mr. Doe writes, "society is getting better and better, if it simply has the framework to grow. Conservatives believe society gets worse and worse as it moves further away, temporally and intellectually, from the values and ideals of historical thinkers." Pardon me if I disagree again. Conservatives recognize that society is changing. Change is the one thing we can never escape, nor should we wish to. However, the Constitution provides the framework to grow. In an earlier article a writer commented that we'd freed the slaves, and given blacks and women the right to vote, and I pointed out that we certainly had - using the rules set up in the Constitution, not by "interpreting" it. By using the framework of the Constitution it ensures that we will have a government that always recognizes the rights of that smallest minority - the individual. (So that's where that came from! I'd forgotten!)
What Conservatives actually believe is that "interpreting" the Constitution is a grievous error. If it needs to be changed, by all means change it, but you ignore its rules at everyone's peril. Remember, those "historical thinkers" put the rules by which the Constitution can be changed right into the document. They understood that times do indeed change, and our government must be able to change along with them. "Interpret" that.
Conservative v. Liberal Thought:
"...liberals always have to play catch-up with conservatives in acting, but conservatives usually have to play catch-up with liberals in thinking. The conservative's thought is eventually debunked, while society suffers for their actions based on anachronistic thought. The liberal's thought is eventually vindicated, and society is only able to act upon it after it has become fed up with the actions of conservatives." My first reaction to this was "Oh, bunk", but he does have a point. Conservatism does act as a brake on rapid change. This does tend to extend the period between when a real injustice is recognized and when a corrective change occurs. The examples given above - slavery and universal suffrage - are good examples of this. However, rapid knee-jerk reactions that are not restrained can also cause problems.
The braking action that conservatism provides is a good thing for the health of a nation overall. If the change is truly needed, the majority of people will eventually overcome the inertia of the society and change it. Hey, that's what democracy is all about, no? If the liberal's initial reaction to "DO SOMETHING!" isn't immediately acted upon, and eventually turns out to not have been such a great idea after all, it disappears without a whimper and is never heard from again. No foul, no error. This beats having to live with the consequences of a bad idea passed in haste, doesn't it? The question, then, is "Is it better to have a few old bad ideas last too long while we come up with a workable solution, or have a whole lot of new bad ideas get implemented while we try to fix our problems?"
I'll skip over a good chunk of the article to the next important point he makes:
Liberals, Conservatives, and History:
"Liberals are so scattered, always turning over a new leaf to adapt to today's circumstances and trying to figure out what the next big idea is to reflect society, that they really don't remember anything past today." I don't really get the "reflecting society" reference, but boy, am I glad he admitted to the part about ignoring history. Who was it who said "Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it"? (Ed.: Santayana) Conservatives, he writes "...act today and tomorrow on the basis of yesterday." I don't have a problem with that. Past behavior has been proven to be a good predictor of future behavior. Why would anyone simply ignore it? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Liberals, it seems, can be fooled every time?
Liberals, Conservatives, and Ideas:
"The tendency of conservatives is based on a fundamental premise: some ideas are superior to others, and their ideas are better, and truer, than all the rest. The tendency of liberals is based on the opposite premise: all ideas have equal merit, and the ideas that should be implemented are those that match the needs of the moment." Now, given that Liberals admittedly tend to ignore history while Conservatives study it, might it seem a novel idea that some of the ideas Liberals propose have been attempted in the past? And failed? That Conservatives might actually be right when they suggest that a proposed Liberal idea is unworkable or counterproductive? It is demonstrably untrue that all ideas have equal merit, and it is demonstrably true that some ideas are superior to others. Whose position does this more accurately reflect?
Liberals, Conservatives, and Individuals:
"Many liberals...would willingly have the government take from them (obligatory charity, in their view) to help causes that are greater than them. The liberal perspective is that the cause - the idea or ideal - is greater than any one person, and thus the individual should serve the cause.... The conservative perspective is the opposite: instead of the individual serving the cause, the individual is the cause, and all ideas serve the individual." That's a bit convoluted but an essentially correct observation. And it illustrates the primary disagreement I had with Mr. Doe's entire essay. Remember, at the beginning he wrote:
"Liberals have a fundamental faith in the ability of humans to better themselves and act appropriately when the situation calls for it."
"Conservatives believe humans are mostly stuck with a terrible nature, and cannot really do much to over come (sic) it, at least not with human help."
You see, if Liberals really believed that humans will voluntarily act "appropriately when the situation calls for it" then "obligatory charity" would be unnecessary. In reality (and yes, Virginia, there is a reality) what he refers to as "obligatory charity" is an oxymoron. If it's obligatory it cannot be charity. It's extortion at gunpoint. Conservatives understand that, and rightfully object when they see "liberals and liberal government are continuously by overt and covert action, plotting to "take things from me" in order to meet their objectives...." To Conservatives, if the cause is worthy it will be voluntarily supported by people who actually believe in doing the right thing. To Liberals, if they believe the cause is worthy, well then they must immediately coerce the rest of the population into supporting this obviously worthy cause. And they cannot understand when "conservatives" object.
You will note that nowhere in Mr. Doe's essay did he state that Liberal ideas are majority ideas until after these ideas overcome Conservative inertia. I therefore submit to you that both groups are necessary for a healthy, functioning society. Without Liberals our society cannot advance, and will die from stagnation. Without Conservatives our society will die from chaotically running in search of the next "truth." Liberals provide the wind in the sails. (Being largely blowhards...) Conservatives provide the rudder. The Constitution provides the ship in which we all sail.
Forgive me if I think it appropriate for some of the crew to object when others start pulling up the planking for a bonfire just because some of the passengers are cold.