Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Liberalism defined

This is from Timothy Ferris's new book The Science of Liberty:
Liberalism is inherently nonpartisan: It means freedom for all, or it means nothing at all. It maintains that everyone benefits from everyone’s freedom, and that all are diminished whenever one individual or group is not free. This precept can contort liberals into the uncomfortable posture known as tolerance. Some think that tolerance means treating all opinions as equally deserving of respect, but the point of liberalism is not that all views are equally valid. It is that society has no reliable way to evaluate opinions other than to let everybody freely express and criticize them — and, if they can garner sufficient support, to try them out.

It was difficult even for the founders of liberalism to fully embrace tolerance. John Locke would have denied equal rights to atheists: “Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God.” he declared, in his A Letter Concerning Toleration, since the “promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon the atheist.” Many otherwise liberal thinkers today recoil from the prospect of granting homosexual couples the same legal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy, or affording legal rights of due process to those accused of terrorism. Such concerns — essentially the nagging worry that something terrible will happen if too much freedom is extended to people who do not closely resemble ourselves — have so far prevented societies from becoming entirely liberal. But each step taken to extend equal rights to those previously denied them has in retrospect been seen to benefit not only the group in question but the society as a whole.

As an empirical, experimental philosophy that accommodates error and uncertainty, liberalism rejects all absolutist political claims, including absolute faith in religion at one extreme and in rationalism at the other. Liberalism does not oppose religion — it is a staunch defender of religious freedom — but it demands that the state grant special status to no religion; as Machiavelli observed, religion plus politics equals extremism. Rationalists are apt to imagine that they can reason their way to a political scheme so self-evidently superior that its implementation justifies at least a temporary suppression of opposing views; liberals will make no such concessions, because they appreciate that nobody is prescient enough to justifiably sacrifice present liberties for imagined future gains. That is the sense of Judge Learned Hand’s suggestion that Oliver Cromwell’s injunction, “I beseech ye, in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken,” be inscribed over the door of every church, school, and courthouse in the nation.

The ideal of liberalism is universal peace and mutual aid. “The starting point of liberal thought is the recognition of the value and importance of human cooperation,” wrote the economist Ludwig von Mises, “and the whole policy and program of liberalism is designed to serve the purpose of maintaining the existing state of mutual cooperation among the members of the human race and of extending it still further.... Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts.” Liberals are opposed to war not only for the usual reasons but also because wars tend to aggrandize governments, ballooning their budgets and emboldening them to draft conscripts. Similarly, liberalism opposes imperialism, colonialism, racism, and every other form of oppression.
The Ferris diagram.  Liberal is not the opposite of Conservative, it's the opposite of Totalitarian.  See Timothy Ferris's post to his Huffington Post blog/column:  "Conservative is not opposite Liberal."
The terms Liberal and Progressive are often treated as synonyms in America, when really there are clear distinctions.

I consider myself to be Liberal, while many of my views are Progressive and some are somewhat Conservative.

I certainly believe in Universal Healthcare, a construct that stems from a Progressive worldview.

I am troubled by budget deficits, something which long, long ago was a cornerstone of Conservative [from the root idea "conserve"] belief. Of course, today's Conservatives seem wholly to believe in shovelling money into rich people's hands at the expense of the poor and worker class. Sheesh. I'm also troubled by abortion policy in America, but I have sympathies for (and problems with) both the "Pro Life" [Conservative] and "Pro Choice" [Progressive] points of view, which are more different than opposite (though they manifest in Court decisions or legislation that is opposite).

The political philosophy stemming from Loaves & Fishes, its offspring, SafeGround (and SHOC, Sacramento Housing Alliance, and Francis House), is Progressive Totalitarianism, which is really old-style Communism with a Catholic Workers' Union kicker. [It is, as Ferris quoting Machiavelli says, "religion plus politics equals extremism."] L&F is weird:  It claims to represent homeless people, when it truly, overtly oppresses and controls homeless people - with the exception of those most in need, which it ignores, leaving them to rot on the street.  I find the Catholic Workers/League of Revolutionaries for a New America ideas embraced by L&F to be ghastly and repugnant. [An end to capitalism; guaranteed jobs for all; the ceasation of advances in technology] If the Loaves & Fishes knuckleheads got their way, America would spiral into ruin. The whole country would be like Stalinist Russia or like the Loaves & Fishes compound. [Tremble.]

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