Comment and Discussion
I confess to being a committed conservative. That does not make me heartless. I do not believe that liberals are brainless.
A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality."He who is not radical when young has no heart; but he who is not conservative when old has no brain"- Clemenceau.
Here are the stereotypes:
Conservative: Against gun control, against abortion, women belong at home taking care of the children, homosexuals are a threat to family values, criminal "rights" are taking priority over police protection, we need missle defense and a strong military. People should be able to invest their money as they want in stocks or bonds.
Liberal: For gun control, favors a woman's right to have an abortion, wants equal opportunity for women in the work place, no one should face discrimination due to his/her sexual preferences, the police must follow strict constitutional rules to avoid a "police state", we do not need missle defense and the military spends too much money. Many people are too irresposible or not apable of taking care of themselves. Social Security is the only way to stop people from going in to poverty after retirement.
In reality it is not that simple, many people cross over from conservatism to liberalism depending on th particular issue. Sometimes people who have a history of voting liberal will vote for a conservative and vice versa, why? A lot depends on the candidates the issues and most of all the current economy.
The defintion of liberal has one meaning. The definition of Liberal has quite another meaning. Liberal, in capitals, was a major political party in Great Britain during the Victorian and Edwardian period (1837-1914 for you non-British history enthusiasts). By the beginning of WW I, the Liberal Party was beginning to disintegrate and would no longer be a force by WW II. The beliefs of the members of this party fall far from the current, most often used definition of liberal today. Liberals believed in Free Trade (always with capital letters) and the supremacy of the individual. However, they also believed that the government did have a role to play in society in promoting the development of individuals. How does one rectify the supremacy of the individual, which implies no government interference, and social programs administered by a government bureaucracy to promote individualism? That is a good question and I think that trying to appease these seeming opposal positions contributed to the tearing apart of the party.
To give a better idea of what Liberals believed, I wanted to share some ideas of Walter Runciman, Liberal MP, during the First World War. If we examine his proposals for a post-war Britain, we can discern some of the ideals held by Liberals. Runciman's positions come from an article he wrote in January 1918 as the British people and government began to consider the nature of their post-war world. It needs to be understand that during the war Britain officially, and in practice, moved well away from Free Trade as had been advocated by the dominant forces of Britain since the Industrial Revolution began inthe mid-1700s. The official term was collectivism where certain liberties were sacrificed for the war effort and many key industries came under the supervision, if not control, of the government to assure that war needs were met. This was not nationalization. But, cooperation with the government by private enterprise.
Here are Runciman's thoughts. He believed in three great freedoms: freedom of person, freedom of opinion (including freedom of speech), and freedom of trade. He wanted a swift return to those sacrficed liberties and a swift end to the provisions of the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA) that gave the government the right to suspend liberties and to interfere in any aspect of British life: social, economic, political, etc. He felt that government owed a debt to its citizens and had a responsibility to see that reforms were implaced to allow all individuals to improve themselves. First among these was adequate housing (one of the serious issues in Britain before and after the war), including government actionto build, fund and subsidize adequate housing for all citizens. The provision of adequate food to the citizenry: abundant, cheap and with an organized distribution to be achieved through the efforts of private enterprise and co-operatives enterprises between suppliers and retailers with no government intervention. He was concerned with the large war debt and felt the obligation and necessity to meet these obligations eventhoughit meant considerable taxation. This taxation should be borne by all classes-- a copperative effort, as he was afraid the taxes would be regressive. He believed in a role for trade unions. H ebelieved that they had a great future and the government needed to return to them their full rights that had been suspended by DORA. Then the natural course of events would allow the trade unions to reach their full potential. He also felt the unions had an obligation to the nation too. He wanted to eliminate price controls that had been put into effect as a result of the war.
His intentions were to grant as much individual liberty as possible. However, he was not unwilling to use the power of the government if it meant the state of the individual would be improved, as in the case of government run housing efforts. In other words, individual liberty was important, but the well-being and the conditions to allow an individual to develop to his/her potential could be aided by government intervention.
It seems to me that one can be uptight, or easy going whether they are conservative or liberal. Ideology does not determine personality, and personality does not determine ideology. You can be just as reactionary whether you are on the right or the left, and you can be just as much of a dreamer, or an activist, or a doer of good deeds.
"Liberal" as a differentiated political movement began in the seventeenth century when certain thinkers (notably Locke) began to assert the doctrine that individuals are the basis of society - this was the fundamental principle of the Enlightenment. Based on this principle of "atomism" the liberals of the enlightenment believed in individual freedom as the default state of existence - that infringements had to be justified - and that society existed to serve the individuals who constituted it - not God, the nation or the king. The natural appurtenances of this belief system included freedom of speech, religion, and commerce, and the rejection of absolute monarchism.
Conservatism had its roots in the Monarchist reaction to Liberalism. Originally the intellectual basis was purely religious, but after the Napoleonic disruptions, greater efforts were made to put conservatism on a rational basis, e.g. by Bonald and Maistre. The essence of what evolved was the rejection of atomism in favor of organic functionalism. This was the conception of society as a structured organism, and its institutions and mores as indispensible functional elements in an ordered, interdependent system. The consequence of this view was the concommitant belief in the necessity of preserving the existing system in all its manifestations, as one part could not be altered without disrupting the whole.
The actual policies advocated by liberals and conservatives have changed a great deal since then, and the absorption into the social organism of liberal ideas has muddied the waters a great deal, but the underlying premises of atomism and functionalism are still visible. Liberals see society and the state as servants of the individual; conservatives want to preserve existing institutions and relations. Today's conservatives tend to be the supporters of individual liberty against "liberal" incursions, but that is because these liberties are now part of the status quo. Liberalism has adopted collectivist ideas, but the goal is still the welfare of individuals - liberals just no longer value the judgment of individuals or trust them to be responsible for their own lives.
Nicely done! Thanks.
Abgrund excellent post... I find it incredibly interesting that in 19th century Europe it was the conservative politicians who enacted a great deal of liberal legislation that broadened the franchise and extended the role government in nascent social policies. In Britain, Benjamin Disraeli supported the Reform Act of 1867 which extended the vote to all male members of the middle class in an effort to gain their support in a General Election where he faced his political nemesis William Gladstone. The newly enfranchised repaid Disraeli by electing Gladstone PM. Disraeli also supported legislation affecting hours worked and female and juvenile employent, the eradication of the slums replaced with public housing, and education reforms. IN Prussia, Otto von Bismarck took a similar approach by making liberal ideas his own and passing liberal legislation in a 'preemptive strike' that silenced the liberal middle class in German politics. Napoleon III also enacted liberal policies to win the support of France's liberals and to stave off revolution. Granted these conservatives saw and understood the potetnial power in winning the political support of an ever-increasing electorate. But, they also recalled the strife and turmoil that infected Europe in a serious of liberal revolutions from 1815-1848.