Submitted by William Elder.
We humans keep fighting the same old wars time and again, regardless of suffering and casualties. Swap the nationalities, the skin colors, the ideologies, the hype, the slogans and lies— but the internecine struggles carry, merrily, on. Not only that, but the longer they carry on, the more like the other each side becomes, and the less we understand what they were all about in the first place, much less what they matter to us here and now.
Conservatives and Liberals just now are at each other, hook and tongs. Few on either side have a clear idea what they are fighting for or about— except they are definitely for or against whatever it is they are told to be, usually for political advantage. Which is to say most likely a lie.
Conservatism is the older, simpler concept of societal assertion. In a capsule it amounts to: the power structure— king, church, army—is doing fine. The upper-classes are surfing along nicely, supporting the power structure, and keeping the malnourished masses in check, as usual. Leave Conservatism alone, as Romantic writer and politician François-René de Chateaubriand called it in 1818. It is just conserving what it has seized.
John Locke, generally regarded as the father of modern liberalism, thought differently. A Liberal was willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own, was open to new ideas. A Freethinker, it was said. Liberalism, as a movement espoused a willingness to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own. It showed an openness to new ideas— among which were individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and, surprise, free enterprise. American pamphleteer Thomas Paine went so far in Common Sense (1776), as to put down government at best as “a necessary evil.”
Liberalism became a distinct movement in the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among Western philosophers and economists. Liberalism sought to replace the norms of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, the divine right of kings and traditional conservatism with representative democracy and the rule of law.
America came into being in the intellectual shadow of the Age of Enlightenment. It’s fundamental documents of governance were written then, its institutions shaped by the ideas enshrined in them.
Liberalism, then, is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support free markets, free trade, limited government, individual rights— including civil rights and human rights— capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.
Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman and philosopher who became widely regarded as the philosophical founder of the modern conservative movement and would have agreed with most of those propositions. So much equality would have given him definite pause, though not capitalism.
Locke and Burke have been paired by history to contest the Liberal versus Conservative views of human social interaction. The Glorious Revolution turned it into a bloodbath in England. Americans had their own bloodbath in our Civil War. Though into that homemade war was interwoven the questions of slavery, racial equality, racial justice, economic disparity, a bloody strand with us and not settled until this day, and still dripping blood.
The least we contemporary Americans can do is to understand just what the hell we are talking about when we scream at each other over our picket lines and protests. Locke’s Liberalism has been morphed into Socialism tainted by Communism, while Burke’s Conservatism has hardened into Corporate Fascism. Bricks of Anarchy are answered by clubs of Authoritarianism. Understand what you are really saying when you scream Liberal Asshole! Or Fascist Bastard! Understand that you aren’t saying much of anything of any consequence, worth paying attention to. Better use of breath would be, Hi, I’m Bill! And try your best to take it from there.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.