Rocky Mountain News (CO) - Friday, September 17, 2004
In a recent letter to the editor, a proud, unabashed, self-avowed liberal sought to turn the tables on "right-wingers," as he labeled them, who would use the term "liberal" as a slur. He said he welcomed the label. Citing Dictionary.com as his definitive source, he instructed us ignorant right-wingers that a liberal is one who is broad-minded, not limited by traditional or authoritarian attitudes or dogmas, one who is free from bigotry, favoring new ideas for progress, tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others, etc. You get the idea. Well isn't that special? While library bookcases are overflowing with volumes on this subject, our liberal friend confines his search for truth to an entry of a few dozen self-serving words in an online dictionary that treats the term behaviorally, rather than as a political agenda. Dictionaries are wonderful tools, but they have their limitations. They're a starting point, not the oracle. Would he rely on Dictionary.com to explain the meaning of life? And I don't mean the meaning of "life." I mean the "meaning of life." Maybe he could also sum up the collected studies of philosophy, theology, mythology, metaphysics, history and science in a couple of sentences on that subject, too. Another convenient cliche is that liberals are progressive and conservatives are against change. Really? This generalization has severe and disqualifying limitations. How is it that conservatives are the ones that want to do away with the income tax, end the public school monopoly and privatize Social Security, while liberals staunchly defend the status quo in these areas? Once upon a time, the status quo was government oppression in the form of monarchy and serfdom. Eighteenth century revolutionary thinkers like Locke, Burke, Hume, Montesquieu and Adam Smith advocated a break from that tradition, asserting natural, God-given rights to individuals. In the form of political economy, this movement later became known as "classical liberalism" and is the foundation of modern-day conservatism. It ultimately took the form of self-determination, private enterprise, property rights, free trade, limited government, self-reliance, individual rights and responsibilities, and an aversion to high taxes. Over the years, the terminology has morphed, with big-government leftists - true to their confiscatory instincts - even expropriating the term "liberal," which has lost its intrinsic meaning and is now simply a label identifying those on the left. If the root of the word relates to individual freedom, it would hardly apply to the collective and coercive public policy agenda of liberalism, today imposing quotas, politically correct behavior, regulations and taxes. It's been said that a liberal doesn't care what you do, as long as it's mandatory. Modern-day liberalism is hopelessly utopian, as Leonard Peikoff put it, "A cry from one heart to another, bypassing any intermediary such as the brain." Moving beyond epithets and simplistic dictionary definitions, the practical differences between contemporary conservatives and liberals are best observed by contrasting their values, beliefs and positions on fundamental and enduring public policy questions. Here are a few samples: * Conservatives believe in individual freedom and responsibility. Liberals believe in sacrificing individual freedom for socially desirable outcomes. Liberals believe that one of government's primary roles is social engineering.
- Conservatives believe in limited government. Liberals believe in intrusive government to achieve societal needs. (Exception: social-issues conservatives advocate government intrusion on matters like abortion, drugs and pornography.)
- Conservatives believe in free markets. Liberals believe in government controls and central planning.
- Conservatives believe that some problems have no solution, that they can, at best, be mitigated. Liberals believe that most every problem has a government solution.
- Conservatives are concerned about the production of wealth. Liberals are obsessed with the redistribution of it and believe that people will work as hard for the benefit of strangers as they will for themselves and their families.
- Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity. Liberals believe in equality of outcome.
- Conservatives believe that human nature is what makes us imperfectible. Liberals believe that human nature can be changed and perfected.
- Conservatives are nationalists. Liberals hope for world government.
- Conservatives believe in peace through strength. Liberals believe in peace through cooperation, trust and goodwill.
P.S. - When liberals use the euphemism "progressive," they mean progress on the road to socialism.