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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Vive la liberté

There is a lot of anger among the Canadian right-flanks about Barack Obama's victory in the US. I'm not sure why.  I mean, it's hard for me to imagine that people on the right don't see a serious problem with the US conservative movement.

I wrote an article over a year ago, where I pretty much called the US conservative movement "insane".  And for good reason.  While conservative commentators laughed from a hill about Bush derangement syndrome, many of those same people could not contain their hatred for liberalism.

What is liberalism, anyways? I don't think anybody seems to know what it means anymore.  Social conservatives have somehow morphed it to be synonymous with socialist, which is patently absurd.

Liberalism and socialism are actually at opposite ends of a politico-economic spectrum.  Free market capitalism is a liberal ideology, not a conservative ideology.  Even the founding fathers of the US considered themselves liberals not conservatives.

atBut thats neither here nor there. I understand how people use language to convey a meaning. And when most conservative's say liberal, they mean socialist. But it's really sad that they would do this, as it actually surrenders a perfectly good word to a group that doesn't deserve it.

But the reasons for why liberalism and socialism have been grouped together by social conservatives is easy to understand. Neither liberalism or socialism are ideologies grounded in tradition and religious morality. But I would rather suggest that social conservatives and socialists have a lot in common. More so than liberals have with the other two.

Social conservatives and socialists both believe that the role of government is to regulate morality. For social conservatives, it's Judeo-Christian morality. While for socialists it's the morality of collectivism and altruism. Social conservatives almost never manage to deliver on the promise of small, less intrusive government, because let's face it: they really don't believe in it.

Social conservatives want "creation science" taught in high school science class, and socialists want collectivist ethics rammed down our throats.

Social conservatives want self-immolation to God to be a mandated virtue. Socialists want self-immolation to the collective to be a mandated virtue.

The true liberal believes in the value of self. That one owns oneself. Not a God, not a collective. I own me. If two people defecating in each others mouths in the comfort of their own home gets them off, liberals have no problem with this. Why? Because they both own themselves, and they can do to themselves what they please. This is what drives social conservatives mad about liberals, because social conservatives do see a role for the state in matters of personal morality.

The connection between liberalism and socialism by social conservatives is simply a manifestation of the fact that both liberalism and socialism are viewed as non-theistic systems of ethics. But I would actually argue, that the ethics of socialism and Christianity are more closely linked than many contemporary Christians would admit to themselves.

In the Book of Revelations, Christ spoke lowly of the rich, and saw himself as a spokesman for the poor.  Charity is a high moral principle in Christianity. 

Charity is not a tenet of liberalism. Liberalism places emphasis on free markets, private property, freedom of thought, speech, etc. There's nothing contradictory about a selfish liberal. But a selfish Christian or selfish socialist? Come now.

We should be clear, though. Barack Obama, is not a liberal. He is a center-left populist. Bush was a centre-right populist.  Stephen Harper is a center-right populist. Jean Chrétien was a center-right populist.  Paul Martin was a centre-right populist. Jack Layton is a centre-left populist. Bill Clinton was a centre-right populist.

There are no liberals and socialists. Politicians break from their ideology faster than you can scratch your nose, once they reach office. They do something that we often loath. They "moderate".

For true liberals and libertarians, they are pretty much locked out of power. But so are social conservatives.  The mushy-middle is as good as it gets.

But all hope is not lost for libertarians. The Libertarian Party will likely never see electoral success, but the ideas and values of liberty are powerful, they have legs, and their influence permeates society. It is a needed fringe, a useful fringe, and an effective fringe.

To accept that we libertarians are on the fringe is sometimes hard to take. But that is where we can be most effective.

Libertarians have lead the charge to protect free speech. We have led the charge to protect property rights.  We have led the charge to stand up for basic liberty around the world. And despite setbacks, our voices do have an effect.

It's not about swinging people away from the mushy-middle. It's about changing just where the mushy-middle is. Slowly, and over time, it happens.

The adage two steps forward, one step back almost always applies. Be it Reagan and Thatcher, who took two giant steps forward.  Or Mike Harris in Ontario in 1995. The change they effected still exists to this day.  After these revolutions, there was blowback. There is always blowback. You measure the success of ideas on how far the blowback goes. 

Fiscal conservatism, as it's called, has survived as a value. It is a value that even leftist Labour Parties around the world have adopted.  It's influence has even reached into the socialists bastions of Scandinavia.   Look at Russia and China today.

The road to liberty is a long road. But the idea lives on. It suffers it's setbacks. But those setbacks have proven not insurmountable. 

The defeat of the Republicans in the United States is indicative of a long over-due correction. Whether I agree with the Democrats big-government tendencies (and I certainly don't), now is their time. But why any libertarian would lament the defeat of the Republicans is beyond me. 

The Republicans have been no friend of liberty.  They have, much like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's government, sought the erosion of constitutional protections of it.  They have spent the US treasury into the toilet. Spending levels in the US are beyond sustainable, and the debt burden to the American taxpayer is–dare I say–criminal. 

Now is the time for the Republicans to figure who they are and what they stand for. Being not-liberal clearly isn't cutting it for Americans. And it shouldn't.

Posted by Mike Brock on November 5, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink


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I wrote an article over a year ago, where I pretty much called the US conservative movement "insane".
Posted by Mike Brock on November 5, 2008

"You know that if Ronald Reagan were alive today, he’d probably want to be dead."

Best quote from your article. How true.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-11-05 4:04:04 PM

Excellent post and comments Mike. You should however not that it is la liberté (feminine gender) in French.

Anger never solves anything and gets us no where in my opinion, but the Left does excel in anger. Has anyone else ever noticed how all the various activist groups (peace, environment et cetera) are full of very angry people?

Yes, the actual traditional meaning of of many words and labels has been twisted beyond recognition. At one time liberalism actually stood for small government and individual and property rights. Liberalism now is just socialism in disguise. Even conservatism has less and less meaning now, as we have so many politicians and parties across the world calling themselves conservative when they are anything but conservative. This is why I pay little to no attention to the label but a hundred percent attention to the platform, policies and past performance when possible.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-11-05 6:31:08 PM

"You should however not that it is la liberté (feminine gender) in French."

Thanks Alain, I made the change.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2008-11-05 7:57:56 PM

"In the Book of Revelations, Christ spoke lowly of the rich, and saw himself as a spokesman for the poor. Charity is a high moral principle in Christianity. Charity is not a tenet of liberalism. Liberalism places emphasis on free markets, private property, freedom of thought, speech, etc. There's nothing contradictory about a selfish liberal. But a selfish Christian or selfish socialist? Come now."

You're correct that charity is not a "tenet" of liberalism, but mostly because true classical liberals see government redistribution of wealth as inefficient and unjust. Even in a liberal/libertarian world, however, charity should not cease to be a high moral virtue.

As a Christian and a libertarian, I would argue that there is a certain moral duty to help the poor, but the poor do not have the right to steal from the rich (at gunpoint or through the welfare state, which ultimately amount to the same thing).

Classical liberalism holds that people are created in the image of God causing them to be generally good in nature, and that government interference with people's private lives or their business transactions is unjust. People were given free will, and thus deserve moral freedom, while taking responsibility for their decisions.

Personally, I think Christianity and classical liberalism have a lot in common.

Posted by: Jeremy Maddock | 2008-11-05 8:44:15 PM

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