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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Liberalism, conservatism and natural law

In naming it his number one Canadian blog of the political right, Michael Taube writes that The Gods of Copybook Headings is "intellectual and entertaining, and both [the bloggers] have extremely strong grasps of history, politics and current events."

I agree; for that reason, Gods merits a regular visit for the smart commentary and is one of my own favourite Canadian blogs.

Publius, one half of the duo behind the blog, sat down with his imaginary intern Flavius for an end-of-year interview. Here's his discussion of liberalism, conservatism, natural rights and natural law:

Flavius:  Moving along....Politics.  How would you define yourself politically?  Are you a conservative?

Publius:  I'm basically a classical liberal in the tradition of Locke, Gladstone and George Brown.

Flavius:  Heavens.  I can't ask you for the time of day without getting a lecture on the history of the clock.

Publius:  I like being thorough and context is important.

Flavius:  OK, OK.  What's a classical liberal?  Why not just call yourself a small government conservative?

Publius:  Well, Flavius, you see words have meanings, regardless of whatever they taught you in public school.  The original meaning of the word liberal - in a political context - comes from Spain in the years of the Peninsular War (1807-1814).  Spanish liberales sought to establish a constitutional monarchy.  The word's etymology, however, dates back to the Latin liber, meaning free.  Liberalism in its British context usually dates itself to John Locke and his patron the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, the founder of the Whig party.  The distinction between liberalism and conservativism lies in the former's basis in natural law.  Traditionally, conservatives have grounded rights and authority on the basis of tradition, social convention and divine right (or inference of divine will).  While English speaking conservatives are skeptical of the state, they view its function as the betterment of human life, as such they are willing to countenance some aspects of intervention - say the regulation of morality.  A liberal, in the traditional sense, views rights and authority as grounded in natural law.  Human beings have a nature, it is essentially fixed, that nature implies certain social rights in order to fully function as human beings. 

Flavius:  Brutus was born in Soviet Russia, he seems pretty healthy, the frost bite aside.

Publius:  Men can live without rights, but they cannot live to their full potential, not fully as men.  The state can only attempt to defend these rights, it cannot try to better human life.  Its function is purely negative.  Any attempt at positive action - except as preventative - would violate the rights of some at the expense of others.  The liberal understands, however, that a free society cannot exist without a virtuous people.  Without morality, civil society and family, society will wither or become dependent on the state. Any dependence on the state is short-term, as we are seeing with the demographic collapse of much of the developed West. 

Conservatives may argue that the state should promote, say, the family, the liberal will recognize the importance of family but insist that any positive effort by the state will be self-defeating.  The overmighty state that gives special preference to any particular group, however important they might be, will undermine the rights of others and eventually of the favoured group.  What comes around goes around.  Beyond its proper functions the state is behaving immorally and in a ultimately self-defeating manner.  Statism always impoverishes society as a whole, it only enhances the relative benefit of a particular group or groups.  Thus one of the essential truths of liberalism is captured by Frederic Bastiat's observation that "the State is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else."  Liberalism is against this fiction, the Big Lie so to speak, of statism.

Read the rest of the interview for a discussion including a view into Publius' personal pursuits, his reasons for voting for the Conservative Party of Canada, a secularist defense of religion and a liberal defense of the traditional family.

(h/t binks)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on January 4, 2009 | Permalink



Thanks for the link to my NP submission - and the kind words. I appreciate it.

Posted by: Michael Taube | 2009-01-13 5:08:05 PM

Forget, please, "conservatism." It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

"[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth."

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
[email protected]

PS – And “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” Rush Limbaugh never made a bigger ass of himself than at CPAC where he told that blasphemous “joke” about himself and God.

Posted by: John Lofton, Recovering Republican | 2009-03-28 11:11:57 AM

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