Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What it Means to be a Conservative or a Liberal: A Reply

In Response to : What Does It Mean To Be A Liberal or A Conservative?

The Left existed before Marx. Fact. There were always roughly two
opposing viewpoints within the British parliamentary system, and they
were arranged as follows. Tories supported the Crown, and the Whigs
wanted more freedoms for the middle classes and Parliament. That is
just about as specific as it got.There was little talk of the working
class as there was no industrial revolution yet, and gradually Tories
turned into Conservatives and Whigs into Liberals.

But these differences were not concrete. How could they be? What do
you seek to Conserve -or preserve - when the status quo keeps
changing? Are Tories against change per se, and Liberals seeking
change for change's sake? That is certainly how they understood each
other back in their day.

But as times changed, the Industrial Revolution created the urban
Working Class, revolutionary movements swept Europe and Marx wrote Das
Kapital, so the meaning of Left and Right did too. No longer was there
a party favouring Absolute Monarchy, at least not in Britain.

Now factor in America. A Revolutionary Constitution now exists, and its defenders are now Conservatives. And yet, what they are defending is very similar to what Liberal Whigs in England are talking about.

A traditional -read: simplistic, uncritical - understanding of Left and
Right today is that each form two ends of a "political spectrum",
where extremism marks the limit and in the centre are gathered all the
'non-extreme' people. The centre is therefore the desireable place to
be and the overwhelming majority of politicians and voters claim to
represent either the so-called centre-left or centre-right. This leads to severe
mental paralysis, as people spew a lot of b.s. in order to place themselves in the
desired "centre".

This characterisation is hugely problemmatic for at least one important
reason. Historically, the so-called extreme Right and extreme Left had
remarkably similar characteristics. This has hardly gone unnoticed. Leftists ignore this even today, and what is Right-wing is usually anything that Leftists don't like, whether it's actually accepted by Conservatives or not.

In Liberal Fascism, Goldberg seeks to explain this similarity as an internecine rivalry between different left-leaning groups. To resolve the conflict he begins by asking, who created this 'political spectrum' and decided where everybody else on it stood?

His answer is the Left, particularly under Stalin, but also in the West as well. Fascism and Communism vied for the same support base, and this conflict led to a false polarisation of what had been two very similar worldviews. Goldberg then resolves the conflict by suggesting an acceptance of the Classical Liberal view, that holds radical Collectivism on the Left end of the spectrum, and radical Individualism on the Right.

Today, the American model has largely won out, and calls for centralisation of government in the person of an absolute ruler are thankfully banished from Western political discourse. As a result out political spectrum can happily show collectivism on the liberal and socialist left, with Libertarianism and Conservatism on the right.

The term Liberal has had an about-face. Whereas once a Liberal was once one who believed in individual freedom, freedom of expression, democracy and one law for everyone, now a liberal is someone who seeks to hold the good of 'society' above that of the individual, by controlling freedoms and making special laws for special interest groups. This is not what liberalism was.

Conservatism too has come a long way. Those who once argued for the power of monarchs and the rule of the Church have, since even before Reagan and Thatcher, Barry Goldwater and others, more recently been talking about free markets and small governments, which of course stand in the proud Classical Liberal tradition.

2 Opinion(s):

Vanilla Ice said...


Mad Kiwi said...

Hmm, trying to console this with UnZud does not work for me.

They profess to be very liberal and progressive (welfare state et al) but it's like taking a step back into the past here. They absolutely fight any progress into the 20th century (yup, 20th, not 21st) tooth(less) and nail...