While driving to campus yesterday, I came across a car with the above bumper sticker; I find it interesting seeing that many Americans do not understand the term liberal. They equate it to the wrong things. Often, many Americans confuse themselves when discussing matters of ideology. In truth, if we draw back to the days when Edmund Burke was writing about the French and American Revolution, we might see that the philosophical mentality of conservatives has not changed, unless you are a compassionate conservative. Case in point: Moving beyond Burke, one finds that Bernard Bosanquet, and more modern conservatives holding a position of rugged individualism. Hence, governmental help will hurt people of the more affluent collective; the poorer collective will not be helped.
In essence, the historical framing by early Atlantic thinkers shaped the modern conservative mind. Thus, many conservatives believe there were people who were better than other people and who, therefore, should be honored more by society. This was clearly an elite mentality. There were liberals that also held such a position. Trust me, I know a few of them. According to Jay Sigler’s The Conservative Tradition in American Thought, “The conservative accepts as natural the differences which separate men. Class, intelligence, nationality, and race make men different.” In essence, there is an elite mentality in that not all men are created equal. There are the haves and have nots. As I have noted before regarding the Framers of the US Constitutions, they were moved by the liberalism of 18th century political and intellectual thought. However, they were economic conservatives. Richard Hofstadter wrote about economic elitism. He described the Framers as men who created an oligarchy via the Constitution as an instrument to protect their wealth and status; he questioned the democratic nature of the Founders and the Constitution. Moreover, he discussed history as an entity protected by the very men who used it to enhance their status.
Liberalism is a very modern concoction. Sure, we can debate the 18th century enlightenment and discuss the age of reason, but that would be a bit of a farce, too. The rights of women were greatly oppressed. The needs of the poor were still ignored. And the Atlantic world witnessed the rise of neo-racism, a construct that unfolded due to capitalism and the exploitation by the industrial bourgeoisie. According to basic elements of liberalism, liberals are invested in the righteousness and just order of society. Thus, liberalism today can be characterized as follows:
- Having a tendency to favor change, especially change that promotes the rights individuals. Liberal have been the greatest change agents regarding matters such as racism, sexism, classism, etc.
- Liberals believe in human reason. This is a reason why so many, including myself, are opposed to the death penalty. Liberals realize that there are societal forces in place that serve as agents of stagnation. Moreover, such stagnation allows some to gain greater wealth, while others exist in cyclical poverty.
- Favor individual freedom such as the rights of Muslims to construct a Masque. Now, this goes both ways. Case in point: I favor Muslims having a Mosque in NYC just as much as I favor the KKK’s right to assemble and look like fools. It is the reality of the Bill of Rights.
- Though liberals can be a bit ambivalent regarding human nature, they tend to be much more optimistic than conservatives. Just watch Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio.
So, when I see bumper stickers such as the one above, I question the full understanding of those that display such an item. Liberals have faith in a just system. This system is one in which all members of a given society make up an entity called government. This government’s job is to help those that need help. Once people have reached a point of rescue, they naturally seek self progress. This is a natural function of humanity. Maslow calls this the human will.
Note the debate from the film With Honors. In this classic scene, a homeless man debunks a Harvard political scientist on the meaning of liberalism and the true functionality of the Framers and their Constitution. Of course, this piece contradicts Hofstadter’s point above about elitism.