Liberalism and The Constitution

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.

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10 thoughts on “Liberalism and The Constitution

  1. While it is certainly a broad generalization to characterize liberalism as a mental disorder, I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that I can see some truth in that statement. Much of what drives liberalism seems to be a willful denial of reality and of human nature, driven by the belief that it is society that creates “bad” people. Fix all these problems and all the isms that exist (racism, sexism, etc.) and then humanity will prosper.

    Along these same lines, liberals then pervert the idea of equality into the sense that we are all the same and it is just that darned society again that is creating all the have and have-nots. We are all individuals with differing degrees of intelligence, talents, interests, athletic ability, goals, etc. And all of us are born into different economic and other life circumstances. We are not going to end up with an equality of outcomes and it is this idea which is fundamentally at odds with individuality. And it is not the government’s job to help those that need help – certainly another core difference in how liberals and conservatives view the function of government.

  2. As a liberal, Brandon, I think I agree with you a bit here. My only concern in terms of what Carson is saying is the matter of chance. We look down on people and just assume that God will pick them up if they work hard. At times, we have put in place too many obstacles that don’t allow the out to have a chance. There is a big conservative push to keep this in place.

  3. A bit of agreement! Here’s to bi-partisanship! 🙂 While not everyone who is out will make it, and while we will differ on what those obstacles are and the best way to remove them (another discussion entirely) I would hope we could agree, at least, that the United States provides the best chance for those who are out to actually make it out.

  4. Only in America does the term “Liberal” mean something bad. Why, in England there is an entire political party that dares to call itself “Liberal”. And sometimrs they even win elections. Of course, don’t even get me started on the term “Socialist”!!!

  5. Brandon, I see it this way: People are in general good people; why not do our best to help those that need it? I think this is why societies are formed. We are one large group seeking protection and good will. Some folks are blessed with a history of good will, while others are not so. Thus, it takes folks like us to help them regardless of how they got in their position. As I noted in this post, liberals tend to be more optimistic than conservatives. I know this is a generalization.

  6. We can certainly do our best to help those in need. I don’t think you’ll find many conservatives that think no one should be helped. The disconnect occurs between those who want the government to provide the help and those that want the government out and the help handled by individuals, faith-based organizations, civic groups, non-profits, etc.

    It seems government programs are deemed successful by how many people are enrolled and receiving benefits when it should be the opposite – how many people receive help for a time, but then no longer need the help. Maybe the program could even eventually go away. When people stay dependent on government assistance, that is in no way helping, but hindering. Encouraging a sense of victimhood and entitlement is a disservice to those that are supposedly being helped.

  7. Brandon, I think the thing that finally pushed me over the liberal edge was watching the church make minimal, if any, real difference in the lives of people who need it. Additionally, there’s the very real possibility that faith groups and other non-profits could not begin to meet the needs of the nation’s poor. Furthermore, I’ve actually heard a lot of people say things like “God helps those who help themselves.” and “So-and-so just needs to go out and get a job. It’s not that hard.” Statements like this would imply that there are a lot of people who think no one should be helped.

  8. Late me state up front I am a conservative. I view the government as the biggest problem our society faces. More government is NOT nor will it EVER be the answer.

    I realize fully my interpretation of history is my own and many “liberals” or “progressives” will consider my view anti-intellectual or not valid. The rise and fall of empires can, I believe, be equated with rise of the nanny state. When the government began to meet the needs of the people instead of the people being responsible for their own needs, that society was doomed.

    The first fundamental question I want to ask liberals who believe in re-distribution of wealth (income) is what right do you have to determine how my money will be spent? I am not wealthy and any increase in my taxes is a burden and interferes with my ability to provide for my family. Not luxuries mind you, but things I consider essential and my responsibility to provide. Things like shelter, food, medical care and education.

    Another fundamental question I want to ask liberals who believe in redistribution of income/wealth via the government is why does the government never have to do with less? When the government increases my tax burden, I have to do with less. Shouldn’t the government learn to live within its means?

    Do I sound selfish and mean spirited? Perhaps. But I am one of those so-called compassionate conservatives. I put my money where my mouth is. I believe I have a responsibility to my fellow man. That means either with my own hard earned money or through my own labor in service of my fellow man. My children have been taught the same thing. Without providing details, which I think is inappropriate, please be aware that there are many Americans who practice charity and many of them, contrary to what one poster stated are found in American churches (albeit I will grant you there are many who attend theses same churches who fit the verse in the New Testament that is paraphrased as follows, “many will call me Lord, Lord but not know me).

    I also want to ask liberals why they think I am unable to solve my own problems, provide for myself and have to have a government official make my decisions for me? If you want to decry elitism and arrogance – start with that assumption and you will understand why I am so antagonistic towards the big government progressive movement.

    To be fair, I despise the so-called RINOs in the Republican Party. In my mind they are no better than the radical leftists who are bent on remaking America into a nation I cannot recognize. They are every bit as arrogant and elitist as the liberal progressives who feel government is the solution. I no longer think of myself as a Republican but rather a conservative.

    Is capitalism the evil monster the left loves to make it out to be? No. Let’s examine history. Replace one government with another and you will still have a ruling class. Look at the former U.S.S.R. The communists replaced the Tsars. Marxism was every bit as repressive, if not more so, than the absolute rule of the Russian Tsars. Never mind that communism is an economic system that failed.

    There will always be those who accumulate and hoard wealth for the sole benefit of themselves. Man has a sin nature. But keep in mind there are many wealthy who freely distribute their wealth to others in a wide range of means. Perhaps what angers liberals is the control of this distribution of wealth lies in the hands of those who generated the wealth and not the liberals in the government.

    Why should the government remove from each of us as individuals the responsibility we have for our fellow man’s well being? Is this not every bit as immoral as the wealthy robber baron who accumulates wealth and does not share with his/her community and fellow man.

    As to conservatives being fearful or resistant to change – that is not an accurate statement as my friend Ed has heard me pontificate upon on more than one occasion. Conservatives believe in change – when it is appropriate and needed. Conservatives also believe there are values that should never change, timeless principles society needs in order to function such as individual rights AND individual responsibilities, the traditional nuclear family unit (which by the way even liberal sociologists agree functions best when you have a mother and father who are married). We object when these timeless values are attacked all because some individual lives outside those values and wants to turn society upside down in the name of tolerance (that is another rant for a later time).

  9. Carson – Point well taken, but I doubt there was much more deep thought in the purchasing or manufacturing of that sticker than there is in a “Cubs Suck” sticker. Even still, the “parlance of our times” (the Dude abides…) counts for more than you’re giving it credit for.

    One discussion that has really struck me in reading the comments here is that of conservatives being “fearful or resistant to change”. I think it’s a little self-serving for a conservative to argue that this isn’t true – that “Conservatives believe in change – when it is appropriate and needed.” Frankly I think it’s necessary – after all, the statement doesn’t imply that the scale isn’t balanced by the other side.

    Just look at two of the issues in the news today: gays in the military and the DREAM ACT. I’m tired of the stubbornness from many of my friends on the right with regard to these issues. Opposition to gays in the military is an argument that is BASED on FEARful intolerance and RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. It’s about time we start moving in the right direction there. As far as the DREAM ACT, I think the parameters are strict but reasonable, and unfortunately there is an unrealistic stubbornness on immigration from Republicans in the face of an option that allows leeway without setting a bad precedent.

    All that said, my point is simply that conservatives are without question resistant to change. Let me be clear: in many cases I think that this is a good thing. In the two examples above it is not. But denying Conservatives’ resistance to change in THE WAY that Kevin is doing so here is incredibly self-deluded.

    “We LOVE change…when it’s appropriate.” Give me a break.

  10. There is a difference between being resistant to change (the knee-jerk variety) and being discriminatory (the good kind). Liberals have not cornered the market on reason—which is just as goofy a claim as conservatives making bumper stickers that liberals are all crazy. All of us must take what we see, read and hear and weigh it against a variety of personal criteria. To say “yes” to everything would be ridiculous, so all of us are resistant to some types of change—when appropriate and needed, no?

    Warning: big generalizations ahead!

    Conservatives generally have a finer strainer when they process things. The result is more homogenized…but there is more risk that good ideas get left out.

    Liberals generally have a coarser strainer to process things. The result is more varied…but there is more risk that bad ideas make it through.

    We need each other to make wise choices, but we all tend to get very frustrated when the other side disagrees (Nim is right: we like to rib each other about it, too). Are liberals irritated at the bumper sticker above? Try being part of the Tea Party, where you are branded as racist and stupid. The fact of the matter is that most conservatives put a great deal of thought into their choices. Perhaps it is time to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but those that disagree have valid concerns. To a liberal, DADT is a set of training wheels that should have come off a long time ago. To a conservative, affirmative action is set of training wheels that should have come off some time ago. Why is just one side called intractable when they balk at a change, and the other side is where human reason dwells?

    For both sides, reason should be an on-going process and not an excuse to take the ball and go home.

    Kevin’s first question was also mine, and led to some others:

    – Is it a contradiction to fight for individual rights by taking property from one and giving it to another?

    – If liberals are for the individual AND for the system…which one wins when there must be a choice made between the two?

    – How can government be the ultimate answer for society when almost every time it is given power and resources it abuses both (and why is the solution to ineffective government often a call to give the system even more power and resources)?

    All asked with an open mind and a wink 🙂

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