Wednesday, July 14, 2004

What's a Conservative? (What is a Liberal?) Part 1.

This post will be mostly schematic, and for that I apologize. I will follow up with more in depth posts (i.e. facts, figures, arguments). Right now I just want to sketch a (somewhat) iconoclast treatment of the perceived political dichotomy in this country, that of "liberals" v. "conservatives". There was a time when "liberal" meant Smithian economics, and the protection of individual liberty (at least for citizens). Conservativism, on the other hand, essentially meant monarchy (where available), support for the actions of the state, resistance to change. Liberal ideals and liberal philosophy (Locke, etc.) essentially drove the American and French revolutions (as the first such revolutions), and it was the conservatives in the British colonies who opposed the American Revolution. To his lasting credit, George Washington did not initiate a French-style Terror against them and they were incorporated into the new United States. It is interesting to note that the first great conservative thinker, Edmund Burke, was reacting against the liberalism of the French Revolution. That's just historical background, and we only want to pursue what happened to these two concepts in the United States, so we will leave Europe behind. If we take slavery as a fundamental issue in the nineteenth century, we can see how the "conservative" and "liberal" positions were defined there. In general, the most conservative believed the institution should not change, the moderates believed that it should be phased out over time, and the liberals wanted and end to it-immediately. It is not hard to see, in retrospect, where morality lay. Were just going to look at social issues, because I will need to do a little more poking around before I can say anything more than schematic about economic issues. So take Reconstruction. An essentially liberal time and one of the best times in American history, because for the first time liberals were truly in power, they were running the government responsibly, and making good on the idea that all men are created equal. The backlash to Reconstruction was a conservative backlash, because Southern whites were insulted by the idea of blacks being equal, so after the North helped them get back on track economically, they pressed the North to abandon Reconstruction. Thus, a century of Jim Crow carried out by conservatives and tolerated (as usual) by wimpy liberals (for a while, fortunately in 1932 we actually got a good man elected, and hats off to his uncle for not being a racist). So one cannot read the history of American conservativism without also reading the history of American racism. I am not insinuating that today conservativism = racism, but it is undeniable that today's meteoric rise to the head of government of "conservatives" is built on the "Southern strategy" engineered by Nixon and still in play of courting Southern whites in the wake of the civil rights movement. There are other factors, and I will get to them in my next post. This is enough for now, much more to be said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How bout you break up your text monolith with some indents or some lines between paragraphs, jerk.

July 14, 2004 at 11:27 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

You can't post anonymously on your own web site, Arun. And everybody likes my Proustian prose.

July 14, 2004 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Ron Green said...

It may be of assistance to some to align your definitions with the political parties. Democrat is typically aligned with the "liberal" at this time and Republican is considered "conservative". You quote reconstruction as being one of the best times in history, that was done by a liberal federal government; Republican. It can be confusing dragging the titles (liberal and conservative) thru time because they are so closely tied to parties and the parties have been shifting some over time.

July 16, 2004 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Definitely. I'm reworking my argumentative strategy on this one.

July 16, 2004 at 10:56 PM  

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