|America (and the world) needs more liberals and less conservatives. Conservatives are not an immutable force of nature. The number of them can be reduced, the extremity of their beliefs can be dampened and the sternness of the opposition to them can be bolstered. I never really could decide if America really is a "center-right" nation (because "center" is bereft of meaning) but I do know one of the few things Villagers get right is the basic point that liberals cannot win many political fights when they are outnumbered by self-identified conservatives 2:1 or 3:2. I started here writing about unstacking the deck, analyzing how the institutions themselves too often favour conservative outcomes, but the ideology demographic is a deck badly in need of restacking too.
I have taken a few shots at answering some of the questions that surround ideology which are almost completely ignored in the American media outside of a few blogs. What is conservatism? What is liberalism? These are not trivial questions but they are essential to understanding the core of what drives the political debate. Why do most people who are pro-life usually want lower taxes and less regulation? Why do people who love capital punishment tend to detest environmentalism? These issues appear randomly allocated but they're really not. The left-right divide is not, contra some claims, arbitrary or meaningless.
It's a complicated subject and the debate often loses the thread because of isolated individuals who can break any ideological spectrum or model I've yet seen proposed. Instead of a line with two end points maybe we need 4 quadrants on 2 dimensions. Maybe it is 8 octrants on 3 dimensions? No matter what taxonomy you propose, where do you put people who never think politically and claim no ideology? They're not necessarily centrists just because they haven't picked a label. It can quickly lose comprehensibility which makes the analysis meaningless through burdensome complexity. For most purposes the left-right line actually serves pretty well, imperfect but a good shorthand since the great mass of people tend to fall on it. There's little point using a model that includes things like 'communitarians' and 'libertarians' when they usually aren't any appreciable impact to the debate. Sure, they're out there, but they're more or less a rounding error. Even rare exceptions from these groups that do matter, like Ayn Rand only matter because one of the big groups adopted them. Rand may fit better to be understood as a libertarian (or one of the 31 flavours thereof) but she's only notable because conservatives swallowed up her economic model. They don't advocate her bohemian lifestyle or atheism. Just the whole "eat the poor because we can" thing.
Unfortunately, the liberal consensus has not come along far enough that we have generally agreed "consevativism is the primary problem" in order to move the next step which is "how do we make there be less of them and more of us?" Putting aside the problem of "too many neoliberals" too (and whether they should be understood as conservatives) there's simply too many people on the left who think the fight is really about the media, or party politics. Even the simple dictum "more and better Democrats" isn't truly a consensus since every effort to make "better" (which means liberal) Democrats is fraught with controversy and finger pointing if it doesn't go perfectly. The burden is still very much on liberals to make the case for primarying Joe Liberman or Blanche Lincoln and that case depends not on the moral and ethical analysis of their voting records and behaviour, but on a Democrat winning the general election for those seats. The onus should really be on the pragmatists as to why we should tolerate the occasional right wing Democrat and the blame owned by them when such people sabotage liberal governing priorities if we had passed on a decent chance of replacing them.
Yet another problem are the so-called pragmatists who have an incoherent ideology of rejecting ideology and think they are somehow above the fray of ideas, that somehow there is some notion of "workable solutions" that is independent of an ideology which tells you what constitutes problems needing solving, and what an acceptable solution looks like.
These fights will have to go on. Conservatism is a destructive system of hierarchy and zero-sum power seeking that has no place in the running of a modern society. It is some kind of evolutionary anachronism, the ingrained desire to accumulate power and resources to the exclusion of "the other" against times of need in Hobbes' jungle. Since about 1850 we (in the West at least) have lived in the world of surplus resources where there really is enough stuff for everyone to go around, but still we live with about half the population intuitively working the politics of a Malthusian state where every hamburger you eat is one of my kids going hungry. Even today in the shadow of the Great Recession, world GDP per capita (PPP) stands at over $10,000 per year. About 1 billion live on less than $400 a year. Another billion live on less than $750 a year. Clearly there is enough to go around, we just suck at distribution. Is it really so crazy to imagine we could get those bottom 2 billion up to $1000 or $2000 a year?
In the field of hard science, humanity languished in darkness for most of its history with only the occasional bright flash of discovery in such moments where stability and resources allowed such things as "scholars" to exist, and prevailing norms allowed them to pursue truth without fear of offending some deity. This all really changed not because of some particular hard factual discovery like calculus, gravity or optics, but because science developed a reliable method for seeking and identifying truth. Today we have no name for this, it is simply "the scientific method." It doesn't need a name because there is no competing model. Certainly there are people who reject the model, but they aren't practicing science and any correct answers they produce are nothing but fluke.
In the field of pursuing the ideal human society, liberalism is the science of pursuing human well being. It combines the empiricism and rationalism of science with the goal of maximizing human happiness. The process is iterative and the specific means change as well meaning ideas are found wanting, and as science improves our understanding of humans themselves and what it takes to make them happy. There is no other school of thought that both seeks to improve the lot of all, and actually can do it. The ultimate goal of liberalism is that we should not need the word "liberalism" because no one would need a special word to describe the self-evident way people determine solutions to societal problems. That's what liberalism is, and why it must win or all humanity will fall back into ruin, scarcity, ignorance and fear. We live in a world with plenty of those things, but also a world where solutions to them are in reach, which was never true any time before. Après liberalism, le déluge.
Thank you to all the readers here, and to those who take the time to write such thoughful comments. I have always tried to be the type that engages in comments and I hope that Open Left generally stood out for that.
Thank you to Chris for letting me write here, and to Paul for many great ideas. I am proud to have been part of this.
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