Sunday, May 29, 2011

Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Three quotes from leading economic conservatives have been posted below. Please note that these statements did not come from members of the rightist fringe or from arbitrary figures. Each individual mentioned here was/is a key thinker either in the development of right-wing economic thought or in its subsequent justification.

Alexander Hamilton when discussing the ideal structure of a democratic government:

"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people.... The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by change, they therefore will ever maintain good government."

Ludwig von Mises when praising Ayn Rand's message to the working class about the wealthy:

"You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you."

Rush Limbaugh on the tendency of liberals to feel sympathy for the poor:

"The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples. The poor feed off the largesse of this government and give nothing back... I'm sick and tired of the one phony game I've had to play and that is this so-called compassion for the poor. I don't have compassion for the poor."

So what are the tenets of economic liberalism? A dishonest or ill-informed conservative (and most conservatives, by the way, are neither of these things) would argue that we're socialistic (a charge that I debunk here: or that we love the idea of big government (which I debunk here: Someone more familiar with the origins of the economic liberal philosophy, however, would point out that our ideas were given their best articulation by the president who did the most to champion them.

Franklin Roosevelt in the "Economic Bill of Rights" section from his 1944 State of the Union:

"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education."

Herein lies the fundamental difference between liberalism and conservatism on economic questions. It is not, as pundits are wont to say, a situation in which the two sides agree as to ends but differ about the means. When right-wing leaders make their policy proposals, they draw their views on the poor from Rush Limbaugh, their views on the rich from Ludwig von Mises, and their views on the role of class in democracy from Alexander Hamilton - with, of course, massive campaign contributions from big businesses and other wealthy donors lubricating the process of persuasion when necessary. Left-wingers, on the other hand, continually strive to actualize the vision voiced by Franklin Roosevelt sixty-seven years ago.

These are the stakes. We must never forget them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

May I suggest you read where the second bill of rights takes us?

I think you have not gone deep enough for your analysis. Do the rights of the individual become subordinate to the group? Meaning is it okay to "lessen" (to avoid using take) the rights of the individual to help a group? I think here is where you will find how someone might say a thing like, "I don't care about the poor. I will not force them to live the life I want for them, and I will not force someone else to give up their rights to help them. I will look at everyone as an individual rather than as a member of a group. If I do that, I can say that the most freedom will be given if I do not force anyone to do anything."

I think if you thought a little more about the true moral principles and the true meaning behind your ideas (or Roosevelt's) you'll see there are a lot of contradictory moral principles. I mean how do you take away the rights of the individual to "enhance" the group? What happens when you lose that group identity? Does this bring people together or catagorize them? Will this bring humanity closer to achieving peace by giving to some while taking from others?

May I suggest also that you try to think about this principle without the normal political talking points? Just try to answer these questions on their face value (ie do not insert some group label or classes of people). Then, see if your values are consistent with your answer. And yes, I do concede that we are all hypocrites, but wouldn't you want to self-criticize to minimize your hypocrisies?

My answer:
The only way to ensure rights for everyone is to guarantee rights for everyone on an individual basis, and let people live their own lives as they choose to with the minimum amount of laws needed to provide guidelines for us to not trample on another's rights. In America, we have no classes. Anyone can become whatever they choose if they work toward that goal and have a little luck. I certainly cannot control fate. Can you?

Nice blog, btw, though I disagree with your conclusions. Thanks for making me think for a moment about my own beliefs once agian.