A good post by Perri Nelson. It’s long so I’ve edited and put in parts. My comments are interspersed.
Why do you think it is that so many people are attracted to modern day liberalism? I’m not talking about classical liberalism here, but modern day liberalism. I’m talking about the collection of ideologies that we refer to these days as “the left”.
To answer my question, I think we have to start by looking at the various components of liberalism. This is going to take a lot of discussion, and I know that there’s no way we can cover it all in just one post. Some of you are going to look at the length of this post and think “Oh Lord, another long winded dissertation.”
I’m sorry about that, but what can I say. This is my blog, and I think some things are simply too complex to leave to short “sound bite” posts. I’m not an expert on the subjects by any means, but I’d like to discuss them with you. Hopefully you’ll want to discuss them with me too. I think I can learn a lot from the discussion, and I hope you will too.
Part of my intent here is to sort out the hard-core irrational ideologues on both sides of the debate from the rest of us and look at what motivates them and us. I want to look at the consequences of the opposing viewpoints and compare them on their merits, and not on the basis of personalities or ideologies.
A bigger cause for concern to me though is the vitriol and the polarization in today’s “debate” on these subjects. I think that the radical and often profane personal attacks and name-calling from the
far left as well as the name-calling and ridicule from the far right gets in the way of any kind of meaningful dialog. I think that it does both sides of the issues a disservice. It may not invalidate the arguments on either side, but it’s often pretty hard to get past being called a “NAZI”, or a “FASCIST”, or a “LEFT-TARD”, or a “WING-NUT”. Those aren’t arguments, they’re insults, and you don’t win a debate with insults, you just end any chance of having a meaningful discussion.
This SHOULD be a bigger concern. The lack of civility in discourse is ruining the process of governance.
Anyway, let’s get back to the main question. Why are so many people attracted to modern day liberalism? I have to ask the question this way for a couple of reasons. First, I consider myself to be fairly conservative. And second, our nation today seems to be fairly evenly divided along the liberal-conservative axis of the ideological plane. At least it does if you consider the Democratic party to be essentially liberal in character and the Republican party to be essentially conservative in character.
Today, yes, twenty years ago, no. These values were based more on culture and geography rather than political identification. Boll Weevils and Rockefeller Republicanism were vibrant political themes until the 1990s.
Let’s start with the plight of the poor.
Since the beginning of recorded civilization, the poor have always been with us. There have always been some in every society that have more than others, and by extension there have always been some in every society that have less than others. The reasons for this aren’t the issue, yet. It’s the fact that there are those we consider to be the poor among us that is the issue.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us are living a fairly comfortable lifestyle. The vast majority of us have some form of gainful employment, most of us have a good solid roof over our heads at night. We’re warm, we’re exceptionally well fed, and we’re so entertained by one another that it’s often boring. If you’re reading this post, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you have access to a computer and a telecommunications system.
By historical standards, it’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of us are rich. Maybe not by the standards of today’s society, but probably compared to just a few hundred years ago, and definitely compared to a couple of thousand years ago, or in comparison to the standards of some of the developing nations.
Who among us can walk down a city street and see a homeless family huddled together in an alleyway or standing on a street corner panhandling and not feel some compassion for them? How often though, do we stop to help them? How do you determine the difference between those that truly need and can benefit from some assistance and those that simply prey on your compassion? What if you simply can’t help them because of obligations that you have elsewhere?
These aren’t new questions. The answers to them aren’t very comfortable either. Most of us who have grown up in Western Civilization have grown up exposed to Christianity. That isn’t to say that we’re all Christians, or that we all even believe in God or accept the idea of religion. But Western Civilization has its roots in Judeo-Christian religion and philosophies.
Those philosophies teach us that material riches make it difficult for a man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. They instruct us to be compassionate to the poor. They demand that we give help to those less fortunate than us. Christians, or at least people raised in nominally Christian families are taught, or at least exposed to the parable of the good Samaritan. The parable is presented in the Book of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25 through 38.
Can we all agree that maybe, just maybe deep down, the average conservative and the average liberal both have a desire to do what’s right? We both agree that something needs to be done to help the poor and the needy.Here’s where I think conservatives and liberals begin to part company. There’s a good chance I’m wrong about this, but I believe that liberals see the plight of the poor and think that it’s up to society to solve the problem, while conservatives see the plight of the poor and think that it’s up to individuals to recognize the problem and deal with it on a personal level.
There’s a wide gap between these two approaches. I don’t think that either approach, or even a combination of them both will ever solve the problem of poverty. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it, at least on that point. Given that you might think it doesn’t matter which approach we take. I think that the intractability of the problem actually gives us a clue as to which approach is right, but that’s for another post.
I started this by asking what attracts people to liberalism. I noted that there are a lot of different components to the so-called liberal ideology, and I decided to tackle just one of the issues. I know I’ve gone far afield from actually tackling that issue, but I wanted to establish up front that this isn’t really about which side is right and which is wrong. So to bring this to a close, I’m back at what attracts people to the liberal approach to the issue of poverty.
The liberal approach to the plight of the poor is to let society, in the form of government, solve the problem. This approach does have some facets that might make it attractive.
First of all, it puts the resources of society as a whole at the disposal of the problem solver. That’s a whole lot of resources. When you compare that weight of resources to an individual need, the individual need seems considerably smaller.
Second, it reduces the need for personal commitment. If the problem really belongs to the government, then it’s not my problem. If it’s government’s responsibility to take care of the needy, then I don’t have to feel guilty when I don’t personally do something about it.
This approach is great for helping to displace personal guilt in lots of ways. It lets us feel better about ourselves when we see someone wealthier than us. They must have acquired that wealth through underhanded means, they aren’t as charitable as I am.
It lets us feel better about ourselves too when we take things away from someone else to give them to the poor and the downtrodden. After all, they’re wealthy, they have an obligation to help the less fortunate.
Have you noticed a trend here? Maybe I’m a bit biased, but, except for the first attraction that this approach has, all of the rest of these feed a narcissistic attitude. We can feel good about ourselves without having personally done anything about our personal guilt.
The guilt remains though. And it’s projected onto others and onto other issues as well.
So maybe you think it’s not fair to look at it this way. If you believe that it’s society’s responsibility to care for the poor, and not an individual responsibility, then please, tell me in the comments why you believe that. What makes this approach attractive?
I’ve heard how the right wing doesn’t care about the poor. I’ve heard about how the Republican party wants to starve the elderly, or make them eat dog food. I’ve heard that the Democratic party is the “party of the people”.
If you believe those things, then tell me about it. Tell me why you believe that. I want to have the discussion. Maybe we can also discuss what attracts people to conservatism, and the conservative approaches.