Given recent comments on this blog, I should try to add some clarity, particularly to issues concerning political philosophy. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a political liberal, some would say progressive. Many who comment are self-described conservatives, and some are libertarians.
But where do these political perspectives come from? What is the philosophical foundation of each? These are the issues I will explore over the next few weeks. This effort will culminate in my reasons why freethought naturally leads to liberalism, with all of its inherent flaws, and why conservatism is, at base, always wrong from an ethical perspective.
When beginning such an undertaking, I usually start with definitions for the sake of clarity and consistency down the road. So here are standard definitions of terms that have been badly distorted in comments here and which I will use in future posts on political philosophy.
Definitions will include: socialism, capitalism, liberalism, libertarianism, Golden Rule, and many others used frequently in political debate. These definitions include both strict dictionary definitions and my understanding of their practical application in 21st century America. I will try my very best to be unbiased as to these practical implications, but being human, I may show some bias that I am unaware of. Therefore, I will rely on you to point out any bias while demonstrating that your perspective has no bias.
If you have issues with these fairly standard and common definitions, now is the time to say so.
I envision a series, so consider this the first of many installments.
Conservatism. A political philosophy based on tradition and social stability. A dislike or fear of political and social change. A disposition to preserve (conserve) established traditions and institutions; or to restore the old traditions and institutions of an idealized past or bygone golden era. A disposition to limit social change.
The guiding principle of American-style political conservatism is minimal government. Government is inherently wasteful and inefficient. The bigger the government, the more waste and inefficiency. Individuals make better decisions about how to use the money they have earned.
In practical terms, this means:
(1) Low taxes. A progressive tax rate is inherently unfair. High taxes result in “big government”. Taxation is little more than “Robin Hood” government; take from the rich, give to the poor. Taxation is unfair confiscation and punishment for success.
High taxation inhibits job creation and economic growth, and thus bad for America.
(2) Little if any government regulation of business conduct and personal financial affairs. The conservative guiding principle here is both “freedom” and “buyer beware!”. Individuals don’t need government to protect themselves from unscrupulous or negligent businessmen. Most businessmen will behave ethically and enhance the general welfare without any government oversight. Thus, there is little or no need for such agencies as the SEC, EPA, FDA, or FAA. Regulatory agencies are an unnecessary taxpayer expense. Moreover, government regulation of business inhibits job creation and dampens economic growth and prosperity.
(3) No one is responsible for the success or failure of others. The rich did not cause poverty and, therefore are not responsible for alleviating it. America is the land of opportunity. We are all born with equal opportunity for success. Thus, we are all personally responsible for our success, including paying for our own decisions, retirement, and health care. Failure results from lack of self-discipline, ingenuity, and other individual character flaws, and is, therefore, not the responsibility of government to provide for these needs. Social Security, Medicare and other “social safety nets” are just welfare schemes that unfairly take from the hard-working rich and give to the lazy, undeserving poor. As the poor have no powerful lobby, conservative politicians need not address their concerns.
(4) Little government intrusion into personal affairs, except to use the coercive power of government to enforce conservative morality (personal responsibility over government assistance) and ideology (personal freedom over community interests) through law and public policy.
(5) Fiscal conservatism: both government and individuals should not spend more than their incomes allow. Both should save for a “rainy day”. All should maintain a balanced budget. Debt inhibits freedom and is, thus, bad.
To appeal to the greatest possible number of voters in order to gain or keep political power, fiscal and social conservatives often appeal to fundamentalist principles and beliefs.
Fundamentalism. Strict adherence to a particular theological doctrine or dogma, such as evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Fundamentalism is a theological reaction to modernity in general and enlightenment or liberal thinking in particular.
Both fundamentalism and conservatism harken back to an idealized or utopian golden age where men of a certain privileged class held all the power.
Fundamentalism and conservatism are often allies in political debates against liberalism and progressivism that promote the abandonment of old ways in order to establish greater fairness and equality at the perceived expense of the ruling class.
Fundamentalism is characterized by dogmatic beliefs such as:
(1) The infallibility of sacred texts. Sacred texts are the words of God (or gods) and are, therefore, without error.
(2) Literal interpretation of sacred texts. No wishy-washy liberal interpretations that promote tolerance of diverse views.
(3) Justice as retribution. “An eye for an eye” ethic. Harsh punishment for offenders of the traditional moral code.
(4) Absolute certainty about the will of God and what is right and wrong.
(5) Moral absolutes. Right and wrong, morality and immorality, are universal and eternal, rather than relative or situational.
(6) Theocracy: there should be no separation of government from the established, true religion. Religious law should govern civil law. (God, Jesus, Allah) should be the head of government. The most learned among their followers should govern.
Dogmatic beliefs are not subject to empirical evidence, scientific proof, independent historical accounts or sound logic.
END PART ONE.