Blogs > Cliopatria > My New Liberal Vision

Apr 15, 2004 2:15 am

My New Liberal Vision

OK, there's a challenge running around the blogosphere to articulate a new Liberal vision, and I wasn't going to take it up, but I started writing a short comment in response to Anne's thoughts and couldn't stop. I'm reminded, a bit, of the now half-decade old attempt to create a new non-partisan progressive vision and organization, the Organization to Liberate Society.

Vision needs focus. And the greatest successes of the conservative movement have been in hijacking liberal issues. I say we return the favor.

VALUES: civility, honesty, responsibility, humanity.
Make them our watchwords. Don't cede ground to the conservatives or the corporations: hammer them with the label"uncivil","irresponsible","inhumane","dishonest" every time they deserve it (and they do, often), until they cry for mercy and begin to speak our language instead of theirs. Oh, yeah, we have to live by them, too, instead of being sucked into the hyper-partisan, hyper-greedy, me-firstism which is our current cultural morass.

METRICS: peace, justice, quality of life, sustainability.
Everything we do should move in one of these directions, preferably several of them. Every policy should be examined against these metrics and every past policy should be reexamined against these metrics. Short-term self-interest must be attacked at every turn, culturally, politically, economically. Our measurements must be both quantitative, where reasonable, and carefully qualitative, where appropriate. Sometimes different people will produce different qualitative evaluations of policies: those must be examined, not dismissed.

METHODS: Intelligent flexibility. Creativity. Firmness of purpose. Coalition without cooptation.
No potential solution, no matter whom or where it comes from on the political-economic spectrum, should go unconsidered. No policy should be implemented half-heartedly, and all policies should be evaluated rigorously (but not necessarily quantitatively) but fairly. We must make common ground where possible, without allowing issues to be hijacked. Institutions and policies cannot be allowed to become enshrined and untouchable. Single-issue campaigns must be a thing of the past: every issue must be connected to the relevant legal, economic and social realities, so that solutions can be realistic and comprehensive. Policy is not politics, and politics is not policy. We must remember that, always. Good political moves do not always make bad policy, either.

That's my first draft. This is pretty radical stuff, given the current rhetorical and legal and political situation. But it will move us forward in good directions.

Update: My wife, reading this post, commented,"It's so Quaker." Apparently the only things I'm missing are silence and the inner light.

Update: Hugo Schwyzer, our new Anabaptist Cliopatriarch, thinks I'm missing a few more things.

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More Comments:

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 5/3/2004

You're right about Bush conservatives, but how are libertarians "most enthusiastic about doing things at gunpoint"?

Grant W Jones - 4/16/2004

Who is saying you can't speak your mind? "Important values" to you, now submit an argument to convince the rest of us. You haven't. I fail to see how the debate is "one sided." Does "one sided" mean you are losing, well that's your problem, provide better arguments. Your position is, I think, the moral superiority of collectivism (of a moderate type) over individualism. A serious issue. But it is begging the question to just assume this is true without debate.

Moral judgment is appropriate only after an argument is made, not before. The left has an entire lexicon based on a presumed moral superiority:

I thought multiculturalism was a good thing. Political pluralism based on individual rights certainly is.

Please respond as vigorously as you wish. Have I ever denied your right to do so? Of course, this is a right I also reserve.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/16/2004

Mr. Jones,

Some of us on the left don't particularly care for the moral puffery of the right, either.

Part of my point is that there are important values which are being neglected, and a very one-sided conversation going on, and I want to correct that. Yes, I want to change people's minds though debate and discussion and articulation, not accept their preconceptions as some sort of political multiculturalism.

Disagree with me? Fine. Make your point. I'm listening. But I reserve the right to respond vigorously, to call ideas bad if I think they are bad. Why shouldn't I?

That kind of "I can speak my mind but you can't" hypocrisy is really galling.

Grant W Jones - 4/16/2004

Anne, respect is a two-way street. The left's pretentions to moral superiority are boorish. Jonathan's premise is that those who do not share his "clear system of morality" are "dishonest, uncivil, kneejerk, short-sighted" or worse.

This is shallow thinking. Many serious people dispute the moral puffery of the left:

Communication is also a two-way street. What Jonathan doesn't seem to understand is that not everyone shares his standards of what constitutes justice.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/15/2004


You're right, my comments were broad, perhaps overbroad. This falls into the category of "doing as others have done," and it's not my favorite mode.

I am deeply suspicious of corporations: they have only one primary motive -- profit -- and that motive is rarely tempered by a real committment to responsibility as much as it is limited by law and public outrage. Particularly in the realm of public discourse and politics, corporations have been particularly successful at distorting the discourse and promoting "pro-business" as a litmus test.

Conservatives come in many, many shapes and sizes, much like liberals. Like you, I often find myself in the position of arguing for preservation (a conservative position) against "conservatives" who want to change things radically. I rarely refer to them as a group because it isn't really fair to lump them together, though I don't get the same courtesy back very often. I will happily engage with all sorts of conservatives, particularly if they are willing to talk honestly and think flexibly. But I will not let them dictate the terms of the debate.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/15/2004

Mr. Jones, I don't recall your being "hammered" here about _anything_, whatever incitement you may have offered. You are, I take it, addressing my colleague, Jonathan Dresner. He is as civil a person as I know. Your comment, therefore, appears to me to be way off base. Last time I looked, it was your Bush administration and your libertarian allies who were most enthusiastic about doing things at gunpoint.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/15/2004

Honest, responsible, humane proposals for improving our sustainable quality of life in a peaceful and just society will be entertained. Self-serving, knee-jerk, short-sighted and inhumane proposals will be rejected. I don't think that's necessarily a partisan thing. But if the shoe fits....

We all have (at least some of) our interests defined for us, everyday, by institutions like corporations and governments. I'm proposing a redefinition of those interests. Communities do coerce. So do markets. We are talking about a political movement because we want to influence the state, yes. If that makes you nervous, you may create your own movement to influence or counter the influence of the state.

And Mises' 1929 definition of liberal is a throwback to the utilitarian liberalism of Bentham and Smith and the Mills. The reason he proffered that definition is that nobody else at the time understood the word to mean that, and the language has moved even further from that understanding. The word you're looking for is "libertarian" unless you prefer the more academic "classic liberalism."

I'm not a huge fan of the term "liberal" myself, but it's part of the language and it's applied to me with great regularity, so I may as well have a hand in defining it.

Anne Zook - 4/15/2004

I'd have to agree. I'd rather see a political climate where someone can honestly admit an error or just stand up bravely and say, "I know more now than I did then. I've changed my mind." I can respect that, even when I don't agree with it.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that someone who has grown and changed through events is somehow dishonest.

Anne Zook - 4/15/2004

I'm thinking you'd do better to reconsider the context of this post.

A NEW Liberal Vision. That's what we're discussing and that's how Jonathan introduced the post.

As for your assumption about who will be "hammered," well, I agree that Jonathan's sweeping "conservatives and corporations" tars a lot of good people with the brush of Bad Conservatism (a thing I'm often guilty of myself), but he's still entitled to make judgements about what he sees based on his own clear system of morality.

While he wasn't specific, I believe he was talking about a "type" of Conservative/corporation - the ones least likely to share or support the values he holds dear.

I'd suggest that the over-broad phrasing was more the result of hasty writing than anything else and that you sneering at him in the comments isn't very productive or very likely to eliminate any hostility that might exist between the Right and the Left.

Communicate with respect, even when talking with people whose beliefs you don't share. You might be surprised what the two sides can learn from each other.

Grant W Jones - 4/15/2004

So those of us that do not accept your definitions for the terms of debate will be "hammered" with ad hominems such as, "uncivil" "irresponsible" "inhumane" and "dishonest."

That's hardly original:

I, among many, do not share your definition for "liberal:"

"No potential solution...should go unconsidered." How disingenuous, I'm sure proposals from Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Murray and other "conservatives," will be seriously considered, right after you finish "hammering" them.

Do those of us who are not Quakers or adherents to the Slave Morality, have to look forward to "liberals" defining what our self-interest is, short-term or otherwise? And once defined is the State going to enforce our long-term self-interest, as defined by the "new liberals," at the point of a gun? Altruism just isn't any fun without coercion, is it?

Lawrence R Krubner - 4/15/2004

Jonathan, I'm glad you joined the debate. I'll put up a link from my site to this post.

Adam Kotsko - 4/14/2004

This has been a personal annoyance of mine of late -- apparently the biggest possible political sin is to change one's mind. Oh, I'm sorry: "waffle."

Michael C Tinkler - 4/14/2004

I find your suggestions helpful, except for the pronoun. Rather than excluding some of your readers and co-authors by asserting the "we" you might choose something a little less presumptive at the end of paragraph 2, like "we liberals."