Liberals and Conservatives

About two weeks ago, I read a column at Townhall.com by Kyle Olson, alleging that a school assignment on civics was a thinly disguised attempt at political indoctrination.

Eighth-graders in Wisconsin’s Union Grove school district were assigned to fill out a “Liberalism vs. Conservatism” crossword puzzle, and they learned some new and very questionable “facts.”

Students learned conservatism is “the political belief of preserving traditional moral values by restricting personal freedoms … ”

Conversely, they learned liberalism is “the political belief of equality and personal freedom for everyone, often changing the current system to increase government protection of civil liberties.”

The crossword puzzle was part of a civics assignment that was forwarded to EAGnews by Tamara Varebrook, a local conservative activist whose eighth-grade daughter received the lesson at Union Grove Elementary School yesterday.

Varebrook said she posted the assignment on her Facebook page to share with other parents who might not be aware of the blatant political bias and effort at indoctrination, disguised as “civics.”

“The definitions of conservatism and liberalism make me sick,” Varebook told EAGnews. “I think it’s horribly distorted and it’s biased.”

Varebrook, who serves on her local Republican Party board and has appeared in commercials promoting conservative values, said she was particularly disturbed by the definition of conservatism as “restricting personal freedom.”

“It’s insinuating conservatives don’t believe in people having civil liberties. That it’s only for old-fashioned fuddy-duddies,” Varebrook said. “That’s completely negative. It’s completely false.”

Last time we checked, it’s the big government progressives who are determined to restrict personal freedoms. You know, the bans on sugary drinks, fatty foods, snacks at school lunch time, salt intake, etc.

I am not sure if political indoctrination is the intent here, although in our public schools that is always a possibility. As far as I can tell, the definitions of liberal and conservative are accurate, at least according to the dictionary. The real problem is that the dictionary definitions of words like liberal and conservative do not do a very good job of describing American politics and are actually very misleading.

Consider the dictionary definitions. According to The Free Dictionary, to be liberal is;

a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
while a conservative is someone who is;
Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
If you think about the history of American politics for the last few decades, it always seems to be the “conservatives who favor new ideas, while the “liberals’ always seem to be the ones who oppose any change. The conservative Ronald Reagan wanted to make changes in the tax code, etc. The liberals in Congress tried to stop him. Newt Gingrich was the conservative who wanted to change things. His opponents were the Democrats who wanted to keep things the same. The conservative George W. Bush wanted to partially privatize Social Security to keep it solvent. The liberals were determined to prevent any reform of Social Security. More recently, the conservative Paul Ryan has wanted to change Medicare and make cuts in government spending. The liberal Barack Obama wants to keep Medicare the same and continue to increase government spending. Conservatives believe that racial attitudes in America have changed sufficiently that laws passed in the Civil Rights era may no longer be necessary. Liberals shout, “affirmative action today, affirmative action tomorrow,  affirmative action forever!!!”. Obamacare is a major change in the health care system in this country, yet it seems to be a program closer to the sort of one size fits all government programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, than something appropriate for the post-industrial, information age, economy of the twenty-first century. It is a policy taking us back to the past rather than forward into the future.
If you go beyond dictionary definitions into the actual ideologies of liberalism and conservatism, the discrepancy becomes even clearer. Historically, liberals have believed in the rights and freedom of the individual, limited constitutional government based on natural rights and natural law, and free trade and the free market. This does not sound very much like the beliefs of contemporary liberals. Conservatives have generally emphasized tradition,religion, authority, the concept of society as an organic whole, property rights, and the concept of experience over ideology in setting policies. I am not sure that any party in America entirely subscribes to this set of ideas, not even Rush Limbaugh, who is actually a classical liberal.

That famous liberal Rush Limbaugh

That famous liberal Rush Limbaugh

I think that what has happened is that conservatives in America have become conservative about liberal values. In other words the sort of things that conservatives want to conserve as traditions and sources of authority are the classical liberal ideas of human rights and freedom. The political philosophy that has emerged from this amalgamation cannot be accurately described as either liberal or conservative. Perhaps the conservatives ought to be called conservative-liberals, or liberal-conservatives, or something like that. Libertarian would be a good title but it has already been taken by the people who want practically no government at all.
What about the “liberals”. I suppose people like Mayor Bloomberg, with his obsession over what New Yorkers eat and drink, as well as many liberals who seek to control our lives for our own good, could be seen as acting in the tradition of paternalistic conservatism. When you consider the liberal desire to prevent any serious reform of New Deal or Great Society programs, this might make sense. Still the liberals seem uninterested in conserving any part of society except for the state and they are certainly not interested in preserving traditional values of any sort. I am tempted to refer to them as Socialists, since many, if not all the people who identify as liberals prefer the widespread government control over the economy that is the aim of Socialism. Since the one value that all contemporary liberals support is the exaltation of the state or government over every other institution, perhaps “Statist” is an appropriate name for them. Since they seem to believe that every aspect of life, even the most personal, should be politicized and  under the control of government, totalitarians might be accurate.
Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Liberals and Conservatives”

  1. theintrepidpage Says:

    Finally, someone else who calls Rush Limbaugh a liberal : )

    I agree with you that “conservative” philosophy today is an amalgamation of classical liberalism and actual conservatism, but I regard this as very unfortunate. This transformation is how conservatism itself became an ideology, instead of a philosophy and a temperament, as Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk held it must be.

    If you’d like to read them, here are some of my posts where I defend a traditional conservative view of community: this post is on patriotism, http://thedemocracyofthedead.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/patriotism-and-the-essence-of-the-nation/, economics http://thedemocracyofthedead.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/conservatism-and-the-market-22/, and how liberalism erodes community http://thedemocracyofthedead.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/part-2-liberalism-vs-community/

    • David Hoffman Says:

      Thank you for the links. I can see that you have thought a lot more about these subjects than I have. I do not think that the amalgamation is unfortunate in that the values conserved are the classical liberal values of the Anglo-American enlightenment and the founding fathers. Maybe it makes me a reactionary conservative because I think that political philosophy reached its height in the middle and late eighteenth century and it has been down hill ever since.

Questions, comments, praise

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: