Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reflections on Liberalism

One of my favorite aphorisms lately is this: A liberal is someone who is right, but too soon.

I had cause to think about that when I recently read a book called "The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World". The book, which was published in 2000, is not really about politics per se, or about liberal politics. But the book provides some useful perspectives on just how far liberals moved the political debate from, say, 1950 to 2000 -- and how far conservatives have moved it back in a few short years since. The authors ask an insightful question:

How many of these are acceptable to you today?

--White supremacy, using systematic violence and discrimination against Native Amercians, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans.

--Discrimination against women in the legal system and the workplace, and abuse common at home.
--Commitments to wars like the one in Vietnam by foreign policy elites, with no real input from the people.

--The McCarthy-era suppression of civil liberties in the name of anti-Communism.
--Treating the psyche as steeped in sin, or as nothing but a sewer of unconscious drives, rather than full of human potential.
--Gay and lesbian bashing.

The conservatives really do want to pretend that 50 years of progress never happened. And their success in rolling back the clock has been staggering.

I heard pieces of an interview on NPR with the author of a new book about Earl Warren by Jim Newton. It really brought home to me how the things that are really totemic of the America that I love are largely products of the Warren Court, and thus of relatively recent vintage. The Bill of Rights is a lofty and essential document, but it was largely toothless before 1960. And it is now in serious danger of going back to the hollow place whence it came.

The American public didn't really understand the value and power of the Bill of Rights then. It doesn't now. I think that may be the essential conundrum of the American experiment -- the fact that our democracy depends on rights the majority would gladly jettison. That's how fragile this experiment remains.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welllll, yes but no.

It is true the American public is dumb as a fence post. However, the making of law, the interpretation of law, the publicity concerning human affairs, and the threats to health home and life are always from the top, the elite and thus the conservative. Always, always, always. So we can't say, since the meaningful questions have never actually been put to the public, whether they would jettison basic rights and liberal ideas or not. They might, but they've never had a neutral poll carefully constructed and objectively administered to determine that. We do know that they haven't revolted in over 200 years, and that says something, given the crap that has been shat upon them.

Nevertheless, I take exception to your implied point of view. That is, when people are given clear and understandable choices, they don't chose against themselves very often. When you see it happening, look to an incorrect explanation of the choice or other (perhaps hidden) factors at work. Otherwise, the extension of the perplexing choices you suggest would occur, like throwing away real freedoms, leads logically to people who are unwilling to feed themselves and that doesn't seem to be happening. You are still following the wrong "line of least resistance idea", not unlike the guys who make, publish and enforce the highly conservative rules and codes of conduct in the U.S.

Last two points
1) Everything that happens, especially when changes occur, is always driven by less than five percent of the group. Doesn't matter who the group is or what the choices are. The other 95% just follow. Always, always, always. Wish it weren't so, but it is. So, in that sense, it doesn't matter if the majority would jettison their basic rights. The only question is who are the critical 5% (at any given moment and for any given issue) and what are they doing?

2) Your aphorism was stolen, without attribution, and rightfully belongs to us hardened and battle weary cynics. Cynicism is the true view of the world and it is not just that it's appearing too soon, it's always out of favor. When a cynic's view about a particular topic is adopted by the mainstream, it means the actual objective facts have moved on and that particular view is no longer valid. Now THAT'S cynicism!


4:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well now, there ya go. Reality proves my point again, and again and...

Sen. Johnson Hospitalized for Possible Stroke
FOX News - 26 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was admitted Wednesday to George Washington University hospital in Washington, DC, for symptoms aides say indicate a stroke.

See how easy it is to influence events?


2:10 PM  

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