Human Paleopsychology

MensNewsDaily Columns 8-9

Kent G. Bailey.  Never So Few: The Politics of True Liberalism (Part I).  MND,  September 14, 2004
     In the United States, liberals have prevailed at every turn in the culture wars of the past half-century and the new millenium.  While conservatives went passively and quietly about their business, liberals were toiling in the fields of popular culture, in schools and universities, in the law schools and courts, in the print and television media, in the Hollywood movie industry, and in the large-tent politics of the Democratic party.  True liberals are small in number in the nation at large, but they predominate where it counts- in the media, in the courts, and in the classroom.  Moreover, they have enjoyed considerable good fortune on the Supreme Court since the Warren Court in the 1960s.  As we move into the new millenium, the glib, legalistic, and seductive abstractions of liberalism continue to carry the day, whereas the concrete, practical, and commonsensical tenets of conservatism appear merely “stupid” and hostile to progress.
     Why is the politics of liberalism so attractive to the intellectual classes anyway?  Is there something about being very wealthy, intelligent and highly educated that encourages a liberal political philosophy?    This question is difficult to answer because liberalism is such a complex and ambiguous concept compared to the straightforward logic of conservatism. The conservative reveres and protects cherished institutions (but distrusts the abstract “state”), regards change with suspicion, encourages tight economic reins, tends to see himself and others as “fallen” and in need of redemption, is often highly religious, and has little patience with utopian ideas. Moreover, the classic conservatism of an Edmund Burke, Disraeli, Hobbes, or Swift is little different from that of a modern conservative, or the average person for that matter.
     By contrast, the liberalism of modern society is all over the place.  For example, the classical liberalism of a John Locke, Voltaire, or Benjamin Constant- with its emphasis on individual liberty, laissez-faire economics, a minimalist state, and the rights of man, looks suspiciously like that of a moderate republican or neoconservative.  The Lockean school of liberalism was quite at home with the state as a necessary institution for preserving order, ensuring justice for all, and providing defense against invasion by foreign powers.  The radicalism and disestablishmentarian thrust of today’s liberalism would have been shocking to an Englishman of Locke’s time. 
     Liberals in modern Western societies are rooted far more in radical seventeenth-century French politics than in the more somber predilections of the English.  The liberalism of Napoleon, the masters of the French Revolution, and Rousseau construed freedom as the capacity to rule oneself through the medium of a state that one embraces as one’s own.  In this variant of liberalism, the state, if properly constructed and in accord with the general will of the people, is, by definition, good and committed to positive moral ends.  To obtain justice, the individual needs only to conform to the requirements of a fair and compassionate state.
     Now all this has the ring of modern liberalism with its instinctive trust in a wise and all-pervading mother-state that provides for the weak, the infirm, the poor, the elderly and any and all peripheral, dissenting, and unconventional groups.  Just pray where the government says you can pray, learn to obey the government’s directives about what is permissible to think and say on the college campus, hire and fire as the government dictates, accept taxation to the maximum to support elaborate government programs…and all will be fine.  As the old Methodist hymn goes, “Just trust and obey, for there is no other way.”
    Marxist philosophy represents another major piece of the complex and confusing mosaic that we call liberalism.  The great theoretician of socialism, Karl Marx, stressed the central role of economics and class divisions in the structure of a particular society.  Following Georg Friedrich Hegel’s dialectic of history and analysis of collectivities, Marx believed that a civil society requires a police power and hence a state, and this leads to the formation of a dominant class that is committed to exercising political power over other classes.  He further believed that the rise of capitalism had condensed the variegated divisions of previous societies into two highly polarized and antagonistic classes: the bourgeoisie, who controlled the instruments of production, and the proletariat, who had no choice to but to work for the bourgeoisie at subsistence wages.  That is, they had no recourse short of revolution.
     Once the proletariat rises up and wrests the reins of power and control from the bourgeoisie, the era of oppression will be ended.  A new, classless or communist society will supplant the erstwhile government of persons called the state, and a new era of reason, justice, and liberty would prevail.  Property and goods will held in common, and each member of the community will contribute according to his or her capacities and draw upon the common stock as needed. 
     Modern Marxists seem little discouraged by the fact that no such society has ever existed, apart from perhaps a hippie commune or “nomads jointly owning their herds” (Neil McInnes in 1967 Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 161).   As a political philosophy, communism is rife with wishful thinking and contrived idealism, and its greatest myth is that members of species Homo sapiens can, in fact, assemble into any conceivable community of persons and then live in a paradise of peace, harmony, and cooperation.  The true liberal is little dissuaded by the complete lack of empirical support for the communist or any other kind of utopian dream- for them, it is the abstract idea that counts.
     In my view, the heart and soul of modern liberalism is French revolutionism on the one hand, and Marxist-Leninist revolutionism on the other.  The steamy stew we call modern liberalism is comprised, first, of a goodly portion of Locke’s sense of liberty and Voltaire’s love of freedom; second, add a pinch of the Montesquieu’s enlightenment and Rousseau’s hatred of a corrupting society; third, stir in a heaping cup of Bentham’s utilitarianism and hedonism; and finally, add generous portions of the stew’s meat and potatoes- French Revolutionism and Marxist Revolutionism.  Keep the stove warm during the latter part of the nineteenth century, preheat toward the middle of the twentieth century, and then wait until the 1960s and bring to a bubbling boil.  Use the media as your kitchen help and feed the masses briskly while the stew is still hot.  For once it cools, it becomes nothing more than rotten food.  
     In sum, liberal thinking and abstract ideology tend to be idealistic, abstruse and, at base, revolutionary, and serves as a kind of spiritual narcotic for the high IQ, elitist, and secular intellectual.  It embraces specious notions of inherent goodness and human perfectibility, and it looks to the human mind and not to God for answers to the great questions of life.  Its elusive premises float high in the rarefied air of elite culture and seldom touch ground.  Its mission is far grander than mundane traditionalism or mindless conformity.  Like the starship Enterprise, the liberal mind must explore the farthest reaches of space and go where no one has gone before.  It can never look back lest it somehow revert to the ground zero of all politics, conservatism.
 Kent G. Bailey.   Never So Few: The Liberal Ivory Tower versus gthe  "Liberal" Street (Part II).  MND, September 14, 2004.
     True liberalism exists primarily in the minds and wishful fantasies of a very small, insulated, and elitist minority whose fascination is more with rhetoric and concepts than o bjective results.  This high-powered minority serves as the ruling oligarchy of modern liberalism whose messianic mission is to, first, appease and control its present legions of followers, and, second, to enlarge its followership by any and all means available.  The everyday person is not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to either understand or resist this process; rather, his or her role is to obey dictates from above and serve as a willing subject in a noble program of contrived, manipulative, and often dangerous social experimentation.  All he or she hears are the dulcet siren calls of  “freedom,” “justice,” “fairness,” and “equality’ that float about in liberal discourse like beautiful butterflies.  And that is enough.
      Ironically, many of those caught up in the movement do not view themselves as liberals or go by that name.  Indeed, precious few are aware of the radical, revolutionary, and atheistic underpinnings of liberalism as a social philosophy.  Few could provide logical or well-articulated arguments favoring partial birth abortion, homosexual marriage, or extending the rights of criminals, but somehow or other they just “know” these are the morally correct positions. 
     Their intellectual superiors in the colleges and universities, in the print and television media, in Hollywood, and now in many churches and synagogues, have trained them well.  They reflexively intone liberal rhetoric to a fault and readily give their imprimatur to the great progressive cause of the moment, but their furrows are very shallow in the domain of understanding.  The great irony is that their daily social and cultural habit patterns are virtually indistinguishable from those of their conservative brethren.  I see very little or no difference between the New York or L. A. "street liberal" and the truck-driving, gun-toting, church-going, flag-waving, and Republican-voting good ole' boy from Tennessee or Georgia.  But they share one thing in common- they share virtually nothing in common with the Marxist/socialist cultural elite that dominate the press, the media, the academy and John Kerry's Democratic Party.
     I suggest that the typical rank and file “liberal” is, in reality, a behavioral “conservative” who spends most of his or her time pursuing species goals just like everyone else (simply, that which is good for “me” and “mine”).  Many are working people seduced by liberal rhetoric regarding  “more jobs,” grand social programs, and high-sounding policies in the areas of education, health care, and social security.   In the voting booth they merely vote for the candidate that promises more for “me” and “mine” and theory be damned.  Then, after the fact, they try to reduce cognitive dissonance by attempting to think, feel, and act “liberal” when nothing in their cultural background, personal preferences, or intellectual universe is consistent with the larger liberal agenda. 
     Thus, behaviorally, many who vote for liberal candidates or mouth liberal platitudes look just like conservative working people simply striving for the “best deal” for self and family.  Whether Republican or Democrat, fulfillment of the American Dream is essentially that of a behavioral “conservative” looking for a nice, quiet, safe, and prosperous family life in the suburbs.  It is this simple, honest, natural, and traditional way of life that the true liberal elitists want to consign to the dustbin of history.
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Kent G. Bailey [email protected]