Thursday, February 5, 2009

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on conservatism that everyone should read. At least there's somebody on the right that sees conservatism and Republicanism as separate causes. I agree with his main point, which is that conservatism and liberalism need to coexist, though I reject his formulation of conservatism as being about individualism and liberalism as being about collectivism. I think that conservatism generally has a fair amount of collectivism, while liberalism is actually quite individualistic in many areas. Here's how I'd put it: I would say that liberalism's ultimate goal is to expand freedom to the greatest possible extent. In social policy, liberals like the government to generally stay out of peoples' business. This is not how liberals necessarily deal with economic or foreign policy, where things get more complicated. Libertarians would probably disagree with my formulation, and say that things like income taxes restrict freedom, and this is true, only from a very limited point of view.

Basically, I see it this way: enacting social programs that promote equality do increase freedom. This comes at the expense of some individual freedom, although I think this gets overstated. A person earning a few million dollars a year will be able to do pretty much whatever they want. The more you have, especially when you get into the ultrarich, the less freedom that money brings you. In my opinion, progressive taxes are warranted because they provide more freedom to the non-ultrarich, while not costing too much freedom for the ultrarich. Libertarians might well believe that taxing rich people more is wrong on principle, but if libertarians believe that we should maximize freedom it is difficult to see how something like no redistribution at all makes that happen. I understand the notion of picking one's self up by one's bootstraps, but it's a myth. Equality just doesn't happen on its own: it is created as an act of deliberate policy. We did try the "pick yourself up" idea in this country before the New Deal, and the result was stable and widespread inequality and poverty. Conservatives who want to return to a pre-New Deal America want to return to this sort of reality, in which someone can "get ahead" but can't really ascend one's station. There are many different views on freedom, but it is difficult to see how widespread equality (which I'll define as equal opportunity) doesn't happen without some active intervention. I'd say most center-leftists would agree with this, and I'd say it's a vision generally in line with Social Democracy, which holds much promise in the era of globalization.

Foreign policy makes things tricky. One could make the case for a liberal noninterventionism as being respectful of the freedom of other nations to chart their own respective courses, but this is complemented by a significant liberal hawk contingent that sees toppling dictators and intervening for humanitarian reasons as maximizing freedom. I've been trending more and more toward the first camp. The problem, as I see it, is that outside of stopping atrocities or protecting ourselves, America doesn't really have any right to step in and tell people how their country is to be run. I think the Iraq War had no real moral basis, and the United States should make an attempt to get along with the lawful authorities of other nations, regardless of whether we personally approve of them or not. We shouldn't stop trying to persuade people of the power of our principles, but we should recognize that freedom includes the freedom to choose one's destiny. We imposed a settlement on Iraq, and effectively removed their autonomy. This is wrong.

Anyway, that's my brand of liberalism.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.