Peace or Truth?

Michael Hannon uses a Luther quotation to get at the essential difference between liberalism and conservatism.  (And he concludes that Luther is right.)

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs!” Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luther’s principle—that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time—will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal.

It’s no secret that these two contemporary political labels are problematic. Unfortunately, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are too often associated with just two distinct sets of seemingly randomly connected positions on the hot-button issues of our day. But perhaps the two contemporary camps identified by these labels of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are not as random as they seem. And perhaps Luther has presented the key for understanding their primary difference.

The question is this: Why does the pro-life camp typically align with the anti-“same-sex marriage” camp? Why are those in favor of the death penalty so often the most outspoken critics of euthanasia and assisted suicide? The answer cannot simply be partisan loyalty, for a large number of critically reflective persons today would just as soon have no affiliation with any political party.

There indeed is something deeper linking these various positions together: while the conservative agrees with Luther and recognizes truth as a higher good than peace, the liberal would again and again subordinate truth to peace for the sake of maintaining societal harmony.

Hannon goes on to apply this distinction to positions on gay marriage, abortion, and other issues.  He then analyzes the two concepts, concluding that truth has to be prior to peace, logically and in practice (otherwise, you end up losing them both).  His conclusion:

So while the liberal’s desire for peace is good, he errs in putting peace first, making toleration the summum bonum, and embracing moral relativism for the sake of avoiding conflicts. The conservative on the other hand, following in the longstanding tradition that stretches back to Aristotle and beyond, recognizes that our political order ought to follow from the moral order, which itself flows from our human nature.

Where does this battle between conservatives and liberals finally end? If our opponents emerge victorious, nowhere good. For the logical conclusion of liberalism—which liberalism fights against in the name of peace, but which liberals insofar as they are men must be led towards by the natural reason they try to suppress—is Nihilism, the most terrifying worldview imaginable. Eventually, “my truth” and “your truth” are seen for what they really mean: No truth. And a culture without any grasp of truth is a culture without any connection to reality, a culture thus doomed to die. We can still avoid demise, but to do so, we need a hefty dose of metaphysics, a serious consideration of truth to serve as the guiding principle of our civilization.

via Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costs | First Things.

A liberal tea party?

Liberals are afflicted with tea party envy.  According to leftist political theory, populist movements–grassroot uprisings of the masses–are supposed to advance the agenda of the left.  But in America most populist movements lean right.   So Democrats are trying to organize a tea party of their own:

At last weekend’s Netroots Nation gathering in Minneapolis, liberal activists expressed frustration that they lacked the political power or media focus given to the conservative tea-party movement. Former White House environmental official Van Jones is hoping to change that with a new political effort dubbed “The American Dream Movement.”

Organizers are hoping to emulate the the success of the tea party, which became a significant force in the 2010 midterms, uniting like-minded people across the country who were previously uninvolved in politics or participating locally but not at the national level.

They hope to motivate unemployed veterans, struggling homeowners and other alienated Americans who are angry at Republicans’ desire to drastically cut government spending in Washington and collective bargaining rights for state employees in places like Wisconsin. And to lure those people simply struggling to find a job while worried about their unemployment benefits ending.

“We think we can do what the tea party did,” Jones said in an interview with The Fix. “They stepped forward under a common banner, and everybody took them seriously. Polls suggest there are more people out there who have a different view of the economy, but who have not stepped forward yet under a common banner.”

Jones is a former Obama environmental adviser who resigned from the White House in 2009 amid controversy over his past activism. But he’s lauded in liberal circles for his charisma and organizing abilities.

“There’s a lot of organizational muscle behind the initiative, and Van is one of the most inspiring figures in the progressive movement, so I’m looking forward to these efforts, and they certainly come at a time when Republican overreach has primed progressives to take action” said Markos Moulitas, the founder of the liberal blog network Daily Kos.

Jones’ “Dream” movement will launch Thursday night with a rally in New York City. The Roots are performing; MoveOn.org, a well known liberal advocacy group, is co-sponsoring the gathering.

via Can liberals start their own tea party? – The Fix – The Washington Post.

Populist movements organized from the top and funded by billionaires are kind of a contradiction in terms.  Still, do you think the American Dream movement will catch on?

Reactionary liberalism

Today’s liberals, George Will argues, are strangely oblivious to history and resistant to change.   After giving some examples and examining the apocalyptic objections to Paul Ryan’s plan to cut the deficit, Will says this:

The hysteria and hyperbole about Ryan’s plan arise, in part, from a poverty of today’s liberal imagination, an inability to think beyond the straight-line continuation of programs from the second and third quarters of the last century. It is odd that “progressives,” as liberals now wish to be called, have such a constricted notion of the possibilities of progress.

Liberals think Medicare and Social Security as they exist are “fundamental” to the nation’s identity. But liberals think the Constitution — which the Framers meant to be fundamental, meaning constituting, law — should be construed as a “living” document, continually evolving to take different meanings under whatever liberals consider new social imperatives.

The lesson of all this is that one’s sense of possibilities — and proprieties — is shaped by what we know, and often do not know, about history. The regnant ideology within the Obama administration and among congressional Democrats is reactionary liberalism, the conviction that whatever government programs exist should forever exist because they always have existed. That is, as baby boomers, in their narcissism — or perhaps solipsism; or both — understand “always.”

via History lessons for Obama and other liberals – The Washington Post.

The Liberal Conspiracy Theories

Glen Beck has been pushing his conspiracy theories.  Now the liberals are doing it.  They are unable to imagine that there is anything wrong with their president or with their economic theories.  So many of them believe that the Republicans and their business allies,  to ensure that the president will not get re-elected, are deliberately sabotaging the economy.  From Michael Gerson:

If a president of this quality and insight has failed, it must be because his opponents are uniquely evil, coordinated and effective. The problem is not Obama but the ruthless conspiracy against him.

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for “deliberate economic sabotage” from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that “Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.” Steve Benen explains, “We’re talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012.” Benen’s posting was titled “None Dare Call it Sabotage.”

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating “massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system.”

One is tempted to respond that it is $1 trillion in new debt, the prospect of higher taxes and a complicated, disruptive health-reform law that have created “massive economic uncertainty.” For the purposes of this argument, however, it is sufficient to say that all these economic policy debates have two sides.

Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives – monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes – they have embraced for 30 years.

via Michael Gerson – Liberals resort to conspiracy theories to explain Obama’s problems.

The ideological crisis of liberalism?

Although many states are hurting financially, the states with the biggest financial problems are the “blue states” like California and New York whose Democratic state legislatures with their liberal policies have brought them to the verge of ruin.  Michael Gerson describes the problem and suggests that they point to a crisis in liberalism:

Most significantly, the blue-state financial misery continues and deepens the ideological crisis of American liberalism. Few politicians in traditionally liberal states now speak about the expanding promise of progressive government and the welfare state. New Jersey is already in conservative revolt. New York’s Democratic governor-elect, Andrew Cuomo, campaigned on a promise of budget cuts without tax increases. The New York congressional delegation shifted significantly in a Republican direction. While California remains in denial – even after a budget crisis that has lasted for a decade – that could rapidly change as well. It may be Democratic governors who are forced by economic reality to limit the size and ambitions of government, delivering a body blow to liberalism itself. If progressive activism can’t survive in these places, it will be difficult for it to survive anywhere.

via Michael Gerson – Blue-state budget crises spell more trouble for Democrats.

But isn’t it also possible that a really severe and prolonged economic crisis might tilt the country to the hard left? For example, what if the government responded to the housing crisis by nationalizing the property of those evil banks and forgiving everyone’s mortgages? Would that not be popular? Yes, this would destroy our whole economic system. But would Americans have the principles to oppose measures that might seem to help them economically but that would be wrong?

Legitimate government controls?

George Will, in a column analyzing the election as a repudiation of liberalism, includes an interesting quotation:

George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux agreed that interest-group liberalism has indeed been leavened by idea-driven liberalism. Which is the problem.

“These ideas,” Boudreaux says, “are almost exclusively about how other people should live their lives. These are ideas about how one group of people (the politically successful) should engineer everyone else’s contracts, social relations, diets, habits, and even moral sentiments.” Liberalism’s ideas are “about replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas . . . with a relatively paltry set of ‘Big Ideas’ that are politically selected, centrally imposed, and enforced by government, not by the natural give, take and compromise of the everyday interactions of millions of people.”

via George F. Will – A recoil against liberalism.

And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?

Is the only difference that liberals want to control everyone, except when it comes to sex, while conservatives want everyone to be free, except when it comes to sex? That, I’m sure, is an overstatement. But how would you state it?

Libertarians don’t want to control anything, and yet, arguably, preventing people from controlling you will take substantial state power.

Could we agree that there are certain social goods that the government does need to promote? Like what? Whereas other areas of human life need to be unregulated? Like what?


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