NAU-POS254-Modern liberalism and conservatism

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Northern Arizona University

POS 254 Political Ideologies

Summer 2009

Modern Liberalism vs Modern Conservatism[edit | edit source]

Modern liberalism is based on an egalitarian view. According to this ideology, all humans, men and women, no matter what religion, race, or economic class, are to be “equally free,” and “ everyone is to enjoy equality of opportunity.” “We believe that every American, whatever their background or station in life, should have the chance to get a good education, to work a good job with good wages, to raise and provide for a family, to live in safe surroundings, and to retire with dignity and security.” – Democratic National Convention Committee. Modern liberalism is divided into two types: welfare liberals and libertarians (neoclassical liberals). Welfare liberals not only believe in equality, but also that government should support those in need. The idea is that with welfare, “government can be a positive force for promoting individual liberty by ensuring that everyone enjoys an equal opportunity in life” (Ball and Dagger, p. 73). By supporting those in need, they have a greater chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By contrast, Libertarians stress the importance of limited government. Government infringement of liberty is only legitimate if in the interest of protecting people and property. These "Neoclassical Liberals (or libertarians) believe that we need to limit government to keep it from robbing us of freedom" and the more extreme libertarian anarchists believe that “we should abolish government altogether" (Ball and Dagger, p. 81). Libertarians believe governments rob society from as many freedoms as they find feasible, and the abolishment or limiting of government authority will prevent this. They are similar because they want less government intervention in people’s lives, but differ because Libertarians believe government intervention with welfare is counterproductive, whereas welfare liberals – as shown in the name – do not.

Modern conservatism, on the other hand, believes that the problems in today’s society are caused by “too much government.” They feel the government is overly-involved in regulating the free-market, imposing taxes, and investing in social welfare. One thing all conservatives agree on is their distrust and dislike of communism. Conservatives view selfishness and short-sidedness as human nature, whereas communists believe social conditions lead to the degradation of society, as opposed to inherent human traits. Conservative ideologies also tend to coincide with religious ideologies about morals, and ethics. “Our platform is presented with enthusiasm and confidence in a vision for the future, but also with humility – humility before God and before a nation of free and independent thinkers.” – Republican National Convention Committee. Today the conservative side is divided into two main ideals: the neoconservative side and the Religious Right. Neoconservatives feel the government needs to be stronger to support society, and favor military action to achieve national goals. They also stress that attitudes toward government are shaped by the overwhelming consumer ethos of "buy now, pay later," which encourages people to live beyond their means, and to expect too much, too quickly from government. The Religious Right believes that government action needs to adhere to Christian teachings. To them, the Burkean social fabric is already torn, and reactionary, religious-based policy can mend it.

Development of modern liberalism[edit | edit source]

Classical liberals reacted differently to the social effects of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Some embraced the Industrial Revolution as the embodiment of liberal ideals. Others, however, were concerned for the increasing poverty and immiseration of the working class—and concerned that this class was increasingly attracted to socialist ideas. These liberals argued that government has an obligation to alleviate poverty and to improve opportunities for the poor. This debate caused a split in liberalism and out of it emerged modern or welfare liberalism.

Neoclassical liberals continued to argue that the government should stay out of individuals' lives except to protect their property and security. Government, if it is to leave as much room for the exercise of individual freedom, must be as small as possible. It emphasizes negative liberty, or a view that understands freedom as freedom from restrictions on speech, worship, and other encroachments on individual rights. According to neoclassical liberals like Robert Nozick, the state should be just like a "nightwatchman" or a security guard whose only job is to protect individuals and their property from force or fraud.

Welfare liberals, however, argue that government intervention in the economy and other aspects of life is sometimes necessary to prevent some individuals from denying freedom to others, and also to provide the conditions in which human beings can reach their full potential. These liberals are concerned for the well-being or welfare of the individual. It emphasizes "positive liberty," or a view that understands freedom as freedom to, or the ability to develop our higher faculties and to realize our full human potential. An acorn will grow into a tree only if there are the right conditions for growth; the same is true of humans, they argue. The state should play a role in ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to make it in the world. This involves creating a safety net so that people don't starve or go without medical care and housing when they've fallen on hard times.

Modern liberalism reached the apex of its influence with the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s. It created programs such as Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, welfare, progressive taxation, and numerous other government programs. President Lyndon Johnson sought to expand welfare liberalism even further in the 1960s with the Great Society programs and the War on Poverty.

Modern Liberalism as Seen Today[edit | edit source]

Modern Liberalism seizes several important ideals of the Enlightenment.

People are all equal and modern liberals see government not as something to be completely restricted, but as a tool to facilitate equality. The base of economic centrality in the modern liberal ideology is that of government spending to make sure that everyone is equal. Modern liberals do not have a preference in faith or different types of faith. Nor do they suggest religion as an alternative for government and they emphasize the importance of the establishment and exercise clauses of the first amendment. The government is believed to be one of the people and modern liberals want to make sure that everyone is a part of it; not just the middle and upper class, but the lower class as well.

Modern Liberalism deals with freedom and democracy as being concerned with people being equals. The role of the government is then to promote the egalitarian state to everyone. This comes with the concept of government spending for schools, hospitals and libraries to insure that everyone is equal. The process of doing so is based on higher levels of government spending, as well as implementing policies that will benefit the poverty stricken.

“We believe that every American, whatever their background or station in life, should have the chance to a good education, to work at a good job with good wages, to raise and provide for a family to live in safe surroundings, and to retire with dignity and security.” – Democratic National Convention Committee

The Democratic Party’s 2008 Platform is made to ensure that people are to get the equality that modern liberalism is about. They do it through Keynesian economic- government spending- to provide core principles like economic stewardship, personal responsibility, shared sacrifice and a fair shot for all in order to provide for all the American dream of succeeding and will not discriminate in the case of race or gender.

They claim that the Bush administration's politics have caused skepticism towards democracy, and to counteract it, they wish to make the backroom politics and lobbying more transparent through technology, accountability, and the democratic idea of one person one vote.

Development of modern conservatism[edit | edit source]

Modern conservatism emerged in the 20th century in reaction to welfare liberalism. Economic conservatives in the 1950s (including Irving Kristol) argued that the state was getting too powerful due to welfare liberalism. Modern conservatism argues for classical liberal principles: the government's main job is to protect life, liberty, and property, and should stay out of the market. It also argues for a strong police and military. Modern conservatives thus simultaneously demand less government (i.e. less spending on social programs) and more government (i.e. a strong police, military, FBI, CIA, etc.). It emphasizes lower taxes (since taxes take money from the wealthy and redistribute it to the poor), reduced spending on social programs that welfare liberals tend to favor, a strong military and criminal justice system, and in international relations is staunchly anti-communist and supports the "war on terror."

Social conservatives, meanwhile argued starting in the 1920s that American society has become increasingly morally corrupt and should be reorganized according to the will of God. The task of government for them is to bring a sinful, wayward society back to Christian principles. It emphasizes Christian morality ("family values"), the nuclear family as the bedrock of society, and argues that the state should defend Christian values as well as rights and property.

Economic and social conservatives joined forces in the Republican Party in the late 1970s. This led to Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 and has been the source of Republican power until at least 2008.

In many ways, American politics today is defined by the conflict between modern liberalism and conservatism. The controversial presidency of George W. Bush and the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain are examples of this conflict, which continues to play out in the news and in U.S. politics every day.

Modern Conservatism as seen Today[edit | edit source]

Modern Conservatism is more an opposition to modern liberalism than a core outlined ideology. They promote democracy through the already hailed government and institutions for all. They even encourage the freedom of all individuals. Modern conservatives tend to do this through the building of a strong and adequate military; with a strong military they can defend the country as well as others from attacks against democracy. They do promote the equality of sexes, races, creed, religions, and disabilities. Freedom is given to us and is the governments job to protect the liberties that we have.

In the Republican Party’s 2008 platform they approach the military with a Theodore Roosevelt approach of- talk softly and carry a big stick, the Republican approach is more “Peace through strength- an enduring peace, based on freedom and the will to defend it.” They rely on the military actions for them to promote peace with democratic nations.

The government should cut spending in order to eliminate the deficit. To protect hardworking Americans the Republican, and other neoconservatives wish to give out tax credits to those who meet quite a number of criteria. They wish to keep jobs in the country and cut the government programs that do not work. The add that their needs to be accountability in the United States government as well a populist cry that Congress will not stop pork barreling their policies.

The nation is made up of individual thinkers that are seen in the humility of God. God and moral values are essential to modern conservatism. They wish to instill morality for the country. There are far more appeals to the moral sanctions and culture of the United States. The Republican Party adds that it will preserve traditional values because a child’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage that provides the best stability for child development.

Paul Starr and modern liberalism[edit | edit source]

Paul Starr is a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the co-editor of the liberal magazine, The American Prospect.

Starr believes political liberalism is more successful than political conservatism. He believes that liberalism is a necessity achievement by saying, “the general point here is that much of what democratic liberalism calls for on grounds of equal rights to opportunities for human development and political participation provides a return in economic productivity” (Starr, p. 146) Starr believes that when the government gives to society, then society then gives back in return thus leading to political and economic success for the nation. His view is that of a welfare-liberal in which he believes if the government helps support the poor, then in return the poor will have less to worry about and work harder in the work place and for society.

These ideas are developed after Starr reviews historical events involving the liberal movement in politics. “The world’s rich nations, it will be observed, are liberal democracies that devote a large share of their national income to social expenditures without destroying freedom or moral responsibility” (Starr, p.140). Starr thinks that since, historically speaking, the most successful governments in this world have been the more liberal ones, then liberalism is the right way to go. He proves his point by showing how “the introduction of workers’ compensation gave employers new incentives…led to reductions in workplace injuries” (Starr, p. 141). This is just one of his many examples where he shows that what was considered a liberal thought when introduced, has been effective once enacted.

Opposing Ideas:

Welfare Liberals are often opposed by neoconservatives, who believe it is important not to dive into the state deficit and is better to share the wealth. There is also the thought that government spending does not give the proper people the right to live in the free-market society with government regulations. Should one person’s well-earned pay go towards others who are not necessarily finding their own means? Or why not just have the fre-market decide about life?

Starr says the government should have a big role to enforce the equality of all. a As Classical liberals have said that the government does not have a role in the life of people. By enforcing equality, modern liberals put the government in the hands of public life. Why not just let the government protect the goals of individual and not to ensure equality.

In the case of equality there is the affirmative action question. This constitutes programs giving special consideration in education and employment to members of groups that have been previously discriminated against. By doing this aren’t we just discriminating towards others?

Kristol, Bork, and modern conservatism[edit | edit source]

Irving Kristol was born in New York City in 1920 and is one of the founders of modern conservatism, particularly the brand known as neoconservatism. He started out as a Marxist but soon became a conservative. Starting in the 1950s he edited some of the most influential conservative journals, and has written numerous books.

About Nonconservatism, Kristol says, “it is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspectic.” Irving Kristol points out how cutting taxes will actually stimulate the economy which is why they are good, not because of the popular belief that it gives the rich more money. He believes a welfare state is too risky, and other options need to be assessed to assist with the same principal idea of helping those in need. Kristol then posits there is a “steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity…” The American culture is becoming more and more immoral, thus making democracy less important to society. This can be shown by the poor voter turnout numbers in past elections (other than this past presidential election).

One argument to support neoconservatism is the strength of the American military. While liberal views are for "budget cuts" in the military to support the rest of the nation, Kristol points out how by keeping the American military financially ahead, it remains one of the world's strongest forces. Discussing recent wars, "the result was that our military spending expanded more or less in line with out economic growth..." In other words, with military spending, the economy of the United States also advanced. One way to support this is by looking at the Cold War era. During this time, the government spent a lot of money on military research and advancements, at the same time the United States economy happened to go through a boom.

Robert H. Bork (born in 1927) is a conservative legal scholar and author. In 1987 he was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan but his nomination was rejected by the Senate, in large part because his views were deemed too conservative. He follows a judicial philosophy called "originalism," which means judges should try to follow what the founders' original intent was in drafting the Constitution and its provisions. He was a staunch critic of the welfare-liberal Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bork’s point of view is that modern liberalism is detrimental to society as it provides a breeding ground for the morally corrupt. “In our time that means left-wing politics, which offers a comprehensive world view and a promise of ultimate salvation in a utopia that conventional politics offer” (Bork, p. 85). Robert Bork is being sarcastic, and in fact mimicking the views of the liberal when he says this. He believes the liberal view of “we can fix everything and make everything perfect by making everyone equal” is impossible. In fact, he shows how the reason this came to be a popular belief was through “intellectuals” whose “members are generally critical of, if not actively hostile to, bourgeois society and culture” (Bork, p.83). In other words, the liberal view is nothing more than “disillusionment with its principles” furthering a social breakdown.

Bork points out how society’s liberal views helped communism, socialism, and “Naziism” gain political control. These liberal views society has allowed to infiltrate into the masses are what have caused some of the worst times in world history. “Nobody knew what that sort of blather meant in the Sixties and nobody knows now” (Bork p. 87). The Sixties, one can say, were one of the most influential times to the modern liberal movement. Right before saying this, Bork shows how many liberals have questioned how to keep the government out of personal lives, but few, if any, have come up with an actual answer to their questions.

Opposing ideas:

What about the equality of gays and lesbians? Modern conservatives promote the equality of races, genders, and religions but they do not provide equality for the gay and lesbian community. This relates to the religious Christian background that has arisen in modern conservatism. Also, this implies to the role of their tolerance of other cultures but imposing that other cultures conform to the moral upbringing in modern conservatism.

In terms of Bork's article, Can a little competition be good from within itself. Shouldn't the "intellectuals" be able to counter issues and statements that America has come up with during the course of history? Competition from within sometimes forces a state to be better by taking in the opinions of the competition.

Secularism is an idea that repels many from latching onto the society. They believe that everyone has their own religion they should uphold, but they impose Christian ideals on others in the belief that a Judeo-Christian nation is what the Founders intended. Enlightenment thinkers believed in the benefits of secular society, and that there should be a seperation between church and state. Classical Conservatives believe that the Church has a role because of tradition. However, in Today's society should there be an active role of religion in the United States let alone other states? This has torn Modern Conservatives apart and the creation of different factions have grown in response.

Traditional conservatives believe that a government should promote freedom and should not invade free-market capitalism. Individual conservatives believed that freedom is not ordered liberty but the freedom of individuals to compete in a market and reduce the government spending. Neoconservatism acknowledges the merits of an economy that can generate great wealth and strongly oppose government spending because if the government is spending money, then how can they be governing. The neocons attempt to remind people of their values and cultures and what it means to be a patriot to the nation. The Religious Right promotes the United States as a Christian nation and wants the government to impose Christian morals and values. The four factions have come together under former conservative administrations but have come to a crossroads over the role of government and they live in uneasy tension with one another.

Kristol brings up the point that the trend of Neoconservatism only happens in America, and with the coming of divided factions is this really a good thing for Americans? Again this leads to secularism. The Religious Right believes that Christian values must be instilled in all of us, but what about the principles of "Freedom of Religion." Neoconservatives boast an interest in the military of the United States. They feel it is the Nation's duty to defend democratic nations from nondemocratic internal and external forces because of the superior military might. But who made the United States the police and army of the world? Though a democracy is good for one country does not mean it will be good for another. Internal popular support might be then rising for socialism, and United States will then step in and stop them from it coming about, but isn't that popular government and who is to say the United States can stop that?

Notes[edit | edit source]

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