This article written a few years ago in the middle 1990s lists ten reasons why one should consider being a liberal. If the term liberal offends, substitute the word "Progressive" instead.
The Top Ten Reasons to Be A Liberal
By Melvin C. Hathorn
Liberal bashing is the sport of the moment, a sport unparalleled in American society. Daily, talk radio ridicules liberals as proponents of wasteful spending, unworkable social programs and a host of other ills that afflict us today. This is unfortunate because liberals have been a major force in the development of western civilization and western thought. Liberals come from a proud heritage; a heritage rooted in great ideas, ideas that produced freedom and democracy. In order to tell the other side of the story, I have listed the ten top reasons to be proud of being a liberal. We can be proud of our heritage! We can take pride in what we produced over the centuries! This is not written to change anyone’s mind. It is written to give a falsely maligned group a fair chance to be heard.
REASON NUMBER 10: CONSERVATIVE REACTIONARIES TEND TO BASE THEIR PHILOSOPHY ON A SPIRIT OF GUILT, ANGER, GLOOM AND HURT RATHER THAN THE HUMAN POTENTIAL THAT EXISTS IN US ALL.
The term conservative does not refer to those true conservatives with whom one can honestly and sincerely debate. There are many True Conservatives with whom one can disagree and at the same time respect. Barry Goldwater and George Will are a few examples. The term conservative in this context refers to those false conservatives who pander to the issues and emotions of the moment and inflame the public for personal gain.
From the religious right screaming outside abortion clinics to Congressional Republicans judging welfare mothers or the homeless, the conservative movement bases its beliefs on condemnation, ridicule and judgment of anyone who is different. It doesn't matter whether this difference comes from economic status (those lazy people), racial status (those unemployable people), or gender status (those physically and emotionally weaker people). The same crowds of doom and gloomers rant, rave, and scream at those who are different. Conservatives fail to honor the godlike qualities that are in us all.
REASON NUMBER 9: CONSERVATIVE REACTIONARIES HAVE BEEN "WEIGHED IN THE BALANCES AND FOUND WANTING.
Clearly the handwriting is on the wall; Public disenchantment with the Republican control of Congress is growing. A July 1995 ABC/Washington Post poll found that 63% of Americans disapprove of the Republican Congress. Daily more and more people are realizing that conservatives are self-serving and value only the interest of corporations, not the working public, the interests of polluters, not those who favor clean air and water. As 24 year-old Rob Levine asked Newt Gingrich, "How is having dirty water going to improve the quality of my life?”
REASON NUMBER 8: SCIENCE SUPPORTS LIBERALISM.
Overview Modern physicists are realizing that each sub-atomic particle intricately interconnects and relates to other particles. It is impossible to observe the behavior of a particle without influencing its direction or momentum. Bell’s Theorem, verified in 1982 by physicist Alain Aspect, states that a change in the behavior of one particle changes the behavior of its twin particle. This is true even though the twin is on the other side of the universe! Some scientists such as David Bohm even speculate that the universe is a unified hologram. The implications of this are not lost on liberals. Liberals recognize that the behavior of each person or business ripples down to affect all of us. Conservatives act as though each person or business is an independent entity with no effect on others. They resent being told what to do even when their behavior impacts everyone else.
On an early spring morning, a robin swoops over the damp earth of a freshly turned garden. An earthworm is the random victim. On a hot July day at the height of rush hour, a freak lightning bolt of a summer thunderstorm destroys the power supply of a small city. Malfunctioning traffic lights snarl traffic for several hours. Randomness and chaos seem to run our lives.
What does this have to do with liberalism? From the beginning of human history, a paradox has faced us. It started with the Greeks when the pre-Socratics like Thales, Anaximander, and Anaxagoras suggested that a specific substance, i.e. water or air had changed from chaotic flux and that this chaos had now congealed. This congealing brought order to nature.
Descartes and Isaac Newton.
Newton’s laws and Descartes’ coordinates allowed us to view the universe as a large machine. Like a clock. All of nature reduces to simple laws and mechanics. Reductionistic science The quest for order continued through most of the history of science and culminated with Newton who compared nature to a clock, that could be analyzed, disassembled, and put back together. For a short time entropy threatened the reductionist view. Entropy is defined as the universe running down from a system of order to a system of disorder. Examples of entropy are machines wearing out, cars rusting, and heat dissipating.
Ludwig Boltzmann saved reductionism by suggesting that Newtonian mechanics was still valid on the large universal level. On the individual level, the level of atoms and particles, the revealed disorder was due to probability.
Reductionism prevailed; mechanism prevailed, but the price was high. Humans were nothing more than a collection of parts, each part following universal laws. We humans could only recrown ourselves not as the offspring of gods but as the possessor of knowledge. By knowing the laws of nature, we could predict universal behavior. Chaos, randomness, and individuality couldn’t be eliminated, but understanding the laws and mechanics behind it could control it.
It’s funny how reality has a way of intruding its ugly head. The first thorn in the side of the reductionists was Henri Poincaré. This French Physicist discovered that the underlying assumption of the reductionist, that a closed system produced order, was wrong.
What Poincaré found was that the basic Newtonian equations themselves were flawed when one made small alterations in these closed systems. An example: Newton’s gravitational equations worked well when they included only two bodies such as the sun and moon. When one threw in the effects of a third body such as Jupiter, the equations were inexact. The small effect of a distant planet such as Jupiter or Pluto had a ripple down effect and drastically altered the final results.
This eventually would be called the Butterfly effect. On December 29, 1979, a research meteorologist at MIT, Edward Lorenz, gave a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This speech with the unusual title, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” presented a different paradigm to science, Chaos Theory.
The Butterfly Effect was discovered accidentally. Lorenz in 1960 used a primitive computer to mathematically model climatic weather conditions. He hoped to identify precise laws to make weather prediction possible. One day Lorenz rounded off .506127 to .506. He assumed the change in value of less than 1 one-thousandth would be inconsequential. It wasn’t. This small change in value, comparable to the puff of a butterfly’s wings, produced a tremendous difference in the final outcome.
The definition of the Butterfly Effect is "sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” In other words, small changes tend to magnify themselves over the course of successive events and culminate in large-scale happenings. A minor event like a butterfly flapping its wings could alter wind currents enough to significantly impact weather conditions a thousand miles away.
Any improvement in the precision of weather prediction lasted only a few days. After that the Butterfly Effect took over and set weather conditions rolling in a completely unexpected direction.
The bottom line
Reductionism is very similar to conservatism in its dynamics. Both tend to value order and predictability. Both tend to strongly resist changes and upsetting theories. Predictability is important; to the conservative law and order and a stable society are ultimate goals. Perhaps the individual couldn’t be controlled but the larger society can be. Statistical variations in individual behavior are acceptable if the larger society is unaffected. Unfortunately for the conservative, reality can not be controlled. Individual variations will ripple through the system to create large changes. Since conservatives are beginning to realize this, they have made an increasing effort to regulate individual behavior such as same-sex orientation, to promote prayer in public schools and to impose Christianity as a de facto state religion. But Chaos Theory will ultimately defeat this effort.
REASON NUMBER 7: MAJOR RELIGIONS SUPPORT LIBERALISM.
If it’s true that our behavior impacts others, than the Judaic precept that we are our Brother’s (and Sister’s) keeper (see the story of Cain and Abel), the Christian precept that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the Islamic precept that all are brothers clearly support the liberal belief in promoting the common welfare. Liberals see that the values of true religion, love, justice, human dignity, and equity, transcend the daily day-to-day precepts of legalism, and petty religious rules and regulations.
Although it is self-evident that the golden rule of Christianity is incompatible with extreme conservatism at least as it is practiced these days, a short quotation from James 2: 1-6 should drive home the message in an especially pointed way.
"My brothers…don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here’s a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, "you stand there” or "sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? …But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?”
From the earliest questions asked of God in the Garden of Eden, "Am I my brother’s keeper?” to the development of Judaic Law, the values of liberalism are displayed. The Torah and the Old Testament offer many examples. The story of Cities of Refuge is one. A person accidentally killing another could flee to one of these cities and be heard. The old law of revenge no longer existed in these places. The first woman judge was a Hebrew named Deborah. However probably the most important contribution of Judaism to the liberal belief system is the Doctrine of the Covenant. Under this concept as God entered into a covenant with humans, the government enters into a covenant with the people. No one is above the law and the government that violates or neglects this trust may be replaced. Judaism was a shining light in the ancient world.
The Koran promotes the principle of the universal justice of God and the Brotherhood of humanity. Moslems are urged to give alms to the poor, practice humility, act patiently in their dealings with others, forgive their enemies, and return good for evil. They are even forbidden to accept usury! The Koran commands its followers to adhere to fair treatment of neighbors and outsiders. Although later elements of Islam became extreme, liberal principles form the base of early Islamic religion.
REASON NUMBER 6: HISTORY FLOWS TOWARD A MORE LIBERAL SOCIETY.
Other than the Nazi movement in the Second World War, the Roman Empire was probably the most fascist government in western history. Only natural-born Romans or one who could afford to buy Roman citizenship could obtain a fair trial. Romans routinely crucified criminals for the most minor offenses, condoned slavery, tossed people to the lions, and conducted a host of other evils that we would not tolerate today.
With the arrival of the renaissance and reformation, and rise of the Enlightenment, civilization slowly began improving its behavior toward its citizens. There were to be sure some regressions; a few of those were southern slavery and the industrial revolution with its child sweatshops (Products by the way of a pro-industrial, social Darwinist, conservative value system).
However in general, society progressed toward a more enlightened treatment of people and the environment. Unfortunately, we are now in a period of regression; the Republican Congress is attempting to destroy years of environmental improvement, attempting to end fair and reasonable workplace safety and attempting to unfetter big business so it can return to the low pay and sweatshops of the past. However, this is only regression. Liberal ideas will continue; all the armies in the world cannot stop them, and history's flow will again restore these lost gains.
REASON NUMBER 5: LIBERALS HAVE A GREATER SENSE OF HUMOR AND ARE MORE FUN TO HANG AROUND WITH.
Although right wing talk shows hosts and conservatives are not known for their humor and take themselves far too seriously, the little humor that is present is usually at the expense of others. It mocks others because of their gender, race, sexual preference, or economic situation. Unfortunately, most right wing talk shows daily spew forth a litany of hate, anger, and prejudice that results in tragedies like Oklahoma City. Liberals can laugh at themselves and others especially when those others make fools of themselves. Such humor expresses itself in satires like Murphy Brown.
REASON NUMBER 4: LIBERALS TEND TO BE ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN.
The questioning of authority, whether that authority is a religion, the system, the law, or society, is a hallmark of a liberal thinker. Their only allegiance is to their ideas and values, not to the values of an economic system or a religion. In the marketplace of ideas, liberals will examine issues and draw conclusions based not only on reason but also on intuition and gut feelings. Liberals recognize that cold, analytical reasoning can be just as authoritarian as the most doctrinaire dictator, especially if that reasoning challenges fairness, justice, and equity. They will often test conclusions with their gut feelings. If a conclusion doesn’t feel right regardless of how well reasoned the conclusions, liberals will reject those conclusions.
One example of such questioning is the assumption that the role of profit is the most important value in our world; all other values even human lives are subservient if those values cost money. Conservatives are inconsistent on this point. They decry abortion as a moneymaking business; yet they will allow cigarette companies and chemical companies to poison our air because cleaning it costs too much. What does the overvaluing of profits do to us as a society or to quote a Revered Religious Figure: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
REASON NUMBER 3: LIBERALS HAVE WHOLESOME VALUES.
Liberals often see the joy in life vs. anger, hostility, and pain. It’s not that they don’t recognize pain; they just focus on reforming poor situations. As a liberal, one tends to be more tolerant of other’s mistakes, misjudgments, and errors. Liberals will take responsibility for changing things rather than trashing and blaming others, especially if those others are weak and defenseless. Justice and fairness are important values to a liberal. They don’t worship money, power, or material things. They would rather own themselves than possessions. They value the freedom that allows them to be themselves rather than allow a systematic imposition of another’s religious or economic values.
Liberals recognize they are not better than, only different from others. Liberals are far too busy to spend time on talk radio condemning those who disagree with them. Allowing others to be who they are without attempting to force change or imposing their values on those who differ with them is a liberal characteristic. They will listen to opposing arguments, agree to disagree, and attempt to persuade with reason. They are open to change if others’ ideas have validity, but will not accede blindly to opposing viewpoints.
REASON NUMBER 2: THE FOUNDING FATHERS WERE LIBERALS.
The Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution clearly have liberal overtones. Phrases like: Promote the common welfare (for the impoverished as well as the rich); Establish justice (for minorities and the disenfranchised as well as the well-to-do); Insure domestic tranquillity (for the battered and abused spouse and child as well as peace in the streets); That all are "created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” is a liberal concept; it does away with privileged classes and should provide a rationale to reduce the rapidly growing gap between the rich and poor and the elimination of the middle class. Had conservatives (Tories) had their way we would still be under British rule.
The Federalist Papers Number 57 discuses concerns that the House of Representatives will consist of, "That class of citizens which will have the least sympathy with the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few.… Who are to be the electors of the Federal Representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor, not the learned more than the ignorant, not the haughty, heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropituous fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States."
What a far cry this is from the current Conservative Republican Congress who are more concerned with what benefits they can bestow on business rather than how they can benefit the average American.
Again, in the Federalist Number 1 Alexander Hamilton says, "Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may… be…. the perverted ambition of another class of men who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country or will flatter themselves with the fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivisions of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government…that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.
History will teach us that the former has been found a more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number began their careers, by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”
Large Standing Armies Many times in the Federalist (especially Number 28, 29, and 30) and in other writings the Founding Fathers warn us of the dangers of large standing armies. This is a position that liberals have always assumed. Yet the Republican Conservative Congress has voted to boost Pentagon spending $7 billion above the amount requested by President Clinton. This is even more than the Pentagon requested. This is in spite of the warnings of large standing armies.
REASON NUMBER 1: THE TOP REASON FOR BEING A LIBERAL IS THAT LIBERALISM IS A SPIRIT MORE THAN A PHILOSOPHY.
Liberalism is a celebration of the human spirit. It is the belief that each person possesses value and each person, given the right support, can contribute to the nation, state, and community. In spite of one’s past errors, mistakes and upbringing, everyone who wishes can share a peace of the pie.
It is the willingness to try new things, even when they may fail. It is the belief that even failures are learning experiences. It is the willingness to grow, explore, and learn, both on a personal level and on a professional level. It is the putting aside of petty issues for the larger objective. In short, it is filled with excitement, purpose, and enthusiasm.
It is the willingness to examine long-held beliefs if new knowledge, experience, reason, or common sense call those beliefs into question. To have the courage to be open to new paradigms, to examine doubts, to go boldly where no one has gone before even when the outcome is uncertain; this is the quest of a liberal.
A liberal Anglican Bishop, George Lancshire, was asked once by a conservative colleague when he was going to grow up. The conversation went as follows:
Conservative, "It’s one thing when a college student questions his belief system; we can understand that. It’s something else altogether different when a 50 year-old or especially when a retired Anglican Bishop calls into question what he believes. You should be past that by now.”
Lancshire, "That may be true when the system of belief is a closed system. When all that can be learned is learned. But we don’t live in a closed system; knowledge doubles every few years. Physicists are close to discovering the secrets of the atom; biologists have almost mapped the DNA molecule; physicians are discovering the key to longevity and curing people. Every day more and more information is being poured into the sum of human knowledge. This knowledge often calls into question old beliefs. No my friend, unfortunately for some people we don’t live in a closed system.”
In this article, I have made no attempt to define liberalism. This is intentional. If liberalism is a spirit more than a philosophy, one has to ask, "How does one define the spirit of a concept?" To attempt to define the spirit of liberalism would be doing what conservatives do when they attempt to impose their beliefs on everyone. The spirit of liberalism recognizes that one is free to believe as one wishes, but stops short at attempting to impose that belief on others.
Doubtless our more left-brained, structurally demanding, brothers and sisters will object that without an underlying moral philosophy (theirs) one simply does and believes as one wishes. Society would be morally bankrupt. The liberal response is that the Creator gave us a brain with two sides; the right side of the brain is of the same value as the left in determining codes of behavior.
Does this mean that the liberal has no universal values or beliefs? The values and beliefs of the liberal are in the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Federalist and in countless other articles, pamphlets and writings of the Founding Fathers. The liberal may also consult with the great writings of Shakespeare, Plato, Buddha, Ghandi, and Thoreau, as well as countless others who have written and espoused liberal values down throughout the centuries. For in the final analysis, a true liberal realizes that his or her behavior will impact everyone and its effects will ultimately come back to rest on him or her.
The spirit of liberalism feels good. It feels good to believe in the positive side of people; it feels good to see that life is holistic and more than overvaluing business or profits at the expense of human need. It feels good to keep one’s soul, one’s integrity, rather than selling out to mindless, platitude-quoting mannequins who spout a company, a religious, or a political line. It feels good to think for ourselves. It feels good to choose our own path rather than dogma. It feels good to have a healthy attitude and to see humor, joy and hope in our future. It feels good, albeit sad, to pity those misguided souls trapped in their negativity, hopelessness and anger. And it feels good to know that a human-valuing future will come in spite of the best efforts of reactionaries to stop it.