Sunday, August 01, 2004

Is Liberal vs. Conservative the Only Alternative?

Have you ever wondered why liberals and conservatives believe what they believe, and which side is right and which is wrong? Have you ever thought that something is fishy when the two main competing political viewpoints in Western Civilization are no closer to resolving their differences after endless years of debate? Doesn’t it seem that, if one side were largely correct in its beliefs and the other side were largely incorrect, most people on the wrong side of the debate would have given up by now and started going over to the other side, if only to stop losing the arguments and to be on the winning side?

Well, if you have ever thought that something is not right about this situation, and you don’t want to be just another conservative or liberal lost in the endless debate, and you want to figure out what’s really going on here, then its time to step back and consider the underlying premises - the fundamental philosophical ideas - that liberals and conservative hold.

I have often wondered about such issues, and I am sure that many other thoughtful people have wondered about them as well. In the following posts, I am going to try to elucidate these questions and try to reach some conclusions.

First, let’s briefly look at the most prominent policies that liberals and conservatives advocate.

Conservatives advocate religion as the basis of a good society - specifically the Judeo-Christian religion. They argue that a good and just society requires good and just people, and that religion provides the values necessary for people to aquire these moral characteristics. Along these lines, conservatives advocate many laws originating from their religious doctrines, e.g., regulating obscenity, outlawing abortion and gay marriage, allowing religious prayer in public schools, and more recently, providing government funding for religious charities. Conservatives argue that individuals are responsible for their lives and actions, and therefore, they generally advocate limiting government power in the economic realm, allowing businesses to function freely so long as they do not violate minimum regulations. Also, they advocate lowering taxes, as well as allowing individuals the right to possess firearms. Finally, conservatives advocate a strong defense function for the government, both domestically, and internationally. This has been highlighted especially in recent years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Liberals advocate extensive domestic government activity in the economic realm as the key to achieving a good and just society. They argue that such strong government activity is necessary to enable people to achieve a better quality of life and to prevent other large social institutions, primary large corporations, from exploiting and harming individual citizens. Examples of such government activities include extensive regulation of businesses, and government provision of healthcare, welfare, schooling, and retirement benefits. Also, connected to their advocacy of strong domestic government regulation, yet a separate category in itself, liberals believe that the government must protect nature, or the environment, from intrusion and exploitation by human economic activities. Liberals are strong supporters of international institutions, and they largely reject actions taken by the U.S. in defiance of international opinion. Finally, in concert with their less doctrinaire acceptance of traditional religion, Liberals are advocates of the rights to abortion and gay marriage.

To be continued.

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