Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Liberalism: The Grown Up Choice

There is a much bandied about Winston Churchill quotation that everyone knows. It goes like this:

"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains."

Well, if that’s true, then I neither have a heart or a brain. When I was younger (before I had kids) I was a conservative libertarian (much in vogue now: I always miss the important fads!), and now that I’m older, am married with two kids and a mortgage, and am gainfully employed, I find my politics have moved steadily leftward. I may be at an evening out point now, but I’m certainly no conservative. In high school, my heroes were Penn Jillette and Dennis Miller. I don’t really have heroes anymore, because I don’t believe in saints. I don’t believe in utopias either.

What I do believe is that a society can work, and that the welfare state is worth sustaining and growing. My kids live here. I want to pass a world down to them that, although inevitably imperfect, is going to function more or less the way it was planned. And for that to be the case, perimeters have to be established and infrastructure has to be put in place that is capable of providing a safety net for them when they fail or get sick. It has to create a level playing field for them to compete on, and create spaces for them to gain an education, and allow them to deepen their experience with recreational activities. It has to encourage—and enforce—the preservation of our natural resources. This is not Beastie Boys liberalism. This is nuts and bolts grown-up stuff.

As I get older (and more invested in the success of this society), I find it difficult to understand the average talk radio listener’s version of ‘what America should be’. I always want to ask them if they have children, and whether or not they want their children to grow up in the Wild West.

You see, even those objectivists who claim that self interest and ‘the invisible hand of the market’ can be trusted to direct traffic and ensure justice don’t go far enough with their thinking. They don’t realize that it is indeed in their self interest to make sure their neighbors aren’t starving, or being mistreated by their employers. It’s in their interest to ensure that their neighbors have healthcare. Don’t they have children? Do they want those children to grow up next door to people on the verge of cannibalism?

This teabag thing, it isn’t for me. I’m willing to pay taxes in exchange for a civilized society. If we were longer out of the trees, if reason were more evident in man than superstition, I may be willing to talk about the libertarian paradise that so many people haven’t fully thought through. But until then, I will say that libertarianism (like communism) seems to work well on paper, but it would never work in reality. No pure system ever would. We’re too complex.

But we can have a system, and I think the one we’re working on is a big, clunky step in the right direction. These utopian, fantasist teabaggers are herd creatures. They’re lazy reactionaries who don’t appreciate the dull, repetitive, un-sexy work that goes into making a society solvent, and they’re apparently unwilling to put in the kind of intellectual leg work that goes into making democracy matter.

They’re a predictable bunch. Spinoza had their number long before any of them were born:

"Only under the dominion of fear do men fall a prey to superstition; that all the portents ever invested with reverence of misguided religion are mere phantoms of dejected and fearful minds; and lastly, that prophets have most power among the people, and are most formidable to rulers, precisely at those times when the state is in most peril."

Holding up the apparatus of government may not be as fun as holding up signs in front of government buildings, but it’s necessary if we want to continue thriving as a people.

cross posted at Kos


Lodo Grdzak said...

I'm at least (10) years older than you Spence--and I have older relatives. So I can assure you that what's considered"left" or "liberal" now was simply moderate and even moderate Republican 25-30 years ago. No Republican gave a shit about abortion until Reagan discovered it could be used as a wedge issue with Catholics. Republicans always favored lax immigration rules since it meant cheap labor and represented the free-flow of trade. The Brady Handgun Bill was inspired by a former Reagan cabinet member's injuries at the hands of a would-be Reagan assassin, and it was Reagan himself who proudly proclaimed "Deficits don't Matter!" "Let" and "right" are moron terms.

The question that Libertarians are asking is "Do you still want to live together as a country? Or should we just co-habitate amongst ourselves with have's, have-nots, and the coercion/exploitation implied by such an arrangement.

Spencer Troxell said...

Well said, Lodo.

Willie Y said...

This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. ....Benjamin Franklin

Spencer Troxell said...

Benjamin Franklin could turn out a good quote every now and then when he wasn't too busy chasing tail.