Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Left, Right, and Liberal

Why do I typically complain about the Left/Progressives and not say much about the Right/Conservatives. Well, first, the fact that the Right is illiberal is sufficiently clear to most everyone, especially those on the Left. What is less clear to many is the illiberality of the Left. Further, "Conservative" isn't an ideology -- it is a stance. Today's Progressive is (when their programs are passed) tomorrow's Conservative. Conservatives in the 1960's opposed Medicare and Medicaid. Conservatives today defend Medicare and Medicaid and seek ways to fix and save the programs. Bush II even expanded Medicare considerably. And his Republican Congress was the one that passed the bill to do so. When Conservatives are actively expanding Progressivist programs, one comes to understand the exact relationship between Conservatives and Progressivism. Classical liberals have consistently opposed Progressives' government programs. They do so not because they "hate the poor" or some such nonsense. No, they are in fact concerned about the poor -- and want their intentions to match the outcomes of their actions. Good intentions are not good enough, as is the case with Progressives. More, classical liberals understand that the knowledge problems that explain why central planning cannot work in the economy, why central planning can never give rise to a creative, dynamic scientific community, and why central planning cannot give rise to a creative, dynamic artistic/literary community also explain why central planning of philanthropy does not work well.

Conservatives are traditionalists who want to conserve whatever exists now (or, perhaps, a decade or two ago). They do not want change, they typically believe that people have to be kept in order by a strong government, do not really trust people to do what is right for them, and believe society has a purpose (to conserve the culture). Progressives want to ignore history, ignore the culture, and rationally construct everything, and do so as an example of how compassionate they are -- no matter what the real world outcomes may be. They want radical change unconnected to what currently exists, that people are controlled by their social environments (which is why it must be overthrown and replaced with a better one), that people cannot be trusted to do what is in their own best interest, and believe society has a purpose/goal (the "just society," as conceived by someone). Classical liberals are traditionalists who favor change -- just not change for the sake of change, nor change unconnected to the current culture, but change that is consistent with the institutions in place, changing as conditions change. We believe in changes on the margin, that people will interacting peacefully if given the chance, that people can be trusted to know their local conditions better than someone who is not there and does not know them, that society does not have a goal or purpose, but that our culture is foundational to everything else in society.

The real issue is whether or not society has a purpose. If it does, humans can and should be harnessed to fulfill that purpose. If it does not, then humans should be left alone to fulfill their own purposes. A social institution with a purpose is known as an organization. If one can freely leave that organization (as one can do with a firm one works for), there is no problem with such organizations being in existence. But if one cannot freely leave (as with a state), then one is enslaved. Oddly, the Progressives who complain about those organizations we can freely leave are typically the same people who think we should submit ourselves to organizations we cannot freely leave.
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