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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hands Off My Toothbrush!
posted by Bathus

Two days before Christmas, I received the following email from a young scholar seeking wisdom:
Hi. My name is L__ B____ and I am a student of philosophy at the University of Colorado and for one of my many essays due next term, I have chosen to write about the two dominating political spectrums in America: conservative and liberal. The purpose of my essay is to write which one I think is best for America, and why, and to convince my professor into believing it as well. But I have one problem; I don't know what the conservatives and liberals believe, and I need more than a dictionary definition to write the entirety of my essay. So what I'm asking of you is if you could kindly describe in detail what you believe to be the conservative ways and beliefs, and what is your opinion of both Bush and Kerry. I would also be very much obliged if you could tell me whether you think the majority of conservatives are republican or democratic. Okay, so maybe I have been living in a nutshell, but I just wish to be more politically literate, and I just figured that this would be an effective way.

Many thanks and a Happy Holidays,

L__ B____
My first reaction was mild indignation. How could any halfway serious philosophy student be so ignorant of politics?!?! Dear child, how insultingly presumptuous of you to think I, or anyone else, would be so easily fooled into supplying text to fill your pathetic little essay. Read Plato, read Locke, read Hume, read Burke, read Tocqueville, read Mill, read Marx! Get off the damn internet and read something!

But with a moment's reflection on the state of our educational system, I surmised it's not L__ B____'s fault that, apparently without acquiring the slightest familiarity with either the thought of the great political philosophers of the western tradition or the dogmas of their contemporary intellectual progeny, she has nonetheless applied and been admitted to a philosophy program at a major state university. When a child discovers that she has until now lived as a hardwood embryo, one must try to do some justice to the modesty with which she acknowledges her ignorance, to her apparently sincere wish to emerge from her "nutshell" and to become "more politically literate."

And somewhere at the core of my indignation, mild though it was, was the thought that, notwithstanding my conviction that David Brooks is not one, perhaps I myself am not exactly sure what a "conservative" is.

How impolite are the youngsters these days to ask questions their elders cannot smoothly answer!

The truth is, the best questions are usually the most naive. So I thank you, L__ B____, for honoring me with your very good question. I will take a stab at it, not by trying to define what a conservative is (you warned me not to do that), but by mumbling around the question in my usual long-winded way. Sorry, L__ B____, what follows is a disordered ramble, but there's no graceful way, and no other honest way, to approach a question like yours. And though I am sure you would never try to pass off my words as your own, and would hardly be pleased with your grade if you did, yet one of your classmates might not be so honest. So rest assured there's nothing here that will fit neatly into a college essay. Instead, I have tried with my rough and ready tools to scarify around the surface of your shell-prison whence, with a little moisture and warmth, might be germinated a seedling of thought that could grow to be hardy and strong in its own way.

Judging from my own conversations with others who don't object to having one or the other of those terms, conservative or liberal, applied to themselves (and let us here happily ignore the "moderates," because any mush-brain who would claim that title deserves no further attention until the week before a national election), it certainly seems that in our times the labels are, in the vast majority of cases, little more than handy shorthand to group together persons who, without regard to any unifying "political philosophy" and perhaps more as a result of fortuitous circumstances (e.g., family tradition, social circle, economic status, youthful indoctrination, ethnic solidarity) happen to have settled upon similar positions on a majority of the issues that, for the moment, constitute the sacred litany of contemporary political life: abortion, gun control, the death penalty, the welfare state, federalism, property rights, church and state, civil rights. (Less easy to fit into the litany are fundamental questions of privacy, free speech, and foreign policy, as to which it seems that consistency truly is the hobgoblin of little minds--either that, or on such issues perhaps what really matters is whose oxen is being gored.)

L__ B____, if you stop reading now, you might be able to crib a sentence or two from the lines above to use in your paper, but your prof will know it was plagiarized because no undergraduate has the patience to compose sentences as circuitous as the ones you've just read. But if you do read on, there's a chance you'll never finish your paper at all. So maybe you'd better stop reading now.

If you ask either liberals or conservatives what is the single unifying political principle to which they can trace their positions on all of these aforementioned issues, few if any could answer very well. Most would quickly become tangled in what appear to be serious contradictions. (Conservatives--or for that matter, liberals-- whose political views are derived from religious beliefs might be an exception, in that they might well be able to point to the Divine Word as the unifying principle. But what we are seeking here is a unifying political principle, not a unifying religious principle.)

Yet it should be no shocking discovery that few, if any, either liberals or conservatives (including myself!) can give a safisfactory rational account of a fundamental political principle, or at least a set of related and non-contradictory fundamental principles, from which they consistently derive their positions on all the various issues of the day. It is a rare thing that any human being can give an honestly rational account of any of the choices he makes in life, from the most trivial to the most momentous. We humans are much better at rationalizations that justify our desires than we are at being rational.

But fortunately for us, fortunately for us conservatives at least, in admitting this failing of human rationality perhaps we have stumbled upon an idea, which--if not exactly a full-blown political principle--supplies the place of one until the happy day when we acquire true wisdom: Human beings are fallible creatures, capable of reason, but driven about mercilessly by their passions. Every decent political system, though aiming always to improve the virtues of its citizens, will take into account the reality of the non-rational, and even the irrational, aspect of human nature. No decent political system will presume to oppose fundamental human nature. No decent political system will presume to transform human beings into angels or gods. By the same token, no decent political system will presume that humans are devils who must be always controlled soley by threat and force.

You already know, and I hope you never forget, that love--both the erotic and the filial--is at the center of our humanity. Anger is also human. And, yes, dear liberals, hatred is also human, as is acquisitiveness. How shall we formulate a political system to deal with these things at the center of our humanity--love, anger, hate? Not by trying to eradicate them, but with political principles that account for the reality of human passions, by encouraging their best and most civilized expression and by discouraging their most bestial expression--orienting ourselves in that task with a view to what is reasonably possible for humans, not by what we would expect of angels nor by what we would fear from devils. Angels may walk among us in human form, and humans can sink to level of demons, but governments cannot be made for them. The one does not need it; the other is not amenable to it.

Love is no evil, but universal love for all is within the capacity of only the diety. Neither is human anger evil. Justified righteous anger is a truly noble thing, rousing us to stand our ground in the face of otherwise horrifying evil, rousing the strong to defend the weak when there is no profit to be gained by the battle. And (this is where a liberal mind will be shocked), just as love is not evil, and anger is not evil, neither is hatred evil--so long as you hate what deserves to be hated. I hate injustice. I hate those who knowingly, selfishly, perpetrate injustice. I want them punished. I'm a hater. All good conservatives know how to hate well. (Liberals are afraid to hate, and they all say they despise it, but that does not seem to prevent them from being quite good at it themselves, not if there's a "smirking chimp" from Texas in the White House.)

Yet I am also a lover. All good conservatives are lovers. They love their own wives more than they love their neighbor's wife. They love their own children more than they love their neighbor's children. Yes, dear liberals, that means you will have to make a very good case for why you should deprive my neighbor of the right, duty, and honor of demonstrating his love for his children by requiring me to bestow the fruits of my labor upon his children rather than upon my own.

Love of one's own--one's own children, one's own family, one's own country--is a great unifying and motivating force in human life. Love of one's own is a great and irrational political reality, binding together families, communities, nations, and peoples. It is also one of the things that makes us conservatives go to work every day and work hard for our own children. But if the fruits of my labor will just be taken away and given to my neighbor's children, then I might as well work less and spend the extra time with my kids. For this, the liberals call me "selfish." They say I'm selfish because I can't subscribe to a watered-down pseudo-cosmopolitan sort of love, which demands that I care about a child a half a world away. I'm sorry. I'm not selfish. I'm human. Or maybe it's the same thing. What kind of society would have parents who don't care more for their own children than they do for anybody else's? That would be a society in which nobody really cared for children at all. And I fear that's the direction we're headed. Where everybody claims to love everybody, but everybody sits around waiting for the government to take care of their own children. The liberals say, "It takes a village." That is all well and good, but before you can have a village, you have to have a family. What it really takes is a parent, better yet, two parents (one male, one female, the way nature intended it). For us frail humans, love becomes too diffuse, weak, and thin if we expect that all must love all. No political system can be built upon the idea that all must love all, and all must take care of all. But the idea that a husband loves his wife and a parent loves his child must be accounted for and encouraged somehow in every decent political system. And building up from those natural attachments of nature that we feel for our kith and kin, an attachment to one's own community, and one's own country can be nurtured. But when the bonds of family are weakened too much, the bonds of the larger society cannot remain established. This fact of human nature has something to do with why conservatives talk so much about "family values." What I know is, for me my kid comes first. And I hope your kids, when you have them, come first for you, because if you don't take care of them, I guess I will try to pitch in to help them out, but over my dead body are some lazy no-good man's kids going to get from me as good as I give to my own kid. Yeah, I know it's not their fault. But it's not my fault either. It's human nature. Good luck trying to change that!

One point I am stumbling towards with that last paragraph is that fair and just societies cannot be built upon the dubious principle that everybody has to be equal to everybody else, so that you think you are justified taking property away from me so you can make somebody else's kid equal in material goods to mine. Justice is not the same thing as material equality. Yes, a certain level a material equality is good and necessary, especially in democratic societies like ours, and extreme inequality would as a practical matter absolutely foreclose the possibility of democracy. Yet Tocqueville (one of those "dead white guys" the liberals will probably try to teach you to hate--but he was French, so maybe the liberals will forgive you for reading him) understood that the love of equality, which is almost second nature to all citizens of democracies, is a terribly dangerous passion. The blind love of equality is hardly better than the passion of a mob that seeks to level everything. And indeed, if everybody were truly equal, that would be the definition of a mob--leaderless and ungovernable. Social order requires reasonably accurate distinctions between things and people. Distinctions necessarily imply inequality. Democratic societies (small d) have trouble living with distinctions. So there is an inevitable tension arising from love of equality in democratic societies. We want to think that everybody is just as good as everybody else. In a democracy, it's considered impolite to suggest that someone is "better than" someone else. (That's one reason why your profs hand out so many cheap A grades. They just don't feel good about the idea that a few people could be "better than" everybody else.) So in democracies, we want to think that nobody's opinion is better than anybody else's. Of course that's just not true, otherwise you'd save money by taking your plumber's advice on open heart surgery.

Equality before the law is one thing. Conservatives must insist upon that. But that doesn't mean everybody is innocent. Some people are guilty. And they deserve to be punished. Some people are better than other people, too, and they deserve to be rewarded. The good thing about our political system is that, up to now at least, it has done a remarkably good job of leaving people free to pursue by their own lights the kind of material rewards that are important to them, and in the process that system has generated an historically unparalleled level of material comfort for practically everyone, not to mention social freedom, which by the way ain't cheap. It's hard to find anyone who is really poor in America. (Can you call a person poor if he has a cell phone?) Our system ain't perfect, but I know of no better.

Yet in a democratic society like ours, the blind love of equality can overturn even our other great political love, which is the love of freedom. Given the choice between freedom and equality, our instinct as citizens of democracy inclines us to choose equality. Whether we are conservative or liberal, we are all (small d) democrats these days, which means that-- whether or not we admit it to ourselves--we all get just a little irked when we see somebody who has more nice stuff than we do. (This is an example of unjustified righteous anger.) When we see somebody with more stuff than we have, we all tend to say to ourselves, "Well he doesn't deserve it because his daddy was rich," or "he just got lucky," or "he got his money in a not-so-nice way." That's because superior wealth offends our love equality, and it's good to have these rationalizations handy when we want to take other people's property away from them because we think they are too rich. But rather than satisfying the love of equality in this way, wouldn't it be better for everybody if we'd all just put more effort into striving to get the particular stuff we want for ourselves and leave other people's property alone? You might think it is trivial, but isn't there something intrinsically enobling when a person can say to himself, "These things I own--this house, this car, even this cell phone--modest they are, but these were got by my own labor!" Don't you yourself feel better about the things you earn through your own effort than about the things that are just handed to you?

Yes, we conservatives know this about all citizens of established democracies, that our love of equality is a powerful second nature to us because we are products of a democratic society. The love of equality is in everybody's blood. So we conservatives try to be on guard against giving in to our irrational love of equality, whereas liberals seem to surrender to their love of equality at the drop of a hat. And to justify their utter hatred of inequality, the liberals have created a sacred mythology of victimology, according to which we are all of us oppressed by some malignant evil "power" like the vague "powers" that Al Gore tried to warn us about back in 2000. (This is the point at which I might ordinarily launch into a diatribe on pernicious "relativism," which feeds the envy of inequality like gas on a fire, but that digression would expire your patience.) Unlike liberals, we conservatives are extremely skeptical when somebody tries to play on our love of equality, a passion which is hardly distinguishable from that ugly vice that used to be called "envy." When some politician starts telling us about how the government needs to take more from the rich, we are pretty sure he's trying jerk us around by our passions. We are also pretty sure that he's going to take a good chunk of our money along with whatever he can squeeze out of the "rich." And when he starts pandering to us about how the "middle class" is so put upon by the rich, it helps to remember all those children of supposedly overburdened middle-class families, like me and soon you, too, who receive college degrees at richly-subsidized state public universities. (Thanks to public university systems, any kid, like you are now or like I was thirty years ago, with half a brain and a good work ethic has a damn fair shot at grabbing whatever brass ring strikes his fancy, if he's willing to work for it.) Or think about grandpa whose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cancer treatment was all paid for by Medicare. True conservatives know the middle class has got it good as gold in this country--because the middle-class has got the most votes.

Freedom and equality. It's a balancing act. Ours is an acquisitive and materialistic society. Please resist the knee-jerk reaction that "materialism" is a bad thing. If you think a materialistic society is a bad thing, then right now you need to shut off your computer, unplug it, and throw it out the window because, with its plastic and metal and all its other "materials," it is one of the great modern fruits of materialism. Toss your cell phone out after it! No, materialism--the pursuit of property--is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, compared to the alternatives toward which a society might be directed, such as the glories of military victory or the nirvana of Islamist martyrdom, materialism is a great thing. It's one of the finest pillars of our society, which I am unashamed to assert is easily among the best ever on earth, and the best of the largest that has ever been seen on this earth. Okay, a rich man might have a hard time getting into heaven (camel through the eye of a needle, so they say), but wealth never prevented anyone from doing good work here on earth, and actually makes it possible to do good on a grand scale. I hope you are very rich some day so you can do great good works! So right now you might wonder why am I talking about property in a paragraph that began with the words "freedom and equality"? I'm talking about property because your property is your freedom! Print that out and tape it above your monitor: Your property is your freedom!

Let me illustrate my point with a silly example: In the morning, you want to brush your teeth. You are free to brush your teeth, right? But only if you have a toothbrush. Without a toothbrush, your freedom to brush your teeth is worthless. Yes, strange as it sounds, your freedom to brush your teeth depends upon your ownership of that little piece of property, your toothbrush. Well, you might say, I don't have to actually own as private property the toothbrush that I use to brush my teeth. True enough, we could live in a society in which nobody actually owned his own toothbrush, where the toothbrushes were owned by everybody together as "communal property." ("Communal property" is really an oxymoron.) That sounds kind of gross, everybody sharing toothbrushes, but maybe we could get around the yucky aspects of communal ownership of toothbrushes by setting up a system where, even though nobody owned his own toothbrush, a specific toothbrush would be "assigned" to each of us to use. But the problem remains, it's still not your toothbrush. Even if you had a toothbrush assigned to you, your freedom to brush your teeth would then depend the good will of whoever has the power to hand out toothbrush assignments. The point here is, practically every act you do of any consequence (aside from thinking and perhaps having private conversations) depends upon your having access to the various pieces of property needed to perform that act. (Your freedom to surf the internet requires the computer you are looking at right now. Thank your dad for buying it for you. But if he gave it to you, it's fully your property now, free and in clear conscience, because he had the freedom to dispose of his property by giving it to you.) Now some free-spirited hippie straight from the sixties might tell you that I've got it backwards, that property inhibits your freedom. But he's probably whacked out on his pot, which he was not willing to share with me or you. (Bogart!) The right to acquire private property to use (within reasonable limits) as you wish, is the way you give meaning to your own political freedom.

If you read a little John Locke (Second Treatise, Chapter 5), he would explain--much better than I ever could--the vital principle that "property" is simply the another word for "the fruits of your labor." You create your property by your labor. And the right to control and dispose of the fruits of your own labor is THE essence of freedom. Think about freedom by thinking about its opposite, slavery. The definition of slavery is not that someone is forced to do work that he would not otherwise choose to do. If that were the real definition of slavery, then we almost all of us would be virtual slaves because few of us would do the work we do if we had a real choice not to. No, the true definition of a slave is a person who is not allowed to receive, keep and control the fruit of his labor. (Print that out, too!) The fruit of your labor is your property. To the extent you are deprived of the right to receive, keep, and control (i.e., spend!) the fruit of your own labor as you wish, to that same extent you are a slave. If the government takes half your income, you are half slave. Now I'm not so extreme as to say that there are not public necessities for which the government must tax the citizenry. We must allow a little bit of slavery in the form of taxation, and we are compensated (supposedly) by the power to vote on the way it will be spent. But the principle still stands that there is a point at which you slide into slavery as the government takes away an increasing portion of the fruit of your labor. So long as we keep that in mind, we can debate what percentage of taxation seems reasonable and necessary. (To be on the safe side, I much prefer a lower percentage.)

But someone might say, so what if the government takes almost all or even all of the fruits of our labor, but doles out to us everything we need, supplies us all with a nice clean, fresh sonicare toothbrush every day so that we can brush our teeth real good, and gives us everything else our little hearts could desire? Would that really be so bad? (It would sure seem take a lot of the worry out of life. Hell, I might just decide to stop wage-working altogether, and instead pursue my lifelong dream to be an NBA star. Never mind that I'm 5'6'' and fat as the door!) Well, in that case, we would still be slaves to that government--well-kept slaves of a beneficent slave-master, but slaves nonetheless. And since the slave-master is the one supplying you with the toothbrush, he figures he should be able to insist that you use it the right way. If you use it the wrong way, you might wear it out too quickly, or you might not do a good job of brushing, which means the government would have the added expense of having to fix your rotten teeth. So, in his beneficence and to save money for the greater good of society, your slave-master starts telling you that you must brush your teeth just this certain way, this many times a day, using just this brand of toothpaste, which has been certified as superior by a government commission on oral dentrifices. If you don't adhere to the government rules of toothbrushing, there'll have to be some unpleasant consequences for you to get you back in line! But it's all for your own good, because this slave-master government is a kindly master. Then one day you'll get a new slave-master, and he might not be so nice. He might decide to give toothbrushes only to those he considers to be especially deserving. He might decide that it's better for society as a whole if incorrigible people like yourself have your teeth rot out of your head and you starve to death. No toothbrush for you, you rabblerouser!

Okay, so maybe that's a silly exaggeration. But the point is on the mark: whatever you get from the government always comes with strings attached. It's not really yours to decide about. The government can dictate who gets its goodies, and what the recipient has to do in return to keep getting those goodies. If the government gives you "free" healthcare, it's certianly reasonable for the government to dictate behavior that affects your health. I'm not just talking about making everybody quit smoking and stop eating icecream. If you want government healthcare to fix your leg when you break it on the slopes, then the government is entitled to dictate just what kind of ski slope you are going to be allowed to ski down, or whether you'll be allowed to ski at all. Sorry, you have to stick to the beginner trails! In exchange for any goodies you get from the government, you have to surrender to the government a little piece of your freedom. Or maybe a big piece.

People talk about a "right to healthcare," but your real rights, your fundamental political rights established in the Constitution, are not rights to receive things from government, but your rights not to be dictated to by the government. Read the Constitution and tell me where you see a right to free healthcare. The reason it's not in there is because our wise founders wanted to preserve your rights, not to barter them away. You might think that if the government pays your medical bills that you are getting a "right to healthcare," but what you are getting is a material good, over which you have no genuine property right, in exchange for which you will be required to give up some of your real rights, which are your rights not to be dictated to by the government.

So maybe that's one difference between contemporary conservatives and contemporary liberals. Conservatives would prefer to own their own toothbrushes, even if they themselves can't afford the fancy sonicare brand, because they just don't trust government over the long haul, especially since they suspect that government is comprised of people no less selfish than themselves. They know that when government controls the fruits of people's labor, eventually it uses that power to reward those who go along with what the government wants and to punish those who disagree. Conservatives know that the right to private property is the solid ground of their freedom. They want to have the right to own their own toothbrush because they don't want the government to have control over when, where, and how they brush their teeth. They think it would be best if everybody else bought their own toothbrushes, too. They are not willing to risk their freedom for the sake of equality, especially when that sacrifice leaves it up to the government to decide who gets what.

Liberals feel genuinely disheartened that some poor kid somewhere is brushing with an old wooden toothbrush while some rich guy is using a fancy high-tech gadget. The inequality sticks in their craw. They insist the kid is a victim. They want everybody to have the same kind of toothbrush. So they are going to tax the heck out of sonicare toothbrushes and take that money and use it to create a "program" to provide a new and better plastic toothbrush to every kid like the one who was stuck using the wooden one. (They don't seem to notice that the kid who used to own his own wooden toothbrush now "owns" no toothbrush!) Liberals crave equality so much that to get rid of inequality they are willing to trust the government to decide who should be "assigned" which particular property. They think the government will use this power over the fruits of your labor only against people who are "rich" and "powerful" and for the benefit of the downtrodden. (Well, according to my reading of history, that would be a first.) They are not worried about what the government will do if it gets this power because they think that, in a society that adopts their principles, they themselves will naturally be the ones running the government. That's fine with them because although they believe power corrupts, they believe power only corrupts other people, that power does not corrupt good liberals. In other words, they yearn for a day when they and their kind will be your very beneficent slave-masters.

Sorry, L__ B____, that rambling will not serve you well at all for the paper you are trying to write. Really, the best thing I have told you was that any sound set of political principles will take into account the unalterable facts of human nature and will make human nature, both the passionate and the rational aspects of human nature, the first object of attention. So if you want to understand anything worth knowing about either politics or philosophy, you must become a student of human nature because politics and philosophy is all about human nature, its glories and its limits. So read some Plato and maybe some John Locke for starters. And read some good literature, too. (Jane Austen never fails.) But I honestly can't say for sure whether Plato or Locke or Austen would be considered liberal or a conservative nowadays. I do know they're worth reading far more than anything you'll get from me or anyone else you happen to run across on the internet.

At this point, you don't know enough and can't learn enough about these things before your paper is due, to take a firm stand about whether it's better to be a liberal or a conservative. But please don't take the easy way out by trying to claim it's better to be a moderate. I'm all for moderation--it's almost my favorite virtue--yet I promise you, you'd better be nothing, neither liberal or conservative, than be a moderate. Does that make sense? Oh, well, you're young and you've got time to figure out a lot of things if you are willing to start getting serious about it.

posted by Bathus | 1/04/2005 01:36:00 AM
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Blogger SIGIAN said...

I'm more liberal than Bathus ;-) , and so will offer L.B. something she can actually plagerize:

One of the main differences between liberals and conservatives is their definition of "human progress". (Something both presumably desire and want their government to foster, at least as part of their operation.)

Liberals think "human progress" means primarily increasing equality and decreasing want - i.e. eliminating differences and satisfying material needs. Thus their admiration for socialism (and, in its day, communism) and support for nanny-statism.

Conservatives think "human progress" means primarily the enhancement of individual human dignity. They have no problem with increasing equality and satisfying material needs, but not at the cost of dignity, which comes first. Liberals respect human dignity, but place it decidely behind equality and materialism.

Human dignity is a bit psychological, and therefore difficult to define, but it is derived from:
• self-reliance
• personal liberty and freedom, meaning freedom from interference as much as freedom to enjoy life
• property (re-read Bathus' excellent post)
• fulfilling duties: to God, family, community, and/or nation; and being able to fulfill these duties in a heroic or courageous manner if able and so inclined.

So to a conservative socialism, having equality shoved down ones throat, and being dependent upon government entitlement programs are all antithetical to human dignity and in the conflict and political tug of war that results, they'll rate the promotion of dignity higher than the promotion of equality or the collective provision of material security if and where those values are disproportionately affected by government, as they so often are.

Since equality and material security are good things (all else being equal), liberals aren't evil people. They just have a flawed (or, if you insist, different) conception of the role of government. To achieve their values, they accept a government that's large, activist, confiscatory, and redistributive. Conservatives see such a government as anathema, and want one that's as small as possible and devoted primarily to essential services like national defense, printing money, running courts, regulating borders, and maybe the ocassional fun stuff that's beyond private enterprise like flying space missions or building official monuments to the founding fathers.

Conservatives believe government should tax as little as possible, make as few laws as possible, employ as few bureaucrats as possible, and provide social services only under the following conditions: 1) they can do so more efficiently than private enterprise, 2) they act as surrogates for private charity (where they are better able to function than private charities and when the public wants them to act) and employ the principles of enlightened private charity (no unlimited handouts and demanding, when possible, responsible behavior or reform in exchange for the gift), and 3) they never extend such a volume of services that the provision requires a significant diminishment of the average citizen's dignity (i.e. through confiscatory taxation or excessive regulation) and never amounts to wholesale redistribution of wealth that destroys personal initiative and the ability to fulfill duties. In other words, those who are taxed in order to provide free toothbrushes to the poor should feel privileged to pay those taxes, not coerced.

That's at least half the story. Some of the rest has to do with local versus remote political decision-making, and while that's related to the desire for maximal human dignity, there are other values involved and a slew of differences regarding the philosophy of government and theories of human nature. I'll leave that to the next commenter.

6:07 PM, January 06, 2005  
Blogger Pastor Mike said...

I have actually been raised in Finland and I have spent quite a bit of time in both Russia and the former Soviet Union (CCCP).
Finland's government would be easily termed socialist and the former Soviet Union was evidently, according to Sigian, a Liberal's Utopia. But, unlike what Sigian has seemed to have deducted, I never found any of the Liberal ideals lived out in Russia. Since human nature plays such a huge role in the dynamics of political ideals, the biggest problem with the Soviet Union was that everyone was equal - some were just much more equal than others. Communist Party members vacationed on the Black Sea at resorts while the average Josef lived in his dry-rotted cottage or in a state-built concrete box with no sewer traps or eye-appeal. It is funny how Communism, the Liberal's ideal, is so appealing until you have seen what they have done to the people. I've seen doctors in the state-run hospitals carrying blood in half-liter tin cups. I've seen orphans chained to radiators and full of head lice. But I must admit - all orphans were treated equal.
And while we are at it, let's talk about Europe's wonderful form of socialism. Socialized medicine? Everybody pays for it. The only problem is that you have to wait 6 to 9 months to have your cancer surgery, the government dictates how many times the doctor has to see you before you are allowed to receive a prescription from him. The best medicines are not dispersed or are given in useless dosages because the state cannot afford to provide you the healthcare it promised for raising your taxes because the money was used for all the other pet projects that are so much more important than making sure everyone is equal and assuring Olef's and Ulf's kids have the same opportunities before them. So, medical care costs more because the middle class pays taxes for socialize medicine and visits a private doctor they pay out of their own pocket. My friend took her son with a bleeding ear ache to the doctor three times before medicine was given. A physician friend in England said he receives regular dictates from the government on what type of service he can offer. I also asked him how hard it is to get back into medicine after he quit his practice twice before. He said, "I just read a few medical journals to catch up a bit and went right back to work."
And why is unemployment so high in ideal liberal Europe? Ten percent and up is quite acceptable. Simply stated, it is because unemployment benefits are often as good as the average Johan's salary with much more vacation time.
If that is not good enough, you can alway move to Utopia (CCCP)where your job was guaranteed. There was only one problem - rampant alcoholism and lack of productivity in the job place. Why? Because there are no conservatives to fire slackers and promote hard-working average Joes.

3:03 PM, January 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The way we define 'human' determines our view of self,
others, relationships, institutions, life, and future.
Important? Only the Creator who made us in His own image
is qualified to define us accurately. Choose wisely...
there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of false
and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised in man-
made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe. The
balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human reason
cannot fully function in such a void, thus, the intellect
can rise no higher than the criteria by which it perceives
and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure. However,
as with all measuring systems, a standard must be greater
than the value measured. Based on preponderant ignorance
and an egocentric carnal nature, humanism demotes reason
to the simpleton task of excuse-making in behalf of the
rule of appetites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament, cannot
invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist lacks
a predictive capability. Without instinct or transcendent
criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with foresight
and vision for progression and survival. Lacking foresight,
man is blind to potential consequence and is unwittingly
committed to mediocrity, averages, and regression - and
worse. Humanism is an unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with a
functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the foot-
dragging growth of human knowledge and behavior. Faith,
initiated by the Creator and revealed and validated in His
Word, the Bible, brings a transcendent standard to man the
choice-maker. Other philosophies and religions are man-
made, humanism, and thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival equip-
ment for today and the future.

Man is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature
and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of Criteria.
Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive characteristic
is, and of Right ought to be, the natural foundation of
his environments, institutions, and respectful relations
to his fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom
whose roots are in the Order of the universe.

See the complete article at Homesite:
"Human Defined: Earth's Choicemaker"

A Choicemaker
Psalm 25:12

5:38 PM, January 13, 2005  

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