Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Liberals and Conservatives Can't Get Along

WARNING: This observation is not meant to be comprehensive. I am purposely using broad generalizations, and don't mean to be offensive to anyone. This is just a general observation, and I realize that I may be wrong in specific areas.

It seems to me that liberals and conservatives are not all that different. They agree, in principle, on many core issues. But they seem to disagree on how those principles should play out in practical life.

What I mean is that among the issues that tend to define someone as liberal or conservative—such as perceptions about greed, the role of government, individual freedom and responsibility, and helping the poor—they seem to agree. Yet, at a glance, they only appear to differ in degree, not substantive, when it comes to these core issues.

  • Each agrees that greed is wrong. But liberals define greed as the desire to make large profits. Conservatives define greed as the desire to find security in wealth. In other words, you don't have to be rich to be greedy.
  • They both agree that the role of government should be limited. However, they differ on the amount and kind of limits government should occupy. For instance, liberals believe that government should not take all of a person's income, but as much as possible to achieve equality (in wealth) and justice (for the poor). Conservatives believe that government has no right to confiscate a person's income at all—except whatever needs to be given for the government to able to enforce the law.
  • They would both agree that individual freedoms should be protected. The problem is that freedom brings responsibilities. Liberals define those freedoms as being able to do whatever one feels is right, and not being told otherwise. However, they also believe we have a responsibility to respect the freedoms and rights of other people. Conservatives believe that freedom is the right to not be controlled by government fiat, our a minority of people. Yet they want government to curtail any encroachments upon individual freedoms by those who do not respect that.
  • Both groups see helping the poor as a social good. The problem is that liberals define helping the poor as a government mandate of redistributing wealth. Conservatives see it as an extension of individual freedom and responsibility. In other words, some people are free to fail or succeed financially. However, those who do well are to offer help to those who do not do well as an act of freewill kindness, not a government responsibility.
In all these cases, it seems evident that liberals and conservatives share common concerns, and it even seems logical that working out differences would be mutually beneficial. However, what appears on the surface as simple disagreements is anything but simple. Each difference stems from a central assumption that cannot be reconciled so easily. And that's the issue of truth. Are there values and realities that must be "conserved" or appealed to when making sense out of life? Is there a central reality that we must adhere to in making decisions that exists outside ourselves?

Each group answers that central question differently. As a whole, liberals say that human decision-making is not dependent on some mystical or ancient reality called Truth outside ourselves, but on practical outcomes. "Whatever works is right." Solving immediate concerns is more important than the possible impact of antiquated beliefs or historical lessons.

On the other hand, most conservatives disagree with this approach. They think, "Whatever works may not always be right." They favor the idea that there are proven values and truths that have existed for a very long time that will have an impact on our decisions whether we believe in them or not. Therefore, they must be preserved (or conserved) as foundational when making any decisions.

This fundamental difference is what causes conflict. Not the issues themselves.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Purpose of Government and the U.S. Constitution

Government and religion. Church and State. The law and faith. Many people talk this way when they try to express the relationship between belief systems and sanctioned force. I know some people don't like the idea of government being associated with force, but that's what government really is. The applied use of force. This force, properly applied, accomplishes an ordered society by punishing those who do wrong, fear for those who consider to do wrong, and acquitting the innocent.

The problem is when societies become prosperous. The natural distrust of government can become a complacent trust. I don't mean the kind of trust you may have when someone is telling you the truth. I am talking about the kind of trust that convinces you that government has your best interest at heart and will take care of your needs. That sort of trust is misplaced. Government doesn't naturally do this.

The founders of the U.S. government understood that men will do wrong when given the power to do so. They smartly created laws that provided checks and balances within, to make it difficult for the government to do what it would naturally do — which is to naturally grow and control all areas of life.

When people see the government as the means to prosperity they are more willing to give government an expanded role. But the problem with giving the government an expanded role, for this reason, is that prosperity never comes from government. Government doesn't create prosperity. It only can create a stable environment where prosperity is possible — but not guaranteed. And government, when given more power to control the lives of innocent people, becomes oppressive. And government is never satisfied with limited power.

Although government is God's idea — for he gave it to create stability — government is built on belief systems, not in lieu of them. How a government is set up is based upon what people believe, not in spite of what people believe. This is good and bad. Of course when God's laws are upheld — like just punishment for murder, rape, and thievery — societies operate cohesively. However, when government acquits the guilty and punishes the innocent, injustice prevails. And when government moves from governing to controlling, the government becomes oppressive.

So, when people began to misunderstand the role of government, the nature of man, and the supremacy of God, government will naturally grow to invade every area of our lives, and oppress the innocent. You cannot divorce the consequences of our beliefs from how we are governed.