Monday, January 18, 2010

Why I Am Not A Conservative, Part Deux

No action has ever been taken by Conservatives (self-styled) to make America a better place. By "better place" I mean: morally more understanding, socially more accepting, economically more successful.  The essence of liberal position is that we are obligated to use government to accomplish these goals.

To make citizens more understanding, we implemented public education.  While we often overemphasize the need of a good education to get a "good job," from the beginning an educated citizen was seen as essential to  a successful democratic government.
"The less wealthy people,... by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821.
Liberals have led the battle to make America a socially accepting society, in which the words "all men are created equal" would have weight and be borne out in daily life. Liberal thinkers and politicians have led the fights for the end to slavery, the end of child labor, the 40-hour work week, workplace safety, environmental protection, livable wages, universal suffrage.

They also have led the fights to maintain the liberties institutionalized in the Bill of Rights.

All of these struggles have been seen by liberals as essential to achieving the last goal, economic success. In the context of the nation, "economic success" means that all citizens possess the essentials: a decent, safe place to live, food on the table and clothes on their persons.

That's utopian. The many measures of the individual which prevent the achievement of the utopian vision will always be a part of our society.

And that's where government enters the equation.
The limitations of the human mind and imagination, the inability of human beings to transcend their own interests sufficiently to envisage the interests of their fellow men as clearly as they do their own makes force an inevitable part of the process of social cohesion. But the same force which guarantees peace also makes for injustice. -- Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
If superior abilities and services to society deserve special rewards it may be regarded as axiomatic that the rewards are always higher than the services warrant. No impartial society determines the rewards. The men of power who control society grant these perquisites to themselves. ... The inevitable hypocrisy, which is associated with all the collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective man an outrage to their conscience. -- Reinhold Niebuhr, ibid.
I agree with Niebuhr's assessment, quoted above, and agree with him that the burden then becomes one of accepting that injustice will always exist in society and attempting to minimize it. Since we can't eliminate injustice, the role of government is to minimize it by distributing it equally among citizens -- to prevent, by force as necessary, the economically and socially powerful from subjugating the economically and socially weak.

Like "liberal," "conservative" as a political descriptor paints a significant swath of belief. But all conservatives  have these factors in common. They believe that economic and social power are theirs by right, because they are superior to the "disadvantaged," that is, to those who are weak or powerless.
In the end, the minority has only those rights that the majority chooses to grant it. -- William Rehnquist
Unlimited power to exert injustice on their own behalf, in any form, underpins the conservative ethos in modern America.  And it is the only function of government, in their view, to protect that power. The conservative believes that it is "unjust" to "force" them to pay taxes in support of public relief for the homeless; and "just" -- in all circumstances -- for them to evict a family from a home and make them homeless.   The conservative believes that the homeless man has no absolute right to a place to live, but he (the conservative) has an absolute right to prevent the homeless man from finding a place to live.

Conservatives opposed liberation of slaves, opposed universal suffrage, opposed the end to child labor in factories, opposed the end to segregated schools, opposed the inclusion of women in the work force, opposed voting rights for black Americans. That legacy of opposition to the expansion of political rights and social acceptance is still being built on today, as conservatives oppose programs to provide medical care to children (SCHIP), aid to impoverished schools, aid to children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Head Start), and yes, aid to families that are in danger of losing their homes.

I don't believe it is possible for a conservative to imagine any circumstance in which government should be allowed to "force" him to do what is  obviously, morally right. The very act of being "forced" to help his neighbor renders such help immoral, in his view. In fact, the conservative believes that the very fact of an individual needing help demonstrates that person's moral turpitude. When the conservative says "I believe in personal responsibility," he means that he doesn't give a damn why you need help, he's not going to help you because whatever happened to you, it's your own fault. You deserve to suffer.

And that's why I'm not a conservative. It's impossible to be a conservative without being covetous and I'm not covetous. It's impossible to be a  conservative without regarding your economic success as demonstration of your moral superiority.  Not a single day goes by, in which I do not acknowledge to myself that I am unworthy.  My life is built on the acceptance of that grace which I have been granted and with which I struggle.
My job is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. -- Mother Jones
I, as a liberal and a Christian, believe that God brought me here to do his work. The measure of my success is not how much I accumulate but how much I help. I acknowledge the limits of my success and how far I have yet to go. That's the nature of being a liberal.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting, the Bible clearly states that man cannot 'slave for God and for riches'.
    There's a whole arm of Christianity now that claims that Jesus had money and was a wealthy man (talk about cherry picking the Bible!) and that 'God wants us to have money to help others'. Well, I can tell you the percentage of rich people who are really using it to help others is pretty darn small!