Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Schizophrenia of Modern American Politics

November 1, 2005

Those of you who’ve been reading my rants regularly for the past few weeks probably think of me as a left-wing psychopath bent on domination of the government by baby-killing, tree-hugging liberals. I got news for you; I’m as conservative as they come, and the fact that I rail against the current political status quo proves it. I unfortunately happen to be part of a dying breed: the political conservative with socially liberal views. I think each is a logical correlate of the other, and this is why I hate the two-party system. The reigning political parties have become horrifically schizophrenic in their ideology, presumably as a result of their attempts to pander to everyone without alienating anyone.

The problem with lumping “conservatives” all into the same party is that the views of political conservatives and social conservatives are diametrically opposed. Political conservatives think government needs to stay the hell out of people’s lives, that its sole purpose is to perform the bare-bones, absolutely necessary function of helping to keep us all from hurting each other to get what we want. Political conservatives recognize government as a necessary evil that is needed to maintain a military for self-defense and enforce laws against violence. They believe that to be free is to be unregulated.

Social conservatives, on the other hand, want everyone to believe the way that they do, share their moral code and accept it as objectively correct. They want to see Sunday treated differently from other days of the week because it is their day of worship, want to see god explicitly referred to in legislation, and they think that if most people have certain superstitions then it’s okay to enshrine those superstitions in laws which apply to everyone. Their logic goes that democracy is majority rule and their traditions are in the majority, so they should rule.

The rift between social liberals and political liberals creates a similarly schizoid party of just “liberals.” A political liberal wants Mommy Government to take care of people, expects support from his fellows when he is unable or unwilling to provide it to himself. The political liberal looks to government to help define the societal place of each and every individual, imposing on the state the duty to act as ombudsman of equality. The social liberal, on the other hand, thinks individuals should be free to do as they like and determine their own futures without the interference of Uncle Sam. Ask any party-line Democrat and he will tell you he believes people should be free to do as they like—but he will also tell you that it is the government’s job to mitigate the consequences of bad decisions. This is just plain crazy.

Political liberalism and social conservatism are absolute anathema to the entire idea of America. In fact, when combined they create totalitarianism, a system in which the government provides for the psychological and physical well-being of its citizens by supplying them with the beliefs and material goods it decides they need in order to be happy. The core of the American political ideology is a rough-and-tumble expectation that each individual is self-determining and will do what is necessary to achieve his own goals and defend his own beliefs, not have them handed to him on a silver platter stamped with the Presidential seal.

Sure, the founding fathers were Christian (well, technically deists) but they instituted a system of government that created the much-vaunted marketplace of ideas. The entire purpose of the freedom of speech granted by the First Amendment is to promote the spread of those ideas that are most useful to the people at large, most desired in the free and open exchange of thought, EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT THE IDEAS OF THE FOUNDERS. This system of exchange is what our forefathers sought to protect, not the ideas that dominated the marketplace at the time the Constitution was written. I think this is an incredibly important and all too often overlooked aspect of the founders’ approach to government: they recognized their own fallibility. This is critical to recognizing the schism between political conservatism and social conservatism. The social conservative says, “Good enough for the founders of my nation is good enough for me. I will live the way they lived.” The political conservative says, “Good enough for the founders of my nation is good enough for me. I will govern the way they governed.”

The ideological underpinnings of American governance are not dogmatic in definition but in process. The Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, is barely 5,000 words long; it defines not the laws of America but the framework under which they shall be made. Our founders constructed a document dedicated to preserving flexibility and encouraging change in society and law while preserving the process whereby the government goes about its duties.

The political conservative holds fast to the value of self-determination and eschews government interference at every turn; he believes that old government was good government not least because it was small. The social conservative would legislate his own choices and call it “tradition,” expecting the legal system to reinforce his own presuppositions. The political liberal would use Uncle Sam as the Great Equalizer, preventing those who make good choices from getting too far ahead and keeping those who make bad choices from falling too far behind. The social liberal, on the other hand, believes all should be free to do as they please and act on their beliefs as long as they harm no one.

This is completely insane, and it makes me wonder how anyone can take either party seriously. I’d really like to know what those of you who consider yourselves conservative or liberal in the modern American sense of the terms have to say about this. Do you agree with my characterization of the political / social split? Do you think this looks schizoid? Please e-mail me with thoughts and opinions, because these contradictions between the parties’ political and social philosophies have been bugging me for a long time.


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