by B. Barker
“A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)
A friend said to me the other day that everyone is born liberal and becomes conservative. I haven’t heard that before, but it’s a nagging doubt that every young, liberal minded person must have. Will I feel the same when I have property, family and the fear of something-to-loose, guiding my judgement. As to whether everyone is born liberal, I’m not sure, but people commenting on this article make some interesting points, including Indian Joe who says:
They are…totally unable to provide for themselves, never expected to do so, and dependent on “authority” to deal with their every whim and want. While, of course, completely disrespecting that authority whenever it suits them. EVERYONE is “born a liberal.”
But many of us grow out of it.
What this really does is brings into question what we perceive liberal to mean. To me it’s about belief in people and tolerance in society, but to others it might mean a heavy reliance on the state. In a sense one extreme of liberal values is to say that everyone is free to do what they want, another is to say, the state will play a part in every aspect of your life. Both of those could also be conservative values. The first would be expressed as, everyone for themselves and the second as regulations and authoritarianism. Richard Kemp, a liberal activist says:
“Liberalism inherently believes that almost everyone has the capacity to run their own lives and should be given the freedom to do it. It also believes that, given the freedom, most people will act responsibly and not become too greedy and try to take out more than their due.”
One could read the first part of that statement as being a conservative attitude. Conservatives would also argue that liberal values would increase state involvement in people lives, not just leave them to ‘run their own lives’. If politics warranted similie you might argue that liberalism and conservatism arc like a sun setting on the murky lake of politics, each dipping to touch the other and complete the circle of confusion.
Managing the confusions between left and right wing and liberal versus conservative is equally difficult. The best way I found of understanding it is the political compass test, which gives four axis rather than two. This takes the pressure off Liberalism also needing to represent left wing values such as Socailism. Not only does the test do a good job of visualising and quantifying abstract concepts, the makers also provoke interesting ideas about how different parties relate to each other. Here is a map of the parties from the 2010 British Election. This map is also very useful in explaining what left and right wing means in terms of political persuation and values.
So will we all end up conservative? Maybe, but does conservative as a concept in opposite to liberalism really exist, and even if it does, would it matter? As they say on the British Election page linked to above:
Election debates between mainstream parties are increasingly about managerial competence rather than any clash of vision and fundamental difference in economic direction.
As long as nothing you believe in removes the liberties of others then you can be of any political persuation. It might be a bit rich though, to have a heavily state sponsored education and then ally with a party that opposes that once you are out of the system, so I guess I’ll be liberally minded for the foreseeable future.