Thursday, December 9, 2010

Liberals Introduction 98

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom")[1] is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights.[2] Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, fair trade, and the separation of church and state. These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century.

Liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as hereditary status, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.

This is an excellent, concise definition of liberalism in general and “classical liberalism” in specific. Obliquely, it serves as a definition for “conservatism,” as well, because what conservatives in the Anglosphere are trying to conserve is limited government and a government of laws. Why should conservatives adopt this view? “Because it works,” an answer consistent with empiricism – and John Locke himself was an empiricist. Conservatives who themselves are not members of the Christian right tend to take this view, whether they fully realize it or not – they are conserving classical liberalism as defined above by Wikipedia.

Were liberalism unchanged or entirely consistent with its philosophical origins, there would be no large distinction between liberals and conservatives. But “social liberalism” is a different animal. When this blog refers to “liberal,” “liberalism,” and “modern liberalism,” it is referring to social liberalism, though social liberals themselves have their own schisms as well.
Social Liberalism is the belief that liberalism should include social justice. It differs from classical liberalism in that it recognizes a legitimate role for the state in addressing economic and social issues such as unemployment, health care, and education while simultaneously expanding civil rights. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual. Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following the Second World War. Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or centre-left.
A reaction against social liberalism in the late twentieth century, often called neoliberalism, led to monetarist economic policies and a reduction in government provision of services. However, this reaction did not result in a return to classical liberalism, as governments continued to provide social services and retained control over economic policy.
The term "social liberalism" is often used interchangeably with "modern liberalism". The Liberal International is the main international organisation of liberal parties, which include, among other liberal variants, social liberal parties. It affirms the following principles: human rights, free and fair elections and multiparty democracy, social justice, tolerance, social market economy, free trade, environmental sustainability and a strong sense of international solidarity.

A key distinction comes from the concept of social justice:

Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating an egalitarian society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being. The term and modern concept of "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit Luigi Taparelli in 1840 based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and given further exposure in 1848 by Antonio Rosmini-Serbati. The idea was elaborated by the moral theologian John A. Ryan, who initiated the concept of a living wage. Father Coughlin also used the term in his publications in the 1930s and the 1940s. It is a part of Catholic social teaching, Social Gospel from Episcopalians and is one of the Four Pillars of the Green Party upheld by green parties worldwide. Social justice as a secular concept, distinct from religious teachings, emerged mainly in the late twentieth century, influenced primarily by philosopher John Rawls. Some tenets of social justice have been adopted by those on the left of the political spectrum.
Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution. These policies aim to achieve what developmental economists refer to as more equality of opportunity than may currently exist in some societies, and to manufacture equality of outcome in cases where incidental inequalities appear in a procedurally just system.

Equality of outcome, equality of condition, or equality of results is the goal, central to some political ideologies, of reducing or eliminating incidental inequalities in material condition between individuals or households in a society. This usually means equalizing income and/or total wealth to a certain degree by, for example, granting a greater amount of income and/or total wealth to poorer individuals or households at the expense of wealthy individuals or households.
Equality of outcome can be distinguished from the concept of equality of opportunity. Policies that seek an equality of outcome often require a deviation from the strict application of concepts such as meritocracy, and legal notions of equality before the law for all citizens. 'Equality seeking' policies may also have a redistributive focus.
Equality of outcome may be incorporated into a philosophy that ultimately seeks equality of opportunity. Moving towards a higher equality of outcome (albeit not perfectly equal) can lead to an environment more adept at providing equality of opportunity by eliminating conditions that restrict the possibility for members of society to fulfill their potential. For example, a child born in a poor, dangerous neighborhood with poor schools and little access to health care may be significantly disadvantaged in his attempts to maximize use of talents, no matter his work ethic. Thus, even proponents of meritocracy may promote some level of equality of outcome in order to create a society capable of truly providing equality of opportunity.

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What the blog postings on liberalism will establish:

That “social justice” may have started out as a secular concept, but it has become a civil religion – a churchless yet faith-based system of belief with its own ethical standards and aesthetics.

That “equality of outcome” is the chief goal of this civil religion because the sameness of outcome represents a utopia of the civil religion.

That as a faith-based system, modern liberalism is subject to the biases and logical denials we have seen in the libertarians and the Christian right. The overall result is a philosophical system of low quality and negative quiddity.

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