Thursday, January 6, 2011
Liberals – Essential Beliefs – Perfectibility 126
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[sidebar] Liberalism: A philosophical approach that argues that human nature is basically altruistic and that human altruism enables people to cooperate. In the international arena, compassion and caring for the welfare of others should motivate state actions. War is not a certainty because violence and selfishness are not part of the human condition but rather the result of flawed institutions. In addition, all wars are a matter of collective concern.
Consistent with the idealist approach, the core assumption of liberalism is that the world is perfectible and, by choosing the right institutions, human beings can make it so. In contrast to Marx, who saw the perfectibility of human institutions and human beings rooted in immutable historical laws, liberals emphasize the individuality of each person and the fundamental human ability to choose. The liberal argument may be summarized as follows: Human nature is basically good and – more important – altruistic; we care about others. These qualities make us perfectible. Through education, we can learn to use our reason. We can learn to consider the whole of humankind and not just our national or local problems. Liberals believe government can create institutions that will train citizens to greater tolerance and produce a society dedicated to social justice. One of the main goals of a liberal democracy is to provide universal education to all its citizens so they can make rational choices about their leaders and the policies they would like to see adopted. Participation in government also develops our reason. According to liberal thinking, democracy is the best and ultimate form of government because citizens elect representatives to make decisions for them based on their understanding of the candidates and the issues. The election process makes elected officials accountable to their constituents and thus limits their power to act arbitrarily. The result is a stable political system and a prosperous economy. Democracy provides sufficient security to its citizens so they can develop their capacity to care for others.
Liberals also assert that our natural altruism lies at the heart of international cooperation and trust. Because their citizens feel secure, democratic states are less prone to make war on other states. And thanks to democracy's internal stability, trade prospers among democratic states, improving the standard of living for all. One part of the liberal reform program insists on the merits of free trade to replace the economic nationalism that liberals believe propelled Hitler's Germany into World War II.
Compassion and concern for the welfare of all should inform all actions taken on the global stage. An example of the world's compassion is the humanitarian aid given to states experiencing famine or natural catastrophe. Another example is the enormous outpouring of sympathy for the families of the victims of 9/11 and for the United States as a whole from people and governments all over the world.
In addition according to liberalism, violence and selfishness result from flawed institutions rather than the human condition. Agreements made between states in secret – what is called secret diplomacy – is one example of a flawed institution that can lead to war, as was the case with World War I. Liberals believe dictatorships are flawed institutions that promote violence and oppression, and they therefore urge the promotion of democracy worldwide. The United States asserts its liberal philosophy when it calls states that have oppressive dictatorships, such as North Korea, “rogue states.”
--World Politics in the 21st Century, by W. Raymond Duncan, Barbara Jancor-Webster and Bob Switky
Chapter 2, “Approaches to World Politics” p. 48
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i Human nature is basically good and – more important – altruistic; we care about others. These qualities make us perfectible. This explains the delight liberals felt for the scientific discovery of the notion that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first, as E.O Wilson published in the mid-1970s. When he improved the science by refuting his own theory, of course, liberals were furious and denounced him. This shows their disrespect for science unless it matches their groove. They would be better listening to Buddhist thought, which says that altruism is natural [not inevitable, not trainable, but a naturally occurring characteristic among mankind].
Further, altruism is not a universal human quality. Psychopaths lack this ability. Schizophrenics lose the ability to love when the mental illness takes over. Most of us are not altruistic in a panic situation where the flight-or-flight response takes over. The notion of perfectibility is profoundly shaky.
ii Violence and selfishness are not part of the human condition but rather the result of flawed institutions. Where are the small tribes in the wilderness who are never violent nor selfish? Much of primitive human life is a state of perpetual warfare.
iii ...Institutions...will train citizens to greater tolerance and produce a society dedicated to social justice. Tolerance stems from and only from institutions? Where are these tolerance-incubating institutions? Where is the prison that produces humane parolees? But there's more – the synthetic tolerance induced by institutions will represent itself by achieving social justice for that society as a whole. Such wise institutions have proven difficult to discover, indeed, these institutions are hallucinations. Exactly what is 'social justice?' Is this a quality in an anterior relationship to due process, common law and the prohibition against double jeopardy?
iv Participation in government also develops our reason. I have been a bureaucrat most of my working life, and my observation is that such participation develops our cunning but subverts our reason.
v Democracy provides sufficient security to its citizens so they can develop their capacity to care for others. Democracy, unfortunately, allows the election of crooks and outright dictators – Hitler won two fair elections, after all.
vi ...economic nationalism that liberals believe propelled Hitler's Germany into World War II. This is almost certainly nonsense. Hitler's melding of socialism and nationalism in a resentful country that lost a war allowed him to rise to power preaching “almost a religion of war” --Rudyard Kipling. Once in power, he had to deliver war, and he did so. And the democratic people who voted for him loved him for it.
Vii ...violence and selfishness result from flawed institutions rather than the human condition. My own observation is that violence and selfishness are natural and nearly inextinguishable characteristics of human beings, and thus institutions that don't limit power become instruments of dictators or are extinguished through incompetence. The wisest book I ever read about human nature wasn't a social science tract, it was the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, who wrote with shocking accuracy and humor about the vanity, pettiness and unreliability of the heart of man.
In summary, I think the authors of World Politics in the 21st Century fairly and accurately described modern liberalism; but I find it an idealism founded upon rickety and dangerous flaws.