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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Political rambling

This was first posted as a comment over at Cabal but I decided to reproduce it here. It is just a rambling collective of thoughts about political labels and our view of government.

The US President George W. Bush is not a conservative.

I feel more and more that the 'liberal' and 'conservative' labels are becoming progressively useless in defining our politicans. Tony Blair is not a 'liberal' or a 'socialist' in the traditional sense regardless of the fact that he leads the Labour party. There are few who truly embody the principles of the ideologies to any extent that might have been observed in the past.

Is that a bad thing?

Not at all, it just depends on your point of view. My take is that new ideas (or refined ideas or even recycled ideas) emerge depending on your time frame. We each view 'society' differently and we come up with certain ideas on how 'society' should function and we then think of government, rightly or wrongly, as our focus for influencing society. We are influenced in our views (in no particular order and by varying amounts) by the media, by the government, by our family and friends, by the woman talking in the ailse at the supermarket, by whether we think Senator such-and-such has an honest face. This leads to a hodgepodge of ideas from various camps. Lets face it, political parties today are nothing like their counterparts of 200 years ago, and they are dissimilar to their counterparts of 200 years before them. Politics evolves and the speed of evolution is not constant.

Yet over time we become invested in the ideas that we develop or steal, and we cling to them in such a way as to make it difficult, though not impossible, to see beyond them. Sticking to one's principles is considered a good thing in our 'society' whilst adapting your stance to fit the facts can be called 'flip-flopping' and then we may be mocked or scorned. This is a terrible thing and it is a triumph of rhetoric over reason. Evidence perhaps that we are too ready to allow ourselves to become mired in ignoring politics; we elect them, they should deal with things without bothering us - all kinds of things that if we thought about it we might not want them deciding for us. Perhaps we are too prepared to lose our personal responsibility for the convenience of not having to get involved.

Anyway, I digress. I feel that it is important to learn from the past without the need to pin ourselves to it. We invest too much in the labels and too little in the actions. We generate bogeymen by use of the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' without really understanding the makeup of those we wish to demean. At the same time we demand too much from our government whilst not demanding enough from our politicians, and then comes the final straw; we roll our eyes and claim that its 'just politics' as if that is really an excuse. It isn't.

I have been trying to construct a post entitled 'How the 'Left' was Lost' in resposne to a discussion that Winston and I were having over at Cabal. I am finding it difficult, not because I beleive my thesis is wrong, rather because it is all so depressing. The same can be done for the right with the same level of depression.


Averroes said...

oops, maybe i should have transferred my answer on Cabal to here. i just have time now for a couple of notes. Part of the problem with labels is that they become zattached toi parties. This was not the case in america until recently, and iut gave us a great freedom to try out new ideas. One remembers that a huge part of liberal founder FDR's powerful winning coalition were southern segregationist Democrats. The kind of people that you would now associate with the Republican party.

The labels also change in time, as i have noted with FDR using the "liberal" label to avoid the "Progressive" label. FDR had chosen to do what his advisors told him was impossible. they had told him that in the crisis of the deprression, he had to choose either a progressive policy OR a conservative policy, and stick to it. His "liberal" policy split th4e difference.

But the label also are different in different places. Although it is tempting to equate Labour and Tory with the American liberal and conservative, it isn't entirely accurate. And the British Liberal Democrats (what a story there, reunited long after a bitter divorce and all) use the term 'liberal' in the classical sense, that is, anti-divine rights, the sense in which all American founders were liberal. The liberal in America have had to react to the stealing of their label by adopting the name "Libertarian." they believe, as did our founders, in the least government. I am told that in europe, the term 'libertarian' has overtones of libertine, something akin to a quiet anarchist.

This classical use of the term liberal, as well as the kinship between the labourr party and the american liberals, as well as the British Tories and American conservatives (the real ones, not the neocons) was bbrought home by one of Blairs summaries of the attitudes on health care during Questions: Said Blair:

Labour naturally wants to expand government health care to take care of the problems mentioned, while the Tories want to priovitize it under government regulation, and the Liberal Democrats want to do away with government involvement in health care altogether.

You see, it DOES rather line up with my usage: The liberals, and labour, think that the government does a better jpob with central power, [perhaps by using economies of scale and a more coherent management. you know, like the coal mines. The tories seem to want things in the provate sector, albeit with some regulation, insofar as that aids business. you know, like the coal mines. And the Liberal Democrats, like our libertarians, just want government to get out of the way.

Anonymous said...

Up is down, left is right, boobity scoobity

Averroes said...

How compelling.

The point is that we use labels to convey information. IF opposites (like 'up' and 'down') can be safely inserted in place of one another without loss of meaning, then we have thereby shown that these labels do not apply in the situation reffered to.

Are you areguing that 'up' and 'down' are not useful terms, that 'liberal' and 'conservative' are like 'up' and 'down,' and that, therefore, 'liberal' and 'conservative' likewise should be bqanished from the language.

THe point is to discuss where and when the terms are useful.