Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's the big idea?

Armed Liberal defines the USA.

I told them that in my view, liberalism had become identified with a cosmopolitan view that denied the unique place that America has in the world and that wanted badly to reduce America to a country among others.

Steve offered the notion that America is an idea, and that that idea is inherently welcoming, and I chimed in supporting him; we are not a nation of blood or land, we are a nation of an idea, and possibly the first great nation that can say that.


He doesn't say what he thinks the idea is, which is the core of the difference between liberals and conservatives. A chance to better yourself is the idea I support: not guaranteed betterment, not even a level playing field, but a chance. This chance is supported best by a government that makes the idea choice field possible and stays out of the way most of the time, so that individuals can choose and strive for a life they consider good.

2 comments:

Laura Back said...

I like that idea. I wish I knew better how it could best be implemented. It seems like many of the controversies that intrigue me in contemporary politics arise around questions about what arrangements actually make individuals freer to strive for their own ideas of a good life. I hear about this a lot in terms of corporations' power (and working with labor unions, you probably hear it even more!), but then union power gets criticized in similar terms, as taking choices away from individual workers and business owners. Same thing, maybe, when "tough-on-crime" politics goes head-to-head with Second Amendment politics -- does taking away the means to defend oneself and forcibly assert one's rights undermine freedom, or does it help free some individuals from the coercive hold of violent crime over their lives? And again in family-related policy -- for example, we today have sort of a weak societal consensus that protecting domestic violence victims from their abusers is a good idea, but when a victim declines to press charges, is she making a free choice about how to order her life that we should respect, or is she being coerced by a form of power even more choice-destroying than governmental power?

I think some of my own attachment to the "level playing field" idea is the notion that a truly level field is where such difficulties would be least likely to arise, because it would be harder there for anyone to get into a position to dominate anyone else in a way that made state intervention even potentially the more-freeing alternative. But it's one thing to say that, and another thing to try to envision a level playing field other than the one in which everyone's chance at achieving their own ideals is set to zero.

Kai Jones said...

I read this today and liked it:

the real political divide — not left versus right, but what she calls stasists versus dynamists. The former fear change and want to use government power to minimize it, if not eliminate it. The latter accept that improvements in the human condition require change by definition, and understand that the best way to ensure it is to allow individuals the freedom to make choices, with consequences, both good and ill, to be borne by them.

By these definitions, both presidential candidates in this election were largely stasists.


On domestic violence, I pick option 3: regardless whether she's making a free choice or coerced, the abuser is violating the social fabric, has offended against society-at-large, and should be removed from the body politic for some period of time.

I don't believe a level playing field is possible, and I think working toward such a goal wastes resources. What we can achieve is to better the chances of people who will have a harder time, like children born in poverty and people with disabilities. But I would couple that with less rescuing from the consequences of bad choices.

On the 2d Amendment, my underlying argument is self defense but against an oppressive government rather than individuals; self-defense is necessary but not sufficient in my opinion. A point I made once that changed an anti-gun person's mind: if you take away my ability to defend myself, for example by telling me I can't carry my concealed weapon in your home, you are taking responsibility for defending me if anything happens in your home.