Tuesday, May 16, 2006

At the Bottom of Conservative and Liberal

In a recent post, I discussed the distinction between conservative and liberal in terms their attitudes toward the "golden age" - namely, that for conservative the golden age was in the past, whereas for the liberals the golden age is in the future.

In connection with another assignment, I came across an insight which I think gets much deeper into the mystery of the distinction between conservative and liberal. And it's very simple (which, I know, always raises red flags among philosophers). Again, I make no claims to original ideas, but this might be something for me to look up someday.

The key words are immediate and ultimate.

The more I look at this, the less profound it seems... such is the nature of late night inspirations. But essentially, I can only imagine that the politics of the left and the politics of the right do, in fact, have their own respective strains of continuity--Republicans are consistently and narrowly concerned for values of ultimate significance--that is, far into the future, and weightier, nation-shaping issues; and Democrats are consistently and narrowly concerned for values of immediate consequence--the right now, the individual, needs, gratifications, and anxieties. This changes my previous opinion, that the democratic and republican party platforms had their stances on abortion backwards and thus placed themselves in positions of horrific inconsistency. On the contrary; now I see that what both parties have going for them is a horrific consistency.

It is such a simple distinction, and yet it seems to explain so much. Distinctively republican values always center around general, universal matters whose effects are always projected out into the far future. Family, society, economy, morality, nation-building, security and defense, and conservation. Distinctively democratic values center around individualistic, particular issues involving the relief of grievances in the immediate present. Healthcare, Wellfare, poverty and unemployment, civil rights, public safety, birth control, and environmentalism.

Obviously, all of the above mentioned issues have wide-ranging causes and effects, both immediate and ultimate. But I believe that the major distinction remains valid, and it has become increasingly evident in my lifetime. It is no accident that Republicans bristled when the Clinton administration took credit for the booming economy of the 90s--after all, Raeganomic policies were never intended to have an immediately visible effect (so the Republicans argue); rather, they were sacrificing immediate prosperity for later gain.

Interestingly, what is worst about either party is that it always and mechanically pursues its own values, needlessly at the expense of those of the opposition. Granted, there will always be conflicts and competing priorities. But the very notion that immediate needs as such, and ultimate goals as such, must en bloc be against one another, is absurd.

This distinction also demonstrates the potentially ideological, and even totalitarian possibilities inherent in either party. In the republicans it seems more evident, because totalitarian ideologies are always far-future looking in scope, with seemingly boundless ambition and a callous disregard for immediate needs and civil rights; a highly cynical and utilitarian outlook. But in fact, totalitarian potential resides no less in the extreme left, which after all must utilize a broad, sweeping infrastructure necessary for the fulfillment of its immediate values, and must always face the temptation of promising worldly salvation via protocols and programs without regard to morality, family, society, or nation--another recipe for exploitation.

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