Liberty and Security, Then and Now

by Kieran Healy on September 8, 2006

By chance, I had just finished rereading a famous speech by Ronald Reagan when I heard the news that President Bush had confirmed the existence of secret CIA prisons. Yesterday, while looking over it again, I heard the Judge Advocates General strongly resist the White House’s plan for military tribunals that would allow conviction based on secret evidence. When Reagan spoke in 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater, he presented TV viewers with a stark choice between those with the courage to make a principled stand for Freedom and Liberty, and those who would capitulate to the global threat of Communism for the sake of a quiet life. He didn’t pull any punches.

Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy ‘accommodation.’ … We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing and immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters.’ … Admittedly there is risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face … When Nikita Khrushchev has told his people [that] we are retreating under the pressure of the cold war, and … our surrender will be voluntary because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he has heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead” … Where then is the road to peace? You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” There is a point beyond which they will not advance! … You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

Strong stuff. The parallels to present-day rhetoric from the White House are striking. Reagan’s vision of a cataclysmic fight between two alternative worldviews finds its direct counterpart today in the way President Bush and his supporters talk about the war on terror. Both raise the specter of appeasement by well-meaning liberals. In both cases the enemy’s leader is said to predict the collapse of the United States, while home-grown subversives help him by morally enervating the country. Millions awaiting liberation abroad are invoked in both cases. And the way forward is also clear: resolve to fight, unto the bitter end, lest we condemn our children to “a thousand years of darkness,” be it under Communism or Islamofascism.

The main substantive difference, of course, is the scale of the threat posed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and that posed by international terrorism today, not least the fact that the Russians really did have a a huge army, an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and a country from which to launch them. Al Qaeda’s global counterinsurgency is serious, but pales in comparison. Even faced with the truly apocalyptic threat of a global nuclear conflict, most people at the time thought Reagan’s (and Goldwater’s) attitude was dangerous, guaranteed—even intended—to provoke a Third World War. Today, in the face of a much smaller threat, some conservative commentators simply assert that we are presently fighting World War III, as if saying it made it so.

Setting the real differences aside, it’s also clear that the parallel between Reagan’s rhetoric and current conservative tropes is not perfect. A decisive gap has opened. The parts of Reagan’s speech I quoted are really only half of his message. He also said this:

Alexander Hamilton said, ‘A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one!’ … You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy?—or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the Pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the short heard round the world? … Well, it’s a simple answer after all.

It is this libertarian strand, focused on what individuals should be prepared to sacrifice to hold onto their freedoms, that is wholly absent from the official conservative line today. Rick Perlstein’s book, Before the Storm, chronicles the rise of Barry Goldwater culminating in his 1964 run for President. He argues that Goldwater’s apparent failure in the short-run—his crushing defeat by Lyndon Johnson—hid a long-term success, as his supporters put down the ideological and organizational roots of the Reagan revolution. Positions in American politics that were on the fringes when Goldwater began his national career were at the center of things when Reagan ended his Presidency. Reagan initiated the changes that helped do away with such “soup kitchens of the welfare state” as ever existed in America, and in that respect the libertarian program made its mark.

But almost the reverse has happened in the realm of national security, where a key component of Reagan’s message has been jettisoned. The libertarian strand has been replaced by extravagant promises of government protection against terrorist threats, and the constant fomenting of fear amongst the public. One odd result is that principled libertarians and left-leaning critics find themselves making common cause, often to the the surprise or irritation of both. From the libertarian side, present circumstances mean that a real commitment to individual liberty lines up with left-wing calls for the preservation and application of civil rights. On the left, concern about the burgeoning security state sounds a lot like libertarian critiques of the grasping hand of government bureaucracy and its insatiable desire for power.

Most conservatives now remember only half of what Reagan said—the lines about accommodation and appeasement, about having a rendezvous with destiny. They forget the other half, so much so that his words apply more accurately today to them than to liberals: don’t sell your liberty for the illusion of security. When faced with the choice, “… have the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay.’”

{ 50 comments }

1

Henry 09.08.06 at 4:31 pm

I believe that the wingnut theory is that we are now in the throes of “World War IV”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/podhoretz.htm not World War III (which was the Cold War).

2

abb1 09.08.06 at 4:36 pm

Yeah, strong stuff. Isn’t this an example of what nowadays is called ‘jihadist rhetoric’?

3

Seth Finkelstein 09.08.06 at 5:01 pm

To boil it down, the modern “conservative” line here is: Big Government Can Solve THIS Problem.
:-)

Y’know, there could be an interesting mirror to the civil-rights fairy-tale that conservatives tell, the one that runs “Once upon a time, there were Good Liberals, who wanted only nice equality, but then came the Bad Liberals, who wanted quotas and preferences and betrayed the Liberal Dream which we are the true bearers …”

Hmm … “Once upon a time, there were the Good Conservatives, who wanted Small Goverment, but then came the Bad Conservatives, who wanted torture and wiretapping and betrayed the Conservative Dream which we are the true bearers …”

Promising. But it needs some very loud and large-audience pundits to make it work :-(.

4

Timothy Scriven 09.08.06 at 6:12 pm

One thing I just don’t get about conservatism is what binds it all together. There seems to be no link between opposing “big government” and being a national security fundamentalist, the two even seem to contradict. Is conservatism as we know it even a coherent ideology? Or is it just a series of postions which have been asserted loudly and often to be an ideology.

5

Theron 09.08.06 at 6:18 pm

Extravagant promises indeed. At least as odd as pushing libertarians and liberals together is the ability of modern conservatives to make liberals into defenders of the FBI, the CIA, numerous generals, and the judicial system as we know it. Oh, and of the idea that we should have sent more troops, not less.

6

Steve LaBonne 09.08.06 at 6:21 pm

One thing I just don’t get about conservatism is what binds it all together.

As far as I can tell there are two basic things. 1) A determination to gain power so that it can be used in the interests of wealthy individuals and large corporations. Those interests are the ends, and ideological underpinnings, of conservatism. 2) A complete lack of principles as to the means for gaining that power. Viz. The “national security – conscious” Bush administration, which despite that supposedly urgent concern won’t hesitate, for example, to burn a CIA agent for political purposes and which, in general, treats national security with complete cynicism as a tool for political manipulation.

7

P O'Neill 09.08.06 at 6:43 pm

This is the new definition of conservatism, offered by George Bush this year:

And so it’s — my job is to travel the country, like I’m doing a lot of, and saying, here are the stakes. Go ahead and live your life, and risk capital and raise your families, let us worry about it [terrorism].

8

lemuel pitkin 09.08.06 at 6:56 pm

The point of this post seems to be to contrast Reagan’s rhetoric in 1964 with Bush’s today, with the implication that the former was justified while the latter is not.

Another point of view is that while “the scale of the threat” posed by the Soviet Union (to who, exactly?) was greater than that of Al Quadea today, by the same token the sacle of the threat posed by the American government was also much greater. Yes, They had a nuclear arsenal pointed at Us, but We also had a nuclear arsenal pointed at Them. In a nuclear World War III, quite likely it would have been a Goldwater conservative who fired first. Why not, if the alternative was “a thousand years of darkness”?

I really don’t think you believe Reagan and Goldwater were right. But this post… Is the problem with the Right really that they’ve forgotten the true meaning of Reaganism?

9

Dan Simon 09.08.06 at 7:42 pm

Is conservatism as we know it even a coherent ideology?

Of course not. Neither is liberalism. Both are simply loose, ever-evolving coalitions of political constituencies. If you look back far enough, you’ll find the sides switching positions on just about any issue you care to consider.

But intellectuals are loath to admit this, because they like to think that they form their opinions through pure abstract cogitation, rather than interest-group affiliation.

10

Kieran 09.08.06 at 7:50 pm

The point of this post seems to be to contrast Reagan’s rhetoric in 1964 with Bush’s today, with the implication that the former was justified while the latter is not.

No, as I said in the post even in 1964, in the face of a real threat of nuclear war, most Americans thought this kind of rhetoric was unjustified. I’m interested in why conservatives who push this kind of rhetoric have (a) become satisfied to hype a much smaller threat and (b) have largely dropped the more libertarian side of the story in favor of the “government will make you safe” line, which seems so inimical to what came before. On the other hand, Goldwater republicans were often dependent on the defense establishment for their livelihoods even as they decried big government.

11

y81 09.08.06 at 8:31 pm

Wll, Krn, n my cs, t ws sng my fllw fnnc prfssnls mrdrd n mss n frnt f my ys, cmbnd wth th sbsqnt rlztn tht lft/lbrls lk y r n th thr sd. cn’t spk fr nyn ls.

12

Walt 09.08.06 at 8:45 pm

Sure, y81, you really care about 9/11. That’s why you so passionately support the President who let Osama bin Laden get away. Of course we’re on the other side. We’re on the side that wants vengeance for what actually happened on 9/11, not to advance irrelevant agendas. You hated liberals before 9/11, and you hate them now, and 9/11 is just a convenient stick to beat them with. You are a goddamn disgrace to your country.

13

Adam Kotsko 09.08.06 at 9:49 pm

I have long thought that the war on terror is a farce — it would be awesome if an audience would laugh in Bush’s face during one of these speeches. If people really believe that we’re going to be taken over by people in caves, then our education system has failed completely.

14

engels 09.08.06 at 10:07 pm

One thing I just don’t get about conservatism is what binds it all together.

There is a great (IMHO) essay on just this topic by Rick Perlstein in the New Republic, What Is Conservative Culture. To summarise:

› One of the most important forces which binds American conservatives together is culture, not ideas.

› The main characteristics of this culture are (i) a massive persecution complex and (ii) a desire to piss off liberals.

15

engels 09.08.06 at 10:41 pm

our well-meaning liberal friends

This is the part that seems really old. Do any American conservatives grant even this much nowadays?

principled libertarians

In other words, not Jet or Brett Bellmore.

16

jet 09.08.06 at 10:48 pm

Engels, still picking fights in the schoolyard? Are you one of my “well-meaing liberal friends”?

17

engels 09.08.06 at 11:01 pm

Friend, Jet? You’re like the brother I never had.

18

P O'Neill 09.08.06 at 11:12 pm

There’s an interview with the Lord Protector in today’s Wall Street Journal. He keeps to the theme of his job being to stop us worrying about stuff, but makes clear a claimed economic rationale for this position:

“But this is a different kind of war. In the past, there was troop movements, or, you know, people could report the sinking of a ship. This is a war that requires intelligence and interrogation within the law from people who know what’s happening. . . . Victories you can’t see. But the enemy is able to create death and carnage that tends to define the action.

“And I think most Americans understand we’re vulnerable. But my hope was after 9/11, most Americans wouldn’t walk around saying, ‘My goodness, we’re at war. Therefore let us don’t live a normal life. Let us don’t invest.’ ” Mr. Bush calls it an “interesting contradiction” that he wants “people to understand the stakes of failure” in this conflict. But on the other hand, he also wants “the country to be able to grow, invest, save, expand, educate, raise their children.”

19

abb1 09.09.06 at 12:48 am

#3 and #4:

One famous linguist describes them as the so-called “conservatives,” more accurately statist reactionaries.

20

Dan Simon 09.09.06 at 1:08 am

No, as I said in the post even in 1964, in the face of a real threat of nuclear war, most Americans thought this kind of rhetoric was unjustified.

But what about today, Kieran? In 1964, Reagan was saying that Soviet Communism was condemning millions to slavery, and would extend its dominion over millions more unless the democratic West stood firm against it. This was, as you say, far from the consensus view in the West, and is controversial even today, after all we now know about the Soviet Union.

Do you agree that Reagan’s words were at least accurate regarding the nature of the Soviet Union? Do you believe that its collapse would have been equally fast had Reagan’s firmness during the 1980’s been replaced with the kind of policy that Reagan ridiculed as “accommodation”?

These are sincere questions. The analogy between the Cold War and the War on Terror is complicated, with lots of similarities and lots of differences. But there’s really no point even discussing it if we can’t agree on what happened during the Cold War in the first place.

21

Timothy Scriven 09.09.06 at 1:41 am

“”Is conservatism as we know it even a coherent ideology?””

Of course not. Neither is liberalism. Both are simply loose, ever-evolving coalitions of political constituencies.”

I think that there is a fairly simple common thread that holds most or many of the positions of liberals together, a concern for the protection of the weak and oppressed. This is what links things like defending civil rights and the welfare state together.

I’m starting to suspect that the primary idea that holds together conservatism is “oppose whatever the liberals say” as Rick Perlstein argues. Conservatism seems like a sort of negative ideology defined primarily in opposition to liberalism and the left.

22

bad Jim 09.09.06 at 1:46 am

In truth, the contrast between conservatives now and then is minor, notwithstanding the libertarian protestations of John Dean and Barry Goldwater. During the 1964 presidential campaign, the civil rights movement was in full swing and the right was fulminating in opposition; nearly all of states AuH2O carried were in the segregationist south. A popular title was “None Dare Call It Treason”, and liberals, then as now, were the internal enemy.

Note the naked belligerence in Reagan’s speech. He’s arguing for attacking the Communists instead of containing them, and at least rhetorically he continued to do so as president, even as the process of containment played itself out more or less as George Kennan had predicted.

The urge to strike out at our supposed adversaries is explicit, and the frustration felt by the old cold warriors that we never did so may be part of what fueled our amazing assault upon Iraq. (We’ll never find a good reason for doing it, and we may never run out of motivations.)

Between Goldwater’s defeat and Reagan’s victory, though, the U.S. progressed pretty rapidly. Credit L.B.J. and Dr. King, but credit also the boomers, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Substantial progress was made in that decade and a half: women’s rights, gay rights and environmentalism all made gains and won permanent places in the world’s discourse.

23

abb1 09.09.06 at 1:49 am

Dan, in 1964 Soviet Communism wasn’t condemning millions to slavery; quite the contrary: those were years of de-Stalinization, liberalization and rising living standards. You may want to read this.

Most likely this Reagan’s speech is an example of usual hate-mongering for purely domestic purposes, but if not, then it would appear that Mr. Reagan and his ilk here are afraid of economic and ideological competition.

24

Dan Simon 09.09.06 at 1:57 am

I think that there is a fairly simple common thread that holds most or many of the positions of liberals together, a concern for the protection of the weak and oppressed.

Conservatives, too, routinely avow their desire to protect the weak and oppressed. The catch is that both liberals and conservatives regularly shift their definitions of the “weak and oppressed” as their constituencies shift.
I’m starting to suspect that the primary idea that holds together conservatism is “oppose whatever the liberals say”

Of course conservatives “oppose whatever the liberals say” on any political issue. If liberals and conservatives agree on something, it’s highly unlikely ever to become a political issue in the first place.

But it’s not true that the liberal position always comes first. Ideas are generated by constituencies, and both sides have plenty of those. And since partisan politics is a zero-sum game, it’s usually in the interest of one side to oppose the self-interested proposals of the other side’s constituents.

25

bad Jim 09.09.06 at 3:34 am

In practice, fear is the mark of conservativism, and violence is its remedy of choice. It’s no wonder that the use of torture is almost universally defended by the right, nor that wars of agression are actually demanded, even when the enemy is weak and crippled.

We invaded Iraq, of all countries. What more could be said?

26

Timothy Scriven 09.09.06 at 4:33 am

“Conservatives, too, routinely avow their desire to protect the weak and oppressed.”

Sure, but in politics avowing it doesn’t make it so. That the left align’s itself more with the weak is supported by overwhelming emprical evidence. Consider:

– The poor and the rich
– The gay right’s movement
– Women’s issues
– Immigrant’s rights
– Racial justice
– The right’s of ethnic minorities
– The right’s of religious minorities
– Foreign policy
– The enviorment ( present v future generations)

I think it’s undeniable that the left aligns itself behind the weak.

27

engels 09.09.06 at 5:38 am

Conservatives, too, routinely avow their desire to protect the weak and oppressed.

Of course they do, Dan, but in their case the argument would be that it’s just rhetoric. Rhetoric which has often been deliberately appropriated from liberals and is thus guaranteed to piss them off.

28

Brendan 09.09.06 at 6:00 am

‘The analogy between the Cold War and the War on Terror is complicated, with lots of similarities and lots of differences’.

What, precisely,are the similarities? I mean the similarities on their side? What conceivable relationship is there between ‘Communism’ or ‘the Soviet Union’ and Al-Qaeda?

29

Uncle Kvetch 09.09.06 at 7:30 am

The catch is that both liberals and conservatives regularly shift their definitions of the “weak and oppressed” as their constituencies shift.

Right. For instance, for American conservatives in 2006, white male heterosexual conservative fundamentalist Christians are the weakest, most oppressed people in the history of everything ever, and the proper role of government is to right the historic wrongs committed against them.

I have long thought that the war on terror is a farce—it would be awesome if an audience would laugh in Bush’s face during one of these speeches.

Thanks for that link, Adam–my feelings exactly. FWIW, George Soros recently called for the whole WoT frame to be dismantled entirely. If only the folks who were supposed to constitute the “opposition” in our nation’s capital were listening.

30

Theron 09.09.06 at 8:31 am

Scriven: I tend to agree. I think the common thread in liberalism is the idea that evil is rooted in exploitation, that when we take without asking and without just compensation, we are committing a wrong. The common values – thou shalt not steal, murder, lie, etc. – can be framed in this way, but so too can most any liberal value I can think of. Some things are obvious – support for civil rights or the poor derive easily from this. But so too do some less obvious ones. Environmentalism fights the exploitation of the future, taking from it valuable resources so we can enjoy ourselves now; support for education is a struggle to insure that people do not have their future opportunities denied them, etc.

The flip side is that conservatives see evil as stemming from breaking the rules. There is a clear and rigid order to the world that keeps us safe and secure. That order is ordained by God or nature, depending on the conservative, but violating it puts everyone at risk, and can not be tolerated.

Conservatives are people who believe evil comes from violating rules; Liberals are people who believe evil comes from violating each other

31

Adam Kotsko 09.09.06 at 10:01 am

Are contemporary liberals very interested in poverty and exploitation? No, they’re not. Poverty is nowhere on the radar, and everyone’s embarrassed to be associated with something so retrograde as a labor union.

Liberals are just as guilty of projecting their fantasies onto what liberalism “really is” and abstracting away from the actual leaderships of actually existing liberal parties. The key difference is that “liberal” has become a swearword, so it doesn’t make as much rhetorical sense to claim, for instance, that Clinton isn’t a “real liberal.”

32

jet 09.09.06 at 11:11 am

…in 1964 Soviet Communism wasn’t condemning millions to slavery; quite the contrary: those were years of de-Stalinization, liberalization and rising living standards.

What, did Chomsky’s chapter on Reagan’s 1964 speech forget the context of Soviet Russia at the time? This was 4 years after the USSR decided to end the Gulag system. This was a mere decade after tanks had put down several attempted revolutions in the countries they occupied. This was 3 years after the Berlin wall was put up you for Cuddly Joe’s sake! Also the same year that the “reformer” Khrushchev was removed for being too liberal (and a frick’n idiot).

Nikita Khrushchev may have been Stalin-lite, but what does that mean? He’ll only starve 3 million to death in client states that appose him? He’ll only send a few million to the labor camps? How was Reagan to know that 1964 was just about the end of Soviet Russia’s 50 years of uncountable slaughter of their own people? Or does a few years of cuddly, likable, friendly Nikita Khrushchev wipe away decades of sending 10’s of millions of artists, political expressives, and unluckies to the frozen tundra to work until they died, eating less than what you just had for breakfast?

And you have got to be kidding about 1964 being a time of “rising living standards” in Soviet Russia. After 10 years of Khrushchev destroying the economy, his removal could only improve things. You laugh when the US economy improved in 2003 and said it was only getting back to where it was under Clinton. But 1964 USSR gets a totally different treatment from you. Why am I not surprised you are just as hypocritical as Chomsky?

33

jet 09.09.06 at 11:18 am

abb1,

One famous linguist describes them as the so-called “conservatives,” more accurately statist reactionaries.

Conservatives are on to Chomsky’s code words, we know what statist reactionaries means. Does it make you feel good, comrade, to use those words of a by-gone era, chock full of the not-so-subtle symbolism of the slaughter of all those who disagree with you?

34

Theron 09.09.06 at 11:42 am

Adam K: Project as you wish. I’m not afraid of the word liberal, nor do I think of unions as retrograde. If you are equating “liberals” with “Democratic Party leadership,” (and you may mean something else) then yes, the Democratic Party is an imperfect vehichle for liberal values. But that does not mean that liberals do not care about poverty.

35

MQ 09.09.06 at 12:30 pm

Jet: Krushchev almost certainly killed fewer people during his reign as Soviet premier than the U.S. did in Vietnam. So are we more evil, or will you now harangue us all with the set of excuses that come as naturally to you as breathing when someone morally challenges your own country? The Russians had their excuses too, all states do.

It’s a pretty dependable rule that whenever someone rushes to loudly condemn the evil of others, they are seeking a justification of some sort for the evil of their own side.

36

Adam Kotsko 09.09.06 at 12:43 pm

What are liberals actually doing about poverty, or even proposing to do? What mainstream liberal politician or journalist has made poverty a central concern of his or her work? (I can only think of John Edwards and Barbara Ehrenreich.) It’s just not a topic for discussion — nowadays it’s all about the war, torture, how bad Bush is, how to “look tough” on national security, etc. If economic issues are ever discussed, it’s a matter of how the “middle class” is being squeezed.

You can continue to congratulate yourself for how much you personally care about poverty all you want — it doesn’t change the fact that contemporary liberalism doesn’t give anything but lip service to the issue.

37

abb1 09.09.06 at 1:12 pm

I remember watching some documentary about Khrushchev and there was a moment there when he went to visit Sweden, came back and wrote in his diary: everything we’re trying to achieve here they already have, that should be our model. Yes, the dreaded welfare state – better to destroy the world than to live in it. What a bunch of deranged hate-mongers.

As far as statist reactionaries – I don’t get, Jet, what’s you point? Are you arguing that Reagan and both Bushies are not statist reactionaries, or you pointing out (for no apparent reason) that there are examples in history of other statist reactionaries?

38

novakant 09.09.06 at 6:28 pm

in 1964 Soviet Communism wasn’t condemning millions to slavery; quite the contrary

abb1, I’m sick of people like yourself minimizing the crimes against humanity constantly committed in Warsaw Pact states over decades, and I don’t know why some on the left are still engaging in such a rewriting of history, it’s juvenile and ill-informed and doesn’t help left and liberal causes one bit

39

Dan Simon 09.09.06 at 6:34 pm

The libertarian strand has been replaced by extravagant promises of government protection against terrorist threats, and the constant fomenting of fear amongst the public.

That’s an easy one to explain. The big change occurred during the sixties, when the Warren Court’s civil liberties innovations and other new obstacles to aggressive policing coincided with (some would say, contributed to) a huge explosion in urban crime. By Reagan’s presidency, getting tough on crime by, among other things, rolling back “criminals’ rights” was not only a core conservative theme, but one of its most broadly popular ones.

The more draconian measures adopted as part of the War on Terror are thus in complete harmony with two principal planks of the Reaganite conservative platform: toughness on crime and hawkishness on national security issues.

40

Timothy Scriven 09.09.06 at 6:36 pm

I think I now have a simple summary of the left and right:

Left= Defend the weak.
Right= Defend the strong.

Using this summary it’s easy to see why so many on the left found Rawls attractive, the liberty principle and the difference principle give such a central place to the weak and oppressed. Such a division also explains Theron’s point about evil for the left being rooted in violations of other human beings and evil for the right being rooted in violations of “the rules” ( by which I presume he means the socially constructed rules put in place by the powerful but in a Platonic twist asserted to have been put in place by God.)

41

Dan Simon 09.09.06 at 7:00 pm

For instance, for American conservatives in 2006, white male heterosexual conservative fundamentalist Christians are the weakest, most oppressed people in the history of everything ever, and the proper role of government is to right the historic wrongs committed against them.

I would guess that most conservatives believe that (1) their preferred policies are better for nonwhites and women, (2) gays are not an oppressed community, enjoying, among other things, a higher average income than the rest of the population, and (3) (among Christian conservatives, at least) Christianity is a faith than everyone can and should benefit from.

I’m not endorsing these views, of course. (As a non-Christian, for example, I obviously don’t endorse (3)). But if you’re looking for a broad characteristic that separates conservatives and liberals, it’s not that only the latter care about the well-being of people other than white males.

I might add that seventy years ago, (working-class) white males were the heart and soul of liberalism, and liberals embraced many policies that modern liberals would consider appallingly discriminatory towards women and non-whites. Again, as the constituencies have shifted their allegiances, their interests and preferred policies have followed them.

42

Timothy Scriven 09.09.06 at 8:03 pm

“I would guess that most conservatives believe that (1) their preferred policies are better for nonwhites and women, (2) gays are not an oppressed community, enjoying, among other things, a higher average income than the rest of the population, and (3) (among Christian conservatives, at least) Christianity is a faith than everyone can and should benefit from.”

Sure but as you yourself would probably agree these beliefs are not well founded. Besides we are not discussing which sides policies are better for the weak but which side has a greater interest in the weak and which side has a greater interest in the strong. As a left winger I think the policies of the left will overall help the weak and the strong more than the policies of the right but that’s not what I’m arguing, I’m arguing that the left has a greater fixation on the weak than the right and that this fixation is so strong it could be used to define the ideology of at least a broad segment of the left while the right has a greater fixation on the strong and this fixation is so strong that it could be used to define a broad segment of the right.

The right yatters on about “majority rights” while I don’t think you’d ever catch a left winger doing anything like this. The issue we are discussing is not which side has the better policies in relation to the weak but which side spends more time talking about, thinking about and formulating their policies with reference to the weak. While of course, this being politics, there is bound to be obfuscation the evidence is overwhelming that the left has a greater fixation on the weak while the right has a greater fixation on the strong.

Yes concern about the working class is regrettably weaker in today’s liberalism than in the liberalism of the past but it’s not like we’ve switched sides, liberals themselves regularly decry liberalisms present semi apathy towards the working class. Also I’m not claiming that the right/left divide perfectly mirrors the interest in strong/interest in weak divide, only that it usually divides that way.

43

John Quiggin 09.09.06 at 10:25 pm

There was an interesting piece in TNR of all places not long ago, pointing out that the “socially liberal, economically centrist/conservative” group characterized by Clinton had just about disappeared in response to Bush, and that individual representatives of that group (Krugman for example) had moved to the left. Then, not surprisingly for TNR, it went off into some piece of nonsense based on the pre-emptive supposition that the shift would be reversed once Bush left, but the main point was still interesting.

44

abb1 09.10.06 at 1:55 am

Novakant, I don’t care about any left or about helping any liberal causes, that’s why I can simply say what I think and what I know. I’m sorry about you being sick, you should go see a doctor as soon as possible.

Otherwise, I believe my characterisation of the Khrushchev Thaw stands, regardless of its usefulness to liberal causes.

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novakant 09.10.06 at 4:46 am

pity you don’t know or rather don’t want to know much about the topic in question and your superficiality shows

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abb1 09.10.06 at 11:59 am

C’mon Novakant. I give you the facts in context: the historic period called “thaw”, and for a good reason: de-stalinization, liberaization in every way possible, mass-amnesty, mass-‘rehabilitation‘ (exoneration) of political prisoners, attempts to defuse and end the cold war and so on.

And you give me silly rhetoric like “millions enslaved” and “crimes against humanity” which means absolutely nothing and has no context whatsoever. This is the kind of rhetoric the communists used to describe racial discrimination in the US during the same period, or Vietnam war, plight of the poor, or many other realities of the West. So it works both ways, which is to say that it doesn’t work at all. They enslaved millions – as a figure of speech, and we enslaved millions – as a figure of speech – what does it mean? Nothing, just empty silly rhetoric.

And then you tell me don’t want to know much about the topic? I bet I know much more about this topic than you do.

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lemuel pitkin 09.10.06 at 7:49 pm

Altho, you know, we actually did enslave millions…

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jet 09.11.06 at 10:41 am

Lemuel Pitkin,
It is so refreshing to see, in 2006, there are still apologists and denialist of the Gulag and the USSR. Several million executed and 10’s of millions of lives ruined, and we have people saying it wasn’t that bad. Tell us about how the abolishment of property rights didn’t cause millions to starve in the 40’s. Or how the famines in the Ukraine weren’t really planned, but just bad luck.

Maybe as an encore you could resolve any doubt we might have about the Chinese Gulag in Tibet? And if you are not tired yet, explain away those N. Korean Gulags.

And as for slavery, you are absolutely right. Why would anyone believe that anybody sent to the “camps” was actually forced to work? I’m sure they woke up each day, ate their 1200 calories of food, and happily worked in quarries and coal mines until dusk. How could it be otherwise, comrade?

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abb1 09.11.06 at 11:19 am

Jet, are you really so stupid that you can’t grasp the concept of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev in 1964 not being the equivalent of the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1932 or you’re just trolling?

Besides, Mr. Reagan doesn’t seem to have anything against the Gulag, perhaps – unlike you – being aware of de-stalinization taking place in there at the moment; it’s “the soup kitchen of the welfare state” what he calls ‘slavery’.

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abb1 09.11.06 at 11:55 am

Here, comrade:

The state continued to maintain the camp system for a while after Stalin’s death in March of 1953, although the period saw the grip of the camp authorities weaken and a number of conflicts and uprisings occur (see Bitch Wars; Kengir uprising). The subsequent amnesty program was limited to those who had to serve at most 5 years, therefore mostly those convicted of common crimes were then freed. The release of political prisoners started in 1954 and became widespread, and also coupled with mass rehabilitations, after Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalinism in his Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February, 1956. Altogether, according to recent estimates on the basis of archival documents, about 18-20 million people had been prisoners in camps and colonies throughout the period of Stalinism at one point or another. By the end of the 1950s, virtually all “corrective labor camps” were dissolved. Colonies, however, continued to exist.

Officially the GULAG was liquidated by the MVD order 20 of January 25, 1960.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulag

Funny, it appears from the article that the highest number of people incarcerated in the camps at the same time was 1.7 million, which is less than the number of people currently incarcerated in the US with aproximately the same total size of the population.

Why don’t you use your tremendous enthusiasm to liberalize your own elite, comrade?

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