Liberalism (Third of four related essays)
By Travis Hardin
All of Earth's human passengers appear to the liberal as shipmates. As the social conservative drops more and more anchors, the social liberal builds taller and taller sails. He tries to cut the anchor chains that seem so restraining, and if radical, stop the restrainers by force. For the liberal sees life as a journey through time, a journey full of promise, to which history is only a prelude. Why someone would want to frustrate them on the journey they can only vaguely imagine.
Where are they headed? Along a time line into the future, where improvement lies. If the past was primitive and the present tentative, then the future is what inspires the imagination of the liberal.
Besides being future-looking, one of liberalism's polar characteristics (qualities that are not shared by the conservative pole) is inclusiveness.
Liberals believe in democracy. They believe the dignity of persons cuts across traditional dividing lines. They promote equal opportunities for all, worldwide, to pursue individual and collective human happiness and assuagement of suffering.
Liberals believe in unfettered reason and unfettered inquiry. Liberals believe in science.
Liberals are sympathetic and feeling, able to put themselves in the place of the disadvantaged and the oppressed. If there is a god, he/she/it is wise and rational, a compassionate friend, and an inspiration toward the most elevating capabilities and emotions.
Looking past the veneer of good that conceals the frightful animal within us, the liberal believes he sees a healthy sprout of good that comes from a kernel within each of us, capable of overshadowing the growth of primal evil there, if society nurtures it The liberal is attentive to the promise of that good while underestimating the potential of the evil.
Usually sharing, inclusive, guileless, and trusting, the liberal smiles from the inside. The liberal generally has an introspective awareness, is mentally healthy, and considers sex healthy, usually experiencing it as sharing bliss -- more a truly religious experience than a primitive, frightful thing.
Freud, who made us aware of the complexities of sex and religion, saw a danger in conventional religion. "The dangers which Freud sees in religion make it apparent that his own ideals and values are the very things he considers to be threatened by religion: reason, reduction of human suffering, and morality", writes Erich Fromm in the little classic Psychoanalysis and Religion adding that Freud "has expressed very explicitly what are the norms and ideals he believes in: brotherly love (Menschenliebe), truth, and freedom."
The liberal prefers the psychological world view to the political, I believe. Freud's ideas are on the liberal pole, except freedom, which both poles claim. (The dilemma is solved by separating the two meanings given to the word. Inclusive-freedom would be the liberal meaning, while freedom-for-my-tribe would be the conservative meaning. We really can't hear each other from different branches of the tree of epistemology or from different roots of psychological insecurity.)
Socially and politically, the Democratic party professes egalitariananism and so carries the liberal banner. By illustration, the five Democratic presidential candidates (in February) were profiled in the press. Jerry Brown "advocates universal health care...proposes 'massive investment' in infrastructure...with money to come from defense budget." Bill Clinton "promises universal national health care..would double federal spending on education and training, child care, the environment, basic research and public works to $200 billion...proposes $35 billion cut in defense spending...proposes to raise taxes on those earning more than $200,000."
Harkin, Kerry, and Tsongas likewise proposed a more inclusive health insurance to be paid either by taxes or by employers; shifting military funds to domestic needs; and progressive taxation. All five support abortion rights.
Candidate profiles used by permission of Knight-Ridder Tribune News. Copyright 1992.