Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

July 08, 2004

Bush is a liberal

That's right, you heard me. A liberal.

Yes, I'm being deliberately provocative. But I'm in despair over how "liberal" has become a dirty word, particularly in American politics. For a politician to be labeled a liberal is a kiss of death, or at least that's the intention of anyone throwing the word around. But this stems from ignorance of what liberalism really means. In the classical, and correct, definition of liberalism, Bush most certainly does qualify:

In the nineteenth century in Europe, the great age of liberalism, the term stood for freedom from church and state authority and the reduction of the power of royalty and aristocracy, free enterprise economics, and the free development of the individual. Liberalism advocated freedom of the press, religious toleration, self-determination for nations. It was liberalism that established parliamentary democracy. The Founding Fathers might be termed liberals.

- iAmericanSpirit Political Dictionary

The Founding Fathers were liberals? 'Fraid so. They weren't left wing, by any means, but liberalism and leftism are not the same thing. Liberalism does not even belong within the left-right spectrum. Liberalism, in fact, holds the middle ground between anarchism and totalitarianism. Anarchism advocates the removal of all power structures, particularly those of a hierarchical nature. It proclaims all people equal, and thus no person should rule over another. Totalitarianism is precisely the opposite. It advocates extremely formal and hierarchical power structures and emphasises individual submission to the state. Liberalism is neither:

1. One broad usage of the term is for a tradition of thought that tries to circumscribe the limits of political power, and to define and support individual rights. We can call this "political liberalism".

2. What can be called "economic liberalism" insists upon the necessity of free trade, is outraged by cartels and monopolies, and sees no merit in a government that meddles unnecessarily in the marketplace.

- Wikipedia

Totalitarianism is absence of freedom. Liberalism is freedom -- the very root of the word is "liberty" -- and yet not the absolute freedom of anarchy. Liberalism's freedom is relative freedom, a grown-up kind of freedom that recognises there are multiple freedoms, and these often clash or contradict. Liberals believe that through compromise all freedoms can be maintained. It is a pluralist philosophy.

By all these definitions Bush is a liberal. Bush believes in freedom from church authority (but, being a liberal, believes in freedom of religion) and freedom from government authoritarianism. Bush believes in free markets and capitalism, and the "free development of the individual." He believes in freedom of the press, though, like all politicians, seeks to manipulate it. Bush believes in self-determination for nations but, like all genuine liberals, not at the expense of allowing a totalitarian regime to prosper. (I realise he allows Saudi Arabia to prosper, but Bush is also a realist.)

The vast, vast majority of Westerners is liberal, and so is the great majority of Muslims. Those who aren't -- the Leninists, Stalinists, fascists, radical Islamists -- represent a tiny fraction of the world's population. Yet that tiny fraction is the most vocal, the most aggressive and the most zealous. The aforementioned groups and paranoid Chomskyites aside, no-one truly believes that we liberals represent a serious threat to the minority, yet they represent a serious threat to us. Liberalism and our way of life, our free and pluralistic societies, disgust and alarm them. Totalitarianism may have all but collapsed in the West with the fall of communism and fascism, but it is still a strong and mostly growing force all around the world. From Iran to Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia to Sudan, from Palestine to Egypt, totalitarian radical Islamics are baying for our blood.

Meanwhile we liberals, we Democrats and Republicans, socialists and progressives, conservatives and centrists, and especially us Western liberals, turn a blind eye to this threat. Those who warn of the real and present danger facing our culture are condemned as racist or reactionary by well-meaning but naive commentators. Israelis, the vast majority of whom are also liberals, are called "Nazis" for their deathless siege on Arafat's compound, while their children are slaughtered by Palestinian suicide bombers. Despite the Saudi government's own admission that it is spending our petrodollars on building mosques and Islamic private schools in North America, mosques and schools they then staff with those who follow the extremist Wahhabi tradition of Islam, who teach our children and our citizens the lies of radical Islam and pass out textbooks describing Jews as "sons of pigs and apes."

We're all liberals. We must never stop fighting each other over social and fiscal policy, over the role and extent of government, over all the many differences between our various denominations within the great liberal mindset. But we must save our biggest fight for our enemies, the supporters of totalitarianism, the denigrators of freedom, for they wish to destroy us and what we represent.

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

- Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address


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