Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pride Mixed with Pain: The Recipe for Liberalism?

For conservatives, the last 20 years have been both an immense frustration as liberalism has become ingrained in media, academic and pop-culture circles, and a blessing as the new media has given voice to the conservative leanings of many Americans. The last 20 years have also defined conservative vs. liberal as much as the founding defined federalism vs. states-rights. And it seems we’ve now reached the point where the rhetoric has taken on a whole new level, where conservatives and liberals can hardly be in the same room and where liberalism is understood more as a “mental disorder” than a political ideology.

Michael Savage and Ann Coulter have both championed the idea that liberalism is a psychological condition instead of an set of opinions, apparently with much success in conservative circles given their book sales. And when one looks at some on the far left, I can at least understand the sentiment: such anti-natalistic tendencies as abortion-on-demand, fiscal policies that create poverty and unreasonable vitriol for President Bush all lead me at times to think that hard-core liberalism is based on a very different foundation than my conservatism. The emotion-driven responses to these sorts of issues often make the liberal making them appear to be irrational to the point of insanity. How can one, after all, support such silly fiscal policy after seeing how dreadfully it has failed for the last 40 years? How can it be that any group of people would fight so hard for the right to abortion? Does this not strike others as bizarre at best, and macabre at worst?

But I find the “mental disorder” schematic too easy, appealing to the masses in the worst sort of way, and simply ignorant of what is behind a lot of liberalism. In my experience with those who proudly champion liberal causes, I often find a combination of pride and pain. Now, if conservatives wanted to say that those who are prideful or in pain are, in fact, suffering from very real mental disorders, I suppose they could. But that wouldn’t be particularly reasonable, either. Most of the liberals I know speak from places of pain, not psychosis. This does not excuse their positions that fly in the face of logic (liberal fiscal policy), history (liberal foreign policy) or virtue (the liberal understanding of conception/human life). But it does more accurately diagnose the condition of liberalism as one in need of healing more than scorn. Telling those who hold near and dear positions to their heart that they have mental problems won’t help anybody.

I realize the arrogance of saying that a whole group of people live lives of pain, and make deluded judgments from there. But I find the combination of anger-driven political idealism, agnosticism (or atheism), and unfounded optimism for “progressive” attitudes to be most common among liberals. And I find that what drives it is the sorts of pains that many of us experience, and consequently want an easy answer to solve them. We see injustice, we see ideals not realized, we see meanness, and we all want a solution. But those with a sense of history and cautious optimism have the best chance of providing real solutions, not those who react to injustice with self-righteousness and blind faith in plans that have failed for years.

And that brings me to pride. A cursory examination of history should humble the examiner if nothing else. The past century was full of failed socialist experiments in every form and fashion, yet miraculously, socialism still has a lot of power in the world instead of fading. It is sheer pride in humanity that would allow anyone to hang on to Marxism for one more minute, because it completely ignores the brokenness of our human condition. It is also pride that allows anyone to think that tomorrow will bring something different, even though history often predicts what will happen next. Raising the minimum wage, for example, won’t work. To believe otherwise is an exercise in pride as much as ignorance. To not protect the sanctity of human life has serious consequences about how we care for all the vulnerable in our society. To believe otherwise is also an exercise in pride.

Would this be the wrong time to say I have a lot of liberal friends? This is not a diatribe against them. If anything, I aim to defend them against the Coulters and Savages of the world, who would write them off as loons as soon as consider the origins of their ideas. And this is nothing new. Conservatives are generally polled to be happier, more hopeful and more joyful than those who call themselves liberal. Maybe instead of trying to get liberals to be conservative, we would have more success if we could just get them to be happier.