Monday, August 3, 2009

Political Divide

We're all familiar with the basic liberal and conservative positions: liberals = government programs & equality, conservatives = business & individual responsibility. But there are nuances to these basic ideas, and they have definitely evolved over time.

I've been struck lately at how seemingly stubborn and dogmatic conservatism has become, especially since Obama took office. If you look at what this diagram says about what each ideology emphasizes, and compare it with the political rhetoric we've been hearing, it's notable that conservatism has taken a much harder tack to the right, while liberalism has moved considerably towards the center.

The diagram offers 3 political position emphases: philosophical emphasis , emphasized mechanism for obtaining it, and its emphasized threat. The extreme version of right and left would accept little or no cross-over, while the moderate would accept a good deal, while retaining the original emphasis.

Notice how the modern, mainstream liberal position is one of great moderation. The extreme position would be entirely opposed to business, with government running the economy, i..e communism. But most liberals today are indeed very opposed to the government running any sector of the economy. Theirs is a mixed economy, or "an economy of the gaps", where business is sometimes regulated, but allowed to prosper, while the government fills in needed services the market is unable to provide adequately. Much of this position is due to the recognition of the massive failures of communism, and the many benefits of responsible business.

Yet modern, mainstream conservatism is very extreme. Government is constantly railed against, and would preferably stay out of the economy all together. The common good is something of an afterthought, as a sort of social darwinism places the fate of the individual squarely at his own feet. It is in many ways utopian, as it consistently posits an "if only" situation in which society would reach a state of grace in the absence of social planning, and at the whim of the individual. In other words, any problems we see today are the fault of government or the individual's lack of merit.

Strangely, much is made of future scenarios of government dominance - "socialism" - yet the multitude of accepted government programs in existence today are never mentioned. This sentiment is supremely expressed in the recent news item in which an angry man stood up at a town hall meeting and declared "Don't let the government get its hands on my medicare!" Other "socialist" programs such as public schools, mental health clinics, parks or libraries would seem to be logical enemies as well but they are never mentioned.

In short the biggest difference between modern liberalism and conservatism today seems that conservative fear of government is extreme, while liberal fear of business is not.

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