Saturday, September 12, 2015

Go Look It Up for Yourself

I get very angry with the widespread and flagrant abuse of the words “liberal” and “conservative” for over-hyped political activity.  What angers me most is how these words are used by each side to defame the other,  with all sorts of political agenda items incorrectly implied to be part of their definitions.

I suggest that you go look up the definitions for yourselves,  but I already know that the most flagrant abusers will not do that.  So,  here are the definitions from my old “Random House Dictionary of the English Language,  College Edition”,  published in 1968 by Random House,  New York,  and based upon their larger volume “Random House Dictionary of the English Language,  Unabridged Edition”,  from 1966 and 1967.  (Nothing about these words has truly changed since then.) 

(Page 286) conservative:  adj 1. disposed to preserve existing conditions,  institutions,  etc.,  and to resist change.  2. cautious,  moderate:  “a conservative estimate”.  3. traditional in style or manner;  avoiding showiness:  “a suit of conservative cut”.  4. (cap.) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.  5. of or pertaining to political conservatism.  6.  having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.  7. of or pertaining to Conservative Judaism or Conservative Jews.  n.  8. a person who is conservative in principles,  actions,  habits,  etc.  9.  a member of a conservative political party.  10.  a preservative.

Definitions 1,  2,  5,  8,  and 9 pertain to American politics.  Accordingly,  here is a related definition:

(Page 286) conservatism: n.  1. the disposition to preserve what is established and to resist change.  2.  the principles and practices of political conservatives.

The sense of all that for American politics,  expressed colloquially,  is that a political conservative is dominated by the idea that “if it ain’t broke,  don’t fix it”.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But it isn’t a complete philosophy,  because not all traditions do for us what we want. 

(Page 772) liberal:  adj 1. favorable to progress or reform,  as in religious or political affairs.  2. (often cap.) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.  3.  of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies or monarchies.  4.  of,  or pertaining to,  based on,  or advocating liberalism.  5. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible,  especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.  6. favoring or permitting freedom of action,  especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.  7.  free from prejudice or bigotry,  tolerant.  8.  open-minded or tolerant,  especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas,  values,  etc.  9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts.  10. given freely or abundantly.  11. not strict or rigorous;  free;  not literal.  12. of,  pertaining to,  or befitting a freeman.  n. 13. a person of liberal principles or views.  14. (often cap.) a member of a liberal party in politics,  especially of the Liberal Party in Great Britain.

Definitions 1,  2,  4,  13,  and 14 pertain to American politics.  Accordingly,  here is a related definition:

(Page 772) liberalism: n. 1. the quality or state of being liberal,  as in behavior,  attitude,  etc.  2. (sometimes cap.) the principles and practices of a liberal party in politics.  3. a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual,  and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.  4.  a movement in modern Protestantism that emphasizes freedom from tradition and authority in matters of belief. 

The sense of all that for American politics,  expressed colloquially,  is that a political liberal is dominated by the idea that “if it is broke,  then do fix it”.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But it isn’t a complete philosophy,  either,  because some traditions really do work well for us. 

I submit to you all that both ideas are absolutely essential to the good governance of our country,  at all levels.  All of us must be both liberal and conservative,  whichever need arises,  and whenever they show up. 

What you really have to decide is whether something is “broken”,  meaning dysfunctional,  not serving its intended purpose.  If it is,  the intelligent thing to do is to be a “liberal” and fix it.  If it is not,  the intelligent thing to do is to be a “conservative” and leave it alone.  It’s really just that simple. 

The key advice I have to offer is to base your decision on whether something is “broke” on nothing but simple objective functionality.  That functionality evaluation should be a matter of demonstrable fact,  not anything political at all.  To do otherwise is a part of the madness that renders our governments so ineffective,  at all levels today.

The rest of that madness derives from dividing into two pigeon-hole categories (whose philosophies are dangerously incomplete at best),  and then each side misusing the words to tar the other.


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