Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Politics: The Problem with Liberalism

A common criticism of conservatives is that they are paternalists, trying to make the world in their image by the sheer force of government power. Really though, it's far more often so-called-liberalism that brings about bigger government and reduction of freedoms in search of a dreamed of Utopia. One needs look no further than hate speech laws to see a vivid example of this.

Of course, in recent years conservatives have taken to trying to do the same thing. This whole business makes me angry. It makes me angry because I believe in liberty and it makes me angry because it doesn't work. We cannot make people moral by sheer force of law, morality is a matter of will. We cannot make utopia in a world as broken as the one we live in. We must strive for a better world, but with a realistic hope. The bloody utopian experiments of the last century should have shown us this. Ultimately, when we try and increase the powers of government to wield it for good, those powers end up in the hands of evil men (or corporation) who take advantage of the new power to increase oppression and injustice in this world.

The purpose of law, fundamentally, is to create a scaffold for society. Laws are moral, but they should consist of the bare bones necessary for maintaining order and civility. Laws, in other words, hold back anarchy just enough so that men can be moral and still survive.


  1. As alluring as a blanket statement of "freedom of speech" seems to be to most, I believe that we'd do well to consider its implications. Also, regardless of what the political adherents and detractors of this viewpoint claim, it would more accurately be described as the conservative viewpoint (which I personally hold).

    I naturally believe that individuals should always be free to voice their opinions and assert whatever they want. Such a license to challenge and criticize is the foundation for both a functioning nation as well as a great civilization.

    However, such a license as it applies to individuals cannot, in its intrinsic nature, be applied to entities such as corporations or organized groups. We must note that such entities often have the advantage of wealth or political clout. In essence, a small number of people with the proper arsenal of resources are effectually capable of far more aggressively asserting their viewpoint than a large number of people who do not organize in the same manner. The Fairness Doctrine stipulated that news organizations must attempt to give an unbiased and balanced treatment of issues of public concern. Is this not preferable to its alternative? Should not teachers in schools likewise be required to present material objectively? News organizations as well as schools have a special duty to perform with regards to informing the public. They are neither pulpits nor political grandstands. They are designed first and foremost to objectively educate the people.

    I feel obligated to note that the Fairness Doctrine worked quite well until Reagan repealed it in 1985. Contrary to what you say, I do not believe that this mindset was damaging. If anything, the departure of this mindset has heralded far more injustice in far shorter a time. It was, for the longest time, considered constitutional as well as reasonable. Coincidentally, the flurry of crappy, fake news that we are free to enjoy today started to see its heyday with the death of this notion that people cannot put whatever nonsense they want on the airwaves.

    We have no problem saying that freedom of action has its limits. We cannot wander around and murder people as we see fit. Nor can we rob people at will. I don't believe I go too far when I say that rich, powerful entities bear a certain responsibility with respect to the public.

  2. Please excuse how blunt this comment was... I was going to add some other stuff and tie this in more with the theme of government initiatives/control, but in trying to preview my rough draft, blogspot just posted it *shrugs*

    Given that the post as is quite close to the topic anyhow and that this is came up between us a while back, I suppose it'll do :-D

  3. I should make further note that I was specifically referring to the type of speech produced by radio talk-show hosts like Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh (hence, my discussion of the Fairness Doctrine). Again though, I only support this with respect to regulating official news/radio stations, corporations, or similar entities. Blogs, forums, discussions, and personal conversations would naturally not be (and never were) subject to such regulation.

  4. I suppose the question would be what is fair? Who decides? On what warrant do we decide the standard of neutrality by which we judge the relative merit of various viewpoints. It should be known that I don't think there is any theory-neutral ground to judge from in any case. Now, I find Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh (and Glen Beck) as offensive as you do, but their right to voice their opinions I do consider important.

    I will be posting up a blog soon discussing my opinions on the nature of law, and that will perhaps elucidate why I feel the way I do about free speech and why I consider it distinct from free action.

  5. I too believe that they have a right to voice their opinions, but if (providence forbid) they all decided to become public school teachers, then I think that they should not be able to brainwash the students in their classroom with whatever they please. I'm merely saying that we should treat the news and airwaves in the same way that we would treat a classroom at a school.

    As for deciding the standard of neutrality, I completely agree with you in that I do not believe there to be a perfectly objective viewpoint. But see, on these grounds, what objective basis is there for the formulation of ANY of our laws? Who decides what is murder and what is self defense? Who decides who was at fault in causing the car crash?

    As difficult as so many of these decisions are, it seems that we should none the less try to make them. Nothing is perfect; we must simply do our best. No tax system is perfect. No penal code is perfect. Moreover, I think that the Fairness Doctrine was actually applied pretty well given the difficulty of such an application. I also think that not TRYING to apply it AT ALL is far worse an alternative than applying it with some loss in accuracy or objectivity.

    A priest might tell you that he cannot interpret divine will with total accuracy or objectivity. His interpretation will be but a subjective one. I suppose just as well though that he would tell you that he still ought to try.

    I like these sorts of discussions...

    Socrates, Plato, Simmias, and Phaedo would be pleased with us!

  6. But see, on these grounds, what objective basis is there for the formulation of ANY of our laws? Who decides what is murder and what is self defense? Who decides who was at fault in causing the car crash?

    I do think there are ultimately objective things that can be reached, though we may never be aware if we've fully reached it. The only way for us to approach the issue, ultimately, is an informed, intelligent public debate that takes in all points of view in a rigorously critical manor. This cannot happen if views are censored. Rather than being censored, they need to be reasonably discussed and dispelled by intelligent discussion, not by law.

  7. But that's precisely what the Fairness Doctrine tries to do. It stipulates that any broadcaster of news has to give equal and equitable consideration to all possible sides of an issue of public concern. Any half-decent news organization does this naturally (PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer, BBC's World News, Fareed Zakaria's GPS). It's generally only hate-spewing crackpots who'd feel inconvenienced by this sort of legislation.

    I'm an enormous advocate of criticism and debate (which is precisely why I endorse such a doctrine). What I don't like is the power of and capacity to brainwash people through the use of powerful devices like television and radio, especially under the guise of "news". Maybe you could even ammend the doctrine to allow people like this to make broadcasts, but you'd have to have SOME sort of guidelines for an organization to meet before they're allowed to label themselves "news". In the same way that a school has to meet some guidelines in order to be called "accredited".

  8. I can accept criteria for the label of news, but I'm still very skeptical of the principle of a fairness doctrine in general.

    One thing you seem to be forgetting is that people can choose not to listen to Rush Limbaugh. That people do listen to him is a problem, but it's a problem generated by them and it has to be dealt with, I believe, on an individualized, localized basis, not by government fiat.

  9. I remember that when I was younger, going to high-school, my grandpa would drive me. On the way, he'd have Rush Limbaugh on. I didn't take to Rush, personally. Though I think that some kids are more likely to believe the blathering of their parents when they hear the same stuff coming out of the radio or television.

    Also, if you follow shootings and murders, you'll find that a good number of the perpetrators had a habbit of listening to these kinds of people. There was some incident where a talk-show host openly advocated killing a liberal preacher. Before long, someone had actually done it.

    I guess you might say that this is where I'm coming from when I say that these people (who have amazing broadcasting power) need to be held to a different standard. I also think that my position has its difficulties as well.

    In any case, I totally wish that they'd set quality standards for "News". :-)

  10. If someone says, go kill a liberal preacher, and someone does it, the person who acts is primarily culpable, but I would say that in such a case the law should hold the broadcaster as a conspirator to murder. Of course, this doesn't help the person killed, but there are systems in place for this that don't destroy free speech.

    I should be posting up a brief of my theory of law tomorrow, which should give a better context for by opinion about freedom of speech. I look forward to your comments there.

    Note: A fairness doctrine may be a good law, but it certainly isn't a liberal doctrine. One of the problems I have with modern liberalism is it's hypocrisy. It claims to be for freedom, but then stifles it when it's out of sync with the real agenda. This isn't what I'm accusing you of, but the movement in general.

  11. I agree with you about the nomenclature of all these concepts. It's true of so many things in America these days. For instance... a fiscally conservative viewpoint would logically want for more regulation of finance. Whereas a liberal viewpoint would argue in favor of letting corporations do whatever they wanted to do. Ironically, in the U.S., economic liberalism is now regarded as a "conservative" principle. I know you weren't talking about me, but I do think that many liberals are hypocritical. Don't get me started on how feminists railroaded Larry Summers out of Harvard :-D

  12. The point is that we have two political parties which attempt to use governmental power to coral people into forms of behavior inline with said parties given Utopian vision.