May 13, 2005

Why Left-Wing Democrats Aren't "Liberal"

Though the term has been widely mis-applied to the more enthusiastic portions of the Democratic base, this is a historical and political tragedy all its own. The term liberal is clearly more apt at describing the Republican Party's platform than the Democratic platform - free trade alone makes the Republicans more liberal than Democrats.

It's more than that, though. The Democrats emphasize The Common Good and The People and other mass concepts. They are group-oriented and they are aimed at helping other people's lives.

Republican rhetoric, at least the rights-based stuff, is aimed at right versus wrong and letting people decide how to run their own lives within a framework of justice and liberty.

See, two of the absolutely most basic tenets of liberalism - by which I mean classical liberalism, not deviant or degraded forms like positivist liberalism - are the supremacy of liberty and the importance of individual uniqueness of perspective, interest and desire.

The first one, the supremacy of liberty, I've already explained. Despite the incessant but superficial recurrence of rights related to abortion, Democrats on the left don't really talk about rights and aren't interested in rights so much as the common good. To be certain, they believe in freedom more than probably most other left-wing politicos in the world. But they do not rate freedom as highly as others, even as high as Republicans, and they often explicitly or implicitly subvert freedom to concepts such as the Common Good.

This feeds right into the second point. Classical liberalism teaches that we all have different beliefs, values, interests and perspectives. This is why tolerance is key to classical liberalism; we are all different and it requires respecting the rights of others to be different that lets free government operate successfully. The Common Good doesn't make the same allowances for individual preferences, disputes and so forth.

If somebody says he's taking $200 from me and everybody else in town to build a library "for the Common Good" my objection that I get all my resource and reading from the Internet would be overruled. After all, nobody has to say "The Common Good" when it's something you want. The Publisher's Clearinghouse doesn't have to tell you your winnings check is for The Common Good and the guy at the restaurant doesn't sell you dinner for money for The Common Good.

People only say The Common Good when they're forcing you to discount your own preferences, values and sometimes rights in order to serve some other goal. That's not to say that considering wider goals or the needs of others is inherently bad. I'm not an Objectivist; I think there's moral and social value in helping values. But it's silly to think that one person's preference for altruism is a justifiable reason to foist it upon others.

The left-Democrats' obsession with The Common Good - to the detriment of liberty and individual uniqueness - is the essence of why there's nothing liberal about them.


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