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Pulitzer prize winning author, Columbia professor, historian, and liberal Eric Foner thinks liberalism is in a state of contradiction. One the one hand, he says liberals want an "activist government" while, on the other, liberals want privacy and a lack of government intervention. It brings to mind an Aesop's fable called The Horse, Hunter, and Stag:

A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: "If you desire to conquer the Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon you as we follow after the enemy." The Horse agreed to the conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and said to the Hunter: "Now, get off, and remove those things from my mouth and back."

"Not so fast, friend," said the Hunter. "I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present."

Moral: If you allow men to use you for your own purposes, they will use you for theirs.

We know the Left is pretty unhappy with Obama's many broken promises, and many are feeling a bit betrayed. (As the joke goes, "if Obama doesn't end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo, and stop bombing Pakistan, we swear to fucking God we'll vote for him with slightly less enthusiasm in 2012.")

Spread the Wealth - Obamas political contributions given to McCain

But the betrayal is about more than broken promises - it's about a betrayal of principles and partiality, and Obama is the symbol. People thought they were voting for one set of principles - an activist government hell-bent on economic equality, destruction of corporatism, and promoting peace. What they got was an activist government. They wanted more state power (via regulations) against corporations. What they got was more state power. They wanted government to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. What they got was government redistributing wealth. They wanted more government spending on social programs. What they got was more government spending. They wanted government to improve the lives of the people. What they got was government improving the lives of a subset of the people (e.g., the bankers and elite). They voted for a more powerful executive who would be a leader for their causes. What they got was a more powerful executive. These aren't the partial wins liberals were hoping for.

Why isn't the Left getting what they voted for? Do you agree with the author's insinuation that modern liberal/progressive ideas are incoherent? Which of the author's claims could be made about conservatives as well? What are the differences among liberals, progressives, conservatives, and libertarians for the definition and concepts of freedom? Why do liberals, progressives, and conservatives want more activist governments, but then complain when they get it? Is the struggle between liberals, progressives, and conservatives just a battle of who gets to run the intrusive, bureaucratic, imperialistic empire?

Ever since Reagan and the first Bush turned liberal into a term of abuse, it's very hard to find politicians who will forthrightly proclaim themselves liberals. The term progressive is a substitute. It sounds good. How can anyone be against things that are progressive as opposed to retrograde?

...Modern liberals and turn-of-the-century progressives share a similar view of the role of government in society. But going back to the term progressive is a little misleading. Earlier progressives had no interest, by and large, in race issues. They accepted segregation. And they were uninterested in civil liberties, which has become a basic element of modern liberalism. They were statists - they weren't interested in standing up against the state. So today's progressivism is different from what progressivism meant a century ago...

As I see it, the core tenets are somewhat at odds with each other. On the one hand you have the belief in governmental assistance to the less fortunate, governmental regulation of economic activity and very modest governmental efforts to redistribute wealth to assist those further down the social scale. So it's active government, in the pursuit of social goals, when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, modern liberalism emphasises privacy, individual rights and civil liberties - keeping government out of your life when it comes to things like abortion rights. In other words, in the private realm liberalism is for autonomy and lack of government intervention...

Stretching back to Woodrow Wilson, people who believe in a strong state have been tempted by the idea of spreading the American way throughout the world. It's not enough for the government to improve American society; they want to remake the world in our image...

Liberals want to improve the world beyond our borders and broaden the rights of people overseas. The imperial temptation is something that liberals succumb to as much as conservatives...

In the 19th century, liberalism was virtually the opposite of what it is today. People who called themselves liberals were believers in laissez faire and limited government and often very elitist in their outlook. Twentieth-century liberalism is much more interventionist, redistributionist, and state-oriented. Twenty-first-century liberalism could be a new breed. On the one hand, liberals retain their belief in an activist government stimulating greater equality. On the other hand, liberals believe in dissent, individual liberties and retaining an area of life sealed off from governmental intrusion, surveillance and intervention. Modern liberalism combines these two conflicting tendencies. It's a somewhat uneasy marriage.

Eric Foner on the Evolution of Liberalism


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Jul 28, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=609

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