Saturday, December 4, 2010

An Ideological Primer (Pt. II)

On Thursday we discussed the meaning of the terms left and right in the context of economic thought. We noted that the difference was really a disagreement over how much freedom should be accorded the individual in society. The left we maintained, tends to be statist, i.e. they see the state as the repository of power and rights.

The right tends to believe that the most just state, the one which produces the highest quality of life for it's citizens, is the one in which individual freedom is maximized.

We concluded that discussion by noting that when we apply the terms right and left to social issues it becomes harder to discern the principles which separate them. Nevertheless, there are certainly differences.

On issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, gun control, capital punishment, and free speech people on the right tend to be traditionalist and constitutionalist. They tend to be skeptical of human nature and change, and they believe that we're foolish to disregard the accumulated wisdom and experience of those who have gone before us. We're also foolish to change the ways we order our society simply because some practices and ideas are no longer fashionable among the cultural elites. Conservatives place a very high value on the authority of the Constitution and the religious traditions that have governed men's lives for ages.

The combined authority of the Constitution and tradition generally leads conservatives to oppose gay marriage, abortion on demand, and open borders. They also are unreceptive to attempts to limit the right to own firearms and to expand free speech to cover "art" and language which coarsen our social life and degrade us as individuals. They further believe that we have grossly misapplied Jefferson's metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state and have turned it into an excuse to suppress religious expression in public spaces.

Conservatives favor capital punishment for the same reason they oppose abortion on demand - they value innocent life. Capital punishment, properly applied, sends the message that society values innocent life so much that the severest penalty will be exacted from anyone who wantonly takes it.

Liberals generally take the opposite position on each of these issues.

Libertarians, for their part, often agree with conservatives on capital punishment and gun control, but tend to agree with liberals on gay marriage, abortion, and borders. They seem to be ambivalent on the matter of church/state separation. Here's a chart, perhaps a little simplistic*, of where people in each of these camps tends to stand:

                                            Conservatives        Libertarians         Liberals
  • gay marriage                   oppose                 favor                favor
  • abortion on demand        oppose                 favor                favor
  • open borders                    oppose                 favor                favor
  • gun control                      oppose               oppose             favor
  • capital punishment           favor                    favor                oppose
  • public religion                   favor                   -------              oppose

There are more issues confronting us than just these, of course. There are major differences, for example, between conservatives and liberals on how to address environmental problems. Even so, the above chart may be helpful in trying to determine whether one's sympathies lie more with the right of the left.

* The positions assigned to conservatives, libertarians, and liberals are general tendencies. In practice it's possible to find people who adhere to each of these ideologies aligning themselves with the other side on almost every issue.