David P. Stang, a friend, upon reading Chris Mooney’s Liberals and Conservatives Don’t Just Vote Differently, They Think Differently, which I posted yesterday in my new addition to this website, took exception to the article, intimating Mooney was 51 cards short of a full deck (my interpetation of Dave’s comments).
But rather than just throw stones, Dave composed what he calls an ‘essay” to school us on what he believes we all need to know about Liberals and Conservatives.
As I’m in my extended search to understand how good folks can see things so differently, particularly in the area of politics and religion, I post Dave’s thoughtful piece below.
See what you think.
Liberals and Conservatives
An Essay by David P. Stang
The meaning of these terms varies depending upon who is employing them, the geographical location and historic period in which they have been used and, of course, upon their etymology. Sometimes these terms are equated with political parties in both the United States and abroad. For example, in the U.S. liberal tends to be associated with Democrats and conservative is usually linked to Republicans.
These liberal and conservative labels are also associated with stereotypes. The Republican stereotype of a Democrat is government-loving, corporation-hating, religion-loathing, woolly-headed, feely-touchy, Marxism-inspired, politically-correct idealist who believes that all stereotyping (except epithets about conservatives and Republicans) is inherently unsyllogistic and without any factual foundation, prefers wearing his or her heart on their sleeve to sound analytical thinking, identifies with minority groups who perceive themselves as professional victims in need of government funded compensation and who perceive lower and middle-class members of the electorate to be inherently incapable of caring for themselves or being able to make intelligent decisions and undertake wise actions regarding their life situations and are therefore in need of inherently wiser bureaucrats at the national, state and local level to make decisions for them regarding what would be in their best interests, and that massive government deficit spending is grounded upon sound economic reasoning.
The Democrat stereotype of a Republican is either (1) a ‘Red State’ unwashed, uneducated, mentally retarded cretin whose cosmology on a good day is at best troglodytic, likely to be a born-again Jesus freak, ignorantly and prejudicially intolerant of any member of all minority groups, who believes that dining at Burger King is a five-star experience, who avidly believes that good citizenship is best exemplified by supporting and attending games featuring their local high school athletic teams and who is convinced that the theory of evolution is inspired by the devil, or (2) is a government-hating, under-taxed managerial level employee of a large corporation intent on maximizing profit through the ruthless and criminal exploitation of the poor, helpless and underprivileged and who thinks restricting government spending to revenues received i.e., achieving a balanced budget, therefore confirming all holders of that view as suffering from an underlying psychotic delusion.
Now sometimes stereotyping contains at least a kernel of truth. If so, it ought to be encouraged rather than prohibited as a fiendish act. This may seem totally radical as it could entail high crimes involving horrendous political incorrectness. Liberal versus Conservative political battles in our Nation’s Capital and elsewhere are more often than not bitter and nasty undertakings, particularly when the extremists of both parties are going after each other hammer and tong. Based upon nearly twenty years’ service in the military and all three branches of the federal government and over thirty years of practicing law in the District of Columbia my own personal prejudice about both Republican and Democrat extremists is that their agenda is based upon hatred rather than the detached analytical reasoning. To set the record straight from the outset I regard myself as a liberal in the context below described.
Enough about contemporary American Democrat vs Republican political party battle lines for the time being. Let us now turn to the historical meanings of liberal and conservative.
The term liberal in ancient Greece meant free as of the class of freemen, not slaves. Persons of that class attended Plato’s Academy where the Liberal Arts Curriculum had its earliest origins. Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic were known as the Trivium. Grammar pertained to the structure and usage of the Greek, then Latin languages. Rhetoric was the predecessor of oratory, or public speaking, in which one was taught to persuasively argue one’s point of view. Logic, of course, meant Aristotelian logic, featuring syllogistic reasoning and identifying and refuting fallacies. To these three subjects were added mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy which included astrological reasoning as well. This was the training received by the great philosophers, plus every other professional career pursuit of the ancient, medieval, renaissance and early modern eras. Taken together these seven subjects were known as the Quadrivium. In recent centuries other topics including philosophy, the humanities, foreign languages, plus the hard and social sciences were added to what became known as The Liberal Arts’ arts and sciences curriculum.
The educational theory upon which this curriculum was based, metaphorically speaking, was that each academic subject of interest was regarded as a separate and distinct lens through which to view reality. The greater the number of lenses one had at one’s disposal the more comprehensive one’s knowledge of reality could become. The Liberal Arts understandably became an academic center of knowledge-broadening free thinking. Freethinkers were encouraged to question everything and accept nothing as a given. Truth in all its forms was to be hard-won through solid discursive reasoning.
During the medieval years and extending through most of the Twentieth Century European gentleman from the high school (or gymnasium) level were given a Liberal Arts education. This was the principal curriculum, for example, of the British Public (meaning private) school system from which graduates were considered well enough educated to enter the managerial workforce without necessarily going on to undertake further higher education.
Thus, Liberal Arts values over the millennia have been directed at truth finding. Nothing is assumed to be true. Every assertion is to be challenged by subjecting it to analytical scrutiny. The humanities and the sciences are engaged in truth seeking. They both engage in comparing and contrasting. When comparing two objects of study scholars search for what is similar between the two. When contrasting scholars search to identify what is different between them. From this discipline of reasoning emerged the classification of genus and species. Organisms that were quite similar to one another were classified as stereotypes: “Something conforming to a fixed or general pattern.” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary)
But in recent years many academic liberals allege that there is no such thing as a human stereotype as all humans, they claim, are each entirely unique and therefore share no characteristics in common. Yet racial, ethnic, gender, nationality, age group and geographic distinctions among humans are well recognized and statistically recorded. But ironically no distinctions between individuals within such categories can be considered valid by today’s liberal scholars because they assert each individual member is wholly unique. Therefore, any attempt at stereotyping in such cases has been declared by such academics and their former students who have infiltrated our American society as not only logically invalid, but morally repugnant; worse yet, disgustingly politically incorrect. But that forbidden classification system is nevertheless acceptable to use for stereotyping species and subspecies of millions of flora and fauna.
Here one of the paramount Liberal Arts values of challenging any assertion, questioning every premise, digging relentlessly for the truth has been sacrificed for the ‘greater cause’ of political correctness. Sad to say my liberal friends of the Democrat stripe in the Ivory Tower and in most urban environments have not yet detected this gross inconsistency of values.
However, Republicans traditionally tend to conserve traditional values, including those which for centuries in the educational system have been known as the liberal tradition of truth seeking. For Republicans generally regard the practice of political correctness as not only an insult to those values but an abandonment of truth seeking itself.
Hence, conservatives do their best to conserve what has proven to be good. Conservatives don’t believe that the newest thoughts on the block necessarily constitute the best ideas. Conservatives consistently eschew new governmental social action ideas because they always either entail spending more tax payers’ money and/or they require higher taxes.
Having established these principles we can, in good conscience, safely return to political stereotyping. Now it is true that not all Republicans are committed to conserving well established truth seeking values. And it is true that not all Democrats are opposed to conserving well established truth seeking values. But it is also true that more Republicans than Democrats view political correctness as an abdication of truth. And more Republicans than Democrats believe that individuals should be economically and morally responsible for themselves rather than relying upon government largess to support them.
But it is not true to say that only Democrats embrace liberal values. Thank God for the Republicans’ dedication to conserving traditional liberal truth seeking values, sometimes necessarily through use of justifiable stereotyping.
Facinating and so much more accurate then initial article. I struggle a lot personally with what are good morals and values that should not change by the viscissitudes of silly psychological whims or easy solution oriented problem solving. My life’s work has been in trying to help children and families and yet I strongly believe that government run solutions are frequently more hurtful then helpful. So I am never surewhere I fall. I see good parts of each and I fear extremes.
Hugh Riddleberger said:
Thank you, David for elevating the stereotypes. I find in today’s political and social climate, people are too easily moved to describe others into convenient stereotypes, as if in doing so, it will rationalize their views and discount those with whom they disagree.
My favorite routine each week is to watch Shields and Brooks on the Newshour. At the heart of their weekly review is civility and respect. Would we have more of that in today’s world, while seeking “truth.”
David Stang said:
Thanks for your kind remarks.
I agree with you re Shields and Brooks
David Stang said:
Carrie, Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
Seeking a balance as you do is consistent with Aristotle’s ” golden mean”.