"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Predictive Obituary: American Freedom, Liberty, and Independence

American Freedom, Liberty, and Independence were found brutally murdered today on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Authorities say the evidence points to a gruesome triple homicide.

They were 233 years old.

"We have good reason to believe that Freedom, Liberty, and Independence did not die of natural causes. This incident is currently classified as a homicide. We are still questioning witnesses and analyzing evidence, but we have one main suspect at this time."

American Freedom, Liberty, and Independence are survived by their relatives, American Ingenuity, American Exceptionalism, the Spirit of God in America, and American Democracy.

The threesome were famous for their exploits over the course of their lives. Shortly after their birth they helped George Washington defeat the British in the War for Independence. They were also present when Andrew Jackson drove the Brits out again in the war of 1812.

Of course, they ran into some trouble with authority during their adolescent days as most young people do. That feeling of rebellion common in most young adults spilled over with the beginning of the terrible Civil War. However, it was not all tragedy during their youth. They also guided Abraham Lincoln as he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

As they began to mature, the three friends experienced some successes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, just before they could start getting arrogant, they began what would be nearly a century long battle against oppression and tyranny, led by Woodrow Wilson. World War I was a temporary respite from the attacks here at home as the trio helped our men fight bravely overseas.

Life seemed to be going smoothly for a while during the Roaring 20's, but as the Depression suddenly began, Freedom, Liberty, and Independence were shoved rudely back into reality. They hit the streets with their good friends American Spirit and American Ingenuity in an effort to keep the American people's morale high during the tough times. But the infamous Franklin D. Roosevelt emerged and initiated the programs that would ultimately become the trio's undoing.

Freedom, Liberty, and Independence contracted very severe cases of acute tyrannical disorder (ATD) and Magnus Governmentalis (Big Government) shortly after FDR assumed the Presidency. Doctors also discovered the Nannium Statum cancer (Nanny State) in all three of the friends in 1936.

The on-set of World War II was another temporary relief from these illnesses. Their cancer also seemed to disappear. The three traveled all around the world bringing their naturally good-natured spirit with them. US troops overseas welcomed them with open arms. In France, they resuscitated their old friends French Liberty, Freedom, and Independence. In Germany, Japan, and other places they also met people much like themselves.

The end of the the War was a great day for them. They were cheered in the streets of New York City and other places around the country. Everything seemed right in the world. The three friends had been through hell and survived. Now, it seemed, they had grown up.

And indeed it seemed they had, for the 1950s were a time of tremendous growth in the America. President Eisenhower helped Freedom, Liberty, and Independence do many wonderful things around the country. There was no reason to think things would change. But they did.

During the 1960s, the trio hit what they later called their "mid-life crisis." While they did do good things with the Civil Rights Act and other such laws, they may have gone a little too far in some other areas. As they later admitted, "We thought the world was ours. We didn't think of the long-term consequences of some of our actions. The whole hippie-thing was a bad idea."

In the 1980s, Freedom, Liberty, and Independence shined again. Not only did they work their magic in America with the help of their good friend, Ronald Reagan, but they also went around the world showing their cousins in other nations how to do things correctly. Margaret Thatcher used many of their ideas in Great Britain. Even Mikhail Gorbachev partly released Russian Freedom, Liberty, and Independence at the behest of their American counterparts and Ronald Reagan.

The 1990s and 2000s were an up and down time for this tremendous trio. They had a relapse of the Nannium Statum with some of the reforms and new laws of the '90s. Magnus Governmentalis also reemerged. However, September 11 rejuvenated them unlike any other event since World War II. They seemed strong and healthy as they had ever been.

But the increasing government power amassed during the Bush administration after 9/11 only served to diminish their health. After the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Liberty became an alcoholic. Freedom and Independence grew increasingly concerned about their friend. Things only got worse with the bank bailout of 2008.

The election of a new president in 2008 seemed like it would again rejuvenate Freedom, Liberty, and Independence; Liberty even gave up alcohol for a short time. But things quickly spiraled out of control. The nationalization of banks, automakers, lenders, home mortgage companies, and most recently the entire health industry were the final death blows for the three old friends.

Today, on the steps of the capitol, their bodies lay badly beaten, bruised, and bloodied. Witnesses said they were barely recognizable, were it not for the fact that they were wrapped in the American Flag.

One witness claims to have seen the whole event, "I was enjoying my tour of our wonderful Capitol City, when I heard some commotion over on the steps. I saw a tall, skinny figure and two cohorts savagely beating Freedom, Liberty, and Independence. I never saw his face clearly. But it kinda seemed to me that he looked like he was enjoying it.

"It's such a shame, especially since they had just celebrated a birthday."

Memorial services have actually already been scheduled. They will be held this Sunday in parts of the country were people cling to their guns and religion. To be admitted you will have to either be wearing a military uniform, be pro-life, have a southern accent, like deer hunting, drink beer and sweet tea, listen to country music, go to church on Sundays, believe in traditional marriage, enjoy steak and barbeque, be from Texas (or any other red state), wear a cowboy hat, or drive a tractor (preferably a John Deere).

Environmentalists, gay-rights activists, abortionists, democrats, liberals, fascists, communists, socialists, and Hollywood actors will be turned away.

The family asks that you please send donations to your local church or go purchase a gun in their honor.

***

This was originally written in July of 2009. Minor grammatical and typographical edits were made in August 2013.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Roosevelt and Johnson: Manifestations of American Liberalism and the Role of Government in the 20th Century

This was originally a paper I submitted for a college history class. I think it's quite good and well-researched. I hope you enjoy it!

***

The liberalism currently prevalent in the United States is not true liberalism, and even the liberalism of modern America is far different than traditional American liberalism of the early to mid-20th century. What is considered “conservative” today is really just classical liberalism, and what is “liberal” today only retains a portion of true liberal roots. The “social democrat” policies of Franklin Roosevelt and his administration during the great depression, highlighted by handouts and an ever encroaching government, were what defined American liberalism for about 30 years, through Lyndon Johnson’s administration and his Great Society programs. Franklin Roosevelt used the crisis of the Great Depression to push through social programs (i.e., social security), and later used the Second World War to expand the power of government. Similarly, Lyndon Johnson seized the opportunity presented by the civil rights debate, John F. Kennedy’s death, and rising American affluence and egalitarianism, to promote his idea of a Great Society. The Great Society, with initiatives in civil rights, education, and economics matters, broke slightly with traditional “social democrat” initiatives, favoring a more liberal agenda; not classical liberalism, but a type of fascist liberalism, where government was the helping hand for every one in every situation, essentially necessary to everyday life – Big Brother. Jonah Goldberg writes, “In short, the argument about the size of government is often a stand-in for deeper arguments about the role of government.” He goes on to say that “[F]or some liberals, the state is in fact a substitute for God and a form of political religion as imagined by Rousseau and Robespierre, the fathers of liberal fascism.”[1] I am by no means going to argue that Roosevelt and Johnson were in fact fascists; that would take too long and is not exactly correct. However, I will be arguing that the role and size of government markedly increased during their terms, and this was only part of the shift in liberal beliefs towards fascism, but does not necessarily qualify them as fascists; it is merely a fascist tendency.

And so, the liberalism of the Great Society not only continued the trend set by FDR, but was sharpened, heightened, and progressed under the guidance of Lyndon Johnson. Liberalism changed from a desire for unfettered personal liberty, to a desire for freedom from oppression by traditional, conservative institutions and beliefs. For Roosevelt and his pupil Johnson, the government was a means to providing that freedom.

What really occurred with these administrations was a sizable increase in government influence in the lives of the people, a result directly at odds with classical liberalism and far different than our founders intended. And this is where my argument lies: the policies of FDR and LBJ placed government into the living rooms of the formerly independent American family. This paper will focus mainly on social and economic aspects of the two administrations. For the purposes of this paper, “Social” will include things such as rights and benefits conferred by the government; “economic” will refer to, among other things, job creation, direct money handouts (i.e., welfare), and taxation. Thus, mainly through their social and economic initiatives, these two presidents changed what liberalism was and made government an ever-present, ever-growing institution in American life. Yet, the question remains: What exactly is liberalism? Now I will try to precisely define the nebulous ideology.

Liberalism: The Ideology
An ideology can be loosely defined as a shared system of thought about society’s social and political order that competes with other sets of belief regarding the world.[2] In the centuries since the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution numerous different ideologies have gained prominence and large followings; the most important of them being conservatism, liberalism, communism, and socialism. Today though, these names are commonly associated with political parties. For example, in the United States conservatives usually identify with Republicans, and liberals identify with Democrats. In this case, the liberalism of the Democratic Party has come to mean something entirely different than its original, historical meaning. These ideologies rose as organized belief systems mainly during the age of Enlightenment and thereafter, but in the time since they have changed considerably, and in some cases drastically. It was during the twentieth century that liberalism took its modern form with programs of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

Liberalism can claim to be perhaps the oldest ideology, at least according to some Catholic scholars. Satan can be considered the very first liberal, because of his revolt and desire for unfettered personal liberty.[3] From this single act of rebellion can be traced the entire liberal ideology. And here enlies the problem; the precise definition of liberalism is rather vague. In its most stripped down, abstract definition, liberalism seeks liberty as an end in itself, not a means to an end, because for the liberal, everything comes from an individual’s own unrestricted use of reason as the measure of everything. In effect the liberal sees man as self-sufficient and essentially good, with a free will subjected to nothing; he is always seeking progress in everything, equality for all, radical individualism, and the ability to do as one pleases.[4] In modern times, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the term “liberal” is used in the United States to describe a belief in government as an answer to societal ills and provide freedom of equality. This belief usually includes faith in government interference with the economy, health, and education, while still claiming to be concerned for individual freedom by promoting civil rights, personal freedoms for some (repression for others), and separation of Church and State among other things. Modern liberalism has drifted far from its original roots of personal freedom at any cost. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, “liberal” referred to the idea of individualism, and thus capitalism, free trade, limited government, strict rule of law, and a secular but rational outlook on life.[5] If we look back even farther to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, liberalism was mainly focused on the field of economics and in this we see even a greater difference between then and now.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his Wealth of Nations offers one of the first and most well known works espousing liberal economic theory, or laissez-faire. Basically, Smith puts forth an idea of “natural liberty” and the notion that an “invisible hand” guides the economy. This invisible hand is simply individual consumers who, by following their own interests and desires, facilitate the betterment of the general welfare.[6] It was in the eighteenth century that liberalism became much more radical and effective as a means of social and political change.

Since a basic element of liberalism is that government be based on consent of the governed and political right, the monarchies of the eighteenth century came under intense attack from freedom seeking philosophers, such as John Lock, Thomas Hobbs, even Rousseau and Voltaire. [7] The liberal philosophy produced during the enlightenment came to a head during the American and French Revolutions. Feelings of individualism were strong, and the people rose up against the established regimes in America and France with ruthless revolutions. Both revolutions had strong liberal voices behind their movements; Voltaire, Rousseau, and Robespierre in France, with Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, toned down versions of the French radicals, in America. These revolutions gained popularity in part because the economic activity was hampered by government intervention, which liberal laissez-faire doctrine stood against. Today, the modern Democratic Party in the United States garners the label of liberal, but as a party it holds none or few of these free-market values. Instead it prides itself on being “progressive.” In the 1920s and 1930s, under the presidencies of Wilson, Hoover, and Roosevelt, liberal ideology took a drastic turn towards socialism, becoming “welfare liberalism.”[8] In other words, liberals now believe in large government as positive influence on economic market activity, and other areas of individual life. The old-school liberalism of Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbs is drastically different from the modern liberalism of today.[9]

The Changing Role of Government: Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the presidency of the United States in 1933, the height of the Great Depression. The national economic situation was bleak, to say the least. Upon being sworn-in, FDR embarked on an ambitious legislative policy. Bruce Shulman writes a brief section on Roosevelt and the New Deal in the book Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism:

When FDR laid out what he described as the four basic freedoms in 1941, he
included not only traditional liberties like freedom of speech and freedom of
religion, but also freedom from want and freedom from fear…freedoms that only an
energetic, vigilant big government could assure.[10]

Throughout the years, these policies have garnered the terms “socially democratic,” and “progressive.” Regarding the latter, Shulman says “…FDR’s New Deal far exceeded the achievements, even the imagination, of the Progressives. In fact, most Progressives…opposed the New Deal.” The goal of Roosevelt, with the nation being mired in one of the lowest points of the depression, was “bold, persistent experimentation.”[11] One of the first experimentations was passage of the Emergency Banking act of 1933, which included “a section giving the President blanket power over the operations of member banks of the federal reserve system during the emergency period.”[12] Another experiment took form of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. This act established the position of Nation Recovery Administrator to help regulate and control industries, and to establish price-control measures that would deter industries from price-cutting.[13]

As FDR’s second term began, and then upon the beginning of World War II, Roosevelt proposed a second “economic bill of rights” as well as a new level of economic prosperity. John W. Jeffries writes that Roosevelt “envisioned as well a postwar full-employment economy with a stunning sixty million jobs and the trappings of economic abundance.”[14] Shulman outlines FDR’s main goals for the New Deal.[15] First, he wanted to provide direct aid to the citizens of the United States in the form subsidies, tuition assistance, government-sponsored jobs, and even food. His second goal was social and economic empowerment of formerly overlooked and oppressed groups. “He opened the doors of government to ethnic Americans, offering new opportunities for the children of immigrant Catholics and Jews.” He also supported labor unions and African Americans. Thirdly, Roosevelt transformed the executive branch of government into the most powerful branch and the uncontested leader of the other two. He created numerous executive agencies which gave the executive branch and the president more responsibility and a greater role in the government.[16]

It is no secret that most of President Roosevelt’s policies were focused mainly on economic matters. As the depression raged around the country, banks failed, unemployment skyrocketed, and many Americans were forced to struggle for a basic existence. Roosevelt’s policies were an attempt to pull the country out of the crisis by using (and partly creating) the only institution large enough to do so – the government. Yet, it has become widely accepted that World War II actually pulled the nation through the depression, although even during the war it was the government that nationalized industries and increased its power. “There was no difficulty in justifying huge expenditures on armaments during these war years,” write Marvin E. Gettleman and David Mermelstein, “and since then military items have been almost sacred items in the budget. All this suggests the acceptance in America of a greatly expanded role for government.” Gettleman and Mermelstein make a note about FDR’s New Deal by saying, “The real achievement of FDR’s New Deal should not be slighted…The New Dealers gave the impression that at last a humane and flexible government was going to restore prosperity.”[17]

The argument could be made that while the New Deal focused on economics because of the time period in which it took place, it was also a means of social transformation. Social security is one example of an economic policy that is also something of a social policy because it guarantees payments to retirees, something which was formerly not available. However, as briefly discussed above, social security is only one of many ways that the government expanded under Franklin Roosevelt with his New Deal. Although many of his policies, laws, agencies, and programs are no longer relevant and/or no longer exist, his administration and later the Great Society of Johnson’s administration were two main reasons for the growth in government influence that can still be felt to this day. Jonah Goldberg says:
As economic policy, the new deal was a failure…And yet we are constantly told
that the New Deal remains the greatest domestic accomplishment of the twentieth
century and a model liberals constantly wish to emulate, preserve, and
restore…Why such devotion? The answer most often offered is that the New
Deal gave Americans “hope” and “faith” in a “cause larger than
themselves.” Hope for what? Faith in what? ...The answer: the
liberal God-state or, if you prefer, the Great Society…[18]
Of course, most of FDR’s actions can be justified, and to this day government expansion is understandably (often times begrudgingly) accepted as inevitable. It was partly because of this growth in government that a young congressional aide named Lyndon Baines Johnson got his start in politics and later built upon his predecessor’s legacy.

The Changing Role of Government: Johnson
The connection between Roosevelt and Johnson is more than just a matter of policy. Johnson was an aide to Texas congressman Richard Kleberg when Roosevelt assumed the presidency, and was thus part of the inner workings of the expanding government. In 1937, Johnson was himself elected to congress. Roosevelt came to Texas shortly thereafter to meet the new congressman, pleased that he had another supporter of his New Deal.[19] However, after FDR and as the Cold War progressed, American politics in general moved to the right. Johnson was no exception. When elected to congress he separated himself from organized labor and strongly supported the oil and gas industry in Texas.[20] Bruce Shulman lists three ways liberalism in general turned away from old, New Deal liberalism, to a new kind of liberalism: economically, politically, and internationally.[21]

On economic matters, liberals shifted away from attempts to restrict big business and the “well-off.” After WWII, Americans at all levels of society earned higher levels of income and gained upward economic mobility. Therefore, liberals focused on increasing the size of the pie with Keynesian economic policies, thereby making everyone better off. Whereas, socially democratic policies simply redistribute income, liberal policies are less direct. They provide opportunities for people to earn money, they don't merely hand them cash.

In the political terms, the rise in affluence post-WWII was part of the reason for a rapidly changing electorate. Liberals changed their perception of the political process after World War II. “Public policy had become so complicated and distant that individuals had little knowledge of and less input into the nation’s most important decisions.”[22] The idea of pluralism came into play during this time in the development of liberalism. Interest groups grew in popularity and power as political parties declined in influence. In many cases, the new interest groups of some under-privileged, under-appreciated minority pushed for special attention for their cause within the Democratic Party or in government. This is also part of the rise in what some have called “rights consciousness.” Obviously, the civil rights movement gets much attention when discussing rights and equality, but it is not alone. There were also movements advocating for women’s rights, worker’s rights, rights for religious groups, and others. It is interesting to note, especially when considering the patterns within government today both at the state and national level, how the present level of government size and influence came to be, and what caused it. Interest groups are undoubtedly a significant reason for the increase, and while the large numbers of interests groups can be attributed to many different factors, the jump in rights consciousness during the 1960s and 70s is probably the most noteworthy reason.

Returning to Shulman’s three ways that liberalism changed in the mid-twentieth century, the third “and most important” manner in which it changed was internationally. The spread of communism prompted Harry Truman to begin the struggle against it. “In fact, the struggle against communism underlay all of these changes in liberal outlook,” says Shulman.[23] By promoting constant economic growth and encouraging pluralism, the Democratic Party “allowed Americans to contrast American democracy with Soviet dictatorship.”[24]

When John Fitzgerald Kennedy became President of the United States, he had a domestic policy in mind which might be thought of as a pre-cursor to the Great Society. However, it was Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who fully implemented the social programs that were officially labeled The Great Society. According to Johnson, to build this Great Society, the first step was total eradication poverty. In his first address to Congress on January 8, 1964, Johnson officially declared an “unconditional war on poverty” in order to achieve his aims. He further says “Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support.”[25] In 1966, the Johnson Administration released a statement outlining its overall goals, some of which included attainment of full employment, opening of “doors of opportunity,” and “to help solve social and economic problems that neither private action nor state and local governments can solve alone…” The administration claimed that “The new tasks involve new and growing problems of an increasingly complex and interdependent economy and society. Only the federal government can assume these tasks.”[26] Interestingly enough, one of the main ways in which Johnson sought to achieve the Great Society was through the Kennedy tax cut; a tactic completely opposite of previous liberal agendas. But Johnson was always considered an enigma.

Was Johnson intentionally positioning power and influence in the central government to carry out some hidden totalitarian agenda? I think not. Nevertheless, the tendencies are there. Johnson was a rather secretive president, as David M. Berrett points out, “The interactions between President Lyndon Johnson and the people who assisted and advised him on policy making were characterized by an unusual, uneasy, and ultimately misleading combination of openness...and secrecy.”[27] It should come as no surprise, considering the previous mention of pluralism, that “Johnson’s views on the role of the presidency in the American political system were similar to those of pluralist theorists of the post-World War II ear…”[28] Barrett goes on to write,

An inescapable conclusion to be drawn from reading a few memoirs and many
histories of the Johnson years is that, from November 1963 to January 1969 the
White House resembled nothing so much as a tyrannical monarch’s court.[29]
Other writers notice this tendency too.

Sometimes this sequence of democracy and welfare is projected into the
future…the gradual accumulation of welfare measure after welfare measure, reform
after reform, will add up to something that can be called “socialism.” Not
only friends but opponents of socialism have argued that such reform programs as
the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the Great Society lead in this leftward
direction…Nineteenth-century Germany, and Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, show
that welfare measures are compatible with a highly authoritarian political
environment.[30]

Johnson’s totalitarian, big government tendencies probably arise out of his concern for the poor, oppressed, and overlooked. Johnson grew up poor in the tiny, abject, and ironically named Johnson City, Texas. This background probably led to his personal concern for civil rights. Not only did he obtain passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, but many other groups gained inclusion and many other rights were opened to the people. Johnson’s civil rights initiatives were supposed to culminate in the 1966 White House Conference on Civil Rights. “The conference’s purpose was to implement the findings of the [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan report [regarding differences between blacks and whites] and to ‘set an agenda on civil rights’.”[31] Yet, as Kevin L. Yuill writes, Johnson did not mention the conference in his autobiography and “Historians have also ignored the event…Most tend to view the conference as an anti-climax after the passage of the 1964 and 1965 acts…”[32]

A socially and economically intervening government during the 1960s can be traced back to a rise in “right consciousness.” Stemming from egalitarianism, which is the belief that people are inherently equal and should have equal political and social opportunities, and coupled with a rising “moral passion” among Americans, the Great Society was not only a government ideal, but was an ideal shared in some sense by much of the population. The governmental and societal changes, which were notable during the 1960s, had their beginnings with the liberal-progressive eras of FDR in the mid 1930s and during WWII. The changes which took place during these two periods led up to the 1960s and fueled the dramatic increase in rights consciousness as people became aware that the government was increasingly responsive to their needs. Perhaps, one reason for the increase in rights consciousness was the rapid rise in American affluence.

In an ever increasing role, the government was expected to provide a secure future for the people. Johnson and his Great Society ideal came about at the perfect time. Johnson's policies were not fully in-line with the traditional Democratic Party policy. Instead, his social program was a liberal policy, spawned from FDR, and heightened under his leadership. It was interest groups especially who benefited from this liberal policy because they could pressure the government to cater directly to their needs. Michael Ignatieff wrote an article in the New York Times where he argues that the liberal ascendancy in American life was really very short lived, “from Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937 through to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, with the Civil Rights Act of 1965 as American Liberalism’s last hurrah.”[33]

I don’t know if Franklin Roosevelt’s push for increased government action was a result of some deeply held desire for totalitarianism, nor can I say that Lyndon Johnson in fact believed that an all-powerful, dictatorial government was the ultimate answer to societal ills. Similarly, it is impossible to say that Roosevelt and Johnson were actually authoritarian dictators. But, as stated before, they had some of the tendencies of authoritarian, totalitarian, fascist dictatorships. Not that providing civil rights is totalitarian, but making the government the guarantor of those rights is tending towards authoritarianism, because it makes gives the government more responsibility, and a government with more responsibility is in no way shrinking. However, it may be impossible to return to limited government as most conservatives advocate. Our modern world is full of complexities and nuances that many liberals argue requires the government to grow in size. “A government structure premised on a separation of power is not well-suited to coordinated governmental action in the many spheres of the social and economic life that characterized the modern American administrative state.”[34] I don’t think the government has much of a place at all in economic or social life. It should provide a basic framework for society and stay in the background. But I am a conservative. Roosevelt and Johnson were progressive liberals. They saw a need for government in society. Have their efforts made the United States better off? Probably in some ways. The Civil Rights Act was one of the most important and humane laws passed in United States history. Other elements of increased government action may have helped the nation as well. But, it can be argued that big government is also a hindrance to our society, and it may have harmed the country far more than it helped it. Regardless of which viewpoint one chooses, the only way we can proceed in either direction is with “bold, persistent experimentation.”


[1] Goldberg, Jonah, Liberal Fascism, (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 201
[2] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 562
[3] Rev. Fr. A. Roussel, Liberalism & Catholicism, (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1998), p. 11
[4] Ibid., p. 46
[5] Murphy, Dwight D., Modern Social and Political Philosophies: Burkean Conservatism and Classical Liberalism, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), p. 97
[6] Cecil, Andrew R., Moral Values in Liberalism and Conservatism, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), p. 31
[7] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 563
[8]Murphy, Dwight D., Modern Social and Political Philosophies: Burkean Conservatism and Classical Liberalism, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), p. 97
[9] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 564
[10] Shulman, Bruce J., Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism, (New York: Bedford Books, 1995), p. 12

[11] Ibid., p. 13
[12] Preston, Howard H., “The Banking Act of 1933,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, (1933): 585-607, JSTOR, 5 May 2009 < http://www.jstor.org/stable/1807513>, p. 586
[13] Barber, William J., “FDR’s Big Government Legacy,” Regional Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, (1997): 18, Academic Search Premier, EBSCO. 5 May 2009
[14] Jeffries, John W., “The ‘New’ New Deal: FDR and American Liberalism, 1937-1945,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 3, (1990), JSTOR, 3 May 2009
[15] Shulman, Bruce J., Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism, (New York: Bedford Books, 1995), p. 13
[16] Ibid., p. 13-14
[17] Gettleman, Marvin E., and David Mermelstein, The Great Society Reader, (New York: Random House, 1967) p. 45
[18] Goldberg, Jonah, Liberal Fascism, (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 222
[19] Shulman, Bruce J., Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism, (New York: Bedford Books, 1995), p. 18
[20] Ibid., p. 36
[21] Ibid., p. 36-38
[22] Ibid., p. 37
[23] Ibid., p 38
[24] Ibid.
[25] Eidenmuller, Michael E. Lyndon Baines Johnson - 1964 State of the Union Address, (American Rhetoric, 2009),
6 May 2009,
[26] Gettleman, Marvin E., and David Mermelstein, “The Principles of Economic Policy,” The Great Society Reader (New York: Random House, 1967) p. 54-55
[27] Barrett, David M., “Secrecy and Openness in Lyndon Johnson’s White House: Political Style, Pluralism, and the Presidency,” The Review of Politics, Vol., 54, No. 1, (1992): 72-111, JSTOR, 23 Apr. 2009 http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌1407928, p. 72
[28] Ibid., p. 74
[29] Ibid., p. 75
[30] [30] Gettleman, Marvin E., and David Mermelstein, The Great Society Reader (New York: Random House, 1967) p. 454-455
[31] Yuill, Kevin L., “The 1966 White House Conference on Civil Rights,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1 (1998): 259-282, JSTOR, 23 Apr. 2009, http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌2640152 p. 263
[32] Ibid., p. 260
[33] Ignatieff, Michael, “Return of the L-Word?”, New York Times, (8 November 1998), Section 4, Page 15, Academic Search Premier, EBSCO, 23 April 2009,
[34] Kravchuk, Robert S., “Liberalism and the American Administrative State,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 52, No. 4, (1992): 374-379, JSTOR, 7 May 2009, http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌3110397, p. 375.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aristotle on the Good Life

I originally wrote this as a philosophy class in college. I've posted it here verbatim with sources included.
***

What does it mean to live the good life? How is that accomplished? What does it involve? Is it easy to do? And how many people actually do it? These are questions which have persisted since man was first created and will continue to exist in the hearts and minds of human beings everywhere until the end of time. Even today, the notion of a “good life” is a vague generality. Some of the brightest minds among us have trouble defining exactly what it means. It was well over 2000 years ago when Aristotle described what he thought was a good life, and still today his description of the good life is considered a worthwhile aim. The following paper attempts to summarize Aristotle’s idea of the good life, and provide an evaluation of those ideas and virtues, as well as an analysis of the film Crimes and Misdemeanors in the context of Aristotle’s ideas.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics begins by saying that “Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good; and so it has been well said that the good is that at which everything aims.”[1] So it is with humans. Aristotle agrees with the mass of people who, if asked “what is the highest aim of human life” or “What is the highest of all realizable goods” would answer that it is to be happy. And it seems reasonable that happiness could be a worthwhile goal. “But they differ as to what this happiness is, and the masses do not give the same account of it as the philosophers.”[2] Everyone wants to be happy, but no one agrees what happiness is. Aristotle defines happiness as the exercise of our vital faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue. In other words, happiness is the ultimate goal, and more specifically a state of being Aristotle calls eudaimonia. Happiness is the goal of human beings because it is enjoyed for its own sake; it is intrinsic. Happiness can be enjoyed by itself, and is not a means to an end, unlike the three usual goals in life, money, honor, and pleasure, which are instrumental to something else. Happiness is the perfect exercise of our vital faculties in accordance with reason. Still, this definition does not fully answer our overall inquiry – what does it mean to live the good life? To understand what the good life means we first must understand what humans are supposed to do (their function), and in what way they should accomplish this function. Then, we can determine what exactly the good life is by examining the fulfillment of a human’s functions through the use of his or her faculties.

Aristotle calls the function, purpose, or goal of all living things the telos. Thus, Aristotle’s theories relating to virtue are called Teleological Ethics. According to this theory, a telos is universal; it applies to all things in a certain category. For example, a lion has at least two purposes. First, it is programmed to survive, partly by killing other animals. Secondly, it is built to reproduce. All lions are meant to perform these two main functions. Thus, a lion’s telos is universal to all lions. Furthermore, the characteristics that make a thing excellent at its functions are called arĂȘte. To use a lion again as an example, it has large paws, sharp teeth, and tremendous quickness, among other characteristics that help it survive in the wild. But for Aristotle, a living organism’s purpose or function is also tied to the level of its soul or psyche.

In ancient Greece, the concept of soul was far different than our Judeo-Christian notion of an immortal part of our being. Aristotle thought of the soul as a life source, rather than a spiritual phenomenon. His three levels of the soul are the vegetative, sensitive, and rational. The functions of the vegetative soul are nutrition, growth, and reproduction. These are obviously the lowest, most basic life functions contained in all living organisms. The next level of soul is the sensitive soul. It is responsible for sensation and perception, feelings and desires, and motivation. Animals and other irrational beings have a sensitive soul as well as a vegetative sould. But the highest level of soul, the rational soul, is only found in human beings along with the other two. Its functions are understanding and comprehension, free-will, and planning and deliberation. Aristotle’s argument for the good life lies here, in the rational soul. He says that the faculty of reason is the highest of all human faculties and contemplation (the pursuit of wisdom) is thus the highest of all human activities. Pleasure, though not true happiness by itself, is a part happiness. The use of reason with excellence, or the life of contemplation, is the pleasantest of all activities because it is good for its own sake, it is the most self-sufficient, and it can be sustained for the longest period of time. Contemplation is also a leisure activity, and leisure is associated with happiness. The three usual ideas of a good life – wealth, pleasure, and honor – are very unlike contemplation in that they rely on an external factor – money, material objects, and other people – to provide happiness.

All natural things have their purposes given to them by nature and according to their level of soul. We as humans go through life trying to develop these functions so that we may reach our telos because all things are made to be perfect in their functions. Yet, in order to reach the proper fulfillment of our functions, Aristotle argues that we need virtues, or our arĂȘte. Then, by developing these characteristics, we can become happy. Like the lion’s paws or teeth, which help it to be perfect in the exercise of its telos, so are the virtues necessary to a person striving for the good life. A virtue is a trait that enables a human to achieve his or her function with excellence. Virtues concern our dealing with many difference situations and feelings. How we handle those situations determines whether it is a virtue or a vice. According to Aristotle, a virtue is a mean between two extremes. He lists three virtues associated with our sensitive psyche: courage, patience, and moderation. These he calls moral virtues. Wisdom and prudence are two virtues associated with our rational psyche, called intellectual virtues. For example, the virtue of courage concerns our dealing with fear and it is a mean between cowardice and foolishness. Aristotle also lists nine other virtues concerning our social relations: liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, ambitiousness, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, modesty, and righteous indignation. Human beings are not born with all these virtues, but instead develop them throughout life. All the virtues are formed through practice and are intended to be a unified group of standards that a truly virtuous person would always acts in complete accordance with for an extended period of time. For Aristotle, the virtue of magnanimity is the “crown of excellences” because it is like a combination of all the virtues. To be virtuous is essentially a life-long process; showing virtue on only a few occasions does not necessarily make a person virtuous. We either have all of them all the time, or we don’t really have any. A person who exhibits all of his or her functions with excellence, and has all the virtues working together towards the common goal of living the good life is said to fulfill the concept of eudaimonia, which means a happy, harmonious, ordered soul. Eudaimonia is a state of the soul that is essentially the pinnacle of human happiness. Such a person is rare indeed.

The film Crimes and Misdemeanors, presents two characters, Judah and Clifford who provide good case studies of virtues, the virtuous person, and what it means to be happy or live the good life. On the one hand we have Judah, a successful eye doctor who throughout the film is vexed by problems in his life, some controllable, some not. He becomes very perplexed after hiring his brother to murder a woman with whom he has had an affair. In short, it seems that he is a very unhappy person until the end of the film when he at least appears to figure out how to overcome his guilt. The character opposite of Judah is Clifford. Clifford is a struggling documentary film-maker with a deteriorating marriage, but a somewhat positive outlook on life. In the film, he lands the job of making a documentary of his brother-in-law Lester, whom he absolutely hates. He even falls in love with the producer for the documentary he is filming. Contrary to Judah, he seems relatively happy until the end of the film when his heart is broken and he loses almost everything meaningful to him.

So, which character, Judah or Clifford, is happy and leads the “good life” as Aristotle describes it? Of course at the end, Judah at least outwardly appears to be happy; Clifford is distraught. What did both men do to get to this point? Judah got himself into trouble by having an affair in the first place, and then compounded the problem by murdering the woman. The affair was of course motivated by pleasure, and once the pleasure of the relationship was lost, the murder was arranged because of self-interest. As said before, the life of pleasure is not a complete form of happiness. Pleasure is usually a part of happiness, but is not true happiness by itself. Clifford nearly started an affair, although he wanted to divorce his wife anyway. Both men seem to have gotten into their situations because they sought pleasure. If contemplation is the happiest life, as Aristotle says, then I would say both men do their share of contemplating in the film. But does that make them happy? What is the motivation for each man? What makes Judah finally become at least externally happy? Throughout the film, it seems like Clifford should be the good guy and Judah the bad guy. How could such an evil man like Judah become happy? Aristotle’s virtues do not deal with murder per-say, so we really can’t judge Judah. He says that the virtuous person is just, but there not enough space to fully describe justice. I think a closer examination of the two characters is necessary. Let us see how the two men hold up under Aristotle’s fourteen virtues.

Judah is a generous person with his money. Clifford doesn’t seem to care too much about not being rich. Judah exhibits courage when he hires a murderer. (I don’t care what you say, that takes guts!) Clifford shows courage too, by turning his documentary into an expose of Lester’s pretentiousness and womanizing. Judah shows patience by trying to work with his mistress Delores, until he realizes that he has to stop her from ruining his life. Again, Judah is worried about his self-interests (not a virtue). Clifford shows patience by waiting for Hally when she goes to Europe. Concerning the two characters dealing with pleasure and pain, the two extremes are licentiousness and insensibility. The mean, or virtue is moderation. I wouldn’t classify either Judah or Clifford as licentious or insensible, but they aren’t terribly moderate either because they are both searching for some pleasure in their lives. With wisdom and prudence, Judah goes through a very strenuous process of deciding for himself what course of action to take regarding his mistress. Clifford actually shows less wisdom and prudence in many situations, like when he kisses Hally without really knowing what she feels about him. We might say he jumps the gun in some situations. I think the pattern is becoming obvious with both characters. Neither one is truly virtuous nor “happy” as Aristotle would describe it, but on the other hand they are not entirely without virtues either.

If the movie were to continue, of the two men I think Clifford would end up being happier. This is not to say that Clifford would be truly happy. The development of virtues is a lifelong process, and I think Clifford’s virtues are stronger than Judah’s. Clifford hates Lester, but for good reasons, not simply out of spite. Judah fights viciously with himself over the murder of Delores, but he lets it happen. The source of Clifford’s distress at the close of the film is really just a temporary thing. He can recover and find another woman to love somewhere. However, he would need to become less jealous of successful people such as Lester, and focus a little less on his pleasures. I think Judah will never totally forget about what he did, so that will haunt him for the rest of his life. But, Aristotle says that virtues need to be shown over an extended period of time in order to really be called virtues. So, if the two men were to begin practicing the virtues they lacked, and further develop the virtues they have from the very moment the movie ends until the end of their fictional lives, perhaps we could consider both of them to be happy.

I tend to agree with Aristotle’s notion of the good life. I think his virtues are completely applicable to today’s world, except I would broaden the perspective. When Aristotle came up with his Ethics and the idea of the good life, the way of living was much different. First of all, men were considered far superior to women. Aristotle does not even consider woman capable of living the good life. Secondly, poor persons in ancient Greece had to struggle just to survive on a day to day basis. The amount of work a poor peasant had to put into survival precluded his ability to realize the good life, or the life of contemplation. On the other hand, the wealthy aristocrats and statesmen of Greece had much more leisure time to contemplate and think about the world. Therefore, Aristotle’s idea of the good life being the life of contemplation, and a life only possible for the rich men, is grounded in the culture of his time. Whereas Aristotle speaks of these virtues and the good life being only available to wealthy men, I think that nowadays everyone can and should model their lives on his list of virtues, at least in a general sense. Obviously, a wealthy person has more of an ability to display the virtue of magnificence, but nonetheless a poorer person could try to be as generous as possible with what money they have. Especially in America today, even our poorest have many more material goods than the wealthy of ancient Greece. Surviving is not nearly as much of a struggle for as many people as it was back then, granted there are exceptions. If we say the life of contemplation is the good life, and that is the model for which we should all strive, then there is much more time for contemplation in the contemporary world. Just think of all the time human beings spend in cars, waiting for computers to load, waiting for the bus, or waiting on some of our other modern “conveniences.” However, it might also be harder today to live the good life because of the ease with which one could choose a life of pleasure, wealth, or honor. So, on the one hand I think it would be easier for more people to live the good life, yet that ideal life is also made harder to reach because of our modern world and its conveniences. Regardless of the ease or difficulty in living the good life, we should take Aristotle’s timeless advice “that we ought to incline sometimes towards excess, sometimes towards deficiency; for in this way we shall most easily hit the mean and attain the right doing.”[3]
[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Morality and the Good Life: An Introduction to Ethics through Classical Sources (5th Ed.) Ed. Robert C. Solomon, Clancy Martin, Wayne Vaught, (McGraw-Hill: New York, 2009) p. 109
[2] Ibid., p. 112
[3] Ibid., 135

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beware the Secular Humanists

Perhaps it is simply that I am growing older and (hopefully) more mature that I have recently been noticing a constant barrage of secular humanist ideology from the liberal left and the liberal right, especially through the main forms of media; movies, TV, print, etc. I see this as a sign pointing not only to where our nation is headed, but the entire world as well. We are in the advent of, perhaps already in, an age where the only religion is the religion of the Human. This humanism is an attempt by radical atheists to remove religion and more importantly Christianity from our world. I cannot tell whether the incorrect notion of separation of church and state is a side effect or part of the original movement of Secular Humanism. Either way, we have a problem on our hands. As much as atheists would like you to believe the opposite, separation of church and state is impossible. It is impossible, because even the most basic secular laws against murder, theft, and perjury are based in Judeo-Christian laws, The Ten Commandments specifically. However, separation of church and state is only a first step to the ultimate goals of the Secular Humanists, that is a separation of church from state, which implies a complete and utter disconnect between religion and "public policy." Even the term "public policy" implies a slight notion of secular humanist ideology similar to the idea of "public adminstration", a term coined by our tremendous fascist president, Woodrow Wilson. Public policy and administration hide behind the guise of doing what is best for the people. It is for the public that the administration does their work. This is not an inherently a bad idea - to help out fellow citizens - but when taken too far, the good of the public becomes the pinnacle of human achievement. The administration, or government, takes the place of God because no longer is God needed to provide for the people. It should be painfully obvious that "the good of the people" is the foundation for fascist, socialist, and communist ideologies.

The agenda of the Secular Humanists as I see it, is to remove what is immaterial (such as a belief in an almighty God) and replace it with a religion of materialism. Of course, vague, immaterial things such as friendship and love are acceptable, provided that they are directed at material objects. Hence, the global warming and "save the earth"-type causes are intended to replace Christian brotherly love with a "love the earth" agenda. God will be removed and cast aside. The Christian religion is only the first to fall under attack. Soon it will be the others. Christianity is merely the strongest foe to humanism, necessarily requiring complete destruction for a successful human agenda.

The goal of this movement is to place large amounts of power in the hands of a few elites. Secular Humanism is a liberal movement, taking place largely in the Democratic Party, but Republicans can also succumb to it. Don't expect to hear much talk of secular humanism in the mainstream media, or even on talk radio. It's not a fun topic, but that doesn't detract from its importance. If we give in to the Humanists, the Church of Global Warming, and the religion of Materialism then there will be no room in such a secular society for God, and in that case God will have to make room for himself. I'm not sure I want to see how He does that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Liberal Fascism

I am in the process of reading Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg. To this point is has been an eye-opening read. With our country on the verge of a new administration in Washington, everyone should read it. There are strong correlations between our president-elect's proposals and the actions of Mussolini, Hitler, and Woodrow Wilson.

I cannot begin to elaborate on the topic nearly as eloquently as Mr. Goldberg has done, but let me point out a few of the highlights from the book in addition to some of my own observations.

Mr. Goldberg points out that what fascism attempts to do is make government the be-all, end-all for society. "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State" to quote Mussolini. Read Orwell's 1984 for an example of this ultimate "Big Brother" form of government. The 2005 film V For Vendetta also portrays fascism, although in the film it is a theoretical, "conservative" fascist state. Goldberg makes the case that fascism is fundamentally a liberal phenomena, not a conservative one, as is so often argued.

There are of course very slight distinctions between communism, socialism, and fascism. Those slight differences are part of the reason for Nazism's rise (which is another slightly different movement, but part of essentially the same ball of wax) and the subsequent second world war. But as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.

After reading the initial portion of Liberal Fascism, and understanding some of Barack Obama's policies, it is scary to me how close we are to any one of these -isms. Take your pick between communism, socialism, or fascism. Read the book for yourself.

Then I realized today just what Obama was proposing by adding "Czars" to his administration. The Russian Czars were emperors many centuries ago. In more recent times the term has come to mean anyone with authority or power in a particular area, such as business. Obama wants to add up to eight "Czars" to his administration to be in charge of particular areas such as energy, education, and commerce.

May I ask, why we are proposing more departments, more bureaucracy, and more people to do what should already be done by something called The Cabinet? I thought we already had a Secretary of Education, now we need a Czar too? We're adding more people to be in charge of something with someone in charge of it already? What makes sense about that? And would someone please explain to me why these positions should be called "Czars"? Why are we hearkening back to emperors and kings when we are the land of freedom and democracy? Why do we look to Russia, a land known for bringing communism to the world in its various forms, for a title such as "Czar"? I understand that's it's just a word, but should we not be concerned with "just words"? Could there be an underlying reason behind the particular title? It's possible. Until we find out, go read Jonah Goldberg's book.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ideologies of Modern Western Civilization

This is a paper I wrote for a class during my freshman year of college. It may not be the most well written piece, but I believe it does a decent job of explaining socialism, communism, liberalism, and conservatism.
****
An ideology can be loosely defined as a shared system of thought about society’s social and political order that competes with other sets of belief regarding the world.[1] In the centuries since the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution numerous different ideologies, largely detached from religious influence, have gained prominence and large followings; the most important of them being conservatism, liberalism, communism, and socialism. Though they can be considered separate from religions, they are not entirely. Conservatism for example, most closely describes the beliefs of the Catholic Church and many Christian religions for that matter. Today though, these names are commonly associated with political parties. For example, in the United States conservatives usually identify with Republicans and liberals with Democrats. In this case, the liberalism of the Democratic Party has come to mean something entirely different than its original, historical meaning. These ideologies rose as organized belief systems mainly during the age of Enlightenment and thereafter, but in the time since they have changed considerably, and in some cases drastically. The origins of these main ideologies can be traced back farther than the Enlightenment, but it was during this period that they took their modern form.


Liberalism
Perhaps the oldest of these ideologies is liberalism, at least according to some Catholic scholars.[2] Satan can be considered the very first liberal, because of his revolt and desire for unfettered personal liberty.[3] From this single act of rebellion can be traced the entire liberal ideology. And here enlies the problem; the precise definition of liberalism is rather vague. In its most stripped down, abstract definition, liberalism seeks liberty as an end in itself, not a means to an end, because for the liberal, everything comes from an individual’s own unrestricted use of reason as the measure of everything. In effect the liberal sees man as self-sufficient and essentially good, with a free will subjected to nothing; he is always seeking progress in everything, equality for all, radical individualism, and the ability to do as one pleases.[4] In modern times, the 20th & 21st centuries to be precise, the term “liberal” is used to describe a desire of big government, which interferes with economic, political, and social life, balanced somewhat with some personal freedom, separation of Church and State among other things. Modern liberalism has drifted far from its original roots of personal freedom at any cost. In the 18th and 19th centuries, “liberal” referred to the idea of individualism, and thus capitalism, free trade, limited government, strict Rule of law, and a secular but rational outlook on life.[5] If we look back even farther to the 16th and 17th centuries, liberalism was mainly focused on the field of economics and in this we see even a greater difference between then and now.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his Wealth of Nations offers one of the first and most well known works espousing liberal economic theory, or laissez-faire. Basically, Smith puts forth an idea of “natural liberty” and the notion that an “invisible hand” guides the economy. This invisible hand is simply individual consumers who, by following their own interests and desires, facilitate the betterment of the general welfare.[6] It was during this time period of the 14th-18th centuries that liberalism produced individualism, and from this came the teaching of Protestantism. The latter two spawn from liberalism because Luther taught that an individual need not the Catholic Church to interpret Sacred Scripture for him, instead a layman could interpret God’s Word any way he wanted so long as he was “free” to do so.[7] It was in the 18th century that liberalism became much more radical and effective as a means of social and political change.

Since a basic element of liberalism is that government be based on consent of the governed and political right,[8] the monarchies of the 18th century came under intense attack from freedom seeking philosophes, such as John Lock, Thomas Hobbs, even Rousseau and Voltaire. The liberal philosophy produced during the enlightenment came to a head during the American and French Revolutions. Feelings of individualism were strong, and the people rose up against the established regimes in America and France with ruthless revolutions. Both revolutions had strong liberal voices behind their movements; Thomas Jefferson was the toned down American version of what Voltaire was in France. These revolutions gained popularity in part because the economic activity was hampered by government intervention, which liberal laissez-faire doctrine stood against. Today, the modern Democratic Party in the United States garners the label of liberal, but as a party it holds none or few of its traditional values. Instead it prides itself on being “progressive.” In the 1920s and 1930s, under the presidencies of Wilson, Hoover, and Roosevelt, liberal ideology took a drastic turn towards socialism, becoming “welfare liberalism.”[9] In other words, liberals now believe in large government influence on economics. The old-school liberalism of Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbs is drastically different from the modern liberalism of today.[10]

Communism and Socialism
It is quite often the case that the terms “socialism” and “communism” are used interchangeably. While they do mean nearly the same thing, there is a slight distinction between the two. A good definition of socialism is; “public ownership of the means of production and distribution,”[11] as was the case with the USSR. Communism is the next step after socialism. Usually under a socialist regime a government exists, but under the guise of a “proletariat dictatorship.” The government thus becomes the “public.” Communism on the other hand, is complete removal of government, with the “community” taking precedence over everything else. As with liberalism, socialism and communism owe much of their development to the time of the so-called “Enlightenment.” It was in this period that many thinkers began to see the world in many new and different ways, and began developing theories for the overall betterment of society. An important thinker of this time was Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).[12] Rousseau wrote extensively on the subject of what is now called sociology, developing several romantic notions of a virtuous human state, without the rampant greed of materialism, and thus free of hostility, destruction, or oppression.[13] In his work, The Social Contract (1762), he proposes an idea he calls “the general will,” which is in effect his idea that the community of society is basically the source of authority and legal basis for government.[14] This proposal of the general will of society as well as the philosophy of class conflict - the “haves” versus the “have-nots” - is the basis of communist ideology.

The idea of classless society emerged first in ancient Greece, and Plato in his famous Republic describes a sort of utopian, community centered society. It is not until Karl Marx however, that a precisely defined communist philosophy is developed. In 1848, Marx along with his associate Fredrick Engels, published The Communist Manifesto. The first line of the Manifesto says, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”[15] The classes into which Marx says society has split are the bourgeois and the proletariat; the bourgeois are the ruling or upper-class, and proletariat is the working or lower-class. Marx’s assertion is that the ideal society is one without classes, but in the imperfect world we live in a proletariat revolution is necessary first, and a man named Vladimir Ilyich Lenin took revolution to heart.

Lenin is considered by many to be on a par with Marx as the most influential communists. He was born in Russia in 1870 into the family of a low-ranking noble official in then Imperial Russia.[16] As he grew older he ran into trouble with authority because of his revolutionary beliefs. In 1903 he attended the Social Democratic congress prepared to split with the majority of socialists.[17] His view of socialism was unlike that of Marx, who believed that the working class needed to rise up and revolt. Lenin believed that the revolution needed to be brought “from the outside by a party of tightly organized professional revolutionaries.[18] He broke from the Social Democrats because he believed that to become a member of the party, a member needed to commit to being a full-time revolutionary. At the 1903 Congress he split and formed his own party based on these ideals; the Bolsheviks,[19] and the rest is history.
The basic goal of communism is a community where everyone works for everyone else, and there is no need for a government or money because there is no conflict. What Marx claims in many instances is that essentially the bourgeois are fat and happy with what they have, and the proletariat have nothing; “The proletarian is without property.”[20] So when Marx says that “the proletarian is without property,” that is precisely what he desires, but not only for the proletarian, but everyone from every class. The former Soviet Union is perhaps the greatest experiment in this regard, even though it never fully reached full-fledged communism. Society in Soviet Russia was a strictly controlled process. The workers worked, they were paid with what they needed, and they served the good of the “community.” God was removed as a figure for worship (again how Marx wanted it) and the “Party” was put in His place. But eventually this great communist experiment failed under pressure from the capitalist United States of America.

Conservatism
Conservatism is entirely opposite from liberalism. In its modern American political context conservatism is a system of beliefs including, a limited government, lower taxes, strong national defense, pro-life stances, and strong moral influences on decision making. However, like liberalism and even socialism, or any ideology for that matter, conservatism has changed since its beginnings. The term “conservatism” did not come about as part of typical political speech until around 1830 in England.[21] However, some of the fundamental beliefs of conservatism are embodied in a much older term: solidarity. Solidarity means in part, that those who are closer to a problem are better able to handle the problem than someone who is more detached from the situation. Yet, it was Edmund Burke in 1790 who really laid out the notion of conservatism that we hold today.[22] He attacked the secular and contemporary thinkers of his time during the French Revolution. He noted some specific things that were contrary to the ideals of the Revolution, but are founded in very conservative standards, such as patriarchal family, local community, and church.[23] Even today these ideals are some of the most basic of conservatives everywhere; family, community, faith.

Another way some people describe conservatism is traditional; and indeed it is. Monarchies, aristocracies, and traditional forms of government came under intense attack during the 18th and 19th centuries. Those who were defending the pre-existing order were naturally labeled as conservatives.[24] Yet, the label of conservative has been used to describe many different groups. Some instances throughout history involve those previously defined as liberal, who because of social change and “more liberal” groups coming into the fray come to be eventually defined as conservative. One example is during the French Revolution when Thomas Paine, a classic liberal, was denounced and held for execution by another, far more radical liberal, Robespierre.[25]

The problem with conservatism is that it receives undue criticism for believing in the “old-fashioned” and “outdated.” But Dick Armey, former United States Congressman, described the modern ideals of political conservatism, which are not in reality too far removed from the traditional ideals, in a very abstract but effective way:

If we are in touch with and governed by what I like to call the beautiful side of our egocentricity, then we are self-confident, we are humble, we are appreciative, we are dedicated to family, to country, to the well-being of other people…It is on this basis that I come to the conclusion with which I began – that a free society will always be morally and intellectually superior to a society that places its confidence in government.[26]

Basically he says that a conservative way of life, one that is moral; and government, one where individual, competitive production, and citizens’ lives are not interfered with by government is superior to the liberal and socialist views.

Conclusion
With all of this ideological discussion we still have not reached a conclusion for the question, which is better? Nearly everyone can agree on some point of each ideology, but the problem lies with finding a coherent set of beliefs that one can agree wholeheartedly with. I find conservatism more appealing, mainly because it is how I have been raised, but also because it is very moral, orthodox, and based on a hierarchy. It is very interesting to see in the development of each ideology how much they have pulled from the others. Socialism spawned partly from liberal views, but also takes some points from conservatism. I also find interesting how they labels and in some cases the ideology itself has changed over time. This only goes to prove that almost everything that is material and man-made can change with time. Thus, we should not look merely for a man-made ideology, but something far superior, something transcendent, something bigger than ourselves, and that lies in a belief in God. Whatever ideology may be more appealing to a person, it still cannot reach the perfection of the divine ideology of God.




[1] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 562
[2] Rev. Fr. A. Roussel, Liberalism & Catholicism, (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1998), p. 11
[3] Ibid. p. 11
[4] Ibid. p. 46
[5] Murphy, Dwight D., Modern Social and Political Philosophies: Burkean Conservatism and Classical Liberalism, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), p. 97
[6] Cecil, Andrew R., Moral Values in Liberalism and Conservatism, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), p. 31
[7] Ibid., p. 35
[8] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 563
[9]Murphy, Dwight D., Modern Social and Political Philosophies: Burkean Conservatism and Classical Liberalism, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), p. 97
[10] Coffin, Judith G. and Robert C. Stacey, Western Civilizations: Their History and Culture, Vol. II, Brief Ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), p 564
[11] Harrington, Michael, Socialism: Past & Future, (New York: Arcade Publishing, Inc., 1989), p. 28
[12] Lerner, Warren, A History of Socialism and Communism in Modern Times, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1982), p. 4
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., p. 5
[15] Marx, Karl and Fredrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Bedford Series in History and Culture, John E. Toews, Ed (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1848), p. 65
[16] Pipes, Richard, Communism: A History, (New York: Modern Library, 2003), p. 28
[17] Ibid., p. 31
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Marx, Karl and Fredrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Bedford Series in History and Culture, John E. Toews, Ed (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1848), p. 75
[21] Nisbet, Robert A., Conservatism: Dream and Reality, Transaction Ed., (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002), p. 19
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Murphy, Dwight D., Modern Social and Political Philosophies: Burkean Conservatism and Classical Liberalism, (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), p. 40
[25] Ibid., p. 35
[26] Cecil, Andrew R., Moral Values in Liberalism and Conservatism, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), p. 110 & 118