The word “liberal” is floating around and mostly with bad connotation, especially with the political discourse of late. In spite of all the noise and confusion, I think it’s quite simple: liberal is the one practicing liberty, or freedom.
Liberal is not opposite to conservative. Orthogonal to liberty would be oppression, when someone commands his will onto others, while being commanded by the higher oppressor (Note: I am using this word only as opposite to liberals with no negativity whatsoever, or else I’d have invent the scale to judge this by).
Liberal does not mean belonging or supporting Democratic Party in the US. Rioters are not necessarily liberal. Journalists and mainstream media, taking the side of one party, making a lot of noise as a result, are not liberal. It’s their job and it’s their nature to reflect the views of those who pay the bill. Let us treat them as such but not more.
As we know, personal liberty is limited by liberties of others, and we end up in a intricate balance. For example, freedom to live would clash right away and quite literally with the freedom to kill. Freedom to prosper would immediately contradict freedom to steal, and so on. At the same time, may other freedoms do not contradict anything at all — freedom to think, freedom to move, freedom to be friends with, freedom to write this text. All the freedoms in the world can be put to test and logically connected. I’d argue we all free to do anything and there’s no one to tell us otherwise, except for some of the clashing freedoms mentioned above, not so many of them in fact. The other question is — do we really want to kill and steal to begin with? Personally, I don’t think we do, with inevitable exceptions, but I’d leave the “human nature” discussion for another time. This duality is well-described in the Moral Theory Foundation by Jonathan Haidt in his book “The Righteous Mind”.
Liberals can coexist with one another without much of the command structure from top to bottom, for they would always question why the top is on the top, and what’s the basis for such commands. Indeed, coordination of efforts requires some structure, or else we wouldn’t be able to build airplanes and bridges, but this coordination and rules is not to be confused with strict top-to-bottom pyramid. At the very extreme, liberal society becomes intelligent anarchy with no need for centralized government, or even state as we know it.
Oppressors on the other hand require such a pyramid, controlling will and actions of the levels below, as well as being controlled the same way from the level above. Indeed, some liberties are needed in any human hierarchy no matter how strict, and even some rules that have flexibility. We’re not [yet] robots, after all. At the very extreme, oppressive society becomes fascist in the classical sense of this word, and perhaps with great deal of intelligence on the top.
In today’s reality we have a combination of both, shifting one way or another in a relatively short time scale, in a wave-like manner. However, if we look at the longer stretches of times, it’s difficult not to see the liberal way of things is slowly but steadily wins and I think there’s simple explanation for it: our average level of intelligence grows over decades, centuries and millenia. At the same time our average tendency to violence is on decline in historical perspective (this area is well-researched).
With the current swing away from liberalism, let’s not forget that this is just a short wave in a much longer process. Of course, every wave like this in 21 century has the potential to end the process all together. Let’s be optimistic and hope it won’t happen for another couple of centuries, a millennium maybe. And then, things should get better. In theory ..
Tuesday, Nov 12, 3016.