Karl Marx 1882 (edited)

Back in my undergraduate days, one of my political science professors semi-jokingly explained the difference between our  (the United States) political system and the Soviet system: “they have one political part, we have one more than that.” While this was obviously a oversimplification, he did make a very good point. After all, while we do get a choice, it is a rather limited choice between the Republican or the Democrat.

Because the United States has but two truly viable parties, this tends to create an ideological compression in which people are often forced to pick a party that does not reflect the range of their beliefs. While this is true of the Democrats, this was especially evident as the Republicans went through the process of selecting their 2012 candidate. To be specific, this process has made it rather clear that there are at least two distinct types of conservatives that have been compressed under the tent of one party.

The first type is the fiscal conservative. Being a fiscal conservative is generally taken to involve being conservative about taxation and  government spending. To be more specific, fiscal conservatives favor keeping both of these at a minimum.

While I typically get branded as a liberal, I am actually a fiscal conservative: I favor lowering taxes and government expenditures to a minimal level consistent with the government fulfilling its legal and moral duties (such as defense). I am also against wasteful spending, corruption, and pork. As might be imagined, the disputes tend to get started when it comes to the matter of defining the legal and moral duties of the state.

The second type is the social conservative. Being a social conservative is generally taken to involve the idea that one should conserve (or preserve) “the way things were” and thus avoid change in social areas.  The social areas include things such as religion, morals, race-relations, gender roles and so on. As might be imagined, there are degrees of conservatism in this area. Some folks tend to regard almost any change in the social areas as suspicious and would prefer to keep everything as it was. Others are considerably more flexible and focus on conserving what they regard as good, but are willing to accept certain changes. Of course, a “conservative” who is too willing to accept change (even good change) runs the obvious risk of becoming a liberal or even a progressive.

In a limited sense, I am a conservative: I am quite willing to conserve what is good and I am against changing things without justification. This is, of course, a reasonable position: to infer that past idea, morals and values are incorrect simply because they are old is just as fallacious as assuming that they are correct just because they are old. After all, the age of such things (unlike milk), at least by itself, has no bearing on their goodness or badness. As might be imagined, being a conservative in this sense is not what people usually think of when they think of what it is to be a conservative. After all, someone who thinks that something should be conserved on the basis of rational arguments for its goodness just seems to be, well, rational. As such, a mere willingness to conserve what is both old and good does not seem to be enough to count as a social conservative. The question is, of course, what more is needed.

While some might take the easy path and try to define conservatives against a straw man version of the liberal, that would be rather unfair and not exactly reasonable. It would, of course, be equally unfair to present a straw man version of the conservative. That said, given that the political vocabulary is so limited in this regard, it might be rather hard to avoid creating straw men. In fact, the ideological compression caused by the United States’ two party system might make straw men inevitable.

The easy and obvious approach is to regard social conservatives as  people who regard the way things have been in the social areas as being correct. Naturally, if they claim that such things are good because they are old or traditional, they are committing the classic fallacy of appeal to tradition. If they prefer such things because of their psychology, then this says why they believe what they do, but does nothing to support the correctness of said beliefs. After all, if they just like the old and dislike the new, this does nothing to show that the old is good and the new is bad. It just says something about their mental states. To use the obvious analogy, the fact that I have some preference for music from my college days does not entail that the music of today is inferior or bad. Likewise, the fact that some folks prefer the music of today to the music of that time does not prove that the music of the 1980s is inferior.

To avoid falling into fallacies, a conservative of this sort would need to argue that the traditional values are better than the liberal alternatives based on grounds other than mere tradition. That is, they need to show that the traditional values (as they see them) are good, rather than saying that they are good because they are traditional. Of course, this would make such people contingent conservatives. After all, their commitment would be to what is good rather than what is merely traditional and this would leave open the possibility that they could accept “liberal” values as good. Unless, of course, it is a matter of necessity that traditional values are always better than the liberal values. The challenge then, obviously enough, is to account for the initial goodness of today’s conservative values-after all, there are various much older values that they replaced.

It is, of course, somewhat tempting to take “liberal” and “conservative” as being marketing and rhetorical terms rather than having much value in categorizing political views. After all, people who identify as liberals take being a liberal to involve the virtues of tolerance, acceptance and so on while regarding conservatives as clinging to an unjust past out of fear of change. In response, those who identify as conservatives often see themselves as defending what is good and holy from the depravity of the godless liberals and their agenda.

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  1. The notion that “liberal” and “conservative” are basic opposites is something that I feel needs to be challenged. I would argue that the opposite of “conservative” is “progressive” and the opposite of “liberal” is “authoritarian”. But then perhaps I am unusual in regarding “liberal” and “libertarian” as largely synonymous terms, both referring as they do to the concept of liberty. It seems to me that the really interesting story is how “liberal” and “libertarian” came to mean such different things in US political discourse – I have even seen people equating liberalism with fascism!!

  2. There’s an inevitability about the retreat to opposing poles where you have a majoritarian system as in US, Britain and France. The latter two are making tentative steps towards a system of proportional representation with Scottish and Welsh Parliaments being elected in this way. I grant that it is difficult to change once it has become established but until it does the range of opinions in a country will never be represented.

  3. The one thing that can be said with some reasonable degree of confidence is that social conservatives prefer a relatively tight and homogeneous community, while liberals prefer a more urbane and tolerant society. But while this is an important and interesting division, it doesn’t scratch the surface of other political questions that dominate the headlines and drive the machinations of the state.

    I mean, some of these terms have to be jettisoned altogether. e.g., as is well known, the “fiscal conservative” is a term used to designate a fictitious sort of person who has almost no effective representation in the American political system.

    And some terms ought to exist, but do not. For instance, there is a style of liberal that is primarily interested in the stability of the society and economy, the kind of liberal who advocates tolerance and generally tries to smooth over conflicts. These sorts of liberals see themselves as a “safety valve” on extremism (to use Chris Hedges’ term). But actually, although many self-described liberals hold this position, this is a better description of the ideological centrist, which we might call the “stabilitarian”. Liberals, in the modern sense, are more interested in finding a justified equilibrium that is not morally perverse and/or addled with arbitrary compromises that limit freedoms out of cultural cowardice. They are far less popular.

    Bizarrely, neither of these positions has anything at all to say to the actual structures of power operating in the 21st century. They’re a holdover from the pre-globalization period of the 20th century. The governing power structure, corporatism, is unique and quite sophisticated. Unlike most ideologies that we’ve seen come and go, it works very effectively without ever justifying itself through reasons. It doesn’t need to.

  4. Anyway, it is a pretty liberal world, cosmopolitan and open, something conservatives don’t care for.

    When first coined liberalism used to mean conservatism, meaning freedom from the state and individual property rights. Libertarians are conservatives who kept the original meaning of liberalism. Today conservatives are preservers of those things worthy liberals unearth. Basically, then, conservatives are handmaidens to the liberal movement.

  5. @Michael Reidy:

    No the UK is NOT making steps towards proportional representation, in fact we rejected it at a referendum.

    The Scottish and Welsh assemblies are more about devolution, which might means something akin to the USA’s federalism with respect to its States, or if the Scottish leader has his way, full Independence – which he says will solve all Scotland’s problems (except the problem of the net transfer of wealth to Scotland that his opponents insist are all that keeps him in whiskey and Haggis).

    So those particular measures are, in fact, more about devolution of power to more local authorities than proportional representation.

    And somewhat therefore against Big Statism and for smaller and more flexible and more local government. And oddly enough very much against the creed of the European Union, which is the ultimate Big Government with pretensions to world government.

    As far as Mike’s excellent analysis, hardly a word of which I can disagree with, goes, mapping those generic concepts on to the UK and the European experience does highlight certain similarities and some important difference. But before I elucidate them you should understand that what I have to say carries an inevitable perceptual bias – and quite a strong one: It is and must be a personal perspective.

    Europe, rightly or wrongly and sitting somewhere stuck between two superpowers – one of which was until recently at least overtly communist in nature and ideology – is so much further to the Left than even the most radical Democrat administration, that it might be regarded as broadly red all over from a US perspective.

    Enterprise, private wealth and innovation is at best tolerated, it is never celebrated. The rights of minorities are pursued to the point of extreme damage to the majority. Some things, it is true, are better than the USA. the healthcare is broadly better, but the cost in tax dollars (or Euros or pounds) is phenomenal. The roads are – in most countries – better, and the crime rate is probably better too.

    So you can get the spectacle of e.g. a French presidential candidate arguing for – and getting support for 100% – yes 100%! – income tax on all incomes above $500,000 or so (never mind that anyone at that sort of income will have found ways to avoid tax as far as possible). A useless gesture and a mean spirited one, but it carries some popularity amongst those who know they will never ever and indeed can never ever earn anything like that..why not have the government perform a Robin Hood-like act of banditry on the Rich and give it to the Poor? A simplistic appealing emotional narrative that conveniently avoids investigating how wealth is actually created, by whom and why… The astonishing thing is how many people think that this is a reasonable (if slightly hard Left) position to adopt.

    Whereas in the same election. Marine le Pen – a rather more educated, sophisticated and experienced sort of Sarah Palin – is castigated by the broadly Left wing press as a dangerous far right proto fascist for merely saying that she thinks that the duty of a French government is firstly and foremostly towards the French people, their lifestyles, their salaries and their cultures, and if that’s not acceptable to a minority, the French border is over there—>

    In reality what IS happening in Europe, is something rather different, and rather radical and it does in fact imply that a new politics is slowly crystallizing around a few fringe parties: And its arising because of the abject failure of the mainstream parties to meet the challenges of a global crisis with anything more than ‘more of the same stuff that has patently failed already’ . In short what has happened as a result of decades of Eurosocialism, is that there is only one political agenda on the mainstream table. There is no longer an argument about what a government should be or do, only how MUCH.

    And curiously that always seems to be ‘more than last year’ as one initiative to patch over the problems caused by last years initiative simply results in spiralling costs and falling values in real terms.

    As in the USA with the Tea Party, pragmatism and some degree of plain horse sense is now only espoused by fringe parties. Usually demonized as far right and usually demonized as racist too. But there is a growing feeling amongst the population of Europe that big Statism has failed to deliver at many levels and that the current model of cycling 50% or more of money through a vast bureaucracy before giving what little is left back to the people in terms of ‘one service fits all’ services, that are absolutely tainted by whatever the political correctness of the government of the day not after all the best way to organize a society.

    And the feeling that, ever since politicians ceased to be a rich man’s hobby, and became well paid careers with fat pensions and expense accounts in their own right, politicians have become nothing more than career political animals with no experience of, or competence in running or managing anything beyond a political party or a political campaign, which is why so many of their decisions are counter productive and ideology based.

    In the UK, we now have FOUR parties that are broadly capable of electing members to the house, and two further ones that have elected at least ONE member to the House.

    We have a coalition, but despite not having proportional representation, not because of it.

    We have two large parties that are broadly traditional Left and traditional Right – although the Right is still somewhat to the Left of Clinton – and we have the Liberal Democrats, whose politics (it appears) are more akin to a Euro centric intellectual Marxism with a middle class green touch.

    At the last election, the Green and Gay capital of the united kingdom, Brighton, manage to elect a single Green person to Parliament. I use the term person to avoid any hint of gender (as indeed does the candidate itself).

    Recently the Respect party, which is absolutely cynically the disenfranchised Muslim vote, also manage to return a member.

    These two reflect local concentrations of special interest groups. Respect scares the Left, because it threatens to split the Left on Ethnic lines.

    But the big UK news this week – and it has launched a tirade of vitriolic abuse in the UK press by establishment figures – is the rise of UKIP in the opinion polls. UKIP has been successful in European elections broadly on the basis that ‘we don’t want the EU, and so we are sending you chaps to the EU to tell them so’ and the general feeling that voting in the European elections is anyway a bit of a waste of time so why NOT vote UKIP.

    But recently UKIP have overtaken the liberal Democrats – a party that is actually in power in a coalition, as the third most popular party in NATIONAL terms. This scares the right every bit as much as Respect scares the left, because a split right vote means a loss of seats wholly out of proportion to the percentages. If UKIP votes had gone to the conservative Tory party at the last election, they would not be in coalition now, they would be governing with a comfortable majority. That’s the nature of first past the post elections where the winner can and often does poll less than 35% of the vote. In marginal constituency anything that steals votes from a potential winner is significant. And UKIP DID steal votes from the Tories. Most people still voted Tory, on the right, because they are after all aware of this: but if (as seems likely) the Tories are now consigned to opposition in two years time, why NOT vote for the party you REALLY actually believe in.

    In short the sort of fiscal conservatives that Mike talks about are migrating to UKIP in significant numbers. We don’t actually have an equivalent to the sort of social conservatives he identifies in US politics, except possibly in the ranks of the Left where some pure strains of Marxist tribalism exist. The religious right is a spent force except amongst the Islamic population, and they are far more Left than Right.

    So be careful when drawing parallels or thinking you understand European politics when standing in the USA, to be honest, I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t understand it.. but I do like Mikes analysis: fiscal conservatism may well be the next big thing in Europe, that or Eurocommunism and a sort of overarching European police state. It is finely balanced right now. But that fiscal conservatism is not actually re-emerging from the traditional Right at all. Or at least not from those parties that claim to represent it. It is re-emerging as defections and new blood into new parties – often overtly nationalist, but far far more sophisticated than the old far right parties of yore.

    And the political scene is fragmenting, as is the view that the governments and institutions broadly know what they are doing.

    In short we are beginning to consider in really sober terms that our institutions and governments in themselves – not merely the views they espouse – are dysfunctional and unfit for purpose: As the UKIP leader said ‘We are the only Turkeys voting for Christmas, whose only function is to remove the positions we actually hold in the European Parliament, by ensuring that it no longer exists, or we are simply not part of it.!’

    But that reflects the attitude of many people. if Big government cant solve the problems no matter who is in charge of it, why have a Big Government at all?

    Sadly the rise of the Labour party in the opinion polls reflects the sobering fact that somewhat around 60% of all the jobs in this country are directly or indirectly funded by that State, and that’s a lot of votes to buy. And that’s why the thing is finely balanced.

  6. swallerstein (amos)


    It’s very true what you say, that neither classic liberalism nor classic conservatism address contemporary globalized structures of power and of wealth.

    We’re like children arguing over toy soldiers, while the adults, those who count, rule the world.

  7. Even if there was another political alternative to liberal or conservative that might better address today’s political order there would still be discontents.

    I think there is enough of a range between liberal and conservative to satisfy the majority.

  8. There are too many big questions are left unanswered by the division. For instance, take the question of whether or not one can make a legitimate intervention into the affairs of other nation-states. There was an interval when the sovereignty of the nation-state was taken for granted (at least in word, if not in deed). After 9/11, it was much easier to make the case openly in public. We call the pro-intervention side “neo-conservatives”, but the anti-intervention side have no appropriate name. Liberals (both classic and modern) have had a troubled history with colonialism from Day One — liberal hawks are far from rare.

    The political alternative to liberalism and conservatism is the political system we may call corporatism. This system is sophisticated enough to use either ideology as it pleases. Against corporatism, there are a number of alternatives, not just a single alternative.

    And I also doubt that the majority, our 99%, is satisfied with the narrow range of debate.

  9. @Leo Smith:
    You missed the word tentative in my comment as in tentative steps. It may be impetuous of me but when 2 national parliaments (Walsh and Scottish) take up P.R. I forgot Northern Ireland also. I’m inclined to think that counts as an embracing of the concept. Obviously at the national level misinformation played a part in the rejection of the change. Oh well back to the swingometer.

  10. swallerstein (amos)


    It seems to me that there is a globalized elite, what you call “corporativism” that will get richer and more powerful whether or not we have pets or not, whether or not the Catholic Church provides health insurance with birth control coverage or not, etc., etc., an elite which reads our emails, which controls the media, which makes money when the price of commodity X goes up and when it goes down, which moves its capitals rapidly from one emerging market to another, which will get rich off of Romney and rich off of Obama, off of Sarkozy and off of Hollande, off of Cameron and off of Brown, which is untouchable, because if we threaten anything they value (basically money and power), they withdraw their investments and leave us unemployed, fighting with each other and against one another, with our pensions cut, with our libraries shut, without funding for our universities, etc.

  11. S, it’s true that power will seek to converge and consolidate its reach, regardless of what the mass of people decide. We have to be, in that sense, fatalists about power. And of course there have always been secret societies and shadowy power-mongers, guildmasters and fiefdoms. Not every city is a city-state that approaches the Rousseauian ideal.

    But as a matter of fact, power isn’t always in a state of hegemony. There was a period of technological advancement during the Enlightenment which opened up channels of information, challenged barriers between estranged societies of peoples. This allowed for increased sophistication in how people organized themselves. And the proper ownership of the means of production was, for a time, openly contested. (In your neck of the woods, I understand it is still openly contested.)

    In this new unstable era, it was the case that liberalism and conservatism were in a genuine competition with each other. Liberalism appealed to the reformists by demanding that the state legitimize itself by use of actual reasons; conservatism quietly suggested that all the malcontents ought to shut up and stop complaining. Liberalism and conservatism both sought stability in their separate ways: liberals by mediating a compromise between interest groups (labor and capital), conservatives by siding with whoever is the strongest and has been around the longest. (Socialism, whenever it succeeded, has had to become conservative in the above sense, at least locally.)

    Today, both liberalism and conservatism continue pursuing these projects, as if they were two cogs in a machine. But while the conflict between the ideologies used to constitute the entirety of the machine — it used to be the main event — it is now a merely a small part of it. The detente between these two ideologies has become predictable and stable enough that the power elite can extract profit from it. The competition has become functional mechanism that produces a more sophisticated result.

    So how does one react to the main event, corporatism, without being “liberal” or “conservative”? On the one hand, there are those who expect or assume corporatism to be the key to future stability; on the other, there are those who expect or assume that corporatism is going to destroy itself, and send humanity into a state of catastrophe along the way. If you are a fatalist about power, the only ideologies are corporate optimists or corporate pessimists. Everything else is a crap shoot.

    Reasonably, I count myself among the pessimists.

  12. Suppose against actuality that political discourse can, and should, be simplified to either ‘C’ or ‘L’. There would still be two dimensions on either side. For either type of politics, there will always be the walk-talk or talk-talk type of politics.

    Especially in the USA, a vast majority of political talk is for the pleasure of political talk. Words take on their own reality.

  13. For me Mike’s article brought the level of dissatisfaction I have with current labels, and more deeply with the current pollitical process and/or discourse.

    It appears to me that the word conservative define by Mike as:
    “the idea that one should conserve (or preserve) “the way things were” and thus avoid change in social areas.”
    has very little meaning. My point is conserve “the way things were” but when; at what point in time do I want to conserve the way things were; monarchy, slavery, no right to vote for women, etc
    If the point of conservative is to conserve the way things were then it rquieres a definition of what time and what things they want to conserve.
    I agree with Mike that to conserve or to change is not good or bad by definition. There are a lot of old traditions and habits that we do not want to change. I have not seen “progressives” arguing for murder just because it is a christian as well as other religious lond standing tradition to respects others people’s life.
    My point is that we are all conservatives or progressives depending the issue in front of us, and I am certain we will be strongly surprised with whom we might be in agreement with a lot of issues. Precisely, this is what frustrates me about the current political debate and most importantly about the current political structure: they do not allow us to resolve issues in themselves; we do not focus on specific issues, and solve them in a collectible way.
    We group in artificial labels that do not reflect our position in numerous and various issues, and we vote ignorantly most of the time for whom we honestly believe is best for the country or more frequently for whoim represents our interests.
    Appart from that, these artificial labels are a very good food for propaganda, we label each other and separate each other hindering our ability to work together to solve common problems.
    My final concern is that this articficial fragmentation lead, causes and/or favors the accumulation of power in a few hands. And I strongly believe that any excessive accumulation of power is inherentely harmful for society indistinctively who accumulates the power, state, corporations, a handful of individuals, etc
    I do not consider this an easy problem to solve nor I have great ideas but I hope humanity moves towards a future where power, wealth, benefits are more fairly and equally distributed.

  14. I think the phrase is “Is the middle way, STUPID”. Surely it is all about getting the right balance between left and right.

    Winners of elections in democrative states tend to favour those parties that position themselves in the middle – given the critical issues of the day.

    The democrates tend to fashion fiscal attributes to win the right – a la Bill Clinton & Tony Blair. The conservatives try to portray themselves as campassionate/social conservatives -a la Bush.

    And there will always be the extremes – their popularity feeding off the issues of the day – issues that drives emothions wild.

    Nothing has changed since Homo Sapiens thoughht about – what is the best way of organising society? Nothing will ever change unless we bahaviour like robots – & that won’t happen.

  15. Benjamin S Nelson

    What’s “the right balance” between right and left, appropriate to the context? A dash of right and a heap of left (or vice-versa)? And if so, how appropriate is it even to talk about this as a “balance”?

  16. Juan,

    You are right-the definition does have problems. This, conveniently enough, does help show the problem with such labels.

    As you note, people do end up being pushed towards one camp or the other in general when they actually have more diverse views on specific issues. This does, of course, help maintain the two party system. While there have been various attempts to create viable third parties, at this point all we have are independents and they are defined entirely by their lack of being in the other two parties.

  17. POD,

    In the states, most folks do tend to be in the middle (statistically, this would make sense…). The political rhetoric tends to be highly polarized, though. Interestingly enough, Romney was seen as being more conservative than McCain but this time around he has been bashed for being a moderate (or worse).

  18. Benjamin,

    Excellent questions. I’d be inclined to take the easy answer and say that it varies from case to case. 🙂 Of course, what counts as the “right balance” is contentious in that folks on the left and right (and middle) will disagree on what that balance should be. For example, when it comes to the liberty of gun ownership, folks on the right (in the US) are generally in favor of that while folks on the left are generally against it. But, if we switch to the liberty of same sex marriage, then it is reversed.

  19. Benjamin S Nelson

    Certainly. So if nobody can agree on what counts as a “balance”, where’s the legitimacy in trying to achieve one?

    It seems as though we need a clearer idea of what legitimately counts as “balancing” before we can bother trying to get it.

  20. I am just wondering why Marx is picture here! What does he have to do with this discussion on liberal or conservative?

  21. Mike;

    I have two additional comments. First you wrote:

    “Being a fiscal conservative is generally taken to involve being conservative about taxation and government spending. To be more specific, fiscal conservatives favor keeping both of these at a minimum.”

    I might be wrong but I understand a fiscal conservative as a person that do not want to spend more than he can; ie not spend more than you get in tax revenues. In my opinion, the definition you provide is closer to a libertarian point of view.

    For example I consider myself a fiscal conservative but not a libertarian. In my opinion the role of the state should be confined to an optimun not to a minimun. I believe there is a legitimate role for the state in supporting the common good. Regarding taxation, I also believe there is an optimun level of taxation that does not hinder economic growth and that level of tax is the price we pay for defense, roads, education, etc.

    My second point is that you attempt to apply coherent philosophical thought to a contradictory political activity. And I mean political activity not Political Thought. Political activity is preocupied with the acquisition of power by a group in favor of their own interest and in that context the coherence of their ideas is irrelevant. The so called libertarians love this philosophy as long as reduces their taxes but they are not willing to embrace the application of this thought to every activity, for example same sex marriage or freedom to form unions. They have no problem in allying themselves with religious thought that in essence is not libertarian but highly normative; there is one correct way of living life according to the precepts of religion. For these and many other reasons, you see such an odd marraige between libertarian thought with social conservative represented by religious thought.

    In my opinion, in this type of activity, there is very little room for coherence and integrity of thought.

  22. Juan,

    I could be in error in my definition. In the US libertarians sometimes cast themselves as conservatives (for example, Ron Paul calls himself a libertarian but belongs to the Republican party while also claiming to be a true conservative). It might be the case that the term has no sharp meaning and serves merely as a fuzzy political label. But, that said, people who think about politics do need terms to refer to views and classify them.

    In regards to the second point, you are quite right. As Mill noted in his discussion of liberty, people generally do not follow a principle in such matters (other than “people should do what I want and not do what I do not want”). Because of this, it can be rather challenging to group people based on a consistent ideology-mainly because most people simply do not have such a thing.

    Those of us who are doing philosophy or political science would thus need to develop another system of classification for people in the context of politics. The general leanings of left and right have some use, but do really seem to break down badly on specific issues. In the US, we mainly use “liberal” and “conservative” to bash people (“liberal” is the worse label of the two these days).

  23. swallerstein (amos)

    This book review discusses some of the issues that have brought up in this thread, especially thanks to Ben Nelson. It’s about the U.K., but it could be about anywhere these days.

  24. Amos;

    Thank you for this great article, it opened my eyes to several facts.

    I believe that the excessive accumulation of power by any institutions or individual is extremely harmfull to society. And in that context this “new oligarchy” generated in the last 50 years threatens our society and well being.

    I realize that I do not fully understand the causes of this recent phemonemnum, the worldwide expansion of the gap in wealth distribution, but I do believe that this leads to excessive accumulation of power. In that context for me it is no difference if this power is hold by the state, a selected group of extremely wealthy individuals (oligarchy) or a king.

  25. Mike writes about Marx’s picture inclusion as a “red herring”. Perhaps that is how history also saw him, just a distraction.

  26. Great and interesting post, I am constantly going over these issues, some quik ideas, not neccessarily meant to be a coherent whole.

    You say: “I am also against wasteful spending, corruption, and pork.”

    Would so-called “liberals” in American paralance ever argue for wastefule spending and corruption? Would anybody?

    And the most wasteful spending and corruption I believe is centered around war, militarism and foreign intervention (I call it imperialism) which are explicly cherished “conservative” values. But many American “liberals” are really just as much wrapped up with those things as in practice.

    I myself have quit calling most “conservatives” by this label, because they don’t really believe in conserving much of anything good, thinking about nature, environment, wilderness etc.. Instead they wish to preserve the worst and most reactionary traditions. I often prefer right-wing or righty.

    Marx himself made an interesting observation that it is the rapacious nature of capitalism that destroys the family and sacred tradition.

    I explicitly call myself a “leftist” and ID with the old man with the beard up there. But I am very much for smaller government. Especially where it grew the most during the Bush years and continuing into the Obama years. Smaller military and security state etc., and for civil liberties.

    “Liberal” in mainstream American nomenclature is associated with “the Left”, and righties now want to paint American “liberals” as socialists, communists and Marxists.

    Many of us on “The Left” that is outside of the mainstream think this is absurd. Have a look at the discourse of many Left radicals, anarchists and Marxist blogs, web sites and list-servs. They often speak of “liberals” in disparaging and scornful terms because they only believe in tinkering within the system. Of course most of these leftists would be accurately labled “liberals” if we are talking about gender, gay and womens righst ect..

    Leftists discourse also speaks negatively about the doctrine of “neo-liberalism” which is the weakening of the state in the economy, deregulation, reduction of public services, and selling off of state enterprises etc.. Which of course many “conservatives” or righties advocate.

    Most people would think “Libertarian Communist” is an oxymoron. But in fact it is a coherent left-wing but anti-state ideology with kinship to leftist anarchism and socialism. Google for the web site Lib-com.

    In short, there is always much to unpack in political labels. 😀

  27. Oh yeah, another observation. I use to do anti-war solidarity work around the issue of U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s. Some of the people I worked with were religious Catholics, and very much anti-abortion. But in everthing else they were leftists.

  28. Sheldon has really got it right on, I think.

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