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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Totten on liberals and conservatives

Michael J. Totten has a very incisive piece about some of the differences he's noticed between liberals and conservatives:
Why are liberal intellectuals less interested in the history of foreign countries than conservatives are? I have never heard anyone ask this question, and I wonder if others even notice the problem. Maybe they do, but until recently I hadn't noticed, and I assure you the left hasn't noticed. I'm not talking about who is right and who is wrong about history. I'm talking here about who is even interested in the first place.

I've pondered this for a while now, and I think I have part of the answer.

Liberals are builders and conservatives are defenders. Liberals want to build a good and just society. Conservatives defend what is already built and established. This is what the left and the right are for. What draws a person to one or the other is more a matter of personality than anything else.

The first priority of builders is the immediate surrounding environment, starting with the home and moving outward from there. Next is the community, followed by the city, the region, and the nation. The other side of the world is the lowest of all priorities. "Think globally" but "act locally" is a bumper sticker for the left. That we shouldn't meddle in other countries if our own needs work is also a liberal idea. It partly explains why Tom Daschle focused on prescription pills for old people in war time.

Defenders, unlike builders, are on the lookout for threats. This is what conservatism is for. In the absence of civil war or revolution, threats exist abroad. Canada isn't a problem, and Mexico isn't really either. The biggest threats are on the other side of the world. Conservatives don't write about China and Iran because they're into Taoism or because they swooned at the Persian film festival. The interest is there because these countries are dangerous.

An interesting viewpoint -- more fully expounded in the full piece, of course -- but it is somewhat specific to the present time. After all, during the time frame of the late 1930's to the late 1960's, it was the liberals in this country, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and other internationalist Democrats up through the New Frontiersmen of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, that favored and pushed for a greater role for the United States in world affairs. Ideas such as the Good Neighbor Policy, Lend-Lease, the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, and, last but not least, the United Nations were all products of the liberal intellectuals of the 1930's and '40's.

A simpler explanation for the apparent lack of interest in the history of foreign countries, in my view, is that such lack of interest is the legacy of post-World War II anticolonialist thinking. First, most of the world outside Europe and the Americas, with the exception of Russia, China, and Japan, were parts of one or another of the European empires prior to World War II. The pre-war histories of those nations, therefore, are distorted by their colonial occupation -- up to three hundred years in some cases -- and, therefore, not of interest to many intellectuals because of the great influence of the colonial power. The history of those colonies became absorbed into the history of the colonial power.

Second, the geopolitical machinations of the Cold War kept many of those newly constituted nations from developing without influence from either the non-Communist or Communist bloc. Once again, the influence of an outside power was more important in many respects than indigenous movements in the development of these nations and, therefore, the histories of these nations are absorbed into the history of the East-West conflict.

In short, there isn't much interest in the history of foreign countries among many intellectuals, liberal or conservative, because there really isn't much history there that hasn't already been explained and categorized in terms of either European colonialism or the Cold War. I can't say I agree with that attitude, because it seems to me to be patronizing and chauvinistic, but it seems to explain the lack of interest -- it's already been done, so why do it again. I hope and believe interest will pick up in the future, as more of these countries are able to chart an independent path to their own futures and we in the West become more interested in the historical underpinnings for the courses these nations take.

Note: I have some additional thoughts on the builders vs. defenders idea, but I need to mull them over a little more. Maybe I'll have something on that in a couple of days or so.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Awww, Jeff! You had me hoping for one of those existential moments, and then you had to go and ruin it for me.
When I grew up, conservatives were the snobs: They ran the companies. They were white. They were privileged. They were educated. They were members of the exclusive society. Country club culture.

But today, liberals are the snobbier lot. They control the academe. They scold or exclude people based on sins of offensiveness, saying the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thing: political incorrectness. When I was a TV critic, I had to suffer so many of my fellow travelers who insisted that they watched only public television, not the grungy popular TV the rest of America and I liked. PBS culture.

Their cultural snobbery extends even to Iraq's museums.

The sad fact of it is that the left has lost -- or abandoned -- the masses.

The left used to defend the people against the elite but now they are the elite.

The left used to speak with the voice of the people but now the people have FoxNews and the New York Post. When they weren't looking, Rupert Murdoch came and stole the media masses away from the left. And if they're not careful, if they don't remember their roots and their raison d'etre, liberalism will lose its political legitimacy the same way.

Those roots should lead them -- no, us, my fellow liberals -- to fight for the rights of the Iraqi people and to put that above the value of museum pieces behind glass (not to mention rights to health insurance for Americans and quality education and ... well, you get the idea).

Speaking as one of "the people" or "the masses", statements like "rights to health insurance for Americans and quality education" make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. That statement conjures up a vision of yet another government agency staffed by the same mindless sadists who populate my local Motor Vehicles office. Or perhaps the not-so-helpful help-line employees manning the phones at the IRS. You know, the ones who say "if we give you the wrong advice, you're still responsible for the taxes."

If you want to fight for the rights of the people, either here or in Iraq, start by reducing the scope of government in all of our lives. Quit thinking of us as children who need guidance and start looking at us as sovereign in our own right. Remember that those tax dollars are mine first, since I'm the one who earned them, and that the government has justify to me why they need them, rather than me justifying why I should keep them.

The best government is that which interferes least in the lives of its citizens. And the best way to prevent that interference is to keep the government small.

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