Friday, October 07, 2005


If you look again at the five principles that undergird American Liberalism—"Individual Liberty, Humanity, Progress, Ethics, and the Rule of Law"—you see that Humanity is central to our concerns. Liberals are always focused on the effects all parts of government and civil life have on human beings, from the unintended consequences of industrialization to the direct consequences of taxation. Our eternal focus on Humanity as the central premise of our thinking should not be understood as separate from or independent of the other principles, however.

The principles are positive statements of attitudes and ideals. We promote Individual Liberty as if it were first announced yesterday. It is important to emphasize Individual Liberty because it is the foundation for individual responsibility. Think of the problem of yelling "Fire!" in a theater. You have the individual liberty to do so, but there had damn well be a real fire, otherwise you have taken on yourself the responsibility for panic, fear, injury, and perhaps death of your fellow human beings.

We promote the idea of Progress, not because we are all "Progressives," but because we are convinced in our hearts and minds, emotionally and rationally, that human beings in civilized organizations can defeat entropy and, in fact, reverse it. We believe that we can, if we try hard enough and are circumspect and do not develop hubris, improve things generally, and specifically for humanity and for individuals.

We promote Ethics because we believe that Ethics are essential to governance and citizenship, but moreover, we promote Ethics independent of particular sources of ethical teachings, because we believe in a separation of church and state. We draw on our general heritage of ethical philosophy and ethical behaviors, and we understand that heritage to be a summation of wisdom over the ages, interpreted anew, daily, under our new circumstances. Nevertheless, we understand humanity to be frail and subject to hubris, so our ultimate trust is put in the rule of law.

We believe in a Rule of Law because we do not believe in a rule of individuals. When we divorced ourselves from Great Britain in 1776 we took with us our long tradition of Common and English Law dating back to Magna Carta and forward through centuries of Parliamentary legislation. At the same time we disassociated ourselves from kings and nobility, from sources of authority based on privilege and accident.

We stand today in the midst of corruption in government the likes of which have not been seen at the national level in perhaps a century. The corruption is epidemic and tracable to a philosophy of government held by contemporary Republicans that does not contain the principles of American Liberalism. It contains their negation.

At mid-twentieth century there were many Republican Liberals. The ideas expressed by the five principles were held by most respectable men and women in and out of government. By 1950, a leading writer could say,

"In the United States at this time, liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition... there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in circulation, [merely] irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." Wikipedia

Trilling's "Liberal Consensus" lost its way, however, and it lost its way by being faithless to its own principles—all of them.

Republicans eventually turned away from Liberalism for this reason. They were left without principles, of course because Conservatism is empty. It is the cathedral of incarnate fear. It is the opposite of a philosophy, but it has been able to assemble a group of "complaints" against hubristic liberals and weld it into a political program.

Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush each represent a stage of development of this program. The program attacks Individual Liberty because of the excesses of Liberals during the 1960's, perceived excesses all the more. The ensuing drug culture and welfare-queen stories proved to these new conservatives that Individual Liberty was dangerous.

They railed at the welfare system and decried the abuses of it. They decided that the principle of Humanity was dangerous and expensive. They forgot the poor and disadvantaged, but more, they actively worked the fears of one group against other groups. They played the racism card, at first cautiously, but then with a vengeance.

They complained about regulations and all the regulatory agencies that were created in the full flush of Progressive legislation, the intent of which was to protect Americans from thoughless and heedless actions by those pursuing profits. They created a bond with those wealthy corporations that were being regulated and enjoyed the red carpet treatment that being in league with money can provide. They learned to love money more than liberty.

They exchanged an active participation in Ethics for a noisey affiliation with religious dogma, stating that they had returned to first principles, but they did not behave that way. No, they behaved as dirty-tricksters, felons, thugs, and were caught red-handed time and time again. Today we are seeing the latest batch: Rove, Frist, DeLay, Libby, and their henchmen and dupes. They care not for ethics of any kind; they just hate Democrats, yes, hate, even though they are vocally Christian!

They even decided to dispense with the idea of a Rule of Law. Orwellian language began to infiltrate the pronouncements of Republicans. They turned words on their heads to confuse, to humiliate, to be comical, to be destructive. They turned agencies created to regulate commerce against the people and for the commercial interests. They perverted the meaning of treaties and solemn international agreements. They performed torture against human beings, denied the scientific evidence of global warming, lied about the justification for war, and have not finished lying yet. They employ cronies and believe that personal connections are more important than merit.

The federal government of George W. Bush is corrupt. It is the most corrupt government this nation has ever endured. His allies on the Hill are corrupt, his friends in the press are corrupt, his constituents in their racist and sexist and self-righteous attitudes are corrupt, and there is only one cure for it all.

Men and women of principle, of conscience, and of humility must realize that the government must be changed. We should do this according to the laws of the land. We must impeach those who have commited high crimes, treason, and misdemeanors, and defeat at the polls those whose actions and inactions have contributed to this awful mess. Now is the time to decide, the time to volunteer, the time to contribute to your party and candidates.

James Richard Brett