- liberal vs. conservative (attitudes toward the individual and authority)
- left vs. right (attitudes toward social/economic winners and losers)
- progressive vs. reactionary (attitude toward past and future)
There is something missing from this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I suppose I’m having trouble figuring out exactly how to place myself into this structure. My own political syncretism has left me feeling more and more homeless in the political scheme of things – but I’ll give it a shot.
Liberal vs. Conservative (attitudes toward the individual and authority)
For all my localist talk and all my digs against the ‘rugged individual’ construct, I still think that at the end of the day I tilt much more toward the liberal side of this equation than the conservative. I have very little faith in authority, perhaps because I find authority a cheap and meaningless substitute for voluntary virtue. Law and order is best achieved through knowledge of one’s neighbors, by foot traffic on well lit streets, through mutual respect between free people. Or at least that is how sustainable order is achieved. I am all for order, for balance in society, but I still believe that in the end all we have are individuals making choices. We can hope they make choices for the good of their communities, but one can hardly force that sort of thinking down another’s throat. So I am a liberal in this sense – if a somewhat collectivist liberal with a healthy skepticism toward the capacity of the individual. I have a great deal of sympathy for classical conservatism, just not a lot of faith in it.
Left vs. Right (attitudes toward social/economic winners and losers)
I don’t believe that success is a very good marker of one’s ability or talents. We are all influenced far more by the constraints of our birth than we’d like to admit – both our socio-economic starting point as well as the biological hand we were dealt. These have huge impacts on where we end up later, and on the chain of events that gets us there – though admittedly it never hurts to also be driven or work hard, etc.. Having been born to a white, middle-class, highly educated set of parents I was from the very outset more likely to achieve. I believe that a strong commitment to public education and some form of safety net for the more disadvantaged is necessary and good, though I am again cynical that much can be done to really change or alter a cycle of poverty – at least quickly. This is not really because I have an attitude one way or another toward success and failure; rather, I believe that social order is important and that it is society’s moral duty to maintain that order. I am perfectly willing to look at ways that competition and market ideas can help the poor, and am also aware that jobs are often a much better salve to poverty than welfare ever could be – but not everything can be achieved this way. Some form of redistributive state is necessary. Some version of a market economy mixed with a social democratic state is where we are headed, and probably where we ought to be headed. I think this still puts me slightly to the left on this equation.
Progressive vs. Reactionary (attitude toward past and future)
This is a tricky one. I’ve spilled much ink on the idea of the ‘civilizational tango’ and the need for a progress informed by the past. Perhaps that makes me a progressive realist. I’m certainly not a reactionary, though I’ll admit to being a hopeless romantic. If anything I was more of a reactionary as a child, and have grown to accept the present as I’ve grown older. In any case, I’m not sure that these two can so easily be separated from one another. Sure, some people would rather toss a match into the whole edifice of the past, and others dream of the good ol’ days as though they were something tangible that could be retaken and reshaped into the here and now – but I think more people recognize that progress and tradition walk hand in hand. And if they don’t realize (or care to think about) this, then it’s nevertheless born out in daily life. We are not so easily divorced from our pasts, nor is there any chance we’ll stem the tide of progress. Learning to navigate the two is the trick. Progress is not a de facto boon to society, nor was the past anything but a mixed bag. I guess I come right down the center on this one. Perhaps I am a romantic fatalist.
So where does that leave me? Apparently I am a liberal-left-romantic-fatalist. Maybe a liberal-left-reactionary. Maybe a liberal-left-progressive but only just. No wonder I’m a lousy partisan. More on this later.