[ the actual title of this page:]
http://:Great-Liberal-Insights.Org/liberalism.html

 

Liberalism Defined
by the liberal martyr
Steve Kangas 1
[ from part of the original Liberalism Resurgent] site.]l

What is liberalism?

  • The definition of "liberalism" has changed continually throughout history, and even today it means different things to different people. One of the more fundamental definitions is that liberalism is openness to progress and change. By contrast, conservatism attempts to conserve the traditions and received truths of the past. Liberalism has also been defined as generosity, tolerance, open-mindedness and willingness to give.

    In the 18th century, liberals and libertarians were one and the same: both championed free markets, individual liberty and a greatly reduced role for government and aristocracy. This has led to one definition of liberalism: that liberals oppose political absolutism in all its forms, be they monarchist, feudal, military, clerical or communitarian. However, there is considerable difference of opinion on how to run a decentralized society. Today, liberals generally believe in a large and free private sector that is generously defined, defended, and promoted by the public sector. In other words, a balance between individual and group behavior.

    For example, consider the free market: liberals believe that individuals should be free to do whatever they please on the market, within the law. The law is determined by democratic government, and not only prohibits simple crimes like theft and murder, but commercial crimes like fraud, copyright infringement, insider trading, breach of contract, price gouging, etc. Without these laws, the market would function either poorly or not at all. For instance, if we did not have copyright laws discouraging people from pirating all their software, computer programmers could not even make a profit, and would have no incentive to produce.

    Yet another function of government is to defend the free market -- for example, with police and military forces.

    Yet a third function of government is to promote the free market. A dramatic example is Eisenhower's Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which authorized the creation of over 40,000 miles of interstate highway. These highways interconnected, accelerated and expanded the U.S. economy, with profound results. They allowed the middle class to migrate from the cities to the suburbs, with an enormous increase in privacy and quality of life. Highways are but one example of how publicly funded infrastructure has increased commerce -- others include railroads, canals, satellite communications, and even the Internet. (The net began as a project funded by the Pentagon and public universities.) Much of this infrastructure was too huge and expensive to be funded by private companies, and languished undeveloped until the public sector stepped in. What distinguishes liberals from other political parties is that liberals advocate a greater degree of government support, defense and promotion of the free market.

How does liberalism differ from socialism?

    There are important and fundamental differences between socialism and liberalism. When critics attempt to slander liberals by calling them "socialists," liberals should immediately challenge them to define the difference between liberalism and socialism. If they cannot, or continue to claim that they are the same, liberals should then chide them for being novices in political science, unable to define even the most basic terms of the debate.

    Socialism means that workers, not private owners, would own and control the means of production: factories, farmland, machinery, and so on. In democratic elections, workers would vote for 1) their supervisors, 2) their representatives to a local and national council of their industry or service, and 3) their representatives to a central congress representing all the industries and services. Socialism has been proposed in many forms, ranging from republics to direct democracies, from centralized state bureaucracies to free market anarchy. Political scientists do not view the "socialism" nominally practiced by the Soviet Union as true socialism -- this was, essentially, a dictatorship over workers by a ruling elite.

    By comparison, liberals believe that private owners should own and control the means of production, formulate company policy, and have the right to select their own management team. Liberals would prevent them from abusing their powers through checks and balances like strong labor unions and democratic government.

How does liberalism differ from the Green Party?
    Liberals agree with the Green Party on many important issues, such as environmental protection, cultural diversity and social tolerance. However, they disagree strongly on the fundamental issue of political organization. Greens generally believe in anarcho-socialism. This system would abolish centralized government and give power to local democratic communities, who would then vote for any type of local economic or social system they desire (be it socialism, capitalism or anything in-between). Liberals are opposed to this form of leftist anarchism; they believe that social organization must occur on a much larger scale to realize its full benefits, and this calls for central government.

How does liberalism differ from libertarianism?
    Libertarians believe in little or no government, with individuals possessing strong or even sovereign property rights, along with the freedom to trade property as they wish on the free market. By contrast, liberals promote extensive government support of the free market and the taxation of property. Yet these are not the only reasons why liberals object to libertarianism. First, anarchy has historically led to violence, survival of the fittest, and eventual concentrations of power. Second, there are no working examples of libertarianism in history, so the system remains untested in modern times, and probably for good reason. Third, such a system would make landlords and business owners the dictators over their property, upon which tenants must live and workers must labor. Fourth, the voluntary contracts that would supposedly protect tenants and workers presupposes that there is no such thing as market failure or contract failure, in face of widespread evidence that there is.

How does liberalism differ from conservatism? 2

    Liberals and conservatives generally share the same political principles, differing only on their degree. For example, both believe in a public and private sector, but liberals call for a larger government, conservatives a smaller one. Similarly, both parties generally believe in all the tenets listed below; this list simply shows which end of the spectrum each resides on.

    Liberals
    Collectivism
    Change
    Science
    Inclusiveness
    Democracy
    Equality
    Public Sector
    Pacifism
    Conservatives
    Individualism
    Tradition
    Religion
    Exclusiveness
    Constitutionalism
    Merit
    Private Sector
    Armed Deterrence
    They also represent their own special interest groups:
    Liberals
    Workers Business
    The Poor
    Women
    Minorities
    Academics
    Environmentalists
    Artists
    Gun controladvocates
    Conservatives
    The Rich
    management and owners
    Men
    Whites
    Christians
    Industry
    Police and Military
    Gun owner advocates

What do liberals believe about rights, property and the "social contract?"

    Liberals believe that group survival is more efficient than individual survival. That is why true hermits are so extremely rare. But any group effort requires group agreement, cooperation and coordination. This in turn necessitates a social contract defining each member's rights and responsibilities. In the U.S., voters have created their social contract in the form of their constitution and laws. Breaking the law constitutes breach of contract, and legitimizes the appropriate law enforcement measures.

    What forms the basis of rights and property found in the social contract? Whatever the voters agree to -- which means they can be anything, as indeed history has shown. And how are their rights and property defended? Primarily by the enforcement mechanisms authorized by the contract: police, military, legislatures, courts, etc. Without such enforcement, the agreements themselves would be precarious, and nothing could stop a stronger neighbor from violating your rights or your property.

    Many conservatives consider rights to be natural, inalienable, God-given and self-evident. But rights cannot be natural, like the laws of nature, because they can be broken. They cannot be inalienable, because history is filled with examples of people who never had rights in the first place, or had them taken away. They cannot be God-given, because the world's religions widely disagree on what rights are; even Judeo-Christianity allowed slavery for thousands of years, whereas today it doesn't. Rights cannot be self-evident, because slavery was viewed as natural by Aristotle and defended by the Church as such until the 19th century. The fact that rights have changed so much throughout history demonstrates that they are social constructs. Liberals believe that advances in moral philosophy and science are responsible for our improving concept of rights.

What do liberals believe about equality vs. merit?

    In societies that reward merit and success the most, competition becomes supreme, the fittest survive, and people get what they allegedly deserve. Such systems are called "meritocracies," and they are accomplished by relaxing the rules. On the other hand, when equality is awarded to everyone, people become less treacherous and more civilized to one another, but they lose incentive to achieve, since there is no reward for going the extra mile. Such systems are called "egalitarian societies," and they are accomplished by expanding the rules. Most societies try to strike a balance between these two extremes.

    Liberals believe that a completely unrestricted meritocracy is like a knife fight -- the absence of rules allows the strong to eliminate or subjugate the weak. In economic terms, power and wealth concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. We know this dynamic by the many proverbs that describe it: "It takes money to make money," "Nothing succeeds like success," and "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

    Liberals therefore advocate a moderated meritocracy: those with the most merit continue to earn the most money or power, but a percentage of it is redistributed back to the middle and lower classes. This is accomplished by progressive taxes, anti-poverty spending, and other forms of regulation. Liberals do not see this as a "giveaway" to the poor -- on the contrary, they view the runaway profits of the rich (especially in the later stages of wealth accumulation) as undeserved, so redistributing them back to the workers who produced them is necessary to prevent exploitation. A moderated meritocracy retains the best of both worlds: incentive to achieve, and a healthy talent pool from which merit is drawn. Numerous studies confirm that these are the healthiest economies. In one of the more famous studies, economists Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini conducted a thorough statistical analysis of historical inequality and growth among modern democracies, and found that those with more equal incomes generally experience faster productive growth.

    Still, liberals do not advocate going too far in the other direction, towards strict egalitarianism, after the problems experienced with it by the Soviet Union.

What do liberals believe about democracy?

    Liberals are probably the strongest advocates of democracy. Democracy solves a problem described by an old adage: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." When power or wealth concentrates too heavily in too few hands in society, democracy is useful for dispersing much of that power back to the people. In other words, when enough voters become discontented with the status quo, they vote to change it.

    Of course, those already in power bitterly resent this; that is why there is such a strong anti-democratic streak in wealthy conservatives and business owners. They complain that democracy allows the poor to legally steal from the rich. (Liberals counter that unregulated capitalism allows the rich to exploit and therefore steal from the poor, and taxes simply correct for that.) But democracy also works in the other direction as well. If we lived in a society where everyone was paid equally, despite their different inputs, people would surely vote to create a system of incentives and rewards. Democracy therefore strikes the balance between the corruption of absolute power and the lack of incentives, between unrestricted meritocracy and egalitarianism. It is the primary tool of moderated meritocracy.

    Most liberals favor strengthening our democratic institutions; examples include mandatory voting, state or national referendums and initiatives, and expanded voter registration like the "Motor-Voter" law. Some go so far as to advocate direct democracy, in which the people, not their representatives, vote directly on legislation. However, an educated electorate is necessary for the success of any democracy, and there is a real question as to whether the public is educated or informed enough to vote directly on the nuts and bolts of government policies.

What do liberals believe about the constitution?

    Liberals note that constitutions and their amendments are passed just like other laws: after extensive debate and by a vote of the people's elected representatives. The only difference is that constitutional amendments are much harder to pass than laws, because they require a two-third's majority in Congress and a three-fourth's majority of the States.

    Liberals also point out that the constitution and laws of Congress both have the same purpose: to protect individual rights, establish personal responsibilities, and describe the operations of government. However, the constitution does all of this at a much more fundamental level. In other words, the constitution describes the general principles of how our society is to be run, and the law fills in the details. Many people would like to see their favorite moral beliefs enshrined in the constitution rather than law, but usually the constitution is an inappropriate place for that. A constitution that included too many specific statutes would be inflexible (due to the supermajority requirement) and would quickly grow obsolete.

    Liberals believe that when the U.S. constitution was first ratified in 1788, it was a document serving the interests of rich white male landholders. Blacks were forbidden to vote until 1870; women until 1920; tax debtors until 1964; young people until 1971. Likewise, much of the Bill of Rights was not defended or enforced until recently. In early times the U.S. media was often censored for "seditious" material, and it wasn't until the early 20th century that the first case involving freedom of the press came before the Supreme Court. Since 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union has been the foremost defender of the Bill of Rights for minorities, the poor, and other groups who cannot afford justice and the preservation of their rights. It has taken centuries, but the U.S. constitution is gradually evolving into a true people's document.

    Conservatives call themselves "constitutionalists," because they perceive that strong property rights in the constitution are the best way to protect their wealth and property from the greedy voting majority. But it is interesting to note that their proposed anti-tax, pro-property amendments would favor the special interests of those who already own the most wealth: rich white male business owners. Compare this to their bitter criticism of the ACLU for defending the Bill of Rights for minorities and poor people, and it becomes clear that many people simply use the constitution as a political football to protect their special interests at the expense of others.

What do liberals believe about lobbying?

    Lobbying based on money destroys the democratic process. Under our current election system, the best predictor of success is which candidate spends the most money. This means that candidates have to curry the favor of rich campaign donors, who expect a return favor in the form of laws that reward their special interests over the common interest. This is not democracy; this is government to the highest bidder.

    Liberals believe that lobbying should be based on appeals to argument and logic, not money. All special interests, no matter how rich or poor, should have access to their representatives to argue their case. Although appealing to one's representative is a constitutional right, today's system demands $5,000 just to get through the door -- if you do not have the money, you do not gain the access. Therefore, the current lobbying system is unconstitutional, and should be torn down as such. A reform commonly proposed by liberals is the public financing of campaigns, with matching government funds to one opponent whenever the other receives a private donation. That way, donors are still free to donate to the candidate of their choice -- another constitutional right -- but there is no real incentive to do so, since it results in no advantage.

    Many of our current problems stem from the rise of a corporate special interest system. In 1975, the SUN-PAC decision legalized corporate political action committees, the organizations that bribe our Congress today. In the ten years after the SUN-PAC decision, the number of corporate PACs exploded from 89 to 1,682. By 1992, corporations formed 67 percent of all PACs, and they donated 79 percent of all contributions to political parties. During that time they caused an enormous power shift in government, from the middle class to the rich. The top tax rate was cut from 70 percent to as low as 28 percent. Federal regulation of corporations were slashed in half. Individual family welfare benefits (AFDC) were cut 42 percent in real terms between 1970 and 1991. The result has been a more unrestricted meritocracy, with wealth concentrating in fewer and fewer hands.

What do liberals believe about the working class?

    Wealth and income in the U.S. have been increasingly distributed upward in the last 20 years. Workers are working longer, harder and more productively than ever before, but the fruits of their labor have been going to the richest 1 percent. According to economist Paul Krugman, about 70 percent of all income gains made in the 1980s went to the richest 1 percent. Here are a few snapshots of this growing inequality: between 1973 and 1995, average hourly wages fell from $8.55 to $7.40, after adjusting for inflation. But between 1975 and 1995, CEO compensation among the Fortune 500 soared from 41 to 197 times what the average worker earned.

    Economists measure income inequality by the Gini index. On this scale, a score of 0.0 represents a perfectly equal society; 1.0 means that one person earns all the income. In 1947, the U.S. Gini index stood at .374. By 1968, after two decades of highly taxing the rich, this fell to an all-time low of .348. However, since then it has been climbing, rising to .426 in 1994, the highest level of inequality since the Roaring Twenties. There are at least 10 reasons for this trend:
    • Loss of tax progressivity.
    • Failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
    • Loss of union clout and membership.
    • Deregulation.
    • The deficit. (Its huge interest payments go to the banking class.)
    • Increased personal and corporate debt. (Again, interest payments go to banking class.)
    • Falling individual welfare benefits.
    • Increased corporate welfare (which allows exploding CEO pay).
    • The growing percentage of the population entering the workforce.
    • (This puts downward pressure on entry-level wages, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand on the labor market.)
    • The economic slowdown of 1973.

    Notice that the first eight can be bribed through Congress by corporate lobbyists. If the U.S. is to reduce its income inequality, it simply must eliminate or reform the corporate special interest system.

What do liberals believe about income inequality?

    Income inequality is substantially correlated to most of society's problems. Two studies -- one by Harvard, the other by Berkeley -- measured income inequality in all 50 states. They found that states with greater income inequality suffered from all of the following problems:
    • Higher death rates for all age groups.
    • Higher rates of homicide.
    • Higher rates of violent crime.
    • Higher costs per person for police protection.
    • Higher rates of incarceration.
    • Higher rates of unemployment.
    • A higher percentage of people receiving income assistance and food stamps.
    • More high-school dropouts.
    • Less state funds spent per person on education.
    • Fewer books per person in the schools.
    • Poorer educational performance, including worse reading skills, worse math skills.
    • Higher infant mortality rates.
    • Higher heart disease.
    • Higher cancer rates.
    • A greater percentage of people without medical insurance.
    • A greater proportion of babies born with low birth weight.
    • A greater proportion of the population unable to work because of disabilities.
    • A higher proportion of the population using tobacco.
    • A higher proportion of the population being sedentary (inactive).
    • Higher costs per-person for medical care.

    States with more inequality did not suffer more of these problems simply because they had more poor people; rather, these states witnessed more of these problems in the middle class as well. This shows that inequality, and not just absolute poverty levels, are linked to social problems. Statistics from Europe -- which enjoys much less inequality, and much fewer health and social problems -- confirm this correlation quite nicely.

    Conservatives argue that correlation is not causation, that all these social problems may be causing income inequality. But the problem with this claim is that fluctuations in income inequality are too rapid, too drastic and too localized to be attributed to sudden changes of character, morals and work ethic in people, especially when they are the same people. It is much simpler to point to sudden changes in social policy, such as massive tax cuts for the rich and slashing welfare benefits for the poor.

What do liberals believe about race?

    Liberals believe that the problems affecting racial minorities are socially caused, the result of discrimination, racism and prejudice. For example, a prejudiced business owner may decide to hire a white person over an equally qualified black person. But this subjects the black person to poverty. And poverty is correlated with higher health problems, death rates, substance abuse, education drop-out rates, murder rates, etc. Undoubtedly, there is a vicious circle at work here, as both prejudice and reality reinforce each other. This circle also gets handed down from generation to generation.

    But there is no question about how this circle started in the first place: America's past social policies of slavery and Jim Crow laws. The latter were eradicated only three decades ago. Liberals believe that if social policies can create a cycle of poverty, social policies can end it. For example, anti-poverty programs reduced the black poverty rate from 55 to 32 percent between 1959 and 1969. And during this time, black IQs and health statistics rose faster than whites, converging towards the higher white average.

What do liberals believe about affirmative action?

    Studies by the American Psychological Association show that even fair-minded and intelligent people do not recognize discrimination against qualified minority job applicants until confronted with the statistical evidence. Racism still exists in this country, even in people who pride themselves otherwise.

    Affirmative action works by determining what percentage of qualified women and minorities are available to a company, and then setting a goal for hiring that percentage. For example, suppose a minority makes up 30 percent of the local population, but only 15 percent are qualified for the company's jobs. After a study of the available talent pool, affirmative action sets the hiring goal for a company at 15 percent, not 30 percent. Thus, affirmative action merely asks corporations to hire a true cross section of the qualified talent pool. It is a myth that these minorities are unqualified, or less qualified than their peers. And if the company makes a good-faith effort to reach this goal but fails, then it incurs no legal penalty -- the goal is simply reset for the next year, and the next, and the next, if need be. The courts step in with quotas only in the case of blatant discrimination against clearly qualified minorities.

    Seen in this light, it is really quite difficult to criticize affirmative action, because its hiring goals represent the only truly "color blind" state of affairs. Deviating substantially from a goal suggests that the company is discriminating against qualified people from one group in favor of qualified people from another group. A company shouldn't care about the ethnic background of its employees as long as they're qualified; indeed, intelligent companies will recognize that it expands their talent pool. This is the reason why major companies like IBM have openly declared their support for affirmative action; they realize they are not being forced to hire less qualified individuals.

What do liberals believe about welfare?

    Welfare is necessary in a nation that intentionally keeps a 5-6 percent unemployment rate. (When unemployment dips below this, inflation starts to grow, and the Federal Reserve contracts the money supply to bring both inflation and unemployment back in line). To tell welfare recipients therefore to just "get a job" is terrible economics, because it is literally impossible to reduce the unemployment rate to zero.

    In March 1987, the General Accounting Office released a report that summarized more than one hundred studies of welfare since 1975. It found that "research does not support the view that welfare encourages two-parent family breakup" or that welfare significantly reduces the incentive to work. Conservatives also accuse welfare of giving mothers an economic incentive to have more children. Ten major studies have been conducted on this issue in the last six years alone, and not one has found any connection between the level of payments offered and a woman's decision to bear children. The size of average welfare families is virtually the same as non-welfare families.

    Because the poor cannot afford well-funded lobbyists in Washington, they make easy targets for budget cuts. Between 1970 and 1991, individual AFDC payments have declined 42 percent in real terms. Today, AFDC takes up less than 1 percent of the combined government budgets. Meanwhile, corporate welfare is running $150 billion a year, three times the federal spending on AFDC and food stamps.

What do liberals believe about feminism?

    Liberals promote the interests, rights, equality and empowerment of women. However, there is no single "feminist" viewpoint, just as there is no single "male" viewpoint in the world. Feminism has grown into a diverse movement with a variety of opinions, even among its leadership. Nonetheless, two schools bear mentioning. One is radical feminism, which is especially committed to fighting rape, pornography, wife abuse and the patriarchy; it emphasizes militant activism, separatism and gay rights. Another school is moderate feminism, which holds that men and women should be together and equal, and that women should be free to do whatever they desire, without discrimination, stigma or abuse. Obviously, there is much overlap between these two schools; the difference is more one of emphasis.

What do liberals believe about the environment?

    Liberals believe the industrial revolution has solved problems of scarcity so successfully that it has allowed our population to explode. It took from the dawn of humanity until the year 1800 for the world population to reach one billion people. But the second billion came right on top of the first: in 1930. We reached three billion in 1960, four billion in 1975, five billion in 1986, and six billion in 1998. We are now adding the population of China to this planet every decade.

    The demands on natural resources caused by the population explosion are overwhelming. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental watchdog group, we are experiencing all the following trends:
  • Man-made chemicals are destroying the ozone layer.
  • Man-made chemicals are causing global warming.
  • Most agriculture, meat, fish and water resources have either reached their limit or are declining, despite rapidly growing demand.
  • Death and cancer rates are higher around toxic waste sites, the chemical industry and the nuclear industry.
  • The extinction rate is climbing.
  • The world's rain forests are declining.
  • The world's coral reefs are declining.
  • More insects and bacteria are becoming immune to the pesticides and vaccinations used against them.

  • Liberals advocate replacing our growth-based economy with a sustainable economy that uses up resources no faster than they can be replaced. If we do not establish a sustainable economy ourselves, then nature is sure to do it for us, and you can bet that we'll be kinder to ourselves than nature would be.

What do liberals believe about crime?

    Liberals believe that the current criminal justice system is biased against the poor from first to last. A presidential commission found that 91 percent of all people have committed crimes that would have landed them a jail sentence. However, our prisons resemble the national poorhouse. After studying the statistics, noted criminologist Jeffrey Reiman writes: "For the same criminal behavior, the poor are more likely to be arrested; if arrested, they are more likely to be charged; if charged, more likely to be convicted; if convicted, more likely to be sentenced to prison; and if sentenced, more likely to be given longer prison terms than members of the middle and upper classes." Money is an overwhelming advantage in manipulating the criminal justice system. Liberals believe that all crime -- no matter how rich the criminal -- should be punished.

    Liberals also believe that social factors contribute to differences in the crime rate. Two factors have been getting especial academic attention lately: media violence and income inequality. Dr. Brandon Centerwall has produced one of the most famous studies, which found that the mere introduction of television into a region causes its crime rate to double as soon as the first television generation comes of age. And two separate studies, one from Harvard, the other from Berkeley, compared state crime rates to their income inequality rates, and found that the states with the most inequality had the highest rates of homicide, violent crime and incarceration.

    The liberal approach to solving crime is prevention, through addressing social factors like these. They view as illogical the after-the-fact responses of conservatives, who react to crime with larger police forces, more jails, and tougher laws and judges. It costs $16,000 a year simply to house a criminal in jail. If anyone wonders where the money would come from to fund social programs that prevent crime, let them look no further.

What do liberals believe about guns?

    The gun lobby has perpetrated a widespread myth that an individual's right to own a gun is protected by the U.S. constitution. But the Supreme Court -- this nation's final arbiter on the constitution -- has always held that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights of state militias, not individuals, to possess weapons. These militias must be organized and run by the states; today, that's the National Guard. This means the government is free to regulate and even ban firearms to citizens if it wants to. The courts have upheld this interpretation so long and so consistently that legal scholars consider the issue settled law. Even the National Rifle Association recognizes this, which is why they are challenging the Brady Law on 10th Amendment grounds, not 2nd Amendment.

    Robert Heinlein once made the famous quote, "An armed society is a polite society." But you could not get a more polite society than Japan, which bans virtually all guns, and has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. By comparison, America has the highest level of gun ownership in the world, and its highest murder rate as well. Studies show that gun availability is generally correlated to the murder rate. Of course, it could be that people are protecting themselves from a high murder rate by buying guns. But the FBI reports that only 1 percent of all murders are considered justifiable homicide with a firearm. Whatever the intentions of gun purchasers, these weapons are used overwhelmingly more for murder than self-defense.

What do liberals believe about drugs?

    Although some liberals oppose the legalization of drugs, most feel that prohibition of drugs has been a failure, no less than the prohibition of alcohol. The war on drugs has wasted billions of dollars, sidetracked police from solving more serious crimes and swollen the prison population with minor drug offenders. Between 1986 and 1991, inmates sentenced for a drug offense accounted for 44% of the increase in the state prison population. The solution to the nation's drug problem is to educate people about drugs and drug abuse, and make treatment programs available for drug addicts. Decriminalizing drugs would remove the criminal element from the drug trade, and allow government to regulate and tax this major black market.

What do liberals believe about religion?

    It is a mistake to believe that liberals are generally atheists or non-Christians, or that all Christians must be conservative. Some 93 percent of the U.S. population believe in God; 82 percent are Christian. Obviously, there must be a great many liberals who are Christian, since 47 of all Americans identify themselves as Democrats.

    A November 1994 Gallup poll found that only 22 percent of all Americans describe themselves as members of the "religious right" movement -- whereas 70 percent reject the label. However, it is indeed true that the more religious people are, the more likely they are to be conservative. Only 35 percent of all Americans are "religious," using a definition that requires them to consider religion "important" and to attend religious services once a week. Of this group, 59 percent were Republicans, and 36 percent were Democrats.

What do liberals believe about science?

    Liberalism enjoys a rich scientific heritage, because liberals are advocates of progress and change, and science is the engine of both. Liberals are therefore strong supporters of universal public education and lifetime learning, and place much greater faith in its abilities to solve human problems. By contrast, conservatives have generally had an antagonistic relationship with science and academia. Most of the greatest scientists in history -- Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Halley, Darwin, Hubble, even Bertrand Russell -- were liberals (compared to their peers) who experienced their greatest opposition and persecution from conservatives and dogmatists in the Christian Church. A review of history shows that Christian fundamentalists and conservatives have almost never been on the cutting edge of social reform or scientific discovery. Even in the field of economics, where conservatives are better represented than usual, the "father of modern economics" is John Maynard Keynes.

What do liberals believe about abortion?

    Abortion is one of the most complex controversies on earth. Mastering its arguments requires a detailed knowledge of biology, theology, ethics, law, moral theory, rights theory, philosophy, logic, women's studies, history, sociology and political science. Some people try to sidestep this complexity by appealing to the Bible, but not even the world's most respected theologians agree that the Bible has a clear and unambiguous message about abortion. (In fact, it does not even mention the issue, even though abortion is as old as childbirth.) Because of this complexity and difficulty, liberals believe that abortion is a decision of conscience, to be left between the individual and her God.

    Perhaps the most common pro-life argument against abortion is the Biblical commandment, "You shall not murder." (The Hebrew word rasach means "murder," not "kill.") But murder is a legal term, not a blanket description. The Bible allows many exceptions to killing. Was abortion one of them? We don't know, because levitical law comes to us with large gaps; many of its statutes are missing to us. However, Jewish tradition has never considered abortion to be a sin.

    Some Christians argue that the lack of scriptural law on abortion doesn't give us permission to "play God." But humans are no less "playing God" by bringing a child into a life of needless pain and suffering. We don't have scriptural advice on that either, so, by this logic, we should not do it. The conundrum remains: humans must "play God" one way or the other, and, lacking any explicit instruction from God, must choose according to their conscience.

What do liberals believe about national defense?

    Some liberals model their beliefs after Mahatma Gandhi, in that they are absolute pacifists, renouncing violence for any reason. However, most liberals see a legitimate need for self-defense, even on a national level with armed forces. The fight against Hitler is a commonly cited example. But liberals are united in their view that offensive military operations are wrong. They also see unrestrained arms races as a waste of limited resources, not to mention dangerous. Many liberals believe that war will become a thing of the past once the entire world becomes democratic. This is based on the observation that stable, well-established democracies never go to war with each other. (Exceptions include insurrections and wars for independence.) In the 71 interstate wars since 1815, there have been no unambiguous exceptions to this rule.

Note 1: We refer to Steve Kangas as a "liberal martyr" because he was found killed by a gun shot under very suspicious circumstances just outside of the offices of the secretive Ultra-Conservative multi-billionaire, Richard Mellow Scaife, whom Steve had been investigating and criticizing on his web site for years.
Note 2: "Liberals Like Christ" do not consider this section "How does liberalism differ from conservatism?" on a par with his work on Liberalism. We have our own section on the contrast between Liberals and Conservatives on the page "http://www.Liberal-Insights.Org/Liberals".

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