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Andy Walker

My Political Ideology

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I too am a libertarian socialist, but we don't use the word "libertarian" in the U.S. because it has been hijacked by the Libertarian Party. In the U.S. it has connotations of anti-statism, to be sure, but more importantly it implies property rights over human rights. Those who call themselves "libertarian" in the U.S. generally subscribe to the theories of Ayn Rand, and believe that profit-making private mega-corporations should be freed from the fetters of government regulation.

I have problems with much of the Left in the U.S., due to the identity politics and political correctness that has taken over since the early 1970s. I studied the early Marx in grad school for several years, and am sympathetic with the philosophical views of Marx and Engels on human nature and alienation. As for the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and such, all this proves is that corruption and statism and bureaucratic inertia are a part of human nature, and the best that philosophical and humanistic principles can offer is some sort of general guidance and inspiration. These ideas can never guarantee that the end result won't need to be overthrown also. This is somewhat close to Trotsky's "permanent revolution," I think, but I never studied Trotsky so I cannot really say.

If someone in the U.S. asks me about my politics, I usually say that I'm a "populist." I have no problems with working on specific issues of assassination, or CIA covert activities, even with those who don't see themselves as on the Left. Even the Libertarian Party, which is so firmly on the side of the rich and powerful, is skeptical of U.S. military adventures abroad and CIA covert operations. I can work with these people on specific issues.

There are people who call themselves "Leftist" in the U.S. who condemn me for not choosing my associates more carefully. My anti-Vietnam War and anti-draft activism established me as someone who was working on the right issues at the right time. I feel that I am still working on the right issues at the right time, even when these days I sometimes spend more time watching what Google is up to, as opposed to expanding NameBase. So I guess "populist" is the best description of my practical efforts, while "philosophical Marxist" is the best description of my source of inspiration.

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Political ideology? Erm...

I strongly believe in a minimal state: that the government should not interfere unnecessarily in the everyday lives of people. For this reason I oppose such 'innovations' as ID cards. I suppose this makes me fairly right-wing to do with the grand scheme of things.

Although we obviously need some form of taxation to provide public services, it is up to the individual, I believe, to decide issues such as the giving of money to charitable causes. I suppose this makes me fairly socialist to do with local and small-scale things.

:hotorwot Doug

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I wish I had a clear concept of the ideology I have. Politically I should say I'm closer to what has been classically called "left" , especially considering the social perspective and consequences of all the activities I'm involved in. I accept the monarchy (though it won't be me who complains if things change, should that be an accepted change) and find democracy the best of possible regimes. In any case I find monarchy convenient being things as they are in Spain. I believe we lack a general common ground. I am skeptical of political parties, but have been tempted to change my perspectives by being an active party member. Any how I find staying outside of the political rat race a much safer world than being a part of it, both for me and for my family, my true ideology.

I refuse to consider this a political ideology, but in these times of change this is as much as I can offer.

Edited by Vicente López-Brea Fernández

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My political ideology. I think I am a classic FDR New Deal Liberal. I live in Tennessee but my formative years were in California.

I take my philosophy of human nature from my understanding of John Locke's philosophies.

I take my belief in government partly from Jefferson who believed that the people were able to govern themselves and therefore any person that could bring the voice of his or her constituents to a vote could be a representative.

I believe that the basic American system is sound (if at times soundly asleep) that Democratic Capitalism is a very effective system.

However we are no longer the nation of yeoman farmers that Jefferson envisioned would create a society of independent citizens and sustain a republic with virtue.

We live in a society that has industrialized and demonstrates many of the dangerous effects that were described by Karl Marx. True capitalism makes the very few very wealthy and the very many very poor.

To avoid a revolution, for which there is no need, elements of socialism need to be put in place in society to correct the excesses of capitalism. The main reason I believe this is that I believe a strong middle class that is available to all members of a society is an essential component of a democracy. In this I see Marx's construct that the middle class revolution creates the nation state and the democratic parliamentary form of government.

This industrial capitalism is extremely effective at creating wealth that benefits all of society. The evidence that redistribution of that income is not only better for democracy but for the protection of capitalism is the Great Depression. As wealth distribution goes awry the few accumulate too much capital and the many don't have enough to spend to sustain the economy. And we sadly are a consumption driven economy.

I believe in active government regulation, a progressive form of taxation, and a healthy estate tax. In practice in the United States, the taxation is flat or regressive, so I would advocate a system that considered all forms of income and took a flat percentage of all income earned over a base poverty floor. This would free the American worker from aggressive and expensive payroll taxes that get taken out from the first penny of earning and cap at, well I forget, $80,000 or so?

I believe that ethics are a foundation for a healthy government and society and that we are suffering from a crisis of ethics. This spreads across journalism (a very important defense for society that has morphed into infotainment, business, and government)

Yet we have a system that gives power to the people and the people deserve the government that they get. Government should be as transparent as possible. We need an active and constant auditing function of our government that is as independent as our judiciary to keep track of the way the money is spent by our national government in order to provide the best government that the least dollars can buy.

The government should promote education to advance it own interests. I have come to the conclusion that for economic and social reason health care should be fully or partially nationalized.

We should have representatives that represent us at the national level in small enough numbers to be better known by their constituents and allow for a greater diversity of political views in government.

I was born into an upper middle class family. The son of a northern republican IBM salesman and a southern Democrat belle turned feminist liberal democrat after the 1960s. I live in a middle class suburb as I have most of my life. I am a teacher and I believe it is my duty to leave my politics out of the classroom wherever possible.

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I suppose if I had to pin my views down I'd call myself an independent. My father was a conservative Republican but I learned fast enough that there was more to life than good, hard-working people and lazy good-for-nothings. There were many shades of gray between the black and white. While I'm disgusted by the current regime in Washington, I feel that at this point the U.S. is under an obligation to not leave Iraq until it's clear the country is stable. We should never forget what happened in Cambodia. Overall, I might sum up my views by saying that, in general, conservatives think too little and liberals care too much.

I'll write more when I have more time.

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How's this whole topic been going down with your students, Andy? Have they found the inputs useful … or is this just another load of wrinklies sounding off?

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How's this whole topic been going down with your students, Andy? Have they found the inputs useful … or is this just another load of wrinklies sounding off?

They have greatly appreciated the help and made comments about a load of old wrinklies sounding off. :plane Interestingly they have now a pretty good grasp of comparative political ideology so mission largely accomplished.

A few days ago they completed the reflective diagram at the bottom of this web page. They did so very thoughtfully with most turning out somewhat left of centre. I take this as a tribute to the balance which informs all of my teaching

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Thanks to everyone who has posted thus far. My students will be debating this thread this coming week and may wish to ask questions which they will post on the forum.

http://www.educationforum.co.uk/sociology_2/ideologydiss.htm

In the meantime what would be great if more members would post (we are especially lacking any conservatives thus far :plane)

I am not exactly enthusiastic about sharing my political philosophy, but will expound on it for what was once called the "common good." There is a famous or infamous quote falsely attributed to Winston Churchill, that went something like

- "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."

I do not agree or disagree with the statement, but use it as a way of somewhat describing the changes throughout the years that have taken place in my political philosophy. Growing up in my family was not conducive to developing any type of political outlook, in retrospect it was very stifling. Everything related to politics centered around personalities of the politicians, instead of where they stood on the issues. As a consequence, I had to learn politics, for lack of a better description. I grew up in the Deep South, here in the good old US of A. I learned quickly that patriotism was a virtuous concept, which I believe, as long as that patriotism is tempered by common sense and a deep understanding of moral values, and contributes to the common good of all members of that society. Growing up in the 1960's in the Deep South, just saying the words is evocative, was a violatle era, Civil Rights, Vietnam and the counter-culture movement, (combined with things such as COINTELPRO, the FBI program that monitored individuals whom the FBI considered a "threat to America," a view that was not shared by Congress when it was later discovered) was all happening at the same time, I would say that the intensity of political debate in America, circa 2005 has just recently reached the level it was exactly 40 years ago. In Texas, I discovered that I generally did not like politicians, they seemed to be very transparent, when it came to communicating to their potential voters, a real lack of ability to connect with voters on the "I care about you and your needs" issue. I was a tremendous admirer of John F. Kennedy for political reasons that resonated within me at an early age, i.e. civil rights. Racism towards minorities in the South has always been a problem, and in the 1960's I saw Ku Klux Klan recruitment posters, something that has always stuck in my mind as to the ugliness of it all, water fountains in Dallas had just been desegregated, and de-segregation was years away. Racism in any form to me is reprehensible and always has been, so from the very beginning I was partial to the Democratic Party something that has never left me. But as I grew older I disassociated myself from the "either/or" perspective, I began to try to see both sides, even though I associated the Republican Party with racism, example: When George H.W. Bush made his first stab at running for political office in 1964 here in Texas, he ran on an anti-civil rights platform. That has been conveniently forgotten by the media. However by the end of the 1960's and into the early 1970's I became an avid newspaper reader, and understood that LBJ's Great Society Program was percieved by the media and by many people on the left and the right, to have been an epic failure. By this time I was a Democrat completely, and immersed myself in reading books chronicling the Kennedy administration. I felt a pervasive sadness in looking back at what was lost when JFK was assassinated, and Johnson took his place, indeed Johnson never took his place in any sense of the word, excepting passage of the civil rights bill, everything else was a shambles. Then came the assassinations, Kent State, Nixon, and Watergate. All of this left me feeling that America had been cheated out of a better future. Some thirty odd years after Nixon's resignation, waxing over "what might have been" something that was pretty much an obsession in the media in those days is now for me, some remote semantic debate. The civility of political discourse, or rather the lack of it, both in the political arena itself, as well as among the people, makes me feel that on one level "we are our own worst enemy." The advent and popularity of talk-radio has elavated this fact into the public consciousness, which I feel has resulted in the "pressure-cooker" atmosphere that permeates the American political scene these days. After the Carter administration, I began having second thoughts about my political orientation, it was not that I no longer related to the values and aspirations of the Democratic platform per se, but a combination of many things too numerous to expound on. I realize now that the media had a large role in influencing my decision towards Pres. Ronald Reagan. I do not share the euphoric admiration of him and his political legacy that ostensibly most Americans do, if you go by the polls. I am aware that the "Fairness in Media" law was rescinded during his admnistration, although I do believe his policies had a lot to do with effecting change in the Soviet Union. But my only personal involvement with politics came in 1984 when I was a alternate delegate to the Dem's 1984 State Conv. in Texas for Gary Hart. But by the end of the 1980's I had come to see a certain logic (mainly economics) with the conservative outlook. Now in 2005, I am, in my view a walking combination of all the different outlooks I have voyaged through in my lifetime. If I were to state my political ideology, I would describe myself as an independent, moderate/centrist. Politically, I tilt towards conservatism but I am liberal on social issues. The last four years has made me realize that Pres. Clinton was a much better President thatn the one who sits in the White House today. I believe that George W. Bush is the worst President in the history of the United States, for many, many reasons. The nature of the beast that is politics in America is so profoundly different than it was thirty years ago, that it is scary. In politics it is always "a brave new world" out there but when fear and religion are combined in a Machivellean like atmosphere as a cattle prod on the electorate, I see no reason to be hopeful, at least in the near future. I am only glad that I was taught, rightfully so, that using violence and hate to achieve political goals whatever they may be is evil, and using fear is no less morally reprehensible.

Edited by Robert Howard

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The Trouble with Conservatism

Concern about not having a conservative voice is well founded. That is partly because the term conservative is so badly used, especially by those for whom it is a self-descriptor.

Before stating what I think conservatism is (or should be), I think it is important to say what it is not.

One available definition is that conservatism is that political ideology that strives to defend the status quo, that it is the tendency to believe in and to act in support of those who are recognized as having political authority, the social influence and the economic power to dominate a polity. So, those who seek to maintain the elite or the establishment (whatever it may be) are, by these lights, conservatives. Such a definition will not do, for it admits of "conservative" communists trying to maintain the regime in China, conservative Palestinians and conservative Israelis trying to keep their respective "hard-liners" in charge, conservative Americans running to the aid of corporate giants and fundamentalist Christians and conservative Roman Catholics aspiring to retain articles of faith from previous centuries. All are called "conservative" but, apart from clinging to power, they have little in common philosophically. To complicate matters, conservatives are commonly associated with the "right-wing" but, I wonder, what can it mean to be "right-wing" when the term is easily applied to US Republicans, Russian (ex-)communists, Muslim Jihadists and Jewish "settlers"? A frank dissociation of conservatism from a "value-free" analysis of power is in order.

Having said that, we do not do advance the definition of "conservative" much when we examine the "philosophical content" of the ideology as expressed by most of its familiar exponents. In the recent past, the Anglo-American democracies have had leaders who have called themselves conservatives. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher is iconic and, in the US, Ronald Reagan fits the description. Both have been followed by Prime Ministers and Presidents who have expounded the same principles as their more successful predecessors, but whose performance in office has been less impressive. In Canada, Brian Mulroney came as close to the Thatcher-Reagan model, but it in the Canadian provinces (Alberta under Ralph Klein and Ontario under Mike Harris) that leaders cast more fully on the Reagan-Thatcher mold could be found.

The problem is that these individuals do not represent much that can traditionally called conservatism either. For the most part, their version of conservatism is applied to support for global capitalism including vertically integrated corporate control of large sectors of domestic and international economies. Hilariously, these people speak approvingly of free markets, when they actually favour concentrated corporate control. It is hard to imagine what these people want to "conserve" for it is certainly not the natural environment, organic communities or cultural traditions of a sort that would slow down economic growth. They are the people that Marx anticipated when he spoke of the "constant revolutionizing of production" and the death of cultural continuity: "all that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned." If they are any at all other than social Darwinian capitalist opportunists, I suppose they could be called "neoliberals" - but even that is an insult to Adam Smith who, after all, was a professor not of economics but of moral philosophy and who believed in massive public spending on education and in the idea that corporations were antithetical to free market economics. Smith, after all, wrote at a time before the industrial revolution and in praise of small farmers, artisans and shop keepers; to invoke his name in defence of contemporary weapons, automobile and electronics manufacturers is a cruel hoax.

Another set of ideas associated with conservatism in the UK, the US and Canada concerns individualism. When George W. Bush pronounces that the "terrorists" are motivated by hatred for America's freedoms, he may even be sincere. What matters, however, that the unfettered celebration of liberty has very little to do with conservatism. Apart from the fact that such putative conservatives speak at great length about individual freedom and personal responsibility while simultaneously seeking to put ever greater power in the hands of the state, to restrict, if not abolish, civil liberties at home and to ignore violations of elementary human rights abroad is not mere hypocrisy (though it is certainly that), the fact is that the emphasis upon personal freedom is a profoundly Lockean theme, and is an element of core liberal beliefs, not conservative ones.

Conservative ideology differs from the liberal and neoliberal ideology in that it is oriented toward the conservation of the past rather than innovation in the present and transformation in the future. When Ronald Reagan was a television personality in the employ of General Electric (in the mid-1950s), I vividly recall his oft-repeated mantra: "At General Electric, progress is our most important product." This is the antithesis of conservatism; it is a central commitment of so-called conservatives today.

So, I put it to you that most people who call themselves conservatives are not; they are most likely culturally obtuse neoliberal. I also put it to you that, when journalists writing about politics label someone a conservative, they are probably in error. I finally advance the notion that the attentive public, when reading or discussing political affairs, use the term conservative to identify a person, a party or a set of principles, they are also most likely mistaken.

So, what is a conservative?

I suggest that there are three distinguishable ideologies that can be detected in the UK and Canada (though not in the US) and that have (or have had) some legitimate standing in those societies. They are conservatism, liberalism and socialism.

I shall set out some simple propositions and state how each ideology responds to them.

Human beings can rely on reason to solve problems: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not.

Technology holds the key to a desirable future: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not.

Progress is assured through conscious human will: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not.

Individual liberty is the highest human value: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not;

Competition, not state control, begets prosperity: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not;

The good of the community, not individual is paramount: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not;

Human beings are essentially unequal: Conservatives agree; Liberals and Socialists do not;

Equality of opportunity is a prime social good: Liberals agree and Socialists; conservatives do not;

Equality of condition is a desirable social goal: Socialists agree; Liberals and conservatives do not.

You see the pattern. Liberals share many of the values of the "Enlightenment" with Socialists, while conservatives remain sceptical about reason, science and progress. Socialists, however, share communitarian values with conservatives. Conservatism has almost abandoned its commitment to traditional hierarchy. It has become "progressive" to a degree, but it is not about to embrace liberalism's commitment to competition at an individual or a collective level. Conservatism does not necessarily support capitalism, and it certainly does not agree that "possessive individualism" is a worthy goal. Wealth, when accrued, is at least as much a matter of social responsibility and stewardship as it is a matter of private enjoyment. Greed is not good.

Conservatives are not especially optimistic about "human nature." They favour enduring social order, deference to authority, reverence for tradition. Habit trumps innovation, unless innovation is demonstrably necessary and then it must be modest. Liberty is a privilege and not a right. Equality is an impossibility. The good society (and conservatives attach great importance to the "good society") is moral more than material and depends upon harmony and cooperation not a Hobbesian "state of nature" no matter how modified and well regulated through government by consent.

Justice, of course, is required and must be applied equally to all in the name of the common weal. The Rule of Law, as Marxian historian Edward Thompson declared, is an unqualified human good. The protection and sustenance of the weak is also a necessary social obligation, not only because it is practical - extreme misery might make the plebs restless - but also because it is the right thing to do. If only through progressive income tax, noblesse oblige remains crucial to genuine conservatism. This is not George W. Bush's fatuous sloganeering in the form of "compassionate conservatism" but an acceptance of the organicity of the conservative view of community.

There are few real conservatives alive today, and fewer who wish to become embroiled in the pointlessness of enacting conservative ideals in an increasingly liberal society. Just as Tony Blair has redefined socialism as, perhaps, capitalism with a human face, so conservatives have allowed themselves to be transformed into capitalists with eccentric antiquarian interests. Every generation commits treason anew, but this time treason has brought ideological diversity down, leaving little but amusing variations on a dominantly liberal theme. Still, a few examples of what Canadians call "Red Tories" - people who move easily between the Canadian Conservative and the Canadian New Democratic parties and remind some of us of the likes of British figures from Cobbett to Disraeli - are or at least have recently been in evidence. One of them, George Grant (1918-1988) concluded a chapter in one of his books by saying that although it was preposterous to try to build a conservative society next to the ultimate dynamo of technological civilization, it was a noble gesture and needed to be defended - recalling Richard Hooker - so that posterity may know we did not, loosely through silence, let things slip away as in a dream.

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Some really interesting postings on this thread. I especially enjoyed reading the posts of Pat, Robert, and Howard.

Fascinating analysis Howard. However, I disagree with the claim that “The good of the community, not individual is paramount: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not”. I would argue that the socialist shares the views of liberals on this point.

Is there a fourth category that needs to be considered “reactionary”. To my mind, a reactionary is a person who is trying to return to some time in the past. For example, Marx was a reactionary as he was advocating a return to what some people argued was a “mythical” past.

By the way, Howard, are you a conservative, liberal or socialist?

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Some really interesting postings on this thread. I especially enjoyed reading the posts of Pat, Robert, and Howard.

Fascinating analysis Howard. However, I disagree with the claim that “The good of the community, not individual is paramount: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not”. I would argue that the socialist shares the views of liberals on this point.

Is there a fourth category that needs to be considered “reactionary”. To my mind, a reactionary is a person who is trying to return to some time in the past. For example, Marx was a reactionary as he was advocating a return to what some people argued was a “mythical” past.

By the way, Howard, are you a conservative, liberal or socialist?

I suppose that depends on what kind of socialist.

Ultimately, of course, the emancipation of the individual is the aim of socialism as well as liberalism. In the interim, however, social programs such as the compulsory public education, the National Health (medicare in Canada), the enablement of trade unionism separate mildly socialist measures in Britain and Canada from the robust selfishness of American liberalism in the form of school vouchers, private health insurance and "right to work" laws.

One thing that may have shaped my view on the matter is not so much Marx (where socialism is at one with class analysis making the collective interest of the proletariat dominate the private interest of any particular worker) but Christianity. In Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (precursor to the NDP - our "social democratic" representation in the 4th International) was formed and remains influenced by the promoters of "the Social Gospel" - a largely agrarian and somewhat evalgelical form of Christianity which put great stock in the community and the brotherhood of all souls. The first elected socialist leader in North America as T. C. "Tommy" Douglas - Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961 and first leader of the federal NDP - was a Baptist preacher. Perhaps the NDP's most enduring presence in the House of Commons was Stanley Knowles, also a Protestant ("low church") minister.

The point may be that socialists are more at home with "civil liberties" (e.g., opposition to censorship) than conservatives, but they are not keen on competitive individualism or what C. B. Macpherson famously called "possessive individualism" in terms of privileging material acquisitiveness on the part of individuals and favour sharing the wealth and promoting common goods (e.g., public broadcasting).

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Socialist

The core ideas of my own ideology have remained unchanged since I was quite young (teenager). There will be a prize for the first person to identify the guiding influence.

# That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (i.e., land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

# That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

# That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into the common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

# That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex.

# That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

Fairly standard (big clue there) socialist ideology thus far.

However most socialists seem to spend more of their time attacking other "flavours" of socialist and describing what they don't like (viz capitalism) than they do working to bring about socialism or describing what it could be like.

I thought therefore it would be worth my while describing what I think socialism could be like and try and perhaps disabuse some of our more right wing members of their preconceptions of totalitarianism and Soviet style greyness and oppression. I know I run the risk of cries of utopianism from all sides of the spectrum but here goes:

Socialism will be a society of free access to the world's bounty. Labour will be given freely to aid this grand project. Society will not be ordered into hierachical structures and governments. There will ne no leaders just the "administration of things" according to human needs by conscious socialists sharing the same vision.

Individuals in a socialist world will be singular, interesting, intelligent and diverse. Thought will be free. There will be no need for religion as oppression and all its associated "sighing" will have ended. There will no restictions on what people can read, access or study.

There will be no schools. Education will take place within communities of equals. The true potential of each individual will flower.

Production in a socialist society will be geared to needs not wants. This is an important distinction. "Wants" are a capitalist concept. Accordingly to capitalist political economy a want is only a want if it is backed up by the cash to satisfy it. Thus under capitalist a starving peasant wants for nothing. Socialism will be concerned with meeting needs.

A socialist community will have a strong commitment to sexual tolerance and household diversity. The social construct of the family as we know it will disappear with its economic function. There will be great diversity in the household structures people choose to establish. This diversity will be celebrated.

So there you go - no bloodshed, no executions, no big grey buildings or party dictatorships.

Socialism is a simple idea - a classless, tolerant and equal society of free access to communally produced goods and services.

Heavy on idealism I'd agree but a good deal more logical than the war of all against all we see in society as it is presently constructed.

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Traditionalist Conservative

I consider myself a "traditionalist conservative". In one sense the "father" of traditional conservatism is the famous English statesman Edmund Burke. Burke emphasized the importance of tradition over the nlightenment value of reason. Burke argued that tradition, and traditionalist institutions, such as the family and the church, had stood "the test of time" whereas anbnstract reasoning often only represented the untested viewpoints of contemporary philosophers or politicians. Conservatives therefore tend to be suspicious of radical choice. A famous twentieth century conservative wrote a book called "Ideas Have Consequences". The traditionalist conservative would argue that ideas often have unintended consequences.

One example of this which Burke saw were the horrors unleashed by the French Revolution. The ideas that began the French Revolution were certainly admirable but, without restraints, they led to some rather terrible consequences. Burke, of course, wrote a treatise criticizing the French Revolution called "Reflections on the Revolution in France".

Certainly the twentieth century offers a great example of the value of Burke's concern with a society guided only by abstract reason. One can argue that the values underlying communism had good intent, and many of the early proponents of communism were in fact idealists. But communism unleashed led to unspeakable horrors, horrors as bad as those of Nazi Germany.

The founding fathers of the United States were in some senses both revolutionary and conservative. Certainly they were revolutionary in the sense that they were willing to resort to armed force to free the colonies from what they considered the tyranny of English rule. But the Constitution which they drafted was conservative in nature in that it imposed an entire series of constraints on radical and unconsidered social experimentism. The "checks and balances" in the Constitution are one good example of this. As most know, an idea cannot become a law unless it has the support of both the legislative and the executive branch. With the exception of course that if an idea has the overwhelming (two-thirds) support of the executive branch it can be adopted over an executive veto. A second example would be the constraints imposed on changes in the constitution. In the United States, the adoption of a constitutional amendment is a vigorous process with built-in time delays. The process imposes time for reflection so the constitution will not be amended at a whim or for some temporary but popular reason. The so-called Equal Rights Amendment would be a good example of a once popular idea that did not stand the test of time and was not adopted because of the constraints on amendments that were created by the founding fathers.

The respect for traditional values inherent in conservatism often, but not always, springs from religious conservatism. A religious conservative would, for instance, strongly support the institution of marriage not merely because it has stood the test of time but also because he or she would believe that God Himself created the institution of marriage.

Which brings up another good example of why conservatives rightly fear quick social change. In the early seventies the idea of divorce reform became very popular and soon almost every state had adopted a form of so-called "no fault" divorce reform. Interestingly and ironically, divorce reform was approved in California by its then Governor Ronald Reagan (who himself was divorced and remarried). The ease of the divorce laws led to an epidemic in divorce, an epidemic that was, admittedly, not foreseen by its proponents. Many argue that the geometric increase in divorce has had serious and long-lasting deleterious effects on society and on children (and a vast number of peer-reviewed social studies would so indicate).

Criticism of the "divorce revolution" is not limited to social conservatives. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a principled liberal who was prescient in his critique on what effects the break-down of the traditional family would have on society.

I should point out, one can be opposed to government interference in sexual activities between consenting adults and yet believe that government should support the institution of marriage.

Another idea adopted by America's founding fathers was the concept of federalism, that is that each state is sovereign and has the right to adopt its own internal laws without interference by the federal government. Properly practiced, federalism could prevent some of the consequences of society rushing into an idea that will have serious unintended consequences. Under federalism, for instance, a few states could have adopted no-fault divorce and then watched what happened.

A distinction should be made here between traditionalist conservatives and libertarian conservatives. Both groups oppose liberalism but libertarian conservatives argue that there should be no laws regulating the practices of consenting adults while a traditionalist conservative would support certain laws designed to support traditionalist values. Ayn Rand is probably the leading example of a libertarian conservative.

In another part of this Forum John called me a "right-wing extremist". I reject that label and I do not think that any of my views can be considered "extremist".

Of course, I should end this short essay with the caveat that many of the ideas contained herein were expressed in generalizations and as the famous saying goes "All generalizations are false." There is a broad range of diverse opinion within conservatism and it is perhaps best to consider conservatism as an approach to government rather than a set of structured principles or policies.

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John wrote:

Is there a fourth category that needs to be considered “reactionary”. To my mind, a reactionary is a person who is trying to return to some time in the past. For example, Marx was a reactionary as he was advocating a return to what some people argued was a “mythical” past.

This I think is a prime example of the point I made that all generalizations are false. John would, I presume, prefer to return to American society and politics under President Kennedy (at least Kennedy post the missile crisis) (what some might argue was only a "mythical past") than retain George Bush's America. Is john then by his very definition a "reactionary"?

See this encyclopedia definition of reactionary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactionary

From the article:

[The term "reactionary"] was coined in the context of the French Revolution to refer to those who wished to restore the conditions of the Ancien Régime.

Since Edmund Burke opposed the excesses of the French Revolution, was he a "reactionary"?

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John wrote:

Is there a fourth category that needs to be considered “reactionary”. To my mind, a reactionary is a person who is trying to return to some time in the past. For example, Marx was a reactionary as he was advocating a return to what some people argued was a “mythical” past.

This I think is a prime example of the point I made that all generalizations are false. John would, I presume, prefer to return to American society and politics under President Kennedy (at least Kennedy post the missile crisis) (what some might argue was only a "mythical past") than retain George Bush's America. Is john then by his very definition a "reactionary"?

See this encyclopedia definition of reactionary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactionary

From the article:

[The term "reactionary"] was coined in the context of the French Revolution to refer to those who wished to restore the conditions of the Ancien Régime.

Since Edmund Burke opposed the excesses of the French Revolution, was he a "reactionary"?

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