Sunday, September 1, 2013

The liberal outlook vs liberal politics, or Why there are liberals in every political philosophy, and not all political liberals are philosophical liberals

I became aware of the problem with "liberal" when I was active with the Unitarian Universalists, who define their faith as a liberal religion. It's a religion that rejects authority and respects difference of thought. Though Unitarian Universalism attracts many politically liberal capitalists, it also attracts people to their right and left, from right-libertarians and Goldwater Republicans to left-libertarians and anarchists.

Bertrand Russell's "liberal decalogue" from “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism” explains the liberal attitude well:

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
Censorship is the easiest test of philosophical liberalism. Political liberals who try to silence their opponents are not philosophical liberals; political conservatives and socialists who believe in free speech are liberal conservatives and liberal socialists.