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Stone's Definition of a "Liberal":

University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone believes that "liberals have failed to define themselves and to state clearly what they believe." As a self-described liberal, Stone believes this is a problem. To remedy the situation, and prompt greater discussion on the matter, he offers ten propositions that, to him, define what it means to be a liberal today. (LvHB)

Anderson (mail) (www):
Hm, I don't think the Dems are going to get far with that list.

But Stone points to one reason why "liberalism" is hard to define. A major strand of liberalism is that it's a meta-belief, an attempt to create a political framework within which various, even opposing, beliefs can be held.

But try defending your meta-beliefs on talk radio ...

(Conservatism has its meta-beliefs as well; see Burke. But precisely b/c the conservative theory of belief is that what's traditional is usually right (or on its gradual way to becoming right), there seems to be less daylight between the meta-belief and the beliefs.)
10.10.2006 10:35am
JRL:
Well, as a 'conservative' I am only in disagreement with only two of Professor Stone's propositions:

1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.
2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference.
3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate.
4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind.
5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.
6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith.
8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties.
9.Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible.
10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values.

Numbers 6 and 8.

I think he's done a far better job of describing conservatives (with the exception of 6 and 8) than he does of describing liberals.
10.10.2006 10:35am
Anderson (mail) (www):
8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties.

JRL, I wonder why you disagree with # 8? Is it the word "special," or the whole shebang?

I don't see how you could disagree that, if your legal rights are violated, you have no individual cause for redress in the courts?
10.10.2006 10:55am
DK:
Yup. He's got some major work to do to convince other liberals of #1 and #2. 50 years ago the default position for dumb rich white people was a shallow-minded, intolerant conservatism. Today, the same sort of people practice a shallow-minded, intolerant liberalism. (For examples, read the comments in any left-wing blog other than Crooked Timber, or come visit my Episcopal church).

Note I'm not saying and don't believe that all liberals are intolerant or shallow-minded -- there are plenty of smart, thinking liberals who know how to have a rational dialog, and many of them are found in the comments to this blog. It's just that the Archie Bunkers of the Left sometimes drown them out. What liberals need right now isn't a mission statement, it's a left-wing version of William F. Buckley Jr. to drive the nuts out of the movement.
10.10.2006 10:56am
UK (mail):
I think he's done a far better job of describing conservatives libertarians (with the exception of 6 and 8) than he does of describing liberals.


Perhaps he is just describing the American ideal, which he believes, of course, that he embodies. It's the Liberal beliefs he left out that are the problem. As the sage of Seymour says ... "it's what you do, not what you say."
10.10.2006 10:59am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
As a conservative, there wasn't a whole lot there that I could disagree with. Maybe the problem is that liberalism today as practiced doesn't hew that closely to Stone's propositions. Esp. differing from him is the apparent inability of liberalism today to accept truths and debate from the right. Every time an Ann Coulter is booed off the stage at a university puts the lie to Stone's first three propositions.

His fourth proposition, that the peiple are the governors, not the governed, appears to be selectively practiced. Reproductive rights are to be honored, but any rights that a viable fetus may have don't exist. And it is apparently ok to take someone's gun away, but not to listen to his conversation without a warrant if called on the phone by Osama Ben Laden.

The fifth proposition of respecting diversity applies in practice only when the party whose differences are being respected is a member of some preferred class, but clearly does not apply in practice to whites, Christains, and conservatives.

Number 6 is using the governement to help those less fortunate. This is, of course, the justificaiton for the trillion dollar rathole known as the War on Poverty that had the unfortunate affect of: increasing poverty; increasing illegimacy (i.e. raising the number of households where there are no males present engaged in childrearing); cost a huge amount of money; resulting in part of the national debt. What this proposition doesn't take into account is that the government is often quite ill suited for this sort of thing.

My problem with #7, not using sectarian faith in government, is that the examples given suggest just the opposite - that the sectarian faith of some be given preferance over those of others.

Number 8 is protecting individual liberties. Again, this is fine in theory, but the practice often results in liberals opposing that for those who are white, Christain, or conservative. Free speech is fine, as long as it is liberal free speech. Gun ownership is fine, as long as it is the government owning the guns, etc.

Numbers 9 and 10 seem to conflict. I found it interesting that he was willing to increase police and international diplomacy, but didn't mention the use of external force, while that is in some cases the best solution to external threats. Talking, even serious talking, with enemies only goes so far, and the fact that the author seems willing to forgo taking the next step belies his point that liberals are strong on protecting the country. After all, talk without the threat of force backing it up is, in the end, hot air.
10.10.2006 11:00am
Josh_Jasper (mail):

University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone believes that "liberals have failed to define themselves and to state clearly what they believe."


This is generally a conservative myth, much like the liberal myth that all conservatives are neccesarily mean spirited. Trying to disprove it is just playing into that myth.
10.10.2006 11:08am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I agree with UK, that he has described the American ideal. It is how the different sides implement these ideals that really distinguishes them from each other.

My problem, as a conservative, with his having the government take care of the less fortunate among us, is that the government is extremely ill suited to the task. Most of what it tries to do seems to be counterproductive. I wouldn't mind too much programs that really work, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. What I oppose most are government programs ostensibly to help the disadvantaged, but are really aimed at salving liberal guilt and have little chance of actually making a difference.

But back to his propositions - to a fairly good extent, they appear to be utopian aspirations. And as such, it is hard for anyone to disagree with them, though I still oppose federal funding of stem cell research from aborted fetuses, which the author apparently supports. And maybe that is the problem, that they are utopian, and fall apart when applied to the real world, where, for example, the question is often not protecting one group's rights, but rather weighing the rights of different groups or individuals against each other.
10.10.2006 11:11am
Aultimer:
I think the whole piece plays against strawmen and stereotypes of today's Republicans, rather than contrasting with "conservatism" (apart from the first 2):
1&2 - Conservatives have a strong preference for the status quo.(Yes, that's classical conservatism).
3,4,5&6 - Conservatives (really, today's Republicans) like rich people and corporations best
7 - Conservatives (today's Repubs) aren't for separation of church and state
8 - Conservatives are anti-civil rights (?)
9&10 - Conservatives (today's Republicans) trade constitutional liberty for security.

Pretty lame, really.

DK - you seem to be confusing "liberals" with "Democrats". The nuts (and apparently, Episcopalians) you refer to are in the Democratic party, but not liberal by this definition.
10.10.2006 11:14am
JRL:

JRL, I wonder why you disagree with # 8? Is it the word "special," or the whole shebang?

I don't see how you could disagree that, if your legal rights are violated, you have no individual cause for redress in the courts?



My disagreement is that the Constitution (and some laws) is to protect individual liberties. The courts' responsibility is to interpret and apply the Constitution and laws. So long as the Constitutiona and laws protect individual liberties, then a happy by-product of performing their function is such protection, but I don't believe it to be their purpose.
10.10.2006 11:16am
Ramza:
How would Professor Stone seperate the difference between a Liberal and a Progressive?
10.10.2006 11:16am
AnonPerson (mail):
JRL,

As a liberal, I'm pretty sure I would also agree with most of a "conservative" manifesto. The national discourse these days is quite disappointing. I believe that the vast majority of liberals and conservatives share the same goals, and even values. Most the disagreements (I believe), are ones of degree.

Part of the problem is that those who do the most talking tend to be the polarizing figures. Perhaps a group of more cool-headed liberals and conservatives should come up with a common manifesto, just to emphasize this point. For example, I am liberal, but I do believe in capitalism. I am a liberal, but I have no problems with deadly military force when necessary.
10.10.2006 11:17am
Eli Rabett (www):
Stone has done a good job defining what a liberal really is. However, in US politics liberal has become a catchall phrase for anyone to the left of Tom Delay, as in Lincoln Chafee. That covers a lot of ground, from Lincoln Chafee to Bernie Sanders, and includes progressives, social democrats and a whole bunch of other political positions.
10.10.2006 11:17am
bearing (mail) (www):
I don't disagree with his 10 points much either; except that I count the unborn as persons among the "outcasts of society" mentioned in #5. So the oblique and euphemistic references to "reproductive freedom" in #4 and to "freedom of choice for women" in #7 ought not to extend to their destruction.

An impulse to protect the unborn should be a matter of "free and open debate" among liberals rather than a litmus test of membership in the club. All it takes is a conviction that the unborn are (or even that they might be) persons, which may or may not arise from sectarian beliefs. (Making the linking with "freedom of choice" to sectarian belief in #7 a bit of a non sequitur.)

If I want to apply the principles in #5, #6, #9, and #10 to the unborn, can't I be called a liberal too? Or is the conviction that the unborn are persons --- which is not much more than a philosophical stance --- completely anathema to liberalism?
10.10.2006 11:25am
Anderson (mail) (www):
The apparently wide agreement with much of the list is also because it's artfully crafted to obscure disagreements.

For ex, we're not to keep ourselves secure by curtailing constitutional rights more than "necessary."
10.10.2006 11:29am
Justin (mail):
I think you all are missing the point. Stone is trying to define a liberal in a way that is appealing and easily supportable to the broad mass public. Saying "that hardly differentiates liberals from conservatives" is about as uninteresting a point as claiming that "our judges apply the law, not create it" is.

Instead, look at what Stone is trying to do - to show how various "contentious" liberal policies can be DEFINED by liberal values, and how they can go back to them in defending their policies.

And also look at certain conservative metavalues that are missing - such as the Kirkean reliance on tradition, the Straussian view of American Exceptionalism and the ability to create a global (small l) liberal compact, or the (Yooian?) paternalistic and omnipotent executive.
10.10.2006 11:33am
AnonPerson (mail):
Bruce,

I honestly believe that only a small minority of people who consider themselves left of center believe that booing anyone off stage is acceptable.
10.10.2006 11:34am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I agree with Anderson on his last points. There is an obvious disagreement between the Administration and many esp. (but not exclusively) on the left on whether electronically surveiling international calls from known or suspected terrorists is necessary or not. And part of the disagreement seems to be whether the WoT is considered more a law enforcement or war issue.

And maybe that is it, Stone has made his value judgments, that sneak out here and there, but is pretty much hiding them through this universal utopian rhetoric.
10.10.2006 11:35am
tefta (mail):
It's not so much that liberals don't stand for anything, it's that the things they stand for have been tried and found wanting. Socialism, redistribution of income, nanny-state mentality, allowing feelings to trump facts, etc. For an example of the end of the left, see what happened to Europe and then be afraid, very afraid of electing the people who want us to be like them.
10.10.2006 11:35am
Carolina:

The apparently wide agreement with much of the list is also because it's artfully crafted to obscure disagreements.


Well said.

Further, the specific examples of policies he gives often do not follow, or at least do not follow in obvious ways from the broad general principle he articulates in the first sentence of each paragraph.

For example, I agree it's generally a fine thing to be "tolerant and respectful of difference" (Para #2). But I do not see how support for affirmative action flows automatically from this principle.
10.10.2006 11:35am
Constantin:
Number 2, in particular, strikes me as "simply wrong." I do not believe liberals respect difference more than they have a victimhood fetish.

After all, when considering college applications from a white student and a black student, the applicants are equally "different" from one another. I guess some people are just more different than others.
10.10.2006 11:37am
Alan Gunn (mail):
The list is weirdly off target because just about all the differences between liberals and conservatives are about means, and the list is about ends. For instance: there's probably no one issue that more clearly divides liberals and conservatives than minimum-wage laws. Conservatives oppose these not because they hate poor people and like to see them suffer, but because they probably increase unemployment (at least a little), because most of the people who benefit from minimum-wage increases aren't poor, etc. Stone's list is just one more version of the "conservatives hate the poor" line. I'm just about the most conservative person I know. I agree at least a bit with all the things on Stone's list, and wholeheartedly with all but the two that have been mentioned.

(As for why liberals like the minimum wage, I have no idea. When I ask my liberal friends about it, they explain that I'm too evil and uncaring to understand.)
10.10.2006 11:39am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
AnonPerson

That may be true, but the reality is that it has gained firm acceptance at many universities today. Their administrations sit on the sidelines and do nothing. They don't discipline the students who disrupt any speaker to the right of Colin Powell, and don't prosecute when conservative papers are destroyed en-mass.

It is precisely this implicit condoning of supression of much of the speech of the right on campus by the students and, more importantly, the administration and faculty, that puts the liberal concern with free speech into question.

Remember, it is easy to support free speech when the speech is popular. But when the speech is unpopular, as Ann Coulter is on many campuses, then that is when it becomes apparent whether someone truly believes in it, or is just mouthing platitudes.
10.10.2006 11:40am
New guy:
#1 doesn't sit right with me. To quote G.K. Chesterton,

"The purpose of an open mind is not to stay open, but to shut on the truth."

One of the most dangerous consequences of modern liberalism is, to my mind, the rise of relativism. I know many a conservative who has no fear of open debate, and no love for censorship, but this is where we depart from liberals - tolerance of others does NOT mean that we must question our OWN truths incessantly.
10.10.2006 11:42am
Houston Lawyer:
The list contains many contradictions:

Support for individual rights, unless that individual hasn't been born yet.

Support for freedom of the press and campaign finance reform.

Support for individual rights vs. group rights of races.

Support for tolerance, unless you don't support acceptance of gays and lesbians.

The last two items were clearly added just to cover current events. Liberals haven't always been squeamish about the use of force of arms.
10.10.2006 11:42am
DK:
Aultimer, that's a good point, but it depends on whether you use language descriptively or prescriptively. Most of the people I'm describing identify themselves as liberals, and that is "their truth" under point #1, even if a traditional conservative view of language would define them as "left" or "socialist". Stone will need to work pretty hard to draw that distinction for his definition to lead anywhere.
10.10.2006 11:44am
farmer56 (mail):
This is simple

Liberal... People are to stupid to do for themselves.

Conservative... The government will do only what the Constition allows.

Gee! Even I think this is too simple. Hum
10.10.2006 11:50am
Bill_C:
Lovely. Another benevolent political officer telling me what I should believe, all arranged in an easy checklist. Do I qualify? I don't care anymore. There a slew of reasons my politics are increasingly "free range." His column is an example of one of them. That he's, no doubt, trying to be "well meaning" and I have no doubt that he's trying to be a nice guy about it (while any apostasy from this list of 10 will be dealt with by others as it was at Columbia or in Connecticut) is another.
10.10.2006 11:52am
Dylanfa (mail) (www):
Another contradiction with free speech:
5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.
Being able to condemn, humiliate and publicly revile someone is one of my favorite rights to exercise.
10.10.2006 11:58am
JRL:

"Perhaps a group of more cool-headed liberals and conservatives should come up with a common manifesto, just to emphasize this point."

I'm not sure how many conservatives you'd get to sign up to a "manifesto" of any kind.
10.10.2006 12:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
There is an obvious disagreement between the Administration and many esp. (but not exclusively) on the left on whether electronically surveiling international calls from known or suspected terrorists is necessary or not.

Um, Bruce, not to change the subject, but you will have to look really hard to find anyone, "left" or not, who disagrees on this part.

To get to the disagreement, you have to emend to "surveilling without compliance with FISA or other court oversight as prescribed by law."
10.10.2006 12:15pm
Tennessean (mail):
farmer56:

If you are trying to describe the popular masses of "liberals" and "conservatives," I think it is even simpler than that --

Liberal - Other people are too stupid to do for themselves.

Conservative - Other people are too stupid to do for themselves.
10.10.2006 12:29pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Anderson - well, me. I have become an ever more isolated minority here at volokh.com on the subject of the NSA TSP, not being able to quite comprehend why international calls here from known or suspected terrorists should have any expectation of privacy whatsoever. I also don't buy into Congressional supremecy so far into the President's plenary duty and power to protect this country.

But you are correct, that issue is a distraction here. No one is going to say anything on the NSA program that hasn't been said many times before here.
10.10.2006 12:29pm
Wikstrom (mail):
[]


"Those who favor the expansion and centralization of the powers of government - liberals, in short - are advocating an increase in the proportion between compulsory action and free action in society.

Government is organized force. Every law is a limitation on liberty.

It would be different if liberals would honesty define their dreams.

At what point would they agree that government had reached its ideal size and scope, beyond which it would become tyranny?

They never say.

No matter how much the state expands, they want it to have still more power. There is no stopping point."


{— Joseph Sobran}

[]
10.10.2006 12:33pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Mayb Farmer and Tenessean are onto something. My problem with government is that I distrust it more than I do most internal threats, whether they be liberals, conservatives, fundamentalists, or the jaguars that may or may not be crossing over into this country and may or may not be able to slow up building the fence.

But I sense that Stone sees the government more as a solution than the problem. And that is maybe the big difference between many liberals and many conservatives - whether they view government as being the solution or the problem.
10.10.2006 12:34pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Some of the claims are so demonstrably selective in their
application as to render the claim meaningless:


2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference except for people with different thinking and ideology




8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression except for election-related speech and anti-abortion protesters, individual privacy except for gun owners and their possessions, freedom of religion (freedom from religion is more like it) and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy I particularly like the "wealthy" part.)
10.10.2006 12:35pm
josh:
farmer56

"Liberal... People are to [sic] stupid to do for themselves."

If you're going to lower the discussion to ad hominem, try to write properly at least.
10.10.2006 12:36pm
Tony2 (mail):
The more I read the comments, the more I am reminded that the word "liberal" has no meaning in American politics. There is no Liberal party or Conservative party - there are Democrats and Republicans, each of which has a perfectly well defined platform. Why not work from that perspective?

Most of this post is just wrangling over the ownership of a word. The way in which some commentators have used "liberal" as a dumping ground for all they find undesirable is frankly nauseating. It shows just how easy it is to abuse and destroy the shared understanding that makes communication possible in the first place.
10.10.2006 12:52pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Tony2

Maybe it is semantic. I think that the "conservative" worry about too much government power might have been considered libaral some time in the past.
10.10.2006 12:56pm
Houston Lawyer:
The Houston City Council is about to ban smoking in bars. The liberals are complaining, not about the infringement of individual rights, but about the exceptions to the ban. The liberals don't like the fact that smoking won't be banned outside, in open patio areas.

May they all be sent to Tolerance Camp.
10.10.2006 1:04pm
magoo (mail):
In my experience, the one principle that unifies liberals is that they all detest George W. Bush.
10.10.2006 1:07pm
Sigivald (mail):
The policies and the principles seem oddly mismatched, yes.

How does tolerance and respect for difference get us race-baced preference and quotas (unless he meant by "affirmative action" only and exactly what President Johnson did in his executive order... but using it to mean that without explanation is a bad idea, since in common use today it means racial preference and/or quotas, not the active avoidance of bias)? Tolerance and respect don't require such a solution, and in practice, such a solution seems to erode both.

Apart from such issues, most of the principles aren't objectionable to me (as a primarily libertarian/classical liberal/old whig with a touch of conservatism, that's no surprise), though some of the formulations rankle.

(I would not, for instance, suggest that people have a duty to participate in the political process; those who don't care about it or are generally apathetic aren't going to help very much by voting anyway; the signaling power of voting is strongest when it's voluntary and people actually care about what they're voting for, I'd think.

And there's a bit too much raw Statism there; the "national community" (in the form of government support, of course) is "like a family"? Odd, my relatives never force me to support them.

And not acting on sectarian faith is amusing; articles of secular faith are evidently just fine, like the simply asserted "reproductive freedom" trumping all the arguments against it. [Full disclosure: I'm actually for abortion being at least generally legal. I just don't think that the "liberal" position on it is anything but an article of faith, and that abortion's unassailable position has not been well-defended logically. In other words, it's a lot closer to dogma - thus my argument.]

And I won't even start on his utter disregard for property, considered by (at least many) classical liberals as the basis of individual freedom.)

His liberalism isn't one I'm going to endorse, though his flattering descriptions of most of his principles are a good effort. Maybe if he'd left out the policies he thinks should (or do) flow from them, he'd have better luck getting converts. As it is, this reads like an "aren't we just great?" sermon to the choir.
10.10.2006 1:47pm
poster child (mail):
Five Attributes of Someone with a Liberal Political Philosophy:

1. If the choice is between emotion and hard-headed analysis, you go with emotion.

2. As a general rule, you try to take the "nice" position on an issue, "nice" being defined to mean what a college professor would do in the same situation.

3. You think that "rich" people should pay higher taxes, "rich" being defined to mean anyone who would be in a higher tax bracket than you if you got your way.

4. You think that affirmative action is a great idea that actually works and that anyone who disputes the wisdom or morality of affirmative action is a racist.

5. You think that the courts should make constitutional rulings based on #2, above.
10.10.2006 1:52pm
farmer56 (mail):
Josh

That's the best you got?

Ya just seam to be unalbe to get the point. I have A basis of my belief. You got bad grammar on me. You win! 'Cept that part about an answer to my first point.

I will type slow

Are the people able to take care of themselves? Or. Is the government better to assume this role?

Josh Get an opinion or don't play. [ (At least)] is a dangling participle?
10.10.2006 2:27pm
Russ (mail):
The problem with Stone's list is it is more of a catchall than a specific list. With the exceptions of #'s 6 &8, not many conservatives would disagree either. It's be lik my coming out and saying "All conservatives should agree that sunny days are better than rainy days." That attempts to give me a monopoly on the "better" position.

If Stone really wanted to open a debate about what liberals truly, he needs to provide more specifics and fewer generalities.
10.10.2006 2:30pm
Daniel Messing (mail):
Going back to #1 ("Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.") How can one doubt "truth"? One can doubt beliefs, statements, etc., but not "truth"--unless you want to redefine the word. And that is more than mere semantics. If 'truth' is 'relative', then if I can get a bunch of people to agree on MY program, then it's right, and if we can beat up your group, then your group is 'wrong' and mine is proved (yet again) to be right. On a more fundamental level, the failure of the Enlightenment Project, as Alasdair MacIntyre points out, undercuts much more than is realized. Nietzsche knew what "God is dead" meant practically, as did Dostoevski when he had a protagonist state "If God is dead, then all things are possible." Bloom recognized, as he put it, that we are living on the "value fat" of prior generations. Unless we are willing to address the truly fundamental questions (eg, is there a truth), with the same courage as, say, Satre, then we will continue to have this mishmash of contradictions and screaming past one another with no possibility of agreeing. Or: if we begin with different a priori assumptions, then we will never agree, and -- what's worse -- never realize that we never will agree.
10.10.2006 2:41pm
Dr. Scott (mail):
I thought it was funny. Stone's list is a mixture of conservative tenets and logical inconsistencies. To act on many of these principles is to stand out as a flaming right-wing conservative. For example, to safeguard the equality of each individual is to treat people without regard for race or religion. This means dismantling the systems of racial quotas and special treatment in government and universities. It also means defending those individuals who are alive but not yet born. These are commonly considered conservative positions.

The illogic appears in number 7, "government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith". But the entire list is itself a set of faith claims. You can't prove them. They are believed true and good in the same way that a Muslim or Christian believes his tenets are true and good. These claims are not universally believed; hence sectarian. And Dr. Stone certainly wants government to be guided by these propositions. To be consistent, he should write, "liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith other than their own". But that doesn't sound so noble.

In short, to be a liberal is to be a confused, illogical conservative. OK, I can go along with that.
10.10.2006 3:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Let's see how Stone's propositions hold up in real life.

1.

Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.

Liberals don't doubt their own truths about evolution, racial and sexual differences in intelligence, global warming, abortion, homosexuality, and border control. In fact liberals say race doesn't even exist. It's merely a "social construct" (whatever that means). These are some of their hot-button beliefs. They don't consider fairly the opinions of others on these issues. Their common response is to hurl insults like racist, homophobe, xenophobe etc. Note that "phobic" denotes an irrational fear of something.

Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.

Then how come they support campus speech codes?

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference.

Not when that "difference" means being a fundamentalist Christian.

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate.

No they don't. Not if the public debate might hurt one of their sacred cows. This includes the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. A good example is "The Berkeley Three" (TBT) who opposed the conversion of a run-down hotel into a multi-family housing unit for the homeless. Acting on a one-line complaint, HUD brought legal action against TBT for what amounts to "illegal speech." HUD threatened TBT with a $100,000 fine each and jail sentences unless they ceased their activism. HUD denied the First Amendment applied and sent the case to the Justice Department for prosecution. After HUD came to its senses and finally backed down, Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick overrode HUD and ordered Justice to bring new lawsuits against TBT. He analogized political leaflets to baseball bats.

There are problems with items 4-10 as well, some of which simply advocate for a European-type social democratic welfare state. Perhaps H. L. Mencken (himself a progressive in the spirit of La Follette) said it best:


"The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace."

10.10.2006 3:24pm
The General:
Liberals essentially believe in 4 things in their approach to politics and policy:

1. Taxation
2. Regulation
3. Litigation
4. United Nations
10.10.2006 3:34pm
The General:
A liberal is a person who is so open-minded that his/her brain has fallen out.
10.10.2006 3:48pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Has everyone enjoyed their Two Minutes Hate? Tune in tomorrow when we expose how libruls really do hate mom, apple pie, and puppies!
10.10.2006 4:15pm
JDS:
Time for another reminder about the World's Smallest Political Quiz
10.10.2006 4:30pm
The General:
1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. [Liberals believe in "truths" while Conservatives only believe in "lies." See Columbia example.]

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. [Unless the "difference" is one of political philosophy, in which case there is no need to respect the "difference." See Columbia example.]

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. [unless that individual is a conservative. See Columbia example. Also, Campaign contributions do not contribute to free speech.]

4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind. [Unless those persons want to do something with their own money or property.]

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. [Yes, the government is safeguarding your income so that you won't have to deal with it.]

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. [and screw those who are "more fortunate" who have won life's lottery.]

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. [The government should be zealously Atheist and prevent all public expressions of faith.]

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. [Owning property isn't an individual liberty. It's simply a benefit of winning life's lottery. Individual liberty is defined as "whatever a liberal wants to do today."]

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. [Protecting the people means signing agreements and treaties with Yasser Arafat and Kim Jong Il (giving him nuclear technology) and pretending that they will uphold their end of the bargains. It never means using military force unless France says it's ok first.]

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. [Terrorists who want to KILL YOU, have rights, too! Liberals will never allow the torture of a terrorist to get information that would prevent another 9/11 type terrorist attack. Never.]
10.10.2006 4:37pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Did you attain that rank while serving in the Straw Man Army, General? :)
10.10.2006 4:40pm
JerryM (mail):
General,
Best line of the month!!
10.10.2006 4:43pm
farmer56 (mail):
Ship Erect

Do you have a point of debate? Or slinging slurs is just your style? Not a single point the General made did you dispute. I conclude Ship erect agrees with all points made by the general. Hummm.
10.10.2006 4:54pm
The General:
Does this mean that liberals aren't going to call themselves "Progressives" anymore?
10.10.2006 4:55pm
Colin (mail):
Ship Erect,

Farmer56 is correct. The General wasn't relying on a straw man at all. He's clearly presenting outright falsehoods. Shame on you for misrepresenting his misrepresentations! Typical librul devil.
10.10.2006 5:04pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
You misspelled "liberal." It's understandable, I guess, since Ship Erect made the same mistake above.
10.10.2006 5:12pm
Redman:
Hoo Boy.

I had to stop after number 4.

The article WAS satire, wasnt it?
10.10.2006 5:17pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Do you have a point of debate?

There is a debate? I thought everyone here agreed that libruls hate America. After all, they handed Kim Jong Il nucular bombs! They can't wait for Muslims to launch another terrorist attack, because it means their dream world will be achieved: everyone will become gay and get married, then forced to get abortions! At last, they will have their utopia!

If you're opposed to listening in on private conversations without any oversight and torturing innocent people, you must be some leftist librul-leaning statist commie suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. They're objectively pro-everything evil, while we're objectively pro-everything warm and fuzzy.
10.10.2006 5:35pm
Colin (mail):
They can't wait for Muslims to launch another terrorist attack, because it means their dream world will be achieved: everyone will become gay and get married, then forced to get abortions! At last, they will have their utopia!

Once again, you librul fanatic, I must correct your vicious misrepresentations. The plan is for all American subjects of the coming foreign tyranny to get abortions before the compulsory gay marriages. It's the only way to be sure that they're having the mandatory premarital sex. This is all spelled out in Stone's point number 11! Get with the program!
10.10.2006 5:44pm
Triple_J:
I think the error in Professor Stone's article is his failure to differentiate between Big L Liberals and small l liberals. [l]iberalism is an idealogy that can be applied to a wide range of political thinkings. Liberals (note the big L) are today's Democrats. Thus, when Stone attempts to define what liberals stand for, he's fighting a losing battle, because the only conformity among liberals is that everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions and there is no universal correct answer. However, with the status of today's political discourse, you would have a hard time finding anyone willing to admit that his or her opinion is one of only several solutions that bears no superiority over the others.
10.10.2006 5:57pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Triple J? As in THE Triple J? Do I know you from UWO?
10.10.2006 6:17pm
Perry (mail):
Justin wrote:

And also look at certain conservative metavalues that are missing - such as .... the Straussian view of American Exceptionalism

You obviously have never read anything by Strauss and are just repeating some buzzwords that you heard somewhere.
10.10.2006 6:59pm
farmer56 (mail):
And so? What do big L or amall l liberals stand for? Honestly. I am courious.

at the moment the only defining thing I can come up with is 'I am against whatever GWB is for'.
10.10.2006 7:00pm
farmer56 (mail):
Ship erect

it is an easy ploy. debate spelling and grammer. cause the issue you defend can not be defended
10.10.2006 7:10pm
josh:
Farmer56

A dangling participle occurs when the verb and subject of the sentence don't agree. So, er, no. "At least" is not a dangling particple.

Funny how you chide others on this thread for not having a point in the dabte, when you haven't offered anything beyond ad hominem.
10.10.2006 7:18pm
Colin (mail):
And so? What do big L or amall l liberals stand for? Honestly. I am courious.

at the moment the only defining thing I can come up with is 'I am against whatever GWB is for'.


Actually, I saw a pretty good list not too long ago. Just ten items, but it covered all the important bases. Scroll alllllll the way up, past all the hyperventilating wanna-be talk radio pundits.
10.10.2006 7:19pm
jim:
New Guy said

tolerance of others does NOT mean that we must question our OWN truths incessantly.


"I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business." - Edmund Burke
10.10.2006 7:56pm
srp (mail):
Perhaps a better approach is to recognize that everyone wants to use government to conserve some things, specifically change some other things, and let still other things "freely" evolve. Different people differ both horizontally--which specific spheres they want to change or preserve--and vertically--how result-oriented the things they want to conserve are.

For example, free-market types want to conserve the right to contract and the right to private property. They want to specifically change things like tort law and regulations that interfere with those rights. They want to let the division of labor, the mix of products, the income distribution, etc., freely evolve under those fixed rules.

Populists want to conserve traditional social and economic relations. They are willing to modify contractual and property rights to do so, say by restricting the growth of retail chains (or in the past, enforcing Jim Crow laws). Different populists may care about different specific issues--one may think blue-collar industrial jobs are the important thing, while others are interested in preserving small-town life or family farms--but these are narrow horizontal rather than vertical differences.

Greens want to conserve a certain configuration of the natural environment. They are willing to modify property and contract rights (regulation) as well as economic and social relations to do it (e.g. shutting down logging towns in the Pacific Northwest). They may disagree amongst themselves about the exact configuration desired, but these are again pretty narrow differences.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to take care of communitarians, New Dealers/social democrats, nativists, etc.
10.10.2006 8:39pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Stone does not mention environmentalism. But obviously most liberals are manic environmentalists and vice versa.
10.10.2006 9:00pm
DMK (mail):
Of course you are right, SRP. Unfortunately, as we are such a bitter and sardonic society as of late, this is not a platitude. Although nobody has a duty to engage and evaluate their beliefs, it is my opinion that this is valuable. We may find that our position is more or less convincing than we had realized. Whether you believe "truth" is relative or absolute, it is possible to be wrong based upon the same. This is characteristic of humility. It is also the basis for intellectual honesty. It is not synonymous with civility, but it is a strong foundation for it. This is why I respect Volokh and my law school professors (not UCLA) and is what I consider to be lacking in our current national discourse. If you're wrong, you're wrong (whether relatively or absolutely).

Recently I started to wonder whether this current bitterness might, at least in part, be tied to changes in the nature of communication, specifically the internet. The nature of how we respond to what we find disagreable has changed significantly. Now, it is common to read something online posted by someone you don't know and with whom you disagree and simply fire off a one-liner that adds nothing but fodder for the fire. Unlike someone in the workplace of school, this person can easily avoid the benefits of social pressures to respond to a counterclaim. One needs only look at the posting policy of this blog: would you say it in person? For me, that point goes not only to the content of the specific thing said, but the moral hazard of internet posting: the less cost to the individual of formulating opinions and vetting them by individuals interested in the same, the more often we should expect to see them occur. Perhaps this a source of my ennui?

N.B. I consider the volokh responders generally to be of the type who is capable of being critical of their opinions.
10.10.2006 9:40pm
quaker:
Instead of Ten Propositions, "What it means to be a liberal," I'd be genuinely interested to read a list of Ten Priorities, "What liberals do."

This lefty Contract With America would state clearly and simply "Here are the first ten things we'll do if you hand us power."

Actions speak louder than words, and the need to prioritize one's actions further enhances the information content compared to Stone's sludgy mess.
10.11.2006 2:56pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I tend to agree with quaker that actions, not principles, define us. I could ascribe to a set of "liberal" or conservative principles, but then act contrary to them, and claim that I am not. I think Professor Adler just posted this to bring out the hardcore political debaters, but I haven't read much of substance by anyone.

I disagree with Professor Stone that it is important to define oneself as a "liberal" or "conservative" and would cite, as my reason, the fact that many so-called "conservatives" on this thread say they agree with most of his articulated principles (but differ in how they are applied to particular situations). When we have many self-proclaimed conservatives, for example, advocating many infringements on civil liberties, as the price we must pay for national security, or overseeing the rapid expansion of our national government, that label no longer has much meaning to me. Likewise, when we have many "liberals" advocating for restrictions on speech they find hateful and harmful to certain groups, even though this is clearly chilling of freedom of speech, and thus contrary to classic "liberal" principles, that label also has little meaning.

Maybe we need to use more precise labels, because the ones we are using now are fairly empty. Most people are classicly "liberal" on some issues (e.g., they favor government assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims) but "conservative" on others (e.g., they oppose Kelso type of property condemnations; they favor the death penalty for certain crimes). So, simply saying I am a "liberal" or a "conservative" says very little to me.
10.11.2006 4:06pm