By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 04/29/07
The great British philosopher, Bertrand Russell once said, “The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.” Perhaps liberalism has changed significantly over the past 40 years since Russell uttered those words. Or, perhaps as a liberal intellectual himself, he saw in liberalism what he saw in himself: an open-minded, tolerant, and naturally inquisitive nature, anxious to learn and expand his own conceptual horizons. In this context, we should all be liberals.
Having known a good number of liberals, I can truly say that many fit the mold of Russell; perhaps not with his mental acumen, but with his open-mindedness, tolerance, and convictions in pursuit of truth, wherever it may come from. They were easy to respect because they were respectable, intelligent, honestly adhering to their principles, and sometimes even convincing.
Russell would have to be disappointed in the trends that are so pervasive today in his end of the political spectrum. For many liberals, intolerance is supplanting tolerance; a rigid dogmatism is replacing pursuit of truth; intimidation and accusations are used to stifle dissent rather than freely engaging in the exchange of ideas; and censorship is replacing open-mindedness.
As an example of this degeneration, we can’t help but notice how the discussion on global warming is reaching a fevered pitch. As cited here two weeks ago, many notable climatic and environmental scholars and experts maintain that the science behind man-caused global warming is not settled. Global warming is generally accepted, but man’s ability to mitigate harmful effects of global warming (if any) is as much a matter of economics and politics as science. In spite of the inconclusiveness of these studies, and the huge price tag associated with proposed remedies, those of us who want further discussion about the theories and the economics are identified as “global warming deniers,” in an attempt to lump us in with imbeciles like the President of Iran who are “Holocaust deniers.” If the science is conclusive and incontrovertible, why are such efforts expended to intimidate the skeptical? We may all have our theories, but it surely seems a lot more dogmatic than it does tolerant and open-minded.
There is more primary source information available via the internet today than has ever been accessible by lay researchers or commoners like me. Such availability of information allows us to be more inquisitive than ever before and have our thirst for knowledge almost immediately quenched by the plethora of sources available to us. We always have to research further to ascertain the viability and credibility of those sources, but it can usually be done. Yet for some reason, this inquisitiveness seems to escape many liberals today. If the information afforded them from someone of a different ideological bent fails to corroborate their world view, the information is immediately discounted as fraudulent, claimed to have been disproved as a hoax, or ignored altogether. It’s difficult to find open-mindedness, thirst for knowledge, and a dearth of dogmatism in such a disposition.
With increasing frequency, upon being presented with countering evidence or information, liberals will resort to character assassination. Perhaps they haven’t the foundational information to debate the issue, or simply feel threatened by someone with evidence contrary to their credo. Lacking the wherewithal to debate or discuss, they launch into their antagonist with the voracity of a protective mother bear. You can verify this firsthand by checking the weblogs of any of the Journal’s conservative columnists. Any attempt to mollify or inject humor or civility is countered by an escalated vitriol that seems to be redoubled with every attempt. Perhaps some of this intransigence results from a self-perception of being more enlightened, knowledgeable, or perspicacious that we who are simple, backward commoners. After all, anyone who disagrees with them is an unlettered, virtually illiterate “neocon” who’s a scourge to their ethnocentric society.
Of all people, liberals should be most tolerant of religions and religious adherents. Yet how tolerant do they seem when it comes to evangelical Christians? You’re right…not very. Christians are often maligned as simple-minded, uneducated dupes. Truly tragic intolerance.
Many of today’s liberals are not liberal at all. They are ideologues whose political lives and often academic lives are defined by dogmatic themes. They are most often recognized by their liberal use of ad hominem fallacy; intolerance toward religion (especially Christians) and anyone of divergent views; criticism of American traditions that in large part have defined this great country like free enterprise and Christian values; advocacy of government as the panacea for all social shortcomings; and their championing of political correctness which provides an ironic twist typically uncharacteristic of liberals as it demands orthodoxy and authoritarian adherence at the risk of censure and harassment.
Thomas Jefferson, the great liberal among our founding fathers, was a disciple of John Locke, and consequently, an audacious advocate for “inalienable rights” endowed by God that no government can or should obviate. He taught correctly that “government cannot create a right to liberty, but that it can indeed violate it,” and that “proper government is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty.” He is referred to as the father of “American exceptionalism,” where the unequalled greatness of our country, because of its unique origins, national credo, historical evolution, and distinctive political and religious institutions, differs qualitatively from all other nations.
We need more 18th
century style liberals and progressives who enjoy vigorous debate and reasonable dialogue, rather than the 21st
century variety who are more dogmatic and intolerant. With an abundance of that type of liberal, we may be able to find the best solutions for America.