Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why Liberals aren't liberal and conservatives are...

This Institute of Public Affairs article by John Roskam ends with a concise explanation of the re-labeling and political misnomers that are being applied in today's world.
Neo-conservatism and liberalism

In the last few years, 'neo-conservatism' is the label that has been given to the idea that liberal nations can, and should attempt to, spread political and economic liberalism to nations that are not liberal. Interestingly, 20 years ago, neo-conservatives were usually defined as 'realists', but now the two are regarded as polar opposites. Those who believe in 'neo-conservatism', the 'neo-cons', are thought to be epitomised in George W. Bush. 'Neo-conservative' is a complete misdescription, because such a doctrine is anything but conservative, for it is a repudiation of the methods employed by liberal states in the West for the last 100 years.

Neo-conservatism is often presented as something new and radical, but its underlying assumption, which is that liberalism is a non-negotiable value, is hardly original. This premise motivated the great statesmen of the Second World War-Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman. The Left persists in using the term 'neo-conservative' because it refuses to acknowledge that the philosophical basis of neo-conservatism lies in liberalism. If anything, 'neo-liberalism' would be a more appropriate term, if it were not for the complication that neo-liberalism itself has already come to take up such a broad range of connotations as to be almost meaningless.

Neo-conservatism has been attacked by both the Left and the realists. The Left's criticism of neo-conservatism can be easily understood because the Left is opposed to the liberalism upon which neo-conservatism is grounded. The objection of realists to neo-conservatism arises from a different perspective. Realists argue that the ideal of twenty-first-century neo-conservatism, which is the establishment of political and economic liberalism throughout the world, is as unattainable as was the twentieth century ideal of the Left. However, such a position only considers what happened, and it ignores why it happened. Further, consistent with their tradition, which discounts the role of ideology, realists forget the essential differences between the doctrines of the Left and of liberals.

The vision of the Left failed because socialism and communism denied the essential human desire for self-determination. Liberalism offers many things, but, at its core, it recognises that all individuals, regardless of their race, sex or religion should decide for themselves how they are to live. In so far as this is its core principle, neo-conservatism provides a far greater chance of overcoming ignorance, abolishing poverty, and instituting peace, than ever did its alternatives.

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