Vail Daily column: The means to an end
My daughter once asked if I belonged to a particular political party. I told her I was an independent who believes in a conservative political ideology. I also added, “I believe both liberals and conservatives want what’s best for the country. What differs, however, is the means to that end.”
Recently author, columnist and radio show host, Dennis Prager, wrote a piece on the philosophical differences between left and right wherein he explains that since the founding, the right as a political philosophy has taken the position that the best way to improve society is “almost always” through the moral improvement of the individual.
Meanwhile, the left “almost always” focuses on the moral failings of society as a whole, failings that are that manifest in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia and other varieties of social intolerance.
Prager argues that the left sees government as the vehicle to implement societal improvement, and looks for political answers to the ills of society. Supporting that argument is the fact that the majority of the activist movements in this country are almost always about liberal causes.
On the other hand, the philosophy of right is that change is nuanced and varies from individual to individual, and occurs gradually. Note, I use terms such as, left, right, liberal, conservative rather than Republican or Democrat, which are political parties, not ideologies — there is a difference.
History has demonstrated that the left wants to see changes in society happen quickly. Recall the words of then candidate Barack Obama, who declared just days before his first election in 2008; “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Those are not the words of a man seeking gradual change.
There is no question we are and have been an imperfect nation. Few will argue that America can’t be improved. Nonetheless, I’m compelled to ask why anyone would want to “fundamentally transform” what has been the most prosperous and what may be the most decent (I didn’t say perfect) society in history?
Those who have studied the biographies of Washington, Adams and Jefferson et al or read the Federalists Papers understand that the founders believed the transformation every generation must work towards is the moral transformation of its citizenry.
Our second president, John Adams, said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
And in the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
These men weren’t religious fanatics, nor were they trying to create a theocracy; quite the opposite, in fact. They said what they said because freedom requires self-control. It’s axiomatic that the freer the society the more self-control is necessary, and when the citizenry doesn’t control itself, the state must step in and do it for them.
No political ideology can be defined in a sentence. But as a general statement, the difference between liberals and conservatives is that the liberals want government to make the necessary improvements in society while conservatives believe improvement and change must originate with the individual.
Prager argues that young people today are being taught to look at our flaws and failings as a nation while our educational system replaces what he calls “character education” with the notion that government affords the best solutions to the inequities of society.
Polls, surveys, voting results and political donation records provide adequate evidence that the American educational system has an amatory relationship with the left. We also hear and read stories about how many schools have eliminated winners and losers and instead give every child a blue ribbon just for just participating. Perhaps, too, that’s why so many social studies classes devote much more time to subjects such as “global warming,” a phenomena that is still being debated by scientists, than to civics and American history.
But there’s an obvious irony to the government does it best philosophy. To wit: Many believe a rape culture permeates the American university system. In response, many colleges and universities have created “safe zones” on their respective campuses.
Whether or not a “rape culture” actually exists is not for me to say. However, if one does exist, is it because government hasn’t done enough to protect young women from this vile and dehumanizing crime; or is it just possible that the real cause is much deeper and is a consequence of “character development” being eliminated from our schools?
The left-right ideological debate will continue. But what this debate really boils down to what is the best way to address the problems of society — is it by government fiat or individuals making choices freely?
Quote of the day: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” — Samuel Adams
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.