Understanding the Philosophies at work in American Politics

Understanding the Philosophies at work in American Politics by Jeff Block

On the eve of the 2012 elections, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve heard recently about election:

“I f—ing hate Mitt Romney. Everything he says is a lie.”

“Barack Obama’s a communist. He’s intentionally trying to destroy America.”

“There’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. They’re all just scumbag politicians.”

Wow. Really? I gotta say I don’t love what politics in America has become: far less about the issues and far more about hating the other guy. I disagree with you, so you must be satan, right? I’ve had a few of those conversations myself – some even immortalized on this blog. So much fun, and the main reason I tabled most of the politics over the last few years, especially in public.

Me and the dog in a locked closet talking fiscal policy: good.

Me and coworkers sitting around talking about anything other than topics we can all get behind together, such as despising the Bubble Guppies: uh … bad.

But as a play for and investment in the belief that there’s still reason out there, and in response to some specific questions I’ve also been asked lately, I thought I’d actually throw out a few ideas about the contrasts between philosophies at work in this and other elections. I’m the first to grant that candidates don’t necessarily line up to these philosophies, but life isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. So, no matter what you believe, I hope you invest in knowing more, exercise your right to vote, and demonstrate civility toward people with whom you disagree.

It should go without saying that every philosophy has pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. Extremes are dangerous wherever you find them, even if (and one might argue especially if) they are rooted in fundamentally good ideas.

So, that said, what’s the difference between conservative and liberal thought? I personally (as with everything in this blog, these are just my opinions) break it down into three basic categories…

1) Economic Principles

Liberals fundamentally believe that there is a finite pot of resources in the world, and everyone is jockeying for position in the distribution of those resources. Therefore, they invest heavily in creating fair and equitable mechanisms, processes and entities to govern the distribution of the resources. The natural result of this thinking is more government and more regulation leading to more fairness. Liberals subscribe to the theory of bottom-up economics, believing that consumers drive the economy. The liberal’s focus is typically on equity of outcome.

Conservatives fundamentally believe that wealth is created by innovation, so by definition, the only limit to how much resource exists is your creativity and ingenuity in coming up with and executing clever ways to make more of it. Therefore, conservatives invest heavily in creating the highest-powered mechanisms, processes and entities possible to create wealth as quickly and efficiently as possible. The natural result of this thinking is less government / less regulation / more freedom for business to maneuver to innovate. Liberals subscribe to the theory of top-down economics, believing that producers drive the economy. The conservative’s focus is typically on equity of opportunity.

2) Foreign Policy

Liberals fundamentally believe that almost all countries and peoples and philosophies are basically the same. They emphasize equality and fairness – a level playing field. A frequent outcome of this thinking is that the United States has played an overblown and overly-dominant role in world affairs and world history. Missteps in doing so have angered other relatively-equal nations, and provoked them to respond very negatively to what is in the liberal’s mind has been an aggressive and arrogance approach to relations with the rest of the world. The typical liberal therefore feels that America’s influence in the world should be reduced and makes decisions accordingly. Their focus is typically on an equal, diverse community of nations.

Conservatives fundamentally believe that America is very different than the rest of the world – standing out both in relationship to other countries today and in history. They welcome America’s role as a super-power, and although they do not agree with every decision we’ve made, believe that our philosophy of government is superior to many others, and that America should embrace and even expand its leadership role in the world. Conservatives typically feel that if other countries such as China or Germany or Russia or India were in the position the US is in (the largest and most powerful economy and military in history), that the world would be a fundamentally different, even worse, place to live. Their focus is typically on leadership among the community of nations.

3) Social Philosophy

Liberals generally believe that morality evolves with and is informed by history. Most liberals believe that truth is fluid. They are motivated primarily by a sense of fairness in the social community, and define justice as “what is fair to my neighbor who is different from me”. Liberals tend to change governing contracts based on trends in social behavior. Key examples would be the Bible or the constitution – both of which the liberal philosophy feels should be periodically updated to reflect the evolution of the culture.

Conservatives generally believe that history evolves with and is informed by morality. Most conservatives believe that truth is absolute. They are motivated primarily by a sense of objective moral authority, and define justice as “what is authoritatively dictated by a higher power”. Liberals tend to change social behavior based on the dictates of governing contracts. In the examples of the Bible or the constitution, conservative philosophy feels these documents should never be changed but rather should be constant and consistent influencers of culture and behavior over time.

Politicians are people, and yes, they’re trying to get your vote. It is very rare to find a politician who, over the long haul, hasn’t compromised away their basic philosophical believes. It’s also very hard to find a politician who is fully conservative or fully liberal – especially at the national level. In almost all cases, you’re choosing the lesser of two evils (so to speak). But it is imperative to understand the differences, and it’s imperative that you do choose. We have the rare opportunity (in all of history) to choose who will govern us. It’s a terrible and amazing opportunity, and I hope everyone reading this takes that very seriously.

I also hope my thoughts on the philosophical differences involved is helpful. Constructive comment or questions is welcome. He’s to another awesome demonstration of freedom in tomorrow’s election. Rock on!

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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One Response to Understanding the Philosophies at work in American Politics

  1. Sweet blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo
    News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thank you

    Like

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