Sunday, February 27, 2005

A liberal's credo

I have read a great deal about how U.S. liberalism has deteriorated into a mass of unrelated special interests, lacking the sort of unifying beliefs that can raise the passions of the many. This appears to be true, as represented by the incoherent performance of the Democratic Party over the last few years. So, what are the basic tenets of modern liberalism (or progressivism, as some prefer)? Here is my small attempt to distill some essential liberal principles.

These are just my initial rough thoughts.
  • I believe in free speech.
  • I believe in a free and independent press. If you had asked me about this in 2000, I wouldn't have considered it an issue (I might have said our press was becoming lazy, but I'll save that for another post).
  • I believe in freedom of religion. It was to protect this that Jefferson's philosophy of separation of Church and State was adopted. When the State starts to mess around in religion, both suffer. Amnesty International refers more broadly to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion," and I agree wholeheartedly.
  • I believe in the right to peaceably assemble. Not in some cordoned-off "free-speech zone" miles from whatever is being protested. This entire country is, and should be, a "free-speech zone."

    Gee, do these look familar? They should. They're all covered in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, the first item in our Bill of Rights.

    Beyond these I would add a few other principles:

  • The rights of the individual should outweigh the rights of the corporation. This goes hand-in-hand with the next item:
  • The free market should be regulated to protect the rights of individuals.
  • The rights of the minorty should be protected from the wishes of the majority.
  • We (as Americans) bear a responsibility to each other. This means that as a society, we have agreed to provide each other with certain protections, such as rule of law, mail service, etc. There are those who are now advocating dismantling social security. While we can argue about the extent of our responsibilities to each other, my personal belief is that all of society benefits when we can provide a safety net that would prevent anyone from falling into abject poverty, and to provide basic health services to those in need. There's an excellent article here that details how "free market" thinking about health care has failed, and some ideas about how to create a new system.

    What all of these have in common is the responsibility of the government to protect basic human rights. What are those rights?

    Amnesty International outlines universal human rights here

    Several of the Founding Fathers, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were Unitarians. You may see some of the roots of their thinking about human rights in the principles espoused by Unitarians.

    I expect to continue to refine this, and I welcome any input in the meantime.
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