THE SHORT FAQ ON LIBERALISM
Part of the Liberalism Resurgent
© Copyright by Steve Kangas, editor
Help Fight the Right! -- Support Liberalism Resurgent.
Welcome! This FAQ presents an overview of
America's most widely accepted political philosophy, with a special
emphasis on correcting the many myths about liberalism told by
its critics. For brevity's sake, positions are mostly just stated;
you can find more detailed arguments on these interesting and
controversial topics in my Long FAQ on Liberalism.
Send your comments to me at email@example.com.
What is liberalism?
The definition of "liberalism" has changed continually
throughout history, and even today it means different things to
different people. One of the more fundamental definitions is that
liberalism is openness to progress and change. By contrast, conservatism
attempts to conserve the traditions and received truths of the
past. Liberalism has also been defined as generosity, tolerance,
open-mindedness and willingness to give.
How does liberalism differ from socialism?
In the 18th century, liberals and libertarians were one and the
same: both championed free markets, individual liberty and a greatly
reduced role for government and aristocracy. This has led to one
definition of liberalism: that liberals oppose political absolutism
in all its forms, be they monarchist, feudal, military, clerical or
communitarian. However, there is considerable difference
of opinion on how to run a decentralized society. Today, liberals
generally believe in a large and free private sector that is
generously defined, defended, and promoted by the public sector. In
other words, a balance between individual and group behavior.
For example, consider the free market: liberals believe that individuals
should be free to do whatever they please on the market,
within the law. The law is determined by democratic government,
and not only prohibits simple crimes like theft and murder, but
commercial crimes like fraud, copyright infringement, insider
trading, breach of contract, price gouging, etc. Without these
laws, the market would function either poorly or not at all. For
instance, if we did not have copyright laws discouraging people
from pirating all their software, computer programmers could not
even make a profit, and would have no incentive to produce.
Yet another function of government is to defend the free market
-- for example, with police and military forces.
Yet a third function of government is to promote the free market.
A dramatic example is Eisenhower's Federal Aid Highway
Act of 1956, which authorized the creation of over 40,000 miles
of interstate highway. These highways interconnected, accelerated
and expanded the U.S. economy, with profound results. They allowed
the middle class to migrate from the cities to the suburbs, with
an enormous increase in privacy and quality of life. Highways
are but one example of how publicly funded infrastructure has
increased commerce -- others include railroads, canals, satellite
communications, and even the Internet. (The net began as a project
funded by the Pentagon and public universities.) Much of this
infrastructure was too huge and expensive to be funded by private
companies, and languished undeveloped until the public sector
stepped in. What distinguishes liberals from other political parties
is that liberals advocate a greater degree of government support, defense
and promotion of the free market.
There are important and fundamental differences between socialism
and liberalism. When critics attempt to slander liberals by calling
them "socialists," liberals should immediately challenge
them to define the difference between liberalism and socialism.
If they cannot, or continue to claim that they are the same, liberals
should then chide them for being novices in political science,
unable to define even the most basic terms of the debate.
How does liberalism differ from the Green Party?
Socialism means that workers, not private owners, would own and
control the means of production: factories, farmland, machinery,
and so on. In democratic elections, workers would vote for 1)
their supervisors, 2) their representatives to a local and national
council of their industry or service, and 3) their representatives
to a central congress representing all the industries and services.
Socialism has been proposed in many forms, ranging from republics
to direct democracies, from centralized state bureaucracies to
free market anarchy. Political scientists do not view the "socialism"
nominally practiced by the Soviet Union as true socialism -- this
was, essentially, a dictatorship over workers by a ruling elite.
By comparison, liberals believe that private owners should own
and control the means of production, formulate company policy,
and have the right to select their own management team. Liberals
would prevent them from abusing their powers through checks and
balances like strong labor unions and democratic government.
Liberals agree with the Green Party on many important issues,
such as environmental protection, cultural diversity and social
tolerance. However, they disagree strongly on the fundamental
issue of political organization. Greens generally believe in anarcho-socialism.
This system would abolish centralized government and give power
to local democratic communities, who would then vote for any type
of local economic or social system they desire (be it socialism,
capitalism or anything in-between). Liberals are opposed to this
form of leftist anarchism; they believe that social organization
must occur on a much larger scale to realize its full benefits,
and this calls for central government.
How does liberalism differ from libertarianism?
Libertarians believe in little or no government, with individuals
possessing strong or even sovereign property rights, along with
the freedom to trade property as they wish on the free market.
By contrast, liberals promote extensive government support of
the free market and the taxation of property. Yet these are not
the only reasons why liberals object to libertarianism. First,
anarchy has historically led to violence, survival of the fittest,
and eventual concentrations of power. Second, there are no working
examples of libertarianism in history, so the system remains untested
in modern times, and probably for good reason. Third, such a system
would make landlords and business owners the dictators over their
property, upon which tenants must live and workers must labor.
Fourth, the voluntary contracts that would supposedly protect
tenants and workers presupposes that there is no such thing as
market failure or contract failure, in face of widespread evidence
that there is.
How does liberalism differ from conservatism?
Liberals and conservatives generally share the same political
principles, differing only on their degree. For example, both
believe in a public and private sector, but liberals call for
a larger government, conservatives a smaller one. Similarly, both
parties generally believe in all the tenets listed below; this
list simply shows which end of the spectrum each resides on.
Public Sector Private Sector
Pacifism Armed Deterrence
They also represent their own special interest groups:
Workers Business management and owners
The Poor The Rich
Artists Police and Military
Gun control Gun owners
What do liberals believe about rights, property
and the "social contract?"
Liberals believe that group survival is more efficient than
individual survival. That is why true hermits are so extremely
rare. But any group effort requires group agreement, cooperation
and coordination. This in turn necessitates a social contract
defining each member's rights and responsibilities. In the U.S.,
voters have created their social contract in the form of their
constitution and laws. Breaking the law constitutes breach of
contract, and legitimizes the appropriate law enforcement measures.
What do liberals believe about equality
What forms the basis of rights and property found in the social
contract? Whatever the voters agree to -- which means they can
be anything, as indeed history has shown. And how are their rights
and property defended? Primarily by the enforcement mechanisms
authorized by the contract: police, military, legislatures, courts,
etc. Without such enforcement, the agreements themselves would
be precarious, and nothing could stop a stronger neighbor from
violating your rights or your property.
Many conservatives consider rights to be natural, inalienable,
God-given and self-evident. But rights cannot be natural, like
the laws of nature, because they can be broken. They cannot be
inalienable, because history is filled with examples of people
who never had rights in the first place, or had them taken away.
They cannot be God-given, because the world's religions widely
disagree on what rights are; even Judeo-Christianity allowed slavery
for thousands of years, whereas today it doesn't. Rights cannot
be self-evident, because slavery was viewed as natural by Aristotle
and defended by the Church as such until the 19th century. The
fact that rights have changed so much throughout history demonstrates
that they are social constructs. Liberals believe that advances
in moral philosophy and science are responsible for our improving
concept of rights.
In societies that reward merit and success the most, competition
becomes supreme, the fittest survive, and people get what they
allegedly deserve. Such systems are called "meritocracies,"
and they are accomplished by relaxing the rules. On the other
hand, when equality is awarded to everyone, people become less
treacherous and more civilized to one another, but they lose incentive
to achieve, since there is no reward for going the extra mile.
Such systems are called "egalitarian societies," and
they are accomplished by expanding the rules. Most societies try
to strike a balance between these two extremes.
What do liberals believe about democracy?
Liberals believe that a completely unrestricted meritocracy is
like a knife fight -- the absence of rules allows the strong to
eliminate or subjugate the weak. In economic terms, power and wealth concentrate
in fewer and fewer hands. We know this dynamic by the many proverbs
that describe it: "It takes money to make money," "Nothing
succeeds like success," and "The rich get richer and
the poor get poorer."
Liberals therefore advocate a moderated meritocracy: those with
the most merit continue to earn the most money or power, but a
percentage of it is redistributed back to the middle and lower
classes. This is accomplished by progressive taxes, anti-poverty
spending, and other forms of regulation. Liberals do not see this
as a "giveaway" to the poor -- on the contrary, they
view the runaway profits of the rich (especially in the later stages
of wealth accumulation) as undeserved, so redistributing them
back to the workers who produced them is necessary to prevent
exploitation. A moderated meritocracy retains the best of both
worlds: incentive to achieve, and a healthy talent pool from which
merit is drawn. Numerous studies confirm that these are the healthiest
economies. In one of the more famous studies, economists Torsten
Persson and Guido Tabellini conducted a thorough statistical analysis
of historical inequality and growth among modern democracies,
and found that those with more equal incomes generally experience
faster productive growth.
Still, liberals do not advocate going too far in the other direction,
towards strict egalitarianism, after the problems experienced
with it by the Soviet Union.
Liberals are probably the strongest advocates of democracy.
Democracy solves a problem described by an old adage: "Power
corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." When power
or wealth concentrates too heavily in too few hands in society,
democracy is useful for dispersing much of that power back to
the people. In other words, when enough voters become discontented
with the status quo, they vote to change it.
What do liberals believe about the constitution?
Of course, those already in power bitterly resent this; that is
why there is such a strong anti-democratic streak in wealthy conservatives
and business owners. They complain that democracy allows the poor
to legally steal from the rich. (Liberals counter that unregulated
capitalism allows the rich to exploit and therefore steal from
the poor, and taxes simply correct for that.) But democracy also
works in the other direction as well. If we lived in a society
where everyone was paid equally, despite their different inputs,
people would surely vote to create a system of incentives and
rewards. Democracy therefore strikes the balance between the corruption
of absolute power and the lack of incentives, between unrestricted
meritocracy and egalitarianism. It is the primary tool of moderated
Most liberals favor strengthening our democratic institutions;
examples include mandatory voting, state or national referendums and initiatives,
and expanded voter registration like the "Motor-Voter"
law. Some go so far as to advocate direct democracy, in which
the people, not their representatives, vote directly on legislation.
However, an educated electorate is necessary for the success of
any democracy, and there is a real question as to whether the
public is educated or informed enough to vote directly on the
nuts and bolts of government policies.
Liberals note that constitutions and their amendments are
passed just like other laws: after extensive debate and
by a vote of the people's elected representatives. The only difference
is that constitutional amendments are much harder to pass than
laws, because they require a two-third's majority in Congress
and a three-fourth's majority of the States.
What do liberals believe about lobbying?
Liberals also point out that the constitution and laws of Congress
both have the same purpose: to protect individual rights, establish
personal responsibilities, and describe the operations of government.
However, the constitution does all of this at a much more fundamental
level. In other words, the constitution describes the general
principles of how our society is to be run, and the law fills
in the details. Many people would like to see their favorite moral
beliefs enshrined in the constitution rather than law, but usually
the constitution is an inappropriate place for that. A constitution
that included too many specific statutes would be inflexible (due
to the supermajority requirement) and would quickly grow obsolete.
Liberals believe that when the U.S. constitution was first ratified
in 1788, it was a document serving the interests of rich white
male landholders. Blacks were forbidden to vote until 1870; women
until 1920; tax debtors until 1964; young people until 1971. Likewise,
much of the Bill of Rights was not defended or enforced until
recently. In early times the U.S. media was often censored for
"seditious" material, and it wasn't until the early
20th century that the first case involving freedom of the press
came before the Supreme Court. Since 1920, the American Civil
Liberties Union has been the foremost defender of the Bill of
Rights for minorities, the poor, and other groups who cannot afford
justice and the preservation of their rights. It has taken centuries,
but the U.S. constitution is gradually evolving into a true people's
Conservatives call themselves "constitutionalists,"
because they perceive that strong property rights in the constitution
are the best way to protect their wealth and property from the
greedy voting majority. But it is interesting to note that their
proposed anti-tax, pro-property amendments would favor the special
interests of those who already own the most wealth: rich white
male business owners. Compare this to their bitter criticism of
the ACLU for defending the Bill of Rights for minorities and poor
people, and it becomes clear that many people simply use the constitution
as a political football to protect their special interests at the expense
Lobbying based on money destroys the democratic process. Under
our current election system, the best predictor of success is
which candidate spends the most money. This means that candidates
have to curry the favor of rich campaign donors, who expect a
return favor in the form of laws that reward their special interests
over the common interest. This is not democracy; this is government
to the highest bidder.
What do liberals believe about the working class?
Liberals believe that lobbying should be based on appeals to argument
and logic, not money. All special interests, no matter how rich
or poor, should have access to their representatives to argue
their case. Although appealing to one's representative
is a constitutional right, today's system demands $5,000
just to get through the door -- if you do not have the money, you
do not gain the access. Therefore, the current lobbying system is
unconstitutional, and should be torn down as such. A reform commonly
proposed by liberals is the public financing of campaigns, with
matching government funds to one opponent whenever the other receives
a private donation. That way, donors are still free to donate
to the candidate of their choice -- another constitutional right
-- but there is no real incentive to do so, since it results in
Many of our current problems stem from the rise of a corporate
special interest system. In 1975, the SUN-PAC decision legalized
corporate political action committees, the organizations that
bribe our Congress today. In the ten years after the SUN-PAC decision,
the number of corporate PACs exploded from 89 to 1,682. By 1992,
corporations formed 67 percent of all PACs, and they donated 79
percent of all contributions to political parties. During that
time they caused an enormous power shift in government, from the
middle class to the rich. The top tax rate was cut from 70 percent
to as low as 28 percent. Federal regulation of corporations were
slashed in half. Individual family welfare benefits (AFDC) were
cut 42 percent in real terms between 1970 and 1991. The result
has been a more unrestricted meritocracy, with wealth concentrating
in fewer and fewer hands.
Wealth and income in the U.S. have been increasingly distributed
upward in the last 20 years. Workers are working longer, harder
and more productively than ever before, but the fruits of their
labor have been going to the richest 1 percent. According to economist
Paul Krugman, about 70 percent of all income gains made in the
1980s went to the richest 1 percent. Here are a few snapshots
of this growing inequality: between 1973 and 1995, average hourly
wages fell from $8.55 to $7.40, after adjusting for inflation.
But between 1975 and 1995, CEO compensation among the Fortune 500
soared from 41 to 197 times what the average worker earned.
What do liberals believe about income
Economists measure income inequality by the Gini index. On this
scale, a score of 0.0 represents a perfectly equal society; 1.0
means that one person earns all the income. In 1947, the U.S.
Gini index stood at .374. By 1968, after two decades of highly
taxing the rich, this fell to an all-time low of .348. However,
since then it has been climbing, rising to .426 in 1994, the highest
level of inequality since the Roaring Twenties. There are at least
10 reasons for this trend:
- Loss of tax progressivity.
- Failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
- Loss of union clout and membership.
- The deficit. (Its huge interest payments go to the banking
- Increased personal and corporate debt. (Again, interest payments
go to banking class.)
- Falling individual welfare benefits.
- Increased corporate welfare (which allows exploding CEO pay).
- The growing percentage of the population entering the workforce.
(This puts downward pressure on entry-level wages, in accordance
with the laws of supply and demand on the labor market.)
- The economic slowdown of 1973.
Notice that the first eight can be bribed through Congress
by corporate lobbyists. If the U.S. is to reduce its income inequality,
it simply must eliminate or reform the corporate special interest
Income inequality is substantially correlated to most of society's
problems. Two studies -- one by Harvard, the other by Berkeley
-- measured income inequality in all 50 states. They found that
states with greater income inequality suffered from all of the
What do liberals believe about race?
- Higher death rates for all age groups.
- Higher rates of homicide.
- Higher rates of violent crime.
- Higher costs per person for police protection.
- Higher rates of incarceration.
- Higher rates of unemployment.
- A higher percentage of people receiving income assistance
and food stamps.
- More high-school dropouts.
- Less state funds spent per person on education.
- Fewer books per person in the schools.
- Poorer educational performance, including worse reading skills,
worse math skills.
- Higher infant mortality rates.
- Higher heart disease.
- Higher cancer rates.
- A greater percentage of people without medical insurance.
- A greater proportion of babies born with low birth weight.
- A greater proportion of the population unable to work because
- A higher proportion of the population using tobacco.
- A higher proportion of the population being sedentary (inactive).
- Higher costs per-person for medical care.
States with more inequality did not suffer more of these problems
simply because they had more poor people; rather, these states
witnessed more of these problems in the middle class as well.
This shows that inequality, and not just absolute poverty levels,
are linked to social problems. Statistics from Europe -- which
enjoys much less inequality, and much fewer health and social
problems -- confirm this correlation quite nicely.
Conservatives argue that correlation is not causation, that all
these social problems may be causing income inequality. But the
problem with this claim is that fluctuations in income inequality
are too rapid, too drastic and too localized to be attributed
to sudden changes of character, morals and work ethic in people,
especially when they are the same people. It is much simpler to
point to sudden changes in social policy, such as massive tax
cuts for the rich and slashing welfare benefits for the poor.
Liberals believe that the problems affecting racial minorities
are socially caused, the result of discrimination, racism and
prejudice. For example, a prejudiced business owner may decide
to hire a white person over an equally qualified black person.
But this subjects the black person to poverty. And poverty is
correlated with higher health problems, death rates, substance
abuse, education drop-out rates, murder rates, etc. Undoubtedly,
there is a vicious circle at work here, as both prejudice and
reality reinforce each other. This circle also gets handed down
from generation to generation.
What do liberals believe about affirmative action?
But there is no question about how this circle started in the
first place: America's past social policies of slavery and Jim
Crow laws. The latter were eradicated only three decades ago.
Liberals believe that if social policies can create a cycle of
poverty, social policies can end it. For example, anti-poverty
programs reduced the black poverty rate from 55 to 32 percent
between 1959 and 1969. And during this time, black IQs and health
statistics rose faster than whites, converging towards the higher
Studies by the American Psychological Association show that
even fair-minded and intelligent people do not recognize discrimination
against qualified minority job applicants until confronted with
the statistical evidence. Racism still exists in this country,
even in people who pride themselves otherwise.
What do liberals believe about welfare?
Affirmative action works by determining what percentage of qualified
women and minorities are available to a company, and then setting
a goal for hiring that percentage. For example, suppose a minority
makes up 30 percent of the local population, but only 15 percent
are qualified for the company's jobs. After a study of the available
talent pool, affirmative action sets the hiring goal for a company
at 15 percent, not 30 percent. Thus, affirmative action merely
asks corporations to hire a true cross section of the qualified
talent pool. It is a myth that these minorities are unqualified,
or less qualified than their peers. And if the company makes a
good-faith effort to reach this goal but fails, then it incurs
no legal penalty -- the goal is simply reset for the next year,
and the next, and the next, if need be. The courts step in with
quotas only in the case of blatant discrimination against clearly
Seen in this light, it is really quite difficult to criticize
affirmative action, because its hiring goals represent the only
truly "color blind" state of affairs. Deviating substantially
from a goal suggests that the company is discriminating against
qualified people from one group in favor of qualified people from
another group. A company shouldn't care about the ethnic background
of its employees as long as they're qualified; indeed, intelligent
companies will recognize that it expands their talent pool. This
is the reason why major companies like IBM have openly declared
their support for affirmative action; they realize they are not
being forced to hire less qualified individuals.
Welfare is necessary in a nation that intentionally keeps
a 5-6 percent unemployment rate. (When unemployment dips below
this, inflation starts to grow, and the Federal Reserve contracts
the money supply to bring both inflation and unemployment back
in line). To tell welfare recipients therefore to just "get
a job" is terrible economics, because it is literally impossible
to reduce the unemployment rate to zero.
What do liberals believe about feminism?
In March 1987, the General Accounting Office released a report
that summarized more than one hundred studies of welfare since
1975. It found that "research does not support the view that
welfare encourages two-parent family breakup" or that welfare
significantly reduces the incentive to work. Conservatives also
accuse welfare of giving mothers an economic incentive to have
more children. Ten major studies have been conducted on this issue
in the last six years alone, and not one has found any connection
between the level of payments offered and a woman's decision to
bear children. The size of average welfare families is virtually
the same as non-welfare families.
Because the poor cannot afford well-funded lobbyists in Washington,
they make easy targets for budget cuts. Between 1970 and 1991,
individual AFDC payments have declined 42 percent in real terms.
Today, AFDC takes up less than 1 percent of the combined government
budgets. Meanwhile, corporate welfare is running $150 billion
a year, three times the federal spending on AFDC and food stamps.
Liberals promote the interests, rights, equality and empowerment
of women. However, there is no single "feminist" viewpoint,
just as there is no single "male" viewpoint in the world.
Feminism has grown into a diverse movement with a variety of opinions,
even among its leadership. Nonetheless, two schools bear mentioning.
One is radical feminism, which is especially committed to fighting
rape, pornography, wife abuse and the patriarchy; it emphasizes
militant activism, separatism and gay rights. Another school is
moderate feminism, which holds that men and women should be together
and equal, and that women should be free to do whatever they desire,
without discrimination, stigma or abuse. Obviously, there is much
overlap between these two schools; the difference is more one
What do liberals believe about the environment?
Liberals believe the industrial revolution has solved problems
of scarcity so successfully that it has allowed our population
to explode. It took from the dawn of humanity until the year 1800
for the world population to reach one billion people. But the
second billion came right on top of the first: in 1930. We reached
three billion in 1960, four billion in 1975, five billion in 1986,
and six billion in 1998. We are now adding the population of China
to this planet every decade.
What do liberals believe about crime?
The demands on natural resources caused by the population explosion
are overwhelming. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental
watchdog group, we are experiencing all the following trends:
- Man-made chemicals are destroying the ozone layer.
- Man-made chemicals are causing global warming.
- Most agriculture, meat, fish and water resources have either
reached their limit or are declining, despite rapidly growing
- Death and cancer rates are higher around toxic waste sites,
the chemical industry and the nuclear industry.
- The extinction rate is climbing.
- The world's rain forests are declining.
- The world's coral reefs are declining.
- More insects and bacteria are becoming immune to the pesticides
and vaccinations used against them.
Liberals advocate replacing our growth-based economy with
a sustainable economy that uses up resources no faster than they
can be replaced. If we do not establish a sustainable economy
ourselves, then nature is sure to do it for us, and you can bet
that we'll be kinder to ourselves than nature would be.
Liberals believe that the current criminal justice system
is biased against the poor from first to last. A presidential
commission found that 91 percent of all people have committed
crimes that would have landed them a jail sentence. However, our
prisons resemble the national poorhouse. After studying the statistics,
noted criminologist Jeffrey Reiman writes: "For the same
criminal behavior, the poor are more likely to be arrested;
if arrested, they are more likely to be charged; if charged, more
likely to be convicted; if convicted, more likely to be sentenced
to prison; and if sentenced, more likely to be given longer prison
terms than members of the middle and upper classes." Money
is an overwhelming advantage in manipulating the criminal justice
system. Liberals believe that all crime -- no matter how rich
the criminal -- should be punished.
What do liberals believe about guns?
Liberals also believe that social factors contribute to differences
in the crime rate. Two factors have been getting especial academic
attention lately: media violence and income inequality. Dr. Brandon
Centerwall has produced one of the most famous studies, which
found that the mere introduction of television into a region causes
its crime rate to double as soon as the first television generation
comes of age. And two separate studies, one from Harvard, the
other from Berkeley, compared state crime rates to their income
inequality rates, and found that the states with the most inequality
had the highest rates of homicide, violent crime and incarceration.
The liberal approach to solving crime is prevention, through addressing
social factors like these. They view as illogical the after-the-fact
responses of conservatives, who react to crime with larger police
forces, more jails, and tougher laws and judges. It costs $16,000
a year simply to house a criminal in jail. If anyone wonders where
the money would come from to fund social programs that prevent
crime, let them look no further.
The gun lobby has perpetrated a widespread myth that an individual's
right to own a gun is protected by the U.S. constitution. But
the Supreme Court -- this nation's final arbiter on the constitution
-- has always held that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights
of state militias, not individuals, to possess weapons. These
militias must be organized and run by the states; today, that's
the National Guard. This means the government is free to regulate
and even ban firearms to citizens if it wants to. The courts have
upheld this interpretation so long and so consistently that legal
scholars consider the issue settled law. Even the National Rifle
Association recognizes this, which is why they are challenging
the Brady Law on 10th Amendment grounds, not 2nd Amendment.
What do liberals believe about drugs?
Robert Heinlein once made the famous quote, "An armed society
is a polite society." But you could not get a more polite
society than Japan, which bans virtually all guns, and has one
of the lowest murder rates in the world. By comparison, America
has the highest level of gun ownership in the world, and its highest
murder rate as well. Studies show that gun availability is generally
correlated to the murder rate. Of course, it could be that people
are protecting themselves from a high murder rate by buying guns.
But the FBI reports that only 1 percent of all murders are considered
justifiable homicide with a firearm. Whatever the intentions of
gun purchasers, these weapons are used overwhelmingly more for
murder than self-defense.
Although some liberals oppose the legalization of drugs, most
feel that prohibition of drugs has been a failure, no less than
the prohibition of alcohol. The war on drugs has wasted billions
of dollars, sidetracked police from solving more serious crimes
and swollen the prison population with minor drug offenders. Between
1986 and 1991, inmates sentenced for a drug offense accounted
for 44% of the increase in the state prison population. The solution
to the nation's drug problem is to educate people about drugs
and drug abuse, and make treatment programs available for drug
addicts. Decriminalizing drugs would remove the criminal element
from the drug trade, and allow government to regulate and tax
this major black market.
What do liberals believe about religion?
It is a mistake to believe that liberals are generally atheists
or non-Christians, or that all Christians must be conservative.
Some 93 percent of the U.S. population believe in God; 82 percent
are Christian. Obviously, there must be a great many liberals
who are Christian, since 47 of all Americans identify themselves
What do liberals believe about science?
A November 1994 Gallup poll found that only 22 percent of all
Americans describe themselves as members of the "religious
right" movement -- whereas 70 percent reject the label. However,
it is indeed true that the more religious people are, the more
likely they are to be conservative. Only 35 percent of all Americans
are "religious," using a definition that requires them
to consider religion "important" and to attend religious
services once a week. Of this group, 59 percent were Republicans,
and 36 percent were Democrats.
Liberalism enjoys a rich scientific heritage, because liberals
are advocates of progress and change, and science is the engine
of both. Liberals are therefore strong supporters of universal
public education and lifetime learning, and place much greater
faith in its abilities to solve human problems. By contrast, conservatives
have generally had an antagonistic relationship with science and
academia. Most of the greatest scientists in history -- Copernicus,
Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Halley, Darwin, Hubble, even Bertrand
Russell -- were liberals (compared to their peers) who experienced
their greatest opposition and persecution from conservatives and
dogmatists in the Christian Church. A review of history shows
that Christian fundamentalists and conservatives have almost never
been on the cutting edge of social reform or scientific discovery.
Even in the field of economics, where conservatives are better
represented than usual, the "father of modern economics"
is John Maynard Keynes.
What do liberals believe about abortion?
Abortion is one of the most complex controversies on earth.
Mastering its arguments requires a detailed knowledge of biology,
theology, ethics, law, moral theory, rights theory, philosophy,
logic, women's studies, history, sociology and political science.
Some people try to sidestep this complexity by appealing to the
Bible, but not even the world's most respected theologians agree that
the Bible has a clear and unambiguous message about abortion.
(In fact, it does not even mention the issue, even though abortion
is as old as childbirth.) Because of this complexity and difficulty,
liberals believe that abortion is a decision of conscience, to
be left between the individual and her God.
What do liberals believe about national defense?
Perhaps the most common pro-life argument against abortion is
the Biblical commandment, "You shall not murder." (The
Hebrew word rasach means "murder," not "kill.")
But murder is a legal term, not a blanket description. The Bible
allows many exceptions to killing. Was abortion one of them? We
don't know, because levitical law comes to us with large gaps;
many of its statutes are missing to us. However, Jewish tradition
has never considered abortion to be a sin.
Some Christians argue that the lack of scriptural law on abortion
doesn't give us permission to "play God." But humans
are no less "playing God" by bringing a child into a
life of needless pain and suffering. We don't have scriptural
advice on that either, so, by this logic, we should not do it.
The conundrum remains: humans must "play God" one way
or the other, and, lacking any explicit instruction from God,
must choose according to their conscience.
Some liberals model their beliefs after Mahatma Gandhi, in
that they are absolute pacifists, renouncing violence for any
reason. However, most liberals see a legitimate need for self-defense,
even on a national level with armed forces. The fight against
Hitler is a commonly cited example. But liberals are united in
their view that offensive military operations are wrong. They
also see unrestrained arms races as a waste of limited resources,
not to mention dangerous. Many liberals believe that war will
become a thing of the past once the entire world becomes democratic.
This is based on the observation that stable, well-established
democracies never go to war with each other. (Exceptions include
insurrections and wars for independence.) In the 71 interstate
wars since 1815, there have been no unambiguous exceptions to
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