I call my political philosophy “Liberal Republicanism.” In doing so, I use the classic definitions of these terms under which they are surprisingly compatible.
Princeton University's WordNet offers the following definitions of “Liberal:”
- (n) A person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties.
- (n) A person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets.
- (adj) Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness.
- (adj) Having political or social views favoring reform and progress.
- (adj) Tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.
These definitions fit my self-view: I'm a strong believer in free or self-regulating markets; I believe that there is much to be reformed (though I am skeptical of some contemporary directions); I'm a protector of civil liberties; and I love progress.
Despite adopting the liberal label, I find my self at odds with most contemporary liberal and progressive philosophy. My observation is that modern liberals seem to think that the proletariat are too dumb or unenlightened to govern themselves. Therefore, they need enlightened leaders to protect them. The pathological case is when a self-appointed leader sets out to provide for some “oppressed” class while ensuring that they never progress out of their dependent state lest the leader lose his political base. This is a travesty of progress.
I believe in a representational government with governmental powers limited by a constitution and associated laws. The Latin root of “republic” means “the law.” This is the form of republicanism associated with a Constitutional Republic. There are a variety of other definitions. The one I choose focuses on limited government and the rule of law.
When describing the political spectrum it's important to understand what a person means by “left” and “right.” One scale defines the spectrum in terms of governmental power. Dictatorships and monarchies exist on the extreme left where the government has all power. On the extreme right there is anarchy or no government. A Constitutional Republic exists on the moderate right where governmental power is limited by laws and by the people.
At the center of this scale is Democracy which means “rule of the people.” At first this seems to be the ideal we should seek. The Constitution begins with the words “We the People of the United States” indicating the belief of the Founding Fathers that governmental power originates with the people and is delegated to the government, not the other way around. However a pure democracy places power with the majority at the expense of the individual. The only difference between “Majority Rule” and “Mob Rule” is whether you belong to the majority.
Aside: This definition of the political spectrum comes from a great video entitled Overview of America produced by the John Birch Society. Before you write off the “John Birchers” as extremists I suggest you watch the video and consider their cause.
Despite calling myself a Liberal Republican, I more frequently find myself aligned with the contemporary conservative movement than with liberal politics. Like Republicanism, there are multiple definitions of "Conservative." Here are some from Princeton WordNet.
- (n) A political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes.
- (adj) Avoiding excess
- (adj) Resistant to change
- (adj) Unimaginatively conventional
For me, this is a mixed bag. It’s important to me to conserve many traditional values and I dislike the excesses of Washington. It’s these principals that align me with the conservative movement. While I’m not resistant to change, I’m frequently skeptical of its directions. Too often reforms only create bigger problems – especially when they mean more government programs. I’ve seen so many unintended consequences to government regulation that I want to be sure that changes are correct and well-thought-out before supporting them.
It’s curious to me that the classic definition of Liberalism includes support for laissez-faire markets yet contemporary liberals favor highly regulated markets. Likewise, I believe in the protection of civil liberties and yet I disagree with nearly every cause pursued by the ACLU.
In each case the difference is because I strongly believe in the power of liberty. My focus in free markets is protecting them from fraud and exploitation while preserving the freedom of individuals or companies to succeed or fail according to their skill, timing or luck. My focus in civil liberties is in preserving the freedom of individuals or groups to live according to their beliefs but not force one group to adopt or accept another group’s standards.
So, my philosophy is liberal republicanism with a dash of libertarianism. I believe in limited government, preservation of individual freedoms, free trade and markets, progress and reform. What’s your political philosophy?