What is a liberal, a conservative, and a progressive?

“As a matter of fact, the Conservative has exactly the same error as the Progressive. It consists in the fact that each of them allows truth to be determined by time. That is, he judges a thing by whether it is of yesterday or today or tomorrow, and not by what it is in eternity.” — GK Chesterton

The antonym of conservative is not liberal, the closest synonym of conservative is however, right-wing liberal. Conservative is in fact the halfway between progressive and regressive. Postmodern progressivism (incorrectly known as modern liberalism) is not really liberal, rather, it is regressive because it is the collectivistic and relativistic corruption of classical liberalism. It’s social democracy at best, and socialism or more collectivistic than socialism at worse. It is classical liberalism that’s more sensibly progressive, which is right-wing liberalism by conserving the freedom of the individual via limiting/decentralising the power of government, which is conservative. But is it? Perhaps, as seemingly it’s more realistic to conserve that, than to conserve virtue. Is right-wing liberalism both conservative and progressive, but not regressive?

For all his criticisms of conservatives, “it was conservatism that [Frank S] Meyer embraced. His complaint was that conservatives failed to ask, and properly answer, the question ‘what should conservatives conserve?’ Meyer’s answer was that they should conserve an inheritance at whose core lay a respect for individual freedom. But too many so-called conservatives, in his view, mistakenly elevated the claims of society above the individual, and were even willing to use the power of the state to try to enforce citizen virtue. This he thought a mistake because it failed to recognise that the achievement of virtue could not be a political question: the only political end was the preservation of freedom. Only free men could become virtuous. ‘Unless men are free to be vicious they cannot be virtuous. No community can make them virtuous.’”

Firstly, about my politics: I believe in ‘live and let live’, and I neutralise stereotypes by just seeing people as individuals rather than groups. I recognise:

  • non-initiation of force unless there’s a really good reason to intiate force
  • that prohibiting vices create black markets
  • the impact immigration, traditionalism and non-right-wing liberal progressivism can have on democracy if negative rights aren’t protected (civic/liberal nationalism)
  • the potential ‘big government’ impact of immigration on the welfare state
  • that people had a right to create an imagined community through democratic means, so long as they don’t force their reliance on other imagined communities to maintain their own
  • within an imagined community, people have the right to privately own property, so long as there is public property available to allow reach to private properties and community services funded via ‘small government’
  • the closer government is to the people, both in sentiment, but also physically, the more likely government is to be smaller, less intrusive, and more efficient.

What is the difference between negative rights and positive rights? Negative rights are individual rights that do not affect other individuals when exercised. In other words, ‘live and let live, do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others’. To clarify, hurt, in this case, should not include hurt feelings, otherwise this would threaten freedom of speech, the most fundamental individual right of them all. Positive rights are collective rights that affect other individuals when exercised. In other words, telling an individual what to do or not do, even if no one will get hurt by the actions of the individual.

Democracy is a double-edged sword that can lead to the imposition of collective rights, or what I call, big government. A question for traditionalists: aren’t the ‘virtuous’ the ones who are more likely to form traditional nuclear families successfully, and therefore potentially spread traditionalism further than anyone else anyway? “Unless men are free to be vicious they cannot be virtuous. No community can make them virtuous”.

Of note, libertarianism is the classical liberal (over)reaction to non-right-wing liberal progressivism, but is right-wing liberalism the only convincing form of conservatism around? Is that even conservatism? Using the power of government to conserve moral order based on freedom, not based on traditionalist/regressive virtue, is the way to go it seems. But this misses the point about Russell Kirk’s conservatism, which disputes the simplistic perception that traditionalism is temporal and freedom is transcendental.

Conservatives are too, capable of recovering our sense of the freer past, so that we may build a better future for all, where only freedom can give people their dignity. The modern culture war is between progressives and traditionalists/conservatives. Progressives include socialists and other collectivists who believe there’s a science to history, postmodernists, left and right-wing liberals. Liberals tend to be social-contract individualists, but traditionalists/conservatives are communitarians, not collectivists. That is, an individual is not complete unless they’re a part of society.

If a contract is formed by making a promise, how do you make a promise unless there’s agreement as to what the promise is? To be able to make a promise presupposes some form of society and culture, with the family unit at the lowest level. Therefore, traditionalists/conservatives don’t tend to think of social contracts — what they’re more about is natural law — law made by a higher being rather than humans. For liberals, humans are at the centre of the universe, and human progress is at the forefront of their minds. Or is that ungrounded individualism? On the other hand, traditionalists/conservatives believe in order and truth, and embrace the mysterious, whereas liberals are rationalists, materialists, and science-driven.

Traditionalists/conservatives are content with gaping holes that we never understand, and are never meant to. As believers in the transcendental, material progress is not the same as moral progress, since the transcendental is the ultimate purpose of being. Traditionalists/conservatives appreciate evoluntionary stillness, as opposed to stagnation or progress to decadence. Liberals believe in abstractions, whereas traditionalists/conservatives believe in the concrete and profound realities driven by myth. Myths aren’t facts, but they are truths that are historically important, because we still don’t know a lot about human history, let alone the history of the universe, despite scientific advancements.

We experience time, but timelessness is a transcendental reality. According to Karl Barth, “… it does not matter whether or not the serpent really spoke; all that matters is what the serpent said”, and according to Edmund Burke, “the individual is foolish, but the species is wise”, a wisdom that develops throughout history in apprehending truth. Truth-seeking is challenging thanks the natural law of metaxy, which refers to the uncomfortable state of natural human tension between the divine and the material. Therefore, in this postmodern world, it’s time to claim back our patrimony and mythology without recreating our past.

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TransCatholic ⚧️✝️ | Liberal Arts student @notredameaus | Thomistic Personalist | social media content curator | all opinions expressed here are my own

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Dana Pham

Dana Pham

TransCatholic ⚧️✝️ | Liberal Arts student @notredameaus | Thomistic Personalist | social media content curator | all opinions expressed here are my own

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