Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Liberal"? "Conservative"? How To Tell

From Peter Kreeft, a damn good philosopher. He makes these observations with regard Church affairs, but they are perfectly valid in the secular environment.

First, liberals begin with subjectivity, while conservatives begin with objectivity.

Liberals prioritize personal freedom; conservatives prioritize objective truth. Liberals absolutize persons and see truth as relative to persons. Conservatives absolutize truth and see persons as relative to truth. (Both are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. Both persons and truth are absolute.)

Second, in their anthropology, liberals prioritize the heart, while conservatives prioritize the mind. An attempted mutual heart and brain transplant between a conservative and a liberal failed because no one could find a conservative who would give up his heart to a liberal or a liberal who had any brains to give to a conservative.

Third, liberals emphasize the abstract universal, the cosmopolitan, the global, while conservatives emphasize the concrete particular: individuals, families, neighborhoods and nations. (Thus, the “bad liberalism” of “leftist” communism is international socialism, while the “bad conservatism” of “rightist” Nazism is national socialism.)

Fourth, most obviously, liberals love change and conservatives love permanence; liberals love the new, conservatives the old. That is a matter of temperament rather than ideological content, for anti-Establishment liberals turn into Establishment conservatives when they succeed. And truth is not told by clocks any more than time is told by syllogisms.

He's right, you know.

HT: Mary's Anawim


Grim said...

What do you take him mean when he says that "both persons and truth are absolute"?

It can't mean that they're really both "absolute" -- then neither would be absolute, but each would be relative (to the other).

It might mean that, taken together, these two things are absolute: in other words, that everything else must be related to the interaction of these two things. However, that doesn't settle the question of how those things ought to interact: it leaves us in the same place we started. Either one is absolute, and the other is relative to it, or they are both relative to each other.

Do you have a different reading that I am missing?

Dad29 said...


I suspect that, in context, that formulation has to do with either the absolute right to life OR with free will--or perhaps both.

Anonymous said...

In other words, you have no clue.

Dad29 said...

Good contribution, Anony.

I don't pretend to speak for Kreeft.

YOU don't even speak for yourself!

Fr. Philip Powell, OP said...

Grim, Dad. . .

I think what Kreeft is getting at here is that neither persons nor truth experience any essential changes in content relative to one another or individually in relation to another.

So, both persons and truth are knowable objectively, that is, as they really are and not simply as they appear to be to individual knowers. The absolute value of both is directly tied to the fact that each reveals something of the divine to a really existing, mind-independent world.

Liberals--as P.K. is defining them--tend to relativize persons and truth in such a way that the knower's knowledge of a person or a truth is unlimited by the objective existence of the thing known. IOW, my knowledge of the truth of a thing or a person is not bound by any objectively existing limits.

Hope this helps. . .

Fr Philip, OP