I am grateful to James Taranto for writing his most recent post explaining why progressives are no longer liberals, Jonathan Chait in particular not because I’m interested in Jonathan Chait’s ideological or political orientation but because he reminded me of James Burnham’s litmus test for liberals from Suicide of the West, a work I hadn’t revisited in decades. The list of thirty-nine questions was thoughtfully reproduced by James Panero.
Since I believe the questions serve as a good springboard to further discussion (not to mention their ability to bolster things I’ve been writing about around here for a long time), I’ll answer them in color code form. Green means I agree; red means I disagree; black means I can neither agree nor disagree without further remarks which I’ll make after answering the questions.
- All forms of racial segregation and discrimination are wrong.
- Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.
- Everyone has a right to free, public education.
- Political, economic or social discrimination based on religious belief is wrong.
- In political or military conflict it is wrong to use methods of torture and physical terror.
- A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.
- The government has a duty to provide for the ill, aged, unemployed and poor if they cannot take care of themselves.
- Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.
- If reasonable compensation is made, the government of a nation has the legal and moral right to expropriate private property within its borders, whether owned by citizens or foreigners.
- We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.
- The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.
- Any interference with free speech and free assembly, except for cases of immediate public danger or juvenile corruption, is wrong.
- Wealthy nations, like the United States, have a duty to aid the less privileged portions of mankind.
- Colonialism and imperialism are wrong.
- Hotels, motels, stores and restaurants in southern United States ought to be obliged by law to allow Negroes to use all of their facilities on the same basis as whites.
- The chief sources of delinquency and crime are ignorance, discrimination, poverty and exploitation.
- Communists have a right to express their opinions.
- We should always be ready to negotiate with the Soviet Union and other communist nations.
- Corporal punishment, except possibly for small children, is wrong.
- All nations and peoples, including the nations and peoples of Asia and Africa, have a right to political independence when a majority of the population wants it.
- We always ought to respect the religious beliefs of others.
- The primary goal of international policy in the nuclear age ought to be peace.
- Except in cases of a clear threat to national security or, possibly, to juvenile morals, censorship is wrong.
- Congressional investigating committees are dangerous institutions, and need to be watched and curbed if they are not to become a serious threat to freedom.
- The money amount of school and university scholarships ought to be decided primarily by need.
- Qualified teachers, at least at the university level, are entitled to academic freedom: that is, the right to express their own beliefs and opinions, in or out of the classroom, without interference from administrators, trustees, parents or public bodies.
- In determining who is to be admitted to schools and universities, quota systems based on color, religion, family or similar factors are wrong.
- The national government should guarantee that all adult citizens, except for criminals and the insane, should have the right to vote.
- Joseph McCarthy was probably the most dangerous man in American public life during the fifteen years following the Second World War.
- There are no significant differences in intellectual, moral or civilizing capacity among human races and ethnic types.
- Steps toward world disarmament would be a good thing.
- Everyone is entitled to political and social rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
- The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.
- Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security.
- Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work.
- Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions.
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
I would claim that today’s progressives would agree with fewer of those than the liberals of a half century ago would have and that today’s conservatives would agree with more of them than conservatives of a half century ago. That at least provides some credible support for my skepticism about the very idea of progress.
These are the issues I can’t answer without further qualification.
Everyone has a right to free, public education.
Primary education. We’ve signed an international accord to that effect so it’s a right. Beyond that I disagree.
A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.
There are just too many weasel words in that statement. What makes a movement “popular”? That there are people behind it? That there are a majority of people? And what does “approval” mean? I do not think we should support foreign political movements of any kind even in countries governed by dictatorships.
Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.
A progressive consumption tax, especially one that exempts food and medicine, is just as fair as an income or inheritance tax and economically more sound.
We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.
I think that we as individuals have an obligation to other individuals and an obligation to society more generally. I don’t think that poor people in rich countries have an obligation to rich people in poor countries.
The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.
I think that world government requires world consensus and that isn’t remotely foreseeable. I agree with Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s wisecrack that the UN is a Third World debating society.
Wealthy nations, like the United States, have a duty to aid the less privileged portions of mankind.
Corporal punishment, except possibly for small children, is wrong.
I think that corporal punishment is wrong especially for small children.
All nations and peoples, including the nations and peoples of Asia and Africa, have a right to political independence when a majority of the population wants it.
I do not believe that one half plus one of the people is enough to base a society on. I think that consensus is required. If the above is an anti-colonialism statement, I agree with it. If it’s an argument in favor of strict majoritarianism, I’m against it.
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.
Despite that being the state motto of my native state, I’m suspicious of it. It depends on what is meant by “will of the people”, “basis”, and “authority”. I think that tradition, consensus, and the common law have roles as well.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
I think that everybody capable of working and not of independent means has an obligation to work. Otherwise I agree with the statement.