Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Classical Values

Conservative. Liberal. Two ideological positions ever in direct opposition to each other. But wait, not so fast!

Modern sensibilities aside, the two labels can co-exist quite happily within the same party, or even within the same person. The labels we find ourselves using today are quite removed from the original, classical definitions of the words.

Classical liberals believe in individual liberty without government coercion. Classical liberalism does not reject government altogether, preferring a limited government bounded by clear constitutional limits which protects the rights of individuals. Classical liberals are believers in free markets and private property as the routes by which liberty is pursued.

Classical liberalism is strongly grounded in the idea of natural law–the idea that there are certain rights that are universally recognized regardless of custom. In the 17th century, the English philosopher John Locke articulated natural rights as life, liberty and property.
Modern liberalism, which is far removed from classical liberalism, is based on the idea of positive rights. Positive rights are expectations members of a particular community have in addition to being protected from wrongs committed by others. In other words, individuals have the rights beyond life, liberty and ownership of property, and beyond protection from deliberate criminal acts which erode these rights. Just as there are many different and varying communities, there are many and varying different views and the number and nature of these positive rights. Classical liberals reject the idea of positive rights as conflicting with more fundamental individual rights.

Classical conservatives believe that the ideal form of social organization and government is the one that has stood the test of time. The classical conservative does not reject change, but rejects change for the sake of change alone. Therefore, classical conservatives are not revolutionaries, nor are they counter-revolutionaries. Classical conservatives respect the rule of law, for without it lawlessness would suppress people's rights. However, the classical conservative believes it is best to have a limited government, lest the individual loses rights.

Classical conservatives believe it is most ethical to allow individuals to succeed or fail by their own merits and efforts, and as such oppose unfair or discriminatory treatment of any group based on race, gender, or culture. Classical conservatives are interested in ethical outcomes, rather than what people believe is most appealing at any given time.

Both of these philosophical positions taken together can be called classical values. Classical values have a lot to contribute to the betterment of society, if only people become more aware of them and more conscientiously apply them to their thinking.

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