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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Notes from a Left-Wing Conservative

Over the last year of blogging I have talked a lot about a News Fast.

The result?  I will give myself credit for not being a knee-jerk  "liberal" anymore.

I have a new sensitivity with why so many people struggle with the annoyance over the rhetorical excesses and ideological rigidity of both left and right.

I am done trying to cultivate ironic detachment from politics and current events. It was great for a clarifying intellectual exercise, but its time to come back to earth.

So I'm adopting the term for myself, and it will be the masthead for my future posts on politics.

I call myself  a “Left-Wing Conservative”.

Contrary to my initial belief, I am not the first to think of the term. Norman Mailer referred to himself as a “Left Conservative” in his book “Armies of the Night”, and a few other folks who have used it from time to time.
Anyway, for my purposes its it meaningful for me to describe my political views as Left-Wing Conservative, based on the following understanding:

Left-Wing – This is a provocative term, to be sure, what with its association with Karl Marx and communism. But all left-wing political persuasions, from liberal to socialist to communist, have something in common – the idea of equality. By equality, I mean the idea that all people are created equal- (as per the Declaration of Independence), and just by being human have a worth, a dignity, and a value that cannot be quantified (even in our great age of putting a numerical value on everything). But it adds to that the idea that there is some point at which the differences in the conditions of our lives, differences in race, religion, wealth, and health and status become so extreme that they become unjust, and in being unjust, they demand remedy. For me personally, and perhaps for others, this value of fundamental human equality is grounded in my religious tradition, but it need not be so, and can be justified by any secular view of self-evident human dignity and value.

Conservative – by this, I don’t mean “free market, small government, strong military, fundamentalist religion” as co-opted by the Republican Party. It is also not a “restorationist” approach, in which we seek to recreate a bygone era  (the 1950s, the 1890's or even The Garden of Eden) in the present day. Rather, conservatism, as per Edmund Burke, is highly skeptical of “top down” ideologies, recognizing them as abstract constructs  that tend to demand that reality must be this or that, and rejects those facts that don’t fit its principles . Instead, conservatism places a primary value on customs, traditions, habits, and relationships --  the result of the experiences of many prior generations. It is, in its way, scientific because it assumes that people are capable of learning over time, and learn best within actual day to day living.  As a result, these customs, traditions and habits reflect certain timeless values: prudence, loyalty, honor, personal duty and obligation to others, compassion, the dignity of work. It is also pluralistic, with its emphasis on families and communities, voluntary clubs and associations, ethnic pride, and the plurality of living arrangements and values (every culture needs rebels, bohemians and a “wrong side of the tracks”).  In short, much respect given to what came before, and a commitment to hold in trust those things that demand keeping around. Conservatism also is skeptical about innovation, and expects change to arise based on facts and experience, not revolutionary vanguards.

So, in working through these two broad perspectives and views, I hope to offer some thoughts on politics and public life that appeal to those struggling with disenchantment with the narrow spectrum of “liberal-moderate/centrist-conservative”, and want to hear your thoughts on the discussion.

Looking forward to hearing from you!



  1. Very interesting comparison of both points of view. The extremists on both sides are dividing our country. Can we hope for more cooperation and compromise to try to bring our citizens closer together for the common good of all. AMS

  2. One element both qualities share, and I doubt this is the only one, is the idea that both need to be culturally cultivated into the individual. At the nuclear or extended family level, equality and fairness are certainly not a given (e.g., some cultures certainly favor first born sons), while at the same time the elders within the family serve as the role models for perpetuating conservative traditions and values as described above. We can certainly see how communities and independent states can either promote or thwart (caste systems, Apartheid, dictatorships, religious states) the core elements of each as well.

    As a fellow "left-wing conservative", I appreciate that a thriving free society demands the best of both ideals, while not losing sight of the harsh realities of human nature, which is where I see the problems with both extremes.

  3. Ken K - great comments. I think the idea of centrism or moderate are empty - what life demands is a creative dynamic tension among competing values. And agree that the shifting, conflict ridden nature of the human soul drives this....