"'Liberal' and 'progressive' are two of the noblest and most important words in the English dictionary. They describe essential qualities of the American mind and essential values in American politics in a country born in reaction against oligarchy and concentrated autocracy. They sum up in a nutshell what this country is all about. A liberal is someone who seeks ordered liberty through politics—namely, the reconciliation of humanity’s need for governance with its drive for freedom in such a way as to give us all the order we need (but no more) with as much liberty as possible. In this sense, liberty isn’t divided or divisible into freedoms of speech, religion, economic activity or personal conduct: Genuine liberals care about all of the above and seek a society in which individuals enjoy increasing liberty in each of these dimensions while continuing to cultivate the virtues and the institutions that give us the order without which there can be no freedom."
Now this is a conversation worth having. What exactly is the future of liberalism?
I don't agree with the whole article. Mead tries to break down the barriers of right versus left, but things get muddled when you call the size of government a "blue" issue given the growth under both Democratic and Republican control. And characterizing Tea Partiers as a reaction to taxation without a guarantee of a safety net sounds more like wishful thinking than reality. Beyond that, it paints a pretty stark picture of where things are and why the notion of liberalism is in dire need of an update.
There is a liberalism emerging today that tends to focus a bit more on outcomes than ideologies and cherry picks from both the traditional right and left. It has a laissez-faire attitude towards social differences and a favoritism towards market-based ideas. This class believes a social safety net and open education are needed to create equality of opportunity and a conservative approach to the environment is probably more pragmatic. Militarily, 'speak softly, but carry a big stick' seems a more effective use of power than just frantically waving around the stick.
Markets are best at keeping costs low while spurring progress, regulations work when they secure fairer competition rather than enshrining entrenched interests and the safety net is a mechanism to create the structural stability people need to change jobs, start businesses and climb the economic ladder. Reduced spending doesn't necessarily mean reduced services, investments aren't the same thing as costs and defense is still viewed as discretionary. The question isn't big versus small, tax or no tax - but bringing the right toolset given the nature of the problem.
"Americans want to believe that all four goals work together: that defending their security, promoting their prosperity, preserving their freedom and equality and fulfilling their global mission are all part of an integrated package and worldview—and that the commonsense reasoning of the average American can understand the way the pieces fit together. They are, in other words, looking for more than a set of unrelated policies that accomplish certain discrete goals: They want those policies to proceed from an integrated and accessible vision that meshes with their understanding of traditional American values and concerns."
The future of "freedom through order" won't be fought between big government Democrats and economically small government, socially conservative Republicans. Who knows where the parties shake out. The challenge ahead is to bring durability in a belief system that unites the mix of these ideals, then chart a path that doesn't rely on traditional party structures to disseminate them.
Anyway - read the article.
photo via Michael Ignatieff