Liberalism is...

Pardon the intermittent randomness over the next few weeks, but I'll be using this space to test out ideas for another project, one thinking how to define the big questions that the unapologetic liberal should be asking in America today. While I hope to draw on and think about theories of liberalism so defined, the main event here is liberalism the American political tradition, rather than any family of philosophies. That said, thoughts on liberalism and government:

Liberals cherish a basic faith that government can serve as a vital force in society. Government, executed properly, is capable of transformative power, and of acting as a necessary counterweight to the excesses and human costs of capitalism. Regarding process, liberals believe that government is best conducted with reason, transparency, and wisdom. Liberals seek a reasonable balance between government as the means to mediate between competing interests and government as an evolving experiment in how best to organize those sections of society and the economy unaccounted for by the free market. Thus, while liberals support the purest democratic expression in elected office, we have always argued for a civil service based on merit rather than patronage and cronyism. An entrenched "interest" class is a terrible cancer on democracy that, if not completely eradicable, should be marginalized as far as possible. This phenomenon not only undermines democratic practice, but perverts capitalism and prevents the proper functioning of the market.

Liberals, despite their enthusiasm for government's possibilities are always aware and honest about government's limitations, that we must not be wedded to programs and principles that do not work. Over the past 30 years, as the 'starve the beast' school of governing has taken hold of the conservative imagination, liberals have been forced to choose between defending programs they would like to fix and doing away with those programs entirely. Thus, a liberal agenda must concern itself with retaking the debate about government, and instilling sensible and humane principles of governance in the nation at large.


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