THE LIBERAL VIRTUE OF TOLERANCE

Libertarians are often described (and some, including the current Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson) as being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. What is implicitly meant is that on economics they tend to agree more with Republicans and on social issues they tend to agree more with Democrats. This is often stated for political reasons, but I think it fall so short to correctly explain the differences between how a classical liberal (libertarian) would address social issues, as opposed to how a Progressive Democrat might do so.

Social liberalism is primarily about the increase of the liberty of the individual. Thus, greater liberty for lgbt, women, drug users, etc. Social progressivism, on the other hand, is less about increasing the liberty of the individual, and more about the progression in societal mores that is brought about through inclusion of previously disenfranchised, or oppressed, groups. In the former, progress is seen through the increase of liberty and autonomy for the individual, but in the latter, progress is measured in terms of the acceptance of the lifestyles of the various subgroups by society as a whole.

This can be seen in the current debates that play out in today’s politics. For libertarians, there is much less emphasis on attributing ill motives to those who may disagree with them, for instance, on gay marriage or transgender rights, as opposed to progressives who see those conservatives who disagree as bigots and people who are holding society back. Progress is not about increased freedom, for that would include the freedom of those who disagree to also lead their lives as they best see fit, even if that includes attitudes and behaviors that display their disagreement with progressive opinions. This leaves the libertarian in the position of saying that whether or not acceptance of new groups is moral progress up to the judgment of individuals and groups, while maintaining that there is at least progress in greater liberty. For progressives, gay marriage is progress in morals, leaving them in the position of judge over those who disagree with them. For libertarians, gay marriage is progress in liberty, and whether or not this is progress in morals is up to individuals and groups to decide for themselves.

A related can contemporary example might fit even better. A conservative Christian baker has been by a gay couple to make them a wedding cake for their nuptials. For the baker, this would be to support something that he considers to be a sin and thus refuses to bake the cake for the wedding. Let’s look at how a social liberal and a social progressive might respond in this situation. A social liberal would take the position that for the government to force the baker to violate his conscience is to impinge on his individual freedom and autonomy. The social liberal may think the baker is being a bigot, but that is besides the point. No one should be forced to violate his conscience as long as his conscience isn’t advising him or her to violate the rights of somebody else. However, the social progressive would assert that the baker is being bigoted and discriminating against the gay couple and must be coerced into serving them, regardless of whether or not his individual freedom and autonomy are violated. For the progressive what is important is the progression in the morals of society, and the baker represents a step backward.

Identifying discrimination is significant because I think that is the key fundamental moral of progressives. Discrimination and oppression are the lens through which key issues are viewed. A world with less of each is a better world to live in. For the liberal, these are both secondary to the key issue of individual liberty. It is through individual liberty that moral progress is made because the good is determined through the free interaction of individuals and groups. Different ways of living together are tried and tested. We reason together and discuss issues and because not everyone will agree, we have to tolerate the differences without being coerced into accepting those differences we may not agree with. Society is thus able to morally “progress” in such a way as society finds certain ways of living to be what works best and those who dissent are able to live out there way of living too. Which leaves open the possibility that the dissenters themselves may find there way living eventually adopted by most people should it be seen as the most desirable. Therefore, tolerance is one of the key virtues of the liberal society, and what distinguishes social liberals from social progressives.

REHEATING THE COLD WAR

I highly recommend listening to this podcast. The latest episode is about the crisis in the Ukraine, and he provides an interesting take. His basic argument is that Russia is acting exactly as we would if the roles were reversed, and NATO should have been disbanded after the Soviet Union collapsed. Agree with him or not, I think there is merit to his argument and that it is worthy of consideration.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Friday my wife and I saw the move “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  One strand that ran through the movie had me thinking about issues of war and peace, especially as related to Christianity, and Jesus particular beatitude that reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  When Jesus made this statement, it was before a large crowd, more than likely consisting of quite a few of those who believed that when Israel’s God did return, as the Messiah, or however else they envision it, Israel would overthrow the Roman’s, defeat the pagans, and return to national greatness.  This was the way of violence and war.
Before continuing, I want to lay out the movie for us, so I can put that in its frame as well.  Humanity has almost wiped itself out due both to a plague and infighting.  Meanwhile, a community of apes has formed under the leadership of Caesar, living just outside San Francisco in the redwood forest.  These apes come into contact with a group of humans that have picked up residence in San Francisco and are trying to restart the power from a dam near the Ape’s home.  From the beginning there is clear hostility.  Except for those born since, all the apes came from being imprisoned by humans, in some instances being tortured.  The apes make a show of force and tell the humans to stay in their home and the apes will stay in their home.  While the majority of humans prepare for war, a man, along with a few others (including a misfit who hates the apes), decides to go to the ape village in order to attempt a peaceful resolution, and Caesar reluctantly goes along with the plans, but ready at a moments notice to end this deal.

Not all the apes are on board with this.  Koba wants to fight off the humans, but Caesar knows that a war could cost too many ape lives.  With great effort and determination, peace between the two sides is within sight.  The power is back on, and it looks like everything might turn out the for the best.  However, the hotheads, led by Koba, do not care and are only motivated by hatred.  Within a few minutes, all the hard won peace, goes down the drain and at the end, even though Koba is defeated, war between humans and apes is imminent.

War and conflict is so easy to get into.  Peace is hard work.  It takes effort, because you need to be willing to trust those who are your enemies.  War is truly the cowards way out.  Peace is for the courageous.  It seems in our day though that it is always the hotheads that prevail.  Whether it be those in Hamas who are determined to wipe Israel off the map, or those in Ukraine and Russia who hold grudges, or in Iraq.  The past few days have visibly demonstrated how difficult peace is.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”  In Jesus day, this would have greatly offended those who wanted war with the Romans.  They wanted conflict to establish Israel’s greatness.  They hated their enemies, but Jesus called them to love their enemies and pray for those who hurt you.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for Jesus name.  Today, this greatly offends those who want war, who hate their enemies and long for revenge rather than righteousness.  As a church we need to take stock.  We often say that war is only for last resort, but do we really live by that?  How do we go about doing the courageous work of making peace, both individually, corporately, and internationally?  War may solve a few problems, but even in wars considered “just”, more problems are always created.  I am not a pacifist, and I think the movie actually does a good job at the end showing that sometimes, war is indeed necessary.  But it is an unfortunate necessity.  May we always choose to do the hard work of peacemaking, rather than the cowards way of war making.

IMMIGRATION REFORM

Immigration reform is an interesting beast. From a conservative perspective, it is potentially poisonous. Marco Rubio’s future was almost thrown in the dark by it. Nevertheless, something needs to be done about it. As it currently stands, there are 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, with thousands more pouring in each day. What is really the central issue in the whole debate, but is not being discussed is what to do with the 12 million+ that are currently here. Everybody agrees that we need better border security and employer verification. Most people, except for a vocal few, believe that we need to make legal immigration more efficient and simpler. Comprehensive immigration reform though, is all about what we do with those who are currently here. Democrats won’t do anything unless we include addressing this issue. Conservatives, meanwhile, are utterly stuck. You see, anything that merely hints at legalization is amnesty, which is big no no. This leaves only two options for conservatives.
1) Deportation. This involves either a self-deportation, or a deportation arranged by the government. They are criminals for coming in illegally, and, thus, would only be rewarded with legalization, encouraging more illegal activity.

2) Status quo. This is exactly where we are, and conservatives are okay with that, because it’s not amnesty, and we can still do option 1. In my own opinion though, this is unfair to those that are here, especially families that are separated, or the children who were brought here through no fault of their own. This is neither loving, nor merciful, which, especially if we are to be a “christian” nation, we should be excelling at.

Deportation is politically impossible, so the only option is to keep the status quo, and argue that immigration needs to be done piecemeal. The other argument against comprehensive being that it is politically toxic from republicans because it will just create more liberal voters.

I would like to offer my own brief solution to this problem, in the form of a comprehensive policy. The goal of this policy is two-fold. First, address to minimize illegal immigration. As long as we are a country that prospers, we will continue to attract illegal immigration. It cannot be eliminated even if we had a border guard at every spot across the border with Mexico. They will always find a way in. So the goal should be realistic, and try to minimize illegal immigration as much as possible.

I believe this can be done through adjusting the costs and benefits, so that the benefit of waiting to get in legally is higher than coming in illegally.  As has been seen recently we need much better security at the border.   We need more border patrol officers, with more tools at their discretion to deal with the issue.  There also needs to be heftier punishments for employers who hire illegal immigrants, as well as higher penalties for immigrating in the future will do much to deter it, but that is only one side of the coin. The other side consists of making it easier to get in the country legally. We can streamline the process, eliminating unnecessary paperwork, and especially encouraging certain types of immigrants, such as getting the smartest and most talented of other countries into our own, and also doing more to make sure families get here easier.

The second goal is to take care of those who are already here, by giving them legal status, but making sure they have to pay a fine, and are in the back of the line of those are waiting for legal immigration and citizenship. It may help to place a certain time limit such as seven years or so to become a citizen. We should focus on deporting only those illegals who commit further crimes after they have already illegally immigrated, and those crimes can be as small as robbing a liquor store, or an OUI. If there are illegals who are here and separated from family across the border, we should make the effort to reunite them here. This is something pro-family conservatives should be able to get behind. Legalizing illegals also provides the additional benefit of being able to know who they are, and easier to track down should they commit a crime.

One important thing for conservatives and Republicans to remember is that, although politically it may hurt in the long run because most illegals turn out to be liberals, it is the right thing to do policy wise, and as those claiming to be values voters, and pro-life conservatives, this is something conservatives should be able to get behind. This isn’t about making government bigger or smaller. It is immigration policy (and it actually benefits a free market), and something we should be able to find a compromise on.