The New Left: Why America’s newest generation has taken a whole new meaning to liberalism.
“We, in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than by choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom” – JFK, The Undelivered Speech, 1963
In an America where political conservatism now dominates Congress, can we as citizens of the United States and the World actually say that we’re more liberal than ever? I mean with 17 GOP candidates entered into the 2016 presidential race, and what seems like more Republican political support than ever, how are we possibly liberal? Well, it’s a lot simpler than you might think, in fact, what we call modern conservatism is inherently liberal. Let’s try a quick test….
Do you think that American citizens are entitled to social security?
Do you think that the government should insure a company’s money?
Do you think we shouldn’t have to raise taxes to pay for war?
Do you think that the government should come to the rescue during a financial crisis?
Do you think that all people should be treated equally under the law?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you’re a socialist, but don’t worry, socialism is not the terrible thing that 20th century nativists made it out to be. In fact, these die hard conservatives like Joseph McCarthy (look him up) rarely exist in the political melting pot that is the United States. Even the Tea Party, whom everyone bashes for being the “most conservative political party in United States history” doesn’t compare to the real conservatives, the Federalist party of the late 18th century or even worse, the Know-Nothings of the late 19th century. But where is the proof that OUR GENERATION is significantly more liberal than past generations. Well that answer comes in three parts: a general societal trend, a recent political shift, and of course the rise of liberal education.
The general societal trend is the easiest to understand because after all it’s not hard to see that humanity has changed over our brief existence on planet Earth. For starters, we don’t crucify criminals anymore, most of us don’t believe that slavery is a good thing, and the vast majority of people on this planet are opposed to war. These are all examples of a greater focus on fairness, human rights, equality, and peace. Themes that practically scream societal liberalism, openness to the change in human relationships. So it’s safe to say that the human race is growing out of it’s awkward teenage phase, where we all rebelled against each other and attempted to assert our own dominance. But Liberalism today is most commonly associated with politics. So if we want to stick with the political, the trend gets even easier to see, for that we simply ask: how has government changed? If Political liberalism is openness to change in government, we should pay attention to the shifts in government over humanity’s civilized existence. We often forget that bloody rebellions were once needed to assert even the smallest of changes in domestic and foreign policy and different opinions were suppressed through violent and barbaric means. But as history has progressed violent and bloody rebellions have been replaced by more peaceful means of change like monarchs abdicating, which were then replaced by presidential terms; slowly openness to new ideas has become more and more common. So common that now we have thousands of politicians around the globe willing to compromise and listen, although it might not always seem that way. Regardless, we, in this era, by the gift of a growing moral awareness are significantly more liberal, open to change, than anyone in the human race 2000 years ago, the vast majority from 1000 years ago, and even the majority from 100 years ago.
(For a more in depth analysis check out Harvard Psychology professor Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature)
The Political Pendulum
Those of us who took the AP US History test last year should be familiar with the term “1980’s conservatism”. In the United States, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a significant push for greater economic and political conservatism. And that push was heard by citizens around the nation. During that push there was a Republican President in office for all of the 1980’s and the first two years of the 90’s, and at that time America saw the use of Reaganomics and a crack-down on the justice system. Judge those years as you may, that’s your job not mine, but there was without a doubt an increase in liberal views throughout the nation towards the end of the Presidency of George H.W Bush. Now the real question is, why?
And the answer comes from a very common phrase in politics, “Government is always one step behind the people”. The best way to imagine this is a pendulum: imagine that the ball on the end of the string is representative of the citizens of the United States, we began on the left with big government and have swung back and forth between conservatism and liberalism all while moving with our general trend of liberalism. What that means is that we can be living in the present, but not in the most liberal time in history, but what it also means is because of 1980’s conservatism we now have entered the other end of the spectrum. Extreme liberalism.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at American political parties. Throughout this country’s existence as a political party gains significance through its views of change it replaces an old party whose views are considered outdated and conservative. Now I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, but the lens in which history allows us to view change presents itself as new replacing old, and as government is always one step behind us, we tend to hold on to parties and ideas a little too long. Which makes our political realm into a pendulum, which bounces back and forth between liberalism and conservatism instead of a smooth transition from new to new to new.
We Learn Things From School?
We as citizens of the globe, not just in the United States, live in the most highly educated time period in history. We live in an America where over 50% of our citizens have at least some experience in college, and the overwhelming majority have high school diplomas. No this is not going to be a rant about the American education system, instead its going to use the mere premise of education to prove a point: that a modern liberal education creates liberal and moral value. Morals and liberalism are not the same thing, morals are determined by a person, liberalism is openness to change. However modern education creates an openness to change which fuses moral strictness into liberalism. This “fusion” occurs because education takes a critical stance by its nature. This criticism, which is meant to spark thought amongst students, leads to questioning for change and points out the weak parts of every plan, from Caesar’s grab of power to the Green Revolution in Iran. This criticism isn’t inherently bad or good, it serves both, but inevitably creates a more liberal population.
So What Should We Expect?
I highly doubt that anyone will change their actions based on this article, but I hope an awareness leads to a greater understanding of American politics. A voting population who understands what they are doing can hopefully make better decisions. And besides a Socialist America isn’t that bad…
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(Copyright 2015 Sanjay Paul)