Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Thursday, May 15, 2003

Liberalism And Common Sense

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling; of which class, regardless of party censure, is the author. [my bolding]

-Thomas Paine, Philadelphia, Feb 14th, 1776.

Back in February, in Temple Bar in Dublin, I engaged in a political debate with a professor and his female companion (she was visiting home while studying for her PHD in England). When the subject of Iraq came up and I offered that it was a Yankee dury to overthrow despots she replied incredulously: "My god, you Americans really do believe that your Freedom is our Freedom?!" I managed to avoid mentioning American financial and martial aide for the Irish uprisings. Instead I merely equivocated and mangled the quote that "no man was free so long as one man remained enslaved".

But the real answer is: Yes.

The core of Liberal thought is the idea of “natural rights”, or the “rights of man”, and the development of the Social Contract. Perhaps the Founders did not state it correctly when they spoke of “inalienable rights”, for they certainly can, and have been, denied to millions over the eons. Put more accurately, a Liberal believes that Man has certain rights, or needs, which should not be denied.

And the Social Contract is a pragmatic attempt to protect as many of these rights as possible. But it is not an invention of the Founders, or even of Locke; rather they simply stated fact. People everywhere exist either "in a state of nature," where the strong prevail and the week submit, or they live in a society with a "social contract". And, in a way, even the state of nature is a social contract.

Whether the people of China, Iraq, or the former Soviet Union know it, they retain the essential Liberal right of self-determination and voluntary government. Unfortunately their Social Contract gives up too many of their rights for too few freedoms. Standing in the face of the power of their state oppressed people feel that their rights have been denied. Some people are driven to revolt, others rescued by their neighbors, but the moral truth of their rights endure.

The difference between a Liberal government and an illiberal one is the balance between the rights of the individual and the security of the state. The US (or insert whatever Liberal Democracy you wish) gives the State only as much authority as it needs to protect the Liberties of the People. Singapore (or insert whatever authoritarian regime you wish) protects the power of the State first and gives the People as many Rights as are left over.

People in America might see themselves as trapped by a job, by debt, or by their family. They might even blame the State, the economy, or society as a whole for their situation. But this is an illusion based on self-pity and blindness to their potential. At any moment they may declare bankruptcy, divorce, and move to the boonies. If they find a law, policy, or program of the State that hinders their escape they can vote against it. If all else fails they can write a letter to the editor or carry a placard around their neck in complaint.

People in Singapore might think of themselves as free while they get themselves to work in the morning and hit the grocery on the way home. But it is an illusion based on pride and ignorance (their government’s keep them ignorant of the outside world and play up nationalism in order to distract the people from government failings). When it comes to challenging the system, working within it, or fleeing it they will find that they traded their rights for the security of the State. Complain too loudly and they will end up in jail.

Some Libertarians are no doubt intrigued by Locke’s argument about individual Liberty and wish to consider how this relates to the idea of Private Property. And no doubt, a few unreformed Socialists have a similar thought with a different answer. Conservatives will wonder why, in a supposedly Free Nation, they do not have the right to educate their children into intolerant religious Zealots. And 2nd Amendment activists will wonder how an American government can dare to limit their right to shoot off a few celebratory rounds, a la Afghanistan, after a Longhorn's football victory.

The security of the rights of the individual is the primary goal of Locke’s Liberal ideals. The Social Contract is the pragmatic path to this goal. Worrying about property rights, the right to educate your children, and the right to carry a gun are perfectly acceptable concerns. But don’t fool yourself that the State has no right to intervene.

You belong to a larger society with the rights of many citizens to worry about, not just your own. The Social Contract requires you to give up some freedoms in order to retain certain rights. But the primary freedom of the American, British, or Irish citizen is the right to participate in writing and rewriting that contract. So far, so good, if you don’t agree… write a post to the contrary and don’t worry about being arrested.

The realization that you live in a country that has been pretty successful in defending your rights should be clear. The reason these rights are important is, as Paine put it, Common Sense. And the rest of the World might as well realize that we aim to spread these Liberal ideals everywhere. Someday our freedom will be your freedom.

Sean: Thursday, May 15, 2003 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere