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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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Architectural Humanism

When I look around at the built environment of 21st century America I usually cringe. Most of our buildings are merely cheap and functional boxes, devoid of ornament or social meaning. Even award winning and avante guard buildings are themselves too ironic to satisfy my need for architecture with a serious message.

Western architecture was not always so empty. In the Middle Ages spectacular religious buildings utilized both ornament, painting and sculpture, and form (such as the transept and naive embodiment of the cross) to communicate to a largely illiterate public the role of religious values in their culture. In the Renaissance architects rediscovered the theory and grammar of classical Greece and Rome (utilizing human body based proportions, etc.) to expand this communication.

In 16th century Italy Leon Battista Alberti was one of the leaders of this architectural revival. As a youth he studied classical rhetoric, Roman law, and Latin grammar. He wrote about love; the family; painting and sculpture. He finally came to architecture by studying and cataloging the buildings of Rome and re-presenting Vitruvius's Ten Books. As a humanist philosopher and art critic Alberti urged architects to use the knowledge of many diciplines to create works of art that told a moral story about the perfection (improvement) of society.

Alberti's first major commission was to redesign the church of San Francisco in Rimini for Sigismondo Malatesta. Rimini is situated on Italy's Adriatic coast between Ravenna and Urbino. The Malatestas became the rulers of Rimini in the 14th century and buried their dead in this small church. Sigismundo also reburied the remains of the neo-platonist Gemistus Pletho in a special side chapel. Sigismondo wanted Alberti to turn the church into a family temple and a humanist monument.

Alberti's contribution to the building is seen today in the new facade and flanks of the church. These were built as a second skin, structurally distinct from the medieval roots of the earlier building, which was probably both an engineering and a philosophical decision. Alberti also planned a large barrel vault for the naive and a spherical dome where the naive and transept met (but these were never completed due to Sigismondo's fall from power).

The exterior design was modeled after the Arch of Augustus and the Tiberius Bridge in Rimini. The unrealized dome might have been modeled after the tomb of Theodoric, a pagan king who conquered Rome in the 5th century. These historical allusions proclaim the classical values of Alberti's patron and fit the theme of Sigismondo's battle with Pope Pius II.

Tombs were planned for the two side arches of the tripartite triumphal arch facade. Perhaps this was meant to symbolize a triumph over death, but given the political fallout from the Church regarding Sigismundo's marriage to his third wife (the second of the two tombs) it was as likely a caustic reply. Sarcophagi forms are inset into each arch of the flank as well, truly transforming the parish church into a family mausoleum.

The proportions of the facade are derived from a Roman 100 ft square and each detail, including small round portrait medallions, is related in size and location to this unit of measurement. There are also six arches on each flank that were probably chosen for the classical appreciation of a number that is made up of its factors (1 + 2 + 3). The inclusion of a special chapel devoted to Pletho and other philosophers completes the temple's focus on rational human thought.

Alberti had within his grasp a powerful bag of tools. He had a solid classical education, technical training in both literary and visual arts, and an expert catalog of classical plans and ornamentation. This allowed him to think about more than just creating or decorating a sheltering structure, but also how to speak through his design about wider social and personal issues that were directly relevant to his project and his patron.

The ability to speak through architecture is a skill, and a value, that is lacking in most of the buildings that I see created today. Even staunch Modernists have begun a quest for more meaning in their structures. But this usually leads to enormous single images such as the TWA terminal of Eero Saarinen that resembles a bird or a plane when seen from the air.

Today architects seem to focus on the "image" of their buildings and their emotional associations. Saarinen wanted to recall the "feeling" of travel and movement in his airport design. Other architects seem to merely enjoy playing with geometry or with the literary meaning of "construction", hence the "deconstructionism" of Frank Gehry. The ability to speak on many levels with many different elements of a structure appears to be lost.

This breakdown in communication might be the result of the late modern devolvement into cultural relativism. When one does not believe in their cultural values then why bother to talk about them in one's art and architecture, except, of course, to poke fun? However I am hopeful that with the "end of Irony" in the post 9-11 world we can return to a deeper and more eloquent architectural humanism.

Sean: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere