Are we born liberal or conservative?

Liberal vs. conservative

In Europe, the election campaigns tend to lose their ideological orientation. Not so in the US, even if the candidates seem pragmatic like in these elections. But with the appointment of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate, the election campaign again took on an ideological streak. Sarah Palin fueled the argument with the words about Barack Obama: "This is not a man who sees America the way you or I. We see America as the greatest power for good in this world - as a torch of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy. " (SZ 232, 7)

Indeed, Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats separate different ethical concepts. Ronald Reagan spoke of the realm of evil, George Bush of its axis, while liberals know that for many people in the world America is not exactly a torch of hope. Rather, America has the same problems as other countries and is facing urgent reforms because there are unjust conditions in many places. Liberal thought leader John Rawls notes in the introduction to his history of political philosophy:

"For example, there are five reforms pending in the United States: a reform of the campaign finance law to overcome the current system of getting power for money; fair education; some form of general Health insurance; a right to socially useful work; legal and other equality for women. These reforms would go a long way towards alleviating, if not eliminating, the worst aspects of discrimination and racism. "

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama embody such an emancipatory tendency towards civil society, which was accelerated in the USA and in Europe not least by the rebellious youth movements around 1968.

Religiously inspired conservative circles in particular see this dynamic as an attack on the conservative values ​​they represent. The neoconservatives, which include former members of the Bush administration such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, have been calling for marriage to be anchored in the constitution since the 1980s, with control of the bedroom, consequently the ban on homosexual and illegitimate partnerships and, of course, a ban on abortion . It inspired the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, who also remarked in this sense:

"It is obvious to Aristotle as to Moses that murder, theft, adultery, etc. are necessarily bad. Greek philosophy and the Bible agree that the correct framework of morality is the patriarchal family, which is or tends to be monogamous and which forms the cell of society in which the free adult men, and especially the old, predominate. Whatever the Bible and philosophy may tell us about the nobility of certain women, in principle both are based on the dominance of the male sex. "

If ethical values ​​are unchangeable, eternal, even divine, then they cannot be discussed either. Rather, one can even impose it on others, force them to follow the path of the only valid virtue, control the bedrooms.

For liberals, on the other hand, citizens who choose their own ethical and religious orientations are of age. Therefore one can only try to convince him reasonably. Rawls notes:

"A legitimate system of government is such that its political and social institutions can be justified to all citizens - to each individual - by addressing the theoretical and practical common sense of the citizens."

According to the American constitutional tradition, which strictly separates state and religion, religion takes a back seat for John Rawls.

The US Declaration of Independence, however, also speaks of humans as God's creatures and of God-given rights. Therefore Leo Strauss complains in 1953:

"Does this nation in its maturity still pay homage to the faith in which it originated and grew up? (..) About a generation ago an American diplomat could say that 'the divine-natural justification of human rights is a matter of course for Americans' . "

For liberalism, on the other hand, there are no general ultimate or highest authorities that can decide what is true or what is good. Rather, the citizens have to find out for themselves. They discuss this and change their views from time to time. As Rawls notes:

"With 'physicists' there is no institutional body with the authority to proclaim that the general theory of relativity is right or wrong. As far as political justice in a democracy is concerned, there is a similarity between the totality of the citizens and the totality of the population Physicists. This fact is characteristic of the modern democratic world and is rooted in its ideas of political freedom and equality. "

For Leo Strauss, liberalism overestimates the competence of the citizen if he sees him as insightful and sensible, if he starts from a generally good character rather than an evil one. Strauss notes in the newly edited volume 3 of the complete edition:

"Liberalism, secure and trapped in a world of culture, forgets the foundation of culture, the state of nature, i.e. human nature in its dangerousness and endangerment."

From this follows, according to Leo Strauss, man's need for power. Without a strong state to which the citizens submit, no state of peace can be established between people. But it is not the purpose of the state to liberally secure the lives of its citizens, as the founder of the modern state, Thomas Hobbes, put it in the 17th century. Leo Strauss also remarks in Volume 3 of the Complete Edition, which summarizes his texts on Hobbes:

"The right to the security of bare life, in which the natural law of Hobbes is resolved, has completely the character of an inalienable human right, i.e. one that precedes the state and determines its purpose and its limits Claim the individual; (..). "

For Hobbes, however, this results in the subordination of the individual to the state so that the state can really protect him. John Rawls, who also goes into great detail on Hobbes in his History of Political Philosophy, interprets this as an effort to convince the citizens rationally:

"I believe Hobbes wanted to make a compelling philosophical argument that would show that a strong and assertive sovereign with all the powers that Hobbes has to a sovereign is the only antidote to the great evil of civil war, which affects all persons because it goes against their basic interests. Hobbes wants to convince us that the existence of such a sovereign is the only way to achieve civil peace. "

Hobbes writes from the experience of the devastating religious civil wars of the 17th century and thus lays the foundation for the modern state, in which the protection of the individual will indeed be in the foreground.
For Leo Strauss, on the other hand, the state serves a higher purpose and is therefore not even an end in itself. Rather, he has to serve good, God, the salvation of souls. Therefore, Ronald Reagan and George Bush could easily ruin the national budget in the fight against evil. Sara Palin described the Iraq war as being willed by God. Half a century ago Leo Strauss wrote the legitimation:

"A well-mannered community will not go to war unless it is a just cause. But what it will do during a war depends, to a certain extent, on what its enemy - possibly a one - is absolutely unscrupulous and barbaric enemy - forces to do. There are no pre-definable limits, there are no definable limits to what can be just reprisal. "

While for the conservatives the state is a means in the fight against evil, for the liberals it represents the place where democratic politics are made, where the citizens meet in common responsibility. It is therefore important to keep it stable - an ethical and ideological contradiction that should not be underestimated.

Bibliographical information:

John Rawls: History of Political Philosophy,
trans. v. Joachim Schulte, ed. v. Samuel Freeman,
671 p. Bound, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 2008, 38 euros

Leo Strauss: Hobbes' political science and related writings, letters, collected writings Vol. 3, ed. by Heinrich and Wiebke Maier,
799 pp. Bound, 2nd revised. Metzler 2008 edition, 49.90 euros.