Bruning: Ignorance is ignorance: Political theory 101 — Liberalism


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Opinion – Declaration of Independence

Jessica Bruning

Growing up in western Iowa, aka Steve King

country, I rarely heard the word “liberal” without the word “damn”

in front of it. Damn liberals, just a bunch of hippies trying to

control us. Damn liberal media, just a bunch of hippies trying to

brainwash us. But when you look at the actual meaning of

liberalism, it is generally very appealing to the strong,

independent farmers and blue-collar workers who condemn


Liberalism is one school of political thought

that has been horribly misconstrued in the post-modern era. When

discussing it, it is necessary to differentiate between classical

liberalism and modern liberalism as they now are polar

opposites. The western Iowa modern definition of liberalism has a

reputation of appealing to the “bleeding heart liberals,” the “tree

huggers” and people too lazy to make their own way in the world.

The young “liberals” see themselves as the movers and shakers

of the world, environmentally conscious and forward thinking. While

these feelings are fine, they aren’t truly liberal as the meaning

is much more basic.

The classical version, which came

into being around 1690 with John Locke’s publication of “An Essay

on Human Understanding” and later in “Two Treatises of Government,”

is almost the polar opposite.  I don’t have any

particular issue with the Democratic Party’s ideals, however they

shouldn’t (as the Republicans shouldn’t) claim they are in any way

liberal. Maybe it’s time for a new word to describe our political

philosophies … 

Ever wonder where the word “libertarianism”

came from? You got it: liberalism. The Ron Pauls of the world would

rather die than admit they are liberals, but, if you simply look at

the words with the base of “liber,” or “the free one” in Latin, you

can see their relation.

John Locke, the father of liberalism,

advocates religious tolerance and individual enlightenment. Locke’s

theory on civil society creates a government that is formed by the

people. As you might guess, the U.S. government is based largely on

this theory. Locke explained that the only legitimate governments

have the consent of the people; without this consent, the

government can be overthrown. 

In this theory, individuals can just as easily

choose not to have a government as to choose to form a

government. Locke’s civil society allows individuals

this option as long as those individuals come to some sort of

agreement that they won’t try to kill each other. This agreement is

a basic necessity of human existence and requires no formal

government, which is a basic premise of libertarianism. In fact, it

is the exact opposite of the democratic or “liberal” desire for an

involved government. 

Liberalism still cannot function, however, if

it solely relies on the individual. It requires individuals coming

together in a public to decide how they want to interact. Whether

they decide to form a government or not, they still must come

together in that initial compromise.  

When people come together with differing

ideas, they can be pushing for their own individual needs but still

acting for the good of the public. Granted, this idea has been

abused in recent years by people acting selfishly and for economic

gain. But when you look at this idea from the standpoint of not

wanting to kill or be killed as motivation for protecting your

individual interests, it doesn’t seem quite as selfish.

The underlying intent of liberalism is the

individual — the importance of the individual and formulating your

own individual ideas. This is where we find a liberal education. An

education where students are exposed to different theories, ideas

and types of learning in order to make themselves a whole

individual that is able to formulate his or her own opinions based

on taking the time to first hear differing ideas. An education

where students discover they can discover things for themselves

that will hopefully lead to politicians that are able to do the

same, regardless of what side they’re on. 

Coming up next week, why Obama is a socialist

… or why he is not even close to being socialist, communist or

fascist because again, no one knows what any of these words

actually mean.