7 January 2017

Liberalism vs. Conservatism

I have always found the liberal/conservative distinction difficult to draw, largely due to the several meanings of each term (e.g. the concept of "liberal" in political science and its casual use in the United States, on the one hand, and in Europe on the other.) Motivated by my recent reading of David Gress' From Plato to Nato, I tried to define each side by a set of principles, as small and as general as possible. This is my first attempt (work very much in progress):

Liberal

(L1) Individuals are equal.
(L2) The individual precedes the community (ontologically).

Conservative

(C1) The community takes precedence over the individual.
(C2) The "essence" of the community defines a set of values (religious, national etc.) that limits individual freedom.

Below the fold I discuss some consequences of these definitions.

4 January 2017

From Plato to NATO - review

      I have spent some time reading through David Gress' From Plato to Nato. I was not very impressed by the book, but the exercise helped me reflect on the definition of liberalism and on the difference with respect to conservatism, so I took the opportunity to write a reaction (more than a review).

      Gress presents his whole interpretation as opposed to a "Grand Narrative" (GN) that has supposedly been very popular and that hides the true origins of Western civilization. His Introduction starts by:

      Liberty grew because it served the interests of power. [...] The key historical insight underlying this book is that liberty, and Western identity in general, are not primarily to be understood in the abstract, but as a set of practices and institutions that evolved, not from Greece, but from the synthesis of classical, Christian, and Germanic culture that took shape from the fifth to the eighth centuries A.D.

      This phrase summarizes not only the author's conclusions, but also his strategy of discourse: he switches before the history of ideas and that of events, favoring the latter but also resorting to the former when needed.