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Conservative Is Not Opposite Liberal: That’s Totalitarianism

Posted by Enkill_Eridos on February 17, 2010

When I tell people that there’s a symbiotic relationship between science and liberalism, it turns out that what I usually need to define is not “symbiotic,” which most folks understand to mean mutually beneficial, but “science” and “liberalism.”

The word science is used today to describe the work of the thousands of researchers who conduct or monitor experiments, interact in scientific organizations, and publish in refereed journals. They belong to the world’s only genuinely international community, and their findings are applicable from here to the far reaches of the universe.

Prior to the rise of science, some four centuries ago, ideas were evaluated by checking them against logic and everyday experience to see whether they “seemed good”–which is the etymological root of the word “dogma.” Science created a new approach, in which ideas are tested experimentally. Those that fail such tests are either discarded or modified. Those that succeed are accepted, but only provisionally–which is why scientists still speak, say, of the “theory” of evolution, although the basic mechanisms of biological evolution are as well understood as is the physics behind microprocessors and nuclear power plants. Keeping the feedback loops humming requires free, constant, and often contentious communication between scientists all over the world. That’s where liberalism comes in.

By liberalism I mean the original political philosophy called by that name–the one espoused by John Locke and embodied in the Bill of Rights. Liberalism is based on the hypothesis that people ought to be maximally free, with the government intervening only to the extent required to protect their freedoms against abridgment by their compatriots or by enemies abroad. This was a radical idea in the eighteenth century, when few people had much education and the general public was routinely slandered as ignorant and untrustworthy. Locke himself feared that the public was so mired in “passion and superstition” as to be apt, as Voltaire put it, to act irrationally and “speak without thinking.” Sharing such qualms, many of the American founders described the newborn United States as akin to a scientific experiment. “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1804, “and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth.”

Liberal democracy–the form of government in which a majority can elect leaders but not constrain human rights–has survived innumerable social experiments to become the choice of more than a third of all humanity and the stated preference of most of the remainder. (Even outright despots feel obliged to pay lip service to its inevitability, if only as a distant prospect to be realized once the populace is “ready.”) Yet in the United States–and, increasingly, in parts of Europe as well–the term liberal has come to mean the political Left. This has served only to cloudy the political waters. Those on the Left are free to call themselves anything they like–such as progressive, a term many have been taking up lately–but they ought not to be called liberals. Liberalism is an independent political philosophy, with no inherent connection to either the Left or the Right.

In science it often happens that confusing phenomena can be better understood by adding a dimension. Einstein laid the foundations for modern cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole, by portraying three-dimensional space as a curved continuum embedded in a four-dimensional “space-time continuum.” Contemporary cosmological models involving string theory and membrane theory invoke ten or more dimensions. (They’re beautiful; the jury is still out as to whether they’re true.) Drop in on a scientific conference nowadays and you’ll see talk after talk illustrated with two-dimensional slices of hyperdimensional “phase spaces” that may have no physical reality but aid in comprehension.

Political dynamics become a lot clearer if we do something similar, by replacing the old, one-dimensional, Left/Right political spectrum–a relic of the way delegates happened to be seated in the National Assembly circa 1789–with a two-dimensional diamond:

Such diagrams have the virtue of putting opposing philosophies in opposite positions, rather than trying to squeeze them all into a one-dimensional line. The opposite of conservatism, which cherishes practices that experience has shown to work in the past, is progressivism, which looks to the future. The opposite of liberalism is not conservatism but totalitarianism, the elevation of state power at the expense of human rights.

As the diagram suggests, liberalism is equally accessible to conservatives and progressives alike.

If you are a liberal conservative or a liberal progressive you will show up, on the old one-dimensional diagram, as a “moderate.” (Most Americans are called moderate because most are liberal, in that they support human rights and are suspicious of big organizations, whether governmental or private, that threaten those rights.) When people say that they have become more moderate with age, what they usually mean is that they’ve become more liberal–that, having come to appreciate the virtues of freedom in action, they have strayed from the dogmatisms of the Left or Right. From this perspective there is no need for neologisms like “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” or liberalism with an uppercase or lowercase “L.” These words simply describe various trajectories taken on the playing field of tradition vs. innovation and freedom vs. despotism.

Science, like liberalism, has no fundamental connection to the Right or the Left. Conservatives have sometimes closed their eyes to science, as when the George W. Bush administration sat on its hands over global warming, but so have those progressives who would “democratize” science by discouraging research programs that they fear might promote social inequalities. Biblical literalists ignore empirical evidence when they claim that the earth is thousands, rather than billions, of years old–but so do progressives enthusiastic about homeopathy or progressive education, which similarly lack any scientific basis. Glenn Beck’s fact-free fulminations about the Obama administration’s imagined plans to “massacre” Americans have their progressive counterpart in Bill Maher’s fantasies about big pharma conspiring with Big Macs to sicken and then cure us all. Such baseless alarmism used to be commonplace: Before science came along, every comet swimming into view aroused predictions of disaster. Those days are gone, but most Americans still don’t understand what science is or how it works.

Science is inherently antiauthoritarian: If a theory fails experimental test it doesn’t matter how smart or powerful its proponents may be. Science is also highly social: No one scientist knows enough to go it alone for long. Hence science thrives under liberalism, which protects freedom of property, speech, travel, and association. Their alliance has already freed more people from poverty, ignorance, and an early grave than every other approach in all recorded history combined.

It used to be thought that science was a neutral tool, like a shovel or an AK-47, equally serviceable for tyrants and free citizens alike. The Soviet Union and Fascist Germany perpetuated that myth by portraying themselves as gleaming powerhouses of scientific technology–but proved, once the curtains of their obsessive secrecy had dissolved away, to have been anything but. Today, China’s Communist rulers are busy building laboratories, bestowing privileges on their indigenous scientists, and recruiting researchers from abroad in an effort to make China a world-class scientific power. Their efforts are unlikely to succeed, however, until the Chinese people are free.

Scientific creativity, like all creativity, is unpredictable and can be dangerous: To learn how the sun shines is also to learn how to make nuclear weapons. Global warming is the latest, and in some respects the most serious, example of this fact. It can be addressed neither by going back to ancient verities nor by marching in lockstep toward a progressive vision of a predetermined future. It may, however, yield to the potent combination of science and liberalism. Certainly there are resources available. The United States spends half a trillion dollars annually on importing foreign oil, while the world spends $7 trillion a year on energy; a fraction of that amount can put a dent in global warming. Should science and liberalism fail to meet this test, however, illiberal rule may well gain ascendance in the resulting emergency.

For as long as I have been alive, people have been saying that science is fine in its place but has inherent limitations. Science, it is said, can adjudicate questions of fact but not of value. It can weigh quantities but not qualities. It shows “how the heavens go, but not how to go to heaven.” I wouldn’t be so sure about that. We human beings all belong to one species, on a planet where all life is kin, and astronomers at their telescopes find no wall bifurcating the universe. To insist that we live in two worlds, one accessible to science and the other not, is to back the losing line in the winningest game ever yet played by humans. My money’s on science and liberty.

*disclaimer- I am not responsible for the content of this post. This post is the work of Timothy Ferris. This post does reflect my views on this subject. I did not alter the article in anyway. The article can be found in the link below, thank you.*



19 Responses to “Conservative Is Not Opposite Liberal: That’s Totalitarianism”

  1. I don’t disagree, but do any of the original “Liberals” still exist? You know, the ones that distrusted govt, and didn’t base their beliefs on reading Marx in college?

    On the Science issue, Global Warming has become the religion of the Left. It doesn’t matter that their facts don’t add up, that they hide or destroy their data, refuse to prove their theories, or talk about “settled science”. What was the last time you heard a scientist make an observation, propose a theory and then immediately say his/her findings were “settled science”? Or for that matter, talked about “Scientific concensus”?

    Remember that at one time Scientific concensus said the Earth was flat and the Sun circled the Earth.


  2. Enkill_Eridos said

    My two cents: Timothy Ferris says it best. I would like to urge Kay to stop bad mouthing Liberals as we wish for this country to stay in the ideals in which it was founded on. You want to attack the left (as in the article is a reference to the seating arrangement.) not Liberals. The political left poison. Otherwise you are against the very ideals this country is based on. IF that is the case maybe you should consider moving to another country that is a theocratic Christian Government. Greece is one such government.


  3. dorian said

    good find, e_e!
    extremists on both sides are prone to alarmist behavior and do little to improve understanding between people in this society. the extreme right equates progress and change to anarchy and marx and the extreme left is fond of creating government and big business conspiracy theories. equilibrium is towards midpoint, the center.

    when it comes to science, however, this “…science thrives under liberalism, which protects freedom of property, speech, travel, and association. Their alliance has already freed more people from poverty, ignorance, and an early grave than every other approach in all recorded history combined.” and this “…Today, China’s Communist rulers are busy building laboratories, bestowing privileges on their indigenous scientists, and recruiting researchers from abroad in an effort to make China a world-class scientific power. Their efforts are unlikely to succeed, however, until the Chinese people are free.” makes a good point of how science and conservatism (or totalitarianism, as mr. ferris likes to call the opposite of liberalism) does not a winning combination make.


  4. Enkill_Eridos said

    Global Warming does add up. It was something that happened 20 years ago, the Earth’s temprature rose a drastic amount from one year. 20 years later we have gotten used to it. 20 years later we are starting to see the effects of Gross Pollution, so are you saying that we shouldn’t look for alternative fuel sources just because the right says its wrong? We should just destroy the only known planet that can support life. Or should we try to make things better? Find cleaner renewable fuel alternatives, such as methane. In Pennsylvania there are vehicles that give a lot less emitions and run on natural gas taken from Dairy Farms, and land fills. It is cleaner, cheaper, and just as safe as oil based fuel sources. And as long as there is waste we have fuel. I believe the person that actually started using Methane Gas as a fuel source for the farm equipment and vehicles is very right. And you do realize the people that is throwing up this crap that scientists are lying to people, are the very same people that lie, cheat, and steal to stay rich? Or is it because scientists are saying that our unrenewable resources is becoming polluted or being used up. Like I said we only have one planet, once we destroy it that’s it, game over. THAT IS FACT. We only have a finite amount of water on this planet THAT IS FACT. In the past we have destroyed huge amounts of our water supply because it seems infinite. THAT IS FACT. Our greed has destroyed forests, plant life, has caused animals to become extinct. THAT IS FACT. Now we are trying to be more green because we can still fix the mistakes of the generations before us, the same generations that put us in the ecological disaster is saying its all rubbish. So the smog indexes across the country is false.

    Its good news! People in Beijing don’t worry about wearing masks to protect your lungs from the pollutants cars that run on petrol products use, because it has all been a lie. LA the smog is all just some elaborate hoax. New York and Tampa don’t worry about the Smog Index or UV Index being too high because the scientists have all lied to you. Pollution does not exist, and there is no such thing as consequences for your actions. Good news to all of the convicted murderers you are free to go! That last paragraph is exactly how the right sounds. (Again this is a political reference. Since Conservatives actually primarily think with their left hemisphere of their brain, and those that follow the progressive or left primarily think with their right.) That all sounds like crap. Because there is pollution, because of our use of petrol based fuels. As well as other wasteful things that have happened in the past. Are you Conservatives just as stupid as Palin? I mean retardation IS a familial genetic trait. Just because Sarah doesn’t have Down Syndrome does not mean she has another form of retardation. There is nothing wrong with that, but really have you actually listened to this crap? I mean basically the above paragraph is how the Conservatives that actually say its all a lie sound like. Oh its okay to breathe in an excess of Carbon Monoxide and other pollutants. The effects of pollution is real, go ask someone who grew up around Lake Michigan in the 60’s and 70’s. As far as I know there is still traces of PCB and when the index is too high the lake is basically closed. Since pollution is a lie made by the scientists (If the effect that is named Global Warming is a lie then so is the cause.)Mercury is okay to handle without special equipment. I believe my point has been proven. I don’t really believe the past paragraph, I kind of went on a rant.(Retardation is an actual medical term. It references an abnorbaility in a way a person thinks and learns. If 9 out of 10 children learn their ABC’s within a year and there is one child struggling with it. That child has a learning disability. A retardation of a certain part of the brain. But because the ignorant think of this as an insult, because the ignorant insult others with this term in a negative fashion. The word itself is seen as negative. But it is just a word that means something that is slower than normal. Or something that does not work as it should in the case of medical terms. Political Correctness in my mind is another form of lying.)

    The point is that Conservatives are calling the left Liberals, when it is false. Considering that the Marxist writings were inspired by the only Socialist Government that actually worked, he wrote his papers so one little country (A very small land locked country the size of Rhode Island, in the Eastern European area.) can have a government FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE.

    Are there still Liberals around? Yes, there are true Liberals around. Ones that believe in the Constitution of the United States. People that are willing to protect the ideals within the Constitution. The foundations of this government. We believe in a government that is FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE.

    True Liberals no longer call themselves Liberals (Do you really blame them?) For those people do not fully stand for the foundation of this great nation. We are the true patriots of this Nation. The Centurions for the People. We are the people that read through actual proposed legislation. We are the kind of people that create ADKOB. We are the kind of people that want others to express their rights of free speech, religion and other rights in a peaceful way. This blog is supposed to represent the most important part of the Bill of Rights. The Freedom of Speech, The Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press, Freedom to speak out against the corrupt actions of Politicians. So my only thought is this, Conservatives don’t want the people to have these rights. Since those rights are “Liberal Poison.”

    Our government actually fits the definition of a Democratic Socialist Republic than it does a straight Democratic Republic. OUR GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE INSPIRED KARL MARX. Just because Stalin warped the actual ideals of Socialism and the religion of the right is to claim that Socialism is exactly how China and Stalin performed it. They are very wrong. A socialist government is one that allows the common citizen a voice either through the petition to the government, or allowing someone to speak freely negatively about a government. You must realize that in the 1700 and 1800 this was not done. Europe expected America to fail, because they believed the common man did not have the intelligence to effectively govern a country.

    In the 1960’s Nixon created buzz words. He called members of the Hippie movement Liberals (Which in the most basic of senses they were.) Socialism was associated with the USSR. Capitalism was seen as godly. In 2000, many people stopped thinking that way. The vote of the majority was ignored. In 2005 the economy started to fail due to wasteful thinking, and an incompetent administration. From 2000-2008 our country went from doing the best it was doing in years, to almost destroyed. For some reason the Senate and the House gave the Bush administration complete power.

    Capitalism was a political structure doomed for failure. It was a system that favored the wealthy and ignored the poor. Socialism isn’t that bad, a political structure that is designed to benefit the citizens of a country. One were the people have a voice and ultimate say in matters. But history has also taught us that Socialism is a political structure doomed for failure as well. What is the one structure that combines both Capitalism and Socialism? What is one political structure that allows the practices of Capitalism and Socialism? America. What the Conservative Right and the Progressive Left do not truly understand is the original structure of the American Government is not strictly Capitalist nor is it strictly Socialist. The American Government’s foundations is a mixture of both political structures. One that finds a happy medium between the two.

    It is a structure that is very new. (Only 234 years old!) It is ever changing and ever updated. Now we are in a new era. Unlike the beginning of this country now the average person has access to a wealth of information. Information on almost any subject just a click a way. Bills, Laws, Congressional meetings, amendments. These things are all Public, and they are made available every day. Just a click away.

    The ugly truth the Left and Right really does not want you to know. America is and always has been both Socialist and Capitalist. There is only perceived classes, the people of the “working class” are not bound to stay in the “working class”. They can get an education, start a business, innovate, and become rich. Or they can get an education and work in a field that helps the advancement of the society. Every citizen has complete control, and every citizen has the same exact opportunities available. Every citizen can get a college degree (Even inmates are allowed to work for a Bachelors.) Every citizen has the opportunity to make an innovative company from their parents garage and make it into a multi-billion dollar corporation. (Microsoft is the obvious reference.) The government does not say to small businesses, I am sorry your company no longer makes this product, you are to make this product. There are practices I think the government should regulate certain businesses make sure they have fair operating procedures (OH NO a company that is required to be fair to every customer not just the rich and famous ones..That must be a Socialist idea!)

    I would see myself as a “True Liberal”, but not apart of the Left. I would label myself as a true moderate. One that thinks every citizen should benefit from a law or government funded program. Don’t mistake that with everyone should get a hand out. This is what I mean, every citizen that wants to receive government funded healthcare should be able to. But I also think that there should be a co-pay. After all a little help is not the same as a hand-out. The government would have a cheaper co-pay and couldn’t worry about its bottom line like the insurance companies. Since the government is supposed to do things that is in the best interest for the people. (This hasn’t happened since Clinton was in office sadly. There have been many Republicans that have upheld this ideal as well. Its just recent history from the 90’s to now. Clinton did the most good.


  5. Enkill_Eridos said

    See no one cares about politics, if I was to bring religion in on this topic then everyone would want a piece of it.


  6. oh, i’m interested, i just am lacking time.
    i’m watching the cpac convention right now. crazy.


  7. dorian said

    the thing is that there are so many good debate topics other than religion but somehow morality gets in there then religion sneaks in and all of a sudden it’s brought into a fundamentalist podium. there is no separation between religion (and everything else, for that matter) and politics for some.

    the global warming issue – with the many evidences of man-made pollution being a factor in the climate upheavals nowadays, look at the groups of people in denial of this. instead of doing what has to be done to curb the pollutants, the left and right are battling it out, pointing fingers. there should be more pragmatic, action-oriented moderates among the nations’ leaders or nothing gets done.


  8. Enkill_Eridos said

    What action-oriented moderates? They all left Washington after the 2000 election, and I really do not blame them. I think its one of the reasons that the House and Senate doesn’t get anything done. There is no swing voters, no one in the middle looking at the facts then voting for or against. It is the only way the legislative system will actually work. But as far as I can tell there are left and right only…and it turns out there is more right than left. So nothings really changing because congress and the senate really have not changed. And without the level headed moderates, our government is failing. Too much manipulating from the right and left.

    People blame Obama for what’s going on within the Government, but that’s crap. We all know what the President is really for. The President is nothing more than a Diplomatic Figurehead, the only real thing the President is in charge of is the military. I laugh when I watch Hannity and he talks about how the Obama administration is doing this or that, when in actualaty it’s Congress and the House that isn’t doing what needs to be done to bring a change to the government. And things will not get better unless the House and Senate becomes more balanced, and more moderates are actually elected to help keep the right and left’s egos in check. Also to keep the special interest groups from buying out this country. Like they have been doing for 8 years. It is time that our government works how it is supposed to. Because right now our government isn’t working at all.


  9. so, i spent most of the weekend following CPAC. no ideas, no solutions, just a lot of obama bashing.

    however, one homophobe got booed off stage by the crowd.

    glenn beck had his chalkboard there. all chalk, no action.


  10. Enkill_Eridos said

    Are you sure you’re describing CPAC and not CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Cspan?


  11. fox showed a lot of the cpac convention. plus i got analysis from fox and msnbc and cnn.

    i watched becks keynote speech live on fox, here is part 1 of the 6 part speech. you can catch the rest a youtube or at http://www.watchglennbeck.com.


  12. homophobe booed off stage at cpac


  13. Enkill_Eridos said

    What does CPAC stand for?


  14. dorian said

    my liberal extremist friend says CPAC stands for CONSERVATIVES’ PATHETICALLY ASININE CONCLUSIONS


  15. Enkill_Eridos said

    That made me laugh.


  16. Conservative Political Action Commitee.

    although dorian’s description is much more accurate.

    oh, how about…Cooties Plague Ann Coulter.

    that has a nice ring to it.


  17. Enkill_Eridos said

    Okay, this reminds me too much of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, etc. It makes me laugh and cry because the contradictions and the BS makes my brain hurt too much.


  18. Enkill_Eridos said

    Wait, the homophobe being booed off stage is odd. Mainly because this is at a Conservative convention…Aren’t all Conservatives against Civil Rights when it comes to homosexuality? Don’t they all believe that being Gay is really a choice, not something that happens naturally? I am suddenly confused.


  19. i know, it’s wierd isn’t it. but a good thing. thanks for the advice about contacting the IRS.


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