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Can we keep it?

Classical conservatism and lasting liberalism



Much has been written here about political concepts of conservatism and liberalism without defining these terms in everyday language. Perhaps this is because these words have changed meaning rapidly in modern society. Most of us have heard the lament: "I was a blue-collar liberal growing up—and I haven't changed—so why do I now find myself a conservative?"

One would hope the reverse were also true, that the once youthful conservatives would find themselves liberals today, but alas, they now often find themselves lumped into the extreme right. Hoping to revive, at least partially, the original meanings of liberalism—as openness to innovation, or lasting liberalism—and conservatism—as commitment to tradition, or classical conservatism—I offer here a relatively simple test for membership in either group.

The test consists in honestly answering the following three questions (yes, this is a type of quiz): 1. Do you feel inherent revulsion at being shown photos involving severe violence? 2. Do you refuse to eat broccoli or even accept it on your plate? 3. Would you refuse to return to the Squid Games as a participant in the second episode after escaping the "Red Light, Green Light" death-by-doll game in the first episode?

If you answered "yes" to question 1, you are inclined toward classical conservatism (as statistically determined by psychological studies). Moreover, those answering "yes" to question 1 tend also to answer "yes" to question 2 about their aversion to broccoli. These individuals have, on average, a lot more taste receptors on the tongue than those answering "no" to question 2 and are more sensitive to and less tolerant of broccoli's bitter taste.

Therefore, if you answered "yes" to both questions 1 and 2, research studies indicate you are definitely inclined toward classical conservatism. (Note: This is a statistical tendency and not an absolute result.) Similarly, those leaning toward lasting liberalism tend to answer "no" to both questions. If your answers were mixed, stick with your answer to question 1 as dominant.

I threw in the third question as an example of how people in each group would choose as players in the Squid Games. There are no studies on this, but it seems likely that only lasting liberals would return (since they crave the new and innovative) and that the classical conservatives would stay put (since they are most comfortable with what is traditional and stable). It's axiomatic that an engaging book, exciting movie, or any enticing story—like life itself—always has a diverse mix of interesting lasting liberal and classic conservative characters.

Well, there you have it. Simply put, our temperament and biology determine our political inclinations. What's to get angry about if you realize that your opponent is—primarily by nature—conditioned to respond to you in a certain way? Our nation's founders were an interesting mix of lasting liberals and classical conservatives. Their common goal was freedom, and they produced a unique federalism—the dual sovereignty of state and nation inherent in our Constitution. When Ben Franklin was asked what those writing the Constitution had created, he said: "A Republic, if you can keep it."

Can we keep it? The keys to success are understanding our respective inclinations and then deciding to work together—like two oars on opposite sides of a boat propelling it forward—toward the common goals of individual freedom and mutual prosperity. Δ

Dan Biezad is a retired teacher and Air Force veteran, who has lived in SLO County since 1990. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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