A progressive liberalism and a conservative liberalism

As a follow-up to my previously posted discussion of left and right, liberal and conservative, I have been reading Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate, while still trying to determine just how opposed are the liberal and conservative view points? My conclusion is that they are incorrectly opposed, and probably shouldn’t be opposed at all, no more than are the heads and tails of one and the same coin. And in support of my position Levin has this to say in his concluding chapter, liberalism in his thinking being the one and the same coin, with progressive and conservative the heads and tails:


“The tension between those two dispositions , as represented by Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, toward political life and political change in our liberal age comes down to some very  basic  questions: Should our society be made to answer to the demands of stark and abstract commitments to ideals like social equality or to the patterns of its own concrete political traditions and foundations? Should the citizen’s relationship to his society be defined above all by the individual right of free choice or by a web of obligations and conventions not entirely of our own choosing? Are great public problems best addressed through institutions designed to apply the explicit technical knowledge of experts or by those designed to channel the implicit social knowledge of the community? Should we see each of our society’s failings as one large problem to be solved by comprehensive transformation or as a set of discrete imperfections to be addressed by building on what works tolerably well to address what does not? What authority should the character of the given world exercise over our sense of what we would like it to be?….

Ultimately, the answers depend as well on people’s implicit notion of what our political order—what modern liberalism—really is, exactly. Is it a set of principles that were discovered by Enlightenment philosophers and that should be put more and more completely into practice so that our society can increasingly resemble those philosophers’ ideal mix of egalitarianism and liberty? Or is it a living culture built up over countless generations of social trial and error so that by the time of the Enlightenment, especially in Britain, society had taken a form that allowed for an exceptional mix of egalitarianism and liberty?

Is liberalism, in other words, a theoretical discovery to be put into effect or a practical achievement to be reinforced and perfected? These two possibilities suggest two rather different sorts of liberal politics: a politics of vigorous progress toward an ideal goal or a politics of preservation and perfection of a precious inheritance. They suggest, in other words, a progressive liberalism and a conservative liberalism.”

(Excerpt From: Levin, Yuval. “The Great Debate.” Basic Books. )


But is this the final word, —the thoughts of all of us reflecting either a conservative or a progressive liberalism? That is, are we all underneath just different kinds of liberals?

Well, maybe. But there may be something else, much more important than the opposed viewpoints of the Great Debate, something that we’re overlooking. And that something else, which in fact underlies all of our thinking, is Darwinian evolution, that which in America particularly is most often left out of the discussion and ignored. For progressive and conservative thinking no less than the thinkers themselves, evolves. In fact we all of us evolve in pretty much the same way along with all of life on earth in accordance with the laws of evolution.

Opposition between left and right, progressive and conservative, is not after all substantial. The real opposition is between those who accept the findings of science, accept that we’re changing and evolving, and those who would have us never change, remain as we were as described by the hundreds, thousands of creation myths world wide, including those of Moses and Muhammad, the stories of both men being still very much alive in the West.

It’s the opposition between science and religion, the one, science, giving us a secular society powered by Darwinian evolution, and the other, religion, claiming to be powered by a changeless supernatural being, a God somehow speaking to us through his prophets (Moses and Muhammad) or other means. This opposition, that between science and religion, overpowers, even belittles any opposition between left and right, between even individual freedom (Paine) and traditional authority (Burke), both being only artificial constructs as science learns more about the evolution and history of homo sapiens sapiens during some 200,000 or more years.


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