ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society: Guest Blogger Geoffrey Stone: Liberal Values

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Link: ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society: Guest Blogger Geoffrey Stone: Liberal Values. Excellent basis for a discussion of what Liberals stand for now.

Geoffrey R. Stone, the Harry Kalven, Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago is the author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (W. W. Norton 2004) and a member of the ACS Board of Directors.

For most of the past four decades, “liberals” have been in retreat.
Since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, Republicans have
controlled the White House 70% of the time and Republican presidents
have made 86% of the Supreme Court appointments. In many quarters, the
word “liberal” has become a pejorative. Part of the problem is that
liberals have failed to define themselves and to state clearly what
they believe. As a liberal, I find that appalling. In that light, I
thought it might be interesting to try to articulate ten propositions
that seem to me to define “liberal” today. Undoubtedly, not all
liberals embrace all of these propositions, and many conservatives
embrace at least some of them.

Moreover, because ten is a small number, the list is not exhaustive.
And because these propositions will in some instances conflict, the
“liberal” position on a specific issue may not always be predictable.
My goal, however, is not to end discussion, but to invite debate.

1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.
This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that “time has upset many
fighting faiths.” Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate
free and open debate.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference.
It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil
rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment, and
the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note than a conflict between
propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like
pornography, and hate speech.)

3. Liberals believe individuals have both a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate.
It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion
of the franchise, the elimination of obstacles to voting, “one person,
one vote,” limits on partisan gerrymandering, campaign finance reform,
and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis
Brandeis, that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.”

4. Liberals
believe “we the people” are the governors and not the subjects of
government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind
.
It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of
the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection
of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the
right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians,
often thought of as “conservatives,” share this value with liberals.)

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.
It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights
of racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, political dissidents,
persons accused of crime, and the outcasts of society. It is liberals
who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the
right to due process of law, and the principle of equal protection for
all people.

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.
It is liberals who have supported and continue to support robust
government programs to improve health care, education, social security,
job training, and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is
liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and
that government exists in part to “promote the general Welfare.”

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith.
It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer
and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support
government funding for stem cell research, the rights of gays and
lesbians, and the freedom of choice for women.

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties.
It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and
continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom
of religion, and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices
more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the
interests of corporations, commercial advertisers, and the wealthy.)

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and
security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is
impossible
. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a
reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are
unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is
false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural
fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular
exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence,
hearsay, and torture), but they are no less willing to use government
authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and
international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and
security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing
constitutional values
. It is liberals who have demanded and
continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of
innocent persons in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints
on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to
ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants.
Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Justice Louis Brandeis some
eighty years ago, “Those who won our independence . . . did not exalt
order at the cost of liberty.”

Consider this an invitation. Are these propositions meaningful? Are
they helpful? Are they simply wrong? As a liberal, how would you change
them or modify the list? As a conservative, how would you draft a
similar list for conservatives?

1 COMMENT

  1. During the 2004 election, I realized the term “liberal” had taken on a negative connotation and I took serious exception to that. So, I found a bumper sticker and put it on my car. It said “Liberal and Proud of It”. Well, you wanna meet people? Get one of those. Interesting the number of people who introduced themselves to me, thanked me for putting on the sticker but said they would not have the courage. Courage? Whew! What does that say about our society? I find this a list to which I can say a hearty “YES!” to each item. I would be fascinated to hear what “conservatives” would list as their principles. I believe that conscientious conservatives are not far from us liberals since to be a “conservative” means to save or conserve and this list speaks to saving/conserving our rule of law, our liberties and our commitment to being a community, as a goal.

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