Conservatism and Liberalism

The working assumption for most of us, is that liberalism vs. conservatism is a zero-sum game. This assumption is reinforced most visibly in the sport of news cycle politics, where a Republican (supposedly conservative) win, means a Democratic (supposedly liberal) loss, and vice versa. We can barely, if at all, imagine liberalism and conservatism being complementary; as having correctives for the shortfalls and excesses of the other; as being in creative tension rather than in win-lose, zero-sum competition. We cannot expect politicians to articulate or practice this complementarity, because their goal is total victory in the next election.

American religion ought to be the place where liberal-conservative complementarity is articulated and practiced; ought to be the place where we learn how to have strong, passionate disagreements that lead to deepening and new possibilities; ought to be the place where people who call themselves liberals, and people who call themselves conservatives, and people who call themselves neither, can find community over a shared meal.

None of this is easy. Freud’s insights (first articulated by the Greek tragedians, especially Aeschylus) are helpful here: broadly speaking, unacknowledged powerful forces are at work in us and in our culture. These forces work against community, connection, and meaning; these forces get their energy from anxiety and fear; and these are forces that political life really cannot tame. Religion– understood as systems of belief and bodies of observant practices whose authority is derived from a real connection to the Higher Powercan tame these forces. Every day we’ll need to begin again.


4 thoughts on “Conservatism and Liberalism

  1. Very thoughtful, Chris. I used to relish the discussions with friends with conservative viewpoints. We didn’t change each other’s minds often, but we always listened hard. Now I find that we all take our corners, and assume our stances. We never engage–we do not listen. What seems to be lost is the possibility of change through vibrant discourse.

  2. A question that nags at me is whether we are obligated to listen to those determined not to listen to anyone else. We ignore opposing viewpoints at our peril but it is difficult to know when and where to use our voices. It’s like little JoJo in Horton Hears a Who – we wait for that “Yop!” that will break through all of the chatter and catch the ears and attention of the minds that need to change (or at least learn).

    • This is a great question, thanks, I’ve been pondering it anew as you have re-articulated it. I don’t know the answer. I am learning to listen less defensively, but there seems to me to be a deep wisdom in patience that is very very hard for me.

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