“What’s Wrong with Conservatism?” was the title of my previous blog posting. As promised, here is a look at the other side.
As many of you know, last year I published a book under the title The Limits of Liberalism (LoL). While LoL is primarily about theological liberalism rather than social or political liberalism, which is my main concern in this posting, there are definite overlaps.
In short, in whatever context they are being considered, liberals tend to have too high an opinion of human nature and are thereby are often “guilty” of pride and misplaced optimism. In the political sphere, those attitudes lead, among other things, to an over-emphasis on the role of government to solve the problems in human society.
One of the more important quotes in LoL is found under the title of the eighth chapter, “The Limits of Liberalism’s Understanding of Sin.” Chris Hedges, a former journalist for the New York Times, writes in his book now titled When Atheism Becomes Religion (2009), “We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God; we have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin” (p. 13).
(Hedges, pictured on the right, is the author of several books, the latest being Death of the Liberal Class, 2010, a hard hitting book which I have not read much of yet, and I have questions about what I have read.)
Liberals talk a lot about social problems, and may even talk about “social sin,” but they tend to think that with enough human effort those societal sins can be overcome. And make no mistake about it: there have been many social ills that have been largely overcome by the work of those who can rightfully be called liberals. Slavery has been abolished as has such evils as child labor and the exploitation of adult workers, as well as the male dominance of women to a large degree. But can government create an ideal society?
As I write in LoL, “Back in the 1960s, one of my revered seminary professors made what I thought were rather snide remarks about President Johnson’s attempts to create a ‘great society’ in the United States” (p. 208). Dr. Rust saw Johnson’s liberal policies as evidence of hubris, which the dictionary defines as “overbearing pride or presumption,” and he may well have been right.
Liberals tend to see education and the creation of a positive social environment as cures for the ills of society. Moreover, according to social and political liberals it is the role of government to provide that education and to create that desired social environment. And, again, make no mistake about it: education and eradicating negative social conditions are very important.
But problems remain. I also remember Dr. Rust emphasizing that if you educate a sinner what you get is an educated sinner who will then be able to sin more ingeniously. And he was probably right. Doesn’t it seem as though the greatest “sins” of our times have been committed by well-educated, well-heeled, and well-placed people of power?
Partly because of their overly optimistic view of human nature, liberals tend to place too much emphasis on legislation and government spending to solve social problems and to bring about desired social change. They often fail to place adequate stress upon personal responsibility.
So perhaps the main thing wrong with liberalism is, indeed, its failure to recognize the problem of sin, which among other things means innate self-centeredness, and which is the major root of personal and public problems which no government program can eradicate.