Liberalism vs. Radicalism

by ERIC PATTON

What’s the difference between liberalism and radicalism? Which is “better?” How is “better” determined?

Liberalism is the belief that the king has the right to rule and that when we want him to make decisions different from those he is currently making, we ask him respectfully, even firmly, but always recognizing his ultimate right to decide.

Radicalism is the belief that the king’s power is illegitimate and that those affected by decisions ought to have some say in how they are made. It’s a belief that there shouldn’t be a king at all.

How does one decide which one is “better?” It depends on what one wants, which depends on what one’s values are. If you believe that some people should, or must, make decisions while others should, or must, have decisions made for them, then you are likely to end up in one camp. If you believe people are fundamentally the same, then you are likely to end up in another.

This is actually a crucial point. There is a widespread belief that some people are less capable of making decisions and that this lack of capability isn’t due to social circumstances, but rather is rooted in people’s DNA. I’m not arguing we’re all the same, or that there aren’t disparities in talent, or that some people aren’t born with severe (biological) problems.

But collectively, do you believe people are capable of choosing their own preferred set of outcomes? Consider an early 19th-century plantation. The work duties of the plantation consist of the plantation owner, the overseers, and the field slaves. The owner makes the ultimate decisions, the overseers ensure the work gets done, and the slaves do the actual work.

Should the plantation owner have the power to run the plantation? Your answer depends on your values. Suppose you think the answer is no. You now have a plantation with only overseers and field slaves. Should the slaves remain the in the fields, with the overseers continuing to ensure the work gets done while occasionally meeting amongst themselves to make plantation decisions? Could the slaves participate in decision making? Should they? Whether your answer is yes or no, is there anything about a division of labor that has some people picking cotton all day and others administering discipline all day that needs to be addressed?

Your answers to all these questions depend solely on your values. Your values determine whether or not you believe the king, or the plantation owner, has the ultimate right to rule. Your values also determine whether or not you think some people should have calloused hands while others have engaged minds. The question is not, ultimately, what is right or wrong. The question is what are your values? I don’t really need to know what your values are. But you should.

Liberalism versus radicalism is a question only you can answer. But it’s worth asking: If you believe the plantation should have no owner, but that it should have overseers and field slaves … how do you think the slaves will react to you? You might think the slaves are not sharp enough to deduce your position on the matter. But if they are, and they do, what do you suppose their reaction will be?

If the slaves believe they do not have the competence to do anything other than pick cotton, they will likely agree with you that an overseer/slave demarcation is necessary. If they do not believe in their own incompetence, their reaction will likely be different.

Suppose you have a plantation with no owner, only overseers and slaves. Do the overseers have a vested interest in ensuring the slaves believe in their own incompetence? What would happen to the overseers’ position if the slaves began to see people as more fundamentally alike than different? How might this affect the things the overseers discuss in their plantation meetings and the types of decisions they ultimately make?

Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the owner, the overseers, or the slaves? Can one really tell a tree by the fruit that it bears? If so, can the slaves tell what side you’re on by what you say and do? If they can, are their subsequent reactions and emotions justified?

When it comes to economics, whose side is the left on? Do you want to liberate the slaves, or do you just want their support to help overthrow the plantation owner? Is some inequality in a society a necessary or desirable thing? If you believe this, shouldn’t you be honest about your belief? If you’re not being honest about it, why not?

Classism runs deep in this society, so deep that almost no one sees it, much less understands it. If you want to understand it, think about the plantation.

Eric Patton lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Hate mail can be directed to him at ebpatton@yahoo.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman