Zhu: The New, Old Liberalism

It’s time for classical liberals to take back the Democratic Party.

by Michael Zhu | 2/9/17 12:20am

This past weekend, students at the University of California, Berkeley protested “alt-right” journalist Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned talk. What began as peaceful demonstrations quickly became violent protests. A group of people — who may have been students — set fire to buildings, allegedly attacked Yiannopoulos’ supporters and advocated far-left ideas that contradict the tenets of our democracy.

Of course, not all of the protesters engaged in this violent behavior. In fact, not all of the protesters were even considered to be left on the political spectrum.

But these people are playing a dangerous game. They’re detracting from the legitimacy of true liberalism and unconsciously tying an unwanted and repressive ideology to actual liberals around the nation.

I consider myself a classical liberal. I don’t agree with the direction of modern liberalism. Still, modern liberalism — leftism, perhaps — is expanding while classical liberalism is contracting at a frightening pace.

But leftism lost the 2016 election. Leftism has futilely opposed increasing racism, failed to win gubernatorial and local elections around the country and will face more ideological danger if President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, is confirmed to the bench.

That’s why it’s even more important to return to sensible liberalism, to actual liberal ideologies and philosophies — instead of raw emotions — that appeal to average Americans.

This, I believe, is real liberalism.

Liberals believe in all but unconditional freedom of speech. People cannot lose this right, no matter the degree of disagreement or the divergence from the mainstream.

Liberals believe in freedom of religion. While liberals believe that everyone has the right to practice his or her own religion, we also believe that people cannot force their religion upon others, whether it be through holy wars or legislation.

Liberals believe in personal freedom. Liberals believe that a woman has the absolute right to control her body — but that other people also have the right to believe in and advocate for a right to life. Liberals believe that a person has the right to love anyone, but that other people’s religious objections are legitimate as well. To resolve these dichotomies, liberals believe that as long as no side forces their beliefs upon another, society will remain free.

That means that a baker does not need to serve a gay couple, although he might lose business because of it. That means that a doctor should not be forced to perform an abortion, although she might lose patients because of it.

Liberals believe in limited government — a central disagreement between classical liberalism and modern leftism. We believe that in order to be consistent with our support of personal liberty, we need to assure that the government does not violate our freedoms, either.

Liberals believe in free markets. Liberals emphasize economic freedom and capitalism that is derived from free markets, free trade and private property. This means that most forms of economic regulations and intervention are unnecessary and unwanted in a truly liberal society. This also means that socialism and communism — along with fascism and corporatism — are opposed for their belief in state control of markets. But, being liberals, we support the rights of all those who disagree to voice their opinions.

Liberals believe in the value of ideology over emotion. We fight conflicting beliefs with sound arguments based on ideology, not our feelings. We fight racism with values, not safe spaces; we fight offensive speech with reasonable counterarguments, not requests to cancel class or postpone exams.

Therefore, we believe in rational, respectful discussion. If we don’t agree on an issue, I’d hope that we could talk about it; perhaps you’d even convince me of your argument. But I’d hope that you wouldn’t just call me a racist or a sexist or immoral because we have differences in opinion — and I’d hope that you’d open your mind enough to consider my point-of-view without hinging on emotions and feelings.

Liberals believe in the value of respect. We respect people with different beliefs; we don’t label them, sort them into groups or attack them during protests. We can resolve issues without fighting; we can reach compromises without threatening. We can have respectful discussions; we can present our argument respectfully. Can the modern left honestly say they do the same?

Liberals believe in the value of facts. Alternative facts don’t exist. As one old saying goes, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Present your argument with data, with statistics; forgo the emotional appeals or ad hominem attacks. Through its efforts to be opposed to reactionary forces on the right, the left has in turn become this reactionary group that rarely present arguments with facts and instead relies on personal narrative and emotions to win debates. That’s not how you appeal to people.

Don’t become like the new American right, either, espousing “alternative facts” and denying any form of scientific data or sound evidence. That’s every bit as bad.

These are only some of the many beliefs that classical liberals hold. These ideologies will win local, state and national political positions back. These ideologies will present the best defense against the violent populism that the 2016 election revealed. These ideologies will push the Democratic Party forward and save the party from a dangerous, broken leftism.