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What Liberalism Needs

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Schmookler       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   19 comments

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Here's what I think today's liberalism lacks and needs: A positive vision of the human ideal.

The right operates by the vividness of its fear of WHAT IT DOES NOT WANT. The left needs to be just as vivid in its sense of what it DOES want.

The policies of the right are purely defensive, not fostering our progress as a nation toward something better that it might be. Protecting but not creating. Working against threats, not trying to foster something more ideal.

But liberalism has an ethic of each person having his/her own life's project. A search for truth and goodness and beauty and fulfillment of all kinds. The culture is LIBERAL because it has a vision that each soul can find its way to God in its own way. Protestantism is in this way a LIBERAL vision. It's between each person and God, not for the realm of power to dominate. Each soul is on its own journey as far as it can get toward realizing its best potential.

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The human potential movement is structurally the same basic idea: that there is a beautiful and whole place you can get to --evangelical Protestant born again, or Esalen/ therapy, personal growth come into a space of beauty and light-- if you find your own right path, learning how to follow your spirit or by the Grace of God be born again in a fuller realization of the best of human potential.

This must again be the liberal vision: using government to help people become all that they can be, in the full Protestant sense of some important spiritual success in the life's project. Government as trying to create a society in which we maximize people's chances to become all that they can be. Creative work. Good health. Good education. The life that they want to lead, that they're supposed to lead.

There, too, liberalism has fallen down. One does not hear these days from the educational establishment any sense of there being uplifting and profound goals to be realized in the education process, and not just a kind of mechanical performance that represents "success" in "training."

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Our educational institutions used to really BELIEVE in their having a mission of spiritual significance --or at least that is my impression-- but that has not been much involved in our national discussions of education for a long time.

There once was an important idea in America. It was called "equality of opportunity." The idea was perfectly compatible with the view of education as purely technical. But if wedded to the idea that Liberalism must make itself the champion of some set of embodiments of our spiritual aspirations for our society, to work to move our society into a more Whole place, a cultural and political system --comprised of human beings rightly living their lives-- that is working toward social betterment.

As the right is purely defensive, because its orientation toward betterment is just the prevention of damage, with no vision of a world to work toward that is better than today's, so also must the left offer a positive vision that is just as inspiring of support as is the highly energized fear-driven concerns of the right.

The passion of THIS IS WHAT I DO NOT WANT needs to be countered by an equally impassioned THIS IS WHAT I DO WANT that represents an inspiring vision of possibility for human life as live in individual lives and for humanity collectively.


The foregoing is a message along the theme: liberalism needs to have the idea of the Good come alive in its consciousness. The spiritual connection. Strength comes from the spirit, and the spiritual weakness of today's liberal force in America is a sign of a consciousness that's lost its way.

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Do we HAVE a vision of the human possibility that can match in passion power to inspire the passion that the right-wing manipulative vision inspires through fear, through a sense of possibility that is only the negative one, a terror of loss and injury?

Does liberalism still BELIEVE that there is a meaningfully better future to be created, and that it is capable of making progress toward it?

What's needed: a vision of possibilities sufficiently beautiful to inspire, and a communicating to the national consciousness this vision of a process of our making ourselves more of the Ideal Us, and that, in the political arena, it is a liberal approach that can lead us there.


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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