Just a couple of weeks ago, I took one of those political “Which Party Would You Side With?” tests. I knew that I had changed some of my opinions on public policy over the past few years and looked forward to seeing the results.
They were surprising, to say the least.
Because I, the good Republican activist from middle Tennessee writing for a conservative organization, scored a 74% siding with the Democrat Party. Shocking, right?
What’s even more surprising is that I also sided with Libertarians and Republicans on 72% of the current issues. This was also baffling. How could I agree on a majority of issues with two supposedly opposed parties?
Maybe the problem lies in how we assume the Republican party is the most “conservative,” and the Democrat party is the most “liberal.” One of my professors, Dr. Mark Mitchell, recognizes this false dichotomy. He wrote in his book, The Politics of Gratitude, “The political landscape is dominated by ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ who often seem both illiberal and downright hostile to conserving much of anything.”
If we take the etymological definition of the word “liberal”—coming from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “of a free man”—then it seems that being a liberal in the classical sense of the word is not a bad thing, after all. In fact, being liberal seems to be a part of the American tradition.
However, this does not mean we must forsake conservatism. In a world populated by fallen man, I find the prospect of an unordered society frightening. So any sense of liberalism must be coupled with the need for a virtuous society, a virtue taught by the traditions passed down from generation to generation. Of course, these traditions must be examined, as Frank Meyer writes:
To recognize that there is a need to distinguish between traditions, to choose between the good and evil in tradition, requires recognition of the preeminent role…of reason in distinguishing among the possibilities which have been open to men since the serpent tempted Eve and Adam ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Thus, it seems that the best conservative is liberal, and the best liberal is conservative. These philosophies, in their original sense, are not opposing but complementary. Maybe when we consider these ideas as complementary, we have a new perspective on politics that would make the process much more reasonable.
Maybe it’s time to return to the notion of politics as a Great Conversation, rather than a boxing match.