It is state election time here and again I am reminded that the language we use often mirrors how we feel rather than what we think. One piece of mail that I received regarding a state candidate was simply emblazoned “LIBERAL”. I have to wonder about the purpose of such claims. When I do, I remember John Stuart Mill’s writings on “Classical Liberalism”. There are ten principles. Here they are in short:
- The life of each individual is an absolute and universal moral value.
- Every individual owns his body, his mind, and the labor thereof.
- Every individual has the right to pursue activities for the betterment of his life.
- The rights of an individual to life, liberty…are not granted by other human beings.
- The initiation of physical force, the threat of such force, or fraud against any individual is never permissible.
- The sole fundamental purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals…government is not the same as society.
- Every individual has the absolute right to think and express any idea.
- Commerce, technology and science are desirable.
- Accidents of birth, geography, or ancestory do not define an individual and should not result in manmade restrictions of that individual’s rights or opportunities.
- It is a moral imperative for humans to expand their mastery of the universe indefinitely.
The above ideas were expressed by Mill in 1869. What I find interesting about these principles of classical liberalism is that most of these principles have been absconded by the present-day “conservatives” which brings me to my point about language: it changes. I would suggest that to use language is to express ideas not create ideals. It also reminds me that in order to own a word, I must have clear understanding of that word.
It is important to remember in these days of political posturing that it is not only the language that we use that is important, but the ideals that we abide by: we must own the word we speak. To call someone a “liberal” is neither good nor bad. However, the reasons that we have for calling a person or group anything are good or bad.
It is much easier to rely upon rhetoric rather than principle to express ourselves, especially when we are not certain of the ideals that we actually hold, nor why we hold them. It is much more difficult to understand what we say before saying it than it is to say something that we really don’t understand.
Politics may be rhetorical by nature, but they are meaningless without the ability of society to understand the underlying ideals that are expressed by politics. As Mill is also quoted as saying, if we don’t educate ourselves, we deserve what we get.