Evan Soltas
Jan 16, 2012

What the Left Gets Right

Examining the strengths and weaknesses of modern liberalism

Occupy Wall Street
Thomas Edsall of The New York Times wrote what I found to be an extraordinarily thoughtful examination of the philosophical strengths and weaknesses of conservatism, both in its economic and social aspects. Since I found, as Mr. Edsall did, the response of the Heritage Foundation rather lacking, if not outright disdainful, I will do my best to answer his call with five compliments to modern liberalism, albeit from my idiosyncratic Republican perspective.

Liberals are alert defenders of mobility between socioeconomic strata and of equality of opportunity.
Liberals are quick to expand definitions of equality and justice to disadvantaged or stigmatized, as they have for black, Hispanic, or gay Americans.
Liberals are more able to appreciate when government policy can act in the social and individual interest--that is, they are not blinded by ideological aversion, although sometimes their level of comfort misleads them.
Liberals are better at finding a balance when rights come into conflict, such as weighing the rights of the unborn child with the woman's right to personal sovereignty.
Liberals are rightfully more suspicious of law and military, that is, they question the justice of "criminal justice" and idea of "national interest."

Here are five areas where I feel modern liberalism is particularly weak as a political philosophy:

Liberals too often lose sight of negative rights.
Liberals conflate inequality and injustice.
Liberals are too trusting of government, especially when it acts in its institutional interest, and are too quick to assume government must remedy a social ill.
Liberals fail to appreciate the complexity of the economy and society and the capacity of capitalism to be inherently just, making them overconfident in paternalistic, top-down intervention.
Liberals sacrifice too readily the individual for the societal "common good."