Thursday, September 03, 2009

Don't Read This Boring Post on History and Politics

Would you agree that our ideas of government are greatly influenced by the history and politics of the Irish and the British? Would you agree that the modern ideas for what constitutes conservatism and liberalism stemmed from their roots in Ireland and England? And even if our modern experiences of conservatism and liberalism have gone through adaptions in the past fifteen to thirty decades, it's worth remembering the past, right?

Okay, so I'm still reading Trinity by Leon Uris, covering the Irish-British struggle (a mild term...) from 1885ish to 1915ish. The storyteller weaves together themes of industrialism, religion, politics, racism, and violence (military and terrorist). A very modern story.

And in these themes there emerges examples of who are conservatives and who are liberals, and what they stand for. Here is my summary from this novel (well researched as it is, it's still a novel) on general characteristics (not well researched on my part...yet).

Conservatives were those with power - either industrial, religious, or political. They were often the landed gentry, landowners who rented out parcels of property to hundreds or thousands of farmers. The Conservatives were the bishops and priests of the Catholic and Anglican parishes, and the pastors of the Protestant churches. They were the Lords and Counts who ambitiously joined the Industrial Revolution, reaping the fruits of capitalism for themselves. And these Conservatives used violence to protect their way of life, to ensure that their families would stay in power, and to keep the status quo as much as possible. A Conservative was interested in conserving thing the way they were as much as possible - and if they did "permit" change, it was only going to be in such a way that it induced a profit.

Liberals were those that sought to undermine the power of the Conservatives in an effort to bring reform to industrial crimes against humanity. It was Liberal reformers like William Gladstone that fought hard to enact labor laws which protected the masses against the entrenched industrial elite. It was Liberal ideals that sought to stem the flow of industrial pollution into the waters and the air of the bloated cities - infants, children, parents living in squalor. It was Liberal ideals that promoted education, that protected children, that tried to promote democratic ideals to the masses as a way to undermine the power of the few. Liberals also included people with power, those who forsook their family fortunes, who reformed their industries from within, who as pastors and priests joined the masses in inspiring reform.

I think that a hundred years later one can still find these strains of Conservatism and Liberalism at work in our country (heavily populated by Irish and British...). Conservatism and Liberalism was a more complex then what I outlined above, and it has become more complex now. But even the evolutionary complexity of these political ideals doesn't betray its roots.

So, for those of you who know your history better than I do, what am I glossing over or misrepresenting in my general characterization of Conservatism and Liberalism? If my summary is generally close to being reasonably accurate, should the Church step out of both categories? Have these two strands become intertwined so that modern Conservatism and modern Liberalism actually mean something very different today?

I write this in the spirit of one who is searching very hard to understand the times I live in. Any help you can offer up is greatly appreciated.

No comments: