Sunday, March 9, 2008

What is a liberal? (part 3-Fraternity)

In my first essay I laid out three central facets of liberalism – Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. However, the term fraternity doesn’t quite cover the exact concept that I’m using it to represent. Perhaps, after reading this essay, someone can find an English word (or any other language for that matter) that works better; if you do, please let me know.

Fraternity is the idea that all of humanity belongs to one family, that what happens to any one individual impacts all of us. It is the genuine concern for the health, safety, and general well being of all people. It is a concept taught by every world religion (including Mormonism.) The only people in Western society that I’ve heard actively argue against it are regarded as extremist (neo-Nazis, etc.) It is a minimum requirement of Western civilization that lip service must be given to the ideas of inclusiveness and caring.

So if fraternity is so universal, why include it as a distinctively liberal trait?

Liberal and conservative thought each hold many of the same principles, but it is not only that someone says a particular concept is important that tells you how that concept will affect their actions; you have to understand how they value it relative to other concepts. For example many liberals value tradition, stability, and security, and many conservatives value fraternity – but which way do you go when tradition, stability, and security, can only be achieved by reduction of fraternity? How quick are we to devalue the humanity of others? In the interest of contrast let’s take some of the more extreme examples. If we as a nation had seen the people of Iraq as equally valuable and “worthy” of life would we have been as quick to invade on such scant intelligence? Would we have been able to shrug off the mounting civilian death toll for as long as we have if those civilians had been in Los Angeles rather than Baghdad? Do we feel as bad about the deaths of children the world over from preventable illnesses as we do about the deaths on 9/11? Which would be a greater benefit to the world, ridding it of terrorists (which kill typically kill by the dozen, hundreds if they get lucky, and very rarely managed to get into the thousands) or ridding it of malaria (which impacts 300-500 million and kills 1 million a year and can stunt the mental and physical growth of survivors)? The total cost of the Iraq war has been estimated as high as 2.7 Trillion dollars, and is currently costing 12 Billion a month; the cost of one full course of treatment for malaria – 50 cents. When we love our neighbors as ourselves we are committed to seeking the welfare of all people and to valuing their welfare as highly as our own. Love and concern for the well being of others should supersede just about every other consideration and always be paramount in governing our actions.

Without a doubt, concern for the welfare of others is (or should be) fundamental to Mormon theology. In fact, in the Book of Mormon, concern for the welfare of others is listed, among other things, as a prerequisite for baptism: “…as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God…and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort…what have you against being baptized?” (Mosiah 18:8-10) Indeed the Bible (which Mormons also hold to be scripture) teaches that the entire point of all the scripture can be summed up in the commandment to love (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14), and that followers of Christ should be identified by their love for others (John 13:34-35.) A command is even given to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44-47) and that that love is not some vague sort of abstract wish that your enemies will “see the light” and become as righteous a you are; it is actively working for their benefit (Matthew 5:40-41, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Luke 10:27-37)
Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity together are the three main facets of liberalism. They are the highest ideals of a liberal society and inform an approach to the regulation of societal interaction that I believe is a required foundation for a free society. In my coming essays I will refer back to, and expound on each of these ideals frequently in an effort to show both the benefits they bring to society, and that it is not only possible to be a liberal and a Mormon, but that I believe that it is inevitable.


John Stanley said...

Well put, Chris. Jesus' concern for the poor and the outcast seems a lot more like liberal/progressive ideals than conservative ones.

Here is what Jesus would be like had he been a conservative supply-sider. Here is a link to "Supply-Side Jesus."

Jack & Danielle Monroe said...

I think it is just a little too smug or presumptuous or something to try and say that a particular political affiliation is at the core of Christ's doctrine. Anyway, in the end, I don't think it is a liberal program or a conservative philosophy making the difference in the lives of the poor. It is your everyday person reaching out to another neighbor, etc.