September 06, 2005

Why I am Liberal

Liberalism is by it's very nature a broad church. The spectrum of ideas that it encompasses covers everything from the not very liberal Liberal Democrats all the way to Anarcho-capitalism (on the right of the economic spectrum) and 60's style communalism (on the left of the economic spectrum). Because of this diversity this is not, and cannot be, an explanation of why all liberals choose this path, just what brought me here.

Liberalism is a political system. Like all political systems it is there to create a society with particular moral attributes. So liberalism relies on a moral framework, and like all moral frameworks it is a human creation, and so has no privileged position to be considered better than any other moral system. So why chose a moral framework that leads to liberalism over all the competing ones? Since there is no absolute moral laws, for every action considered taboo in one framework will be accepted in another, the only way to choose between them to ask what society you want to create. Simply claiming that one moral framework, and so political system, is better than all the rest because some dead guy's invisible friend said so simply does not cut it.

Finding a framework

So what society did I want to create? I could not say a 'good' one or a 'moral' one as both of these require judgments based around some preexisting moral framework. But at this point I didn't have a moral framework, I was trying to choose one. The problem is to choose something that is good in itself, without reference to any moral framework or other external markers. I need something that the question "Why is x wanted?" becomes meaningless.

Luckily this ground is well trod, and by some giants such as Aristotle. He came to the conclusion that happiness is one of the few things that is good in itself. Other virtues you do because there results make you happy, but happiness is something want in itself.

So happiness is the goal, but for just those worthy few or for everyone? If just for the worthy then who is worthy? This is a value judgement and at the moment I had no moral framework to base it on. As I could not decide which individuals happiness should be targeted at the only option is to try to achieve the maximum happiness (summed across time) for the maximum number of people.

This too is not virgin territory as the previous expression is already contained in the existing framework of Utilitarianism. Some people reject utilitarianism as it requires that the happiness of everyone, even people they consider morally inferior to be taken into account. I had not problems in this way as at this point I was still searching for a moral framework and so could not find anyone morally inferior as I had no moral framework to judge their supposed inferiority against.

How to be happy

Just as there is no universal moral path there is no universal path to happiness. Some people find happiness in trees and flowers. Some find happiness with puppy dogs and kittens. But others find happiness in wrapping themselves in PVC and doing unusual things with vegetables. Some people even find happiness trainspotting. So how can you possibly make the maximum number of people happy when you cannot even know what it is that will make them happy?

The simple answer is you cannot, but what you can rely on that most people want to be happy. Given the choice between something that they know will make them happy and one that they know will make them miserable most people will choose happiness. And here I land at liberalism.

Give people the liberty to choose and they will make the choices for themselves that make them most happy, and from these collective choices emerges a society where the maximum number of people have the maximum amount of happiness the maximum amount of time.


Post a Comment

<< Home