The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

Announcements   —   Contact   —  Home Page  —  Quest Articles  —  Open Forum  —  Photos  —  12 Trusts  —  Site Map
 

Rising Above Partisan Politics

Introduction

Paraphrasing Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

Everywhere we look, man is born free; yet everywhere
we find him in chains of his own making.

Part of our mission is to safeguard the integrity of Chivalry-Now as a cultural code of ethical ideals. Its core principles need to be preserved as well as built upon at the same time.
    In this respect, cynicism reveals itself to be our greatest enemy.
    We live in a cynical world, catering to a mixed hierarchy of faceless shopkeepers, ravenous wolves, and complacent sheep. Their dominant values work hard to divert us from everything we hold dear, including our quest for Truth. Many well-intentioned Quest Knights failed because of this.
    We need to understand that the flow of cynicism remains inseparable from the status quo, where illusion, superficiality and mass manipulation continue to flourish. Truth holds little priority in such a world, to the detriment of moral ideals.
    Nowhere is this more obvious than partisan politics, where conflict and self-promotion regularly push expediency ahead of truth.
   
Chivalry-Now must always transcend "conservative versus liberal" thinking. Unfortunately, we live in a climate saturated by partisan propaganda, each side vying for people's loyalty by instigating outrage of the basest kind, using patriotism, wedge issues and regional factions to solidify its base. The media not only plays into this. The power it wields, in its thirst for ratings, often dictate the rules and methods.


The Problem

The dynamics of partisan politics has evolved over the years. It can no longer be said that it is issue oriented, or even a clever competition for party dominance. It has become nothing less than an on-going struggle for power that can be likened to trench warfare (a lot of casualties, no progress, and no end in sight). Each side attempts to dehumanize the other with a barrage of spin, scandal-mongering, innuendo and even outright lies.
    Liberals have been pigeonholed as "bleeding hearts," whose only purpose is to "tax and spend."
    Conservatives have been charged with bigotry and being in the pocket of big business.
    These effective marketing ploys ignore the valuable contributions made by either side. By repeating them decade after decade, they completely distort the true meanings of conservative and liberal. Our political system suffers because of it.
    The original founders of the United States opposed the formation of a two party system for the partisanship it would foster. They feared that politicians would place the good of the party before that of the nation. What we see today proves that they were right.
    The purpose of this treatise is to examine the two party system using historical points of reference. It also challenges the reader's conscience to find out if the truth really can set us free.


Preparation

Nobody ever said that Chivalry-Now was easy. It is a true philosophy that challenges complacent thinking. That means recognizing and confronting our personal biases in order to see beyond them.
   
Unless we live in a cave without any contact from the media, each of us has been exposed to political propaganda that was designed to frame our vision of the world, according to specific agendas.
   
If we were raised in a conservative environment, we probably have strong conservative leanings. Chances are that there is little or nothing we like about liberalism, with its "let government take care of everything" attitude. We may see it as an enemy to our entire way of life.
   
Likewise, if raised liberal, we might feel an automatic rejection to anything labeled conservative, which we find unbendingly biased, closed-minded and resistant to change.
   
Either way, our views are tainted, divisive and sometimes hostile. If we enjoy politics, we probably listen to advocates we identify with, and turn away from all the others. On both sides of the equation, we find intelligent, good-natured people who would otherwise get along together fine. Is one right, the other wrong? Are both mistaken?
   
Most likely, their opinions have been shaped by marketing ploys purposely designed to separate them. Professional advocates and consultants use every rhetorical trick possible to keep it that way. The last thing they want is for people to think for themselves and form their own informed opinions.
   
Do you think you are immune to such deceptions? Many people do. Nonetheless, a number of politicians get re-elected when they obviously should not. Much needed legislation gets rejected for unconscionable reasons, while bad policies quietly get passed with little notice. Spreading false information remains unpunished no matter what trouble comes from it.
   
Political strategists know that they don't have to fool all the people, all of the time. The slimmest majority is all they need. Deception remains a viable tool in their arsenal. One need only count the number of times a speaker uses key words or phrases to know what their strategists decided for that day.
   
Political extremists dominate talk shows even though the majority of voters remain moderate. How do they deserve so much exposure? It's a business decision by the media, and nothing more. Controversy increases ratings. That our political system is irrevocably harmed is of no concern.
   
Politicians buy into this, despite complaints to the contrary. Like the media, they feed on controversy as well, until it backfires. Even then, the risk is worth it. Having a ready supply of indoctrinated supporters, blinded by wedge issues that never get resolved, provides a loyal base of support. They know that a significant number of voters will continue to believe something is true even after proven to be false. The faculties of reason only go so far when people surrender themselves to indoctrination.
   
We accept this as politics as usual. But should we? Democracy survives, even as a republic, on an informed citizenry, and that means providing honest information. What do we get instead? Spin. Misinformation. Double-talk. Skirting the issues. Purposely taking things out of context. To my mind, such tactics amount to treason.
   
In an attempt to rise above all this, we need to leave our preconceptions behind and see things as they really are.
   
Let's begin with standard definitions.

Liberalism: a political movement founded on the autonomy and personal freedom of the individual, progress and reform; government by law with the consent of the governed. An economic theory in favor of laissez faire capitalism and the free market. A 19th century political idea that championed individual rights, civil liberties, and private property. Principles, theories or actions that guarantee individual freedoms in society.

Conservatism: a political philosophy that favors tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from Latin, and means to preserve; to protect from harm or loss. It favors limited government involvement with respect to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. It believes in adhering to moral absolutes. It emphasizes respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism and opposition to sudden change.

Thanks to the derogatory nature of partisan politics, these definitions scarcely apply to today's usage of the words. Something important is missing in who we are because of it.


Classical Liberalism

The word "liberal" has suffered serious defamation since Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, which purposely redefined it. While this helped make his campaign successful, it maligned the meaning of the word from then on. There are staunch conservatives today who are trying to rectify this problem. Calling themselves "classical liberals," they claim to represent the original philosophy that the nation was built on.
   
Classical liberalism is what the founders of the United States originally stood for, a complicated system favoring citizen representatives and rule of law. This was something radically new in the world. It rejected tradition, such as that of the English monarchy, and borrowed ideas taken from Age of Enlightenment thinkers, like as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It espoused freedom, civil rights, and a free market economy. It was not a product of conservatism. At the same time as the United States was becoming a nation, English parliamentarian Edmund Burke, considered the father of conservatism, fought to safeguard the traditional rule of British monarchy. The last thing he wanted was a radical movement like republicanism changing things. He intended to preserve what most eighteenth century European governments were based on, an aristocratic hierarchy.
   
Consider how this liberalism was thought of by those who supported it:

George Washington (a message to American Catholics)
"As mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more able to allow that those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope to see America among the foremost nations in example of justice and liberality."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (writer; father of American Transcendentalism)
"We are reformers in spring and summer. In autumn and winter we stand by the old. Reformers in the morning; conservatives at night. Reform is affirmative; conservatism, negative. Conservatism goes for comfort; reform for truth."

R.H. Fulton
"The highest function of conservatism is to keep what progressiveness has accomplished." (These words clearly illustrate how conservatism and liberalism co-exist in natural relationship.)

Reflecting Western values dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, and early Germanic traditions, classical liberalism was still considered radical at its debut. America's Declaration of Independence and Constitution culminated from Western instincts that longed for freedom and citizen-based government. What drove our founders in this direction, and provided them with the vocabulary, was the inspiration of Enlightenment philosophers, who lauded the potential for human reason, along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Religious freedom, laissez faire capitalism, human rights, and a republic built on checks and balances, were all derived from this. Lumped together as a model for the rest of the world, the ideals were known thereafter as liberal democracy.
   
Conservative perspectives did play a part in fashioning the new America. Anti-federalists, in their scrutiny of the draft Constitution in favor of less centralized government, voiced strong opinions in the form of wholesome, intellectual debate. Here we find an early and very positive example of how these two ideologies can be applied constructively. As evidenced in the Federalist Papers and newspaper articles written at the time, each side presented their views eloquently and, while admitting the truths of the other, responded appropriately. Although Hamilton and Madison won he day and the Constitution was ratified, conservative sentiments continued to test and shape future developments with legitimate concerns.
   
Today's liberalism, while significantly different from its classical roots, still reflects some of the innovative spirit of the founders, who, in carving out a new nation, strongly advocated for human rights.


Conservatism

Conservatism is a political ideology that places its trust in tried and true solutions from the past. It cherishes traditions and resists what it deems as unnecessary change. When change is unavoidable, conservatives prefer that it is evaluated with a fair amount of caution, tested well, and implemented slowly.
    Conservatives are prone to defend the status quo, especially conservative or traditional aspects of the status quo. Collectively, they prefer empirical knowledge to rationalism, faith to reason, rugged individualism to any sort of dependency or victim mentality. Many distrust human nature, which they feel needs to be controlled by strong discipline. Even so, when it comes to freedom, they prefer a minimalist approach to laws and regulations, emphasizing personal responsibility instead. The idea of equality seems obviously marred; individuals naturally vary according to a host of variables, material success proving the superiority of some over others (social Darwinism). They admire entrepreneurial achievement. Success is considered well-earned and hard work is encouraged. People reap what they sow. When down and out, they are expected to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." When disaster strikes, it should be neighbor-helping-neighbor, not some impersonal, federal program coming to the rescue.
    Conservatives are known for believing in ethical absolutes, and rejecting the pitfalls of relativism out of hand. Ronald Reagan summarized his philosophy in a handful of declaratives: "limited government, individual liberty, and the prospect of a strong America." Simply put, and without a hint of relativism.
    While 43% of Americans identify themselves as conservative, this figure is misleading. Today's conservatism is divided into various subsets, some of which have little in common. There are social, cultural and economic conservatives, neocons, theocons, libertarians, and people who model their beliefs on past leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan.
    With so many factions vying for influence, the conservative platform, which once centered on limiting government powers and broadly maximizing freedom, now includes specific positions on abortion, gay marriage, support of big business, lowering taxes, gun ownership, and an automatic rejection of anything considered liberal.
    In the past, conservatives leaned toward isolationism and away from nation-building and wars of choice. Neocons, who were previously liberals who switched sides during the upheaval of the 1960s, believe just the opposite. They want America to flex its military power freely to protect what they feel are national "interests." They have little concern for cultural issues.
    The Religious Right, on the other hand, presses a cultural agenda that earlier conservatives would have balked at. Theocons are very vocal on intrusive issues like abortion and gay rights. Despite the intent of our founders, they also want the United States to be recognized as a Christian nation, subject to their interpretations of biblical law. That includes mandatory prayer in school, accepting creationism as science, and facilitating their own prophetic view of the end of time. Maximizing personal freedom is not on their agenda. They go so far as to say that the "separation of church and state," even as Thomas Jefferson explained it, is an unconstitutional misinterpretation.
    A seismic shift in the conservative Republican Party occurred during the Civil Rights era when then Democratic governor of Alabama, George Wallace, decided to oppose his party's platform in order to champion segregation. He successfully captured the attention of southern states with a thinly veiled "states-rights" and "anti-federal government" rhetoric. Running for president as an Independent, his hopes were dashed after an assassin's bullet left him crippled.
    His message survived, however. Protesting racial integration, Wallace Democrats migrated to the Republican Party, taking Wallace's agenda with them. Their efforts, often focusing on regional and religious issues, managed to reshape the Republican platform, at least in the south.
    Today's traditional conservatives recognize that a factionalized Republican Party cannot fulfill their vision of the future, that of limited government, lower taxes, and maximized personal freedom. They are trying to resurrect their ideals by withdrawing from a divided ideology of disparate issues, and appealing their message to new people.
    Traditional conservatism supports many great ideas that are found in Chivalry-Now, such as personal responsibility, self-development, a respect for tradition, and looking to the past for relevant answers to today's problems. Some might even consider the chivalric code as a collection of moral absolutes designed to resist the turbulence of relativism.


Liberalism

Today's liberalism differs sharply from its original philosophy. The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt instigated that change.
    President Roosevelt confronted a series of dire emergencies that threatened to destroy the country. The Great Depression. Sixty percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The rise of Communism. World War II, with America fighting in several fronts at the same time. Half of the men enlisting for military service being rejected due to physical unfitness; most had never seen a doctor in their lives. While liberal capitalism had reaped incredible benefits for the few, many in the working class lived in squalor, either unemployed or working in sweathouses. The American Dream appeared to be failing, and America along with it.
    Something drastic had to be done, but the government's system of checks and balances was just too slow. Roosevelt declared a state of emergency and assumed executive powers that would otherwise be considered unconstitutional. Boldly introducing his extensive New Deal agenda, including federal work programs, and Social Security, raised more than a few eyebrows. Regulating big business and the banking system to stabilize the economy pushed the envelop further. Conservatives started to feel that the direction of the country was out of control. Washington seemed to be taking a huge step toward socialism. To make matters worse, Roosevelt mobilized a huge military machine to confront Nazism and Imperial Japan. The powers of the federal government, the executive branch especially, were multiplying by leaps and bounds.
    It was true that Roosevelt's social programs were not based on careful planning. He was responding to the emergency of the moment because he had to. Because of that, his programs were welcomed by most people, but met with limited success. What eventually turned the economy around was the wartime economy, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.
    Despite all this, Social Security remained something special. It was a federally run retirement program financed from payroll deductions. Medicare attached itself to provide medical insurance for the aged and disabled. This was a major shift of direction for liberalism — but people appreciated it. It saved lives. It gave the elderly a dignified way to survive, and provided limited support to widows and surviving children. Raising the quality of life for millions of people, it introduced a level of security never before achieved, the kind of security that makes people feel more free, despite the cost. The status of the federal government quickly exceeded that of the states as being relevant to people's lives.
    Karl Marx had previously predicted that capitalist societies would fall apart due to class revolt. The Communist Revolutions in Russia and China seemed to verify this. To belay this possibility, the economy needed a large, satisfied, middle class, and this was something that that laissez faire capitalism had failed to produced. In fact, it was creating a new aristocracy based on wealth (the Gilded Age).
    To protect capitalism, New Deal liberals decided that liberalism needed to continue federal interventionism. How else could they hope to protect and expand a middle class from a changing, ever more dangerous world? Subsidies and regulations seemed the only course possible. That meant raising taxes.
    This monumental shift from liberal capitalism, was considered the crowning jewel of modern liberalism at the time. Capitalism had been saved, people were more secure and healthy, and prosperity spread while avoiding socialism. They felt that such success proved that government had a proper role in shaping the future. The era of bigger and bigger government had arrived.
    Wary conservatives protested with legitimate complaints. Costly programs were started with little testing, and failed to take cultural influence into account. On top of all this, a new relativism took hold of people's imaginations, brought on by science, that portrayed just about every vice imaginable as a treatable disease. People who believed in absolutes felt threatened.
    President Johnson's Great Society programs augmented the welfare system with generous increases for his War on Poverty. While this effort helped people, it also resulted in an unexpected recoil. Welfare caseloads were growing exponentially, whereas they were previously in decline. Sanctioned by the Great Society, welfare was becoming a way of life. This expansion formed a subculture that suffered not only from poverty but crime and addiction as well. While the intent of the new liberalism was laudable and understandable, its results were devastating.
    The turbulence of the 1960s compounded everything.
    Although liberals supported the Viet Nam War at first, that changed as casualties rose and no success was immanent. When Republican Richard Nixon took the White House, that was the clincher.
    Liberals united with war protesters to end the Viet Nam War, while at the same time adopting civil rights activists to end segregation. To the eyes of conservatives, they were supporting the radical fringe of the hippie movement, associated with drugs, the sexual revolution and protest riots. When liberals then sided with feminists to champion the Equal Rights Amendment, it was no longer a contest between political ideologies. To conservatives, it was a cultural declaration of war for the soul of America.
    The result is what we have today: liberalism promoting change to assure civil rights, convinced that the idea that a non-regulating government weakens the nation; conservatism, harking back to classical liberal ideas, believes that the nation has lost its way. Both opinions reflect the same debate that was raised prior to the Constitution being ratified.
    Mainstream liberals don't fully understand the upsurge of conservative criticism that rejects not only present day efforts, but their greatest accomplishments as well, such as minimum wage, old age pensions, food inspections, the 8 hour day, work safety regulations, protection of our environment, clean air and water.
    They've become more cautious than before — one could almost say, more conservative. During the Clinton presidency, the New Democrats proved themselves fiscally responsible, supportive of welfare reform and more diplomatic with their civil rights rhetoric.
    Philosophically, liberals tend to believe that people start off as basically good. Those who steer off course should be rehabilitated instead of rejected. This differs sharply from the conservative idea of fallen human nature needing strong discipline to fall in line, and even stronger punishment when laws are breached.
    The essence of today's liberalism supports a level playing field of opportunities that transcend wealth, race, religion, and bloodline. They derive this mandate from the Declaration of Independence's words "all men are created equal," which they view as mandate for civil and minority rights.
    As our founders knew, and subsequent generations confirmed, the goal of inclusion has not been realized. Slavery has been repealed. Women have gained suffrage. Laws have been changed to end legal segregation. All these steps are viewed as positive achievements, despite initial resistance by some. Most who were against them have come around to uphold them.
    As before, not everybody agrees that further change is necessary. Some vocal conservatives feel that the conduits of freedom are already available for everyone. Inclusion, if problematic at all, is just a matter of time or individual effort. Others still find groups they would deny.
    Liberalism has supported great ideas that coincide with Chivalry-Now, such as free thought, a strong focus on reason, helping those in need, challenging stale beliefs and replacing them with new idealism, individuality and compassion.


Extremes in Relationship

Conservatism draws its strength and identity from its protest of modern liberalism. Sidney Blumenthal said it this way: "conservatism requires liberalism for its meaning;" and "without the enemy [liberalism] to serve as nemesis… conservative politics would lack its organizing principle." Conservative extremists make no qualms about blaming liberalism for just about anything. Their constant barrage has effectively reduced the liberal vision from something humanely reforming, to something subversive, unpatriotic and prohibitively expensive.
    It doesn't have to be this way.
    Liberalism at its best seeks creative but moderate reform to enhance human rights based on reasonable assumptions. This is a good thing.
   
Conservatism, properly applied, preserves what is best from the past and restrains progressive tendencies to a more cautious pace. This is good as well.
   
Both ideologies are rooted in classical liberalism that liberals try to extend and conservatives try to preserve, such as capitalism, and human rights as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights and American Dream. Both sides modify their views over time, inching their way toward reconciliation, despite partisanship zeal.
   
For example, today's conservatism honors and defends civil rights for minorities that they refused to recognize in the 1960s. Liberalism became far more fiscally responsible in the 90s, and supportive of welfare reform. Neither side will admit its debt to the other out of ideological stubbornness, but the truth is plain. Classical liberalism unites them both as pillars of the same cause. There's no need for a tug of war, when cooler heads see things as they are.
   
We occasionally see hope in a dynamic called bipartisanship, when cooperation produces negotiated change that is sound and beneficial for all. When bipartisanship occurs, it is often praised as a political ideal, the way things were intended. While this sentiment is meant to encourage compromise and civility, it fails to deal with the negative side of partisanship, which continues to seethe beneath the surface.


The Dark Side

More often than not, the primary goal of each party is to increase its own power and influence. They accomplish this by increasing the number of their representatives. Seeing themselves more like natural enemies than groups of patriotic statesmen, each wants to dominate and silence the other.
    When a party holds a significant majority, it can please its base supporters by pushing through an extremist agenda, completely ignoring the wishes of the other side, and the vast majority of people in between.
    The votary, however, is almost evenly divided by party vote. Whichever gains power usually represents only a slight majority. One or two percentage points, often won due to wedge issues or candidate personality, cannot be construed as an ideological mandate. When such a mandate is enforced anyway, resentments are inevitable, thus furthering the divide. Most voters, no matter which party they belong to, are not extremists, nor do they want the nation led into extremism. It would be helpful if extremists could see themselves as they really are: a radical minority, on either side.
    When it comes to political corruption, party loyalty often means defending guilty members for as long as possible, hiding embarrassing truths, making graft a little easier to tolerate, and even sanction.
    People accept this as just the way things are — or worse, the way our system was designed to work. This acceptance is where we fail as constituents of humanity's greatest hope. We must turn this around and demand far more from politics.
    Instead, most of us either complain to ourselves, ignore politics completely, or buy into the dictates of partisanship. Doing so, we fail to accept the responsibility of true citizens. If we seriously challenge the ideas of political candidates, and demand more accountability, things would improve. Power would return to the people. Corrupt practices would fail.


Conclusion

We start by facing the truth: The answers to our problems will never be found in liberalism or conservatism. Never. Each side is too limited, committing itself to a constrained approach that refuses to accept possibilities that disagree with their basic ideologies.
    When we shirk our own responsibility for free thinking, our support for one extreme or the other merely fortifies a broken system.
    Common sense tells us that a healthy life embraces change and tradition, not pitting one against the other, so that every victory associates itself with loss. Human nature should be greater than that. It approaches problems directly for reasonable solutions, not indirectly for less meaningful results.
    Can the functions of a healthy state be so different? Must it degrade by becoming cynical and inhuman? If it does, it reflects the people who support it, who then carry the blame.
    It is time to reject media propagandists, clever campaign strategists, think-tank goons, and political pundits. These professional hucksters flourish on the assumption that the majority of people are easily duped.
    It is time we no longer delight in scandal and innuendo, as political strategists count on. Negative campaigning, prefabricated by so-called experts, replace serious discussion about the issues with media hype. Instead of presenting proper information to help people decide the best course to take, it offers a media circus that distracts us all.
    It is time we choose to vote according to each candidate's worth, rather than party affiliation or unrelated issues.
    Chivalry-Now is the product of an ancient code, which ties us to conservatism — but it also embraces the revolutionary spirit of the Enlightenment, rooted in liberalism.
   
Even so, it should never be seen as liberal or conservative, or even a combination of the two.
   
Instead, it is simplicity itself: the integrity of the human spirit questing for truth. No political label is needed.


The Answer?

Once again paraphrasing the philosopher Rousseau:

Everywhere we look, man is born free; yet everywhere we find him in chains of his own making.

Too often in life, we unknowingly forge the chains of our own ideological slavery, and then latch them to our wrists. We do this when we relinquish the responsibilities that freedom requires, when we accept the conclusions of others and fail to judge things independently for ourselves.
   
Many think that freedom is just the ability to do what one wants to do. There is another way to think of it, however. It includes the prerequisite of liberating one's true self first. That means disengaging oneself from predilections that we inherit from others, or from "group think." It means resisting those who would lead us astray through contrived rhetoric. It means finding one's own moral center and allowing it to breathe the sweet air of freedom.
   
The question is this: Can a person really be free if his moral center, which is part of him, is not activated? How can a partial man consider himself free?
   
You and I cannot, by ourselves, cannot alter the course of partisan politics. The most we can do is rise above it, do our parts as good citizens, and encourage others to do the same. We can write to our representatives and make our opinions known. We can hold them accountable in public forums or in letters-to-the-editor. We can partake in committees and introduce people to new ways of seeing things. We can challenge our friends, politely of course, when they express views that support conclusion that we know are wrong.
   
Chivalry-Now is more than just a code of ethics. It is a mindset that thrives on authenticity, that questions things to find their deeper meaning. In the search for truth, one does not have the luxury of taking side with the interpretations of others. Truth is what it is. We can only approach and appreciate it by our own volition.

Top


Special Features:

 

     
     
 

IFCN Established 2007
© Copyright 2006