“Liberals and Conservatives”

The comedy begins when these two rugged (or “autonomous”) individualisms confront each other. Conservative individualism strongly supports “family values” and abominates lust. But it does not dissociate itself from the profits accruing from the exercise of lust (and, in fact, of the other six deadly sins), which it encourages in its advertisements.

The “conservatives” of our day understand pride, lust, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, and sloth as virtues when they lead to profit or to political power. Only as unprofitable or unauthorized personal indulgences do they rank as sins, imperiling salvation of the soul, family values, and national security.

Liberal individualism, on the contrary, understands sin as a private matter. It strongly supports protecting “the environment,” which is that part of the world which surrounds, at a safe distance, the privately-owned body. “The environment” does not include the economic landscapes of agriculture and forestry or their human communities, and it does not include the privately-owned bodies of other people—all of which appear to have been bequeathed in fee simple to the corporate individualists.

Conservative rugged individualists and liberal rugged individualists believe alike that they should be “free” to get as much as they can of whatever they want. Their major doctrinal difference is that they want (some of the time) different sorts of things.

“Every man for himself” is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy or for a panic in a burning nightclub, appropriate for sharks or hogs or perhaps a cascade of lemmings. A society wishing to endure must speak the language of care-taking, faith-keeping, kindness, neighborliness, and peace. That language is another precious resource that cannot be “privatized.” (2004)

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