Monday, February 28, 2005

The New Revolution: Libertine Liberal vs Classic Liberal

Historically, there has been both violent and non-violent revolution in all forms whether social, economic or artistic. One non-violent form of revolution occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when secular humanism advanced the ideal of liberality in the original form: freedom of thought and expression. It is during this time that some of the greatest scientific and artistic advances were made. However, for each action there is a reaction and one of those reactions was the creation of Calvinism, in itself a response to the outcome of the secular humanist revolution.

I believe there is a new revolution. Call it a counter insurgency.

Call it "Libertine" vs. "Liberal".

On to the inner sanctum for further discussion.

As in all revolutions, the ideal of the revolution can be transformed from it's original intent. In the advancement of secular humanism, what was felt, as a keen loss was the cultural mores that governed human relations within society. Secular humanism took liberal idealism and turned it into the liberalism we think of today, which is to be lacking in morals, inherently decadent and practicing debauchery. Or, the belief that all things are allowed with few restrictions as long as it did not hurt some one else. The writings of the Marquis de Sade represent in stark black and white what "liberalism" can become when it is divorced from the mores of society. Men and women who practiced sexual liberalism were referred to as "libertines" for a reason.

It was towards the end of the 18th century that secular humanism again became re-united with it's idealism of freedom and societal norms and morality began to see a rise again in the European continent. Societies began to address long festering problems, such as slavery, wars every few decades had taken an economic and social toll. The separation of the masses from those who ruled became ever more apparent. Not only in terms of economic and social status, but also in societal rules. While the ruling classes had become ever more "libertine", the masses had remained, in large part, conservative in nature. It was a separation that could not stand long when news and gossip traveled as quickly as the mail or a tradesman could travel.

The same libertine behavior had not reached the American continent in full force before that time. It was filtered through thousands of miles of ocean and the sheer need to survive in hostile territories that insured the inhabitants would adhere as closely as possible to society and its regulatory norms and morals. It also gave some vestige of normalcy far away from "civilization" and was fostered as well by the Puritan ancestry and culture of the settlers.

In America, the revolution that began in 1775 was about liberalism in the idealistic intent of the word. Freedom of thought and expression as it related to freedom from oppression by the state. In Europe, France in particular, the revolution became the classic revolution wherein the revolutionaries became the establishment and the idealism of the revolution was subjugated to the struggle for power. The revolutionary idealism, divorced from morality and self-control, induced anarchy, fear and The Great Terror, which allowed for the rise to power of a single man who gave the energy of the revolution a new direction: Napoleon and the conquering of Europe.

There is a difference between "liberal" and "libertine". We have, in the course of many social revolutions, struggled to define that line with varying degrees of success. "Libertine" behavior has and will always be looked upon askance because the connotation of "libertine" means the breakdown of society and the breakdown of society has not always been for the good of society. "Libertine" is to be free, not only in thought and expression, but from morality and societal norms. "Liberal" is to believe in and support the idealism of freedom of thought and expression, but to lend it support from a moral base.

Therein lies our problem with modern day definition of the term "liberal". Somewhere around 1967 the term "liberal" became confused with the "libertine" revolution of the counter culture. While the movement began in the grandest of idealism of freedom and equality for minorities, retaining its "liberal" idealism for a time, it quickly slipped its anchorage and drifted resolutely towards the "libertine".

We have been rebuilding the blocks of a moral society from the wreckage of the libertine revolutionaries for over two decades now. The idealism that spawned the social revolution, the liberal ideal, became lost and murky in the culmination. The word "liberal" became inexplicably married to the word "libertine" and, since then, we have sought out new words to identify the idealism of "Liberals", yet none seem to fit. The "neo-conservative" is neither new nor conservative in reality or ideology, yet the "neo-conservative" shuns the word "liberal", even in its purest form because of its connection to "libertine". At the same time, because of the term "conservative" and even "neo" the ideology of this new group of people is sorely misconstrued and misunderstood as right wing reactionary politicos who are bound to suppress the freedom of our liberal society.

Classic liberalism means freedom for the individual of thought and expression. It meant "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". It does not mean freedom from all rules or morals.

Libertine means freedom from morality and societal norms.

It is time for a new revolution. A revolution that takes back the word and meaning of "liberal" and leaves the term "libertine" exactly where it belongs: unacceptable.

The problem is in divorcing the words. How do you determine what is "libertine" and thus to be shunned and what is "liberal" and thus to be protected? What morality can anyone impose on society? Can it be or should it be legislated? How do you push a "liberal" agenda without resulting in support of "libertine" behavior?

A Democrat Progressive friend of mine, directly after the elections of November 2004 voiced their fear to me, "Do you know what you've done? They [the neo-conservatives] will roll back the clock fifty years! Everything we worked for will be gone!"

Of course, they were talking about things such as anti-discrimination, affirmative action, women's rights, Roe v. Wade, etc as if the new cast and crew of the legislative and executive offices were suddenly going to be able to pass laws and re-institute segregation, force girls to wear poodle skirts to school, demote all women to secretaries and force them to be bare foot and pregnant and locked into unfulfilling and abusive marriages. They also meant that the new administration would unbalance the seemingly balanced, psuedo peaceful foreign policies that kept us blind to the boiling mass of humanity right beneath our noses in lands that aren't really all that distant anymore.

Like old revolutionaries who became the comfortable establishment, it seems that our "progressive" friends of the "libertine liberals" would prefer that we hold our noses and continue to drink our wine, never looking to far up or down or left or right because we might actually have to see what we have wrought. If we drank enough wine, so I've come to believe, the picture would get fuzzy and the ideal of maintaining this old detente policy would seem clearer. Just like their ideological libertine ancestress of France, Marie Antoinette, who continued to play in her false idle of a village as a well dressed milk maid and was alleged to have said, in response to the lack of bread for the masses, "Let them eat cake," the libertine liberals of modern day history were equally surprised when the masses cried, "Off with their heads!" Theoretically, of course, via the ballot box.

And, just like a headless Marie, they are down on their hands and knees searching for their head and asking themselves what went wrong. Didn't they give the masses circus and bread? Weren't they liberal enough with the money and government programs? Who are these "morals" and "values" people? Where did they come from? They had "freedom" didn't they? Who needs morals and values? If they wanted morals and values, why don't they just stay home and practice them on themselves and leave the rest of us to our libertine liberal ways? Isn't that what they meant when they said, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?

This is where the libertine liberal eventually separated themselves from the general populace. For a long time, the libertine liberal has basically been able to cow society in general with dire warnings that movements even hinted that there may be something wrong with this behavior and the resultant outcomes (ie, unwed mothers, rising welfare and rising abortion) was a direct assault on their rights. They believed that they could address the problem with sex education in schools and planned parenthood clinics that not only offer precautionary assistance, but also post consequential abortions. Unfortunately, these are, at best, sops to the consequences and does not treat the main systemic failure.

Classic liberals believe that the individual should do as they wish, but that that freedom also means that the individuals takes responsibility. Libertine liberals believe that the individual should do as they wish and, whatever the consequences, we will help the individual figure out how to fix it.

What is required is that we look at and redefine the term "liberal" to mean exactly as we believed it to be in its original incantation: freedom of thought and expression, but not freedom from responsibility.


Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

The fly in the ointment of a culturally conservative (anti-libertine) utopia in America was Thomas Jefferson. He introduced a very canny test of any behavior to decide whether it was within the just powers of government to regulate:

1) Does it pick my pocket?
2) Does it break my leg?

No? Then don't ban it.

At first this was merely applied to religious speech, and most especially to CHRISTIAN sects who didn't adhere to the theology of the larger, more popular religions. "It does me no injury if my neighbor says there is no God, or Twenty. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

This seedling of attitude sprouted and grew to strong trunks and branches, and after Gerald Gardner invented Wicca off the top of his head in 1937, with the motto "An it harm none, do as thou wilt" (which in postmodern English means "Do whatcha wan', just don't hurt nobody"), that extended the stamina of the new libertine ideology even more.

Next thing you know, women are showing MORE than just a glimpse of stocking.

The rest is recent history.

While part of the stamina of the new cultural conservatism is rooted in a simple backlash against we libertines (and I classify myself as one who does adhere to a "just don't hurt anybody" rule of thumb for domestic policy) in those instances where things are taken too far (such as slamming "MY TWO GAY SWISHER DADDIES" replete with gay porn, into the faces of kindergarteners instead of just telling older kids not to violently gay-bash); and in some cases it could be attributed to a new surge of Christian zealotry and faith; but I think where the rubber really meets the road is that it's a sign that the floodgates are opening and blacks and Latins are crossing over to the conservative camp.

The stodgy, stoic black grandma in the movie "Ladykillers" is a good icon to use for the black side of the phenomenon. There is firm Christian belief in many sectors where such belief is all they have to hold onto and retain dignity, in areas of ghetto violence, etc.

And for the Latinos, well, Catholic is woven into their DNA, ever since Hernando Cortez whacked anybody in Tenochtitlan who dared say otherwise.

Yes, libertine behavior does need to scale back a tad and not be so "in your face". But then when you get the opposite extreme, well, that would be the worldwide movement we're fighting in the middle east right now.

Kat said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not worried about what people do in their bedrooms or privacy of their homes. I do think that there is a backlash coming from all the "in your face" libertine behavior.

You know when "leather shops" featuring harnesses and gag devices in their display windows reside next to the local pharmacy downtown, that's pretty in your face and pretty much starts people wondering what the hell we're doing.

This I actually wrote in a studious manner but I had a rant going on about sexual irresponsibility. The continuing rise of aids and other STDS along with the nasty advent of normalized abortions seems to point to a serious problem with people taking some responsibility in sexual relationships.

Again, I'm not talking about labeling people as adulterers or pre-marital sex being something wrong so much as the sexual revolution did not bring with it the responsible behavior.

I'm also concerned that we are sexualizing our youth at a younger and younger age. I'm not trying to be blind because adolescents are prone to experiment or just become more aware, but we did lose something in the respect and responsibility part here and that concerns me.

I don't think sex education in school improves it. I don't think teaching children about condoms and use in school improves it either. Government programs are not what we need.

We need a little re-awakening of the parental responsibility and social norms factor here, not federal budgets and an anonymous teacher trying to impart knowledge without the context of respect and responsibility.

My last concern is that we try to, as you put it, move back to the other extreme. Certainly, it won't change sexuality, just hide it away again. But, a little more judicious "right and wrong" and some recognition about the realities of human nature might go a long way.

Jason Rubenstein said...

"We need a little re-awakening of the parental responsibility and social norms factor here, not federal budgets and an anonymous teacher trying to impart knowledge without the context of respect and responsibility."

Exactly! Well said.

Liberalism requires personal responsibility; the very thing most (not all) libertine-liberals refuse to espouse.

Kat said...

tone..nice of you to stop by.

I think that's what I'm asking for. A renewed sense of responsibility. We can have that and freedom. We can have sex and be responsible. We can have everything.

I think also that we have not gone completely crazy, but honestly, there's just enough crazy out there to make you worried.

I wanted to comment on something Cig said, too, because I agree that the advent of larger immigration of more religiously adherent groups like latinos may be a bit of the impetus that is driving some of the newer version of conservative society.

I think there is a lot to be said for parents telling their children about the realities of their behaviors and setting some expectations.

I think that is where we may have went wrong as well. We as a society were so worried about the mental health of our children and trying out new forms of parenting that we forgot the simple things like discipline, expectations, responsibility.

I wonder if every generation worries about it after they leave their hell raising youth behind?

I recall the number of times my father or other adults would tell me not to do something or to look out for certain things because they knew, they'd been there and done it. Even if I didn't heed every word, I remembered what they said and it was always in the back of my mind when I was doing something.

Have we lost that? Are we too busy like they say we are?

We don't have to get crazy but we need to get something.

Of course, the minute you mention it, people get all wanky on you and start talking about "religious zealotry" as if that was the only thing that was reminding us to be concerned or driving us to worry about our culture.

Frankly, I don't mind a little religion. On the other hand, I don't really care for jerry falwell either. But, I think there are some great pastors in our community that are more savvy about the issues facing their communities and aren't going around talking about hell and damnation so much how to keep there communities on the right path, the responsible path.

But, that's just my take.

However it works out, a little personal responsibility needs to be the key words we focus on. Not intolerance, but understanding the consequences of choices.

The other thing, while parenting groups, community groups, etc are great organizing, I think it's about "personal" responsibility and I wonder if parenting groups aren't a crutch?

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I guess I'm still officialy a Methodist, though I attend Episcopal services when I do go to church. I'm afraid my default religion is Deist. (i.e., there's somebody out there somewhere, very like Sir John Gielgud, laughing at us. Oh, I'm Justthisguy at The Donovans, and other places.

Kat said...

Lutheran and Baptist. I'm not sure which one was more influential. My parents being of split denomination.

I believe that religion has important aspects that should not be denied or destructed by society yet I worry about the tone of some congregations.

However, I am reminded by the example of Aaron as they waited for Moses to come down from the mountain...

Sometimes, worshipping the golden calf can have dire results and I feel as the tribes must have felt, waiting for a "true" word and some sort of deliverence, impatient and thus forming their own guide.