Everett Piper | January 11, 2009
Why I Am a Liberal
Words mean something. As human beings we stand alone in our use of language as our primary method of communication. We have confidence in our words and we resist any attempt to co-opt, twist, or manipulate their meaning.
Nevertheless, some words are used so frequently and frivolously that they suffer for lack of care, and as a result, their root, their origin, their intent, and their purpose are lost. Words like change and choice, green and gay, liberal and conservative. If left untended, words can be inexplicably used to defend concepts quite contrary and perhaps even opposite to that of their original intent.
So with full respect for the integrity of words, I offer the following premise: As a conservative I may be more "liberal" than many of my left-leaning political, social, and academic peers. Let me explain.
I am a liberal because I believe that the best education is one that indeed liberates. It liberates us from the consequences of those things that are wrong and frees us to live within the beauty of those things that are right.
I am a liberal because of my passion for a liberal arts education-an education that is driven by the hunger for answers rather than the protection of opinions, an education that is not subject to the ebb and flow of personal agendas or political fads, an education that is not afraid to put all ideas on the table because there is confidence that in the end we will embrace what is true and discard what is false.
I am a liberal because I believe in freedom: freedom of thought and expression and the freedom to dissent from consensus. I am energized by the unapologetic pursuit of truth. Wherever it leads I am confident in the words, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
I am a liberal because I believe in integration. Truth cannot be segregated into false dichotomies, but it is an integrated whole. The liberally educated person recognizes that we cannot and should not separate personal life from private life, the head from the heart, fact from faith, or belief from behavior.
I am a liberal because I believe in conservation. There are ideas that are tested by time, defended by reason, validated by experience, and confirmed by revelation. These ideas should be conserved. We are in fact endowed by our Creator with an objective moral understanding. I believe in nature and its natural law. We do know that rape is wrong, that the Holocaust was bad, and that hatred and racism are to be reviled. Even though we cannot produce these truths in a test tube, we hold them to be self-evident laws that no human being can deny.
I am a liberal because I recognize that when we exchange the truth for a lie we build a house of cards that will fall to mankind's inevitable temper tantrum of seeking control and power. History tells us time and time again that to deny what is right and true and embrace what is wrong and false is to fall prey to the rule of the gang or the tyranny of one. We need look no further than to the lessons of Mao, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, or Robespierre for such evidence.
I am a liberal because I believe in liberty. I believe liberty is the antithesis of slavery and slavery is the unavoidable outcome of lies: lies about who we are as people; lies about what is right and what is wrong; lies about man and lies about God.
Here is the question: Are we really free today, or are we now becoming more and more enslaved by the constructs of the Übermensch-the superman-the power brokers, the elites, the "fittest" who have survived in the political arenas of campaigns or campuses? Are we free to live within the boundaries of justice that come from the classical liberal education of the university-uni-verities, uni-veritas? Or are we becoming more and more bound by groupthink, political correctness, and populous power-what M. Scott Peck calls the diabolical human mind?
You see, good education-complete education, liberal education-must be grounded in the conservative respect for and the conservation of what is immutable and right and just and real. It should seek to reclaim what has been co-opted and to reveal what has been compromised. It should be free of intimidation and should honor open inquiry and the right to dissent. It should have confidence in the measuring rod of Truth-that unalienable standard that is bigger and better than the crowd or the consensus.
Education is the business of pursuing Truth. It isn't about constructing opinions. As Martin Luther King, Jr. told us in his letter from the Birmingham jail, it is the conservation of the immutable virtues that serves as our strongest justification for our ongoing struggle for freedom, liberation, and liberty. Without such conservative ideas, I am not sure anyone can truly call themselves a liberal.
OCPA adjunct scholar Everett Piper (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.