What makes a liberal?

Dennis Prager

8/12/2003 12:00:00 AM - Dennis Prager

Why do people hold liberal-left positions? (Liberal and left were once very different, but not anymore.)

This question has plagued me because I have long believed that most people, liberal or conservative, mean well. Very few people wake up in the morning planning to harm society. Yet, many liberal positions -- I emphasize liberal positions rather than liberals because most people who call themselves liberal do not hold most contemporary liberal positions -- have been wreaking havoc on America and the world.

How, then, can decent and often very smart people hold liberal positions?

There are many reasons, but the two greatest may be naivete and narcissism. Each alone causes problems, but when combined in the same person, they are particularly destructive.

At the heart of liberalism is the naive belief that people are basically good. As a result of this belief, liberals rarely blame people for the evil they do. Instead, they blame economics, parents, capitalism, racism, and anything else that can let the individual off the hook.

A second naive liberal belief is that because people are basically good, talking with people who do evil is always better than fighting, let alone killing, them. "Negotiate with Saddam," "Negotiate with the Soviets," "War never solves anything," "Think peace," "Visualize peace" -- the liberal mind is filled with naive cliches about how to deal with evil.

Indeed, the very use of the word "evil" greatly disturbs liberals. It shakes up their child-like views of the world, that everybody is at heart a decent person who is either misunderstood or led to do unfortunate things by outside forces.

"Child-like" is operative. The further left you go, the less you like growing up. That is one reason so many professors are on the left. Never leaving school from kindergarten through adulthood enables one to avoid becoming a mature adult. It is no wonder a liberal professor has recently argued that children should have the vote. He knows in his heart that he is not really an adult, so why should he and not a chronologic child be allowed to vote?

The second major source of modern liberalism is narcissism, the unhealthy preoccupation with oneself and one's feelings. We live in the Age of Narcissism. As a result of unprecedented affluence and luxury, preoccupation with one's psychological state, and a hedonistic culture, much of the West, America included, has become almost entirely feelings-directed.

That is one reason "feelings" and "compassion" are two of the most often used liberal terms. "Character" is no longer a liberal word because it implies self-restraint. "Good and evil" are not liberal words either as they imply a moral standard beyond one's feelings. In assessing what position to take on moral or social questions, the liberal asks him or herself, "How do I feel about it?" or "How do I show the most compassion?" not "What is right?" or "What is wrong?" For the liberal, right and wrong are dismissed as unknowable, and every person chooses his or her own morality.

A good example of liberal narcissism is the liberal position on abortion. For the liberal, the worth of a human fetus, whether it is allowed to live or to be extinguished, is entirely based on the feelings of the mother. If the mother wants to give birth, the fetus is of incomparable worth; if the mother doesn't, the fetus has the value of a decayed tooth.

There are not many antidotes to this lethal combination of naivete and narcissism. Both are very comfortable states compared to growing up and confronting evil, and compared to making one's feelings subservient to a higher standard. And comfortable people don't like to be made uncomfortable.

Hence the liberal attempt to either erase the Judeo-Christian code or at least remove its influence from public life. Nothing could provide a better example of contemporary liberalism than the liberal battle to remove the Ten Commandments from all public places. Liberals want suggestions, not commandments.