Re-examining the axioms of modern liberalism – an introduction

Posted on April 13, 2011


When one looks at the US Constitution, it’s abundantly clear that it’s a product of a bygone era. The outlawing of slavery and universal suffrage are perhaps the most obvious examples, but there are other, less obvious examples. Would the authors have written the Second Amendment as they did if they knew the public might have had access to machine guns or military-grade explosives? Are bloggers worthy of “free press” protections accorded to journalists? And how would they have looked at the rise of corporate personhood and power? We can look to what the Constitution’s authors wrote and said in their own time for guidance, but ultimately we are reduced to guesswork. Furthermore, if we always rely on the brilliance of the past, we ignore our own brilliance in the present.

An argument can be made that it would be a good idea to reassess the totality of the US Constitution in a new Constitutional Congress in order to make our government responsive to modern realities. Given the political stagnation in the US today, the form and content of any new Constitution is probably impossible to predict and could easily be much better, or much worse, than what we have today. But even if you think an open Constitutional Congress is a terrible idea, the process of examining the modern shortcomings of our governing Constitution would still be a valuable endeavor.

I think it’s time to similarly re-examine the many axioms (a statement accepted as true as the basis of argument or inference”) of liberalism and how they relate to the modern world. Liberals and progressives have built great institutions in the US since it was founded and will certainly construct more in the future. But every so often it helps to examine the foundations to make sure that they’re still sound enough to build upon. And if in the process of the examination areas where the foundations have cracked and heaved are discovered, then that damage can be repaired or, perhaps in some cases, replaced with with a stronger foundation.

I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not foolish enough to think that I can identify all of my own liberal ideological axioms without help. As such, I’d like to use this post to solicit input as to what the axioms of liberalism really are. Please post your brainstorming ideas in the comments.

As a start to the process, here are some ideas of possible axioms that I’ve come up with. I’ve not bothered to attempt to prove that they’re truly axioms, that they’re inherently progressive, or that they’re globally applicable- those are tasks for later in the process – but hopefully they’re all no higher than the ground floor. And hopefully they’ll spark more ideas too.

  • Equality
  • Fairness
  • Dignity
  • Respect


Posted in: Politics