Honoring the integrity of words

Originally published in the Washington Times on January 13, 2019.

At the risk of coming across as “captain obvious” I’d like to suggest that if there is one single thing the present culture war between liberals and conservatives proves it’s this: Words mean something.

Using words is a uniquely human thing. We debate and we argue. We make speeches, we deliver sermons and we teach lessons.

We defend and challenge words with emotion, passion, anger and indignation. If they deceive we call them lies. If they embolden, we call them inspiring. We use our words to build nations, define religions and inspire revolutions.

But in spite (or perhaps because) of such power, some words are used so frivolously that their intended definition and purpose is lost. Words like change and choice, green and gay, hate and love, left and right, toleration, integration and discrimination — words like liberal and conservative.

So, it is with unbending respect for the integrity of words that I’m proposing something that may surprise a few: I’m a “liberal” and that’s a conservative idea.

Before you claim I’ve completely lost it, hear me out.

I am a “liberal” because I love a good argument and because I believe the best debate is one that liberates. It liberates us from the consequences of ideas that are wrong and frees us to live within the beauty of ideas that are right. It elevates the agenda above feelings by highlighting the facts. It trusts the empirical more than the emotional.

I am a “liberal” because of my passion for the liberal arts. A classically “liberal” education was created, let’s say a thousand years ago, to educate a free man and a free woman; a free people, a free culture, a free Church, and free country. It was intended to be an education in “liberty.”

I am a “liberal” because I believe in freedom: Freedom of thought and freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent from consensus. I am not afraid of the 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. A true integrationist recognizes that we cannot and should not separate personal life from private life, the head from the heart, fact from feelings, religion from reason, 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 and these ideas should be conserved. We are in fact endowed by our Creator with certain self-evident truths. We do know that rape is wrong, freedom is better than bondage, and that the Holocaust was a bad thing. Even though we cannot produce morality in a test tube, we hold it to be an objective fact that no human being should deny.

I am a “liberal” because I believe in principles more than 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, Hitler and 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.

Ask yourself this question: Are you really freer today than you were yesterday, or are you becoming more and more enslaved to the ubermensch: the supermen; the power brokers and the elites who walk the halls of our campuses, our courts and our Congress? Are you enjoying more freedom to live within the boundaries that come from what is right and just and true or are you becoming more and more bound by group-think, political correctness and populous power?

Here’s the conclusion. At the end of the day, it becomes apparent that no one can truly claim to be a “liberal” without a conservative respect for what is immutable and real. If you don’t have a passion to reclaim what has been co-opted and to reveal what has been compromised; if you don’t have the courage to be free of intimidation and committed to open inquiry; if you don’t have the confidence to rise above the crowd or the consensus, you simply are not a “liberal”.

A true “liberal” believes in pursuing truth, not in protecting 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.”

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