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10 September 2007 @ 11:04 am
 Americans most commonly think of liberalism in a political context, but liberal principles have a much larger and wider application. Liberal principles reflect a worldview that emanates from the very roots of modern consciousness, and affect our basic assumptions about religion and economics, as well as politics. The liberal worldview springs from a primal source in the human longing for freedom and dignity. The depth and scope of its effect means that liberal principles cannot permanently be suppressed. They reflect a deeply human yearning.

      I have argued elsewhere that a liberal perspective underlies most of what Americans treasure in modern society.1 The liberties protected by our constitution, the economic freedom of entrepreneurship and association, and the religious freedoms of expression all derive their energy and owe their genesis to liberal ideas. Not the liberal that is differentiated from conservative, but the set of liberal principles differentiated from feudalism. The foundations of liberalism emerged during the Renaissance as a response to the constraints of feudal power. Profound changes in human consciousness and philosophy followed, and these changes altered the way people in the West perceived the world. Liberalism defined a new consciousness, which is our worldview.

      In his book, A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber2 puts forth a grand framework for studying and understanding the individual and collective aspects of the human being. The development of organisms, individuals, and societies generally moves toward higher levels of consciousness. Wilber demonstrates that there is wide, general agreement on this notion from scientists and researchers across most disciplines of study. But the development is not a straight line; it unfolds in waves or lines, and includes different states and types of consciousness.3 Although development is a messy, fluid, overlapping, intermeshing affair, it is nonetheless real.

      According to Wilber, the essence of the feudal, Middle-Ages type of consciousness is domination by powerful people, gods, and archetypes; empire, honor, and glory; the early sense of self as separate from the tribe, yet not fully differentiated; righteous order, rigid social hierarchy, and literal belief systems.4 Material progress is won mostly by conquest.5 Religious experience is mediated. Different aspects are stronger in different locations at different times, but the general trend of society and consciousness takes this form. Honor, order, duty, obedience, allegiance—these were the psychic currencies of feudal consciousness, and they went hand-in-hand with a feudal church-state partnership and the economy of conquest. This medieval consciousness dominated the Western world throughout that historical period.

      Using his model, Wilber argues that a major development occurred in western consciousness with the Renaissance. Europeans began to differentiate aspects of being. For example, with the birth of modernity art, morals and science became differentiated.6 Politics, economics, and religion separated into their own spheres. We began to see ourselves in the differentiated categories of state, self, and society.7

      Renaissance philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) laid the foundation of modern liberal philosophy: reliance on reason and the pre-eminent importance of individual experience. “I think, therefore I am,” he said. Although Descartes was overly mechanistic in his view of nature and the universe, these two ideas—reason and the individual—developed as pillars of modern liberal consciousness.

      Modern liberal consciousness developed an increased awareness of the self, and the individual’s ability to know via experience. Thus, an individual’s own experience and empirical sensibility became a more trusted guide to reality than the blind trust placed in king, clergy or nobleman to dictate reality on the individual’s behalf. The Reformation was strongly influenced by this insight. Free enterprise provided the economic basis of the individual’s right to decide for himself, and liberal democracy enabled the individual expression of political will which would eventually overthrow the feudal system, the aristocracy, and later fascism and communism.

      In the individual the new consciousness was fueled by the rediscovery of reason. Science and art moved forward with a focus on creativity, questioning, and searching. The self became more individual and less group-oriented—less loyal, dependent, and dutiful, seeking expression in different ways; science and experience were found to be particularly adept at empowering such expression. People trusted what they could see, study, and reason for themselves, rather than obediently accepting what they were told to believe. Natural laws could be learned, mastered and manipulated. The original vanguard of the Renaissance flowed into the larger culture. 8 Out of it came a new way of thinking and perceiving the world—what I call modern liberal consciousness.

      The new liberal consciousness became the basis for a new way of life, a new way of relating to the world, and a whole new set of challenges, problems, and opportunities. Descartes, Newton, Copernicus and other scientists changed our perception of the world. The dynamic interplay between society and consciousness created substantial changes for both. The religious, economic and political structures were challenged, as were the limits imposed on personal education, knowledge, creativity, and brilliance. Modern consciousness emerged as an engagement with reason, law, individual achievement, and self-authority—the very essence of liberal ideas and principles.

      Americans will do well in our current political debate to keep in mind the difference between modern liberal consciousness and pre-modern feudal consciousness. He first engenders democracy, the second various contemporary forms of feudal power. These are not idle contemplations; what we imagine collectively is what we will manifest.

 
 
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07 September 2007 @ 05:18 pm

Okay, so I have given up on Maurice Dobb for now. The book was a bit tedious, and written in that scholarly, British, 1940s style language which became annoying.  

In its place, I am looking at The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics, for a fascinating perspective on right wing legal theory and criticism of the Supreme Court. Contributors to the book include Robert H. Bork, Charles Colson, William J. Bennett, James C. Dobson, Norman Podhoretz, and several other concerned moralists.  

I have only read the first couple of chapters. I admit that Bork was fun to read—not for the direction of his persuasion, but for the delight of his intellect. I sense principles of a sort underneath his arguments, and it would be fascinating to discuss with him today how he looks at the court which is a turning in a direction he essentially said was impossible. He wanted the court to turn in a more “pro-democratic” direction, but concludes: “The truth, however, is that I must end on a pessimistic note. The Court will not be reformed by persuasion or by changes in its membership. But the public appears supine, willing to watch democracy slip away.” Interesting statements, to say the least, given that they were published in 1996. It is not difficult to imagine one with a more progressive perspective uttering the exact same words today. 

I’ll try to get more into the substantive issues as I read further.

 
 
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06 September 2007 @ 10:35 am
Today’s blog writing time went into an article on Liberal Consciousness. I published it through OpEdNews.com, and on my own website at http://www.calltoliberty.org/guest-articles. Check it out and comment either here or there.
 
 
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05 September 2007 @ 11:21 am

I returned from a long weekend of R&R and contemplating life as an author. One thing about being an author: It always seems like everything else in life is more important than the work of authoring! And yet, nothing is actually more important. 

Realizing this new perspective, I have put my authoring work front and center coming into the autumn, start of schools for the kids, and so on. I experience this time of year as more of the “New Year” than the calendar New Year. It is a fresh start. 

So, I am working on the Free and Fair Elections Amendment book—a big project. I am hoping to get some input from others on the changed language, and we’ve opened a forum at the website (www.calltoliberty.net/forum if you are interested). The main goal is to firm up the language in a way that preserves the general sense of principles, yet is specific enough  so that it can’t readily be “defined away” by courts. Once done, the rest of the project should fall into place.

 
 
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My local radio appearance on Air America AM 950 went well. Progressives are pretty receptive to my message. The theme was not Call to Liberty and bridging the divide, but rather the Free and Fair Elections Amendment, which I proposed in my book. I announced on air that we will be starting a discussion on our forums about the wording of the amendment. The original wording was too general in many ways, and it turns out that several state and lower courts have already issued opinions defining some of the terms in ways that are antagonistic to our intent. Hence, there is need to get more specific. But instead of laboring on my own, it seems better to get input and real ideas from others who care about this issue. The forum starts next week (the first week of September).

 
 
 
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28 August 2007 @ 09:29 am

Sometimes when the news is really pertinent to the strength of democracy, I have to comment on it. So, if yesterday’ entry seemed a little different, please forgive me.  

I am still reading Dobb on capitalism. Although I have quibbled a bit with his narrow definition of feudalism, there is no doubt that he sees the same issues. Interestingly, he shows that the invention of the money economy was not, as some have thought, the start of capitalism. In fact, he shows how the money economy, in many instances, led to the intensification of feudal relationships, especially to extract higher tributes from the peasants or serfs. This repression appears to have led to many revolts by the serfs in the 12-14th centuries. Who did they revolt against? The repressive barons and bishops—i.e., the aristocracy and clergy, or the political power and the religious power—who were trying to extract the extra money. 

The point for my purpose is that the development of a money economy was not the cause of capitalism or even its defining feature, according to Dobb. He also hints at a separation he wants to make between free enterprise and capitalism, a theme I will wait to see if he develops later. 

By the way: I will be on local (Twin Cities area) radio today talking about the Free and Fair Elections Amendment

 
 
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27 August 2007 @ 01:37 pm

The architect of arbitrary rule is gone. All freedom-loving Americans should be pleased, no matter what party or persuasion you are from. Starting in Texas, going to the Oval Office, and then to Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez repeatedly and consistently advised George W. Bush toward actions that would concentrate executive power and undermine American democracy.  

No doubt many will decry his departure as a political victory or loss. The cause of his departure was lost on the American people in the details of “credibility” in his testimony and his role in firing US Attorneys. I am pleased that these issues finally led to his ouster, but those were not the source of Gonzalez’ corrosive impact on our democracy. 

Alberto Gonzalez sat at the helm of the worst abuses of liberty in America since the 1950s era of Joe McCarthy. From advising the president that he has power to make war for no reason, to using recess appointments to thwart Congress, to the use of signing statements to redefine the laws, to politicizing the administration of justice and using justice department offices to attack political opponents, this man undermined the Rule of Law and tried to establish arbitrary rule by a single “unitary executive.” Alberto Gonzalez was at the heart of all of this, and more. 

As long as George W. Bush is in power, any such victory for democracy will be temporary, as history shows he will attempt to thwart the will of Congress. At the same time, this resignation shows the power of a Congress that functions in its oversight responsibility. Today, Americans can be pleased. Not because Democrats don’t like Gonzalez, but because the system functioned, brought enough pressure to bear, and removed an energetic opponent to the Rule of Law.

 
 
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26 August 2007 @ 08:28 pm

One feature in the historical development of liberal society is how it developed along the lines of politics, religion, and economics more or less simultaneously. I was reading the first chapter of the 1940s book Studies in the Development of Capitalism by Maurice Dobb yesterday, in which he struggles with the definition of capitalism. The economic changes that accompanied liberalization in the West certainly involved capitalism, but Dobb makes some interesting distinctions. Most notably, he separates capitalism from free markets. Free markets, he notes, existed throughout history, and perhaps were more free without the capitalists. Periods of history we do not think as being capitalistic, including feudalism, still had many free markets on the local level.  

Instead, Dobb defines capitalism as that feature of economic organization where some people owned the means of production, and most others became wage laborers. This, of course, is a definition put forward by Karl Marx. Interestingly, he traces it back to the 16th and 17th centuries, right about the time that liberalization was wrenching the West with its new ideas, from DesCartes’ mechanistic universe to Locke’s contemplations of private property.

 
 
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23 August 2007 @ 09:44 pm
Hey there. New to Live Journal, but it comes highly recommended by some other writers I  know.

So, anyway, I am Anthony Signorelli, author of a book on American political culture called Call to Liberty: Bridging the Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives. You can check it out at www.calltoliberty.net. Anyway, I've been writing all my life--fiction, poetry, essays, articles, and now this book. Good ride. Fun.

I do a lot of serious reading. Today, for fun, I was reading Studies in the Development of Capitalism by Maurice Dobb. I know, my kids think I'm nuts. "Why don't you read something fun?" they say. But I am reading to learn and understand how our culture got the way it is, and what are the underpinnings of who we Americans are as a people. So I keep studying the history of economics, politics, and religion in particular. I'll comment on them tomorrow.