Born Liberal, Raised Right

One of the most important books I have ever read -- aside from Dinesh D'Souza'a Letter to a Young Conservative -- is Reb Bradley's Born Liberal, Raised Right. ( Bradley's argument, which I think is inspired, is this: We are all born liberal (and here he defines liberal as those who are "ruled by their passions," or are lacking self-restraint -- much like a baby or child), and it takes a conservative upbringing to rewire these natural tendencies. Unfortunately, most of today's young people (those under 50 years of age) did not have conservative upbringings. Even many who vote Republican didn't have conservative upbringings. "American parents, conservatives included, are increasingly raising liberal children."

There's simply no question morality in America has been declining for decades. Bradley points out that it is parents who share the greatest responsibility for this reality. While I couldn't agree more, I must admit I never thought about the issue with respect to how we are born vs. how we are raised. I know our upbringings are instrumental in how we view the world, but the idea of humans being naturally liberal is brilliant. Once you read the book -- no fair making a judgment until you read the book -- what's happened in America over these past fifty years becomes clear as a bell.

Here are the facts: "Heinous acts of casual disregard for life, unheard of fifty years ago, have become a familiar item on the evening news"; "Overall, violent crimes have tripled in the last fifty years"; "While crime is increasing, stability of family relationships is on a downward spiral"; "Academically, student success in near an all-time low"; "In public schools, the disciplined, orderly classroom is a thing of the past"; and "premarital and extramarital sexual activity has increased markedly."

Bradley goes on to explain that a society is "a reflection of the individuals that comprise it. Societies do not fail -- the individuals in them do. Consequently, the problem and its cure goes back to the individuals in a society. To solve a society's moral problems, the individuals who comprise it must be cured." At this very moment we live in a nation that's more polarized than ever before -- and much of the reason for this is due to the fact that people cannot agree on how to solve society's moral problems. Conservative and libertarian-minded people agree with Bradley's premise -- that individuals are to blame -- while liberals routinely point the finger at "society." As if society is a separate entity from the indivduals who comprise it, which is of course ridiculous. Society is made up of a bunch of people who act independently of one another. Therefore, what each of us does is pertinent to society as a whole.

To a modern liberal this is not so. A modern liberal believes we should all be allowed to do whatever we want with no interference or judgment from anyone else. In this way they are similar to libertarians (but only in this way, since unlike today's liberals libertarians have no interest in a country being run by its government). But this isn't realistic. There's no way to live in a society this large without being beholden to something or someone in some way. We used to call this personal responsibility. But personal responsibility has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

So what's happened to personal responsibility? Bradley's argument is that Americans -- at their core -- are lacking self-control, which is a "key ingredient" of maturity. Obviously maturity is needed for a society to thrive. We wouldn't turn our culture over to teenagers to run, would we? Yet that's precisely what Bradley suggests we've done. There's simply no question that young people today do not mature at the rate Americans have historically done. The average 15-year-old in 1900 is far more mature than many of today's 30-year olds. (The reason for this is too complex to address here.) The question isn't whether or not this is true, the question is, Why is this so? "Our culture is far more liberal than it was five decades ago," he writes. "How did that happen?"

Bradley concludes that "we, as grown-up children, are products of our upbringing. It was our parents who, by their style of discipline and training, shaped our views of authority and developed our outlook on life. We developed our worldview as a result of their direct influence or the influences they allowed in our life; i.e. school, friends, televsion, etc. Either by intent or neglect, by action or inaction, we developed our views of justice, personal responsibility, care for the needy, freedom of expression, personal rights, etc. Without question, parents are responsible for creating each generation of adult citizens."

Indeed they are, and just as parents who grew up in the 1950s were raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression, today's parents -- who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s -- were raised by Baby Boomers. And there is nothing similar about the values of the Greatest Generation and the values of the Baby Boomers.

These two different value systems -- one that emphasizes duty, honor, sacrifice, and personal responsiblity and one that emphasizes self-expression, personal identity, and unlimited freedom -- are responsible for the two different societies we've had. At one time, America was a unified nation. We still had two political parties, but we didn't have the polarization we have today. And that's because people who were raised in the first part of the century shared a sense of responsibility. They agreed on what was right and what was wrong. The values of the Greatest Generation, while they had their limitations, was what made America great. I'm sure many of us could find things to complain about the "old days" -- there was less tolerance and stricter gender roles, for example -- but our response was to throw out the baby with the bath water. Tolerance is fine -- to a point. Too much tolerance and we're left with a nation of undisciplined adults. A nation of Baby Boomer liberals -- who raised their children with a completely different set of values and expectations.

And the result are the folks we now have running this country.

2 Responses to “Born Liberal, Raised Right”:

  1. you make me ill. i have rarely heard worse. 'and the result is what we have in the white house'?!?! that is the most offensive things i have heard in a long time. like he's not even a person? wow. a thing? it's a good thing society is wiser than you are.

  2. I was referring to the many folks we now have running our country -- not specifically Obama. But thanks for the clarification. I made that change.