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Market Liberals vs. Conservatives

Chet Bowers writes that the Republican Party is not conservative. Rather, it is better characterized as promoting market liberalism. Liberalism, too, promotes the same thing. Is it any wonder that many progressives vote, usually Democratic, with a sigh of resignation, for the lesser of two evils? I’ve taken a list of characteristics of market liberals and genuine conservatives, as defined by Bowers, from an essay by Rolf Jucker, entitled EcoJustice Education: Communal Learning Beyond Capitalism. It can be found on the EcoJustice Education website. Because of the limits of my blog template, I had to list the characteristics of the Market Liberal first, followed by the characteristics of the Conservative. To fully grasp what Bowers is writing about, contrast each one in order – the first characteristic of a Market Liberal compared with the first characteristic of a Conservative. Continue through the list. Or read the essay from which this excerpt is taken. The number of characteristics is the same for each. Keep in mind that, to Bowers, a Market Liberal encompasses just about everyone today. Sure, some progressives try to mix and match by agreeing with characteristics from the Market Liberal and Conservative categories, but Bowers says that this is not possible – you cannot place yourself in both categories and continue to have a coherent political philosophy – precisely the confusion that so many progressives find themselves in. Market Liberals, on the other hand, reject just about every single characteristic of a Conservative. Interesting, eh? Interesting, too, that many progressives (Market Liberals) think that Wendell Berry, who would agree with Bowers’ definition of a Conservative, is a neo-Luddite. One advantage of progressives adopting Bowers’ definition of a Conservative would be that such an action, if widespread, would highlight the fact that Market Liberals are self-centered regressives who have enlisted religious extremists to further their agenda. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

Characteristics of a Market Liberal

Everything goes, irrespective of consequences for others, nature and future generations

Economic growth is non-negotiable

Expansion; the more the better

GDP as a measure of success

Living in the moment, 3 months profit time; apres nous la deluge

God has given us the Earth to exploit it

Consumption is always good

Speed, mass

Monoculture (of products, media, mind)

Transnational corporations, mergers, the bigger the better

Global dominance

World trade


Industrialized production

Industrialized agriculture

Private motor car the norm

Fossil-fuel dependent energy supply

Decisions about life-style, resource use, technological, economic, political and ecological direction of society taken far removed from affected people: UN, US, G8, EU, TNCs, Human Rights Court, etc.

American way of life as global ideal

High-tech, high energy, high mass

Liberalized market economy as master discourse

The winner takes all

Private property

Limitless freedom of the strong

Power equals freedom

Technology determines way of life

Ecological overshoot of the planet’s ability to sustain humankind

Characteristics of a Conservative

Nothing goes, except if it is compatible with ecojustice criteria

Zero material growth; growth in terms of quality and fulfillment

Respecting limits, less is more, sufficiency

Holistic set of sustainability criteria to determine success

Living with respect to a seven generation time frame, planning for the future, precautionary principle

We are stewards who keep the Earth in good health for future generations

Consumption for satisfying basic human needs for food, shelter and clothing is good, but any other consumption is only okay if in line with sustainability principles

Slowness, quality

Diversity (of culture, languages, models of social organization)

Small is beautiful, human scale

Local democracy

Local and regional trade

Specialized local shops

High quality craftsmanship

Work-intensive, local organic agriculture

Well functioning public transport system the norm, private motor car the rare exception

Localized, diversified renewable energy production by users

Self-determination, self-management and mutual aid in all areas

Sustainable indigenous and/or subsistence communities as yardstick

Low-tech, low energy, high quality

Society and economy dependent on subsystems of life-support system planet Earth

Equity as sharing: there is no right to inequitable resource use by some

Ecosystem services belong to the Commons: redefining property as stewardship

Freedom within the limits of sustainability principles; not infringing freedom of others, nature and future generations

Freedom from illegitimate power

Ethical principles of sustainable societies determine way of life; technology serves those principles or it is not used

Ecological footprint within the planet’s carrying capacity

3 Comments on “Market Liberals vs. Conservatives”

  1. #1 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on Oct 16th, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Now I know I’m tired and I read that twice but I’m still confused–aren’t the characteristics supposed to be the opposite?

    I just read an article somewhere, can’t remember where, that other countries have quite a few political parties, not just two and two extra fringe parties.


  2. #2 Jeff
    on Oct 16th, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    No, what he is getting at (and I know, for sure, that this is terribly confusing!!) is that both the Democrats and the Republicans are supporting an agenda driven by Corporate America that devastates the environment and cripples communities, world-wide. Instead, Bowers is attempting to gather all of the disparate ideas of the “alternative” communities and define them as “Conservative” – that is, they conserve proven ways of living and being. If you have never read Wendell Berry, I think you would like him.

    It is not surprising that you are confused – this muddled way of thinking was born during the Enlightenment and it has been continuously added to for the last 300 (or more) years. Bowers is a philosopher and has studied the writings of those he references – an accomplishment beyond the ability of most mere mortals!

  3. #3 june
    on Oct 17th, 2009 at 6:35 am

    Yes, “conservative” has been hijacked…much like Christianity.

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