Beyond Liberalism: Some Proposals For The Sixties

Beyond Liberalism: Some Proposals For The Sixties

Like other dissenters, I can go along with a number of the specific proposals of the major party platforms (particularly the Democratic document) for meeting the domestic needs of the Sixties. But socialists and radicals, it seems to me, must challenge liberalism’s assumption that ameliorative measures are enough. We must go beyond liberalism to begin the task of reshaping the social structure so that it will be compatible with the goals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

American liberalism is a straddle between democracy and plutocracy: it assumes that a society of political and social equality can be erected upon an economic base of flagrant inequality. It asserts that the formal political equality of one man—one vote is in itself sufficient to ensure the responsiveness of public policy to the needs and demands of the majority, ignoring both the direct political power of wealth and the barriers to social and cultural equality that it inexorably creates. But democracy is more than a procedure for discussion and voting; it is a way of life, the way of sufficient equality of condition so that, as G. D. H. Cole said, “no one is so much richer or poorer than his neighbors as to be unable to mix with them on equal terms.”

Most liberals assume that competitive individualism and private initiative provide an adequate base for community life. I assume that industrial democracy must make decisive inroads upon the managerial hierarchy of modern capitalism, that the goal of individual fulfillment today requires a community-provided base of much expanded proportions, and that the optimum human use of our economic resources can only be attained through overhead planning. Paul Johnson’s words, although written with Britain in mind, are equally applicable here:

The function of Socialism is not to improve, but to change society. Having consented to operate within the framework of nineteenth-century society, Labour now finds that it has accomplished most of the tasks which this limitation allows. It therefore has the choice of becoming a party of government, concerned primarily with administering a social structure to which it has become reconciled, or attempting to change the structure.

To give concreteness to these differences in assumptions, I submit a group of proposals—illustrative and tentative rather than exhaustive and firm—that might stir further discussion toward a platform for a dissenters’ political movement.