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Friday, July 3, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

19. Corporal punishment, except possibly for small children, is wrong.

One ought to punish and to “rehabilitate” in the manner most effective and fitting to the person being punished. I agree that it is wrong to treat a rational man whose problems result from poor reasoning as if he were not rational. Yet, most crime is not a result of poor reasoning. “Irrational” methods such as lost privileges or even bodily pain might be more effective in retraining the soul.

20. All nations and peoples, including the nations and peoples of Asia and Africa, have a right to political independence when a majority of the population wants it.

As in the answer to question 14, I think that one must consider whether the rulers or the ruled are more fit to rule. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, it seems to me that Europeans should have left those peoples alone to live as they have always done in their stone age cultures. However, once the European powers colonized them, they ought not to have left; the white man’s burden was heavy, indeed. For the West bequeathed men’s weapons to the nursery, and such a situation requires that adults stick around to make sure that the babes do not get into the gun cabinet. If they wanted out, they should have returned the land to its savage condition, taken all of their adult items with them, and left the locals to return to a form of society for which they are fit.

21. We always ought to respect the religious beliefs of others.

I suspect that most everyone misuses the term respect. Respect connotes an orientation of admiration and high esteem. As such, we ought to respect only that which is respectable.

I assume that when people talk of respect, they mean that we ought to treat people civilly or with courtesy—that we ought to act with some level of decent manners toward others.

As such, I do not think that we ought to respect religious beliefs that we find false, perverse, or wicked. However, I think that it is good manners to acknowledge that certain things are held as sacred by others and to act accordingly. Perhaps, this includes some level of feigned respect, though circumstances should be considered. I think that it befits a foreign guest not to offend the locals in their own land by following their customs. If such a custom violates one’s conscience, then I think that one should try to minimize offense.

For example, were I in Japan, I would not respect pagan shrines and temples as if they were really holy, but I would feign some degree of respect because I recognize that the Japanese find such places hallowed and sacred. Furthermore, I think that those tendencies in the Japanese are good and worthy of respect, though I find them misplaced and imperfect. Perhaps, then, I would not have to feign respect since there is something truly respectable behind their religious views that I do not respect.

22. The primary goal of international policy in the nuclear age ought to be peace.

The primary goal of international policy for any state is to advance that state’s interests. Most of the time, it is in the interest of every state to seek peace, though circumstances might require other options, as I wrote in the answer to question 18. The only difference that the “nuclear” age makes is that now we must weigh the consequences of nuclear war in our analysis of costs and benefits, which are frightfully considerable.

23. Except in cases of a clear threat to national security or, possibly, to juvenile morals, censorship is wrong.

As in the answers to questions 2, 12, and 17, I think that communities may and ought to exercise censorship for the good of the community. However, noting that free inquiry is useful for the attainment of truth, there should be some “censorship free zones” such as universities wherein intelligent pursuers of truth may transcend the bounds of convention for the sake of something higher than civic harmony.

24. Congressional investigating committees are dangerous institutions, and need to be watched and curbed if they are not to become a serious threat to freedom.

Burnham’s test is a bit dated, and I assume that this question concerns the McCarthy era. Inasmuch as the police always need policed at some level, I agree that investigators ought to be watched. Yet, in a republic where transparency is a key to the integrity of the regime, I wonder how we can attain such transparency unless there is an open and fair method for investigating corruption and sedition. Congressional investigations seem less likely to be wielded as weapons for personal or ulterior reasons than other models for investigation. A committee made up of political adversaries seems to be a better organ for such investigation than an agency under the thumb of one man.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 3, Anno Domini 2009
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