Column: American politics should take a page from the past

People throughout the nation and throughout the world today marvel at the quagmire that is American politics, often citing party divisions as the root cause for the immense political problems facing America. And, oftentimes, this argument is accepted at face value and the conversation moves forward into nitpicky details regarding this party’s failure here or that party’s failure regarding some piece of legislation. But rarely is the argument of party division examined closely.

Going back to the beginning, American political thought was based primarily off of two enlightenment thinkers, Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. After them comes John Locke, Adam Smith, et al., but the two earliest thinkers laid the foundational groundwork for American independence and autonomy. And while their thoughts differed (Burke being conservative, Paine championing liberalism), the end result concluded at the same spot: advancing liberty. And for them, even though they took different routes to get there, they landed on the same decisions regarding politics of that time. Both men were supporters of the American Revolution, since, for Burke, it was an expression of American freedom after unfair subordination by the British monarchy and, for Paine, it was the first true example of liberal political advancement. So if we were to imagine these two men in Congress, deciding whether or not America should go to war, they both would have agreed on the outcome, even though it came from different backgrounds.

Today, this example of differential thinking is not expressed. Instead, there is simply a line drawn between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal,’ making each categorically wrong in the eyes of the other. But where did this thinking come from? It certainly didn’t stem from either Burke, the founder of conservative thought, or Paine, the champion of liberal ideology, since they promoted cooperation and ultimately an end to the same goal. And while they both believed that their philosophy was the better and correct route of governance, they certainly were not averse to working with the other. In fact, Burke believed that social change and achievements were built up over “countless generations of social trial and error.” Under this guise, it would be to the benefit of conservatives to allow liberal legislation to be enacted, resulting in one of the following: the legislation would either work as it was designed, promoting liberty and social advancement, which both schools of thought chase after, or would fail, showing that route to have been an error and thus allowing future legislation to revert to conservative thinking.

In today’s day and age, political thinking needs to come full-circle, enacting the principles of Burke and Paine as they were designed and avoid the steadfast disregard for all principles of the opposite party. For, in fact, this is the original disposition of political parties: to allow for differing ideologies to come together in order to create a more perfect union, upholding the views of everyone while advancing the state to the same end result of liberty and freedom.