Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Fundamentalism vs. Liberalism

I just realized that in two recent posts, one on class warfare and the other on the Web, I raised the issue of “neutrality.”

In the first instance, I was considering the neutrality of the state and specifically the liberal, constitutional state. If “equality before the law” is the ideal behind this state form, then, at least theoretically, the state should be “neutral.” Of course, no state is ever neutral; its laws and actions ultimately betray some kind of bias towards this or that social group.

In the second instance, I was talking more about a “safe” place, imagining that the Web actually represents a space that escapes the exigencies and conflicts that characterize the physical or geographical space we as humans normally inhabit. While the web can offer a kind of anonymous way out of (or way around) this world, however, it is inevitably embedded in this world and its various flows can and are regularly re-directed, surveilled and blocked by worldly powers.

I point this out because it reminded me that this question of neutrality is ultimately the central question dividing fundamentalism and liberalism.

The fundamentalist view says, “No. There is no neutrality, no ambiguity. The world is divided between good and evil, the righteous and the wicked, God and Satan. You are either for me or against me. You must take a side.”

The liberal view, on the contrary, opines,”The world is ambiguous. There are grey areas and there is much that is as yet unknown. Therefore, rather than seeing the world and its conflicts in absolute terms, we will instead decide on a shared set of standards by which we will determine what is what. These standards are universal and neutral and can be applied in any circumstance and, in fact, the more people we can engage in the application of these standards and the rational discussion of the issues and challenges we as humans confront, the closer we will come to establishing a just and peaceful world.”

So, fundamentalism or liberalism: Which side are you on?

Category: Ethics

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2 Responses

  1. I’m on the side of liberalism. The extent to which fundamentalists use language differently is important for liberals to understand though. A fundamentalist actually means something different when he uses the words “liberal” or “secular,” which makes conversation… problematic.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    I also agree with you regarding the relative meaning of words. “Liberal” is a great example. Classically, “Liberal” meant someone who advocated rule of law, limited government, and a free market economy. Today, people who advocate for that social structure more often than not call themselves “conservative.”