To be “liberal” is to be “open to new ideas” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.”
Given the above definition, can a true liberal be a promoter or defender of that most ancient flaw of humanity–war? Is such a thing as a “liberal hawk” logical or possible?
One of the oldest ideas in all of human civilization is the idea of war (and all kinds of violent oppression) as a way of resolving conflicts, during which, practically speaking, there is no way to be respectful of human rights and freedoms. History proves that “war crimes” and the killing of innocent people are inevitable in any war. Though war is often justified in terms of protecting “freedom” and human rights– “humanitarian intervention” is the euphemism– the means of war are inherently inhumane and stand opposed to many kinds of religious values, including the Christian call to “love one’s neighbor” and, harder, “love your enemies.” Nor is war democratic, even in defense of democracy. To kill people indiscriminately (like dropping bombs or invading cities) to “save lives” and defend rights is moral hypocrisy in which the ends are said to justify the means. Given the ancient, old-fashioned failure of war, and given war’s inherent violation of human rights, how can any “liberal” be anything but an anti-war activist?
It is now fashionable to make distinctions between liberal and progressive; a progressive is a more liberal liberal, or a left-liberal, or a populist liberal, etc. Then there is the “democratic socialist”–more liberal, or radical, I guess, than a progressive. But concerning foreign policy, almost the entire “left” side of the political spectrum are apologists for war, as long as war is not used too often or allowed to last too long in any one location.
There are, of course, various anti-war organizations that spring out of liberal or liberally religious sympathies: Code Pink, Peace Action, War Resister’s League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Beyond War, Religious Society of Friends, Pax Christi, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. But these are liberal fringe groups without much, if any, influence on the Democratic Party or most “liberal” members of Congress at present.
If the term “liberal” is no longer liberal enough to signify an anti-war perspective, I prefer to adopt the old term, once used pejoratively, of “bleeding-heart liberal.” This relates directly to the sense of compassion and Christ-like renunciation of violent means which can resurrect liberal as the all-encompassing intellectual and emotional word for truly humane and democratic civilization.