By Dr. Jim Ferguson


Words have meaning, and are the only way to express thoughts in an essay which affords no additional communication from body language. Anthropologists hold that the development of language was a great leap forward for mankind. And since we don’t read each other’s thoughts -thankfully- language is the human vehicle for nuanced understanding of others.

A few weeks ago I described the perspective of conservatism in the essay Accountability. I gave  examples of some of the various types of conservatism because there is no specific doctrine of this philosophical principle. Liberalism is often used as a contrasting philosophy to conservatism, but for me this notion was recently challenged. However, before I go further we must “start at the very beginning…” as Maria in the Sound of Music advised.

Classical liberalism is a philosophy which arose during the 18th century. It’s fundamental perspective was an individual’s right to liberty and freedom as long as these did not infringe on someone else’s rights. (The proscription of harming another is an ancient philosophy known as ahimsa). Liberalism of our Founders’ era championed free markets, limited government, equality under law and private property. In The Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson borrowed from the 17th century Englishman, John Locke, who wrote of an individual’s right to “Life, liberty and property.” Classical liberalism was pro-capitalism, opposed to a welfare state and imperialism.

Unfortunately, the soaring ideals of The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution were subject to human foibles, and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century led to new forms of exploitation. Socialism arose to counter the abuses of unfettered capitalism and advocated the elimination of all private property and the collective ownership of all means of production. Karl Marx advanced an extreme form of socialism called communism, derived from the root word commune. Vladimir Lenin would later say that the goal of socialism is communism, with an elite minority who controls everything and everyone.

Another -ism which arose in the late 19th century is progressivism. Noted devotees were Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Again, unfortunately, passion and hubris intervened and progressives became increasingly unpopular with passage of the Federal Income Tax and prohibition. We’re still stuck with income tax, but thankfully prohibition was repealed. Soon progressives were losing elections so they rebranded themselves in the 1920s as “modern liberals.” Later the adjective was dropped. Though liberals today desire greater government involvement than conservatives, their love of country with constituted borders, freedom of speech and the belief of free markets persists. And like conservatives, liberals do not see the world as class struggle or men as different because of skin color.

I recently came upon an essay which challenged me and clarified the words liberal and “leftist.” These perspectives actually bear little resemblance to each other, though they are often misused as synonyms these days.

Have you ever had something pointed out to you and then, suddenly, you see it everywhere? Regarding the philosophy of the so-called “left,” the scales have been removed from my eyes, to use the analogy of Acts 9:18. Actually, the philosophy of the left is everywhere, and I never saw it until recently. The left advocates socialism and opposes capitalism. The left opposes free speech under the ruse of branding speech they oppose as “hate speech.” The left opposes the nation state and borders (examples – US, France, England) and champions the euphemism of “world citizen.” And the left sees everything as class warfare, even race. Leftists see America as racist, imperialistic, xenophobic, sexist and violent. They believe that they are enlightened and you should just shut up or they will shut you up. Leftists are the antithesis of democracy and are intolerant.

You might ask how this essay belongs in the Health and Well Being section of the Focus. Humans are complicated and there is more to our well being than our organs or afflictions. In this essay I’ve already touched on science, sociology, history, vision, communication and education sprinkled within an essay focused on politics. Politics is, afterall, the workings of the polis or the city-state derived from Ancient Greece where the first democracy arose. Democracy comes from the Greek words demos for people and kratia for government. And I believe learning is foundational to human well being.

I recently shared with a group of medical  students an admonition (Fergism) that they should “endeavor to learn something new everyday.” I learned two new words today. Becky and I are making our first wine from grapes we grew on our Thistle Farm. Like my garden, which couldn’t begin to feed my family, my vineyard is too small to make more than two cases of wine. It’s just fun and I learned that the grape juice before fermentation is called must. I also learned it’s necessary to add sugar to the must to “balance the wine,” a process called chaptalization. I was struck by this word’s similarity to the word capitalism.

Several years ago I read a book called “A History of the World in 6 Glasses.” Water is necessary for life, so the author began with beer, explaining that when grain was harvested and stored, it sometimes got wet and then exposed to wild yeast. And Presto! Fermentation happened and a prehistoric party quickly ensued. Grapes yield a smaller harvest, so in ancient times wine was often reserved for the elite, unless you were attending a wedding in Cana with the Master.

You may find it strange to learn that Arabic cultures discovered distillation and produced the first spirits. Remember, the Muslim prohibition of alcohol only came about with Mohammed in the 7th century AD. Whiskey comes from corn and rum from sugar cane. On the frontier, whiskey and rum are not perishable like corn and sugar, and spirits were often used as barter or currency. Coffee came with the Enlightenment and then tea with the British Empire. And finally…Coca Cola was invented by a pharmacist in Atlanta and captured the world!

A friend of mine opines that “you’re either growing or dying.” My corollary to his quip is “you’re either learning or forgetting.”


Humans are naturally inquisitive creatures. We are made in the image of God and imbued with reason, language and curiosity. Balance your life and wellness with a lifetime of learning.