A Liberal, a Conservative, and a Socialist

“I was reminded just a few days ago when Lord Lindsay died, of an address that he gave at Columbia shortly after he had become master of Balliol College. He began his remarks by saying, “Gentlemen, I should tell you that I am a liberal, a conservative, and a socialist.” Some of the audience were naturally bewildered, but Lord Lindsay went on to explain that he meant something which should by now be perfectly obvious, something which is implicit in what I have been saying about liberalism, conservatism, and materialism. He meant that as a free man endowed with independence and originality — gifts of nature — he wanted a liberal regime; as a propertied man, a student of history, and a political philosopher, he wanted to conserve some of the great institutions and great traditions that his own country and Western culture generally put at his disposal; while as a man of the twentieth century he recognized the needs created by technology and the rise everywhere of popular states, of universal democracy. He knew that new institutions — whether called socialist or democratic or anything else — must arise to meet the demands of community life. The occasion for them may be public hygiene or flood control or the regulation of the airways: one need not specify here (nor be systematic anywhere) as regards the purview of the new collective institutions. The important thing is rather to recognize that the three traditions of the Western world can no longer be taken as mutually exclusive choices. The problem is not whether to stay a liberal and fight the conservatives, or else join hands between liberals and conservatives to fight the socialists. The problem is to find a way of compounding what is livable in all three so that a stupid, doctrinaire socialism will not down the liberal individual; so that a stupid, doctrinaire liberalism will not let the nation and the economy fritter itself away; and so that a stupid, doctrinaire conservatism will not sulk and dream, and resist the forward-moving reality.” (Jacques Barzun, 1952, “Beliefs for Sale: 1900 — 1950”)