An open mind – an inquiring mind – is one of the best attributes a person can have. Being able to hear or read different points of view, different ideas, is the hallmark of a what once was called a liberal mind. To have a liberal mind was once viewed as the most valuable asset for any man or woman. The Oxford definition of liberal is: willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas. Note that a liberal is willing to respect or accept ideas that clash with their own. It doesn’t say that a person must adopt or convert; just respect others’ ideas.
Our founding fathers – the architects of the Constitution – all had liberal minds. They incorporated many great thinkers’ ideas into the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Many of those thinkers – Thomas Hobbes, James Harrington, John Locke, Thomas Paine, and John Stuart Mill to name a few – had values vastly different from the writers of the Constitution. Yet there were truths in their ideas that helped spark the founding documents of our nation.
It is important to recapture that spirit – to find the civility that we once held dear. We need to listen respectfully to those who hold different views and values. We need to make the term “liberal” signify respect for others ideas and an open mind. A great quote that echoes this sentiment come from Ludwig von Mises, a Viennese Economist who wrote extensively on liberalism:
“Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, [classical] liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression.”
We must reject the violent and hateful assault on free speech. It is respect for others and their views – as long as that speech doesn’t call for the physical harm of others – that is the foundation of our nation. But having an open mind is not only good for the country – it’s good for everyone. I have many friends who hold vastly different views than mine – and I consider them invaluable to helping me understand the world. I’ve even changed my mind based on the long conversations I’ve had with those friends.
To end this post, I want to share a quote from James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution and one of our nation’s greatest liberal thinkers.
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
― James Madison