Do Conservatives Really Like Liberty?
Americans like to think of our country as the “land of the free.” We like to hold liberty high, as a value of great importance—something that is even worth dying for. “Live free or die” reads one state’s license plate. And, hyperbole or not, few would say that to die for liberty is foolish. Volunteers in our armed forces do it all the time.
But do Americans really thirst for liberty? Is it really a high priority? There is certainly reason to wonder. Even a quick look at the way we make new laws should give us pause.
It sometimes seems that what Americans really thirst for is having control over others. What we really like is to force others into conformity with our own personal values.
Conservatives vaunt their support of liberty and say liberals care too little for freedom. But are conservatives really any better—especially when it comes to what they call “social” issues or “moral” concerns? A recent survey of “conservative” periodicals suggests the answer is no.
“Social” issues or “moral” concerns can, of course, be matters for great divisions. They arise, typically, in areas where different people want to follow differing paths in the pursuit of happiness, to live their lives in different ways. The social “issues” arise when some people want to choose the paths for other people and then force those other people into conformity. To say that something is immoral is to say, in effect, “I don’t agree with that path.”
Some things truly are immoral, of course, like robbery, rape and homicide. But when supposedly immoral actions are not connected with obviously harmful consequences, the justification for control evaporates.
What is the difference between conservatives and liberals? It may simply come down to this: Different people have different ideas about how other people should be controlled. Liberals favor one kind of controls, conservatives favor another.
Americans may have a thirst for liberty, but there’s also a lot of unacknowledged agreement that it can be very satisfying to be the boss and limit the freedom of others. If the latter "value" is allowed to flourish, liberty soon will perish.