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The great dividing line: love of liberty

The great dividing line: love of liberty

Ever wonder how it is that so many self-proclaimed liberals and “progressives” don’t seem to care about preserving liberty?

Especially in the last decade or so, as the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has moved ever leftward and the assaults on liberty have cascaded, liberals seem more and more to divide into two camps: those who retain some love of liberty and those who do not.

The relative size of these two groups is unclear; my perception is that the first group is far smaller than the second. But the two groups exist, and what seems to differentiate them are (a) the person’s need to control others and/or society; and (b) the degree to which the person thinks government can do so effectively and get the desired results.

Many liberals state that their motives are “good”—that is, to do good. They say they want people to be happier, healthier, and in general just better. Some actually seem sincere in this, as well as being motivated by a self-serving need to feel that they are good people for wanting to do good. But some liberals and many many leftists, especially activist leftists, have a different motivation: anger, and the desire for power and control.

Back when Mayor Bloomberg of New York was heavily engaged in banning Big Gulps, a few liberals I know were offended by what Bloomberg had done, although many others were in favor. That was one of the strongest demonstrations of the sometimes-invisible dividing line between those liberals who still value liberty and those who do not, the latter being the outright and flagrant statists (don’t forget, too, that there are Republican statists as well, although far fewer).

You may recall Sarah Conly, author of Against Autonomy, an excellent demonstration of the statist impulse and the supposedly do-good one combining to create a vile synergy. And who better to explain it all than Ms. Conly herself:

I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.

If you want to know how a person can justify such tyranny to themselves, that’s how. How they can be so stupid as to believe it a good idea (assuming that Conly does believe it rather than merely mouthing it in order to get a lot of publicity and maybe even power one day) is another, more mysterious question. It’s a question I have yet to see answered to my satisfaction, but let’s just say that I’m beginning to think the desire for liberty versus the desire to control others might just be something innate.

The sad thing is that even those remaining liberals who profess to love liberty are for the most part voting for people dedicated to ending it.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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Excellent! I always tell my democrat friends that the democrat party is too authoritarian for my taste. That always seems to cause a brief moment of cognitive dissonance in their heads. If they try to argue the point, I have a long list of examples up my sleeve.

“We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.”

Actually, “in such cases” we need to be left alone to exercise our free will to make our own choices and our own mistakes — because that is how we learn and grow and develop the ability to make the right decisions for ourselves in the future.

“Progressives” (i.e. statists) believe that the “right” decision for everyone is the decision preferred by progressives; they also believe they can impose a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone — which is how we end up with debacles like Obamacare.

    NeoConScum in reply to Observer. | January 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I just love that “progressives” moniker the Lib-Left is fronting these days. Us historically minded types well remember when the CPUSA called itself “Progressive” while supporting the likes of Stalin, Mao, Yezhov, Beria, Pol Pot, Fidel, etc, etc, etc. 100+Million corpses of their own people in the ground and Lefties today still say that the “idea” and “intentions” were goooooood.

I definitely prefer to deal with the consequences of MY own mistakes, as opposed to being enslaved to the tyranny of somebody else’s.

Sarah Conly thinks otherwise because she is a slave. She was born to be a slave, or was raised to be a slave.

Another way to do it is to divide liberals into those who are liberal, vs those who are anti-liberal. These days the latter predominate by far.

And you didn’t mention how many of them are motivated by hate. Just as slaveholders came to hate blacks because of the great wrongs they had done to them, so leftwingers have come to hate the public for the great wrongs they have done to the people and for the wrongs they plan to do to them.

DINORightMarie | January 12, 2014 at 9:12 am

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Has anyone ever told Ms. Conly that she perfectly described slavery (see World English Dictionary definition), or a totalitarian (see #2) regime? Would she care?

Excellent post, @neocon! It tangentially expands on an idea I was reading about yesterday at Breitbart discussing “old radicals”….which made me think to myself, “Yes, but what about the Bill Ayers/SDS wing of ‘radicals’?” Your post is very timely, indeed – it is vital to analyze, to “know,” progressivism and progressives (aka leftists).

    Rule #1 of counter intelligence is to Know your Enemy.

    I daily see and hear many good citizens of this country who are in denial as to the nature of the enemy of the country as founded.

    In case you have not noticed there is a presently bloodless coup d’état underway in Washington.

      snopercod in reply to OldNuc. | January 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Yes, honest people have trouble believing the nature of the the evil which motivates the enemies of America, both inside and outside the borders. Long before Jihadists, Ayn Rand identified that the American left is motivated by death. It took me a long time to believe this, but I do believe it now. John Galt speaking to the statists:

      You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive. It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live. You, who have lost the concept of the difference, you who claim that fear and joy are incentives of equal power—and secretly add that fear is the more “practical”—you do not wish to live, and only fear of death still holds you to the existence you have damned.

    ldwaddell in reply to DINORightMarie. | January 12, 2014 at 11:12 am

    So when an activist court strikes down what a local or state legislature has said is the law, do you think the “justices” considered the natural law at all when they made that decision? Or did they consider what logic or rationality that state or locality had used to come to the conclusion that sodomy should be prohibited? If court did take these into consideration what gave them the authority to over rule what that state or locality had declared to be the standard by which they desired to live? If you think legislating morality is wrong then we will have to strike down hundreds of laws as most laws legislate so form of morality. Or does it all depend on whose morality is in fashion at the moment?

neo-neocon: Especially in the last decade or so, as the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has moved ever leftward and the assaults on liberty have cascaded, liberals seem more and more to divide into two camps: those who retain some love of liberty and those who do not.

If they cease to love liberty, then they cease to be liberals in any true sense of the word. However, liberalism contends with balancing egalitarianism and liberty, so liberals strike different balances. You don’t want to confuse trying to strike a balance with abandoning liberalism entirely. Of course, there those on the political left who place egalitarianism above liberty.

neo-neocon: But some liberals and many many leftists, especially activist leftists, have a different motivation: anger, and the desire for power and control.

Political leaders always vie for power and control, on the left or the right. However, the body politic tends more towards “wanting to do good”, on the left or the right.

neo-neocon: (don’t forget, too, that there are Republican statists as well, although far fewer).

Not that few. There are many who want to control private lives. Consider sodomy laws, which had to be struck down by the courts. Where do you think most liberals were on this issue? Indeed, that’s been the dividing line in American politics for some time; Democrats have wanted to regulate economic activity, but not private activity; Republicans have wanted to regulate private activity, but not economic activity.

    Uncle Samuel in reply to Zachriel. | January 12, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Sodomy is dangerous/deadly as a lifestyle and activity. Under Obama’s (and other Western nation’s) pro-sodomy regime, STDs have proliferated at an unprecedented rate. Gay rights and propaganda have increased approval and population engaging in these acts, but also increased the disease incidence and severity dramatically. Now MSM and bi-sexuals commonly have multiple STDs and symptoms that interact, exacerbating problems, complicating treatment. Making their lives ever more miserable and contagious….from syphilis to the new untreatable super-gonorrhea, and the uncurable 4H diseases (HIV, HPV, herpes, hepatitis) – our promiscuous culture has proved once again that ‘Father Knows Best.” (G-D, the Bible)


      And so is gambling (lottery), alcohol, atheism, driving while inattentive, eating too much and not exercising. We don’t need the government nannies with your support to tell us what is right or wrong with what we do, you Uncle Samuel are the whole point of this article. When we sin it is between us and God and we will be judged by HIM accordingly.

      If you are going to come back with some more tinfoil hat crazyness then I will let you know that I will defend this position, vigorously around the parable of the prodigal son.

    scooterjay in reply to Zachriel. | January 12, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Zachriel says: “Political leaders always vie for power and control, on the left or the right. However, the body politic tends more towards “wanting to do good”, on the left or the right.”

    That is precisely why the TEA party is around… return the “body politic” where it belongs, by the people, of the people and for the people. America is growing weary of our idealistic “betters” telling us what is good for us and what is bad. Yes, there is a group of Americans that have to be told but I am not one of that group. I resent being lumped into that category, and if the S ever hits the fan I will be holding my own. Have a nice day, mi amigo.

    Exiliado in reply to Zachriel. | January 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    You got it backwards because you are focusing on one and one issue only: sodomy. (I wonder why)

    The truth is, Liberals are on full throttle to protect 3 individual “rights”:

    1- The right to practice sodomy
    2- The right to practice abortion
    3- The right to practice drug use

    On every other aspect, they expect us to surrender our individuality to the collective, under control of the government.
    No, thank you.

when it comes to sodomy I prefer the refrigerator…..there is no gas passed when you pull the salami out of the ‘fridge!

PersonFromPorlock | January 12, 2014 at 10:49 am

Puritans have always understood that if authority possesses Truth, freedom is just an occasion of sin. And Liberals are the great inheritors of Puritanism in America.

You thought it was a coincidence that Massachusetts is so Liberal?

Obama is enslaving millions with his welfare payments. The underclass is expanding and they owe it all to the One. They’ll be grateful by continuing to support these socialist policies. So what if they lose some freedom. So what if they’ll be stuck in another generation of poverty.

Our country is in decline and it is all due to the social safety net being expanded to a hammock.

Those who feel that the gov can and should take care of everything have never looked at the qualifications of the individuals who will be doing the controlling. Our current gov is filled with people who want the control and have no clue how take on that responsibility. Those who have given this control to the gov have no right to make that decision for the rest of us. People too lazy to take care of themselves have no business deciding anything.

    Radegunda in reply to showtime8. | January 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I had a debate with a brother about whether it’s a problem when most of the people in government have essentially no experience of any occupation outside government. He thought it’s not a problem at all because government is very complicated and there’s so much to learn if you’re going to be competent at governing. His analogy was that the head of an auto company should best have decades of experience in the automotive industry.

    I pointed out that people in government are presuming to legislate and regulate matters concerning the automotive industry and many others, when they don’t have inside knowledge of the challenges facing that industry or any other — and they aren’t even aware of how much understanding they lack.

    Soon an opportunity to illustrate the problem came up: a news story in which people in the vending industry talked about the huge headache of the government’s requirement to post nutritional information for everything in vending machines so it’s visible before purchase. I mentioned also the absurd difficulties being imposed on pizza parlors if they’re required to post calorie counts for every single variation of pizza a customer could buy. (Do they also have to count out the pepperoni pieces on every slice of pizza so the calorie count is accurate?)

    I noted that such nutty ideas could only come from people who arrogantly think they know how other people should run their businesses when they themselves have no sense of what’s actually involved in keeping a business afloat.

Liberals believe that they are doing “good” by imposing their version of morality on the whole of society. The problem is that liberals can’t tell you what “the good” really is. They will tell you on the one hand that people are just high functioning animals with no more intrinsic value than a slug. On the other hand they will tell you that you must live according to their understanding of a healthy life (no soda, no salt, no trans-fat). But if I am no more than a high functioning mollusk then why must I be “healthy” ? Then they pronounce that anything that limits their freedom of choice to abort babies or have sex with whomever is legislating morality all the while claiming that legislating every other behavior is for your own good. The scream about tolerance while refusing to hear any other point of view. They are relativist who claim their is no truth but don’t know what to say when you tell them that they just made a truth claim. Liberals are for all intents and purposes, schizophrenic.

They do it so easily because most of them deny that any rights are actually being lost.

” … we need the help of others—-and in particular, of government regulation—-to keep us from going wrong>”

So, individuals are incompetent to manage their own lives, but once they get elected into government or appointed to one of those invisible bureaucratic posts, they magically acquire such superior wisdom that they can competently, flawlessly manage the lives of many millions of other people? Or does that only work if they’re leftists?

    Great comment, exactly what I was thinking. And yes, this magical transference of nearly divine wisdom upon election or appointment to government office only occurs in leftists. Of course.

Democracy(read Equality-Fairness-Social Justice)is 2-wolves and a sheep sitting down for supper.

LIBERTY is the sheep coming fully armed and ready to contest the meal.

Thank You, Founding Fathers. Uniquely American and Vastly Sacred.

To understand the two vastly different ideologies at work today – the Unconstrained and Constrained views, Thomas Sowell’s book Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles would be a good place to start.

With regard to how those of the Unconstrained View (today’s liberal) see bureaucracies and elitist knowledge as supposedly better than the common man’s understanding of himself and history, being deemed as too limited, read Chapter 4 of Part One: Visions of Social Processes.

Here Sowell writes:
“This modern promotion of the use of experts echoes a tradition which goes back at least as far as the eighteenth century, when Condorcet saw the physical sciences as providing a model which the social sciences should follow. Indeed, he used the term “social science”…

Before Thomas Sowell Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical who started L’Abri (circa 1956) in Switzerland, saw that our modern thinking was divided between the upper and lower story – the two story concept of truth or the fact/value split.

Values are private, subjective and relative. Facts are public, objective and universal.

Our modern culture is turning away from and denigrating values and is moving toward a scientific materialism without values or with screwed up values.

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning by Nancy Pearcey brings Schaeffer’s work up to the present (2010).

Pearcey offers examples of art, music, movies and literature and speaks about how our traditional culture is being deconstructed and being reconstructed as secular.

    One could also read Theodore Dalrymple’s book Life at the Bottom. You would get a first-hand account from a doctor about our modern culture. Dalrymple gives a raw account and a true diagnosis of the damage done by bureaucracies and the elites who tell us that they ‘know better’ than the rest of us.

    He will tell you that, these days, there are many who feel no personal accountability for anything they do (including murder) because we are all guilty of something.

    Or, moral relativity living off scientific materialism.

“(don’t forget, too, that there are Republican statists as well, although far fewer)”.

And at the same time, far, far, too many. It seems the majority of politicians fall prey to the US vs The Dumb Rubes virus once they touch down in DC. They see all the power, all the ability to control and they forget who gave it to them..

Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
–Robert A. Heinlein

“Many liberals state that their motives are “good”—that is, to do good.”

Or as C.S. Lewis put it,

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good
of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”