Liberty is a word that has become a rallying cry for both the left and right. Liberals evoke it in the name of their personal sense of justice, while some conservatives use it narrowly, to express their right to be free of moochers and freeloaders, and to impose their personal sense of morality. But liberty is more than a catchphrase to be pulled out of a politician’s pocket on the Forth of July. Liberty is the cornerstone of American identity, and its meaning must be defended as vigorously as the thing it represents.
At its core, liberty is the power or scope to act as one pleases. This absolute freedom is then limited somewhat when we agree to live socially, so that liberty comes to mean the power to act as one pleases, without interfering with the freedom of others. In this respect every law and regulation should serve the purpose of expanding overall freedom, and not curtailing it. If a law does not meet this simple maxim, it must fail.
Our current social order has moved far away from this simple notion. We regulate in the name of humanity, morality and the desire to control. We diminish liberty, little by little, because we believe doing so serves a greater good. But there is no greater good than the right and ability to be free.
A key component of conservative thought has always been to differentiate between government action and private action. Simple reason will tell you that we are “in it together,” and that “no man is an island.” These are simple truths of the civilized man. The liberal does not have the corner on humanity or justice. The real and often obfuscated difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals consider government to be the only legitimate arbiter of justice, and the soul provider of human dignity. The conservative on the other hand realizes that a government cannot create a right in one person without creating an obligation that must be borne by everyone else – an obligation, which carries the force of government coercion. Government mandated humanity is not humanity – it is coercion, and no amount of platitudes or high minded intentions will ever change that. Humanity can only be exercised by humans, who undertake such action of their own free will, and humane intentions. It is true, not every person will live up to the high standard of what is to be human, but certainly no inanimate governmental machine ever will.
The liberal would impose justice and humanity, through the inhuman means of government coercion. The conservative puts the burden on the individual, to create with their own free action the world they wish to live in. Only when one lives with the consequences of their own freely taken actions can one learn and grow.