Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Being a Californian and thinking recently of San Francisco and the Berkeley City council, I've always thought it remarkable (i.e. worthy of remark) that the classical U.S. and Western European "liberal" is so enamored of national governments having a significant and ever-expanding, if not predominant, role in society.

After all, the experience of the 20th Century was largely that the greatest threats to individual liberties (and to life) came in societies in which governments took total control of not only the state (and often the economic) sectors, but also of the details of daily life - the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist China.  Whether one labeled those governments as Left or Right is probably irrelevant; the results were totalitarianism and horror.

So, why is it that "progressives," (the re-branded liberals, post the Mondale/Ferraro disaster) do not approach government expansion with the same concerns as conservatives?  

After all, probably far more liberals (defined for these purposes as those opposed to limits on free speech and religion, supporters of alternative or minority political parties, advocates of unfettered artistic expression and alternative social structures, such as Socialism, etc.) went to their deaths in the Soviet Gulag and the Nazi death camps, than ever did economic or political "conservatives."  

The correlation between governments that controlled almost all of a society, and the horrors of the 20th Century, is not perfect but it is very clear.

I'd think that the more cogent criticism of government expansion is not that of many conservatives: that it is costly, inefficient, likely to produce unintended consequences, destroys or punishes individual initiative and creativity, etc., all of which is often true, but that it is, from the lessons of history, a clear threat, and arguably the most potent one, to individual liberties (Ayn Rand's argument, after she moved from Soviet Russia to the U.S.)

A man from Mars might wonder why, then, today's liberals/progressives are not in the forefront of those concerned with an ever-expanding role for government in our society.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Liberal thought rests on the premise that the state is the entity most capable of exerting the power necessary for social change. No reasonable liberal will argue against the notion that an expanded government *could* lead to greater pain and suffering (such as in the examples cited). However, I would bet a solid nickel that they would argue that expanded government *could* lead to greater general happiness throughout society (Norway).

    For the liberal, the retort against these sorts of arguments – that a powerful central government is more likely to inflict greater suffering upon the people that would otherwise be the case - will always be that execution (pun fully intended) of the state agenda was insufficiently kept in check by the people (or some variant of that defense). That is, that the failed attempt to solve societies problems through creation of a powerful government was simply a matter of poor planning or implementation, fundamentally no more of a sin than trying to launch a rocket into orbit, but instead having it blow up on the launch pad.

    Their failure in thinking is this: We will try again. And again. And again. For the liberal, the solution to failed government is more government. We just didn’t do enough, says the liberal. A few more dollars here, and few more laws there, and it will all be fixed.

    American liberalism comes with a strange twist – the liberal values individualism, but rejects individual autonomy. That is, people should be free to live the life they choose, but only with the approval of the liberal mindset – and agenda. Should the individual stray from the agenda of the collective will of the majority, then government must intervene.

    It is a mindset that is fundamentally anti-constitutional. One of the many strengths of our constitution is that it protects the fundamental rights OF THE MINORITY – a dynamic that frustrates the goal of the liberal to shape the world the way she choses.