Commenter “DNW” has a question:
How in the world could these [liberal and leftist] others not value liberty and voluntary association as the very premisses that made human life worth living? But they obviously don’t…
We now have a situation wherein the classic justifying predicate of this polity and our civil association – the preservation and enhancement of personal liberty – has been officially abandoned by one major party and a large portion of the electorate, in favor of a fascist scheme of state enforced social solidarity and life-energy redistribution.
I can’t speak for all liberals, “progressives,” or leftists. Now do they even speak for each other, because there’s a great deal of variety among them in how far they want to go to stifle liberty, and how much they value liberty.
In my own family of origin, for example, there was quite a variety of points of view on that score, especially if you included distant relatives. My own father and mother were garden-variety liberals (“liberals” as defined back then, which was not as leftist as now). But the very-extended family included leftists various and sundry, including those who were Sovietphiles and even a few later on who were Maoists.
Talk about fun! Family gatherings involving this larger group (which occurred quite infrequently) usually featured—after a few hours of conviviality—a degeneration into shouting matches over politics. I wish now I had paid more attention to the details of the content. But even as a child I heard enough to be both vaguely entertained by these arguments and repelled by them. The latter emotion won out, in part because of the arguments’ repetitive nature (nobody ever convinced anyone of anything) and in part because what the leftist branch was saying seemed so dogmatic, unreasonable, and manifestly wrong to me.
Those of you who lump together leftists and liberals may be surprised to hear that the arguments between the two wings of my family were so bitter (there were one or two conservatives, too, who had married in). But the liberals and the leftists were at loggerheads, the liberals believing in liberty, capitalism, and that the USSR was a totalitarian slagheap of a police state up to no good in the world, and the leftists believing that the true liberty lay in defeating capitalism, and that the Soviets were the greatest thing since sliced bread.
That was in the 50s and 60s, of course, and a little bit in the 70s as well. The mainstream of the Democratic Party, which my parents then represented, has moved to the left over the ensuing years. Some of the liberals I know have moved to the left with it, but some have not. And in the last couple of years, as the assaults on liberty have cascaded, I have noticed that the liberals I know seem to divide naturally into two camps: those who love liberty and to whom it is important, and those who do not and to whom it is not.
I don’t know the relative size of the two groups, because I don’t seek out political discussions with my friends and family; I don’t want get-togethers to degenerate into the useless, repetitive, unproductive arguments I witnessed in my youth, which they easily could, with me now as the sole conservative. But I know that those two groups exist, and I think that what differentiates them are (a) the person’s need to control others and/or society; and (b) the degree that the person thinks he/she can do so effectively and get the desired results.
Among most of my friends their motives are “good”—that is, they want people to be happier, healthier, and in general just better. Some leftists I know have the same motivation (I would add that most of the people who think they are doing good are also motivated by the need to feel that they are good people for wanting that). But many leftists—we’re talking about quite a few of the leaders of the movement, and certainly people such as Stalin—have a different motivation: they are motivated almost purely by the desire for power and control.
There is an unholy alliance between the two groups. The first is the much-larger pack of would-be do-gooders who believe that liberalism is the way to go about it, whose minds are formed by a combination of their families growing up, present-day peers, the MSM, eduction, politicians, literature, the entertainment business, and in some cases their “progressive” churches and synagogues. The second is the smaller but extremely influential group of leftist activists, some proudly out as unrepentant “progressives,” and some just quietly going about their business, some motivated by the desire for power/control plus the idea that they’re doing “good,” and the rest just wanting the power/control part.
Back when Mayor Bloomberg of New York was heavily engaged in banning Big Gulps, I had some discussions with a couple of liberal friends about it. Some were offended by what Bloomberg had done, although others were in favor. That was one of the strongest demonstrations I’ve seen of what I have come to consider a very important and somewhat invisible dividing line between those liberals who love and value liberty and those who do not. You might call them the non-statists (or perhaps the less-statists) and the statists. Don’t forget, too, that there are statists on the right, too, although in my experience there are far fewer.
But it was the Sarah Conly book that really crystallized things for me. Remember Conly, author of Against Autonomy? I can think of no better demonstration of the statist impulse plus the supposedly do-goody one combining to create a vile synergy. And who better to explain it all but 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 answer to my satisfaction, actually, 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 liberals who love liberty are for the most part voting for people dedicated to ending it.
[NOTE: I'm gratified to see that the majority of the Amazon reviews for Conly's abominable oeuvre are mostly very negative.]