Friday, May 9, 2008

It's the Liberty, Stupid!

As is the norm amongst the neo-con right, David Brooks' newest column puts politics above principle:

The British conservative renovation begins with this insight: The central political debate of the 20th century was over the role of government. The right stood for individual freedom while the left stood for extending the role of the state. But the central debate of the 21st century is over quality of life. In this new debate, it is necessary but insufficient to talk about individual freedom. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”

That means, first, moving beyond the Thatcherite tendency to put economics first. As Oliver Letwin, one of the leading Tory strategists put it: “Politics, once econo-centric, must now become socio-centric.” David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, makes it clear that his primary focus is sociological. Last year he declared: “The great challenge of the 1970s and 1980s was economic revival. The great challenge in this decade and the next is social revival.” In another speech, he argued: “We used to stand for the individual. We still do. But individual freedoms count for little if society is disintegrating. Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood — in a word, for society.”


As such, the Conservative Party has spent a lot of time thinking about how government should connect with citizens. Basically, everything should be smaller, decentralized and interactive.

While--unlike many of my libertarian colleagues and friends--I do actually have reservations relying solely on economics to guide our lives, I find that a dedication to the free market principles of Hayekian economics is the best thing politicians can do for the economy. (i.e., stay out of it!) Government "connect[ing] with citizens" is antithetical to that end and what Brooks proposes is to revert to failed policies in order to win over the electorate. I think we tried that already -- it was called "compassionate conservatism"-- and it's made an unholy mess of the country while undercutting the economic principles of the Republican party.

Way to go, Rove.

But beyond economics, I am foremost a civil libertarian. Benevolent government exists only in the minds of its proponents-- lest we forget that communism wasn't created as a tool of oppression. Its entire purpose was to help the poor and address the needs of the whole. In the course of moving toward that goal, individual freedoms and liberties were curbed and stripped.

Without a fundamental respect for the independence and freedom of the individual, the government--as an entity of concentrated power--will seek only to increase its role in the lives of its citizens: demanding more money, more liberty, and thus, more power from them.

The United States was not founded on the ideal of 'helping people'; it was founded on the ideal that gives the people (read individuals) the freedom to shape their own destiny. Brooks' 'what your politicians can do for you' notion flies squarely in the face of the guiding principles on which this nation was established.

Individual liberty--the concept which guided Thatcher, Reagan, and the Founders--should never take a back seat to political pandering. Otherwise, the debate between the American 'right' and 'left' will no longer be between individual liberty and the 'common good,' but simply how quickly we lose our liberties and which poisoned party will be most responsible.

UPDATE: Over at reason, Michael Moynihan takes a more intelligent and ideologically consistent approach to how the GOP could adopt the Conservative Party's more socially tolerant views here.

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