Thursday, June 6, 2013

Liberty as a bipartisan issue

I hear a lot from liberals that we should not sacrifice liberty for security.  What they have in mind is government surveillance and detention in the war against terror, and they have a point.  Conservatives are too often willing to trust the government with expanded powers in matters of foreign affairs.

The irony, of course, is that the situation is exactly reversed in domestic affairs:  liberals promote endless economic restraints to guarantee security, while conservatives promote economic freedom.

Conservatives need to make the case for the essential unity of freedom in all matters, economic and political.  Liberals usually justify economic regulation in terms of its effects on other people:  they are willing to live with restraints so that others will have security.  Of course, they benefit from the security as well, but they usually pose the question in terms of compassion.  On the other hand, liberals always make the case against counter-terrorism measures based on their person situations:  they are willing to incur additional risk in order to guarantee their liberty.  If other people feel differently, well, those people are cowards and don't deserve a free government.

Conservatives could help their case by emphasizing the parallel.  Why should liberals be allowed to limit other people's economic freedoms in order to guarantee everyone economic security that not everyone wants?  Or, why should liberals be allowed to sacrifice extra security for everyone in order to maintain freedoms that not everyone cares about?  I strongly prefer freedom in both cases, but the important point is to show that they are essentially the same.

This is especially important now that the government has been shown to be spying on its own citizens.  Liberals are angry, and conservatives need to demonstrate that their anger should be directed equally against economic constraints.  Freedom requires sacrificing security in all realms.  Safety is not the highest good; it is a good, but it must always be balanced by freedom -- overbalanced, I would say, because I think most Americans agree that it is better to live free or die than to live in captivity.  Many political arguments can be reduced to freedom vs. security, and if they can be shown to be parallel, it will demonstrate the inconsistency of the liberal position regarding government power in different spheres of life.  (It also demonstrates inconsistency in the views of some conservatives.  We need more Republicans like Rand Paul and fewer like Lindsey Graham.  By emphasizing the relationship of all issues to freedom vs. security, we help Republicans realize the importance of freedom in matters of public safety and defense.)

The IRS scandal should further demonstrate to liberals the danger of a powerful state.  The IRS is picking on conservatives now, but they could go after liberals later.  The whole premise of not allowing the government to conduct unlawful searches is not that it typically goes after innocent people, but that it is open to abuse.  The IRS is at least equally open to abuse, especially since it isn't bound by normal judicial standards.

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