Freedom and liberty: Liberals and conservatives have vastly different ideas

A few years ago, when I started trying to understand public policy and politics, one thing I tried to do was identify key differences between liberal and conservative thinking. I read a lot and wrote a bit. I lined up many sources of conflict between the competing philosophies dominating our nation and became convinced they tended to fall into a few categories. Here are the most obvious “mother issues” which tend to philosophically separate liberals and conservatives:
• The role of the U.S. government in our lives
• The role of the United States in the international community
• The definition of equality
• The definition of freedom and liberty
This article presents different opinions about the meaning of the last item, “freedom and liberty.” While some would include “freedom and liberty” in the first category, I include it separately. I do this because one’s understanding of “freedom and liberty” actually helps define feelings about each of the other three.
I came across an analysis by former Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein, that included this reference:
In his later work, (New York University psychologist Jonathan) Haidt has rightly emphasized a sixth moral foundation, one that conservatives and liberals both respect, but that they understand differently: liberty. He finds that conservatives are more likely to emphasize the right to be let alone, while liberals emphasize the rights of vulnerable groups, such as racial minorities, whose freedom requires (in their view) government support.
That leads me to the following statements contrasting the liberal, social justice view with the conservative view of freedom and liberty:
• Liberals see that freedom and liberty exist significantly within a framework of financial security—freedom from want through entitlement programs. Conservatives argue (often pretentiously) that freedom only exists if given the chance to achieve financial security on their own. They would also argue that a government financial assistance program, however worthy, achieves its goals at the expense of some aspect of freedom.
• Liberals tend to believe that freedom brings with it a sort of safety net to mitigate individual failures in life’s pursuits. Conservatives would argue that freedom brings with it the “freedom” to fail, and to have an economic structure amenable to someone bouncing back from those failures.
• A liberal philosophy would support the “freedom” that comes from eliminating external worries and concerns. The conservative would claim that any program that eliminates one’s worries is automatically imposing controls on an individual that seriously conflict with true freedom!
• I recently heard a liberal speaker say that the greatest employment and corporate opportunities come from strong involvement by the Federal government. This demonstrates the common liberal belief that the greatest tool for creating prosperity is government. For most conservatives, government is the greatest threat to creating prosperity. For conservatives, the last administration was trying to enlarge the impact of government, and that was in direct conflict with their concept of freedom.
• Some argue that the “transformational vision” of liberal politicians is that the government should be effectively in charge of the people, with a goal of guiding and protecting citizens. The conservative position is that the Constitution puts the people in charge of the government, and any variance therefrom limits freedom and liberty.
• Giving contemporary context and flavor to this discussion, liberals are fighting for sexual freedom—e.g. the right to an abortion; and freedom of identity—e.g. a self-defined and flexible gender identity. Conservatives would consider surrendering long-established social standards as having very little to do with true freedom.
These are difficult decisions to make and positions to take. Sometimes there are only nuanced differences. On which side of this debate do you fall? Making that determination will tell you a lot about who you are “politically.” You may be surprised!
Where do I stand? As a hint, here’s a quote that rings true to me:
The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.” – Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980)

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