For some time I've been puzzling over the fact that liberals no longer value freedom as they once did. Two articles I read over the weekend began to explain to why.
In his essay The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty, Roger Kimball explains some of the unique attributes of the Anglosphere including the English language itself.
Why is it that English-speaking countries produced Adam Smith and John Locke, David Hume and James Madison, but not Hegel, Marx, or Foucault? “The tongue and the philosophy are not unrelated,” the philologist Robert Claiborne writes in Our Marvelous Native Tongue: The Life and Times of the English Language (1983). “Both reflect the ingrained Anglo-American distrust of unlimited authority, whether in language or in life.”
Andrew Roberts stresses the element of pragmatic skepticism that speaks English as its native language. “The unimaginative, bourgeois, earth-bound English-speaking peoples,” he writes,
“refuse to dream dreams, see visions and follow fanatics and demagogues, from whom they are protected by their liberal constitutions, free press, rationalist philosophy, and representative institutions. They are temperamentally less inclined towards fanaticism, high-flown rhetoric and Bonapartism than many other peoples in history. They respect what is tangible and, in politics at least, suspect what is not.”
So how did the huge change in core values come about?
To what extent have the epicenters of the Anglosphere—Britain, North America, Australia—abandoned their allegiance to the core values Alan Macfarlane descried in English society three-quarters of a millennium past: individual liberty and its political correlative, limited government? Take Britain. In a melancholy passage, the critic Anthony Daniels writes that
The huge change in British society, from a free and orderly but very unequal society to a highly regulated but disorderly and rather more equal society, came about because the ruling political passions and desiderata, particularly among the ever-more important intelligentsia, changed from freedom and equality before the law to equality of outcome and physical well-being and comfort. If freedom failed to result in the latter, so much the worse for freedom: very few people in Britain now give a fig for it. The loss of their double-glazing would mean more to them than the loss of their right to say what they like.
The second essay by Joseph Backholm explains Why the Left Abandoned Religious Freedom
When it passed in 1993, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was supported left-leaning Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. President Clinton, who signed it into law, called the bill one of his greatest accomplishments as President. A decade later they are now opposing religious liberty laws they themselves wrote. What changed in the last decade? Joseph Backholm explains how the value system of liberalism has changed:
While a belief in individual rights used to be the hallmark of liberalism, it has since been replaced by a commitment to amorphous concepts like “equality” and ending “discrimination”. While they never define those terms in a way they could be held accountable for, what is obvious is that their pursuit of those values leaves no room for people to disagree. After all, how can we have a tolerant world if people are allowed to do things that are intolerant?
This begs the question, what exactly has changed since 1993 that makes a formerly uncontroversial proposal suddenly so controversial? If RFRA was supported by Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, why can’t they support it today?
In 1993, the left still cared about individual rights.
The new left wants government to officiate all of our interactions to make sure no one “discriminates”.
So in pursuit of a more tolerant world, they ironically seek to arm government with the power to decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not. That puts them in historically uncomfortable company where typically everyone’s ox is gored.
In the process of looking for religious freedom protections, we don’t need to convince everyone to see the world like we do. What we are really doing is asking liberals to be liberals again.
UPDATE: Well, this summarizes it: When the bleeding heart becomes the iron fistPosted by Jill Fallon at October 7, 2013 10:42 AM | Permalink