Loving Liberty is Not Enough
Many liberty-loving Idahoans know that the Left is gunning for Idaho. They sense there is terrific corruption and complacency in Idaho’s Republican Establishment. They respond by appealing to “liberty” or “freedom” or “the Founding Fathers” or the Constitution. This response is wholly inadequate, practically and in principle. The Tea Party days are over. We Idahoan conservatives are for a certain way of life, not liberty as such. We should start talking like it.
Liberty has been a conservative cliché for decades. Conservatives have responded to every expansion of government at the state and national level with cries that such programs encroach on liberty. And conservatives have won important and lasting victories with this plea, namely the enduring decrease in marginal tax rates on income at the national level. This ain’t nuthin’.
But it also ain’t enough. Liberty-loving conservatives often bemoan that Americans love equality more than liberty. Our government certainly undercuts the free market with an extensive welfare state. It has done so for more than seven decades. Every modern country has an extensive welfare state: liberty-loving Idahoans and Americans must come to grips with the fact that with the modern economy’s great prosperity comes an increased desire for welfare-state spending. It is a package deal. Wishing it were not so does not change the reality.
That, in any event, is not exactly our problem.
Threats to liberty come from many different places. Liberty-lovers are right to see government as a possible threat to personal liberty. But they ignore that private sources of tyranny can be just as much of a threat to personal liberty. Claiming “liberty” in the face of a non-governmental tyranny leads to incoherent and inhumane arguments.
Consider vaccine mandates. When hospitals require nurses or computer techs to have vaccinations, liberty-lovers rise up with indignation. I do too! But why?
Establishment figures like Senate Majority Chuck Winder claim to see this as a “liberty” issue—namely the right of employers and employees to bargain on terms of their contracts. Liberty-lovers do indeed embrace the idea that employers and employees should be able to negotiate the wages, hours, and conditions of employment.
At the same time, liberty-lovers think it manifestly unjust that people’s employment can be compromised by their “vaccine status.” Those against vaccine mandates have been heard to utter the famous pro-choice mantra, “my body-my choice.” Liberty-lovers can see taking or not taking a vaccine as a matter of personal liberty or choice.
Each side appeals to liberty. Why is one appeal to liberty just and right, while the other is not? The answer is deep and troubling to liberty-lovers. What we really want is liberty ordered toward the common good, toward a recognition of what threatens the common good at any particular time.
Another prominent example is de-platforming from social media. Here private companies such as Twitter and Google actively remove conservative or dissenting voices like Pres. Trump and the American Principles Project (a very effective conservative campaign outfit) from their platforms. This limits their access to audiences.
On one hand, as turncoat conservatives like to point out, these are private companies and they can choose to do business with whomever they want. Twitter banning the former president is no different than an expensive restaurant pricing itself into an upscale clientele. Youtube banning American Principles Project is like selling women’s clothing—a company chooses its customers by choosing its product. Liberty-lovers are in favor of companies being able to choose their products.
On the other hand, de-platforming limits the ability of Pres. Trump or American Principles to get their word out. It limits the range of their voice. Taking Twitter away from Pres. Trump limits the size of his audience through an action beyond his control. Liberty-lovers see this as a limit on his free speech.
People often use liberty arguments insincerely. The clever and mendacious gaslight liberty-lovers by using liberty arguments against them. This reveals our problem. Liberty-lovers lack a language to deal with these conflicts.
Liberty-lovers prioritize some liberties in some cases and other liberties in other cases, given the circumstances. And this prioritizing must be guided a standard determined by common good.
One of the great achievements of Pres. Trump was to show that conservatives should appeal to our common goods as citizens. His slogan “Make America Great Again” contained a critique of the conservative over-emphasis on abstract appeals to liberty. Pres. Trump insisted that the good of the country be used as the standard to judge policies like free trade, open borders and foreign wars.
The same standard be applied to our state politics. How can we create the conditions for people to pursue happiness? How can we create conditions for people to follow their natural duties and responsibilities? How can we lift burdens that prevent people from advancing in life? How can we restore robust public debate about the nature of the public good?
When liberty-lovers hear the words “common good,” they instinctively think “hold on to your wallet; here come the tax collectors!” Perhaps. Appeals to liberty have not and will not stop the spenders and the regulators. A Trumpian conservativism that emphasizes our state’s common good is the most needful thing.