Tim Dunkin: Why I Don't Call Them Liberals

By Tim Dunkin

In the previous installment of this essay, we saw five ways in which those who today are erroneously called “liberals” - in reality, they are “leftists” – do not deserve that label. In each of these, leftists oppose liberty and their beliefs and actions are the polar opposite of those that were found in classically liberal societies. This week, we finish this study by looking at five more areas where modern “liberals” do not deserve to be called by that term.

The Liberty to Live vs. The Necessity to Die

Enshrined in the very foundational document of American classical liberal sentiment – the Declaration of Independence – is the statement that life is one of our most basic, unalienable rights as human beings. Even before the pursuit of happiness, even before liberty, life is the birthright of every person on this planet. Every decent civilization in history has had some form of legal proscription against the taking of innocent life. Our classically liberal heritage went further in affirming this fact by recognizing – ideologically – that the guarantee of the sanctity of the lives of each member of the commonwealth was not merely a means of maintaining societal stability against the onslaught of lawlessness. In fact, the securing of the sanctity of life was the principal reason why men bonded together to form commonwealths in the first place. Without the ability to be free from worrying that a stronger neighbor might kill you to take what he wants from you, no person can rightly be said to be able to enjoy any other type of liberty or benefit.

Classical liberals apply this reasoning to the unborn and to the aged. They recognize that abortion is really nothing more than murder – period. It consists of the stronger – in this case the mother, or perhaps her boyfriend who doesn't want to be hassled with a baby – using their power to destroy the weaker, and to rob the unborn child of his or her inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Likewise, classical liberals understand that euthanasia, especially of the sort that is unfortunately becoming increasingly common in European countries such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, robs the elderly of their right to life – all because someone else feels that they are a “burden”, and doesn't want to be bothered. Every human being – and unborn children at any stage from conception onward logically must fall into this category – is endowed by their Creator with the inherent right to be able to even live.

Leftists, however, view life as completely random and arbitrary. In many ways, the modern anti-life movement is the ultimate expression of the social Darwinian, “survival of the fittest” ethos in which the strong can take from the weak, and can destroy whoever gets in the way. Indeed, the pro-choice and pro-euthanasia movements are positively fascist in their “might makes right” approach to life issues. The baby's inconvenient? Destroy it. Taking care of Grandma is keeping me from enjoying the lifestyle I think I deserve? Put her to sleep. Ultimately, pro-choice is nothing by an outflowing of the Nietzschean philosophy that life consists of destruction, and therefore is meaningless beyond the “will to power” whatever one desires.

Such a philosophy is completely alien to the classically liberal underpinnings of American civilization and liberties. Instead of individuals coming together in commonwealth for the good of securing each person's liberties through the artifice of good government (as posited by thinkers like Locke), the anti-life movement is completely selfish in its approach to interpersonal dealings, and turns man into a soulless animal who exists only to feed his appetites. It's no surprise that polling consistently shows that men are more prochoice than women – abortion allows men to get around having to care and provide for their “mistakes”. Abortion is the ultimate liberation for men who want to take advantage of women and not have to worry about consequences. It is a pure expression of “the will to power”.

Uplifting of Man as a Moral Agent vs. The Debasement of Man Morally

Classical liberalism has always recognized the moral component in man's makeup. Like it or not, morals are not something that can be gotten around. Man must deal with other men, and man must deal with his Creator. Doing so in the confines of a system which respects each individual as a unique, worthwhile moral agent is what makes classical liberalism unique. Our decisions have consequences, both for ourselves and for others. Our decisions therefore have objective worth – a goodness or a badness – that is not just arbitrary or personal in origin. Some things are always right and good, some things are always bad and wrong, and these distinctions are defined by our Creator.

One of the benefits of classical liberalism was that it encouraged man to choose the good and the right, because it was good and right. If we harmed other members of society through our actions, our deeds were objectively wrong. If we transgressed the natural, moral Laws set in place by our Creator, we offend Him as well as harming other members in society in the process. Stealing robs another of his property and the liberty to enjoy it. Murder robs another of his inherent liberty to life. Even supposedly and purely “religious” morals have the same effect. Adultery destroys the bond of marriage, and weakens this foundational support for the very fabric of society – the family. Homosexuality, by the very nature of its perversion, carries with it the ever-present specter of disease, violence, and mental instability, and therefore harms society as a whole.

Modern leftism, on the other hand, debases man morally. With the removal of all moral restraints upon behavior, man becomes (literally) an animal. By denying that there is any higher nature to man – implicit in the materialist rejection of the doctrine that man is made in the image of God – he becomes a slave to his passions and a hateful mockery of what he was meant to be. All morality becomes relative, contingent upon the transient passions of selfish people, rather than upon eternal principles of right and wrong. No liberty can flourish among such people.

Amoral man is a man without liberty – he has no self-government, no restraint upon his own behavior that allows him to live peaceably and fruitfully in civil society, and therefore cannot himself enjoy the benefits of the Lockean commonwealth of free men respecting each others' inherent rights. Instead, amoral man lives like he's still in the state of nature, grasping what he can, hurting who he must, often falling into the most debasing and self-destructive lifestyles.

Do you think I'm being grandiose? If so, then consider the state of many of our inner cities today, where the sense of man's moral necessities has been rejected, the family has broken down, and morality is completely subjective. They're cesspools. They're overrun with poverty, drugs, crime, illegitimacy, and other social ills. These ills don't stem from the lack of economic opportunity or systematic racism or classism. They come from the breakdown of moral restraints. They are the result of the degradation of man from his position as a moral agent, responsible for his decisions, and therefore acting as a rational, self-governing being capable of “doing unto others as he would have them do unto him”.

Open Political and Social Discourse vs. Restrictions on the Expression of “Socially Unacceptable” Views

One thing that has always characterized open and classically liberal societies was the willingness to allow the free expression of ideas which may not always be in line with the status quo, or popular with the ruling elite. Ideas could be exchanged, thought could progress, and the cross-pollination of opinions and sentiment could produce a vibrant intellectual life for members of such a society. Unpopular ideas, even fringe ideas, while not finding much traffic, could at least still be freely held provided they didn't seek to destroy the moral or political order. Further, unless one was advocating for sedition or gross moral turpitude or the like, a person was free to pursue their own activities – social, economic, religious, or any other. In short, unless you were pressing for something that was outright harmful to others, a truly liberal society adopted the “live and let live” attitude of true tolerance.

However, for leftists, holding the wrong views on political or social issues is a completely legitimate reason to destroy an individual's ability to function in society. This, for instance, is what “political correctness” is all about – it establishes a leftist norm of what is allowable, and anything beyond this must be silenced. Therefore, expressing the wrong views about race or about homosexuality or the like becomes a reason for reprimands on the job, or even the loss of employment. It becomes prima facie cause for legal persecution or other harassments by “offended” groups. Even something as simple as belonging to the “wrong” political party (i.e. the Republicans, or something else Right-leaning, like the Constitution Party) serves as a justification for social ostracism and punishment.

This is common on college campuses, where conservative students find their grades docked for writing the “wrong” things in a paper, and conservative publications have even been vandalized or confiscated by violent leftists seeking to suppress their distribution. I know of one young woman who reported that a leftist professor in one of her classes, upon finding out that she was a Republican, would publicly ridicule her in front of her whole class as punishment for not getting with the program. Thus, leftists actually hinder and impede the free flow of ideas – as seen in the one place where this free flow is supposedly the most valued. Leftism is mentally and socially stultifying.

This same circumstance infects our popular culture. The left-leaning mouthpieces in Hollywood and the sycophantic news media get to arbitrate what is “cool” and acceptable, and what isn't. Global warming is a problem, questioning it is “uncool”, and slightly subversive to boot. Only losers didn't vote for Obama, and they're unpatriotic if they don't jump on board the bandwagon completely. Gays are good, but conservative Christians are bad, bad people who should probably go to jail for saying things gays don't like. Practically every media outlet, television show, and full-length movie serves the purpose of reinforcing this sort of twisted view of social acceptability.

This totalitarian attitude towards toleration of ideological differences is not without precedent. Typically, in any place where the Left gains control, suppression of opposing views becomes the norm in short order. The most extreme example of this was the Soviet Union. One of the most surprising things to be found in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago is that most of the early victims of the gulag system were actually Leftists – but they were Social Democrats, or Anarchists, or Mensheviks, or Socialist Revolutionaries – i.e. some other type of Leftist besides the Bolsheviks who took power in 1917. Given a lack of non-left opposition, Leftists will turn on each other and eat their own – that is how intolerant they are of opposition to their own, particular factional views on what is best.

Freedom of Religion vs. Intolerance of Religion

One aspect of classical liberalism which is often forgotten today is the role which religious belief played in informing those who developed it as a political philosophy. Classical liberalism was most certainly not an atheist's creed, and the “Enlightenment” played little part in the development of liberty ideology. Classical liberal thinkers, while not always being pinnacles of Christian orthodoxy, nevertheless based their ideas about the rights of man on the fundamental principle that our liberties were given to us by our Creator, and that the respect for these rights was necessary for one to be in accord with the natural law imposed upon man and creature alike by God. While many readers of Locke are familiar with his Second Treatise of Government, not so many are acquainted with his First Treatise – a work in which Locke explicitly lays the foundation for his ideas about man and his inherent rights on the Creatorship of God and the federal headship of Adam over his progeny.