Freedom: Part 3
The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.
LAST TIME I LOOKED AT the difference between liberal and conservative views on freedom in regards to prayer in public schools, and then turned to the same question in the context of abortion.
The key to the difference between the two positions, in the case of abortion, lies in a different view of the facts. Both sides agree that murder is wrong. Both sides agree that government shouldn't be allowed to interfere in private medical decisions.
The issue is which standard applies.
If the embryo is a person from conception, with all the consciousness and feelings and rights of any person, then the conservative view makes perfect sense. If, on the other hand, the newly conceived fetus is not yet a person, or if we really don't know, then the liberal view makes perfect sense.
The conservative takes the position that the embryo is a fully entitled human being.
The liberal takes the position that, at the very least, we don't know for sure. There's very little reason to believe that a newly fertilized cell is conscious , or capable of feelings, from conception—and the question of rights is even harder to determine.
The conservative position leads directly to the conclusion that abortion is murder, and must be stopped at all costs.
The liberal position is that, since we don't know for sure just when and how a fertilized egg becomes a person, abortion is a decision best left to the woman—the person who has to bear the emotional and physical cost of the pregnancy.
Notice the similarity to the debate about school prayer:
In both cases, there's a difference of opinion about the facts.
In the school prayer case, the conservative is quite certain that his or her religious view is correct, and that others are wrong, while the liberal is open to the possibility that religious views may differ, and that his or her views may or may not turn out to be the correct ones.
In the case of abortion, the conservative is quite certain that the embryo becomes a full-fledged person at conception. The liberal is aware that we just don't know when this happens, or even what it means exactly.
In both cases, there's a consequent moral position.
The conservative finds it perfectly appropriate, even morally right, for prayers to be enforced in the public schools, while the liberal sees this as an infringement on the rights of students and families.
The conservative decides that abortion is murder and immoral, while the liberal decides it would be an infringement on the rights of the mother to decide the question for her.
In both cases there's a subsequent split over the attitude toward those in power.
The conservative finds it perfectly appropriate for school officials, acting in authority given them by the government, to impose religious behavior on students, while the liberal sees such action as a violation of the students' rights and freedom.
The conservative finds it perfectly appropriate for the government to forbid women to have abortions and punish doctors for performing them, while the liberal sees such action as a violation of the woman's rights and freedom.
The conservative is absolutely certain that his or her own view of the facts is true, and that it is perfectly legitimate for those in power to force this view on others.
The liberal is open to the possibility that others may be right, and believes that government should not infringe on others' right to disagree.
I won't bother to lay out the similarity between the positions above and their respective stances toward gay marriage. The parallel is obvious enough. And, in all three cases, the role of conservative religion in conservative politics is also clear.
So how does this distinction apply to other freedoms that have no obvious religious component—say, for example, the conservative and liberal positions toward a free market.
At first glance, it seems that the positions are reversed.
Conservatives are the ones, in this case, who are always clamoring for government authorities to stay out of the process. They want less government interference, less regulation, less taxation.
Liberals, on the other hand, seem to have switched sides as well. They are the ones who think their ideas should be enforce by the government on others. They are the ones who are not willing to allow the market to regulate itself.
This appears to be the exact opposite of their attitude toward school children and pregnant women.
So, does the pattern hold, or not?
To be continued...