Individual Responsibility and Local Government
We pass the word around; we ponder how the case is put by different people, we read the poetry; we meditate over the literature; we play the music; we change our minds; we reach an understanding. Society evolves this way, not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.
THIS IS THE THIRD INSTALLMENT IN MY REPLY TO Chris, a conservative reader, which begins here.
When conservatives speak of freedom, on the whole they tend to mean the freedom of those in power.
You write clearly and concisely, Chris, which leads me to believe that you had a good education.
You most likely got that education in either a public or a private school.
In neither case did you earn it yourself.
You either got it because of privilege, by virtue of being born into a family wealthy enough to provide a private school, or you got it by virtue of redistribution of wealth, in a school paid for by taxes.
The same is true of the roads you drive on, the protection you get from the police, the security provided to you by our military, the park you might eat your lunch in.
That doesn't mean that you don't take responsibility for yourself, but it does mean that you don't take responsibility in a vacuum.
It's something that can only happen with the support of the society as a whole.
It takes a village.
Next you say...
...and for government to remain at the most local level possible.
Again, I think this is a value we basically agree upon.
I can't speak for you, personally, since I don't know your specific positions beyond what you put in your comment—so forgive me as I generalize a bit, and make a few assumptions.
When I say I want government to be as local as possible, I mean that I want the power to make important choices to lie as close to the individual as possible.
Some of those choices are community choices, and so require community involvement—in which case I would like everyone's voice to be heard and respected: the grand tradition of majority rule with minority rights which has made this country great.
But some of those choices are individual choices, and I think, since you say you lean toward libertarianism, that you will agree with me when I say that those choices should be left to the individual.
But this is where liberals and conservatives most often come head to head.
When conservatives speak of freedom, on the whole they tend to mean the freedom of those in power—whether local government, or economic, or religious power—to force others to do their bidding.
- the right for a teacher in a public school to force children to pray to the god of the teacher's choice,
- the right of a state to force women to give birth,
- the right of large financial institutions to impose dangerous policies on the rest of us,
- the right of a state to keep gays from marrying, or, historically,
- the right of the business owners in a community to refuse access to people because of the color of their skin.
Liberals—and I'm hoping you, as a libertarian—mean the freedom of the little guy, the average citizen who is not in a position of power.
They mean the right to make his or her own decisions for his or her self:
- the right to not be forced to pray to any God but the one of his own choosing,
- the right of a woman to make her own moral decisions about giving birth,
- the right not to be forced into bankruptcy by the profit decisions of giant financial institutions,
- the right to marry the person he or she loves,
- the right to have lunch or get a haircut or open a bank account in his or her home town, to ride anywhere on any bus or drink out of any water fountain just like anyone else.
And this is where the rather simple, and admirable, idea of keeping government as "local as possible" gets a little more complicated.
Sometimes it just isn't possible to protect the rights of the average citizen from the rights of various local, or even international, power wielders without getting the federal government involved to run some interference for the little guy.
Next: Proposition 8 and Federal Intervention