The term “Liberal” and “Liberalism” is being bandied about in so many contexts that its actual meaning seems to becoming lost. The fact is that most people today – at least Americans are “liberal” the problem lies not in the philosophy of liberalism but in its interpretation and implementation. Liberalism is actually a philosophy that emphasizes individualism, equality, and freedom – things which I think the typical American stands for and believes in. The problem starts almost at the outset because as a “theory” liberalism describes how things ought to be rather than how they actually are. In practice the liberal wants a government that perfectly embodies the three basic points of liberal philosophy, rather than accepting the pragmatic reality of the government we have.
Liberals and non-liberals alike want government to secure the rights of individuals the problem comes in the implementation of that goal. Both want every individual to be treated equally but for some that equality is equality under the law but for others that kind equality is not enough because equality cannot be had if some are richer than others. For these people the clear responsibility of government is to redistribute the wealth so that equality among all citizens can be achieved. While some people believe in the basic right to individual ownership of property others think the government has the responsibility to secure goods for every citizen, even at the expense of others and their property rights. This leads to the progressive income tax, housing subsides, affirmative action, income tax refunds to those who pay no income tax, and more recently the seizure of private property for developers to build malls and buildings for the “good of all”.
While most Americans would say they believe in freedom, in practice they do not. In fact the typical American believes in limited freedom and the number of limitations on our freedom increases daily. In fact this may actually best illustrate how liberalism in practice has so deviated from liberalism as a philosophy. Some would think that “freedom of speech” has been expanded beyond what was intended by the founding fathers with the acceptance by the Supreme Court of pornography, profanity, and the desecration of Christian symbols. But Christian theology and symbols are banned from schools and public buildings while Islamic and other religious symbols and theology are not. Huckleberry Finn cannot be taught in schools because the word “nigger” is used. The government has banned smoking which is a direct infringement of individual rights – justified by liberals on the basis of “the common good”. Car seats and seat belts are mandatory and indeed they may be very useful but the reality is that compulsion to buy them and use them is a direct abridgement by government on individual rights. So while most Americans believe in the liberal philosophy the implementation has strayed so far afield as to border on fascism.
This idea that the government has an obligation to provide for the individual was the motivation behind Karl Marx and his communist philosophy. Even though communism has caused more harm than good and has cost millions of lives, the basic belief that government must provide for the individual lives on. It lives on with the universal healthcare bill before congress today. It lives on in the “tax the rich” ideas prevailing in congress today. It lives on as the individual right not to be offended. The government now protects the rights of minorities at the expense of the majority when the whole purpose of the American Republic was government by the majority. We have come along way from that ideal. What started as a government for the people has morphed into a people subordinate to the government whose objective is to provide first and foremost for the individual at the expense of the majority.