Freedom and Liberal Big Government

Joel Mathis, in has some thoughts on the wonders of the Nanny State.

Why I’m a liberal? I believe you can have freedom and care about reducing income inequality.  I believe you can have liberty and smaller soda sizes.  I believe you can throw off tyranny and still have a smarter health care system that delivers care to more people.  I’m a liberal because even though conservatives and libertarians can sometimes come up with good ideas to address these problems, mostly you sense they’d rather not be bothered.  Which leaves good old-fashioned Big Government as the most likely option to actually fix stuff.

Nannies don’t imprison you, after all, and they never did.  Their job is to help you stand on your own.

Setting aside Mathis’ slur that our disagreement with him means we can’t be bothered, the problem of Nanny-ism has been recognized for some time.  Lionel Trilling suggested in his 1950 book, The Liberal Imagination, that liberalism itself had become stuck in its ways and had lost its ability to think freely.  He expanded on this years later, observing

this dull, repressive tendency of opinion which was coming to dominate the old ethos of liberal enlightenment [, and that liberal thought was losing its place as] a political position which affirmed the value of individual existence in all its variousness, complexity, and difficulty.

Exactly the sort of stultifying loss of flexibility and creativity—freedom of thought and of action—that liberals’ cumulative Big Government impositions (fall or a good cause, though) have on the freedom of all of us.

As Stephen Hayward noted at Power  Line,

[A]m I really less of a free person if I can’t buy a 32-oz soda?  Or [can’t] get a plastic bag in my local store?   In isolation, not really.  But what about when I can’t buy a 32-oz soda, can’t burn a fire in my home’s fireplace (now an air quality regulation in many places), can’t build a spiral staircase from my back deck (as I learn this morning from the San Luis Obispo County planning department), can’t own a gun (New York, Chicago), can’t get plastic bags at the store any more (even though I not only recycle them but reuse them for many of my own purposes), can’t patronize Ubercars because the incumbent taxicab monopoly gets the city council to block the new business in the name of “consumer protection” (naturally), or can’t start a small business except with great difficulty and dead-weight expense to the local bureaucracies?  And on the other side of the ledger, large bureaucratic interventions like Obamacare…stifle marketplace discovery and adaptation….

After a while, you’re not “standing on your own” any more.  The nanny hasn’t put you in prison, but it has changed a lot of things in a significant way.

Big Government, by insisting on making these decisions for ordinary citizens, by relieving men of their own responsibilities and freedom of action—including the freedom to be wrong (at least as liberals like Mathis define “wrong”)—reduces them to dependents on government for their welfare.  Even their Happiness (contra John Adams and the rest of our 18th Century Liberal forebears) is determined by Big Government.

No, Nannies don’t imprison us, at least not by putting us behind bars.  Instead, they imprison us by circumscribing our freedom of thought, our ability to rely on ourselves rather than on those Nannies.  They help us, permanently, to stand so that we never learn to not need their help.

In the end, dependents aren’t “unfree.”  They cannot be, as they have no conception of what it is to be free.

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