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Friday, December 13, 2013

Do Conservative Values Interfere With Community

R. Scott Clark, from Westminster Seminary in California, the sunny part of California that is, posted an article on the decline of trust in others in America (Click here for the post).  The article is well written and makes several good points. 

One of the points made came from a citation from Connie Cass.  Cass pointed out that simple trust is a necessary ingredient to a functioning democracy. Clark goes on to note that without trust in others, society stops functioning and that this is at all levels. And while some have suggested that the internet can help bridge the gap between people, especially people from different countries, Clark notes here that the same internet can also be the source of bad news. He cites identity theft as an example of a new concern spurred by technology.

On the other hand, gadgets with screens can reduce our "social interaction" which would not lead us to trust more people. In addition, others point to the current wealth disparity as a cause for growing lack of trust people have in others. Clark's response is disappointing as he seems to minimize the deprivation that today's poor must endure. This is the only thing stated in the article that warrants criticism.

But what is missing from this post is the mentioning of a conservative value that might be contributing to the demise of faith in our fellow citizens. That conservative value is individual liberty. It's not that individual liberty itself is the problem, rather it is the kind of emphasis which conservatives have place on it that is the problem here. This is because many conservatives believe that the individual liberty is the only liberty. Thus, any curtailment of one's personal choices is seen as an infringement and a threat. And anyone who can enforce such an infringement is seen as coercive. Therefore, democracies are seen as potentially coercive because binding decisions that result from a democratic process are coercive.

The emphasis which some conservative place on individual liberty negates group or societal liberty. Group or societal liberty consists of the freedom of choice groups and societies have in determining how they want to exist. Obviously, some of those decisions will clash with personal choices made by some. According to conservatives, who overemphasize individual liberty, when this occurs we have coercion.

Such conservatives will naturally feel uneasy with meeting more and more people unless they are meeting likeminded people or they believe that they can defend themselves against any potential coercion. This might explain why some conservatives demonstrate extremist views of gun rights. That is because the bigger one's world is, the more likely there will be disagreement and possible interference with the choices one has made.

But we should also note that all-or-nothing approaches to individual liberty leads to tyranny by a few. It is obvious how disdain for individual liberty can lead to such rule. What is not obvious is how putting too much emphasis on liberty can do the same. Why this is the case takes a little explaining for it can happen in two ways. For if individual liberty is the only recognized liberty, we must avoid democracy because of how it threatens individual choices. Noting that democracy is allowing the people to determine how society and individuals will interact, control of the laws must be given to the right people, rather than to all, who will guarantee individual liberty. Thus, elites who have control are in position to rule tyrannically. 

In addition, if there are no democratic checks put on individual liberty, soon those who excel, especially those who create the most wealth for themselves, will be in better position to control society, including the "Free" Market, and maintain their financial position. We should also note that with wealth comes power. So even now, with some societal controls in place, some have become competitive enough to seek every societal advantage regardless of whether that advantage exists in the market or elsewhere, like in the government. Since some have been motivated enough to use the government to control the market place when there are controls, why shouldn't we expect them to cheat or rig the market without the presence of government?

Those who call for limited government in order to enhance individual liberty, are all too often looking to free exceptional individuals from their normal social responsibilities. Those exceptional individuals will more often than not use their freedom to maintain their position, which means they must control the economic and political environments to maintain the status quo. In addition, they will pass down their social responsibilities to those who are not as exceptional and who have less resources to handle these responsibilities. 

We currently see all of this in how those with the most wealth can free themselves of paying taxes and receive degrees of impunity for their crimes. Please note here that big banks and financial institutions that have been found guilty of fraud are let of the hook by sharing a part of their winnings rather than serving time in prison as The Daily Show has pointed out. So again, if with the current government controls we see those with wealth manipulate the system to their advantage, how much more will they try to control things if they had fewer restrictions?

The overemphasis on individual liberty makes democratic dissent a threat. Thus, there is the beginning of mistrust among the greedy of all who are different. And if we don't have democracy, we have elite rule. So we need to see how an overemphasis on individual liberty destroys both trust in others and threatens democratic rule. This is what Clark's post is missing and thus could have made a good article more complete. It is up to us to make up the difference by investing more in democracy than we have so far even if it is at the expense of some individual liberty.


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