An old essay of mine examining the political mine, written in a time when I was a good deal more enthusiastic about politics and a considerable amount more Libertarian. Back in that long ago less than 5 years ago (this was almost certainly written some point in my college career).
On Economic and Civil Liberties
Politics is never a completely honest game. It is full of hypocrisy, back-stabbing, and corruption. Yet the actions that politicians take need some justification to the voter. For some the justification is that the politicians advance their interests. Yet most people cannot sleep at night thinking simply in those terms, and the more philosophical people, who are often the most influential in political thought, find this even more difficult. Many people want some reasoning behind the policies of their representatives, senators, and even president. Yet there is a common problem in developing a reasoning for the policies of mainstream politicians. In political thought, a large number of policy issues come down to matters of economic and civil liberties. Most American liberals say they favor limiting economic liberties and enhancing civil liberties; American conservatives, at least publicly, often favor limits on civil liberties, but not economic liberties. There seems to be a contradiction between favoring some liberties but not others. When one side wishes to attack another they often bring up this contradiction, ignoring the fact that they share it. This makes it an obstacle to real political discussion between the two. Yet this contradiction can be resolved in two ways.
First, the contradiction ceases to exist when civil liberties and economic liberties are looked at as fundamentally different. Civil liberties can be looked at as more abstract, since economic liberties affect everyday matters of buying and selling, while civil liberties affect those engaged in the public world of advocacy, politics, and media the most. Economic matters affect the pocket book, which is tangible, while civil liberties are based on less tangible matters like freedom of thought. Economic matters can be more immediately important, a change in the economy can bring a person to poverty or riches, but civil matters affect the culture of a society which takes time to change. Yet these distinctions are somewhat murky. The culture of society affected by civil liberties is a very large part of everyone's life, and sometimes censorship and other limits to civil liberties can have an immediate and direct effect, like the banning of a TV character. Also, economic matters can be seen as impersonal, with large forces of billions of people buying and selling determining the flow of the economy. And economic matters can take time to cause change, like taxes that change the competitiveness of an industry, causing it to slowly fall while another rises. Another problem is that economic matters affect civil life, a fall in the economy might make people more likely to protest, and civil matters affect economic life, such as a protest aimed against a company's civil rights abuses. But often a line is drawn between the work sphere, and the area of life that covers personal and community matters. If one draws this lines economic liberties and civil liberties are only alike in the word liberties.
There is another way the contradiction between favoring some liberties and not others can be resolved. If the conservative and liberal positions on these matters are looked at as part of an attempt to shape society, there is no contradiction. Conservatives have often represented their policies as an attempt to make society strong, self-reliant, with traditional values. Their policies on civil liberties reflect this, they favor spending money to promote marriages, many want to limit pornography which they see as an insult to Christian values, they want to punish those with alternative lifestyles, that are seen as undermining traditional life. For them strength and self-reliance are part of this traditional American way of life. Thus freedom of the economy is promoting American values. Economic freedom forces people to be self-reliant and strong or face the consequences. Economic freedom also leaves only the family and the community as safety nets, which are often filled with traditional values and can instill that in those that need their help. Liberals on the other hand choose to emphasize the virtues of tolerance, being yourself, and helping the poor. Civil freedom encourages this, because it puts the government as an example of tolerance and it gives freedom to be yourself in anyway you want to be. The economic limitations put government as an example for helping the poor. The government also gives people a safety net independent of family and community, encouraging them to break these traditional attachments and fallow their own path. Thus both civil and economic liberties become one more battlefield for the culture wars.
Many politicians undoubtedly think in both ways about civil and economic matters. Many will justify the matter with the direct effects of economic and civil policies. And likely some have not thought about or dealt with the contradiction. Another line of thought is to accept the contradiction and declare both liberals and conservatives wrong. That's my personal view. But it is important to think through the view of your opponents and assume that they have an intelligent reasoning behind their actions. This is because it is better to overestimate your opponents, and be more than ready in debating them, then to underestimate, and be caught speechless when they have thought through logic. Furthermore, this assumption that these people think and are thinking through their ideas adds to a better atmosphere for political debate. It creates an air of mutual respect, and in these partisan times, that is something that is badly needed.
6 months ago