What does it mean when someone says he/she is a liberal?
These days, a 'liberal' is usually considered to be someone who is pro-choice, anti-war, and in favor of gun control. Liberals are also likely to support progressive taxation on income, campaign finance limits, a minimum wage, and government subsidies to health care, education, and housing.
But can these policy preferences really be called liberal? Do they actually permit people to be free?
Liberals often accuse conservatives of imposing their personal views on others through the force of law. They bristle at the notion of government directing people how to live their lives.
Modern American liberalism also permits a large role for government in the personal lives of those governed. Protecting the government’s monopoly on primary education prevents parents and children from having choices in their schooling. Supporting a minimum wage prevents unskilled workers such as teenagers and immigrants from getting any job in the real economy and drives them into risky situations underground.
There are other ways in which popular modern liberal policies restrict freedom despite their good intentions. By supporting government’s role in funding college education, for example, liberals make it less costly for an individual receiving scholarship assistance to attend classes while also pushing tuitions higher for everyone else. Another example occurs in health care policy, where giving the government power over women’s health care medicines and services both raises their price and increases political conflict among people of different beliefs. This invites political retribution when politicians of different views take power.
Classical liberals, who emerged in response to government tyranny in Europe, were named as such because they believed that government should protect people’s liberties indiscriminately. They regarded social questions as matters to be decided through social persuasion and believed government should be limited only to addressing wrongs that had occurred. They argued that a government cannot possibly protect everyone’s liberties if its policies benefit certain individuals or groups at others’ expense.
Do modern liberal policies protect everyone’s rights equally or prefer certain people based on particular notions of right and wrong? If a question of morality is arguable among a people, is it proper for a liberal to ask a government to enforce it on everyone? Are liberals really liberal?
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