Saturday, January 22, 2005

Liberals, Conservatives, and Government Power

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts discusses, in End-Timers & Neo-Cons: The End of Conservatives, how he has become a whipping boy for republican pundits ever since stating his opinion that the war in Iraq was an error. In the midst of his story he describes how liberals and conservatives have swapped places in their beliefs about the exercise of power by the media and government:
Once upon a time there was a liberal media. It developed out of the Great Depression and the New Deal. Liberals believed that the private sector is the source of greed that must be restrained by government acting in the public interest. The liberals' mistake was to identify morality with government. Liberals had great suspicion of private power and insufficient suspicion of the power and inclination of government to do good.

Liberals became Benthamites (after Jeremy Bentham). They believed that as the people controlled government through democracy, there was no reason to fear government power, which should be increased in order to accomplish more good.

The conservative movement that I grew up in did not share the liberals' abiding faith in government. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Today it is liberals, not conservatives, who endeavor to defend civil liberties from the state. Conservatives have been won around to the old liberal view that as long as government power is in their hands, there is no reason to fear it or to limit it. Thus, the Patriot Act, which permits government to suspend a person's civil liberty by calling him a terrorist with or without proof. Thus, preemptive war, which permits the President to invade other countries based on unverified assertions.

There is nothing conservative about these positions.
After this, Roberts changes course to a discussion of the cult of personality. I have addressed it in another commentary.

Many of us have heard democrats and republicans compared like this:
Freedom in the BedroomFreedom in the Boardroom
Government Controls on the BoardroomGovernment controls on the Bedroom

And to a certain extent it is true. Neither party is for total freedom. They both choose some freedoms and reject others. The chief difference seems to be not in what they believe, or in how they act when in power, but which party predominates. Neither has a monopoly on virtue. In fact, when it comes to beliefs about Government Power both seem to be utterly void of virtue and full of hypocrisy.


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