Has Liberty Given Way to Conformity?

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Americans value their freedoms such as free speech. Liberty, though, is giving way to conformity as people try to force others to fall in line or get out.

Doesn’t matter what you see
Or into it what you read
You can do it your own way
If it’s done just how I say

Independence limited
Freedom of choice
Choice is made for you, my friend
Freedom of speech
Speech is words that they will bend
Freedom no longer frees you

– “Eye Of The Beholder” (1988) by James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett

Although the song was released nearly thirty years ago, those words ring as true today as they did back then.  This July Fourth Weekend I’ve once again contemplated the idea of liberty and what it means for individuals in the United States today.

The Declaration of Independence emphasizes that our liberties are from God, not government.  The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.  Many Christians put great value and emphasis on God’s gift of individual free will.  Yet, the more I observe people’s actions and attitudes, the more I realize that liberty has given way to conformity.

Before I proceed, let me state for the record that (1) I am a conservative who leans libertarian, (2) I am a Christian, and (3) what I will say is not true of everyone, but I believe it is common based on my own observations and from what I’ve heard from others’ experiences.

A Very Short Synopsis of Political Ideology

Classical Liberalism is the idea that individuals have the right to have their own beliefs, express their own thoughts, and live their own lives.  The three leading ideologies in America today—Conservativism, Liberalism (modern-day, not classical), and Libertarianism each have some roots in Classical Liberalism.

Today, conservatives in general advocate for a smaller, limited government, though they often support regulations of social issues (e.g., abortion).  Liberals generally advocate for a larger government, though they desire less regulation when it comes to social issues.  Libertarians in general are a mix of conservatives and liberals: they want minimal government and and do not advocate regulating social issues.

In short, the arguments between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are ultimately arguments over individual liberty.  This brings me back to the issue of this post: free speech.

Liberal Double Standards and Thought Police

I’ve talked to, read, and listened to many liberals about the concept of freedom of expression.  Interestingly, every one of them strongly affirmed it: they believed everyone has the right to express their own beliefs on politics, religion, or anything else.

Nevertheless, I watch as liberals demean, attack, and condemn those with a different viewpoint.  Oppose gay marriage?  You’re a homophobe.  Disagree with abortion?  You’re anti-women’s rights.  Pick any issue, and if you disagree with a liberal, rather than support your right to hold that view, they demean you.  Rather than have a respectful dialogue, liberals engage in ad hominem attacks.

Though I am speaking primarily of those in the United States, the problem of liberals using social pressure to try to coerce conformity has recently been seen in Britain over the Brexit vote:

Conservatives often complain about this double standard and form of thought policing.  Liberals like to shame, insult, and sue people into conforming while affirming freedom of speech.  But liberals are not alone.

Conservative Double Standards and Thought Police

You read that subheading correctly.

Conservatives: the self-acclaimed defenders of the Constitution, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.  That is, unless you have a different opinion.

While conservatives are busy accusing liberals of hypocrisy, they fail to see their own guilt.  They are so focused on the speck in the liberal’s eye that they miss the log in their own (Matt 7:3-5).  I’ve lost count of how many of my conservative and Christian friends proudly wave the Constitution in one hand while trying to silence detractors with the other.

Conservatives proudly and boldly affirm the freedom of political expression, so long as it accords with their own political viewpoint.  Want to burn a flag in protest?  Many conservatives want to ban that free speech.

In the same way, conservatives laud the freedom of religious expression, at least for their own religious beliefs.  While they demand their right to display a nativity or the Ten Commandments on public grounds, they want to deny atheists and pagans (or—gasp—Satanists) that same right to display their religious icons.

Even worse, when a conservative dares express a different view, the detractor is pounced upon and the ad hominems begin.  The one who dares express a different thought is accused of being a liberal, anti-American, or anti-Christian.  I’ve even seen conservatives attack other conservatives as being traitors just because they had a different viewpoint.

These sorts of attacks are the same things liberals do and about which conservatives complain.  It’s a double standard and a form of thought policing.  Conservatives, like their liberal counterparts, often insist on conformity rather than liberty.

Closing Thoughts

In one of the verses of “Eye Of The Beholder,” Hetfield sings,

Do you hear what I hear?
Doors are slamming shut
Limit your imagination, keep you where they must

Do you feel what I feel?
Bittering distress
Who decides what you express?

Sadly, the idea of silencing opposition through social pressure, lawsuits, or regulation is rampant today.

Not every liberal, conservative, or libertarian wants to grant liberty to some while denying it to others.  Nevertheless, this type of thought policing and insistence on conformity is far too common among Constitution-loving Americans.

There are plenty of people in all three ideological camps who strongly affirm and stand up for that line in the pledge: “liberty and justice for all.”  While I may not agree with their political or religious views, I applaud those men and women who understand that if one person’s freedom can be abolished, all of our freedoms are in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, there are far too many people who, in the name of freedom, call for the restriction of another’s freedom simply because they have a different viewpoint.  Liberals demand tolerance, yet are intolerant of opposing viewpoints.  Conservatives and libertarians demand individual freedoms, yet will deny others their freedoms.

That is not liberty; it is conformity.  That is not freedom for all; it is tyranny by the masses.

“Freedom with their exception” indeed.

About John L. Rothra
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