Principle 1: Liberty

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Conservatives believe in liberty.

Libertarians believe in something else.

Let me explain.

It seems odd that my first post about explaining conservative principles targets the libertarian viewpoint rather than the liberal one. But this is the core critical principle behind everything else we believe.

Conservatives and Libertarians agree that men are free to choose. To the conservative, this is God’s ultimate gift to mankind. To the libertarian, this is a fact of nature.

The conservative believes one thing that is in conflict with the libertarian: We believe we are free to do good. Namely, that our freedom expands when we do right, and contracts when we do wrong.

If I choose to eat healthy, exercise, and not do things like drink heavily or smoke, then my physical body will be as healthy as it could be. I will be able to work long hours. I will be able to play and recreate outdoors. I will be able to wrestle with my kids. My mind will be as clear as I can expect it to ever be. My economic contributions will help other people improve their economic situation. My contributions to family life will help build a stronger society. There is a lot of good that will come of it.

If I choose to eat junk food, slob around, drink heavily and smoke, then my physical body will not be as healthy as it could be. I will not be as great a benefit for society as I otherwise could be. There is an opportunity cost to myself and society by doing this, meaning good things that would have otherwise happened will not happen.

Now, I’m not saying that government should regulate what we eat and how we spend our time. We’ll talk about what the government should do or should not do later on. But I am saying that conservatives do not think the freedom to do what we like includes the freedom to eat junk food, slob around, drink heavily and smoke. That is, if we choose to do those things, we’re doing wrong, and we know it even though many do it.

The libertarian might believe that it really doesn’t matter what I do with myself, as long as I don’t hurt others. They often forget that by reducing your economic ability, you are hurting others. Even private actions, such as engaging in extra-marital relations or smoking a joint have long-term and expensive costs to society.

Thus, when God gave man freedom, it came with strings attached. If we choose to do good, then our freedom expands. We can choose to do more things. If we choose to do evil, then our freedom contracts. We will have fewer choices later on.

This core principle, the strings that are attached to our freedom, is our moral duty or responsibility. At the same time we say you are free, we say that you are NOT free to do everything. There is a sort of contract between you and God and society, and it reads something like this:

  • God gives you freedom and life
  • Society promises to not interfere with most things
  • You promise to use your freedoms wisely, for the benefit of yourself and mankind.

Now, let’s talk about where our liberties end.

Libertarians are right: actions which directly harm people are prohibited. Mostly. The basic rule is found in the Mosaic Law: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. If you hurt your neighbor’s eye, you must restore that eye or you must pay a penalty of the eye, etc… This is the basic idea behind our tort laws, which can be traced back to the Bible. This is also why it makes a whole lot of sense to charge polluters for the cost of cleanup, and then allow them to pollute anyway.

Libertarians forget that we also have duties, things we must do.

  • We have a duty to protect ourselves, our family, and each other from those who would violate our liberties.
  • We have a duty to use our liberties for our benefit and the benefit of others.
  • We have a duty to provide for our own food and shelter and wants, rather than relying on others to do so.
  • We ALSO have a duty to help others provide for themselves, not to make them dependent or lazy, but to help them obtain the means to obtain their own support (more on this in a later post).

Conservatives understand where the freedom to do as we please ends and where we are “enslaved” to our liberties through out duties. We cheerfully and happily accept our duties as a small price to pay for our liberties. Some examples include:

  • Soldiers who volunteer to fight so others don’t have to. People who pay their taxes knowing it is used to support those soldiers.
  • Business owners who pay their taxes, knowing that it is used to provide common infrastructure for themselves, their business partners, their customers and competitors.
  • Individuals who pay their taxes, knowing it funds the legal system which protects their individual rights.
  • Individuals who give away their time, talents, and resources without expectation of remuneration, so that others can enjoy a better life.
  • Churches which stand up for moral issues, such as the sanctity of marriage and the protection of unborn life.
  • Organizations formed, without expectation of profit, so that people can learn or develop talents of their own.

Unfortunately, liberties and duties are not simple. It takes careful study and thought to understand how and why charity is a critical component of capitalism, pacificism requires a military, etc… We could spend our entire lives studying our rights and duties and never come to a complete understanding of them.

Nevertheless, we ALL have a duty to understand our rights and duties for ourselves. If we do not understand them, we will fail in our duties and lose our rights.

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