The Downside of Freedom

I’m always amused when I hear Republicans say that they are the “party of freedom” and then, in nearly the next breath, they talk about restricting the freedom of women and oppose freedom for gays and lesbians. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. What they’re really saying (but are not self-aware enough to realize it) is that they believe in a limited, truncated, me-first, form of freedom. They’re all about freedom for themselves, and for their “values” but for other people, not so much.

Perhaps they are just unable to appreciate that sometimes there is a downside to freedom. Sometimes, when you give people freedom, they do things you don’t like. Take the “freedom of speech.” You let people say what they want, and some people will say some pretty nasty, disagreeable, mean, hateful, hurtful things. And if you say that “speech” can include other forms of expressive behavior, some people will express themselves in ways that we don’t like.

Conservatives seem to think that freedom is a magic word; all you have to do is incant it a few times to create magic. Say it enough, and everything is good. Sort of like “Constitutional.” If something is “constitutional” it must be good. It’s the political equivalent of “Mom” or “apple pie.” (But of course some mothers are horrid, and too much apple pie will make you fat, harden your arteries, and kill you dead.) And freedom too, has its downsides, its negative aspects.

Once upon a time the word liberty was often paired (in dialectic) with the word licentiousness. Too much liberty led to licentiousness, which is an excess of liberty that tends toward depravity. Think Dorian Grey. It was understood that if you granted people liberty, some would abuse it and act without constraint. If liberty can be abused, so too can freedom. If we give people freedom, some people will use it to do things we don’t like. (Unfortunately there isn’t a word that I am familiar with that is similar to licentiousness and related to a depraved excess of freedom.)

Conservatives say that when they seek to restrict abortion, or limit gay rights, they are not limiting freedom, they are merely protecting life and trying to preserve the traditional family. Those may be their genuine goals, but there is no way to escape the fact that the only way for them to achieve those goals is to restrict someone’s freedom. If you restrict abortion you limit a woman’s ability to control her own reproductive function. You are choosing the freedom of the unborn over the freedom of the woman. That may be a valid choice, but there is no way to make that choice without limiting a woman’s freedom. Arguing otherwise is little more than sophism, rhetorical gamesmanship.

So Republicans believe in freedom, but it’s a truncated, me first, freedom: freedom for me but not you, freedom for businesses but not consumers, freedom for men but not women, freedom for heterosexuals but not homosexuals. And that is fine, but I just wish they were honest about it.

Author: Mike

I am a patent attorney in Lexington, Kentucky. My law firm web site is I ran for State Representative in 2010 and lost in the primary. Many of these posts are based on writing that I did for that election. Rather than delete it all, I decided to dump it onto the internet.

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