As our various governments become increasingly liberal, a horrifying—a word chosen with care—paradox becomes more apparent: A more liberal America is becoming less free. The conventional wisdom is that conservatism is restrictive while liberalism is liberating, but in practice, the opposite is true. While conservatives generally uphold standards to a higher degree than liberals do, they are in the main legal minimalists. Liberals, on the other hand, while they disdain moral standards—and do their best to tear them down at every opportunity—are legal maximalists. Because of this liberal trait, we find ourselves buried under an avalanche of laws, regulations, orders, procedures, and bureaucratic oversight and interference.
Many people fail to understand this aspect of the liberal mind, so it may take some explanation. The misunderstanding arises from linguistic and historical misconceptions about what "liberalism" is. Liberal is—or was—a good word. It derives from the Latin word liber, which means "free," and thus has the same root and underlying sense as "liberty." Classically, a liberal person was free in bestowing upon others; he was generous, in other words. Sometimes, his generosity extended beyond economics into more ethical areas to include freedom from prejudice on racial, ethnic, sexual, social, religious, or even national grounds. An individual could also be liberal in more aesthetic areas, depending on his attitude toward the arts, sports and entertainments, or fashion—for instance, whether he liked and promoted avant-garde artists in music, painting, acting, or poetry.
Historically, a political or philosophic liberal advocated expanding personal freedoms. For instance, the religious reformers of fifteenth-century Europe were liberals in the eyes of the Catholic Church, for they advocated stripping the Pope and his hierarchy of priests of their power and control over Christians. In a similar way, the men at the forefront of the ensuing Enlightenment campaigned for political and philosophical freedom, that is, for more democratic forms of government (as opposed to autocratic, centralized rule) and more reliance on human reason and science (as opposed to divine revelation via Scripture and church, which they considered "superstition"). Many of America's Founding Fathers, today considered quite conservative, were the "flaming liberals" of their time. They took Enlightenment ideas of liberty and put them into practice on a grand scale.
However, as political systems and cultures evolved, "liberal" slowly changed meanings. While nations have always been composed of people with a wide range of views, Western democratic nations soon developed the modern political spectrum by dividing into factions, known as political parties. Usually, the spectrum fell into two primary parts, which we call "the Right" and "the Left." Rightists desired things to remain as they were, or even to return to a standard of the past. Being advocates of the status quo, they became known as "conservatives"—they wanted to conserve or preserve the nation as it was.
Leftists, though, were not satisfied with the current state of affairs in one area or another. They desired to improve society: to better working conditions, to increase wages, to open access to wealth and privilege to more people, to raise the status of various minorities, etc. They did not want the country to stagnate, as they saw it, but to make progress in many areas of life. Leftists became known as "progressives."
So far, so good. Yet, despite being humanitarians and succeeding in many areas that needed to be addressed, the progressive spirit became poisoned through excess and evolutionary thinking. Progressives began to reach beyond merely improving society to remaking it along the lines of the then-new ideas of Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Soon, progressive parties around the world were controlled by atheists and communists who used their crude understanding of human psychology to persuade and control huge populations. The world has progressive thinking to thank for such historic movements as the Russian and Chinese communism, German National Socialism, most Third-World dictatorships, Liberation Theology, and even institutions that many people today consider more-or-less benign, like the United Nations, the World Bank, the AFL-CIO, and Greenpeace.
In the United States, with the defeat of Nazism in World War II and the advent of the Cold War, first "communist" and then "socialist" took on pejorative meanings. To be considered a communist was to be blackballed, making one's life almost unbearable and unsustainable. After a time, it was almost just as ruinous to be called a socialist, as most informed people understood that socialism is communism with a yellow happy face for a mask. Thus, in America, Leftists needed a new label, and "liberal" would work just fine—its benevolent meaning would hide a multitude of progressive ideas and programs.
Today's liberals repudiate the term because more people have caught on to their linguistic joke. But liberals they are, as their progressive ideas and voting records expose. Since their predecessors' failures to remake the world through revolution, they have decided to do the job through legal means, one law or regulation at a time. They are willing to let the nation evolve, as they believe man evolves, by increments, if need be—though they would love to see it make a progressive leap every now and then.
Thus, they have taken over the governments of this land—not the visible leadership in many cases, but the invisible bureaucracy supporting the elected leaders. There, hidden from view and in many cases shielded from responsibility, they tinker with our freedoms, slowly changing "the land of the free" into a nation in a legal straitjacket. The legal code of the U.S. is mammoth, so massive that no one can keep abreast of it any longer. Why else has the legal profession in this country exploded except that 1) there are so many laws, people are breaking them right and left, consciously or unconsciously; and 2) teams of lawyers are necessary to handle the intricacies of the law? Liberalism is killing this nation. Legalism is its weapon.
Many people think that the church of God is legalistic—or that God Himself is legalistic. That is the furthest thing from the truth! God commands His creation, humanity, to follow only ten principles of living, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). While this may be an oversimplification, He does not overwhelm us with laws or change them every few years. All of His laws fit in one, easily accessible, unchanging Book. Compared to life under human liberalism, living under God's revealed way of life is liberating!
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Return to the C.G.G. Weekly archive (2007)