Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.
Michael Lind points out in “Why Do Conservatives Hate Freedom?” that historically conservatives have always opposed individual liberty and supported authority. Yet today’s conservatives have adopted the conceit that they are the ones who favor “freedom” while liberals — historically, the champions of individual liberty — are cast as quasi-totalitarian “statists.” The meanings of words are turned on their heads.
If you look deeper, though, you see that the iconic imagery and language of the American Revolution represents something profoundly reactionary to today’s conservatives. These icons speak to the mythic origins of American national identity, developed in 19th century textbooks and handed down in popular fiction and Disney movies. That the myths bear only superficial resemblance to what actually happened doesn’t register with them.
American mythos congeals into a kind of tribal identity in the rightie mind. It is this tribal identity that prevents them from seeing anyone who doesn’t look and think like them as “real Americans.” The protection and preservation of the tribe is the beating heart of today’s American right.
To a wingnut, “freedom” doesn’t mean “slavery,” exactly. But it does represent a kind of unquestioning allegiance to the 21st-century version of feudal lords — the Koch Brothers, Christian institutions, corporations and the wealthy generally. These are their tribal elders, after all.
The reactionary Right has not only claimed exclusive rights to patriotic icons like the flag and tri-corner hats; they also have adopted the language of the Left about rights. But “rights” to a rightie are not about standard civil liberties, but about their childish desires not to be made to do anything they don’t want to do. So they call for the “right” to discriminate as they see fit.
Righties also favor the rights of institutions and authorities over those of individuals. For example, they champion the “rights” of pharmacists to not fill birth control prescriptions. They want employers to have the right to deny birth control coverage to employees. All in the name of liberty.
This takes us to the libertarian fallacy. Libertarians have been allied with conservatives for decades now. On the surface, this makes no sense. However, modern libertarianism began mostly as a backlash against Brown v. Board of Education and court-imposed school desegregation orders. So, again, it comes back to a “right” to not be compelled to do anything you don’t want to do, including respecting the individual liberties of others.
Libertarianism actually is anti-democratic, because government of the people, by the people, and for the people can become coercive. We, the People, can use government to make coal mine owners install expensive ventilation systems to protect the miners, for example. That’s coercive. Nine times out of ten, libertarians will take the side of ruthless mine owners over miners. After all, if a mine is unsafe, the miners can just quit, right?
So, while libertarians and liberals do converge on some issues — warrant-less surveillance, mass arrests, etc. — any liberal who assumes libertarians care about civil rights is a fool.
Michael Lind writes,
What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half-century? Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay third-world wages to Americans working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.
But to a rightie, that’s what “freedom” looks like.